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Rosana Chapter 19

Chapter 19

Days came and went. Rosana’s body healed, and with the help of a book of Catholic art, she
sketched an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which Mother Maria-Ileana approved.
Each morning, Rosana rose with the sun, a habit made easier since they didn’t use the single
small light bulb in the house. She and Norma went to bed with the sun and rose with the sun.
She prepared breakfast from last night’s dinner leftovers or from food purchased at the store
in Palmar.
Each morning, she set out Norma’s medications on the tiled counter and looked appraisingly
at the supply she had purchased before they left the United States. I’m going to have to get
to Bani at some point in the next six months and find a pharmacy, she reminded herself.
After drawing a bucket of water from the well, Rosana took a sponge bath, dressed, and took
in the laundry Norma had washed the day before and which had dried overnight on the line
she had rigged between the trees.
Setting out fresh clothes, Rosana woke Norma, helped her to the outhouse, aided in her
washing and dressing routine, fed her breakfast, and helped her down the steps into the
wheelchair in time to arrive at the Convent for morning prayer.
Rosana had been reluctant to join in.
“What? You come to paint his walls, but you won’t greet the Master of the house?” La Madre
had peered at her indignantly.
The next day, the widows knelt in the little chapel behind the rows of white habits. Rosana
and Norma didn’t know the prayers so they sat in silence as the voices of the sisters rose and
fell in an alternating chant.
When it was over, Rosana rolled Norma to the workroom where she sat and stitched hems on
baby garments, and repaired used shirts and pants which the Sisters distributed to the Haitian
refugees who often crossed the border with nothing in their possession. All day, Norma
worked in the quiet company of the Sisters, sometimes joining in their soft songs, sometimes
crying silent tears, allowing herself to be pushed to and fro between the Chapel and the
workroom as the ancient rhythm of daily prayer punctuated the work of the Convent.
Rosana spread the tarp – recently removed from its duty as shade provider on their front step
– over the cement floor in front of the wall. On a plastic dinner plate, she mixed her colors and
filled in the sketch she had already applied to the whitewashed cement block walls. Two
hours in the morning and two in the afternoon was the longest she could paint before her
stamina wore out, and she learned quickly to listen to her tiring muscles in order to prevent
having to paint over whole sections of work the next day.
Always, La Madre, in her travels throughout the Convent, would pause and watch her work.
Often, Rosana could hear her rosary beads clicking and wondered if the prayers were being
launched for her or for the success of the painting. La Madre never spoke during the hours of
work, but during lunch, after Rosana had enjoyed the luxury of a genuine flush-toilet and a
warm meal, she would grill the young artist on her former life in the United States, translating
occasional points for the benefit of her sisters.
That word had spread about Norma’s return with her daughter-in-law was obvious. Each day,
the number of visitors to the Convent increased until La Madre began enforcing visiting hours.
So many people crowded the entryway and visitors’ room that the Sisters could not be heard
above the talking, laughing, and noise of children at play.
“Rosana,” Madre Maria-Ileana called in a stentorian voice one afternoon in May as Rosana
washed her brushes in a jar of turpentine and water which La Madre had obtained from one of
her secret sources.
“Yes, Madre?” She froze, then turned halfway around to look at the Superior of the convent,
whose tone told her an important pronouncement was on the way.
“Come into my office, please.” The older woman turned and walked briskly down the hall,
clearly expecting Rosana to follow immediately. Removing the brushes from the jar, she
milked the turpentine from the bristles and laid them on the neatly folded tarp. This, she
rolled into a bundle and tucked it under her arm as she followed La Madre into the office.
Several brushes had disappeared today alone, and Rosana was not about to lose more,
although the last visitors had been sent home an hour ago.
“Sit,” Madre Maria-Ileana commanded from her seat, indicating a stiff-backed wooden chair.
Rosana sat, the rolled tarp in her lap.
“You have worked for three months and have painted three murals in our Convent, and they
are good. Yes?”
Rosana shrugged.
“They are good,” La Madre pronounced. “They are so good, in fact, that we have many more
visitors each day who wish to look at them. And at you.” The Superior paused for the weight
of the statement to sink in.
“You’re saying the visitors come to watch me paint?”
“Hah,” coughed La Madre. “They come to look at the American beauty who paints like a
classical artist – not that they would know that – and who gave up her rich life to take care of
her mother-in-law. That’s what they come to see.” She folded her hands and looked straight
into Rosana’s eyes.
Rosana shifted uncomfortably. “Um, I’m sorry?”
“This constant stream of visitors makes it very difficult for the Sisters to live their silence, and
although we are here to serve those who come to the door, these visitors are tourists who
have come to see a local phenomenon, not seek spiritual solace. You understand?”
“Sort of.”
La Madre threw her hands into the air and heaving herself from her chair came to stand in
front of Rosana.
“Rosana. You must not paint in the Convent until people stop coming here simply to stare at
“How will I stop them?”
“You cannot. That is the point. You must wait to paint more murals until the people are no
longer interested in you. Which may be next week or may be next year. However long, we
cannot function as a convent when you change it into a celebrity circus. Even though you
don’t mean to,” she added gently.
Rosana sat still, absorbing the news. No painting meant no food. No Sisters’ company for
Norma, no activity to keep her hands and mind busy. Most importantly, her practical brain
reminded her, they would have to find another source for food. Rosana felt her insides tighten
in a familiar fear. How would she take care of Norma? She looked up at La Madre.
“May we eat with you tonight?”
“Of course.” La Madre returned to her seat. “But these people bring up another issue, my
dear, and that is security. With so many visitors, your money and passports, jewelry, anything
of value is very likely to be stolen from your house. If you wish, you may store those things in
the convent safe, where we store our documents, and the chalice with the emeralds.”
It was an attempt to soften the blow, Rosana recognized. “Thank you, Madre. I will bring
those things up to you tonight.”
La Madre nodded, tight-lipped. “One thing more. I have spoken with the owners of the buses
that go from Palmar to Bani each day. They have agreed, as a favor to me, and probably also
to increase their own business,” she added, pursing her lips, “to allow you and Norma to
travel for free one day a week. In this way, you will be able to buy your groceries at a lower
cost in the big stores.”
Rosana smiled. “Thank you again, Madre. That will help.” But her smile, which did not reach
her eyes was met by a look of concern in the eyes of La Madre, who collected the rent for
Barto each month and knew the widows had very little left.
“Is there no one you can call for help, my dear?” whispered Madre Maria-Ileana. “Is there no
one in the United States who could send you some money? Just enough to keep you going a
little longer?”
The only name that came to mind was Olinda, whom Rosana had never called, although she
had promised she would when they arrived in the Dominican Republic. Rosana smiled again.
“We will think of something,” she assured her. God help me, she thought.
Rosana broke the news as gently as possible to Norma that night as they lay down to sleep,
the front door and windows securely locked, and their passports and the sum total of their
money, which amounted to fewer than one hundred dollars, installed in the convent safe.
Their chickens had been stolen, one by one, except for two who had been eaten by a local
animal that Rosana had tried to deter by throwing stones, but who always waited until she fell
asleep and then left the widows with only a few clumps of feathers. One of the buckets, too,
had been stolen, the night Rosana left it on the front porch to dry. Now, she upended it and
the cheap plastic replacement she purchased from Palmar in the kitchen sink after drawing
the last bucketful each evening.
“People take anything that’s not nailed down, she muttered, which wasn’t true, because a
“Welcome to Our Casa” sign she had painted on the panel of a cardboard box and nailed to
the door frame had been missing one afternoon after work.
“Maybe it would be better to find a little house in the town, Mama,” she offered as they stared
up into the dark.
“I don’t know, mija. The price is good here. The Sisters are nearby.”
“It’s true. But when I am gone to the fields for food, who will keep you safe from all the people
who come here? Maybe if we had a dog…”
“No!” twitched Norma. “We cannot afford to feed another mouth.”
“You’re right,” Rosana sighed, “you’re right. I think I should go back to the fields tomorrow and
pick up what I can.”
Norma was silent for a long moment. Then she rolled over to face the wall. “Go, mija.”

Rosana – Chapter 18

Thanks Anne, for reminding me!

Chapter 18

Two days later, Rosana stood in the entryway of the convent. The cool cement walls were
painted white, and created the feeling of light and air.
“I want to see samples, unos ejemplos,” insisted the fat Sister with the big silver cross on a
chain around her neck. “You have never before painted religious art, and I do not want a
mess on the walls of this convent. You will make me a sample. Entiende? You understand?”
Rosana bristled like one of her brushes, rubbed the wrong way. “Fine,” she smiled stiffly. “I
will sketch you a sample, and you will allow my mother-in-law to eat in your dining room.”
La Madre tilted her head, considering the bargain. “You will paint me a sample, and your
mother-in-law may eat in the refectory with the Sisters, one meal. If your painting is good,
she may eat with the Sisters one meal per day you work.”
“If my painting is good,” shot back Rosana, “she will eat twice a day with the Sisters, and you
will pay for the paint.”
“It’s a deal!” exclaimed La Madre, tossing her hands into the air, her face splitting into a wide
grin. “See?” She turned to the group of nodding Sisters behind her. “She learned fast how to
The Sisters erupted into cheers, and Rosana smiled, in spite of herself.
The sample she painted was made on one of the pieces of stiff, cardboard-like paper Rosana
withdrew from her backpack of painting supplies. She counted the pieces carefully. There
were seven. It was a strange sensation. Always, she had been careless with her supplies.
While other students in the class reused canvas and frames and behaved like misers with
their paper and paints, Rosana never emptied a tube. When it got low, she tossed it.
Sometimes she handed it to other students she knew needed the quarter-ounce of paint left in
the bottom.
Now, she was suddenly faced with the same situation. Only seven pieces of painting paper
left, and maybe no opportunity to buy more. Ever. Hmm. There must be something else I
can use, she thought idly. Rosana chose a pencil, and spreading a sweatshirt on the front
steps, sat down on it to sketch.
By mid-afternoon, she was ready to paint, and using the scraps of wood still left after staking
out the small chicken coop, she arranged an easel under a tree and started to paint.
Norma dozed in her chair, and aside from the peeping of the chicks, there was no sound on
the hill but the breeze, blowing in from the bay, full of the smells of sea and spring.
This is beautiful, she thought. No wonder the Sisters built their convent here. Behind them,
the mountains stretched into a mighty ridge, and Rosana imagined the Spanish settlers who
had come to the island centuries before, naming it ‘Hispaniola.’
“I would have stayed, too,” Rosana said aloud.
“What did you say?” asked Norma, starting up.
“I said, I would have stayed here, too, if I had been one of the Spanish settlers. This is
“This is why the Sisters live here,” nodded Norma. “Beauty draws the mind to God.”
“And maybe the silence, too, Mama?”
But Norma had already settled back down to her nap, so Rosana painted in silence. After
awhile, she set down her brush and walked down the front steps. She rested there a few
moments, relaxing the muscles in her back which had begun to spasm from too much sitting.
The empty bucket drew her attention, so after a few minutes of rest, she picked it up and
walked around the house to the well. The other half-finished house stood empty and
incomplete, and Rosana made a mental note to ask Senor Barto when it would be completed,
if we ever see him again after the mango harvest. Would he get busy and forget them, the
two widows up on the hill? Rosana shrugged. We’ll manage, she thought, her heart twinging
with a little regret.
Lifting the lid from the well, Rosana tied the rope to the handle of the bucket and lowered it
until she heard a splash. She swayed the rope from side-to-side, as Sister Estelle had taught
her, until she felt the bucket fall on its side, and the growing weight as it filled with water.
Then she began the long pull.
Even after several days of rest, Rosana’s back and arms were still sore, but they were getting
used to this idea of hauling water from the ground, and it took much less time to pull the
bucket to the surface than it had the first time she had tried.
From the well, Rosana could see the wide agricultural valley stretching away before her. Far
off to the East, the orchards glinted with trucks. Mango harvest, she thought. That must be
where Senor Barto was working. Mangoes, she thought with pleasure. I wonder if I can pick
up the leftovers in that orchard when they’re done? Something to ask Sister Estelle.
The sample painting was a scene Rosana remembered from her catechism class as a child.
Her father sent her each Wednesday to class at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, and
she had soaked in the beauty of the building and the exquisite paintings that covered every
surface, especially in the Chapel of St. Francis.
From the depths, the memory of a scene in the life of Mary came to her mind. The time when
Mary, newly pregnant, travels to help her older cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. At the
sound of her greeting, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy, sensing Jesus’ presence in
Mary. It was that tender moment of greeting which Rosana had tried to capture.
La Madre scrutinized the painting, holding it at arms length and then adjusting the spectacles
she removed from her ample bosom to see up close in greater detail.
“You have been to the Holy Land?”
“Then how do you know the way it looks?”
“I don’t. The background is the view from our casita.”
La Madre nodded. “It is good.”
Rosana sat back in the chair and sighed, relieved. “Then I may paint murals in the Convent?”
La Madre, still looking at the painting, didn’t answer. Finally, she looked up at Rosana and
waved the painting gently “Why did you choose this?”
“The scene? I remember hearing the story when I was little, and it struck me that she would
go and help even though she probably had morning sickness and felt rotten.”
“You have children?”
“Why not? You were married, yes? Married people should be parents! It is part of the
“It’s not that we didn’t want to. Marcelo especially – he really wanted to be a dad.”
“Marcelo – he is your husband?”
“He was a good man?”
“Very. Very patient. Very loyal. Very family-oriented.”
“What happened to him?”
Scenes from that day ran along Rosana’s mind, like flame licking the edge of a paper,
threatening to consume it.
“He – um – drowned. He and his brother.” Suddenly, Rosana burst out, “you know, every day,
I look out at the bay and I see how so many people’s livelihoods here depend on the ocean,
and I wonder how it is possible that the Delacruzes could live so close to the water and never
learn how to swim! How can that be?”
La Madre was silent, looking up at her. Rosana realized she had been standing and shouting.
She sat back down. “I’m sorry.”
“Some people,” began La Madre, picking up the painting, “live all their lives next to the sea
and never touch it. I think they are afraid. It is so big, so deep, so unpredictable. And yet,
they depend on it for their living, as you say. Like God.”
“What is like God?”
“The sea. Big. Deep. Unpredictable. We depend on him for our very lives, but most people
never even touch him. Why is that?”
Rosana shrugged. “We’re afraid, I guess.”
La Madre nodded and set down the painting. “This is very good. Much better than I
expected.” She held out her hand to stem Rosana’s retort. “When Senor Barto told me you
could paint, I thought your ability would be not much, as you don’t seem to have many skills in
the things of everyday life.” She paused to look piercingly at Rosana, then continued. “But it
appears that this talent God has given you, you have developed, which means you have
patience. True?”
Rosana shrugged. “How did Senor Barto know I paint?”
La Madre laughed. “At his house, he has a satellite connection to the Internet. He is a
shrewd business-man, and likes to know as much as he can about his tenants.”
“I thought his tenants were all Haitian refugees.”
“In Palmar, yes. But Senor Barto owns other properties in the Dominican Republic and
“That explains why he speaks such good English. And where did you learn English?”
La Madre laughed. “I am Dominican-born, but grew up in Miami. When I joined the Order,
the Superior General heard I was Dominican and sent me here.”
“And you like it here?”
“I have learned to love it, but I didn’t come because of the land. I came for love of the
people.” She stood and tucked the glasses down into their hiding place. “And here we both
are, for love of other people.” She held her arms open wide. “You are officially hired to paint
a mural on the wall across from the front door. It will be a picture of the Sacred Heart, and will
have ‘Sisters of the Sacred Heart’ written below it. You will show me your sketch before you
begin putting paint on my walls, yes?”
Rosana nodded.
“Good, now go and sit with your mother in the refectory for dinner.”
“She is already there? Did Sister Estelle bring her? I thought she couldn’t come unless I was
hired for the job! How did Sister Estelle know you’d hire me?”
La Madre chuckled. “You didn’t really think we’d let you starve, did you?”

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