Oasis in Time (1973)
At the time we were living in Venezuela, in a town near Matacaibo.
I was resting on Eric's bed trying to shadow my problems by poking into those of other people
depicted in the newspaper, when he entered the room holding a few buds in the cup of his little hands. He had been playing in the yard under the maid's supervision.
"Mami, what is it?" he asked.
"They are flower buds. Had you not severed them from the plant, they would have grown and bloomed into beautiful flowers. My love, you shouldn't have severed them." He ignored my soft reprimand and went on.
"Ah...! If I don't break, they grow, they groooow... biig..." He stressed his words, raising his little arms as to underline the miracle of the growing plant, his wide-open eyes fixed at something tall, visible only to him.
Eric was not quite two years old at the time; his round, pinky baby-face shaded by reddish, short hair, the image of innocence.
"Would you like to see what's inside a bud?"
"Yes," he answered and came nearer to look attentively at how I unlocked one of the buds.
“Here it is. Look what's inside! A lot of tiny seeds that, provided we put them in the ground, they grow and become plants with flowers.”
Eric’s eyes widened further as I explained the wonder of nature, his sight glued to the seeds.
“Haaa… and I put the seeits in the ground and they grow big…. and there are many flowers…” he repeated slowly as if talking to himself. Then, “I’m going to put a seeit of nipèrro,” he added aloud.
“Of what?” I asked. At times I forgot his baby-language.
“The nipèrro, the nipèrrro,” he repeated impatiently for my lack of understanding while waiving his little arms in comic despair. “The one that I like and that has a little seet inside and grow big,” he explained. Eric was referring to a tropical tree, the nìspero, which bears small fruits of the same name and that were his favorite.
“Okay, I understand; the nìspero. The one in our yard hasn’t bloomed yet.
“No,” he agreed sadly. Then, he fell silent.
I thought the conversation was over and went back to reading the paper. “… In the beginning of this month a young man came out from the movie theatre and…”
“Mami,” Eric started again with the soft tone of voice he used when he wanted to obtain something. “Mami, I want flower with legs.”
“What?” I thought I misunderstood.
“A flower with legs so can walk with me,” he repeated seriously while moving two of his little fingers on the floor to depict the motion of walking. I was hardly able to repress a laugh.
“My love, there are no flowers with legs.”
“Not even in Maracaibo are?”
“No, not even in Maracaibo.”
“And what is in Maracaibo?”
“About the same things we have here, certainly no flowers with legs,” I answered masking my amusement. Somewhat disappointed, he turned to play with some multicolored wooden sticks he had retrieved from a drawer in the meantime.
“What sticks are for?” he asked.
“To play with,” I answered patiently. He began to play with them and, thinking he was going to be busy for a while, I returned to my paper. “In the beginning of the month…” but Eric had decided my attention belonged to him.
“What is this?” he asked. I glanced at the arrangement of the sticks on the floor, next to him.
“It’s a square.”
“Ah…, and this?”
“Well… I don’t know.”
“You no remember that little car, my little car of this color…?”
“Oh, yes, yes, you're right,” I answered for the figure somehow resembled that car. Then, Eric decided to rearrange the sticks’ shape, his little hands in a race with his mind.
“And this? What is this?” he asked again, obliging me to decipher his work that now resembled a rhomboid. I guessed it was the sun. Pleased with my answer, he bettered his work by placing sticks all around the rhomboid.
“The sun has thorns…,” he muttered. “The sun stings, Mami?”
“No, darling, the sun has no thorns. Those protruding sticks resemble flames, like tongues of flames. Fire burns, you know,” I reminded him. Fire was an irresistible attraction for Eric and I had to be very careful to hide matches, often reminding him that fire destroys by burning everything on its path. His eyes flooded with wonder, and again he moved closer to me.
“The fire burns, my love. You need to remember,” I repeated.
“But, what if I burn only a little piece of paper?”
“No, darling, it might still be dangerous. Flames expand, walk around, and burn everything.”
At my comment he smiled, wobbling his little head in disapproval.
“No, no, Mami…, no true! The flame no walk, the flame has no legs!”
He paused for a few seconds, then, “Then..., the sun is bad? Burns everything?”
“No, my darling, the sun is very far away and cannot burn us. Its fire only warms us. Without the sun we would be feeling very cold.”
“And cold kill us?”
“Yes, also too much cold can kill people.”
“Ha…, what more do the sun?”
“The sun gives us the light. When the sun shines, it’s day; when the sun goes to sleep, it’s night.” Eric, then, went to the window to peek outside from under the drapes. He squinted at the sunshine’s brightness and exclaimed, “How much light has the sun!”
In the midst of all my worries, including obtaining a divorce, that moment of tender closeness was a balm to the soul and made the world vanish for a moment.
A moment to remember.
Non-fiction Short Story
My Pregnant Maple
My heart went out to those who didn’t have a roof over their heads when I heard the roaring winds around my house. The next morning I recoiled at the sight of him disemboweled. Under the fury of winds envious of his beauty, my gorgeous tree had fallen. His branches heavy with leaves were resting on the supple lawn that kindly had softened the impact. The orderly manner in which the limbs were arranged over the grass didn’t tell the brutal force that had crushed them.
A few moments went by. Then, sadness replaced the initial shock. For twenty years he had stoically endured the impetus of the winds. He had grown so tall and so perfectly plump in the middle the passersby praised him and asked whether I helped nature to shape him. But no, he was naturally rounded; so plump, in fact, he seemed pregnant. Something atypical of a tree, less of a ‘he’.
I enjoyed the sight of him every time I left and returned home when my eyes also caressed the nearby flowerbed where a cactus stood stately next to the white, yellow-eyed daisies that from their heights seemed gazing around in search of praise.
Then, swollen with envy, the winds slaughtered him. As I looked, I envisioned the fight he must have endured and the resentment he must have felt while vanquished by such wickedness. He must feel proud, though, for he still stands, even if halved, I wondered. Silently, I thanked him for managing not to fall on my house.
Like a little ant I made my way awkwardly among the mound of branches. Reluctantly, I began cutting them. Helped by resolve and a pair of loppers I started the job that would last several days. Every day, I lined the bundles up on the driveway for the garbage man. I’m sure he’ll regret feeding them to the famished dark mouth of his big truck. The thought of hiring somebody to do the job did not even cross my mind. He was my favorite tree and wouldn’t like unfamiliar hands handling his remains.
A few days later, part of the front yard was clear. I was still working my loppers, when I saw the sun slowly moving behind ominous clouds. From far away, cicadas were singing a monotonous, noisy farewell to my maple. One of the branches scratched my leg. It’s a goodbye gift, I murmured. Who knows how many he give me before I finish separating myself from him!
More days went by. The part of the maple still standing now shows all its magnificence. The wide trunk boldly showed the white flesh jutting from the gash. Undamaged, some tall, pastel green branches still stood, their leaves playing with the wind that now was caressing them an apology. The trunk and the remaining branches looked like an enormous fan. At the sight, the clouds started to cry and thunders noisily rumbled their regret.
Before retiring, I lingered for a moment to reminisce the disorderly undressing of my pregnant maple in autumn. His rusty leaves were breathtaking even on the ground. I remember wishing I could save them, so beautiful they were. Next fall I won’t have to pick them up, I comforted myself. Yet, the thought did not mitigate the sorrow that for days I tried to ignore and now, surfacing, hurts.
Seemingly frightened, still wearing a few pink flowers, the ill-treated cactus had emerged from the fallen branches. Nearby, the white daisies, blossomed belatedly due to a capricious summer, looked at him with distant tenderness and whispered: “Be happy, the worst is over.”
Positive Side Effect of Cussing
Throughout life I went through different stages of Puritanism. Because of strict rules I was raised by, for years I practiced Puritanism to the iota. Bad words, I was taught, are for street people, not refined ones.
So I stood aloof when listening to those to whom Puritanism was only a word in the dictionary. Ironically, the unbelievers seemed happier than me. In fact, after spouting a few well pronounced foul words, I noticed that they were usually able to knotting back to their daily life as if their cussing had solved their transitory problem. No stroke followed, no bitterness accumulated. Only an expression of inner satisfaction.
I used to stare in disgust at their behavior. They were rude and vulgar, I would reflect. I was a lady and would never express myself that way.
My lady-like behavior, though, throughout the years affected especially my digestive tract -- nicknamed pipes -- in particular the part named colon. To be precise, this organ started to work at random and follow rules of its own with dire consequences. Something inexplicable for I always ate the right food and did nothing to clog or unclog it.
At the time I saw the light, I lived in a small community in Venezuela. I was at the supermarket, standing before the meat section where the butcher cut the meat to each of the patrons' desire. As I waited in line for my turn, I chatted with an acquaintance ahead of me, a well dressed and polite lady who, when her turn came, ordered a cut of meat to be sliced a particular way. When the butcher showed to her the result of his labor, the lady's complaint was sprinkled with several gross words. Soon after, she turned to me, a wide smile on her face.
“If I don’t cuss my liver shoots bile into my stomach and I get diarrhea.”
“Oh, my Lord,” puritan me exclaimed inside, but I shily smiled back to comply with an unwritten rule of courtesy.
Afterwards, I came to realize that throughout the years Puritanism had caused my pipes to lose their manual of good behavior. So, I started to gingerly experiment with small impolite words, sometimes in between the teeth, others aloud, just enough to observe if it worked. Later on, more of the wicked vocabulary came about, of course.
Although I was never able to emulate my well mannered acquaintance’s sturdy and colored cussing, a bit of color here and there, when needed, did assist my pipes in remembering a few basic rules of good behavior. Needles to say, in due time my Puritanism fell head over heels. But I kept smiling all the way.
Real life short-long story (2008)
The Echo of My Father’s Voice
Because of his demanding and controlling personality, visiting my father was seldom a pleasant experience, even in my adulthood. Nevertheless, driven by filial love, every couple of years I traveled from Knoxville, TN, to visit him in the Riviera. Each time, upon my arrival, two days of good humor between my father and I would follow. After that, our rapport would slowly become tense and reciprocally uncomfortable.
In the Italian Riviera, many buildings, some up to five stories high, are attached to the surrounding mountains. It’s a spectacle and one cannot avoid wondering how in the world they can stand up. Father’s condo was in one of those buildings. From the balcony, I felt I could dive into the sea below, and the panoramic view of both the sea and the surrounding cities, including Monaco to the right, took my breath away. Going out for a walk, though, meant going up one flight of stairs and pacing up and down on the parking lot flanking the building.
Going to the nearby town, Bordiguera, required someone to give me a lift because I refused to drive there. All my life I have disliked driving on mountain roads, and to drive on the one that went from that building down to the main street was a task for experts. I mean experts. The street was narrow, as most Italian streets are, in the mountains or not. This one was extra-narrow; only one car could pass at one time and curves followed each other closely. Dangerous, if you ask me. Furthermore, every straight section was so short that, when it happened that a car was coming from the opposite direction, both cars had to go backward and forward several times until one of the cars managed to move forward. This was quite an annoying maneuvering during which the drivers often cursed each other’s alleged incompetence.
I consider myself a competent driver. Frankly, I can say that my driving might be considered audacious. I understand it’s in my Italian DNA. If you don’t believe me, ask my family and friends; that is, those who dared to take a ride with me…once. Yet, perhaps because since I moved to the States I have acquired a taste for roomy streets, I never dared to drive in Italy again, least of all in that Riviera road. Pardon me; I did, just once. It was when, prompted by Father’s ‘wish’, reluctantly and very jittery I sat behind the wheel. Surprisingly, I successfully turned the first curve only to find myself in an even steeper stretch. I suddenly had the sensation that the car was about to disobey the gravitational low, I panicked and decided to stop, just a split second before hitting the main entrance of a building situated on a side of the steep slope. My irate father, clearly unappreciative of my saving his car from destruction, squealed on all kinds of insults at me. Explaining that I had chosen to land there because I was under the impression his Volvo was about to capsize only fueled another shower of insulting remarks. Needless to say, he took control of the wheel.
So, because of my inability to drive, also going to the beach was problematic.
When younger, Father loved the sea so much that he often spent part of his free time in his small yacht. Later in life, though, he preferred replaying the past good times in his mind while contemplating the blue of the sea from the balcony, and my going to the beach alone was questionable. In fact, it would have required troubling either the housekeeper or Father, both always very busy: she slouching over her house chores or cooking, and Father supervising, directing, complaining, suggesting, or dozing on his sofa. Even so, I could have asked for a ride. Don’t misunderstand me: either one would have driven me to the beach. But, I was told that taking me to the beach would have inconveniently disrupted their routine. I asked once, and afterwards I had to bear to listen to a litany of all the many inconveniences my request had caused them. Needless to say it made me feel dreadfully guilty. So, besides visiting the supermarket with Father and the housekeeper and playing with my laptop scrabble, there wasn’t much to do. As for the TV, the remote control belonged exclusively to Father, who loved flipping from one channel to another for a while before turning the TV off because, as he said, nothing worth watching.
No honest person would have ever said that living with Father was pleasurable.
But then, mine was always a stay of about fifteen days. Too short a stay to bother complaining, particularly because Father paid for the trip, and I enjoyed seeing him…and the panoramic view.
Understandably so, the phone came to mind one day to escape boredom.
“I would like to phone my friend Gaby in Milano,” I ventured to say to Father one day. “By the way, have I told you that her sister Maria G. married into the Vares family?”
“The Vares…” Lost in thought, for a moment he paused. A depreciative smile slightly moved his line-thin mustache when he added: “The Vares, I don’t like them… not to be trusted.”
Surprised, I pondered briefly. Then, when I asked what he meant, he dismissed my question with a gesture of his right arm on the air, the hand waving as if slapping away a disturbing memory. I knew too well that insisting was of no use. So I concluded that he and one of the Vares, almost all them also lawyers, must have had some disagreement with him in the past when Father was still working and living in Milano. Now, because of his old grudge, he dismissed my wish to call my very dear friend only because her sister had married Sandro Vares.
In his seventies, for as long as I remember, Father has always denied giving orders to anyone. "Mine are wishes," he would declare, and I think he was in good faith. Though, his only child, that he never considered mature, I had to obey his so called ‘wishes,’ -- that, to a keen listener, were orders, -- otherwise he would retaliate.
Many years went by during which I lost my friends’ Maria G.’s and Gaby’s phone numbers and addresses to life’s turmoil. Then, I met God Internet and found them again.
Reuniting via phone overjoyed me, for our friendship went back to my university years. Excited e-mails and phone calls went back and forth to fill the gap of over ten years of silence. Maria G. and Gaby, -- as well as their husbands and the now grownup children -- not only were in my life again but also promoted me to the rank of dearest sister and aunt. I couldn’t visit with them, though, for my sporadic trips to Italy were always exclusively dedicated to enjoying the panoramic view from Father’s condo.
Then he died. I prefer the use of this word because it is clearer than the wary ‘passed away’. "Away…, where?" I’m tempted to ask when I hear it. I rebel to cover-ups.
On November 11, 2002, Father died suddenly at ninety-five.
Alarmed and in disbelief he had called me on 9-11 to inquire if what he was watching on TV was really happening or a frightening movie. “You know, American style,” he had added. I think the disgraceful event and mostly the subsequent sudden crash of the Stock Market and the loss of part of his money rushed him to the grave.
Since the day I had decided that excessive organization is often a loss of time, I have been scolded by Father, who was obsessively organized. However, when I went through his papers and affairs, I found many loose trends and, without the support and guidance of my adopted family in Milano, I would have been more lost than the Lindbergh’s son. But, helped by them and one of the housekeepers – whom I promoted to the rank of chauffeur, -- after a month of rushing to different offices and several trips back and forth to Milano, I was able to sort everything out and finally make it back to Knoxville, just in time to spend Christmas with my children.
One of the loose ends Father had left for me to take care of was a one-room condo located on a side of the parking lot where I had been leisurely rambled so many times. It had been both to accommodate his two housekeepers, who alternatively slept there to help Father during the night, if needed.
However, that condo couldn’t be sold or rented until a lawsuit would resolve some improprieties that had happened before Father bought it. This is why I gave Maria G.’s husband, Sandro Vares, the power of attorney.
Never complain about how long a lawsuit might last in the United States!
The lawsuit that involved the ‘disgraced’ condo came to a conclusion nearly ten years after Father started it.
Labeled ‘disgraced’ by my friends in Milano because of its unfavorable location next to the noise of coming and going cars, and also because the small windows close to the ceiling opened under the roof of the parking lot and didn’t show the sky, much less the sea, the condo wasn’t an easy sell. When it finally sold at a reduced price, I told the real estate agency to entrust the proceeds to Sandro. Then, I told him to invest the whole amount for a period of six months, after which I would decide what to do.
A couple of months before Christmas I made up my mind and contacted Sandro a few times, both by e-mail and by phone, each time I told him that my investment was about to mature and to transfer the entire amount to my bank in Knoxville. The e-mails were never answered. Over the phone, when I was lucky to find him, he would answer vaguely about the date the investment could be closed, each time promising he would e-mail me the correct information. But he never did. In one of our brief conversations around the end of November, he told me that he thought the money would be available by the middle of December 2008 and asked me to e-mail him my full bank account number. I immediately complied with his request, after which I asked him several times to acknowledge receipt of the information. Days of silence followed. Then, on December 5, I wrote a speedy certified letter to him, once more requesting an answer. On the eleventh, I finally received an e-mail in which Sandro told me that in fact my investment would mature at the end of the month, and that he would transfer the whole amount to me on January 2. No kisses, nor hugs.
By January 7, the remittance was still a promise, so I e-mailed Sandro a reminder, kindly asking him to let me know when and if the money had been transferred. No answer. On January 12, I called. This time his secretaries swiftly transferred my call to a very friendly Sandro. “Yes, dear, I know you are calling about the money,” and in a breath he reported that early that morning his bank had deposited a little over a half of my money in my bank account, and that he would transfer the remainder, as soon as they would pay it to him. But... didn’t he write me that my investment was going to be closed on December 31? I chose not to comment and play fool. “And the interest?” I asked. Nonchalantly, he told me that the interest was in his saving account, and that he would give it to me the next time I traveled to Italy, so I would have some cash handy. Nothing made sense.
All along I sensed the life-long friends had been shamelessly lying to me, over and over again. I’m sure they'll not rob me. One of these days, when ‘they’ will give Sandro the money, he’ll wire it to me.
I was pondering about the whole affair, trying to digest my friend’s insult to my intelligence and their betrayal when the echo of my father’s voice chimed in my mind.
The Orchid that took months before recoming this beatiful.