Some people stared or called a greeting as they crossed the parking lot, but Norma and Rosana passed generally unnoticed through the parking lot and onto the road. Rosana blessed the long t-shirt she brought for just this purpose. A few yards down the road she stopped to slip the shirt over the shimmering dress and change the sandals for work shoes. She accomplished the change quickly, pulling her hair into a quick bun and wiping back a tear. Kissing her mother-in-law on the head, she pushed quickly for home.
“Would you like some bread, Mija?”
“No, Mama, I’m fine.”
“You didn’t eat anything all evening, I watched you.”
“You always look out for me, sweet Mama. But you didn’t eat much either.”
“But Maricia gave me a bag of leftovers to take home,” she shook it enticingly, “so we can eat when we get there.”
Rosana grunted and pushed on. Her joints hurt. Too much dancing. Oh well. She would sleep it off and in the morning try to figure out what to do. Maybe she could buy some paper and draw portraits of tourists at the beach. Maybe she could do some beach combing and make them into collectable things tourists would buy.
“I think we should go to the beach tomorrow, Mama.”
“If you would like, mi amor. But what for?”
“I have some ideas about how to make some money I’d like to try. We can go to Mass at the Convent in the morning and the beach in the afternoon.” The more she planned, the easier it was to banish Barto from her thoughts.
“Why doesn’t Barto want to marry you anymore?”
Rosana sighed, hanging her head and willing herself to be patient as they rolled along the road. “Maybe he’s heard things. Or maybe he just realized what I am. He’s a careful man.” She replayed the previous night, the way he had wrapped his arms around her, promising to protect her. It had been a promise. With an effort, she replaced the mental image with thoughts of their casita. “Halfway home, Mama.”
“What is there to hear about you?”
“I don’t know, Mama, but whatever it is, I can’t change it. So we will keep on going, and God will provide. He always does.” Rosana could tell by the shaking of her mother-in-law’s shoulders that the older woman was crying. She lifted her chin and pushed on, doing her best to think of other things.
Overloaded cars and trucks began to pass, waving and honking at the two widows making their way home by the light of the stars.
“The party must be over,” Rosana muttered, suddenly aware that Norma was nodding in the chair. They were walking over the bridge now, passing the place Rosana had climbed out of the river bed to the road after her first day of gleaning. Between cars, the dark was nearly complete, although in the distance she could see the lights of the Convent on the hill, urging her home like a lighthouse on the shore.
Without warning, a cold chill stole up from the dark and settled heavily on Rosana. It was a feeling of evil, of malevolence lying in wait. She slowed her stride and glanced warily around. The road to Planchado was just ahead on the right, but instinctively, she turned and crossed the road to the left, pushing the chair down the embankment and behind a convenient clump of bushes where the metal of the wheelchair and the bottom of her dress, hanging below the t-shirt could not reflect the light. She crouched down beside Norma and waited.
“What are we doing, ‘Sana?” cried Norma, suddenly coming awake. “Where -”
“Shhh, Mama,” she hissed, a finger to her lips. She laid her hand on Norma’s wrist and counted five hundred heart beats under her fingertips before she carefully moved to the end of the bush and crawled on her belly up the embankment. A few yards ahead on the other side of the road, just beyond the turn to their house, Rosana spotted a red glow. She watched it carefully for several minutes. The glow moved up and down, brighter when it was up. She sniffed carefully. A cigarette.
Light splashed across the way as a car bounced by, leaving them in darkness again, but not before Rosana saw the man smoking the cigarette. He was leaning against a van looking annoyed as he surveyed the road in the direction from which they had come. Rosana crawled back to Norma, cutting her knee on a glass bottle in the process.
“There’s a man over there,” she mouthed. “He’s waiting for someone.”
“He’s waiting for you, Mija,” whispered Norma without emotion. “I knew this would happen, after what happened to Jaime. They will be waiting at the house, too.”
Rosana nodded. It made sense. She calculated quickly. They couldn’t stay here. Anyone with a flashlight could find them, and how long before the man started to search? They had to move. But the chair wouldn’t work off the road, not efficiently, anyway.
“Mama, you’ve got to let me carry you. We’re going to go to the Convent. We’ll go the way I went to the onion field that first time. Get ready, and we’ll move when the next car comes.”
Without a word, Norma opened the bag of bread and dropped her water bottle into it, closing it with a knot. Then, tying the scarf around her head to shield her face, she held out her arms to Rosana, who crouched in front of the chair ready to hoist the older lady onto her back.
Several breaths later, a rumbling announced a car, and a sweep of lights illuminated for an instant the terrain between them and the river. In one motion she hoisted Norma and moved stealthily further down the embankment toward the river.
Twice, she stumbled over rocks and brush. A third time she froze when her toe connected with a can which clanged and banged as it bounced toward the water.
“Cross! Cross!” Norma whispered in her ear when they reached the river. Rosana obeyed, trying to keep her balance on the wet stones at the bottom of the knee-deep torrent. On the other side, she sloshed to the bridge’s concrete support and leaned against it breathing heavily. At Norma’s tap on her shoulder, she looked up and saw the red glow on the bridge above them. The women sank back into the darkness.
In a moment, the red glow fell from the bridge and disappeared into the water.
A sudden roar followed by the squealing of hot brakes filled the air on the bridge above them. It was followed instantly by a flash of light that illuminated the road. The man on the bridge, standing in a spotlight, stood staring stupidly. Yelling and the sounds of running ensued, but Rosana had already hitched Norma higher on her back and darted away under the bridge, up the river into the darkness.