Three days later, she began to feel alive again.
Stepping out into the early-morning sunshine, she stretched and nearly tripped over a new five-gallon drinking water dispenser on the front porch. She spent the morning draining it, scrubbing it, moving it to their kitchen, and refilling it with water from the well.
She hoped Jaime hadn’t poisoned the well. But Jaime was in jail now, La Madre had told her when she had collected Norma and gone home, thanking the Mother Superior for her hospitality. La Madre had simply smiled, making no reference to the conversation she knew must have occurred in her office.
Norma slept a lot over the next few days. When the bread and roast pig were eaten, boxes of fresh fruit, bread, and meat began to appear on their front porch every other day. There was no card, no signature, but Rosana knew where it came from. She just left simple thank you notes and wondered why she didn’t care.
One Saturday, two weeks after the party, she and Norma walked to the beach in Palmar, paper from the Sisters on one of La Madre’s clipboards. She sat in the shade of a tree and sketched portraits for three hours, earning enough money for a week of groceries. On the way home, she bought them dinner at one of the little restaurants, and was greeted kindly by the people who gathered around to see the woman who had broken Jaime’s arms.
They went to the beach every Friday and Saturday, drawing portraits for the tourists. Rosana made enough money to cover their food and rent costs and one day took the bus alone into Bani to buy more medications for Norma. The bus driver made the whole bus wait for her to find her way back to the station before starting the return journey.
On the beach, they heard rumors about the bodegas that Jaime had constructed on their property. They were just as happy to hear Senor Barto had had them burned to the ground. Summer faded away, and the planting season began. Sometimes, Rosana stood at the well and looked out over the fields, wondering if he was one of the little figures she could see bending over the rows of tilled earth, planting seeds.
In late August, La Madre gave her two commissions, and she painted a Christmas card for the Convent, and a picture of gleaners in the field, which La Madre said was for the Mayor. Rosana suspected the finished product was collecting dust in the Convent’s back pantry. But the money allowed her to order new canvases and paint from the Capital.
In September, Rosana called Olinda, who was remarried with a baby and lived in an apartment in LA near her mother. Olinda couldn’t remember Norma’s name, but wished her well and wondered if there was any more life insurance money left.
At Thanksgiving, she called her mother, who seemed vaguely interested to hear she was alive, but didn’t know where the Dominican Republic was. She had to take another call and hung up. Rosana molded a turkey out of mashed plantain and served it with ketchup to Norma. They laughed together so loudly that Sister Clara came from the Convent garden with her trowel to check on them.
Near Christmas, she received a package.
It was more like a large, padded envelope, but Rosana squealed and ran to set down her drawing box on the kitchen counter before coming back out into the light to open it.
Inside was a ring. It was dirty and scratched, but she recognized it immediately. Her wedding ring, lost in the onion field. She spent the next two days picking out the dirt with a toothpick. Both she and Norma cried, but Rosana did not put it on. Instead, she walked to the well and looked down over the onion fields, a strange longing in her tight throat.
On Christmas Eve, she wrapped a canvas in tissue paper and put it in the ragged duffle bag. Maybe I’ll buy a new bag after New Years, she thought, lifting the bag to her shoulder.
“That bag brings back memories, Mija,” said Norma, nodding at the bag from the kitchen where she sat cleaning the last of the wheat. “Will you glean again this year?”
“I think it would be wise, when we’re not at the beach. Don’t you?”
Norma dropped her hands into her lap and looked at Rosana. “Oh, ‘Sana. I just wish there were some way for you to be happy.”
“I am happy,” laughed Rosana, kissing her mother on the forehead. “I have you.”
Norma shook her head. “No. Something’s missing. And I pray everyday that you’ll find it.”
Rosana smiled back her tears and pointed to the bag. “I’m going to deliver this painting, but I’ll be back before dark.” She set off down the hill waving to the Sisters in the Convent yard and Zoli’s family near the road. This time, when the bus passed, Rosana flagged it down and rode the rest of the way, paying the fare in coins earned with her pencil at the beach. She climbed out the door and waved to the conductor, pleased with herself.
Then she walked down the road to the warehouse.
There was only one truck in the yard, Barto’s truck, and she clucked. “Working on Christmas Eve!” she said to herself, stopping before she had to consider why. What else did a single man have to do on holidays?
She pushed open the door. “Hello?” Her voice echoed around the empty warehouse, bouncing back to her with memories, especially one in which bags of wheat were stacked in rows and a small pile of loose wheat was left on the floor, ready to be ground into flour for the harvesters’ gift loaves. She smiled. Baking money into the bread had been a great idea. People at the beach were still talking about it.
“Can I help you?” The inquiry came from the room upstairs. She climbed the gray, iron staircase and peered into the room at the top. An office, by the look of it, with stacks of papers in precarious piles on the desk top. A small cot stood in one corner. She waited until he looked up.
“Merry Christmas!” she said lightly, smiling.
For a moment a rush of joy filled his eyes, but she watched as he quelled it, looking down at his papers for a moment before standing and holding out his hand.
“Rosana. Merry Christmas to you, too.” He waved his hand. “Can I get you something to drink? I have water or – he stared around the room as if seeing it for the first time – water.”
She laughed, and like a gust of wind, it freshened the room. Barto stood taller.
“I’d like some water,” she smiled.
He leaned back in his chair and indicated a metal stool. She sat, while he looked at her.
“You look healthy. Is Norma doing well?”
“She’s fine, thanks. We’ve been busy down at the beach every weekend.”
“I heard you are drawing portraits for the tourists.”
“Someone has to make sure the Mayor’s pier is built properly! If I weren’t there, I’m sure the workmen would forget something!”
Barto wondered if that was more likely to happen if she was there. He smiled at her joke. “Your water!” He jumped up and found a cup, which he filled under the spout of a five-gallon container that looked remarkable similar to the one in their kitchen.
“Thank you,” she said, meaning it.
He looked up, handing her the cup. “You’re welcome.”
“No, I mean thank you for everything. For the water container, and the food, and for my rin-” she choked, tears threatening to spill, but she concentrated on the cup and succeeded in pushing them back.
He was at her side in an instant.
“It occurred to me sometime after we almost lost you,” he said, kneeling beside her. “It occurred to me that I had really done nothing to help you.”
“Nothing to help us? Rescuing me from Jaime, renting us a house, letting me glean in your fields – these things are nothing?”
“Those things were designed to make you prove yourself. I wanted to see what you were made of. You showed me every day, but I was never sure it was enough.”
“Enough for what? What could I possibly prove to you when we had nothing? Nothing!”
He sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he looked tired, but a flash of determination shone there.
“Rosana, I have loved you since the moment I caught sight of you, pushing Norma into Palmar. I loved you when you thought I had carried off Norma in front of her broken house. I loved you every day you gleaned in my fields, and when you spoke to me -” He shook his head. “It was almost more than I could bear. Then, the night you came to me on the pile of wheat, and I held you in my arms -” Barto stood to his feet and began pacing the length of the office. “What is a man to do with that feeling? With that knowledge that he has seen true Beauty, and Goodness, and has, by his own pride, let it slip from his grasp?”
“Come,” she invited, pulling the chair next to her stool. “I have a present for you. They don’t seem to sell ‘present-wrap’ here, as my brother, Jamesey, used to call it, so it’s only covered in tissue and you’ll have to imagine the wrapping paper.”
He imagined flashing silver and flaming red with patterns of hope and joy.
“Thank you,” he said, sitting down to accept the gift she pulled from the duffle bag.
“It’s our little house,” she explained, as he unwound the tissue and stared at the picture. “When I started to paint it, I realized that everything we really need to live there, you provided for us. See the buckets on the front porch, and the mattress through the front door? Even the windows were a gift from you. I wanted to say thank you. A true thank you.”
He studied the picture for a moment and then looked up at her. “All I want to do is provide for you. For you and Norma. I want to give everything to you.” He looked with clear, steady eyes.
“That night,” began Rosana, tears springing to her eyes, “that night you promised to take care of me, you promised, and you didn’t keep your promise. The next day, you didn’t want me anymore, and I felt – I still feel – dirty. Like I’ve been thrown out.”
He knelt at her feet. “Rosana, I am sorry. I was jealous – in my eyes Jaime had been to you in the night, and I thought I had been tricked! I gave my word to get your land back, and I did, but I thought -at first- that that was all you wanted. Please forgive me!”
“Two things -” replied Rosana. “No, three.”
“Anything, Rosana. Anything I can.”
“Okay – first, how did you find my ring?”
“It was embarrassingly simple. I borrowed a metal detector and went to the onion fields that border the river. It was in the first one. I found it after about fifteen minutes of searching. I’m just sorry I didn’t do it when I first heard you lost it. You’re not wearing it,” he said, picking up her left hand. She shook her head, looking away.
“What is number two?” he asked, changing the subject quickly.
Rosana pointed to the painting. “You see the clothes line?”
“See how there is an empty space there between the socks?”
He nodded again, and then smiled. He stood and walked to the cot, pulling a small bundle from under the pillow. “Here,” he said simply.
She tucked the shirt into the duffle and looked up at him. “Number three is a little harder, at least for me.”
“If it is in my power -”
“It is. It’s that,” her face took on the color of her hair, “it’s that when you held me down there,” she pointed out into the warehouse, “I felt safe, like nothing could harm me, like I didn’t have any responsibility to carry, and that everything was going to work out.” She paused, and he stood before her, helping her to her feet. In a moment, she was wrapped in the same embrace, inhaling the same aftershave mixed with the fresh smell of the good earth. “For number three,” she said to his shirt, “I wanted to tell you that I love you.”