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The Smell of Lemons February 19, 2010

Filed under: Vignettes,Writings — relateableme @ 6:12 am

She sat on the steps smelling the lemon. As she’d lean her nose against the rind, she’d slowly close her eyes and blush. She was all brown and pink and strength.

“Mom, smell it. It smells so good.”

“Roll it between your hand and the step and then smell it. It will smell even better.”

She rolled it against the cement and the oils began to spatter slightly and stain the step. I wondered how many people had sat on this step. Ten kids and sixty years was my answer. Countless. As I looked at my daughter she smelled the lemon again and her eyes widened and her smile creeped across her pinkness, “You’re right, mom” That didn’t happen often. “It smells even better.”

She continued to roll the lemon and I thought about all the women inside her; all the women who lived to make her exist. Everyone says she looks like me, which isn’t  true, it’s our coloring that gives that impression, but with the big brown eyes and her daddy’s nose, and the ability to crush me with a word, she is his, inside and out.

I had a hard time with her when she was born; she broke me in five minutes. Granted there wasn’t much to break, I’m a much quieter soul. She took all I had left. I tried to stand tall and she bent me and broke me with everything she is. When she was a year old, she’d call for me by my first name and yell it over and over until I came, tired and broken.

Now I love her strength; I hope she’ll be everything that I’m not. She already is. She has the quiet strength of my husband’s side; every woman in his family has the ability to handle, balance and survive heartache and do it with an unspoken beauty. Their hearts are like statues, poised to withstand anything. She also has the outspoken strength of my side; something that ricocheted off me and landed on my younger cousins. She is my mother, which has caused enough trials in itself. I gave birth to my mother, before I could appreciate everything about her. My daughter taught me to love my mom and more importantly, to understand her.  My girl was born to conquer, she conquered me but didn’t leave me vanquished, I arose stronger.

We sat on the steps and listened to the women talk. They’d laugh about times and memories.

“My mom died in that room, my dad too. I guess that’s where I’m gonna die,” said my mother-in-law’s sister, between laughter.

It would be nice not to take life so seriously. After over seventy years they know what matters and that everything else is a waste of strength, as if they had none to spare. They wield this strength in ways that they never seem to regret; they considered strength, what I was taught is weakness; To marry men they didn’t love and stay with the unfaithful drunkards. Knowing them now, I see the strength; it’s something so inherent in them that my daughter has it without knowing what it’s like to be like the rest of us.

I see the strength in their mother, who birthed eleven children and buried one, while ten of them buried her twenty yeas ago and still wait to be buried. She spent more time pregnant or breastfeeding or both than she did without a child contained within. The nurses were so cruel to her when she would deliver her babies. She was nothing to them but another dark-skinned woman with too many children who was unable to speak their language. She only left her house to cross the street to attend mass every morning in the tiny church where my husband was baptized.  She never went to the store; her husband brought home bags of beans, rice and flour. She lived for Sundays when her seven daughters would bring their kids over for the day. She always had popsicles ready after the grandkids kissed her soft cheek. My husband said that she would sit at the table with small pot of beans, and like the widow in the Book of Kings, it multiplied; everyone ate with enough left over for her to eat in the kitchen alone, after everyone left.

The quiet strength that flows through my girl’s veins, I don’t fight it anymore, but try to shape it, to make it beautiful and noble. I just read “Taming of the Shrew” to her and she loved it until the end, when Kate is tamed. She was puzzled and quiet, two adjectives I never apply to her. I knew she was thinking that Kate was amazing until she was quiet.

“Stop rolling the lemon, it’s going to split and be good for nothing,” I insisted absent-mindedly.

“But I love the way it smells.”

I wonder about the life she’ll lead and if the world is big enough to contain her.

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Sunflowers December 18, 2009

Filed under: Vignettes,Writings — relateableme @ 9:14 pm
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In southern Hungary, the sun’s rays glow a deeper yellow to reflect upon the acres on sunflowers.  July tattoos a permanent smile upon the mouth and joy in the eyes as the fields literally dance in yellow.  The afternoons were hot, but inviting. I would take my bike or grandma’s bike, if that were the only available one, and start for the fields.  The dust trail would swell behind me and fill my pores with its grains.  I could never bathe away the scent of the country; it became an inseparable part of me.  The sunflowers loomed in stately joy above me and around me.  I loved to look into their faces.  There was nothing around but the yellow horizon and the chirping of birds who loved sharing their flowers with appreciative onlookers.

My Hungarian sister and I would go together; even the simple life had its moments of complexity when nothing but communion with God in the sunflower fields could cure. We always returned home with full hearts bearing our secret.

When I go back in time now and reflect upon my years there, I always go to the sunflower fields; I remember them overflowing in summer between villages. It’s like my life’s sweetest times are outlined or constrained between two blurred lines of yellow on the right and left sides of me. All that was left behind is laced with sunshine and sadness.

 

Goodbye April 1, 2009

Filed under: Short Stories,Writings — relateableme @ 3:18 am

I wanted to post another story; this is my favorite. I hope you enjoy it.                                     

                                                Goodbye

 

The sun came up over the mountains and shone through the windows.  Before the smog could reach its way into the valley, the sun shone bright and hot, but it was never the light that woke him up. Beads of perspiration bubbled up between the shaggy bristles of his beard. It was the heat that woke up Allesandro every morning. He turned and unconsciously wiped his face with the stained edges of a once handsome dress shirt. With each vain turn and twist in an attempt to reach an unattainable comfort, his body squeaked against the cheap vinyl of the backseat.

With a Spanish curse, Allesandro’s day began. Wiping his eyes, he looked at his pathetic state of affairs and cried. This of course was not his fault. Today he would be vindicated. Today his family would know the pain they had caused him. Today, he would fly home to Mexico and die peacefully.

“Enough! I can’t cry. I feel weak, I am not a man anymore.”

 He grabbed the pants that lay perfectly and neatly across the front seat, picked up a small bag, and marched to the grocery store. This was now such a routine that he no longer felt the need to linger in the produce aisle to divert attention from himself.

“Morning!” greeted a young man stacking the carts.

“Morning! Nice day, no? The baby needs milk.”

He thought to himself how stupid he sounded. “Baby, what baby? Why did you say anything? You don’t need no excuse.” He briskly walked into the restroom in the back and began to clean himself.

The irony was thick, almost laughable had the walls only understood. Dressing himself with the precision of an executive, he groomed with exceptional detail and left with a cloud of overanxious cologne hanging in the air. He headed back to the car, no milk in hand.

Driving downtown, he was flooded with memories. Every bar, every doorway held a memory –  a fight, a woman, a drink too many. He brushed away these unwanted intruders with a flick of the hand and drove on. The restaurant had just opened and the man behind the counter just shook his head as his oldest customer walked through the door. Alessandro swallowed his pride but opened his mouth in arrogance. One more lie.

“Morning. Got a big day, big deal. Give me your biggest steak.”

 The man behind the counter answered with a nod and curses too whispered to carry across to the booth where Allesandro sat down.

“Bastard! He always comes for the steak. Someday, when dad is dead, we’ll close the doors to him. I don’t care if they are friends. Free steak! Bastard!”

Raising his voice to a level of respectability, “So Alessandro, what’s the occasion?”

“Made a deal with a guy in Rialto for five cars. He knows who he’s working with, knows I can get him a deal with my connections. When you got it, you got it.”

“Really?” trying to disguise a chuckle, “Gonna hook him up with a Cadillac like the one you got parked outside?”

Alessandro flared his nostrils and wiped his brow. Telling himself to stay calm, he glanced at the other diners and replied, “Yeah, she’s a beauty. Where’s my breakfast?”

He read the paper, periodically looking up. He used to take his family here. They always served the best Mexican food. His oldest son used to shame him by ordering a hamburger. He had never ceased to shame him. Having just gotten out of prison, his son wouldn’t be there with the rest of the family to say goodbye today. Family. What good were they to him now? No respect for their father. Father.

He ate his steak in silence, except to complain about its toughness. Wiping his mouth quickly, he left with a wave and the satisfaction of having been treated with respect. It was about time he got another free meal. After all, they owed him –  for something, it didn’t matter what. He was their father’s friend; that had to hold some weight. If only his family had treated him with equal dignity and class. He had provided for them, taken them to baseball games and gone on yearly vacations to the beach. What else did they need? They certainly deserved nothing. After these mental gymnastics, he jumped in his car and headed to his brother’s house.

As he pulled up he took a look at the house and paused. His brother still had his wife. This country had been good to him. There was no shame in going home, he told himself. He could be buried next to his mother. That tough old witch was harder than he had ever been. Consequently, she had died alone, her children no longer responding to her childish attempts for attention; it never really paid to cry wolf. He assured himself that he had been a good son. At least he was better than his father had been to her.

Pulling himself to the door, he rang the bell and waited on edge, repeatedly adjusting his shirt and belt buckle.

“Juan! How’s my brother?”

“Allesandro, we’ve waited for you to come back for your stuff. Your son called looking for you. Your son Luis was concerned.”

“He’s a liar. He just did that so you think he cares. He’s left his father. No respect. I got nothing and none of my kids will help me.” He trailed off into curses as Juan tried to speak.

“Allesandro, that’s not true. Your son loves you.”

“What? Do you have my stuff? I need to sell it to pay off some debts.”

“Do you need help?”

“What? You don’t have it. Where the hell is all of it?”

“No, no, I’ve got it in the garage.”

Walking to the garage, Juan asked, “How are you going to move it in your car?”

            “When did you say Luis called?”

            “About a month ago. How are you going to move all this?’

            “What did he say?”

            “Are you listening? He just wanted to know if I’d seen you. Allesandro, how are you going to move all this?”

Without a reply they opened the garage. Allesandro went through a couple of boxes. With a wave of his hand, he told his brother he could have the rest.

            “Where are you going, Allesandro?”

            “Back to Mexico. I have nothing. My family has abandoned me and you have no room for me here.”

            “I told you we’re raising our granddaughter. We don’t have another bed.”

            “I know you don’t want me here. I’m going to my real family. Raoul’s boys will take care of me. They are rich and respect me. It don’t matter. I’ll be back for Christmas and then I’m going to die in peace. No one cares anyway. Did I tell you my family abandoned me?”

            “Yes. Just be careful.”

Sitting in his car, Allesandro looked at the box next to him and crumbled into tears. He thought about the day sixty years before when he, a young boxer with his future in his fists, came to this country with such hope.

            “I have nothing. It has all been stolen from me.”

He spent the rest of the afternoon trying to pawn an old suit and bide time while trying to ignore his growing hunger. He drove to his old home and parked across the street. He saw that his ex-wife’s car was parked in the driveway. He just sat and thought about their lives forty years before. He had loved her, provided for her. At least he had always loved her the best. That’s what he had told himself when kissing another woman. He had not, however, ever been able to convinced his wife of this.

            “That house should be mine. I bought it. What does she need it for? I’m the one without a home.”

            He sat there the rest of the afternoon, stewing in bitterness but not regret. Delusion was his only companion, one with whom he had grown very close and comfortable.  No one knew him quite as well, and he had given himself to no one else so completely. They were a perfect couple who never argued. There were no bitter disagreements and unmet expectations. No excuses were necessary and no questions asked.

            As three o’clock rolled around, he made his way to his daughter’s house. With every spin of the tires, his anger grew until he had to stop and compose himself.

            “It’s nothing. This is easy. You come in, act like nothing has ever changed. You’re their father.”

            Stopping in front of the house, he rolled down the windows of his car and waited until his son arrived. As he sat sweating in the afternoon heat, he thought about his son. Luis had always been his favorite. The others knew it and didn’t love Luis any less for it; it had been that way for thirty-five years and was now as natural as breathing or as expected as the constant feeling of disappointment they felt for their father. Even Luis had turned against him. This son he had done everything for, was now as ashamed as the others were. Allesandro thought about leaving, but his need was greater than his pride.

            Luis car pulled up and his wife jumped out of the car to get the baby in the backseat. Allesandro had cheated death for years, unwilling to surrender until Luis had had a child. She had arrived and he’d only seen her once. This too was consistent, as if he didn’t want too much of a beautiful thing.

Allesandro leaned forward to open the door and waited next to the car for his son to cross the street and greet him. Thinking it was time for is son to show some effort, he resisted the impulse to run to him and wrap his arms around him. He imagined for a second the relief he would feel as he’d fling off the fetters and hug his son and tell him how much he loved and missed him. But these were vain thoughts. It didn’t matter what Allesandro wanted. His family had stolen these wishes from him.

“Luis, I thought we were going to see each other yesterday, but you didn’t call. I leave tonight,” said Allesandro, beating him to the punch.

“Dad, I don’t have your number and you were supposed to call. We came and waited for you and you never showed up.”

“It doesn’t matter. I know how busy you are with your important job. Too busy to see your dad before he dies.”

Quickly moving on to his granddaughter, he reached for her before Luis could answer the accusation.

“She’s so beautiful. She looks like my mother. How old is she now?”

“Almost a year, Dad. Let’s go inside. Maria’s waiting.”

            The trip to the door seemed like a hike as the weight of the guilty baggage hung around Luis’ neck. It was the same conversation every time he saw his father; he wished his father was already gone, but instantly reprimanded himself mentally for the thought and reached for the doorknob.

            As they came inside, Allesandro began greeting everyone with his loud voice that seemed normal to him because of his failed hearing. Hugs were given, distances eliminated as he grabbed hold of every grandchild and passed on to them the remnants of his cheap cologne. 

            “Let’s sit down. I don’t have long, I leave tonight,” said Allesandro as he pulled his daughter and son into the family room.

            “Where have you been Dad? We haven’t seen you in almost a year.”

            “Why would I call? You don’t care about your father.”

            “Dad, please stop. You know that’s not true. We’ve helped you as much as we could.”

            “I guess that’s why I have nothing, because you help me so much!”

            “Dad, we found you that house to live in and bought furniture and helped pay the rent.”

            “That hell hole. The lady was a terror. She tried to humiliate me.”

Knowing the conversation was going nowhere, Luis looked at Maria to change the subject. It was as if other subjects for conversation had been vacuumed out of their minds. There was nothing to talk about. All had been said, whether here or in a hundred conversations they’d survived over the past thirty years. Dad was right. Regardless of his failures to them, to their mother, he was right and nothing could change that, not even perfect hearing. This was a situation no set of hearing aids could help.

            “So, Dad. You’re leaving tonight?”

            “That’s what I want to talk about. I need money to buy the ticket.”

Sitting in silence, they stared at him as the scales dropped from their eyes and their hearts suffered their last breaking. It suddenly occurred to them why he had called this meeting. It wasn’t to say good bye and kiss the baby. It was for money. Money. It was the thing he had squandered for years on drugs and motel rooms, cheap women and fancy dinners. Tears welled in Maria’s eyes as she turned away. All day she had told herself all he wanted was something from them, but she had tried to believe otherwise. Luis sat there as a wave of shame engulfed him. He would have to tell his wife the truth. Dad wanted more money. It was never about them. It was always about what he could get from them. Luis wanted to leave. But he stared at his father with an emotion stronger than shame, pity.

“What do you need Dad?”

“$400. It’s the least you can do.”

“We’ve given you thousands of dollars, Dad.”

“You’ve given me nothing. What are you talking about?”

“We don’t have that much money.”

            Getting up to leave, Allesandro asked, “You don’t have 400 lousy dollars for your father? I knew I shouldn’t have come. I’ll get the money from someone else. I come to say goodbye and this is how you treat your father. This is the last time you’ll see me. I’ll never bother you again.”

            “Dad! Just stay. We’ll figure something out.”

            “You think I’m going to gamble with the money? Come with me and buy the ticket if you don’t believe me.”

            “We believe you Dad.”

            “Come with me, if you don’t believe me.”

Looking at each other through the nausea of the moment, Luis and Maria talked about how they could split it.

“This is the last time, Luis. My husband will kill me. I can’t tell him I gave my dad more money after what he’s done to us. He’ll kill me. I don’t have this kind of money. That never matters to Dad, though. It’s always his problems and never ours. Now I know why he didn’t want his other kids to be here. They’d never give him any money. It wasn’t even about saying goodbye to us.”

Allesandro busied himself with looking at the pictures on the wall and relishing in his victory. Luis left to get the money and Maria cut him a check as if paying for the underworld to snatch up her father and take him away from their lives. Allesandro went to the kitchen to find the grandkids and cover them with kisses and hugs. He would always be their hero. Years from now, they’d remember grandpa and his kisses. He had been someone’s hero thirty years ago, before Allesandro’s kids could understand the weight of his sins and the emptiness of his words.

Luis came back and gave Allesandro the money.

“Come with me and buy the ticket, son. I’m going to leave tomorrow.”

“No, Dad. It’s ok.”

With an exuberance of heart inappropriate for the moment, but not for his state of reasonability, Allesandro made his rounds kissing and hugging everyone goodbye.

“I love you. It was good to see my kids.”

Although he had walked out the door, Allesandro’s departure had not removed the cloud of depression. It loomed in the air for the adults, who envied the naivete of the grandkids. If only they could remember Allesandro as the little children would. There had been good moments in their memories – days at the beach when their parents had held hands, birthday parties and baseball games. All those memories only made the present more bitter. Luis and Maria wished there had been no memories at all. Then the few good ones wouldn’t have seemed so fabricated and false in light of what they knew of their father. Their father had always remained consistent; it was their maturity that caused the de-evolution of Dad.

As Allesandro drove, he reassured himself that he had been in the right. There was no real debate that took place. Had there ever been a fight between Allesandro and his conscience? If so, the boxing match was over decades before and Allesandro had knocked out his opponent in the first round. He was champion of his life before he had stepped in the ring.

Fully intending to purchase his ticket, he was distracted by a sign for the casino. Talking to himself, the champion thought about his winnings and came up with a plan.

“I could double this money and pay back everyone I owe, buy the ticket and still have money left over. Why not? When you got it, you got it!”

 

Autumn in Budapest March 25, 2009

Filed under: Vignettes,Writings — relateableme @ 4:54 am

 I love Autumn and I hate that I am virtually unable to enjoy the season truly in Southern California. This vignette takes me to a beautiful moment in the middle of the busy city to experience autumn’s urban side.

 

                              

                                Autumn in Budapest

 

Autumn had its many faces.  Its approach was ushered in by an occasional Indian summer that treated me to warm nights of star gazing.  Although the city never allows its citizens to enjoy any of the seasons (the heat of summer is cruel with the crowds, the trees’ garment in autumn is unseen between the concrete, winter is miserably long and the flowers of Spring are buried beneath brown slush), Autumn is the season that allows its very personality to be wrought within every living creature.  It steals, and in my opinion, with honors, the carefree nature of summer and quiets the soul.  It is , I believe, ignored, because it breeds a melancholy atmosphere that stirs the memories.  It has a fragrance of an attic long ignored, yet bearing treasures that will only unleash itself to a willing partaker.  Autumn, to be enjoyed, requires a kindred spirit.

There is a street in Budapest, nestled on the edge of the Buda hills behind the homes lining the way to St. Matthew’s church.  It is adorned overhead with trees, trees that bend up, over and down to kiss the heads of those who walk there.  Windows of the on-looking homes open to allow those sitting on the benches or walking to enjoy the sounds of classical music.  The stones that pave the path are multi-colored, faceted together like gaudy jewels. In any season, any moment, this place that still draws me, especially in my absence, is no more beautiful that in Autumn.  To walk this way and not allow your soul to soar is blasphemy, but to lift your nose to the fall breeze and inhale, gaze above to splendidly arrayed treetops, is divine.

I loved to chase the large red and orange leaves as they fell to the winding stone wall and try to catch them before they fell to their doom on the pavement below. The wall was no masterpiece, perhaps even as haphazard an attempt as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Yet, neither accomplishment would have found glory in perfection – it is their flaws that make them charming and curious.  The stones of this particular wall were never filed to smoothness, the rain and wear of hundreds of years has done that.  It curves along the cliff’s edge and winds with a personality of its own.  I admire its independence. I dream of living along this small stretch, yet fear I would some day grow to ignore it and forget the cobbled way beneath my window of wavy glass.  The tread of passersby would perhaps grow to annoy me and so, I long all the more in my fortunate gift of deprivation.  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Empty Tomb March 17, 2009

Filed under: Short Stories,Writings — relateableme @ 2:38 am

This story is about an encounter I had with a woman my first year in Hungary. It was a brief conversation, but I was so broken by her anger that it stuck with me and lead to a story beyond my true knowledge of her. It’s one of my longer ones, so grab a cup of coffee before you sit down. As always, please provide any feedback you think would be helpful. thanks

 

The Empty Tomb

 

Morning began, but not before she had risen before the sun to start her day. The water boiled on the stove and the rolling bubbles and the shuffling of feet were all that was heard. Rozsa Nemeth lifted the kettle and poured the water over the tea bag. Her name had once made perfect sense. She had been a rose, pink and elegant, demure and ravishing. It had been years since she had looked so. She was perhaps still a flower, but one that has been resting in a vase too long, overlooked and only there because the once delighted recipient had forgotten to discard it. The water had since grown green and slick with algae. Her nickname had been “Rozsi,” but now it seemed silly to have called her so. Rozsa was wilted and alone in an empty vase; her other floral companions had died long ago.

            She sat and surveyed her quarters of yellowing wallpaper and faded upholstery. Her eyes rested where her heart always dwelled – upon two pictures on an end table. The men looked like brothers whose pictures had been taken in the prime of life. Yet, with a generation between them and life behind them, they occupied the altar of Rozsa’s heart. There was room for little else or if truth be told, nothing else. Her eyes rested on theirs and a deep sigh welled up and the morning tears began to flow. She missed her husband and son, both taken from her so young, so suddenly and very begrudgingly. She never questioned the years of tears; it seemed natural to cry and habitual. Had someone been there to ask what she missed most, Rozsa would have been hard pressed to pinpoint a memory or characteristic. These two men were no longer living memories; they were a reason to weep. This habit of tears was a deep rut she’d worn from constant travel; she no longer mourned her men, she mourned sorrow. She did not realize this, nor would she have been able to see this clearly with her eyes so callused by the determined flow.          

            Wiping her eyes, she reminded herself of what remained. She had her habits and God and the two overlapped twice daily. Looking at the clock on the wall, she stood up, pulled on her coat, faded and worn and walked out her door. Everything would be the same when she returned; only the steam would no longer rise from her nearly full cup of tea. The delicate china had a few chips, yet Rozsa continued to use the same cup disregarding the perfectly intact ones in the cupboard and took only a few sips each morning. This too was an empty habit that was no longer performed for enjoyment, but was a well-worn tread.

            As she turned onto the sidewalk from the front door of her building, it occurred to her that it had snowed the night before. The street lamps were still lit as if to tell her that she was awake long before she was expected. The walk to the center of town was not far and the steady crunching of fallen snow counted her steps. Hers were the first footprints along this side of the street and it was unnatural for her to step where others had not. The wind blew slightly and her coat, although old, still managed to keep her frailty warm. The flakes from rooftops whirled and landed on her kerchief that covered her grey hair and then melted instantly. She reached the church steps just as the bells tolled five times. In as many steps she reached the top and slipped in with the other kerchiefed veterans.

            The church was cold and did little to welcome those who had ventured out so early to pray. Rozsa found her seat and stood and sat and stood and knelt and stood and prayed in harmony with the others. She could have done as much at home as her heart nor mind had joined her for the service. They rested on her two men she had left at home. The men guarded her tea as she came to ask for mercy that they might know heaven some day. She never thought about heaven for herself. It was not that she didn’t deserve to go, she simply was so preoccupied with the destiny of the other two that she never thought about her inevitable journey to eternity. The priest continued to speak thus providing a constant drone to pave the way before her thoughts. She thought about nothing but her husband and son or perhaps the absence of them.  They were no longer with her, thus they had nothing better to do than consume her thoughts more much so than when they had been living. She welcomed the dead into her mind and lived with them in closer proximity than when they had shared a home.

            Unconsciously her attention drifted back to the mass just as stealthily as it had escaped. Rozsa gazed at the other women in the service. Her eyes drifted from person to person with a half-interested gaze as she wondered for whom they prayed. Did they have children at home? Were their husbands alive? Did they love God? Were they here for pretension only? There were no answers for her and if there had been, she would have wandered away before an answer had been given. She had enough sorrow of her own. There was no more room for another person’s tragedy.

            As the mass ended, she made her way to the front, dropped a few pennies in the box as the widow in the parable, and lighted a candle. She said her words, moved the beads between her wrinkled fingers and left. With a sigh Rozsa pushed open the heavy wooden doors of the church and entered the land of the living. There was a bustle around her unlike when she had entered an hour before. The stores were open and the kids were on their way to school. So much living to do. Having already exited this life, she headed home, ready to exist.

            She stopped in at the deli to buy bread and luncheon meat. The bread was fresh and soft to the touch and its fragrance rose when she lifted the loaf. This too was unable to lift her spirits. Years ago, the smell of bread had given her a smile as she thought of how her two men at home would be pleased with her morning purchase. This had been a delight with jam and tea or fresh peppers and coffee for her husband. Now it was bread; something to eat with cold tea when she arrived home.  The shopkeeper smiled and greeted her as he did every morning and received his daily nod in return. He had gone to school with Rozsa in childhood. He remembered her pink cheeks and auburn hair and felt as if a part of his life had wilted along with her petals. She climbed the steps to the second floor and opened her door. All was the same and her cold tea sat waiting its consumption with a slice of bread.

            The day droned on as it had thousands of times previously. The wash was done and supper prepared. A few times she stole a glance out the window. She never stayed long beside it this time the year. Despite the double-panes and the cushion she placed between them for insulation, there was always a draft. As a young girl she could have sat for hours looking at the world outside. During the summer months, she would open the windows wide and watch as people passed. Her mother always scolded her for giving the neighbors something to talk about.

            “Rozsi! How many times do I have to tell you? Come away from that window. Good girls don’t stand there presenting themselves for those who walk by. Nobody likes a forward girl.”

            In the winter months the rebuke was similar, but had one addition.

            “Rozsi! It’s cold. The draft will kill you. I swear that habit will be the death of you. Mrs. Kovacs told me she saw you sitting there yesterday when I went to the store. Why do you provoke me so?”

            While she had never been quite cured of the habit, her mother’s admonitions were always present in her ears. She sat there for just a minute or two, but only to look, she never seemed to acknowledge the life outside nor the part she had once played in it.

 As five o’clock neared, she put on her coat again and headed outside.  As she neared the square two people approached her. She stopped, confused and almost shocked that something unplanned had taken place.

            “Good evening ma’am. I’m sorry to bother you,” they continued talking but her mind was preoccupied with the task at hand; the service would be starting soon. They continued, Rozsa was paralyzed and although not frightened, she dared not move. She said nothing until she heard the word “God.”

            “God! Do you want talk to me about God?”

            “Are you religious?”

            “Religious? Twice a day I go to mass and pray at that church right over there,” pointing to the edifice across the street that waited her arrival. For seventy-five years she had attended that church and in the thirty years since the death of her men, she had ascended those steps twice daily. She began to share this with the two strangers in a manner determined to educate them more on the subject of devotion, than to casually mention her habits.

            “Twice daily for thirty years! You are very devoted. You must truly love God.”

At these words, her entire countenance was altered and the rose began to redden.

            “Love God? God?” she stammered as if this preposterous question had never occurred to her.

There was silence around her, but the crashing clamor of false ideas inside was deafening. At this question she lifted her hands to cover her face and the wept. “Love God?” she continued. “Love Him! I, I hate Him. He stole my life from me. Love God? How could I love someone so cruel? He is a thief! Love God! No one can lose so much and then kiss the hand that took it.”

Rozsa had carried a grudge like a millstone bound around her neck for years without speaking a word about it, least of all to God. As if recounting for a moment the words of Job, she visualized herself in a courtroom and pointed her finger at her divine enemy, “Oh if I had one to hear me!” God would answer for His evil works against her. She stood before these two strangers and wept and wept. For these thirty years she had mourned the death of her husband and son and had failed to mourn a much more significant loss. Preoccupied with her mortal bereavement, she had neglected to mourn the death of God. These thirty years, He had lain buried in a coffin of mistrust and hopelessness; six feet of human unwillingness and malevolence remained between Himself and Rozsa. At this confession, the bitterness was washed away making room for truth. That evening the tomb was opened.

Lifting her eyes, the strangers saw something no one had witnessed in thirty years. Rozsa smiled and clasped their hands. As she crossed the square, she hurried as the bell tolled. She reached the church steps just as the bells tolled five times. In as many steps she reached the top and slipped in with the other kerchiefed veterans. She must hurry, God was waiting.

 

 

 

Unravel The Matter March 3, 2009

Filed under: Writings — relateableme @ 11:30 pm
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Hey I wanted to let you guys know that one of my articles (environmentalism and the church) is at a friend’s post this week: unravelthematter.com.  Please check it out and read their other posts for some excellent, thought-provoking issues concerning the modern day church.

 

In The Trunk February 24, 2009

Filed under: Vignettes — relateableme @ 4:22 pm

This vignette is about some of the driving adventures I had during my first year in Hungary. We only had a small car and being the smallest person in the bunch, my assigned seat was poor in safety, but rich in adventure.

                                                                                      

                                                                   IN THE TRUNK

 

           I once spent six months in the trunk of a car.  Our little red car could only hold so many people, so being the smallest, I was assigned the hatch-back position for every excursion.  To my pleasure, my domain was ceilinged with a window and floored with a giant goose down pillow making our trips more of a delight than anything else.  I looked forward to being separated from everyone to think or pray or just watch the passing, quickly passing, blurred scenery.  I watched the trees turn from orange to lonely, tall sticks bearing naked branches.  I began to sympathize with trees and barren land.  The loneliness I often felt in winter could not match theirs.  What is it like to be held down, perhaps unwillingly, exposing the shame that was covered by nature’s clothing?  Their flaws, nicks and crooked branches for months were hidden, only to be exposed so quickly, with nothing but a few day’s wind of warning.

            Sometimes, I friend joined be in the back.  How we fit, I have no idea, but I still remember the giggling and straining to get comfortable and then resting.  We would find our positions and gaze out the window.  We rarely talked, she was the type, as I who would much rather think and dream then talk.  Talking accomplishes little when the soul is generating its deepest desires.  Sometimes she would turn her head to look at me and share some bit of insight she’d just gained by looking at a tree or a flower or a cloud.  I’d sigh and understand. 

            I loved passing through the villages.  There were five villages, if I remember correctly, between our city and our rural destination.  I had memorized the curves in the road without having to even look where we were.  The houses all stood along the roadside, in a row as if to greet the passersby. The houses were structured the same, but their faded splendor set them apart.  Almost every home was adorned with two windows in the front with a different color around the window than that which was painted on the outside walls.  Although faded and so old, the homes were so cheery and welcoming. Shades were lowered over the windows by the time we passed through on our way home and sometimes one had been left up transforming the house into a face with a winking eye.  I chuckled to myself at the winking faces all throughout town.  In Autumn, bags of drying peppers would hang from the side porches and look so brilliantly against the blue paint of a house I remember along the bend.  The old men would then grind the peppers into fine, spicy paprika.

            The roads of Hungary transport more than automobiles; it reminded me of a video game with all its obstacles. We would slow down as we came upon a horse-drawn wagon and sometimes need to stop for oncoming traffic.  As we’d swing around the wagon, I’d come face to face with a red-nosed man and then his horses and stare into their eyes until they were out of sight.  Nothing brings you closer to a land then to stare into the eyes of those who live there.

            Between towns there would be nothing but open, wide open skies to delight me. As a kid, I’d lay on the grass next to my other classmates and tell the teacher what shapes and animals were in the clouds.  I’d play the game alone in the back of the car.  Silent, delighted and content, I’d find lions and girls and giraffes floating in the blue above. I loved being allowed to revert to childhood.  I loved that no one knew my thoughts, no one asked and no one could have understood.

            At night, my view was lost in the dark, but my thoughts were still free to roam.  I don’t remember falling asleep.  I loved to be awake when all others were asleep; for some reason I would think more clearly. Perhaps there were more thoughts to be captured while the others slept.  I knew we were close to home when we stopped for a passing train.  The gates would literally fall three to five minutes before the train passed and remained down long after it had passed; it added much time to travel.  I was never anxious to get home on those nights.

            Our little red car eventually met its end and whatever it was we bought after that, it did not hold my fancy.  I soon learned to love horizontal beauty of the country with its sunflower fields of summer, but the same villages lost the charm they’d held from the back window.