It had been many years and they had stopped passing the threshold. Their faces, long and weary from the fight had stayed away for too long from their family. She sighed. She understood, but it did not ease the pain. They fought and struggled in a confusing time, a time where men were as fearless as wolves and as certain as children stripped away from their mother’s breasts.
Her’s had been taken too, and she had watched them go, helpless to hold them to her, and they with their looks of hurt and abandonment could only leave and struggle.
What was there of her family now except the table cloth, the family cloth, perhaps the fabric of the family. She unfolded it, shaking it out. It billowed up and up, and came to rest over the back of a wooden chair. She pulled the tightly woven linen to her chin. feeling the roughness and the faint smell bacalao despite the washing. She smiled, pressing it closer to her chest and making a fold along one of the creases. The rivers of red and green flowed to the floor twisting, turning, tumbling over each other in their intricately embroidered simplicity. Giving it a snap, she straightened the fabric and grabbed a corner, one of her corners. Her daughter had wanted to sew them but there were still things that a mother needed to do. Besides, everyone had always remarked that her corners were straighter and stronger than anyone else’s. They used to come to her and ask her to do the corners.
And here, she placed her corners on top of each other, beholding them together within the folds.
“Ay, ama,” Iker yelped, “I’ve spilled mosto on the table cloth.”
“Why don’t you be more careful!” She chased him with her hand raised and he ducked out of the way and through the door.
“Oh, what am I going to do?” There were so many stains on the cloth now after the past ten years. There was blood from the rare cooked chuleta, mosto more than once, dirt, grease, wine, and grimy fingers covered with God knows what. Gone was the brilliant luster of the day she and her mother had sat down and sewn the seams. It was so white then. The red and green had shown so remarkably.
Her fingers grasped the table cloth again feeling the creases time worn with washings and pressings. The lines were almost permanent and her fingers felt the texture.
She unfurled it once again over the chair and onto the table.
The intertwining red and green embroidery that had stood out so perfectly against the white linen was a bit more dark, and the colors a bit muted. There was the spot where Iker had spilled grape juice. And here was the place where Asier had always wiped his hands under the table. There in the middle were the remnants of each of their slaughtered cows. Some were better than others, but the stains of blood had all blended together in time.
These were her photographs, her memories that it had all been real at one time. It was real wasn’t it?
“Ama, what can we do? They bombed Gernika? They said it was the Navarines, but how could they bomb their own people. We have to go, there is nothing else to do. We have to go to fight.”
She understood then why they had to leave even though the fight was hopeless. They had enjoyed many years of innocence in their house with the cloth, but they were such babies… and even now.
With a tug she pulled the mantela from the chair and laid it across the table. They would need six plates, she thought. Then she would have to open fresh bottles of cider and set their places.
They had returned one month in a cold December when the fighting had stopped for the holidays. The Germans worked on holidays, but they did not have to worry about the Spanish.