All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Stories (Page 3 of 4)

For those writings both fiction and non-fiction that tell a story beyond the banal. They might be banal, but that’s just on the surface. It need not be non-fiction to be true.

I Shall Remember You, Little Apple

This is for you, little apple. I write these words of remembrance.

I
was eating an apple while driving home from the Puerto Rico Products
Association today. I was travelling through the urban setting, a
decidedly un-vegetation friendly environment. I reflected that if I had
been in the country, I would have tossed my apple core from the car
into the tropical foliage. Drat, I am here in the city. The apple core
is an eye sore. How would I like apple cores on my side walk, sitting
there, collecting ants and turning brown in the hot sun? The apple that
falls on the concrete of the city has no chance for life, and in the
best of cases is an ugly mess.

In the country, though, it
would have a chance to grow into an apple tree. Ah, but I have eaten
the flesh of the apple, the flesh that would give its small seeds the
nourishment for new life. I have done such violence to these poor
little things. They would stand no chance to achieve life if left to
their own devices. They are done whether on the side walk or the
forest. They were done in by me, by my hungry apple flesh eating mouth.

The poor devils.

Nightmare Scenario

I had trouble falling asleep last night, probably the late dinner
and the excitement of Olaia’s sleep-over with her cousins, Mariam and
Robertito. Whatever it was, I tossed and turned before falling into a
shallow slumber. I began to have a disquieting nightmare.

I
find myself in a hospital, with rows of patients. It’s strangely bright
and open, almost as if it’s in my house. Something is happening,
something big, tragic. I must get my family out, I think to myself. Out
of where and from what, I can’t say, but there’s this urgency to move
or run or something. There is this hurried hopeful movement all around.
Something is coming, but it can be dealt with, or so everyone believes.

I
snap from the dream briefly and focus on my sleeping self. I’m asleep,
I halfway realize, and then as if to make sense of the disconnect, my
dream seizes upon the realization and weaves it into the plot.

You
are asleep. You know who comes for you in your sleep. There is some
realization that there is a Freddy Crouger, nightmare type scenario
playing out, and even though I’ve never seen a single slasher movie in
my life, I’m now in one. He’s coming for you, and there is nowhere to
hide. I choke, the realization coming over me. There is only a split
second of angst for myself, as I realize that I am in control. But the
rest? These people here don’t know they are safe, that they are in
control. I begin to run around, making tons of noise. "I know who you
are!! You can’t hurt these people. You can’t hurt me. You’ll all be
okay," I shout. I’m getting mad now. I want to find this character and
tear his head off.

Suddenly, I’m accompanied by a middle-aged Mia
Sara, Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend in "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off." We’re
walking inside a plush carpeted hotel. The hallways are wide and tall,
and everything looks like it’s covered with various earth-toned crushed
velvet. She is talking to me, in a sort of evil villain/philosopher
tone. "You will have a choice," she says. She is communicating with me
in some way beyond talking. I am filled with feelings, emotions,
anxiousness at what is to come. I’m unsure why I am here or what I am
to do.

"Answer me truthfully," I say to her, for some reason knowing she cannot lie, "am I in Hell?"

"Yes."
And she dissappears. I follow the corridor and exit into a dark street.
It still feels closed in, like a movie set of Las Vegas. I am drenched
in seeminess. It’s not unpleasant, just drenched in some sort of
manifestation of selfishness, lust, greed. Women proposition me on the
street in their high heels, fishnets, and bustieres. Street hustlers
call my name, with gay grins and bejeweled hands. "Comeon, wanna try
yer luck." It’s tempting. Looks like it might be fun. Just for second,
I think…. no feel, this isn’t so bad. It’s sad, but not evil as I had
imagined it.

I am traveling now through the streets, flying,
running, I don’t know which. I absorb the scene before me with ever
increasing ownership, and I keep accelerating until it is all so much
blur or images, faces, seeminess, sex, greed, gluttony, envy,
aimlessness, despair, and loneliness. I boldly shout to them, "Repent!!
Repent!! Jesus – God loves you! You are all loved by God." I fix on
myself, and how I sound. Repent, evil doers was not my intent. I hear
in my head the cries of a fire and brimstone Baptist preacher, facing
his congregation wagging his finger at the unworthy. My feeling as I
fly through the wasteland and all the emptiness is not that they are
evil, but that they are lost, worthy of love. "Repent!" is a call to
reach out their hands, and to not let their despair keep them from
redemption. I am aware I am in Hell, and I know with every fiber of my
being that Hell cannot exist where there is a willingness to be
redeemed. If the love of the Creator is infinite, there is no possible
reason for these poor creatures to live in the dark unless they choose
to. And no one, I know, would willingly choose to give up being loved.
I will deliver the message, "Repent, and ye shall be saved!!" I am
filled with such strength, force of will, to be saying such things. I
want to save them all, share with them what I know. No matter how far
you have fallen, you can still be saved. I know this.

And on a
dark street I come to an instant stop. In front of me are three figures
ready to accost me. I take a bold step toward them to deliver my
message. They immediately transform into monsters dripping blood,
fingers stretched out in contorted razor sharp claws, eyes rolled back,
all night of the living dead-like. They had been normal human figures a
moment earlier, but suddenly turn hideously grotesque.

I shrink
for a millisecond. I am startled, and fear for a brief instant, but it
isn’t fear of dying or being attacked, it is a point of infinite
revulsion, like all possible nausea compacted into an impossibly short
period of time. Get away from me, I think.

And as quickly as it
had come, the next moments fill me with ever increasing compassion and
I say, "fill me" because I don’t get the sense that I was the one doing
it. I become bolder and bolder. My speed picks up again, and I race
toward the figure on my right at an impossible rate. I embrace his
torso and speed off, my arms wrapped as tightly as I can possibly
imagine around his breast, him facing away from me, my chin on his
shoulder. "Don’t worry, He loves you." And my embrace strengthens like
my life depends on it. I will hold onto you.

I ask him how his
life had been in this place. Had it been tough. He tells me at first it
wasn’t so hard, but then there were those that beat him. He had been
kicked down and bloodied, living on the street, in the cold for so
long. "It’s not so bad." I ask him what it was like before, in life.
"The same," he says.

The night fades, replaced by a brightly
lit plaza of intricate stone work. I come to a stop and release this
person to whom I had clung to tightly.

"Sorry, about that," I say wiping spittle off his shoulder.

And
I awake in a sweat, hot as hell, my pillow wet from drool. Yeech. I
adjust my covers and sigh. "Hon, I just had the weirdest dream. I don’t
even know if I can call it a dream."

The Walking Lady

This morning I did my two mile walk
with Jaimito in his jogger stroller. He usually sings to me, babbling
and carrying on with a musical tune. He likes music. He’s always
dancing and singing. The Wiggles, an Australian kids troupe, on the
Disney channel are his favorite characters. or the "-ggles"
as he says. Today, though he didn’t sing, just happily sucked his
bottle of juice, pulling it from his mouth to point out sights of
interest along the way. We saw trees, palm trees, a cement truck and
an airplane. Jaimito loves airplanes, or "a-bi" as he says.
I think it’s a cross between airplane and avión, in spanish.
"A-bo, a-bo," he says turning his head up to me, pointing
to a tree. I assume "a-bo" is arbol or "tree" in
spanish. Wow, kids sure are good on the economy of language. Such
clever creatures. Yeah, Daddy, why do you have all these distinct
words. All I need to do is make a sound and point. See? Easy as pie.

Jaimito and I got back from our little
walk, and had some breakfast. He loves fruit Kixs cereal. I don’t
complain, because he can’t make a mess with it, and after all, it is
"Kid tested, Mother approved." He loves to share with me,
digging into the little cup of cereal with his dexterous deditos and
feeding me the purple ones. Why purple? I have asked him the same
question myself – perhaps when he can talk, he will reveal to me his
hidden agenda.

Yogurt is his other favorite. Cereal
and yogurt… ah, the stuff of which dreams are made, ahh, but,
Daddy, I need some of your cereal too, or actually just the milk.

Daddy likes to eat Honey Bunches of
Oats, with chocolate chips sprinkled on top. I’m bad, I know, but
little Mr. So-and-so likes to mooch the milk from me. He makes his
dramatic "mmmmmmp" sounds and smiles at me after each
successful raid into my zone, pushing his pushy wiggle-puss into my
bowl. I call him my "Moochie" or "Cachetero"
(cheeky-one) on account of his bulging cheeks.

This has become our morning ritual.

After coffee, I checked my email,
morning geek news (slashdot.org),
world news (www.msnbc.com), and
settled into work on Altabox 4.0.

This afternoon, we had a lunch date
with a local state senator to build a strategy to communicate our
vision for the tech sector with what will be, most assuredly the next
governor of Puerto Rico. The rest of the morning was uneventful, and
we headed out for our lunch.

I usually drive, because although Laura
is a good and competent driver, she’s got a lead foot. The new and
improved phlegmatic Jim, has become a passive slowpoke, as it is the
only way I can feel sane. Thanks Dad. I was pulling out of our
sub-division when the car in front of me just stopped. A woman got
out and ran across the street. Huh? I honked, what the hell is she
doing? And just as I honked, I saw a crumpled shape lying in a ditch
on the other side of the street. I pulled to the side, and leaped
from the car to screams and clamor.

Apparently there was a slight accident,
two cars had hit each other, but caught up in it was an old woman, a
pedestrian who was walking along the side of the road. As the two
idiots drivers fought and fretted about their situation, the poor
woman lay bleeding in a drainage ditch, water flowing freely around
her.

I raced over to her, fixated on this
poor figure laying in the blood. Is she dead? I didn’t see the
accident, so I didn’t know how severe it was. It wasn’t clear exactly
what had happened. Did she fall? Was she hit? I reached her limp
form, and checked immediately to see if she was alive, breathing. I
felt awkward. This stuff only happens in the movies, doesn’t it? I
was shaking, the adrenaline had kicked in. I couldn’t help it. I was
mentally calm and in control, but my body had other ideas as it
decided to go into crisis mode. The people standing around me are all
offered "helpful" suggestions. Don’t move her, was pretty
much all they could say, I guess they were content to just stand
there and gawk while this bleeding woman lay in a ditch.

I touched her shoulder and gave her
upper torso a little tug. First thing you do in a crisis is talk to
the patient. Find out if they are okay, if they can tell you where it
hurts or where they are hurt. First aid is trained frequently in the
Army, repetitively, so that in the moment you don’t have to think.

Say there’s an explosion, your buddy
goes down, and you immediately start first aid, checking limbs,
tearing open clothes, thinking about tourniquets. "Hey dumbass,
I’m fine. Just stunned, check out the rest of the guys." If the
patient can talk, they can help you out. Basic stuff, but you’d be
amazed how often people forget.

So this woman, was stunned, a little
groggy. I recognized her from the first. She’s who, growing up in N.
Country, St. Louis, we all knew as the "Walking Lady," a
woman seen at all hours of the day, in all seasons walking around,
going shopping, running all her errands on foot. Here, lying in a
drainage ditch was our very own, "Walking Lady," Paquita as
she is called. Laura and I wondered if she was homeless, her
weathered and somewhat tattered appearance fit the bill. She lives in
our neighborhood, however. I see her most mornings as I head out on
my morning bike rides. We usually exchange smiles.

I checked her head. Looks okay, she’s
got a cut across her eyebrow. That’s where ALL the blood was coming
from. Yeah, I remember those injuries all too well. Cut above the eye
bleeds like crazy. You look like Carrie. I check around her head,
talking to her. "Does it hurt any where else?" She’s still
groggy, I can’t hear her. "You know me," I say to her,
"It’s me, from the bicycle. We meet each other every morning
when I go out on my bicycle."

She smiled. I smiled back, and imagined
myself, this huge gringo covered in blood crouched in a ditch holding
this ninety pound little old lady, stroking her head.

I enlisted the aid of a by-stander to
move her from the ditch into the shade. I was amazed at how hard it
was to lift her small frame out of the ditch. I stumbled and stepped
on her hand. I felt terrible about that. Poor thing. A limp weight is
hard to lift. Jeez. A worker from the Energy Authority, trained in
first aid arrived at the scene. He had his complete first aid kit,
oxygen, bandages, blood pressure device, etc. He went to work, while
I told her jokes and held her hand. I made her smile as her blood
pressure and pulse came back normal. "Ah, as healthy as a twenty
year old," I said.

It was super hot in the noon day,
equatorial sun. I was dressed for a business lunch, and not only was
I drenched in blood, I was pouring sweat like a thoroughbred. A man
began to fan me with a piece of cardboard he found on the road. Ah,
that felt good.

The ambulance arrived finally, and I
got out of the way. They rolled her onto the stretcher and hoisted
her up. I stayed with her to see her off. "Paquita, may you get
better soon. We’ll see each other next week, you walking, me on my
bicycle." She smiled and we parted ways.

In the end, I didn’t do anything
really. I would have been more prepared to do CPR or mouth to mouth,
but I felt good for having reacted so quickly and taking charge while
everybody else fretted and stood idle, especially the two idiots in
the cars that caused the accident in the first place. Like I said,
though, I didn’t really do anything, but today, the 25th of November
2003, I eased someone’s pain and made a new friend.

Observing the Primary Election for the New Progressive Party in Puerto Rico

Laura and I woke up early, 0530, to get to the polling place and
begin what was to become a very long day. We had volunteered to be
observers for our particular candidate, Carlos Pesquera, in the
gubernatorial primary for Puerto Rico. It is customary to have
observers from your campaign to "assure" the election officials do
their jobs and don’t try to pull any funny business.

The funny business began right away for us. Agustín, our polling place
"head dog," tried to put us to work right away counting and initialling
ballots. I refused. "Hey we’re not election officials," I said. "Our
campaign bosses were very clear we were not to be doing your jobs."

It turned out that they had not done, nor planned to do their jobs, and
since our candidate stood to be hurt more, we acquiesced and did what
we needed to do to have the polling place open on time at 0800.

Things continued to bump along herky jerky. Agustín flashed his rural rotten toothed smile at me. "See that wasn’t so bad."

They hadn’t enough secret booths for people to vote in private, so
hoards started taking seats in the 2nd grade classroom to fill out
their ballots, twenty at a time, huddled close together. I was already
shaking my head. This was out of control. It was obvious Agustín was
this little barrio’s don. I caught him "suggesting" candidates for the
little old ladies that trusted his judgement. "Agustín, you can’t do
that. That’s fraud, you know. Do it again and I will file an
infraction."

"You know, you’re not so innocent yourself. By helping people put their
ballots in the boxes you are violating the rules as well."

This is a well worn and tired tactic in Puerto Rico. So lawless and
disorderly is the conduct, so liberal are the gentry with rules and
regulations, that there is more than sufficient culpability to go
around. No one ever enforces these laws, for fear of themselves being
caught in something. Everybody is dirty here. Everybody’s got something
in their closet. So accustomed are the people to playing ball,
negotiating everything, they are beholden to no ideals, only
necessities in the constant flux of the moment. Do what you have to do
to get by. And a common game they play is whenever accused of
wrongdoing, quick turn it around on someone else or your attacker, no
matter how small. Put them on the immediate defensive.

So, Agustín’s admonishment to me for helping these same old ladies get
their ballots in the rickety cardboard slots was my "infraction."
Agustín had met his match. I don’t know why people here are flummoxed
by this sophmoric redirect, but they are.

I’m not.

"Okay, I won’t touch the ballots. You tell another person how to vote, and I will report you."

Then he went into the guilty conscience blither blather, where he
wouldn’t shut up trying to justify himself. The process is damaged,
he’d say, he’s just helping. Why should a "wrong" candidate get elected
just because he’s better looking. If people don’t take the time to
study the candidates, then the wrong person get’s elected by accident.
"I’m just helping to avoid an accident." And he would go on and on,
flapping his deformed, cavity ridden mouth at high velocity. I told him
if the people didn’t know the candidates, they shouldn’t vote for them.
Leave that box blank. He kept on, trying his best to persuade me, his
guilty conscience and pride going on and on. All the while giving me
more and more dirt on himself. I just listened, carefully crafting the
hammer that I would bring down upon him soon enough.

I soon caught him again with a little group of people around him. He
had been pretending to count blank ballots (we were running out),
seated in the little desk of the second grade classroom. All were
huddled around him, hunched. I stood at the front of the room, in front
of the blackboard giving directions and noting irregularities.
Children!! I almost said.

"Agustín," I said, "You can’t do that. I see you." And in a more formal
spanish that sounds like a fine afternoon spent at a nobleman’s estate,
"The gentleman shall refrain from offering advice on selecting
candidates. You, sir, are damaging the electoral process."

He stopped immediately. I flagged down Laura and told her the story.
Then I reported it to the electoral unit head. He was shaken and
surprised, but as Agustín is clearly the "go-to-guy" at this polling
place, I have my doubts about how this will be resolved. It’s kind of
like when a hotel says to you, "Yes sir, we’re really sorry about that,
you can be assured that he will fired immediately."

I figured I didn’t have much pull and myself being a newcomer, it would
have been an uphill battle. All I had at that point were threats and
pieces of paper. I started to hatch a plan.

Earlier, the director of the polling place had expressed interest in
Laura and myself to help with the general elections next November. We
are young and involved, contrary to the older folks that always seem to
run these things. I had been cagey, expressing reservation. I didn’t
want to get chummy with these people. They were after all, enemies for
the day.

How do I remove Agustín from his position as chief purveyer of fraud in
Barrio Tortugo? How do I get rid of this little latin dictator wannabe?

It would have to wait, as the day was only half over and there were
ballots to be cast. Mostly the people coming through were extremely
uneducated, lazy, borderline shouldn’t-be-allowed-to-vote. It was a
pretty depressing affair. These are the people who are deciding the
future representation of Puerto Rico. These same people who are
complicit in fraud, who haven’t taken the time to read up on the
candidates, and resort to trying to get away with cheating. Good thing
the teacher was there. It was shameful. I should have punished them to
write a thousand times on the chalkboard, "I will not cheat the
electoral process. I do not wish to live in Haiti."

After all was said and done and all the ballots were cast, it fell upon
Laura and myself to observe the counting. It is still a hand counting
system here in Puerto Rico. It works pretty well. The polling places
are divided up sufficiently that the results come in for over 1.5
million votes cast in just a few hours.

Agustín was getting no end of pleasure handing us stacks of ballots to
count and sort. He was like a grand arch-duke waving about his servants
while he dealt with important matters, such as the bloom on his roses.
Laura and I didn’t protest the counting of the ballots for our
gubernatorial candidate. We had a vested interest.

It soon became apparent that our candidate was losing by a landslide.
3-1. My heart sank. After so much effort, so much toil, is this how it
is to end? Napoleon has returned from St. Helena… even after so much
ruin, he is still a strong-man. So it is in Puerto Rico, Rosselló, like
Napoleon, conquered much in his early years only to meet his Waterloo
and seek the refuge of exile. Our Napoleon, however, has seen fit to
come back from his exile and save us. And our candidate? Carlos
Pesquera was like the honest reformer trying to put back together the
country Napoleon had destroyed. All the people can remember is the
glory of the past. The poor want heros, glory, not reform.

After "helping" Agustín count most of the rest of the election results
too, I became increasingly frustrated by his lack of graciousness,
laziness, and assumption at our servile role. I told Laura, I’d had it. We’re
out of here. Look at these people. We’re just observers and we’re doing
all the work. They’re just sitting there watching us like slavers. They
can stay up to 3am for all I care. We’re out of here.

On the way out, I told the director of the polling station, "Here’s the
deal, Marcos. You get rid of Agustín, you get both Laura and myself.
That’s the deal. Two for one."

He jotted down our number and we were on our way.

You Are the Heart, I am the Body

You are the heart. I am the body. Without me, there is no action, no
animation, no progress. Without you I cannot live. I cannot respire.

When I was tired, and I closed my eyes, lay in the ditch and waited for
the end, you kept beating, beating, beating, for you knew not what else
to do.

Seeping Black Ooze

I want to write about an interesting revelation I had about a friend
of mine from the Army. I thought about writing a little character
sketch from a first person point of view, as if I was him. I tossed
that idea, because this interesting revelation I had could NEVER be one
that you make about yourself. Hmmm, maybe I could do it third person. I
wrote out a couple of sentences from a third person perspective and it
didn’t sound right either. From the third person it sounded too cold,
calculating, and smug. This revelation I had was warmer more personal.
Even though I realized that I had stumbled upon one of the BIG ONES, a
flaw so deeply embedded in our psyche that it escapes us and our
viewpoints, wherever they may exist, I could not find a way to write
it. I looked for a perspective, but none could be found. I wanted so
bad to SHOW this flaw, expose it by proxy, let the feeling of the thing
be known, not told. But I couldn’t find the words. I suspect it must be
told.

He works so hard to keep things from seeping in, he forgets from time to time, things seep out.

Something about his behavior always rubbed me the wrong way. I noticed
that this person, a ridged believer in temperance and piety, would make
comments, inappropriate for one who holds the Truth. Sometimes they
were bigoted or sexist. The key though was that he didn’t see them,
didn’t recognize them as enemies. His enemy was alcohol, tobacco, or
dance. Keep those marauders at bay and his homestead would be safe.
Meanwhile there is this leak that oozes out leaving a stench to which,
I imagine, he has become accustomed.

I note sometimes how he looks down his nose at me. The last time it was
for drinking and smoking a cigar (tobacco is a big no-no). He likes me,
but I sense the distain from time to time, the superiority that comes
from a hurler of stones rather than a builder of homes. A hurler of
stones marches out with his "creed for life" in the guise of
conversion, but really ends up being a quest for validation. My way is
the right way… isn’t it? And some fear seeps out, little bits of that
nasty bile, choking him, sending him into convulsions.  In his writhing, he casts you out.  Get thee from my home cursed Satan! 

A builder of homes, though, invites you in to sit
a spell. Come as you are he says, and doesn’t mind that you throw your
feet up on his coffee table. Afterall he built it to stand the test of
time, and he’s not worried. He built it once, he could build it again.

It’s an ugly sight, let me tell you. I’m just glad that I don’t have
any of that shit leaking out of me. You’d let me know wouldn’t you?

Thanks.

Prepare for the Dragon, but Beware the Rats

A young pupil in a quandary for direction, asked his teacher how he
may judge the battles upon which to draw his sword. "How, sensei,
should I pick my battles so that I may be victorious?"

The teacher paused, and with a firm wisdom, replied. "Young student,
this is not an easy question to answer, but I will give you the best
advice I can give you." He lowered his voice to a whisper.

"Beware the great beast, for he may slay you with a single
swipe of his claws or with but a blast of his fiery breath. Step
lightly and do not choose this battle with a thought of impunity."

The master lifted his eyes and raised his voice emphatically.

"Be mindful always of the rats that scurry about the beast’s legs, for they will surely devour you in time. Step boldly, and always take this battle wherever it can be found."

If you can do these things, you will be victorious and a champion in your own right.

Old Elvis was Cooler

Billy Buckthorn was thrown violently down, straining as he fell to
retrieve pieces of himself fluttering to the ground in the low gravity
atmosphere. These were the things that kept him from becoming detached.
From what he couldn’t say. But he had been losing himself out here for
a while now. He stared at a photo of early Elvis that lay scattered
amongst his things. There it was, the coolest man who ever lived. Life
was getting hot, really hot, and he could have used some of that
coolness now.

The Great Salmon

How do you judge the value of a salmon steak. Take the person who
buys it. Without the money for having bought that salmon steak it
wouldn’t be a reality. It would never arrive to the hands of the
seasoner. Sprinkle lemon, a little cilantro. Sprinkle precious drops of
olive oil. Rub it into the pink meat. Let it set. So without those who
would season the meat, there would be no great salmon steak. You have
to give those seasoners credit. Let’s pass that filet to the grill.
Without the griller, the right temperature, a few smoldering briquettes
for smoky flavor. Watch that meat, it only takes five minutes to cook a
piece of fish to perfection. Too hot, it’s blackened… too cool and
you risk it falling apart. Pass that fish to the serving plate. They
eat it, exclaiming, "Wow, that was the most wonderful salmon I’ve ever
eaten. My hat is off to you chef."

"Ah, but," he replies, "I couldn’t have done it without the
seasoner. That salmon was only as good as the seasoner. Seasoner, my
hat is off to you."

She smiles politely, "Very well, but without the buyer, I wouldn’t
have had anything. Without that great delicacy to start with, I
wouldn’t have anything to season."

"Thank you, but my part is a small one." says the buyer.

It was a fine salmon and all are in accord. They had made a fine meal and it was a team effort.

And then my mind drifts off to the salmon waters of the North
Pacific. I see a great strength darting through the cold ocean waters.
Is this greatness a gift of the buyers, seasoners, and grillers? I
think this as I imagine its life, and I see that the grand beast was
magnificent.

Mantela

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.

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