Since I have determined to finish my novel (now 27 pages strong) and had decided to lay back a bit on the blogging to do so, it seems an incredible bit of synchronicity that the prompt today should be “saintly.” Why is this so? Because my book happens to be about a group of traveling nuns and three of the saintly orphans they have left behind to go renew their vows at the convent of their novitiate. Minor disasters and much hilarity ensue. Here is the opening scene. I won’t be publishing further bits until the book is finished:
Holy Vacation, Chapter One
Three little girls sat on the bench. They could have been triplets. Their black hair arranged neatly in braids with a straight fringe just hitting their eyebrows, neatly dressed, their socks pulled tight up their smooth brown legs, they sat quietly, as they had been taught to do by the nuns. It was as though they’d been cast to the role of angelic orphans. Only their eyes were allowed action: darting in unison up the road each time a car motor was heard in the distance.
The first car had taken Louis, the second that Armando boy who pulled their braids. Car after car came and whisked away yet another orphan until it was just the three of them: Maria Rosario, Maria Constanza and Maria Carmen. Three monkeys who didn’t even know the meaning of evil, they sat with hands folded neatly in their laps.
“They will come, chiquitas,” said Sister Candelaria. “Just be patient and say your rosaries and the cars will come for you.” And just then, a white truck with the back closed in came and the lady named Janice herded them all into the comfortable seats inside the truck.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said to them in her gringa Spanish. Actually, she said, “I’m sorry I do not keep the time,” but they were all used to this strange way of speaking in the foreign people who came each week to play with them or to bring beans or tortillas or school supplies. At Christmas, they unloaded their great cars and carried armloads of presents into the orphanage. Pale haired dolls, yellow trucks with shovels to move the dirt, piñatas full of candy and pesos and small plastic toys.
At this time, however, the gringo cars, instead of bringing bounty, carried it away. Orphan by orphan, they emptied the low slung adobe buildings. The beds stood neatly made row upon row. Mismatched bottom sheets were covered tightly by army blankets and Winnie the Pooh comforters or castoff bedspreads in every pattern and color imaginable. The dormitories were gardens of bright fabrics that had been cast off beds from the gringo communities that stood in a chain on the other side of the lake. The children could see their lights when they sneaked out of bed after the nuns had gone to their evening prayers.
The older children told the younger ones stories about the lights. With each telling, the stories grew. First, they were the glowing flies at rest in the trees. Then they were the eyes of light serpents who lay draped over the low hills that led up to the high hills and watched for parentless children. That is why all of the parentless children were kept here on the far uninhabited side of the lake. The nuns were protecting them from the creatures who ate children.
Pablito, the meanest of the big boys who threw rocks at squirrels and tried to catch lake birds by their wings, had told them that each time an orphan was adopted, that they were really being taken to the north shore to be devoured by the spirits who demanded sacrifice. And so as they entered the car and took seats on the long soft benches inside, Maria Rosario and Maria Constanza and Maria Carmen felt blended excitement and horror. They had not been left, yet what were they being taken to?
“Take your chair straps in your hands and put them into your wrists,” said Janice, the yellow haired gringa, in her strange way of speaking.
Each child fumbled behind her for a seat belt and obediently wound it around her wrist.
”No, stupid children, like this,” she said, fastening each seat belt in turn around their middles, which was what they would have done if she hadn’t told them to put them on their wrists.
They knew she didn’t really mean to call them stupid, that it was just the closest word she knew to calling them silly. Señora Janice was trying very hard to learn Spanish, but she was a poor student and often mixed up words to the glee of the children, who varied from thinking her funny, stupid, dumb or very kind indeed. The children who found her to be kind were the ones who knew her best, for she came one day a week to spend with them. One day she brought ropes cut into short lengths to jump over and another she brought all 30 orphans bright colored small balls. She taught them to use them as big marbles to try to hit the balls of the other children, but they were allowed to keep only one ball each and told not to try to keep the balls of other children whose balls were captured.
“Take your birds and roll them on the spaghetti toward the other birds,” the Señora had instructed them.
“She means to take our balls and roll them in the grass,” instructed Celia, one of the older girls, in a hushed voice. She was accustomed to interpreting the strange requests of the señora.
Now this Janice had come for the last three orphans, to take them to her house and to the houses of friends so that the nuns could all go north to the place of their novitiate to renew their vows. This was the first time this had ever been done in the twenty years since they had founded this orphanage on the south shore of the biggest lake in Mexico. For twenty years, they had been scraping together the bedding and clothes and food and medicine necessary to care for the orphans who came to them through as many different avenues as there were children. Some were brought by the police, others by relatives or by weeping girls with bloodstains on their skirts or by angry fathers. Some were simply left on their doorstep at night or left like abandoned puppies along the long dirt road that lead up to the orphanage.
“Our Lady’s Sanctuary for Lost Lambs” was the gringa translation for the words written in metal in a large arch that stretched over the road close to where it joined the large paved road that extended around the lake. Now the three small Marias craned their necks as they were driven under it and away.
“Where is she taking us?” whispered Constanza to Carmen and Rosario.
“She’s taking us to live with her, but she’s taking you to the lights in the mountains!” giggled Carmen.
“Hush, Carmen,” said Rosario. “You’re scaring her.”
Constanza’s eyes had grown very round and she had started to cry.
“We’re all being taken by gringas so the nuns may make new promises to God,” Rosario said in her low wise kind voice. She was thought to be a year older than the other girls, but here in the orphanage, age was arbitrary. With no birth certificates, most children were given ages and birth dates by the nuns, who voted when they could not agree on the supposed age of a child. So it was that Rosario was said to be five while the other two Marias were labeled as four. Yet they were as like as three brown pinto beans, their faces scrubbed and their clothes neatly pressed by Sister Angelica.
Half an hour later, only Maria Rosario was left. She had moved to the front seat where she sat buckled in, her eyes never departing from the wonders that flowed by her window. More cows than she had ever seen in her life, vast fields of corn and large pieces of plastic that seemed to cover whole hillsides which señora told her were places that raised chickens. She could not imagine why it was necessary to cover their chickens. At the orphanage, the chickens scurried free over the courtyard and the ground where the boys played soccer. They wandered into the kitchen and sometimes into the classroom. Once she had found a warm brown egg on her pillow, and Sister Lourdes had fried it for her breakfast. In the rain, the chickens ran to the casa overhangs or into the shed or under trees. No one in the orphanage covered their chickens with plastic.
Now they passed three burros laden with firewood. Now two live dogs nosing a dead dog by the side of the road. The mountains that she saw from afar from the roof mirador above the kitchen now loomed very close, but just as Rosario was settling her eyes on them, the Señora swung the large car into a bumpy little road and soon she had stopped before a beautiful little house with blue shutters and a shrine to the virgin by the front door. Inside the house seemed to be larger, and very strange. There was too much furniture. “How many people live in this house?” she wondered, but she did not speak, for she did not know if the señora would understand her words and she did not know if it was polite to speak them.
There was a sala with large soft-looking sofas and chairs and a television and other grey boxes piled on top of each other. Red lights glowed from these machines and when the señora touched one, music came out of different parts of the room. Instead of a large table for comida, there were many small tables in this room, one next to each chair and others in front of the sofas. She wondered if everyone ate at their own tables, but the very next room turned out to be a separate room just for the big table where they were to eat their meals. The table there was spread with a beautiful cloth and a large armoirio held many colorful plates. There were plants in all the rooms and there were pictures on every wall.
There was a whole room for washing and drying clothes and machines that did it all for you. There was a room just for the computer and another room for storing garden tools and rubber boots and dog food.
But the room she liked the best was the kitchen. It was big with beautiful tile floors and brilliant copper pans on the wall. Large clay pots were arranged along the top of the cupboards. They were like the pots of old people: very charred. Some of them were chipped or cracked.
On the counters were machines that Rosario knew were for preparing food. This was a kitchen, after all, so what else could they be? She barely had time to take them all in before the Señora was leading her out of the kitchen and down a long hall.
“This is your room,” said the Señora as she opened a door at the end of the hall. Inside were two beds with matching covers.
“Who will sleep in the other bed?” asked Rosario.
“No one. This is your room. You will sleep here alone. I have a room of my own,” said the señora.
Rosario’s eyes grew very large. She had never slept in a room alone. In the orphanage, as soon as a bed was emptied, it was filled again. She didn’t know that beds were ever kept just to go empty.
Rosario was perplexed. Which bed was meant to go empty and which was hers? How was she to know? She began to cry.
If you read this to the end, please comment. I may be taking it down soon. Just wanted to gauge reactions, plus it matched the prompt and my electricity is down and my power backup is about to go so no time to write another post. To be continued and hopefully finished within the year. . . .
The prompt today was saintly.