“No wonder she brought so much stuff on the way down,” said Rosana, whistling loudly from the doorway of Norma’s room.
“Forget it. There’s no way we’re gonna be able to find any of these things in here.” Olinda flicked her pen against Norma’s list of things to get from her bedroom in the ‘Pink Palace’ where she had lived for four years.
“It looks like it was quite a party,” Rosana grunted, pushing aside the broken dresser and trying to force her way deeper into the room which now bore no resemblance to the place she had visited – before. Had it only been a week?
“Olinda,” she turned to her sister-in-law, who was now involved in a loud conversation with some of the crowd who had come to witness Norma’s return. Olinda was waving her arms and yelling something at a stocky woman in a bright pink muumuu.
Norma’s things had been broken, and rifled through by someone – “maybe someones,” Rosana mused grimly, who must have been really drunk. The smell of rancid beer bottles, urine, and vomit rose up, nauseating her.
Finally, behind the splintered bed frame, and broken vase of fake flowers, Norma found a faded photo book. The spine was a little charred, Rosana noted, pulling it from a pile of matches and cigarette butts, but it was definitely the photo album.
“All the rest of this stuff,” she said, ticking off the list, “we’re just going to replace. Bathrobe, sandals, curlers. No way I’m digging through this disaster.” Rosana turned and began to pick her way out of the mess which used to be Norma’s life.
The broad woman in pink was waiting for her.
“You Marcelo’s wife.”
Rosana clutched the photo album in surprise.
“I was, I guess.”
“Dulce – your maadder – she need to go home. You take her home.”
“Who are you?”
“Anna. I feex hair. Dulce is okay?” The older woman’s eyes were filled with tears, and she reached out to grip Rosana’s arm fiercely.
“She’s okay. We’re okay.”
“You strong. You take her home.”
“She’s out in the car – you should go say goodbye. Maybe you can explain to her what happened here.” Rosana waved her hand around her with a sneer.
“Jes. I do it. And you tek her to Dominican Republic. You do it?”
“Shees. Let me get her back to North Carolina, first. Then we’ll figure out how to get her home.”
“You tek her home. Then you marry a nice Dominican boy.”
Rosana considered whether this was the right moment to scream at a 300-lb woman in a pink muumuu. Instead she turned away, clutching the photo album and stalked ahead of her to the car.
“Turn here,” said Olinda, breathing into Rosana’s ear. “I live right up there.” She pointed to an apartment complex on the corner.
“Okay, not much better,” muttered Rosana, bringing the car to a stop in front of the office with a faded green awning. She glanced up at Olinda. “Someone gonna meet you?”
“Unn-Unn. My Mom’s at – at work.” Her lower lip trembled. “Rosana, you sure you don’t want me to come and, you know, help everyone get settled back in the DR? ‘Cause I speak Spanish, and I don’t know how you’re gonna -” The tears began to fall.
“It okay, ‘Linda,” crooned Norma, turning as best she could in the front seat to face her daughter-in-law. She picked up Olinda’s hand and stroked it. “I always remember you.”
Rosana watcher her hand pause for a barely perceptible moment as it crossed Olinda’s wedding ring. Carlos’ ring. She fingered her own, wondering briefly if she should wear it, now that Marcelo was – gone.
“An’ I’m always gonna remember you, and Carlos, and – I can’t believe this is happening to me! We were gonna go to Ensenada and go to the beach! Fourteen hours, Rosana! Mama! Solamente catorce horas!” Her weeping grew shrill.
“Olinda!” Rosana snapped, then, trying to soften her tone, “we’ll call you when we get there, okay? When we get to the DR, we’ll let you know we got there safely. You should go inside now. We’ve gotta get to LAX, and you’ve gotta go lay down for awhile.” She yanked off her seat belt and bolted from the car, startling a young woman with two kids as she bounded to the sidewalk to help Olinda out of the car.
“That you, ‘Linda? Oh, baby! I heard what happened! C’mere, baby doll.” Olinda heaved herself from the car and fell into the arms of the woman, who hugged and rocked her while Rosana pulled all six suitcases from the trunk and back seat where they were wedged.
Now, a man from the office came out and helped Olinda and the woman drag the bags toward the stairs. Only as Rosana slammed the trunk did Olinda come trotting back.
She opened the front door and threw her arms around Norma’s neck, wailing. “Oh, Mama! I’ll never forget you! I’ll come and visit you! Text me and tell me how you’re doing. Carlos -” A fresh wave of tears overtook her. Rosana climbed in the driver’s seat.
“Rosana, you’re my sister for ever! I hope everything goes good. Carlos didn’t like you, but he didn’t know you’re really not that bad.” She smiled through her tears.
For the second time,Rosana got out of the car, muttering. She came around to the sidewalk and hugged Olinda.
“Thanks, Olinda. I know you meant it.”
“I do! We’ll be sisters for ever.” She grabbed Rosana’s left hand and held it up next to her own. The rings shone dully in the afternoon light. Rosana tried not to jerk her hand away too hard.
“Thanks, Olinda. Hey, he’s talking to you.” She pointed to the man lugging the suitcases up the stairs and waited until Olinda was chugging toward him before she got in and slammed the door.
Norma was quiet for a moment. Then, she picked up Rosana’s hand.
“Rosana, you go home, too. Where you live?”
“With you, Mama.”
“No. No. Where you live before you and Marc -” the older woman gulped and started to shake. “Before you and Marcelo get married.”
Rosana pulled aggressively into traffic.
“No, Mama. You’re my family, now.”
Norma braced herself with an arm on the dashboard.
“We very different. My country, my people, we not like you. We live more – simple. We have religious.”
A flurry of scattered thoughts flew past Rosana. She chose a random sampling.
Did Norma not want her to come? No, Norma needed her.
Will I be able to handle this? Full-time care for a semi-invalid? Jamesey was fifteen. Younger than Norma. His care was all I could handle.
Where will we live? What will we do?
It doesn’t matter.
“I’m going with you. You can’t do this on your own. This country took everything from you, but I am going to be something it gave. We’re stuck with each other. Wherever you go, I’m going too. Your country will be my country. Your religion will be my religion. We’re family, Norma.”
Norma reached over and patted Rosana’s cheek as tears ran down hers. “You’re my daughter. My daughter for true. God take from me, now he give to me.”
It was a ‘Grinch moment’ there on Highway 5 headed North to LAX, the new widow with the old. Facing a completely unforeseeable future filled with exhausting work for a woman she barely knew, Rosana’s heart grew two sizes.