Relateable Me

Just another WordPress.com weblog

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!”

 

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.

 

 

 

A Full-Night’s Rest February 10, 2009

Filed under: Short Stories — relateableme @ 9:49 am

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.”