Thanks Anne, for reminding me!
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
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
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?”
“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?”