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Archive for May, 2013

Rosana – Chapter Nine

Chapter 9

“I have never seen so much paperwork in my life! Aren’t you supposed to rest in peace when you die?”

“The deceased rest in peace. It’s the survivors who do all the work.” The JAG, a military lawyer at Camp Pendelton, faced her across a metal desk partially obscured by an unruly ivy plant.

A Major in his early forties, he had clearly been in this position before, and he slid the thick folio across the desk to her with practiced compassion.

“The way it works,” he started, opening the folder and pointing to the first form, “is first to prove your husband died on active duty. Which we have done. That qualifies him – and his brother – for a small sum to help with interment costs. From there, you will receive this sum here,” he pointed with his pen to a small figure half-way down another page, “as the payout of his life insurance.”

“In other words, you bury him, I support his mother on that.”

“Essentially, yes, if you chose to support her.”

“Well, I’m not just going to let her die.”

“Is she better? I understand she was in the hospital the day – of the accident.”

“She was. Kidney failure. To much something-or-other in her diet. Whatever. They have her on medication, now. Basically, she has to start eating more than ramen noodles.”

“It’s too bad she wasn’t his official dependent – we could have continued her medical care. As it is -”

“I know, right? Now we have to figure out where to house and feed her, and how I’m gonna pay for it.”

“Well, you have his life insurance.”

“Yeah. And that’ll get her through, what? A month at an assisted living home?”

“What about relatives? Or Medicaid?”

“She’s a widow.” Like me, Rosana realized. “And Medicaid is useless,” she continued, “because we’ve got citizenship issues.”

The lawyer shook his head, pushing back in his chair and crossing his legs. “So, what are you going to do?”

“Whatever I have to.”

*

The Delacruz women buried Marcelo and Carlos side-by-side in an annex of the San Diego military cemetery when Norma was released from the hospital two days later. Norma trembled and sobbed throughout the Mass, offered in the base chapel by the Catholic Chaplain. The Marine funeral detachment played ‘Taps,’ and fired a one gun salute for each of the deceased. Rosana straightened the fake grass over the top of the graves while Olinda wept.

When it was over, the Base Commandant shook their hands, gave Rosana and Olinda the folded flags which had covered their husbands’ caskets, and offered not to charge them for their stay at the BEQ, even if they had to stay a whole week.

It was New Year’s Eve.

*

It was hard for Norma to sit still. Even when seated, she rocked and twitched as if pins pricked her from all angles. In her bed, she moaned and rolled, her calves rock-hard as if they were gripped by a hundred terrifying thoughts.

Olinda and Rosana did what they could to make her comfortable in the BEQ room they were all sharing. No one wanted be alone, but deep down, Rosana longed to stand at the beach for long hours and paint a landscape of the ocean of their collective widowhood.

Marcelo.

And Carlos.

Carlos and Marcelo. They spoke of them in the past now. “Marcelo went,” “Carlos was.”

And all the while, through two sleepless nights and bright but empty days of looking across the water which had stolen away the men who had brought them together, rode a nagging thought.

What now?

It was the topic of conversation in their room as they picked at the take-out pancit noodles from a restaurant near the Commissary.

“Olinda.” Rosana pointed her empty fork at her sister-in-law.

“Yeah?” The girl’s eyes were green-bagged with exhaustion. She blew her nose for the hundredth time, but Rosana didn’t have the energy to be annoyed.

“What’re you gonna do now?”

“I doan know…” Her voice trailed into a plaintive squeak which threatened a full-fledged cry. Rosana jumped to prevent it.

“Okay, okay, but what would you do if you could do anything you wanted in the whole world?”

“I’d go to Ensenada with Carlos for our honeymoon! Fourteen hours, Rosana! We were married for fourteen hours!” The revelation brought on a fresh wave of tears.

“I wish I smoked,” Rosana muttered, marching to the bathroom to find a cool washcloth for her disconsolate sister, “then I’d have a reason to go outside!”

“I can’t go back home,” Olinda wailed, taking the proffered cloth and pressing it to her swollen eyes. “I can’t face my Mom. She’s just gonna say, ‘I told you so.’”

Rosana smirked in mirthless agreement. Although I’m sure your mother will find a way to help spend Carlos’ life-insurance money, she thought.

“But what -besides being married to Carlos – do you dream about doing? Teaching? Working in a store? Being a secretary? Working with kids?”

Olinda shrugged, blowing her nose again. “Maybe work with kids. I could be a nurse. I wanted to go back to school and get my LPN certificate. I could help sick kids.”

“Be a nurse. You be a good nurse!” interjected Norma.

The two chattered in Spanish for awhile. Rosana sat back in her chair, arms folded. But what are we going to do, Norma? she wondered.

Where would they live? Not in LA, that’s for sure, she thought. Now that Marcelo was – gone, she’d have to move out of base housing at Cherry Point. Not that she would miss the duplex with the wafer-thin walls, but it had been home. At least for a little while. They could live for a year or so, maybe two if she stretched it, on Marcelo’s life insurance. That is, if she did all of Norma’s care. Hiring help would eat through the small sum quickly, which brought Rosana face-to-face with the concept of a job.

“I’m going out for a smoke,” said Olinda, shoving back in her chair and returning Rosana
to the present.

“’Kay.”

When her sister-in-law closed the door, Rosana turned to Norma. “Come on, Mama. You have to eat. Here. Let me cut this for you.” She sliced the pancit noodles into tiny pieces and guided Norma’s spoon from the plate to her mouth. “See, the problem is, – here, wipe your mouth – I’ve really never worked. Not a real job. My Mom paid for everything up until I got married and Marcelo took over. Everything. School, rent, paint, clothes, food – the whole enchilada. So, I’m just trying to figure out what the heck I’m going to do to support us. What does an art major do to earn money? Teach? Paint murals? Portraits?” Norma returned the question with a look of confusion.

“What the heck I was thinking, living like that without a job? Well, probably that I’d marry someone wealthy. Or keep living off my Mom.”

“I go home.” Norma put down her spoon and looked into her daughter-in-law’s eyes.

“Where’s she going?” Olinda appeared at the door. “Adonde va, Mama?”

“A casa.”

“She says she’s going home, are we going back to LA?”

“Eventually. When we figure out what we’re doing. You wanna go back to LA, Mama?

“Si, a Los Angeles, y entonces a mi tierra.”

“Tierra. Land, right? Your land? You want to go to LA and then to your land? Do you mean to the Dominican Republic?”

“Si, si!” Norma’s eyes brightened for the first time since Rosana walked into the Emergency Room bay and pulled back the curtain to tell her the news. “Mi tierra, la Republica Dominicana.”

“Where’s that?” asked Olinda.

“An island in the Caribbean. Half an island, really. Haiti is the other half of the island.”

“Haiti? Isn’t that where the big earthquake was? Mama! No quieres ir a Haiti!”

“Haiti? No, no, no. La Republica Dominicana.” Norma’s voice was firm.

“Oh my gosh, do they even have running water there? Isn’t it like outhouses and stuff?” Olinda wrinkled her nose.

“I’ve never been. Probably parts of it are like that. What part of the country are you from, Norma?”

Olinda translated. Rosana sat down to hear her Mother-in-law’s story in the mixture of English and Spanish which was the women’s common denominator.

“I was born in the Capital, Santo Domingo, at the big hospital. My family have always been farmers. We owned a mango orchard along the south coast. It was small, but we were part of a larger cooperative – several small farmers who shared the picking, packing, and shipping of their crops.

“My husband, Eduardo, was from the family which owned all the big orchards in the valley and on the foothills of the mountains. His grandfather was from the Spanish family which settled the whole area a long time ago, planting the mango trees.

“Eduardo’s grandfather had one son and one daughter, Eduardo’s father, Eduardo, Sr., who was given control of all the farms when he came of age, and Elena, who married into a family of exporters from the Capital. Elena had four boys and two girls, my husband’s cousins, all of whom grew up in the Capital.

“Eduardo, Sr. had only two sons. One, my husband, and the other, Jaime.” Norma wrinkled her nose. “He is not a good man. He had a wife, but she left him and now he spends his time and money on – many other women.

“My husband’s father split the orchards between his sons. My husband took the half close to Palmar de Ocoa, and Jaime took the half on the hillsides closer to Hatillo.”

“How did you meet him?” asked Rosana.

“Eduardo, Jr., joined my father’s Cooperative and we met at harvest-time, picking mangos.”

“So, then you got married?”

“We got married two years later when my father finally decided Eduardo was the better of the two sons.”

“You mean Jaime wanted to marry you, too?”

Norma nodded, but her pursed lips warned her daughters not to pursue the matter.

“So you married Eduardo.” Rosana pressed.

“Yes. We were married and mostly happy. Marcelo was born, and a year later, Carlos. There was also a baby girl, who died when she was one.” The memory filled her eyes, which soon overflowed.

“And now, all your children are dead,” Olinda stated flatly, ignoring her sister-in-law’s glare.

“Why did you come to the US?” interjected Rosana quickly.

“Oh, there was a time of terrible drought. Trees died, water was so scarce. No crops would grow. A very hard time. We had no more money. We left after three years. Eduardo asked Jaime to take care of his half of the orchards and his house while he was gone, in the hopes that we would come home some day. He sold the all the furniture, the work truck, and his mother’s jewelry and used the money to bring us to this country. When we came to California, he worked as a produce picker up and down the Central Valley.”

“Marcelo told me he was fourteen when you came, so you’ve been here ten years?”

The old woman nodded. “But now, see? Now there is rain and the crops are good in my country. Eduardo died too soon. He would have taken me home again. I know!”

“He died two years ago?”

“Cancer. This country has taken my family. They are all gone!”

Norma’s eyes overflowed again. She rocked back and forth in her chair, tears streaming down her furrowed cheeks. Rosana held her hand.

“I’m going out for a smoke,” said Olinda, hurrying for the door. Rosana glared at her until she sat down. “You have to translate for us,” she demanded.

“Mama, what will we do in the Domincan Republic?” asked Rosana when several minutes of sob-punctuated silence had passed.

“I have nieces in Santo Domingo, and friends in Palmar de Ocoa, and I can live in our old house in Palmar. Jaime will have to make space for me.”

“He doesn’t sound like a person we want to be around.”

“What harm can he do to a bent-over old woman?”

“He could try. But I won’t let him.”

Norma patted Rosana’s knee gratefully. “You are a treasure. But you will stay in your country. You and Olinda.”

“No.”

Norma held up a hand. “You are young. You have life ahead of you. You must forget Marcelo, you must forget me. I will go back to my country, and you will go back to yours. We will live and die and then, God willing, meet in heaven. There.”

“Forget it, Norma. You are my mother, now. I married your son. You’re stuck with me.”

“So you will be single all your life, then? I am too old to marry. Maybe I get lucky and find another husband – you will wait until I raise more sons for you to marry?” She laughed bitterly. “The hand of God has turned against me. I’m going to die!” Olinda wiggled nervously at Norma’s cries.

“God’s gonna have to turn his hand against me, too, then, because I’m staying with you. Not even death will make me go away!” She patted Norma’s hand with the expression of a teacher with an overwrought child.

Olinda looked at them both, trying to translate everything. Rosana, dry-eyed and immoveable. Norma, weeping and shaking her head at her daughter-in-law.

“No. You stay here. Go to your father’s house.”

“And you’ll travel alone to a different country, to a house occupied by someone who might let you stay, to friends who might welcome you, and do what? Hope food and medicine might appear?”

Norma cried silently, rocking in her chair. Rosana gave her a tissue and went to the bathroom, closing and locking the door. She leaned heavily on the counter and stared at the face in the mirror. Pale. Eyes bagged and tired. But there was something else in them. Something Rosana didn’t recognize. She rummaged around in her vocabulary and came up with two words: ‘determined’ and ‘purpose.’ The eyes were tired, but not weak. They were filled with purpose. Even if purpose was nothing more than being needed by an old, sick lady.

“Other than Jamesey, I’ve never had a purpose,” she whispered to the stranger in the mirror, “but it looks good on me.”

She washed her face with handfuls of cool water, slowly. Rosana heard the balcony door slide open and knew Olinda had gone out to smoke, leaving Norma alone. She growled at the girl’s thoughtlessness and hurried to join Norma.

“Olinda,” called Norma tremulously. “Go back to your family. Go to your mother. She needs you. She has many children to take care of. Go to school and be a good nurse. Both you girls go find new husbands.”

Rosana waved dismissively.

“Then who’s gonna help you get to the Dominican Republic? Rosana can’t do it by herself! She can’t even speak Spanish!” The red-tip of the cigarette drew circles in the evening air.

Rosana bristled. “I’m learning,” she retorted.

Olinda shrugged, “I can go back to LA with you and help you pack up. Then I guess I’ll go home.” The circling ceased. “I can’t believe this is happening! Why did Carlos have to die?” Rosana took Olinda’s cigarette and stubbed it out, pulling the girl back inside before her cries disturbed the entire building.

Rosana – Chapter Eight

Chapter 8

“Finally!” Rosana exploded, as the ambulance crew pushed a stretcher through the door of Room 117. “So much for Marine efficiency! It’s been an hour and twenty-seven minutes! Good thing she wasn’t having a heart attack! You could have just sent a hearse!” A twinge of remorse at her own diatribe made her glad Norma probably couldn’t follow the angry English.

“It’s been a busy morning.” The EMT looked from one woman to the other. “What’s wrong?”

“My mother-in-law has blood in her urine. Lots of blood.” She pointed to the bed. The EMT looked and grunted. He took her vital signs before two others lifted Norma out of the recliner, onto the stretcher, tightened the straps and wheeled her out.

“I can stay here for when Carlos and ‘Celo get back,” Olinda suggested, looking around the tiny hotel room.

“Might as well wait in your room. This one smells pretty bad. Give me your cell phone number, and I’ll let you know what happens.” They exchanged numbers and grabbing her purse and Norma’s, Rosana climbed up into the ambulance to their mother-in-law’s side.

“Hey, Olinda!”

Mrs. Carlos Delacruz turned around.

“Congratulations, Newlywed,” Rosana offered with a half smile as the EMT closed the ambulance doors.

As the driver turned on flashing lights and pulled out of the BEQ parking lot, Rosana watched two police cars drive in and park in front of the office.

“Now they get here,” she snorted to herself. Olinda would have to deal with them.

The ride was bumpier than she expected, and Rosana clutched the oxygen tank to stay upright. Except for the radio calls the driver was making, the ambulance was quiet. She smoothed the hair out of Norma’s face and smiled at the look of relief which spread across the aging features at the sight of the purses in her lap.

“I brought them,” Rosana assured her, holding them up. “Can’t face all those handsome doctors without a little lipstick, right?”

Norma smiled.

Rosana looked out the window, then at the grim-faced EMT who sat across from her in the lurching ambulance. “Why does everyone look so sour? Did we call you out too early?”

“Rough morning,” he replied tersely. “Lost two Marines this morning. Me and Farley up there,” he jerked his thumb toward toward the cab, “were on the clean-up crew.”

“Lost? Like they died?”

“Drowned.”

Rosana reflexively glanced out the window toward the gray water. “Bummer,” she said.

The EMT looked away.

*

Military family member identification cards in hand, Rosana trailed behind her mother-in-law’s stretcher as the automatic doors of the Emergency Room whisked open to receive them.

“Let the paperwork begin,” she muttered drolly to the check-in clerk, trying to suppress a nagging sense of disquiet which began working its way into her psyche at the smells of the hospital. “Everything is just fine. Norma is going to be fine. Just thank goodness he has free healthcare,” she assured herself.

“Just a moment, Ma’am,” said the clerk, pattering away from the reception desk without looking up.

The air blasting from the ceiling vent carried with it the scent of disinfectant, rubbing alcohol, and floor wax. Rosana wrinkled her nose. A hundred memories crowded in. Her brother, pale and intubated being wheeled to surgery. Her mother, in the hospital garden, chain smoking. The dim “death room,” where they said goodbye. She pushed the mental pictures aside with difficulty. The carpet and chairs in the waiting area swayed slightly, and she was glad for the sturdy support of the reception desk.

“Mrs. Delacruz? Ma’am?” Rosana concentrated until her focus returned, and to her surprise, found a cluster of medical and law-enforcement personnel surrounding her. She shuddered involuntarily.

“Yes? What? Is Norma alright?”

“Norma?” said a middle-aged man in a Marine uniform, a cross by his rank insignia. A chaplain.

“Norma. Norma Delacruz. My mother-in-law.” The look of confusion on his face annoyed her. “Hello? They just took her down the hall! Did someone miss the fact that we are in the Emergency Room because she needs to see a doctor?”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” this time the speaker was a cutie with a yellow and black ‘MP’ armband which even she knew stood for ‘military police,’ “are you Rosana Delacruz? Spouse of Marcelo Jose Delacruz?”

The uneasy feeling swelled inside Rosana, spreading through her limbs until they began to shake with the effort to contain it. She glanced wildly at each face in the group surrounding her. Each held the same look. The look every member of Jamie’s team gave her the night he – She shouldered her way passed them. “I gotta find Norma.”

“Ma’am.” It was a statement, and it was accompanied by a firm grip on her upper arm. She whirled to face the MP. “Don’t you ‘ma’am’ me, bud. And get your hand off me.” She shrugged violently, desperately. “I gotta get outta here.” She turned around, but the exit had somehow disappeared. She heard them talking. About her.

“I don’t think she knows.”

“Didn’t they talk to her at the BEQ?”

“They talked to Olinda Delacruz. She’s on her way. This is Rosana.”

“Why is she here then? Did her mother-in-law collapse?”

“My mother-in-law,” Rosana interjected too loudly, “is here because she has blood in her urine and needs to see a doctor. Is there a problem? Huh? Is there a problem? Does everyone here have a problem?”

A big black woman in nurse’s scrubs stepped forward and took Rosana’s hand, leading her to a bank of chairs under the ER Waiting Room windows. The Rosana allowed herself to be tugged toward the East-facing windows. Glancing up, she saw the bright, California morning sun glinting off the windows of the Monastery on the hill. On the other side of the freeway.

“Sit down.” The voice was kind, but firm, like a mother with a petulant child. Rosana sat. The woman took her hands.

“Honey, you need to know your man had an accident this morning. It was a bad accident, and he died. His brother died, too. And now you have to be strong. Which is what we women have to do when we lose our men. You hear me? We got to be strong.”

“I don’t believe you.” Rosana jerked her hands away, folding them tightly in her lap.

“Prob’ly not. But it don’t change the truth. A witness said they was standing up to they knees in the water. Some biggish waves come and knock one of ‘um down. There’s a powerful undertow there. Signs all over the place to warn folks. Prob’ly one went to help the other, but must neither of ‘um been able to get back. It’s a tragedy, sure enough. Marines and brothers.”

Rosana said nothing. There was nothing to say. She stared up at the Monastery windows and wondered if the view from those windows was different this morning. Whether the sea was a different color.

“Shanita, I’ll get her some coff-”

“She don’t need no coffee, Jack! Y’all go along and hover somewhere else. I got her.” And she did. Shanita – whoever she was – pulled Rosana’s stiff form into her arms and hugged her with the strength of someone who knew.

“Who did you lose,” Rosana asked her, blankly, when the embrace was over.

“My husband. In Afghanistan. Got blowed up by a roadside bomb. He was driving.”

Rosana regarded her for a moment. Yes. It was there in her eyes. A depth. An understanding.

Shanita grabbed her wrist. “You got kids?”

“Uh uh. Can’t.”

“That’s a blessing and a curse, then. A blessing you don’t have to tell no one they Daddy ain’t comin’ home. A curse ’cause you don’t get to see him in they faces. You know Jesus, baby?”

“What?” Rosana shook her head to focus on the woman beside her.

“Do you know Jesus? If you don’t, you’re gonna wanna get to know him, ’cause the next few months is gonna be tough. Real tough.”

Rosana leaped to her feet.

“Norma!” she gasped. “What am I gonna tell Norma?”

Rosana – Chapter Seven

Chapter 7

“Why are you up so early?” Marcelo stopped his freshly-wakened trudge to the hotel bathroom to squint at her.

“Your Mom’s gonna need a hand getting ready.” Rosana glanced up at him from where she was tying her sneakers with business-like knots.

“There’s no way she’s going to be up this early.” Yawning, he pushed past her and stepped over their suitcases into the bathroom.

“Doesn’t matter. There’s a lot to do if she’s gonna be ready for breakfast at a reasonable hour. Are we meeting the lovebirds today?”

“Carlos and me are going for a run this morning.”

“This morning?”

“A Marine’s gotta stay in shape.”

Rosana threw open the bathroom door and glared at her husband, foam collecting at the corners of his mouth and a sly grin spreading across his face. He spat and rinsed his toothbrush.

“The morning after their wedding night? Have you no shame?”

He soused his head with water and toweled dry vigorously. “Hey, it was his idea, not mine.”

Rosana threw her hands in the air. “Don’t let him forget he’s married. The two of you can’t just disappear and leave all of us hanging around Camp Pendleton wondering when we’ll see you again.”

“You mean you don’t want to have to keep Olinda occupied all day.” He grinned at her, drying his hands on a towel. She stepped aside as he began rummaging through the suitcase.

“That may be part of it, but they need some, you know, personal time. They got married yesterday, for goodness sake!”

Marcelo emerged from the suitcase with running gear and shoes. “Yeah, but they’re gonna have a week alone in Ensenada, and we’re leaving tomorrow. Gotta get some time with family, too, right?” He changed into a red Marine Corp shirt, green nylon shorts, and bent to tie his shoes.

“She is his family, now.”

He paused and looked up at her. “Yeah, but not the same. Not yet. It takes time and, you know, going through things together, before you’re really family. Carlos is my brother, ‘Sana. We’ve been together a long time, done a lot of stuff together. Been through a lot together. Neither of us are going to miss the chance to be together if we can help it.” He went back to his shoes.

“Fine. Whatever. Go be ‘family’ with Carlos and leave all the women-folk to bond. Just a run, right? Back in an hour? Two?”

Marcelo grinned, fitting a baseball cap to his clean-cut head. “Just a run. Unless we find something else that needs to be done…” He opened the door for her and they stepped out into the chilly morning.

“Just in case you get side-tracked watching all the Marines play in the desert or something, I’ll take your Mom up to that Monastery.”

“And Olinda.”

“You are so annoying! Yes, Olinda. Be home by noon.”

He winked and kissed her cheek, then disappeared down the row of rooms in search of Carlos.

*

“Norma?” Rosana opened the door slowly and waited until her eyes grew accustomed to the dark of the room.

“Rosana?” Dulce struggled to sit up in bed.

“Don’t move, now. I’m coming to help you.” Rosana crossed the room and threw open the windows, letting in the morning sunshine.

“Wow. It’s really sunny! Not bad for a couple of days after Christmas.” She turned to the bed and set the slippers on the floor where her mother-in-law’s feet would land. “Okay, ready?”

“No. No. No. I do it. You not help me.” Dulce’s voice was alarmed, high pitched. She waved Rosana away.

“You don’t want me to help you?”

“No! No! I do it.” The older woman pushed back the covers and immediately, the pungent scent of urine filled the air. She glanced fearfully at Rosana.

“Norma, let me help you. It’s okay,” the younger woman soothed, seeing the worried face, “I know all about incontinence. C’mon. Let’s get you to the bathtub. Let me -” Rosana stopped in her tracks and stared at the bed. The wet stain was a dull red-brown, the color of diluted Cherry-Coke.

“Oh crap. That’s really bad. Norma! How long has your pee been this color?” Dulce’s face reflected the rising concern in Rosana’s voice, but she didn’t answer.

“Criminy, do you know what I’m saying? Norma, how long?” She gestured frantically toward the bed. The old woman started to cry.

“Ok. Ok. Don’t cry. We gotta – uhhh, we gotta get you to the hospital. We’re gonna need someone to translate the medical stuff. And Marcelo is run – Olinda! Stay right there, Norma! Stay put. Estar alli, OK? I’ll be right back.” Dulce lay back on the pillows tears streaming down her wrinkled cheeks while her daughter-in-law disappeared out the door.

“Olinda? Olinda?” Rosana pounded on her brother- and sister-in-law’s door. There was no answer. “Olinda!!! Wake up! You’re probably still in bed – of course! She turned away from the door and threw her hands in the air. Where else could she find a Spanish-speaking woman to help with her mother-in-law? At the thought of Dulce’s fear-filled face, Rosana resumed her pounding, and was eventually rewarded with Olinda’s sleepy face peering past the door chain.

“Yeah?”

“Olinda? C’mon. I need your help. Norma’s really sick.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe something with her kidneys. Her pee is all red. Can you,like, hurry? She doesn’t understand all my questions. You gotta speak Spanish to her.”

To her credit, Olinda was already gone from the door. Rosana paced nervously, running fingers through her ponytail. She pushed Olinda’s door open as far as the chain would allow. “Hey – I’m going to the front desk and then back to her room. Meet me there?”

There was a muffled reply, which Rosana didn’t stay around to decipher. She sprinted to the office door and shoved it open roughly. The tired-looking clerk stared at her.

“Can I help you, Ma’am?”

“Yes. I need an ambulance.”

“Are you alright?”

“What do you think, if I’m calling an ambulance? Room 117. It’s gonna take me a minute to get her ready, but can you call? Is there a hospital on this base?”

The clerk was already dialing.

Rosana sprinted back to her mother-in-law’s room, arriving moments before Olinda peeked in the propped door.

“C’mon and help me,” snapped Rosana. The two women stood on either side of Norma’s bed. “We’re going to help her up and into the shower. You can get her some clothes while I wash her. Ready? Grab under her shoulder. One, two , three, up!” Rosana threw back the covers, praying Olinda wouldn’t say anything to embarrass Norma.

“Que te pasa, Mama? What’s wrong?” asked Olinda. They chattered together between grunts as the three women made their way to the bathtub.

“She says it started being this color yesterday. She says she doesn’t feel very good.”

“I bet.” Rosana laughed mirthlessly. “Okay, Mama. It’s gonna be a quick shower!”

“Ma’am? Hello?”

Rosana stuck her head around the bathroom door. “What?”

The desk clerk stood uncertainly in the doorway. Rosana could see him trying not to wrinkle his nose as he surveyed the bed and the piles of reddish nightclothes outside the bathroom.

“Uh, the ambulance is on its way.”

“Great.” Rosana disappeared back into the bathroom.

“Uh, can I help? I, uh, know CPR?”

“Yes. Can you get in touch with her sons? Corporal Marcelo Delacruz. And Carlos. Corporal Carlos Delacruz. They’re out running somewhere. No, Norma. You just sit still. Olinda and I will dress you.”

“Do you know where they went?”

Rosana peered around the corner again, her face turning red. “If I knew where they were, I would get them myself! Can you call the police or something?” She disappeared for a moment, then returned to glare at him. “You do have police here, right?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied curtly, turning stiffly away from the door.

Rosana – Chapter Six

Chapter 6

“One hundred percent ID check?” Dulce’s voice, Rosana noted, had a slight tremor.

No te preocupes, Mama,” Marcelo turned in the driver’s seat to face his mother, who gripped her purse tightly. “Don’t worry. You have to show your ID to get onto any military base in the world.”

“But what if…”

“Give Rosana your purse. She’ll get it out for you.” He preempted her by taking the bag and handing it over his shoulder to the back of the Ford Focus where Rosana sat with her chin on her knees.

“We’ll get through this line and then check in at the BEQ. Carlos said he and Olinda would be there by 1800. That’s 6:00 PM.” He glanced at his watch.

The Marine at Camp Pendleton’s main gate was polite. He glanced at the rental car registration, all three IDs, and waved them through. Rosana caught a glimpse of a green-gray ocean to the West, sunshine crackling and sparkling on the rollers as they poured like icing onto the sandy shore. Away to the East, treeless hills and brown, desert soil.

“What’s that? Up on the hill?” But Marcelo, navigating the one-way streets of the base didn’t answer.

“What, Querida?” Dulce tried to turn and face her, but succeeded only in inclining her head back toward her daughter-in-law.

“It looks like a building way up on the top of the hill. Imagine the view from up there!”

Marcelo wheeled the car into a parking space outside the long, low Base Enlisted Quarters building. Turning off the ignition, he looked up. “Where? That hill up there on the other side of the freeway?”

Rosana nodded, bending low to look out the windshield.

“It’s an abbey. Monks and stuff. They stay up there and pray all day.” He pushed open his door and jogged around to get his mother’s.

“Doesn’t ‘wife’ come before -” Rosana started, but bit back the bitter remark. Instead, she unfolded herself from the back of the car, stretched, and with a long look at the shining windows on the hill went to help her husband with his mother.

*

“Alright, she’s cute.”

“She’s pretty.”

She’s not pretty, she’s cute. There’s a huge difference.”

And, she speaks Spanish.”

Ohhh, so that makes her pretty. I don’t think so. She looks like too much ice cream spilling out of a white satin cone.” Rosana kicked her crossed leg, arms folded, knee popping.

You’re jealous.”

Rosana snorted at her husband, eyes wide, feigning incredulity. “Of what? Chocolate soft-serve?”

Knock it off. That’s way out line.”

She speaks Spanish,” Rosana imitated in sing-song, “so you can all talk without the Cracker listening in.”

See? You’re jealous.” Marcelo grinned, watching his brother and his wife gyrate on the parquet floor of the ballroom. Carlos and Olinda’s wedding had been blessedly short, and after putting Dulce safely in her bed, the two couples had gone dancing in the quasi-elegance of the Pendleton All-Hands Club. Marcelo leaned over and whispered, “Jealous is ‘celoso,’ in Spanish.” He kissed her earlobe, slowly. “You look fabulous, Celosa.”

The smile he hoped to elicit spread reluctantly across her features. She rose and stretched out her hand.

Are you going to ask me to dance, Mr. Tall, Dark, and Marine-ish?”

Only if you can do a little better than Olinda.”

Rosana smirked as he pushed her toward the dance floor, his muscular hands enclosing her shapely waist.

Try not to be jealous of Carlos. I’ve only had twelve years of ballet, so don’t expect me to compete with Miss -excuse me- Missus Bust-A-Move over there.”

Marcelo ignored the verbal barbs and made her prove her skills.

Rosana – Chapter Five

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Chapter 5

Marcelo made an illegal U-turn and pulled up in front of an apartment building whose 1950s-era pink plaster was falling off in large chunks.

“Is it safe to get out here?” asked Rosana, eying the groups of scruffy adults and half-clothed children who were staring at the car.

“Stay there.” Marcelo climbed out and moved their duffle bags and Rosana’s purse to the trunk. Then he slammed and locked the lid.

“Welcome to East LA, ma’am,” he quipped, helping Rosana out of the car.

“Thanks, I think. Do any white people live here?” She smoothed her dress compulsively, looking up and down the street.

“Just stay near me, and you’ll be fine.” Marcelo locked the doors and taking her firmly by the hand, strode into the courtyard of the building. Cat calls pierced the heavy, hot air as they passed. Televisions blared from open doors, and the smell of fried foreign food wafted from open windows. Filth pervaded the grounds and a palpable depression descended on the pair as they made their way past broken stairs and overflowing dumpsters. The voice of a screaming infant mingled with the sound of a heated argument. Marcelo pulled her close and guided them to the other side of the broken cement courtyard.

“I can see why this is a good place to be illegal,” Rosana muttered. “What cop in his right mind would come in here?”

“Only the SWAT team and the priest make it in and out. It’s around back.”

“Your Mom’s apartment?”

“No. She doesn’t have an apartment. She lives in here with a bunch of other Dominicans.” He pulled her quickly around one end of the building to a small plaster house of the same vintage and color as the apartments.

“What, in the Pink Palace?”

Marcelo laughed. “That’s what Carlos and I call it.”

Rosana smoothed her dress, discreetly drying her palms on the fabric.

“Ehh! ‘Celo!” She looked up in time to watch the screen door fly back and hover, it’s spring too old and mis-shapen to pull the door closed again. A torrent of people began to pour out of the house. They flowed around Rosana in a chattering, swirling, staring flood which enveloped and carried her bodily through the door of the dilapidated house.

The room through which the crowd carried her was filled to overflowing with furniture of every variety and style which could possibly be crammed inside. Through a dilapidated kitchen and small living room with grungy carpet the crowd pushed, beaching her in front of an open door. She spun around, hoping to find Marcelo at her heel. Marcelo to go in first. Marcelo to handle his mother.

But Rosana was alone in the crowd, which lapped expectantly on the shores of her mother-in-law’s room.

Soon, a woman of tsunami proportion came from behind and pushed her inside.

*

Norma, or ‘Dulce,’ as most people called her, had been waiting all day.

“‘Celito was so taken with her beauty,” she told Anna, her hair dresser, a matron from one of the apartments, that morning, “he couldn’t stop until he married her! Not even long enough to bring her to me, first.” Dulce wrung her hands.

“I wouldn’t let my boy run off with a girl like that,” Anna had clucked.

“Oh, my Marcelito has very good taste. And without his Father here, he’s the head of the family, now. I know he chose well. I only wish Eduardo had lived to meet her! He would have taken us all back to our property in the Dominican Republic, and we would live in the house that is waiting for us there.”

“Is she Dominican?” the hairdresser pressed.

“Her name,” said Dulce, pulling in her stomach and flaring her nostrils with pride, “is Rosana.”

“Lemme see a photo,” Anna insisted, un-clipping the colorful plastic cylinders from Dulce’s hair.

“I don’t have one. Marcelito wants to surprise me.”

“Ahhh, that’s not a good sign, Dulce! He’s hiding. Why won’t he send his own Mama a picture of his bride?”

“She’s probably an American girl, and he wants me to be surprised! I always told my boys to cast the net wide in America. You never know what they might catch! What if she’s beautiful and rich?”

“But what if she’s Haitian?”

Both women sighed, and Dulce hobbled home to ponder this possibility.

*

“Uh, hi?”

In one glance, Rosana took in the muu-muu-style dress, plastic crucifix, fraying sateen comforter, and dollar-store fake flower arrangement, still in its protective plastic.

Rosana meets mother-in-law, she thought, eying the short, slight woman with dyed black curls standing slightly bent and supported by a cane.

Dulce, wide-eyed, looked from the leggy redhead in a tight, thigh-length blue mini-dress to Anna, the hairdresser, and all the chattering throng elbowing for a glimpse around Anna’s girth. A smile leaped to her eyes and to her lips

“You are my Rosana! My very own Rose!” Dulce lurched toward her new daughter, arms outstretched.

“Cuidado!” cried Anna in unison with gasps from the onlookers as Dulce’s cane caught on the carpet’s edge and sent her sprawling toward the floor.

But Rosana was quicker than gravity, and leaping across the room, caught Dulce in her arms before her mother-in-law’s outstretched wrists could take any impact.

“Whoa! Omigosh, are you okay?” Rosana knelt on the once-green shag carpet. The older woman lay against her heart weeping and shaking. For a moment, it seemed to Rosana she was holding a frail bird, fallen from the nest and unable to return to the protection of it’s family home.

A sensation she understood. She crooned and rocked, smoothing the woman’s hair from her forehead and wiping the tears on the sleeve of her cardigan.

“Find Marcelo,” Anna commanded, turning to shoo the crowd, and blessedly, closing the door behind her.

A moment passed in which neither woman spoke. Then, making no effort to move, Dulce, calmed, looked up into Rosana’s eyes.

“You are me daughter. Me.” Dulce patted her chest, speaking calmly in heavily accented English, but Rosana understood. She had been claimed. Spoken for. She waited for the disgust and revulsion to well up within her. The wave of physical sickness which always overtook her at moments of interpersonal emotion, but none came. Just a sweet peace, a sense of belonging, and an awareness that in a few short moments, her world had changed.

*

When Marcelo shoved open the door of his Mother’s room, he expected to find Rosana with the half-sneer she wore whenever she met one of his friends. Her, ‘you’re-not-quite-good-enough-for-me-but-I’ll-tolerate-you-for-a-few-minutes,” look. Or a look of general revulsion at the state of poverty in which his Mama lived.

He did not expect to find her on her knees adjusting his Mother’s shoes.

“‘Celito!” His mother crooned, reaching out to hug him from her seat on the edge of the bed.

“Mama, they said you fell! Are you okay? Do you need to go to a doctor?” He held her at arm’s length, looking her over.

“No, mi amor. La angelita de misericordia came to keep me from fall. Santa Teresita sent me a Rose from heaven. ‘Celo, ‘Celo, Rosana es una tesora.”

Marcelo grinned.

“She calls you ‘a treasure,'” he said, helping Rosana to her feet and searching her face. “What happened?”

His wife shrugged. “I dunno. She tripped I guess.” She inspected the room. “This place is too small for a wheelchair, but she needs one. You’d have to widen the door, too. Where’s the bathroom?” Rosana stuck her head into the living room, looking up and down the length of the tiny house her mother-in-law shared with five others.

“You’d better just wait until we stop somewhere,” Marcelo whispered, coming to stand behind her.

“Not me! Your Mother! We have to drive, so she’d better go, right? She’s gonna need help. That foot’s not responding well.”

“‘Sana,” Marcelo pushed her out into the living room and kept his voice low. “There’s no running water here. It’s just a hole outside, ya know?”

“WHAT?”

“Shhh! Shhh! Don’t embarrass her by asking to use it or take her to it. She wants to stop at the Mission at San Juan Capistrano, anyway. She can go there.”

“What does she do in the middle of the night? Even in the day! She can’t make it up and down those stairs!”

He shrugged. “I dunno. Last time I was here, she was fine. Is she really bad?” His eyes took on their haunted look, and Rosana looked away.

“Please,” she snorted, driving away concern with sarcasm, “it’s just a flare-up. It happens from time to time. She’ll have good days and bad days, but she’s not gonna die tomorrow.”

“How do you know?”

“Look, why do you bother asking me if you’re not going to believe what I say?”

“I just wanna know how you know she’s not…in danger.”

Her thoughts flashed to several of the dozen Multiple Sclerosis websites she had visited prior to their departure, but she said nothing.

“For all we know, she could die tomorrow!” he insisted.

“For all we know, you could die tomorrow, Marcelo. She needs a bathroom, and I’m taking her.” Rosana turned on heel and marched back into the room, where Marcelo heard the two women exchanging words. Soon, she was back, his Mother’s arm firmly intertwined with her own.

“There’s a huge bag on the bed, ‘Celo. Why don’t you take it to the car? I think she has everything she owns in it! We’ll meet you there in a few minutes.

Still, Marcelo hovered, watching his wife and mother make their way slowly out the door and down the stairs. Dazed, he turned back to her room. The bag was there on the bed. He wrinkled his nose. The stench of urine lingered around the bedding, but what rose up to choke him was a deep and overwhelming guilt.

He grabbed the bag and hauled it from the house.

Rosana – Chapter Four

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Chapter 4

The warmth was a welcome relief.

Although Rosana did not disconnect from the iPod which, like an electronic dam, repulsed any communication between them, she muted the music as she and Marcelo pushed through the narrow airplane aisle and out into the crowded jetway. Crew members slammed in and out of the door atop stairs leading to the open sides of the jet, retrieving strollers and wheelchairs for anxious parents and caregivers. Warm air seeped in. Unconsciously, Rosana inhaled deeply, relaxing the muscles at the base of her neck. The air held diesel fuel and – change. She wasn’t sure what it was, but it was welcome.

“I’m glad I came.”

“What?” Marcelo’s tone was annoyed.

“I said, it doesn’t feel like December, here.”

“It’s cool, for LA.”

“It’s hot for North Carolina, or Washington, DC, which is all I have to compare it to.”

“Compared to the Dominican Republic, it’s cool, too.”

“So, does your Mom speak English?” Rosana tugged out one ear bud and then another, wrapping them around her hand and pushing them into the media pocket of her jacket. Marcelo was moving fast, threading his way through the crowds milling around the gates like sheep waiting to be herded onto a truck. Rosana hiked the backpack higher on her shoulder and jogged to catch him.

“Baggage claim,” she pointed. He grunted and sped along the wall toward the carousel, which began to honk and turn as if on cue. Marcelo halted, dropping his pack to the floor. Rosana puffed to a stop beside him. She let her bag slide down next to his.

“Yeah, she speaks English. Some.”

“Why only some? Hasn’t she been here for, like, a decade?”

“Ten years. You know, it’s hard to learn how to live in a new country. My Mom is really – traditional, and when my Dad died – that’s mine.” Marcelo leaped forward and hauled his olive green military-issue duffle bag from the carousel.

“What? When your Dad died, what?”

Marcelo wrestled the bag to the floor, aligning it precisely with his backpack on the glossy tiles.

“She didn’t have a lot to live on, so she stays with some other Dominicans. They only speak Spanish, so…”

It was Rosana’s turn to grunt.

“If I ever have to move to another country, I’m gonna learn the language, like, instantly. I can’t even imagine going somewhere and not learning how to at least communic — what’s going on?”

Marcelo turned to look where Rosana pointed. At the end of the baggage carousel, a loud cry dominated the noise of the crowds and machinery.

“It looks like a guy in a wheelchair. He’s crying about something. Let them handle it, Rosana. Rosana! Don’t get involved!”

“Stop! Stop!” Rosana rushed at the airport escort behind the wheelchair and shoved the man aside. “Stop! He’s gonna fall! Wrapping one arm protectively around the passenger, who was leaning forward at an awkward angle, Rosana jerked the chair backward and flipped on the brake.

“His foot is dragging, can’t you see that?” She raced around to the front of the chair and bent to adjust the foot holds. “If you let it drag, he’ll flip right out onto the floor! No! Stop! Put down the foot rest and then lift his leg up onto it. Never mind, let me do it.”

Rosana gently raised the man’s foot and set it onto the support. Then she stood and looked into his eyes. His mouth worked and a string of drool rolled toward the towel, tied strategically at his neck.

“Don’t worry,” she told him. “You’re fine. We’ll get you someone competent in just a minute.” She glared at the escort.

“I’ll take it from here,” the escort growled, reaching for the handles.

“Uh uh. I don’t think so. I’m going to see this one though. Where is he going?” The escort pointed to the automatic doors. With a sniff and a practiced flip of her toe, Rosana disengaged the brake and pushed the chair out onto the sidewalk where a van idled, waiting to receive him.

*

“I thought you didn’t like sick people.”

Rosana looked out the window of the economy-sized rental car and sighed. Alright, it’s true, she admitted to herself, there are some parts poverty that are really annoying. Not being able to rent an SUV with a sunroof, for instance. Having to go pick up one’s mother-in-law and be squished in a teeny car with her for two hours – another instance.

“Sick people smell bad,” she sniffed, flipping down the sun visor in search of a mirror. “This car’s so cheap it doesn’t even have a make-up mirror!” She slammed it up and flounced back into her seat.

“You knew what it was going to be like, ” Marcelo began.

Rosana held up her hand. “Spare me, please.” He was like a skipping CD whenever she complained about money. She was the one who chose to elope. It was her mother who cut her off when she married Marcelo. He gave her fair warning about the salary of a junior enlisted Marine.

And she had eloped with him anyway.

So now, whenever they got to the house where his mother lived, they would have to smell her sickness all the way from LA to Camp Pendleton. Rosana’s stomach twisted.

“How come you jumped so fast to help the handicapped guy?”

“What was I supposed to do? Let him fall on his face?”

“If you really had such a problem with sick people, you would.”

“It was his lucky day.”

“And you looked pretty familiar with a wheelchair.”

“So?”

“So, I don’t think you hate sick people.” He had the temerity to grin at her.

To her surprise, she grinned back.

“You have a beautiful smile, querida.”

“You just want me for my smile,” she glowered, still smiling. Marcelo reached over and took her hand. For several minutes, they rode in silence, enjoying the companionship. Rosana ran a finger over the back of his muscular hand. Marcelo leaned back in his seat, looking for all the world like a California boy, happy to be home. Rosana watched the rocky dry soil beside the road give way to buildings and then to streets lined with flowering bushes and fruit trees. Marcelo took an exit and maneuvered the car through a commercial zone and onto a residential street.

“You grew up here?” she asked.

“We came here ten years ago. I was fourteen.”

“Why did you come all the way to California? Don’t most Dominicans go to New York, or something?”

“My Dad had a friend who was helping us get to the States. He was in a town called Salinas, so we went to visit him.”

“Salinas is near LA?”

“Uh, uh. No. It’s north.” Marcelo turned right and drove down a road lined with more trash than trees. “The LA River,” he laughed, pointing to a dry cement culvert covered with graffiti.

“Whew. That’s quite a current. Did you do a lot of boating here? Swimming?”

“You know me and water. Carlos and me both had to take swimming lessons to pass the test in the Corps. Let’s just say we didn’t go swimming much.

“Wait. You’re from a Caribbean island, and you can’t swim?”

“Not very good.”

Rosana shook her head. “I went to swim lessons at the Community Center as far back as I can remember. I can’t believe you can’t swim. Please don’t tell me your mother lives in this neighborhood.”

Another turn, and Marcelo was now driving down a cracking street with a weedy median. “Lock your doors,” he muttered, taking his hand from hers and gripping the wheel firmly.

“It’s all cement and graffiti. How depressing. And broken down. Oh geez. I bet people live there! Look at that one! And that one! Oh my gosh, this is worse than Southeast DC!”

“You do whatcha gotta do, ‘Sana. If you poor, if you illegal, this is where you live. Gangland, LA.”

“But your Mom’s not illegal. She’s an American citizen, right?”

Marcelo shook his head, eyes on the road. “She’s Dominican.”

“She’s illegal?” Rosana squeaked, choking on the word. He nodded.

“I’m telling you because you’re gonna see what it’s like when you’re come to a strange country and you have nothing. Maybe then you’ll understand my Mama better.”

“But you’re in the military! You have to be a citizen to be in the military, right? How can she be illegal and you’re not?”

“As far as the recruiter knew, we had a house fire and lost everything. All our documents.”

“You’re illegal?”

“Not anymore.”

“Not anymore? What, did you grow a green card? You and Carlos, too?”

“When you marry a citizen, you become a citizen.”

Rosana sat in stunned silence, trying to fit the pieces together in her mind.

“Ohhhhh, now I get it. You married me to become a citizen! Love, justice, and the American way! Nice to know your how much you truly care!”

“Rosana! Stop! Sit down!” Marcelo slammed on the brake and pulled to the curb before she had her seatbelt off, but not before she threw open the door. “If you run here, you won’t get home,” he shouted. “Look! Look at that wall! You see that tag? This is Blood territory. You try to walk out of here in that blue dress and I guarantee you’ll be in a body bag by dinner.”

“Fine.” Rosana threw herself back in the seat and slammed the door, hoping he didn’t see her fear. She casually slid down until her dress was invisible from the street.

“Let’s just say we both had our reasons for getting married,” Marcelo snapped, pulling the car back into the street, “I needed you, you needed me.”

Rosana snorted, recalculating her entire perception of their married life.

No wonder he had agreed to elope, despite substantial pressure from his Mother and Carlos. Even though she wasn’t Catholic, and couldn’t have kids. No wonder he tolerated her… moodiness. How long did a marriage have to last to be considered ‘real?’ Was he going to ask for a divorce as soon as that time was up?

Rosana put on her sunglasses to hide her tears. Not that I care, she insisted to herself.

Rosana – Chapter Three

Ruth3
Chapter 3

“What, did he try to find someone as opposite from me as possible?” Rosana held the photo near her nose and squinted.

“Carlos?”

“George Washington, ‘Celo. Who d’ya think I’m talking about? Yes, Carlos, and this woman.”

“Her name is Olinda.”

“Whatever. She’s short, and fat.” Rosana waved the photo, accusingly.

“And black. Is that what you have a problem with? You sound like your mother.”

“Aren’t you kind, Mr. Semper Fi. I am only saying that she is way darker than Carlos.”

“And you’re way lighter than me.”

“That’s different. I chose you. She just wants Carlos to get her out of the ghetto.”

“You chose me? Like I had nothing to do with it?”

“Please.” Rosana snorted. “You wanted me. I chose to have you.”

“And you didn’t choose Carlos, and now you don’t get to choose his fiancé. Was he supposed to get your advice first? You haven’t done much to make him like you, Rosana.”

“Your brother’s jealous, Marcelo. So now he’s hanging around with this chick who is my polar opposite. He’s trying to prove something. Did you hear one intelligent thing in this whole email? ‘Come to our wedding at Camp Pendleton the day after Christmas,’ ” she mimicked in a sing-song voice. “Not!”

Marcelo pulled the car into the driveway of the duplex, turned off the engine, and shoved open the door. Two snow flakes drifted down to his camouflaged leg. He watched the melt into the fabric.

“I’m going.”

“Well, take bag of groceries in with you.”

“I’m going to California.”

“To their wedding? You gotta be kidding.”

“That’s my brother. I’d go anywhere if he needed me.”

“How special. He’ll need you at the divorce hearing, too, ’cause this chick’ll be around long enough to divorce him and collect a sweet little alimony check. He’s her ticket out of the LA ghetto that spawned her.”

“‘Sana, if Olinda wants out of her neighborhood, and Carlos wants to marry her, how is that different from you marrying me to get away from your Mom?”

“That’s not the only reason I married you.”

“Oh, yeah. That’s right. I forgot the other reason. You married a Domincan to make her really mad, too. An enlisted man, not even an officer. But now you’re stuck, because you’re an enlisted Dominican’s wife.”

“Be quiet. Lisa’s listening. I can see the curtain in their living room moving. How high-ranking do you have to be before we get a house? This duplex thing is killing me.”

Marcelo let out his breath noisily and climbed out of the car.

Their side of the two-bedroom duplex was furnished in what Rosana described as “late-American Garage Sale” style. Furniture left behind by a family sent overseas. Dishes and curtains from the Base-wide flea market. K-Mart bedding.

In contrast, the framed art hanging from the thin walls was museum-quality. Oils, mostly, in a classic, realistic style. Still lives, landscapes. A portrait in the bathroom. “My father,” Rosana had explained to Marcelo the day she moved in, “there’s only one thing I’d like to be doing when I look at him.”

Rosana kicked off her heels and padded barefoot into their bedroom. The street lamps shone through the window, illuminating her easel and a mess of paints, papers, jars of soaking brushes, and a half-finished portrait. “My little hubby-man,” she murmured as she picked her way passed it to the window. For a moment before drawing the shade, Rosana watched the TV show in a duplex opposite theirs, then turned on a fan to block the noise of Lisa and Jerry’s video game clearly audible through the wall at the head of their bed.

She flopped down, one leg dangling over the edge of the bed, kicking at nothing with her toe. From the kitchen, she could hear Marcelo washing the pots from last night’s spaghetti. He had the game on the kitchen TV.

Four months.

Four months after eloping, they had settled into an uneasy routine. He left before dawn. She slept until Noon. He worked all day at whatever it was he did in that cute little uniform which got more of his attention than she did. Some nights he had duty and was gone all night “standing watch.” Whatever that was. Whatever.

She sat up suddenly and looked at herself in the mirror over the dresser. The poverty wasn’t a problem. She had roughed it before at summer camp every year, and this was no different. She was just – restless.

“I need a little excitement, here,” she muttered. For a moment she considered going out to talk with Marcelo in the kitchen, but they would just fight and she didn’t want to see him looking unhappy.

“In spite of what you think,” she told his imaginary reflection in the mirror next to hers, “I
do care about you.”

She stood and ran a finger over his brush, perfectly aligned on the dresser top next to three books, a fingernail clipper, and a bottle of cologne. Everything arranged by height.

The telephone rang. Rosana flipped on the light and with her toe, cleared a path to the easel. ‘Celo would get the phone. It would be for him anyway, since none of her acquaintances were still in touch since her somewhat precipitous wedding and move from Washington, DC, to Cherry Point Marine Air Base in North Carolina. She picked up the unfinished portrait. He was cute. But incompatible. He had wanted a Church wedding, she wanted to elope. She wanted to stay away from all family relationships. He constantly needed to check in with Carlos or his mother.

She pursed her lips. Ridiculous. Obviously, he hadn’t figured out that there are things you just don’t share with family. They didn’t need to know every detail of your life. And Carlos, who thought he had a right to be up in her face telling her how to be a wife to Marcelo, was totally out of line.

She flung the portrait onto their bed. A landscape. That’s what she’d paint.

“I’ll do something warm. Tropical. Something out of a cruise advertisement.”

Rosana shuffled through a pile of canvas, paper, and boards, finally holding up a thick, stiff paper. She rotated it back and forth until the picture in her mind fit onto it best. Clipping it to the easel, she fished a black charcoal pencil from a box on the floor.

After sketching for ten minutes, the major elements were in place, and serious consideration about the shade of the water was underway. As the picture came to life on the paper, the late-November gray sky and the old military housing complex disappeared, replaced by fresh air, white pebbly sand, “and two seagulls, right about here.”

“Rosana.”

“And a little stream coming out of the grasslands over heeeeere – ”

“Rosana.” Marcelo’s voice had an edge. She smelled him, standing too close, telephone in hand.

“Arrrrrghh! WHAT??? What do you want? I’m working!”

“You’re not working. You’re drawing.”

Rosana spun away from the easel to face him, flinging the pencil across the room. It bounced off the wall and clattered to the floor, leaving a black smudge above their bed.

“This is my work, Marcelo! Just because I don’t fix engines or shine stupid shoes all day doesn’t mean I don’t work!”

“When your drawing brings in some money – no, when your drawing even pays for itself, I’ll call it work.”

Rosana picked up a grubby gum eraser and drew back her hand to heave it when he caught her wrist.

“Stop it and listen to me! Put that thing down!” He squeezed until the pressure was unbearable on her lightly-framed arm. She opened her fingers reluctantly and let the eraser drop. Marcelo released her roughly and turned away, pounding his fist on the door frame.

At the same moment they both remembered the thin wall between their bedroom and the neighbors.

“Listen to me,” Marcelo hissed, turning to stride back to her, wagging the telephone like a pointer. “My mother is sick, and we are going to California to see her.”

Rosana opened her mouth to mock him, but a memory checked her. She was fixing a peanut butter and blueberry sandwich at the granite counter of her Mother’s kitchen, dropping the berries by twos and threes into their thick brown bed. The swinging door rocked on it’s hinges, and she looked up to see her wide-eyed parent, phone in hand.

“It’s cancer,” her mother breathed, dropping the phone and bracing her arms on either side of the sink. “Jamesey has brain cancer.” Then she vomited.

“Rosana.”

“Forget it, Marcelo” she whispered. “I don’t do sick people.”

“You will this time. We’ve been married four months and you won’t even go meet her! You should have some respect for your mother-in-law!”

“I didn’t ask for a mother-in-law, and I’m not flying out to meet her when she’s sick! What does she have anyway?”

“Multiple Scarosis.” Marcelo forgot to whisper, and the diagnosis fell flat in the air between them.

“Sclerosis,” Rosana corrected.

“What is it?”

Rosana turned away from those eyes. Round. Frightened. So much like her Mother’s, hovering over Jamesey’s bed. Round and wide like the windows in the hospice room. Round and open like Jamesey’s mouth, dead.

“It’s a degenerative disease. It takes a little at a time.”

“So she’s gonna die.”

“Please,” she snorted, shoving through the solemnity toward the door, eyes averted. “She’s a mother-in-law. She’ll probably outlive you.

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