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Archive for June, 2013

Rosana – Chapter Eleven

Chapter 11

“Mama. Mama,” Rosana shook Norma’s shoulder gently. She let out the brake and waited while the car rocked back in the driveway. Norma was fast asleep in the passenger seat. Maybe I’ll just leave her while I unload the car, Rosana thought.

She stepped out into the crisp air of a January North Carolina afternoon, a thin layer of snow crunching under her feet. Lisa’s kids were at their window staring at her. Two bouquets of flowers sat in vases by the front door.

Their home. Marcelo’s and hers. Their first, their only home. They left nine days ago a couple, and now Rosana stood staring at their home, a widow. Incomprehensible.

“Not our home. Military housing at Cherry Point. And I have thirty days to be out.” She didn’t plan to hang around even that long. Shifting her purse to the other shoulder, Rosana fingered the house key. What if she just left? Would someone else come and clean out the place? Someone who wouldn’t be assaulted by the memories which lived there? She walked up the drive reluctantly, careful not to look at the flowers, and fit the key into the lock. The lock she had badgered Marcelo to double check before they backed out of the driveway.

“Why? There’s nothing valuable in there!” Marcelo had snorted.

She had given him a smart aleck answer and he had climbed out of the car in the early-morning dark to do her bidding. He had grasped the handle and yanked it firmly. The same handle she was staring at now. Marcelo’s hands had touched it last. Rosana turned the key and wrapping her fingers around the handle, began to cry.

*
Lisa and Dave came over with an offer of supper and companionship, but Rosana declined.

In the cupboard there were some cans of tuna fish and a jar of mayonnaise to spread on the frozen bread she toasted for their supper.

Norma cried without ceasing.

It was the smell which overwhelmed Rosana. The smell of his clothing in their bedroom as she unpacked his duffle bag. The smell of his shaving cream in the bathroom as she helped Norma through her evening routine. The smell of his cologne, neatly arranged on the dresser as she laid out tomorrow’s medications. She turned all her attention to making Norma comfortable on their bed, and when her mother-in-law settled into a fitful sleep, Rosana curled up in his recliner, wrapped herself in the blanket from the back of the couch, and listened to the neighbors until sleep overcame her.

*

Every morning that followed, she woke, the eastern light shining in her eyes through the patio slider. Each morning, she lay staring out at the sky, sketching the clouds in her mind until she remembered.

Marcelo is dead.

But I am not alone.

Norma needs me.

And without hesitating, she would rise from the recliner, fold the blanket and lay it over the back of the couch and begin her morning routine in anticipation of Norma’s waking.

Each day was the same. Entertain the chaplain, the officers’ wives, the enlisted men’s wives, the neighbors. Mechanically answer their questions. Thank them for their support. Heat and eat the meals they brought. Help Norma from the bedroom to the living room, where she cried and slept until bedtime. All the while, her mind churned. Where will we live? What will I do for a living? How will we survive?

She ordered a guide book to the Dominican Republic, a Spanish phrase-book, and a Spanish dictionary from Amazon.com. She studied them daily, practicing with Norma.

There were calls to make, bills to pay, stuff to throw out. Rosana tried to sort Marcelo’s things while Norma slept. One pile for give away, one pile for throw away. She only saved pictures, carefully tucking them into Norma’s photo album.

She even called her mother. When the call went straight to voicemail, Rosana message was brief.

“This is Rosana. Marcelo died. I’m taking his mother home. If you have anything to say, I’ll be at this number for two more weeks.”

No one called back.

The doctor who gave Rosana and Norma their physicals had nothing new to say. Rosana’s health was good, with the exception of the infertility, which the doctor declared ‘of undetermined origin.’ Norma’s condition was unchanged. Rosana bought enough medication to last six months.

When the life insurance check arrived, Rosana paid off their credit cards, the car, and bought a wheelchair. There wasn’t much left.

She turned her attention to packing.

Rosana located Azua and Bani in the guidebook – the two cities closest to the coastal town of Palmar de Ocoa where Norma was born and raised. It would be hot, the book said. Bananas, plantains, wheat, onions, and mango grew there for export to the US. Other industries were tourism and fishing.

“I am going to burn like a frying fish,” she muttered to her pale, red-headed reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Can I just buy a sunblock company?”

Instead, she invested in a large sun hat, bandanas, and long sleeved, lightweight shirts. Sunglasses, khaki pants and her floor length broom skirt completed her sun-conscious preparations.

Medical equipment and Norma’s possessions also needed to be pared down to essentials, but most challenging for Rosana were her art supplies. She finally narrowed her choices to a selection of brushes, pencils, papers, erasers, and tubes of paint which could fit into a small backpack.

“Mama, can I get paint thinner and canvas, and things down there?”

Norma shook her head. “I don’ know. Maybe in the Capital?” Rosana hoped so.

The day before their departure, Rosana filled a cardboard box with the remainder of the cleaning supplies and made a last tour of the echoing duplex.

“The pictures, Rosana? Your pictures?” Norma gestured to the wrapped frames leaning against the wall by the front door.

“I’m sending them to my mom’s house. The only one I’m taking is over there.” She pointed to an 8X10 package next to her backpack. Inside was the partially finished oil painting of Marcelo, but Rosana didn’t say so. It would be a surprise for their new house. Wherever that would be.

Aside from the front hall, which contained Marcelo’s military duffle bag filled with his mother’s possessions, Rosana’s clothes duffle, her art backpack, her purse with their money and passports, and the wheelchair, the house was empty. So was the garage and the driveway, since the new owners had come to claim the car. The proceeds had funded their plane tickets, with four hundred dollars left over.

Scribbling her signature at the bottom of the final form on the housing inspector’s clipboard, Rosana called the cab, moved the bags out onto the front walk, helped Norma into her wheelchair, and relinquished the key.

It was done. A great weariness settled over her.

Rosana – Chapter Ten

“No wonder she brought so much stuff on the way down,” said Rosana, whistling loudly from the doorway of Norma’s room.

“Forget it. There’s no way we’re gonna be able to find any of these things in here.” Olinda flicked her pen against Norma’s list of things to get from her bedroom in the ‘Pink Palace’ where she had lived for four years.

“It looks like it was quite a party,” Rosana grunted, pushing aside the broken dresser and trying to force her way deeper into the room which now bore no resemblance to the place she had visited – before. Had it only been a week?

“Olinda,” she turned to her sister-in-law, who was now involved in a loud conversation with some of the crowd who had come to witness Norma’s return. Olinda was waving her arms and yelling something at a stocky woman in a bright pink muumuu.

Norma’s things had been broken, and rifled through by someone – “maybe someones,” Rosana mused grimly, who must have been really drunk. The smell of rancid beer bottles, urine, and vomit rose up, nauseating her.

Finally, behind the splintered bed frame, and broken vase of fake flowers, Norma found a faded photo book. The spine was a little charred, Rosana noted, pulling it from a pile of matches and cigarette butts, but it was definitely the photo album.

“All the rest of this stuff,” she said, ticking off the list, “we’re just going to replace. Bathrobe, sandals, curlers. No way I’m digging through this disaster.” Rosana turned and began to pick her way out of the mess which used to be Norma’s life.

The broad woman in pink was waiting for her.

“You Marcelo’s wife.”

Rosana clutched the photo album in surprise.

“I was, I guess.”

“Dulce – your maadder – she need to go home. You take her home.”

“Who are you?”

“Anna. I feex hair. Dulce is okay?” The older woman’s eyes were filled with tears, and she reached out to grip Rosana’s arm fiercely.

“She’s okay. We’re okay.”

“You strong. You take her home.”

“She’s out in the car – you should go say goodbye. Maybe you can explain to her what happened here.” Rosana waved her hand around her with a sneer.

“Jes. I do it. And you tek her to Dominican Republic. You do it?”

“Shees. Let me get her back to North Carolina, first. Then we’ll figure out how to get her home.”

“You tek her home. Then you marry a nice Dominican boy.”

Rosana considered whether this was the right moment to scream at a 300-lb woman in a pink muumuu. Instead she turned away, clutching the photo album and stalked ahead of her to the car.

*

“Turn here,” said Olinda, breathing into Rosana’s ear. “I live right up there.” She pointed to an apartment complex on the corner.

“Okay, not much better,” muttered Rosana, bringing the car to a stop in front of the office with a faded green awning. She glanced up at Olinda. “Someone gonna meet you?”

“Unn-Unn. My Mom’s at – at work.” Her lower lip trembled. “Rosana, you sure you don’t want me to come and, you know, help everyone get settled back in the DR? ‘Cause I speak Spanish, and I don’t know how you’re gonna -” The tears began to fall.

“It okay, ‘Linda,” crooned Norma, turning as best she could in the front seat to face her daughter-in-law. She picked up Olinda’s hand and stroked it. “I always remember you.”

Rosana watcher her hand pause for a barely perceptible moment as it crossed Olinda’s wedding ring. Carlos’ ring. She fingered her own, wondering briefly if she should wear it, now that Marcelo was – gone.

“An’ I’m always gonna remember you, and Carlos, and – I can’t believe this is happening to me! We were gonna go to Ensenada and go to the beach! Fourteen hours, Rosana! Mama! Solamente catorce horas!” Her weeping grew shrill.

“Olinda!” Rosana snapped, then, trying to soften her tone, “we’ll call you when we get there, okay? When we get to the DR, we’ll let you know we got there safely. You should go inside now. We’ve gotta get to LAX, and you’ve gotta go lay down for awhile.” She yanked off her seat belt and bolted from the car, startling a young woman with two kids as she bounded to the sidewalk to help Olinda out of the car.

“That you, ‘Linda? Oh, baby! I heard what happened! C’mere, baby doll.” Olinda heaved herself from the car and fell into the arms of the woman, who hugged and rocked her while Rosana pulled all six suitcases from the trunk and back seat where they were wedged.

Now, a man from the office came out and helped Olinda and the woman drag the bags toward the stairs. Only as Rosana slammed the trunk did Olinda come trotting back.

She opened the front door and threw her arms around Norma’s neck, wailing. “Oh, Mama! I’ll never forget you! I’ll come and visit you! Text me and tell me how you’re doing. Carlos -” A fresh wave of tears overtook her. Rosana climbed in the driver’s seat.

“Rosana, you’re my sister for ever! I hope everything goes good. Carlos didn’t like you, but he didn’t know you’re really not that bad.” She smiled through her tears.

For the second time,Rosana got out of the car, muttering. She came around to the sidewalk and hugged Olinda.

“Thanks, Olinda. I know you meant it.”

“I do! We’ll be sisters for ever.” She grabbed Rosana’s left hand and held it up next to her own. The rings shone dully in the afternoon light. Rosana tried not to jerk her hand away too hard.

“Thanks, Olinda. Hey, he’s talking to you.” She pointed to the man lugging the suitcases up the stairs and waited until Olinda was chugging toward him before she got in and slammed the door.

Norma was quiet for a moment. Then, she picked up Rosana’s hand.

“Rosana, you go home, too. Where you live?”

“With you, Mama.”

“No. No. Where you live before you and Marc -” the older woman gulped and started to shake. “Before you and Marcelo get married.”

Rosana pulled aggressively into traffic.

“No, Mama. You’re my family, now.”

Norma braced herself with an arm on the dashboard.

“We very different. My country, my people, we not like you. We live more – simple. We have religious.”

A flurry of scattered thoughts flew past Rosana. She chose a random sampling.

Did Norma not want her to come? No, Norma needed her.

Will I be able to handle this? Full-time care for a semi-invalid? Jamesey was fifteen. Younger than Norma. His care was all I could handle.

Where will we live? What will we do?

It doesn’t matter.

“I’m going with you. You can’t do this on your own. This country took everything from you, but I am going to be something it gave. We’re stuck with each other. Wherever you go, I’m going too. Your country will be my country. Your religion will be my religion. We’re family, Norma.”

Norma reached over and patted Rosana’s cheek as tears ran down hers. “You’re my daughter. My daughter for true. God take from me, now he give to me.”

It was a ‘Grinch moment’ there on Highway 5 headed North to LAX, the new widow with the old. Facing a completely unforeseeable future filled with exhausting work for a woman she barely knew, Rosana’s heart grew two sizes.

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