Rosana’s belly felt distended. It had been so long since she had eaten a second helping that she alternatively felt like laughing with delight and groaning with the pain of an overstretched stomach.
“Oh, Mama. My only consolation is knowing the food will go bad unless we eat it!” She lay on the bed, gasping with laughter.
Norma sat contentedly in the waning evening light. “And he didn’t even notice what he did to the clothes line!” She had relaxed in the joy of a full meal, and was inclined to feel forgiving toward Barto.
“I just hope he brings my shirt back,” Rosana giggled, “or I’ll have to ask him for it in front of all the harvesters, and then what would everyone think?” The thought brought on more paroxysms of laughter.
The sound of a diesel engine stilled their merriment.
“Is that him again, mija? I can’t see down the road in this light.”
Rosana groaned and heaved herself to her feet, patting the mess that she knew her hair must be, and shuffling to join her mother-in-law on the front porch. The truck that pulled into the front yard was black, and neon lights showed through the tinted windows.
“Oh, no. Mama, come inside, quick.” Rosana grabbed the handles of the chair and releasing the brake, tugged hard until the chair bumped backward over the lintel into the house. Rosana slammed the door hard, narrowly avoiding catching Norma’s foot in the door. As she turned the lock and stepped back into the darkness of the house, she tripped on the plastic water bucket, splashing the remaining half over the floor. Muttering, Rosana rubbed her toe and wished their lamp was not shining on the front porch where she had left it, a guilty finger pointing to their hurried retreat.
A wave of foreboding shivered over her neck and shoulders, and she urged Norma to be quiet, patting her gently on the shoulder for reassurance.
“Hey! Hey! Rosana! It’s your loving relation, Jaime! Remember me?”
“As if I could forget your piggish little eyes, you conniving letch!” she whispered. “Never mind, Mama,” she murmured to Norma’s fearful look.
“C’mon, pretty baby! C’mon out and talk with Uncle Jaime!” There was a grunt and the sound of mild cursing.
“I think he tripped on the steps,” she whispered. “He must be drunk if he fell with that lamp shining out there.” She reached out to unplug the cord which was attached to the outlet in the house, but paused. It would be better with the light on. She would be able to watch him through the bars of the darkened windows.
Jaime managed to climb the steps and lean into the front door, knocking with his head.
“Are you in there, sexy Mama? Eh? I know you are! You and that old lady. Old la-a-a-d-y? Are you in there?”
Norma took a breath to make a retort, but Rosana quelled it with a quick shoulder squeeze.
Jaime knocked again on the door, his head making a hollow banging noise that echoed through the casita. “You like this place, Rosana-na-na? Eh? You like this little house next to the religious zealots? I hear you have no water, no toilet, no bath. True? Do you stink, baby?”
Rosana’s fingernails were embedded in the plastic handles of the wheelchair, and she raised her eyes toward the Convent in thanks she had moved fast enough to put a door between them and this drunken idiot. A dangerous idiot, said the thought, wafting through her mind.
“You know, if you had come with me…” Rosana moved to the window and stood to the side, peering out at him on the front porch. He had turned and was resting his back against the wood. Soon, he slid to the cement porch and sat there, muttering.
“If you had come with me, you bruja, you witch, I would have given you a real house -one of my bodegas – to live in!” He staggered to his feet and stared around at the casita like a dragon looking for a weakness in the castle wall. “But instead our dear Barto has given you a place to live, and so you exist like this! He just wants you for himself, but you are mine. Mine!” He slammed his fist on the door, roaring the final word with a vehemence that terrified the women.
Rosana flattened her back against the wall by the side of the window, grateful for the metal bars that covered the glass-less opening. She leaned cautiously forward to look at the raving drunk on their porch and then screamed as his face suddenly loomed in the window. He cackled gleefully.
“I’ve found you! Yes! I have! You are inside, aren’t you, and it won’t be long before I am inside, too!” He rattled the bars with a strength that made Rosana pray the metal would hold.
“I’m asking you this time, you little tart. Ooh-hoo-hoo! I can see what you are! What you really are underneath this pious act! You strut behind the old lady, pretending you aren’t like any of the other little chocolates in my bodegas, but I know!” He howled with an unearthly sound that made Rosana wish they had agreed to a dog. She dashed from the window to Norma’s side, pulling the chair back into the kitchen as far from the front door as possible.
Then, feeling along the wall she stumbled against the second bucket, the metal one, still mostly full of water. It clanged and set Jaime off into another tirade at the window. An idea began to grow in her mind, and she dug in her duffle bag for two items of pure luxury. Two items which had never seen use since she arrived in the Dominican Republic: A can of hairspray, and a lighter. She felt around in her painting duffle until she found the can of paint thinner La Madre had given her. She smiled in the dark and put the three items against the wall by the front door.
Rosana felt her way back to Norma and squeezed her hand comfortingly.
“I’m going to help him find his way back down the hill,” she whispered.
“No! No! ‘Sana! Don’t do it! He’ll kill you! He’ll do worse than kill you!”
“He’ll have to catch me first,” she hissed. “The drunk slob!”
Norma sobbed. Her chest rising and falling in great heaves. Rosana left her there, and feeling her way back to the door, picked up the bucket and waited in front of the window.
She didn’t wait long. When he caught a glimpse of her face at the window, Jaime lunged again, thrusting his pudgy hands between the bars to grab at her. She took one step back, heaved the bucket into the air, and slammed it against the bars, emptying the contents into his face. Before he could retract his arms, Rosana whirled the empty bucket into the air and brought it crashing down on his arms. There was loud cracking sound, and Jaime, gasping for air around the lungful of water he had swallowed, now bellowed in agony.
She slipped to the outlet and unplugged the lamp on the front step. Jaime was suddenly in darkness, except for the lights of his truck shining out over their vegetable garden toward the outhouse. Rosana listened until the bellows became howls, and in a moment came the crash she had been waiting for. He had fallen off the porch.
The three-foot drop had done nothing to quiet him, and he lay, she saw as she silently slid back the bolt and opened the door, on his back in the dirt, booted heels in the air against the side of the concrete porch.
She stood looking down on him. It was a unique angle, she decided, and should definitely be used to her advantage. She sprayed his feet cautiously and thoroughly with hairspray. He moaned and swore, trying to kick at her, but was unable to move from his awkward position.
But Rosana moved quickly. It would not be long before he figured out how to roll over and get to his feet, in spite of the pain in his wrists and elbows. Uncapping the bottle of paint thinner, she poured it in a sparing line from the writhing Jaime to the hood of the truck. This she doused more liberally.
She opened the door and poured the remainder in the cab and tossed in the can for good measure. Mother Maria-Ileana would probably not approve, she decided.
Yelps of pain told her Jaime was not still. She ran up the steps and stood over him as he struggled to roll. She picked up the can of hairspray and the lighter from where she had dropped them on the porch and spraying a burst into the air, lit it with the lighter.
The loud pop and burst of flame had the desired effect. The curse froze in Jaime’s throat, and for the first time a look of fear darted across his face.
“What are you doing you American witch?” he screamed.
“Listen to me, Jaime,” she whispered, “and listen closely. I am about to light your boots on fire. When they are lit, they will spread fire every place you step, especially in the paint thinner I just poured on the ground and on your truck. You will have to move very, very fast to keep your clothes from catching on fire. With any luck, the hairspray will have burned off before you light the truck on fire, but just in case you try to hang around, I am going to stand by with my lighter, and we’ll see what happens.” She didn’t wait to hear his garbled anger. Reaching down to his upraised boots, Rosana flicked the lighter.
Jaime cursed and rolled as the hairspray on his boots sprang to hot, searing life. Fumbling to his feet he hopped around like a crazed rabbit trying to avoid the trail of paint thinner on the ground.
Rosana waited until he had the door of the cab open and was trying to hoist himself in with his injured arms. His angry, pain-filled protests came louder as the flames on his boots consumed the last of their short-lived fuel, hissed into the blackened leather, and went out. Rosana stood in front of the hood, arm outstretched, lighter flame shimmering in the breeze.
Jaime leaped upward and landed on his broken arms across the seat. He screamed and kicked in excruciating pain. With enormous effort, he struggled upright barely in time to remove his scorched toes from the slicing arc of the door as Rosana slammed it shut.
She pointed down the hill with the same disdainful expression she used with disobedient dogs and door-to-door salesmen.
Using his chin and shoulder, Rosana watched Jaime tug the truck into gear and pull a tight, unsteady ‘180’ out of their yard and down the hill, a distant crunching crash followed by the roar of an engine telling her he had momentarily left the pavement as he turned onto the main road. Rosana nodded, satisfied.
Suddenly, she was exhausted, and mindful of the spilled paint thinner, she snuffed the lighter and picked her way back indoors.