It’s been a while and I’ve missed this! Dusted this one off, made some tweaks. Comments welcome.
Amadis awoke, cold and cramped in the half-light. When she realized she was on the floor, she let herself stay there, motionless. Last night she’d sat in the wooden chair she reserved for guests she didn’t like. Undeserving of comfort, she rocked for hours, begging, crying. Then too spent to cry. Sometime after three she slumped to the floor, her cheek against the blue tile. Mercy came as sleep.
Now, she opened her eyes and listened. The balcony door was ajar as she left it. The rising light twisted in exaggerated patterns cast by the iron railing. She eased closer to the chair and pulled herself erect. Her head throbbed but her breath was even. Panic never served you, Amadis. If this is your last day, you may as well enjoy it.
She shuffled to the sofa for the worn afghan and cloaked herself. The chill was sweetened by her garden beds, below. In her mind she saw the hundreds of closing discocatus petals that lined the path to her door. Each plant once a cutting, severed from the whole, dipped into damp sand. Coaxed to root.
On the balcony she gazed beyond the fields to the skyline of foothills. As a child she’d raced the winding trails with her younger sister. Free of their mother’s scrutiny, they swung on wild vines and hunted for blackberries. Homeward bound, buckets filled, fingers scarred purple, Bonita would say, “Mama will say my berries are best.” And Amadis would laugh and race ahead to hide the sting. Bonita, the pretty one, the favorite. Adamidis’s mouth pulled down at the memory. No. Let it go. It doesn’t matter. It never did.
She caught a quick movement below, but when she turned, there was nothing. Maybe a cat. Then at once, her arms grew heavy. A rushing filled her ears. Her mouth watered, warning nausea. She turned to go inside, and then stopped, understanding the trick. “I am tired of you,” she said out loud. Gazing into the room, she noticed her own narrow shadow on the floor. “Come out, Perdio-Uno,” she said.
“Amadis,” he said, “Why do you insist on calling me Lost One, when it is you who has lost?”
His voice created a swamp in her belly. She allowed the dark wave to wash through her, over her. Past her. She relaxed.
“Perdio-Uno, our agreement was that you would not return until the last day of my 70th year. You are early.”
“If you have not found it by now, Amadis, another day will make no difference. Look at yourself, so gnarled. So wasted. But I am fair. We will conclude our business tomorrow.”
Alone again, she turned back to the balcony and noticed the moon. Good luck on a birthday. Salvatore will be here soon. Time to get ready.
* * *
Salvatore let himself in and called up the steps, “Abuelita, I’m here!”
Without waiting for a reply, he stepped into the kitchen and opened the freezer to find a bowl filled with frozen cherimoyas. Abuelita, you never disappoint me. He selected two fruits and settled at the table to wait. He carried his own knife, a gift on his sixteenth birthday. His grandmother handed it to him and said, “This was your grandfather’s. You are like him in many ways, Salvatore.” If words sounded like a warning, he didn’t question her. The boy fingered the worn pearl handle and cut into the custard-like fruit. He ate from the blade like the men who lingered outside his parents’ store. Independent rulers of their days, they answered to no one. Not like his father who toiled day and night in an apron.
He finished the rich treat and considered having another as his grandmother stepped down the back stair into the kitchen.
“Salvatore, I knew I’d find you in here. I used to tell your parents you could smell the cherimoyas all the way from your house. Are they the only reason you agreed to drive me to the party?”
“You look beautiful, Abuelita. Are you ready to go?”
Amadis smoothed her slacks.
“A charmer. Just like your abuelo. Yes, I am ready to have a good time today, no matter what.”
She caught herself and added, “You know your great-aunt Bonita drives me crazy. I am sure today will be no exception. She will probably bring her new pet to the party. A man half her age. Disgraceful.”
“Abuelita, the man is fifty” said Salvatore. “Besides, you will be having too much fun to trouble yourself over Great-aunt Bonita and her paramour. Anyway, you know she is only jealous because you have the most charming grandson in all of South America.”
Amadis felt a tug in her heart.
“There is a basket in the fridge. You might get hungry on the trip to the hotel. And would you bring down my garment bag and overnight case?”
“Abuelita, the hotel is only three hours away.” But he took the basket out of the refrigerator and ran up the steps to gather her things.
Minutes later, Amadis sat in the little car, turned to admire her grandson’s profile. So much like him
After an hour on the highway, traffic slowed. They crept along until they saw a policeman, where most of the drivers snaked U-turns across the grassy median. A few left the tarmac to a road that branched off to the right.
“Accident ahead,” said the officer. “The road is blocked. Where are you headed?”
“To the Hotel Providencia in Dangriga, Senõr.”
The officer nodded. “You can make a U-turn and backtrack to 36 and go west on 63, or you can take the detour into Lozano. If I were you, I’d take the detour. It isn’t paved, but it will still be faster than turning back.”
Salvatore looked at his grandmother.
“You are the driver, Salvatore. You decide.”
“We’ll take the back way,” he told the officer and nodded his thanks.
They bumped along the detour through red dust kicked up from the cars ahead. The air-conditioner ran full blast but they could taste the grit. The boy turned on the wipers and shot blue liquid onto the glass, leaving two clear spots for them to peer through. Ahead the road dipped slightly, dividing a wall of trees that swallowed the daylight.
“Pull over, will you Salvatore? I need a rest.”
“Are you all right, Abuelita?” he said. “There is nothing here.”
“I want a little walk.”
Salvatore pulled the car off to the side. Amadis rolled her pants up to her shins and kicked off her shoes.
“Bring the basket, Salvatore?”
She didn’t wait for him but he soon caught up. Away from the dust, he smoothed a tablecloth and opened a bottle of water for her. She noticed him look at her arthritic hands.
“Don’t worry. They don’t hurt me anymore.”
She pulled a stalk of dried grass from its sheath, stripping the seeds into her palm, and remembered the last time she rested in a hayfield. The baby was overdue. The midwife suggested walks to help the labor come. Neighbors called out as she passed them in the village, “Amadis, when are you going to show us that baby?” or “Amadis, not yet?” She was made awkward by the attention, as if it were a fault of hers that the baby was late. To avoid them, she decided to take a footpath that led to a hayfield. The golden shafts rose as high as her chest. As she walked, she held her arms out, letting her palms brush the tops of the stalks. The sun warmed her and she grew relaxed. I will take a nap, she thought, and cocooned into sleep.
She awoke to laughter. They were close. Embarrassed to be lazy in the middle of the day, she hoped they would pass without noticing her. It grew quiet again and she relaxed. I will wait a bit to be sure they’re gone. But the woman’s sigh broke the silence. Amadis smiled to herself. Be careful Senorita, and patted her stomach. Then the man called the woman Beautiful as she heard them wrestle to the ground. An electric shock ran up her spine and dried her mouth. The voice was unmistakable.
She listened as her sister moaned. She listened as her husband called “Bonita. Oh, my Bonita.” Amadis wanted to scream, to run at them and kick them. But she swallowed back her sobs. What would they do if their secret was out? Would they run away together, leaving me disgraced to raise this baby by myself? She dug her fingernails into her scalp; she clenched her teeth. She rocked back and forth and whispered, God, please punish them. Make Bonita barren. Make my husband impotent. Punish them for their betrayal. Over and over she chanted, I deserve revenge. I deserve revenge. I deserve revenge.
A voice interrupted her, seductive and terrible.
“Amadis, do not call to God for your sweetness.”
Her heart slammed in her chest.
“I need an answer, Amadis.”
Yes. It is what I want. They must pay for what they have done to me. I don’t care about anything else.
“Amadis, we are in agreement.” His tone intensified, silky and awful. “Amadis, you have made the right choice.”
What have I done?
“There are many ways to punish your treacherous sister and your sniveling husband, but make no mistake; you will pay a price. I will visit again in fifty years. Let’s say on the last day of your 70th year.” Then there was a low, guttural laugh. “Unless you find the key to unlock the curse you have called upon yourself.” Then softer, “I will not speak till then, but I will never leave you.”
The presence seemed to vanish. Dusk came. No sound but the swish of wind in the grass. Numb, she wondered if she’d imagined the ordeal. It must have been a nightmare brought on by the pregnancy. Shaking, she got up and searched, hoping. But she found the depression in the grass where two had lain. Maybe it was just a couple that sounded like them?
Sunlight glinted beneath the matted grass. She bent closer and picked up an earring. It was Bonita’s. She put it in her pocket, brushed the grass from her hair and dress, and walked down the footpath toward the village like a ghost.
* * *
“Abuelita? Do you want to get going soon?”
Amadis looked at her grandson and saw her husband in his face: the same gray eyes, the same softness of expression. She loved this boy. No matter what mistake he made, she would forgive it. She thought of her sister, old but still a spoiled girl obsessed with her looks, desperate to find someone to cling to. She thought of her long-dead husband and the cold marriage they’d endured. She thought of the hundreds of moments her heart urged forgiveness, and the hundreds of times she refused.
“One more minute, Salvatore? I need a minute to myself. To say a birthday prayer. Would you take the things back to the car?”
He gathered up the picnic. “Sure, Abuelita. But not too long, okay? We don’t want everyone worrying about us.”
Amadis nodded, and lifted her eyes to the brilliant sky. So many years, I noticed their every suffering, and my guilt grew a little heavier. But I did not cause their pain. I caused my own. I forgive myself. I forgive them. I forgive you, Perdio-Uno.
Amadis took the earring from her pocket and without looking at it again, tossed it into the field, and headed to the car.