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Cake and Gifts

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Hello, Dear One,

You were thinking about the talents I give each person, and I would like to explain something so you can understand a little better.

Imagine a layer cake. I know what kind you like best, so pretend it’s a yellow cake with raspberry jam between the layers covered thickly with chocolate frosting.  Chocolate frosting made with plenty of butter and lots of powdered sugar.

From the outside, it looks like a chocolate cake.

If you wipe away some of the frosting, you might discover the yellow cake underneath, but if you take the time to slice a wedge out of the cake, you discover the veins of raspberry jam, and they are delicious!

The talents I give are like that.

Some people skate along on the surface, enjoying and maybe even using their talent for, say, singing well.

If they develop self-discipline, deepening the effortless ability I gave them through daily practice, they find under the talent a real skill – maybe it’s a performance skill – a result of their hard work developing their ability.

Sometimes, I allow my children to experience hard times.  Sometimes prolonged hard times.  Sometimes I walk with them through truly horrific circumstances.  These are the knives with which I remove a wedge of the cake, IF they allow me.

Those people find a treasure when they let me refine them deeply.  When they accept circumstances with faith that I know what I’m doing, they discover a well of richness I hid in them.  Maybe it’s a gift of humor, or an ability to organize, or an ease of manner with the mentally ill.  Maybe it’s an ability to understand pain, or to comfort the dying.

These gifts are the raspberry jam, existing only in the small space between layers, deep in the heart of the cake.  Most people don’t even know they’re there.

They are gifts I want you to discover.

Ask me how, Dear One.  You know how much I enjoy our talks.

Love and my blessing,

God

About that workout…

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Hi there, Dear One,

It’s me, God.

I enjoyed our talk this morning, and I see you there, scrubbing the floor at the firehouse.  That black gunk under the chair legs really does make the room look grungy – thanks for taking  the time to make it more beautiful. Beauty reflects me. Draws people to me.

Careful not to think judgmentally about the people don’t care about the cleanliness of the room.  You don’t have my perspective about why the dirt doesn’t bother them.

I hear you thinking about working out.  It’s true, scrubbing the floor with the sponge under your boot is a lot like an aerobic workout, but I much prefer you use the movements of a workout for a better purpose.

I would much prefer to see the empty motions and actions be filled with meaning and purpose by putting them at the service of others.

Imagine how much could be accomplished for your neighbor if the same two thousand leg and arm motions of a long run were instead used to shovel a driveway, clean a floor, or chop some wood for a poor man’s stove?  And if you did that every day?  If everyone did it every day?

Your workout would have real meaning.  It would change the world!  It would take the ‘self’ out of all those motions.  Isn’t that why you want to work out?  To look more like the definition of beauty in the early 21st century?  Dear one, that is very selfish.

I love you and will show you where my children can best use the energy you put into those workouts.  If you ask.

I’m here when you want to talk,

God

Kiss in the Moonlight

A Kiss in the Moonlight

In Jan’s face, there are a hundred moods. She has the no-nonsense stance of the Kindergarten CCD teacher who has instructed both father and son. Around her eyes are the trying-not-to-laugh crinkle lines which deepen when the children call out “God!” in response to every question. In her light eyes, too, is the profound sorrow of the wife abandoned. Decades together truncated by her husband’s disease.

Some Sundays, she is the Disciplinarian, the loving Role Model, and the Resigned Participant in life’s tragedy, but there was something different today. Today, she was the Romantic.

“It was a full-moon last night,” said Jan. “When I realized it, it was late, but I went by there anyhow. They say you can visit anytime, twenty-four hours a day, so why not?”

Stephen didn’t know it was night.

He saw her putting on one of his shirts and her coat, so he got his coat, too. He thought they were going out. And they were, only just to the garden.

When they staggered outside, his legs stiff from disuse, the beautiful moon had gone under a cloud. Six times they walked around the garden perimeter, cold, under a cloudy sky. Then, finally, she looked up at the sky and saw the clouds moving away from the moon.”

“Do you think you could go around one more time?” she asked him.

He nodded.

Jan he tucked his arm under hers and walked him to the center of the garden. When the moon swept out from under the piled billows, she turned to face him, silver light dancing merrily over their silver hair.

“How about a kiss?” she asked.

And together under the moon in the midst of the garden of failing memory, they kissed.

Love is always creative. And creating.

“What did you do to him out there?” asked the night-nurse when they stood arm in arm, the chill clinging to their coats. “He’s grinning from ear to ear!”

Jan smiled coyly.

“We had a little kiss in the moonlight.”

If you read Rosana –

– would you please take a minute and provide some feedback by writing a comment below?

There are some changes to the ending which I am contemplating, and I would be grateful for your thoughts about the current ending.

Also, if you liked the story, I would be grateful if you would share the link to this blog with your network where they can read Rosana for themselves.

Many thank, and God bless you,

Sylvia

 

 

Epilogue – a year later

Nena tugged at his pant leg, begging for a crumb of attention, but Barto didn’t even notice. He was crooning to a little blanket-covered bundle he held carefully in his arms.

Bring him to me, Love,” said Rosana, holding out her arms. “Hear him fussing? He needs to eat.”

He’s fine,” said Barto, bouncing Owen slightly, “we’re having some male bonding time.” He toured the patio, pointing out the sights. “Down there is Palmar, your hometown, and over there is the beach where Papi gave Mami her ring – see her ring?”

Rosana held up her left hand, making the bright stones flash in the morning sunlight.

And down there is the Church where Papi and Mami were married, and here is Nena, who is jealous of the attention you get.”

And here is abuelita,” said Norma, wheeling out onto the patio. She sniffed the air sharply. “Abuela can smell that it is time for a diaper change! Give me that baby.” She held out her arms imperiously and waited while the child’s father laid him gently in her lap.

See you in a minute, young man,” he whispered to the baby.

Rosana waited until the baby was secure in his grandmother’s arms and then pushed the chair into the living room, converted to Norma’s bedroom.

Just call when you’re ready, abuela” she said, kissing the top of Norma’s head.

Norma looked up, her eyes beginning to overflow. “Mija, how was this possible? How could this little one have come to be?”

Barto says it’s because he’s so strong,” grinned Rosana, twirling a lock of the baby’s curly hair. “But you already know, Mama. It’s part of God’s plan. Maybe Owen is going to do something important.”

Or maybe God just intends our line to keep on going.”

Either way, he’s here, our love come to life, and you have a grandson.”

Norma held the baby to her heart. “God be praised,” she wept.

Chapter 33

Three days later, she began to feel alive again.

Stepping out into the early-morning sunshine, she stretched and nearly tripped over a new five-gallon drinking water dispenser on the front porch. She spent the morning draining it, scrubbing it, moving it to their kitchen, and refilling it with water from the well.

She hoped Jaime hadn’t poisoned the well. But Jaime was in jail now, La Madre had told her when she had collected Norma and gone home, thanking the Mother Superior for her hospitality. La Madre had simply smiled, making no reference to the conversation she knew must have occurred in her office.

Norma slept a lot over the next few days. When the bread and roast pig were eaten, boxes of fresh fruit, bread, and meat began to appear on their front porch every other day. There was no card, no signature, but Rosana knew where it came from. She just left simple thank you notes and wondered why she didn’t care.

One Saturday, two weeks after the party, she and Norma walked to the beach in Palmar, paper from the Sisters on one of La Madre’s clipboards. She sat in the shade of a tree and sketched portraits for three hours, earning enough money for a week of groceries. On the way home, she bought them dinner at one of the little restaurants, and was greeted kindly by the people who gathered around to see the woman who had broken Jaime’s arms.

They went to the beach every Friday and Saturday, drawing portraits for the tourists. Rosana made enough money to cover their food and rent costs and one day took the bus alone into Bani to buy more medications for Norma. The bus driver made the whole bus wait for her to find her way back to the station before starting the return journey.

On the beach, they heard rumors about the bodegas that Jaime had constructed on their property. They were just as happy to hear Senor Barto had had them burned to the ground. Summer faded away, and the planting season began. Sometimes, Rosana stood at the well and looked out over the fields, wondering if he was one of the little figures she could see bending over the rows of tilled earth, planting seeds.

In late August, La Madre gave her two commissions, and she painted a Christmas card for the Convent, and a picture of gleaners in the field, which La Madre said was for the Mayor. Rosana suspected the finished product was collecting dust in the Convent’s back pantry. But the money allowed her to order new canvases and paint from the Capital.

In September, Rosana called Olinda, who was remarried with a baby and lived in an apartment in LA near her mother. Olinda couldn’t remember Norma’s name, but wished her well and wondered if there was any more life insurance money left.

At Thanksgiving, she called her mother, who seemed vaguely interested to hear she was alive, but didn’t know where the Dominican Republic was. She had to take another call and hung up. Rosana molded a turkey out of mashed plantain and served it with ketchup to Norma. They laughed together so loudly that Sister Clara came from the Convent garden with her trowel to check on them.

Near Christmas, she received a package.

It was more like a large, padded envelope, but Rosana squealed and ran to set down her drawing box on the kitchen counter before coming back out into the light to open it.

Inside was a ring. It was dirty and scratched, but she recognized it immediately. Her wedding ring, lost in the onion field. She spent the next two days picking out the dirt with a toothpick. Both she and Norma cried, but Rosana did not put it on. Instead, she walked to the well and looked down over the onion fields, a strange longing in her tight throat.

On Christmas Eve, she wrapped a canvas in tissue paper and put it in the ragged duffle bag. Maybe I’ll buy a new bag after New Years, she thought, lifting the bag to her shoulder.

That bag brings back memories, Mija,” said Norma, nodding at the bag from the kitchen where she sat cleaning the last of the wheat. “Will you glean again this year?”

I think it would be wise, when we’re not at the beach. Don’t you?”

Norma dropped her hands into her lap and looked at Rosana. “Oh, ‘Sana. I just wish there were some way for you to be happy.”

I am happy,” laughed Rosana, kissing her mother on the forehead. “I have you.”

Norma shook her head. “No. Something’s missing. And I pray everyday that you’ll find it.”

Rosana smiled back her tears and pointed to the bag. “I’m going to deliver this painting, but I’ll be back before dark.” She set off down the hill waving to the Sisters in the Convent yard and Zoli’s family near the road. This time, when the bus passed, Rosana flagged it down and rode the rest of the way, paying the fare in coins earned with her pencil at the beach. She climbed out the door and waved to the conductor, pleased with herself.

Then she walked down the road to the warehouse.

There was only one truck in the yard, Barto’s truck, and she clucked. “Working on Christmas Eve!” she said to herself, stopping before she had to consider why. What else did a single man have to do on holidays?

She pushed open the door. “Hello?” Her voice echoed around the empty warehouse, bouncing back to her with memories, especially one in which bags of wheat were stacked in rows and a small pile of loose wheat was left on the floor, ready to be ground into flour for the harvesters’ gift loaves. She smiled. Baking money into the bread had been a great idea. People at the beach were still talking about it.

Can I help you?” The inquiry came from the room upstairs. She climbed the gray, iron staircase and peered into the room at the top. An office, by the look of it, with stacks of papers in precarious piles on the desk top. A small cot stood in one corner. She waited until he looked up.

Merry Christmas!” she said lightly, smiling.

For a moment a rush of joy filled his eyes, but she watched as he quelled it, looking down at his papers for a moment before standing and holding out his hand.

Rosana. Merry Christmas to you, too.” He waved his hand. “Can I get you something to drink? I have water or – he stared around the room as if seeing it for the first time – water.”

She laughed, and like a gust of wind, it freshened the room. Barto stood taller.

I’d like some water,” she smiled.

He leaned back in his chair and indicated a metal stool. She sat, while he looked at her.

You look healthy. Is Norma doing well?”

She’s fine, thanks. We’ve been busy down at the beach every weekend.”

I heard you are drawing portraits for the tourists.”

Someone has to make sure the Mayor’s pier is built properly! If I weren’t there, I’m sure the workmen would forget something!”

Barto wondered if that was more likely to happen if she was there. He smiled at her joke. “Your water!” He jumped up and found a cup, which he filled under the spout of a five-gallon container that looked remarkable similar to the one in their kitchen.

Thank you,” she said, meaning it.

He looked up, handing her the cup. “You’re welcome.”

No, I mean thank you for everything. For the water container, and the food, and for my rin-” she choked, tears threatening to spill, but she concentrated on the cup and succeeded in pushing them back.

He was at her side in an instant.

It occurred to me sometime after we almost lost you,” he said, kneeling beside her. “It occurred to me that I had really done nothing to help you.”

Nothing to help us? Rescuing me from Jaime, renting us a house, letting me glean in your fields – these things are nothing?”

Those things were designed to make you prove yourself. I wanted to see what you were made of. You showed me every day, but I was never sure it was enough.”

Enough for what? What could I possibly prove to you when we had nothing? Nothing!”

He sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he looked tired, but a flash of determination shone there.

Rosana, I have loved you since the moment I caught sight of you, pushing Norma into Palmar. I loved you when you thought I had carried off Norma in front of her broken house. I loved you every day you gleaned in my fields, and when you spoke to me -” He shook his head. “It was almost more than I could bear. Then, the night you came to me on the pile of wheat, and I held you in my arms -” Barto stood to his feet and began pacing the length of the office. “What is a man to do with that feeling? With that knowledge that he has seen true Beauty, and Goodness, and has, by his own pride, let it slip from his grasp?”

Come,” she invited, pulling the chair next to her stool. “I have a present for you. They don’t seem to sell ‘present-wrap’ here, as my brother, Jamesey, used to call it, so it’s only covered in tissue and you’ll have to imagine the wrapping paper.”

He imagined flashing silver and flaming red with patterns of hope and joy.

Thank you,” he said, sitting down to accept the gift she pulled from the duffle bag.

It’s our little house,” she explained, as he unwound the tissue and stared at the picture. “When I started to paint it, I realized that everything we really need to live there, you provided for us. See the buckets on the front porch, and the mattress through the front door? Even the windows were a gift from you. I wanted to say thank you. A true thank you.”

He studied the picture for a moment and then looked up at her. “All I want to do is provide for you. For you and Norma. I want to give everything to you.” He looked with clear, steady eyes.

That night,” began Rosana, tears springing to her eyes, “that night you promised to take care of me, you promised, and you didn’t keep your promise. The next day, you didn’t want me anymore, and I felt – I still feel – dirty. Like I’ve been thrown out.”

He knelt at her feet. “Rosana, I am sorry. I was jealous – in my eyes Jaime had been to you in the night, and I thought I had been tricked! I gave my word to get your land back, and I did, but I thought -at first- that that was all you wanted. Please forgive me!”

Two things -” replied Rosana. “No, three.”

Anything, Rosana. Anything I can.”

Okay – first, how did you find my ring?”

It was embarrassingly simple. I borrowed a metal detector and went to the onion fields that border the river. It was in the first one. I found it after about fifteen minutes of searching. I’m just sorry I didn’t do it when I first heard you lost it. You’re not wearing it,” he said, picking up her left hand. She shook her head, looking away.

What is number two?” he asked, changing the subject quickly.

Rosana pointed to the painting. “You see the clothes line?”

He nodded.

See how there is an empty space there between the socks?”

He nodded again, and then smiled. He stood and walked to the cot, pulling a small bundle from under the pillow. “Here,” he said simply.

Number three?”

She tucked the shirt into the duffle and looked up at him. “Number three is a little harder, at least for me.”

If it is in my power -”

It is. It’s that,” her face took on the color of her hair, “it’s that when you held me down there,” she pointed out into the warehouse, “I felt safe, like nothing could harm me, like I didn’t have any responsibility to carry, and that everything was going to work out.” She paused, and he stood before her, helping her to her feet. In a moment, she was wrapped in the same embrace, inhaling the same aftershave mixed with the fresh smell of the good earth. “For number three,” she said to his shirt, “I wanted to tell you that I love you.”

Chapter 32

The final time Rosana jerked awake, she found the early-morning chill settling over the silence. The adreneline and fear of last’s night’s adventure had drained away with the river into the sea, leaving her wishing she could sit here to recover in silence for a day or two. But it was chilly, and dawn was coming. She shook Norma gently and uncurled her aching legs.

What a blessing, ‘Sana!” whispered Norma, holding up the bag of bread with the water bottle. “I still have it!”

Rosana choked back a cry of delight. “See? See? I told you God would provide, and he did!” They broke off chunks of bread and ate, washing it down with sips of water.

It’s good you brought those last buckets of water,” laughed Norma. “Imagine if we hadn’t filled the bottles before we left! We’d be drinking from the river!”

Unn – unh,” garbled Rosana, her mouth full of bread, “Barto says the river’s full of bacteria and never to drink it.” His name cast a pall over the meal. “What is that?” She pointed to a black place in the loaf. “Please don’t tell me there are bugs in it!”

Norma dug her fingernail into the bread and pulled what appeared to be a large piece of paper from the loaf. She held it up in the pale light. Money.

Both women stared in disbelief, but neither said a word. Norma folded the bill and tucked it inside her shirt. They both calculated the bags of groceries it was worth.

Let’s see if we can get out of here – oh, ick!” Rosana leaped from the protection of the bush, wiping beetles from her legs where the bare skin had been pressed to the soil. The gash on her knee began to bleed again. She ignored it.

Norma held up her hands to be helped from the bush and stood stretching slowing in the growing light. Now, they could see their hands and each other’s faces. Rosana took in their location, and the Convent on the hill a little to the right of them and straight up.

We’ll go to La Madre first,” she explained to Norma, crouching for the older woman to lean onto her back. “Hup!” The first faltering steps were difficult, but Rosana found her balance, and leaning into the incline, started up the long hill, one step at a time.

*

The Lauds bell had already rung when Rosana staggered to the Convent’s kitchen gate. She had skirted the property and come around to the back to avoid any unexpected visitors the Sisters might be hosting today. She lowered Norma to the ground and rang the bell, an action which set off a strange banging in the garden shed. Rosana was too tired to pay attention.

For some reason, it looked as if La Madre was expecting her. In fact, Rosana could not understand why La Madre would have Sisters waiting for them at the back gate, but the fact that they were welcome guests was all that was important. Rosana indicated Norma sitting on the ground by the gate, and was stunned beyond comprehension when a Sister arrived, pushing Norma’s wheelchair.

This way, queridas,” purred Sister Elena, leading the widows to the Convent guest room where baths and breakfast waited. “La Madre says not to nap yet. Just clean up, eat, and then come to her office. We’re so glad you made it safely!” She smiled and closed the door on their questions. The women were glad to obey.

*

A filthy t-shirt over a torn and stained silver dress was not her idea of after-bath clothing, so Rosana was pleasantly surprised to find a worn-but-clean skirt and shirt for herself and dress for Norma waiting near the brilliant-white towels.

They ate the eggs and rice with such pleasure that they were laughing before the meal had ended, and clean and full, it was all they could do to ignore the room’s neat beds and make their way to La Madre’s office, stopping in the chapel to say a quick ‘thank you.’

Sister Elena met them at the office door. “Go in and sit,” she said, “La Madre will be with you shortly. Norma, would you come with me please?” Without waiting for consent, Sister Elena indicated the chair for Rosana and turned and pushed Norma down the hallway toward the work room.

Rosana sat gingerly in the chair. In a moment, she stood again.

I hope she comes quickly, or I am going to fall asleep,” she muttered, crossing the room to look down at their own casita only two stone-throws away. “I’m going to go home, crawl onto that mattress and -”

She jumped guiltily at the sound of steps in the hallway and hurried to sit in the chair Sister Elena had indicated. She looked up expectantly, but it was not La Madre who came into the room.

Barto had closed the door and walked past the desk toward another chair before he saw her. His eyes grew wide and he cried out, “Rosana?” He was across the room in a flash, lifting her to her feet and holding her out to examine her. She flinched when he touched the cut on her knee, but was annoyed by the time he smoothed her wet hair and pulled her close in a tight embrace.

Never,” he choked, tears streaming from bagged eyes down drawn cheeks, “you must never, ever walk away from me like that again. Do you hear me, Rosana? Not ever.” He sobbed into her hair, kissing the top of her head.

She wrapped her arms around him and stood silently while he cried, rocking slowly with the rhythm of his sobs. “You’ve had a long night,” she said when the tears abated.

He nodded. “You, too. That cut looks deep. And it’s my fault! I’m the one who -”

Enough,” she said, sick of emotions. “No more self-pity. We both made it, and so did Norma. Did they catch the guy on the bridge?” He nodded, wiping his eyes with thumb and forefinger and transferring the wet to his dirty jeans. “It was Jaime,of course.”

You mean Jaime, my nighttime visitor?” she asked, arching one eyebrow.

He told me what happened.”

He must have been drunk.”

He was. And then he told me he was going to-”

Nevermind. My guardian angel must have warned me. Something didn’t feel right. And then all these people started to chase us – I didn’t think we were going to make it.” She paused, reliving the panic of being hunted.

That was us. Me and Angelo, and a few other guys who came to save you. We hunted up that river all night until we knew you couldn’t have gone that far with your mother on your back, so we doubled back and came up the hill to the Convent. La Madre said you would come in the morning. And here -” His eyes threatened to overflow again.

Thanks for looking for me. And for getting everyone else to help, too. If I’d known it was you-” she stopped, not sure what she would come out of her mouth at the end of that thought. Would she have welcomed his help? Not after his broken promise. Not after rejecting her. Here he was crying like a tired, overwrought schoolboy – it was anticlimactic. She sighed.

What’s wrong?”

I’m tired, and I want to go home.”

Home? You mean home-home? Back to the US?”

No, Senor Barto, I want to go to the mattress in our casita and sleep for a couple of days.” She moved toward the door. “Do you know if La Madre is coming? She told me to wait for her here. Or, Sister Elena did, anyway.”

She told me the same thing.”

Well, I think I’ll try to go and find Norma and go to the casita. Hopefully, there’s no one inside it!”

There’s not – anymore. We searched it, and there’s been someone on watch ever since. Rosana -”

She turned to him, tired, sad eyes looking out of an exhausted face. “What is it, Senor Barto?”

I’m sorry.”

She grunted and flashing a half-smile, went down the hall to find Norma.

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