I’ve decided to post one of my longer stories. Many of the short stories I write are inspired by my husband’s family. I don’t really know why I find it easier to find inspiration from his history than mine, but for now, I guess I’m not ready to search my roots. Please feel free to leave feedback. Thank you
A Full Night’s Rest
Seventy-six years is a long time to live, especially when you’ve spent every one of them serving others. But things were peaceful now. She had always had a peace about her; there was just never peace around her. But now she lay silently and her gentle nature seemed to finally be in its element. Her cheekbones still sat high and were noticeable even after age and wrinkles had set in. As if she needed more disdain, her facial features had always alerted others to the Indian blood that ran through her veins. Her hair had been black and straight and set it braids as a young girl and she had no hair on her arms and legs. Now, her silver hair reminded one of a halo, ready to be turned to gold at any hour. Ramona Mendez didn’t need another hour to make her peace with God; the two had enjoyed such for decades. Someone else had their own peace to make.
Rosa and Myrna, two of Ramona’s ten children sat in silence looking at their mother with minds so full of memories that they seeped out as tears and sadness. Rosa had always been the strongest, but now she was unable to put her weaknesses behind her. She looked at her sister, weeping, “Do you have regrets?” she asked.
“No. Mom knew we loved her. Mom was different, Rosa. She knew she was loved when we’d let her set a plate of hot food before us and eat her fresh tortillas. She needed nothing more than the chance to serve us.”
“All she ever did was serve. Dad was always so hard on her. She suffered her whole life and now, God won’t let her part in peace. I don’t understand.”
“Do you have regrets?” questioned Myrna, asking Rosa to answer her own question.
“No, it’s not my time. Ask me then,” she laughed revealing the reckless sister within.
“Oh Rosa, will you ever change?”
“Why would I? What’s to change? This is who I am. How could I be anything else?” Suddenly sitting in pensive silence Rosa continued, “Mom never had regrets, because she never had expectations. Life was different then. Life in Mexico was hard, but to have a hard life in America was more than she ever hoped for. She was always content because God was in every day.”
“She was amazing. I could not do what she did: ten children, a hard husband, miscarriages, losing a son, cooking, cleaning, living in tents and migrating to pick strawberries and oranges and whatever else. You don’t remember those things; you’ve only heard the stories. I was her first born and we worked so hard, Mom worked so hard. She never rested for a minute. God had to bring her death in order to rest.”
Sitting with faint smiles on their lips they comforted themselves with stories. They were true tales they’d heard a thousand times, those full of terror, sadness and humor. They would soon be all they had when God whisked Ramona home. It seemed strange to tell the stories while their mother lay in bed still with them, but since they couldn’t sit around the table while Ramona served them tirelessly, this seemed the closest thing to comfort food.
“When we were all still at home, Mom used to make three batches of tortillas every day. She could barely get them off the griddle before one of the boys would grab it and kiss her on her head. I don’t know how she fed all of us. The food seemed to multiply like the loaves and fish.”
“It did,” interjected Myrna, “God always multiplied it. She cooked it in faith and stirred it with love and God honored her. Every meal was a miracle.”
“I don’t know if she ever had a hot meal, Myrna. Long before she got sick, it was always the same. We all ate first with Dad as kids and then she’d sit in the kitchen alone and eat her meal when we were finished. Then later, the grandkids ate first, then the adults and then hours later you’d find her eating alone in the kitchen. I wouldn’t stand for that,” said Rosa shaking her head.
“We did. We stopped fighting her years ago. When we’d ask her why she’d always say, ‘Because Jesus told us to serve as He did.’ She remembered everything she learned in church.”
“That was the only time she got out of the house. It was the only time he let her out,” replied Rosa.
“There was nowhere else she’d rather go. She was at mass every morning and sometimes I’d see her at home on her kneeler with her hands raised, praying for her children. God was her sanctuary,” said Myrna.
They both paused, almost having forgotten that this heroine was still in their midst breathing softly and steadily. Ramona had been an orphan who was taken in by family to live as no family ever should. At night, to avoid abuse, she’d sleep in the trunk of the car and pray not to be found. Tonight was her first night of peace in seventy-six years.
“Is it true that Dad kidnapped her at gun point in order to marry her?” asked Rosa in amusement.
“That’s what Dad always said. I don’t know. Mom would always sit there with an embarrassed smile when Dad told the story. He said it was the only was to get her away from her family.”
“That would be like Dad. He was mean, he still is,” said Rosa.
“He isn’t mean, Myrna, he just doesn’t know any different. His life has not been easy either. He’s worked in the fields since he was four years old. He had to work with his mother to buy food. They said he used to carry a feed sack full of seeds up and down the furrows and the other workers used to wait for him at the end of every row. He loves Mom in his own way. He had never seen love, Rosa. He has provided, that is love. There were always sacks of beans, rice and flour for her to cook for us. Even when he was deported twice, he came back. He paid to have letters written and sent to her in California promising he’d come back to her and the family. That is love. He isn’t kind, but he has always been faithful.”
“He was mean to me.”
“Rosa. And you deserved every beating you got,” said Myrna laughing, “I wish he could still beat you! You need a good whipping. None of the beatings could tame your tongue, he should have silenced it.”
“He tried to. I remember him dragging me out back and throwing that noose over the tree branch. I thought he was going to kill me. He put it over my head and… I don’t even remember what happened. They said I fainted,” Rosa laughed in disbelief and momentary terror as she remembered that day.
“That didn’t even stop your mouth. I think it made it worse.”
They tried to smother their laughter in order not wake Ramona. Dad sat outside the room asleep on his chair with his two dogs next to him. His little Chihuahua lay hidden in the sleeve of his flannel against the warm, tired skin of this man who loved in his own way. He was dreaming of walking out in the wash with his dogs and goats. He always had that little herd that he’d lead to greener pastures. He spent most of his time in the wash since he was forced to retire later than any other worker dreamed of working. He had always loved his job among the orange groves, especially when they bloomed in spring and their fragrance was sweeter than a 50/50 bar on a hot afternoon. They were the perfume of life. His life had been hard, but it was scented with splendor along the way. His life was especially hard now. He stirred and woke for a minute and heard the muffled voices of his two aged daughters in Ramona’s room. He sat and cried. He had no regrets; he just knew she would be missed. She had been the wife of his youth and beneath his hard shell he hoped they’d have more years together. She had never showered him with kisses nor often said she loved him, but she had served him tirelessly and raised his ten children. Even when he had been deported twice, she continued to raise the kids and didn’t look for another man to replace him. She didn’t know if she would ever see him again, but she provided. He thought to himself, she had never been affectionate, but she had always been faithful.
He could hear a stirring in the room and slowly turned his head toward the door.
“Dad, mom wants you,” whispered Myrna.
He rose and lifted his dog out of his sleeve and stepped to her bedside. The girls left the room and came to keep the dogs company. They could hear muffled voices and wished Mom had been talking with them instead.
“Why would she ask for him?” questioned Rosa.
“He is her husband, Rosa. Just because you don’t like him, doesn’t mean there isn’t love between them. A marriage is sacred; they have years together. Can’t you understand their love?”
“No. It isn’t the kind of love I would want.”
“What kind of love would you want? There isn’t a marriage that would make you happy, because you have no joy in God,” said Myrna, almost tired of the conversation.
“God, what does God have to do with it? Don’t talk to me about your Catholic superstitions. I grew up with it, and walked away as soon as I could.”
“It has everything to do with God. Your heart was never turned against Dad alone; your hate for him was planted and took root in your heart. It chokes out a love for everything and especially God. You think your hate protects you, but it has stifled your life.”
“I don’t hate God, I just never needed Him,” said Rosa in defense of herself. “Who needs a God who allows suffering? Are you blind, don’t you see Mom’s pain? What kind of God allows that?”
“The kind of God who gives the grace to endure it. Life is hard. It is a merciful God who carries us through it.”
Above the sound of their tension rose the sound of Dad’s crying. She was gone.
Myrna looked at the door and continued, “Rosa, the kind of God who gives an old woman a full night’s rest.”