Bartlett House by Patricia J. McLean and Duane Poncy ©2004, 2010

Lucy Hidalgo brushed some of the rain from the seat of her ’82 Subaru station wagon and climbed in. Where the upholstery was torn, the water had been soaked up like a sponge, and now it bled back through her cotton pants, leaving her feeling cold and clammy. Her driver’s side window was off track, which exposed a two-inch gap. Normally, if it was raining or looked like it would, Lucy covered the gap with a plastic tarp she kept in her car. The tarp was in the back seat, folded neatly, waiting. She considered, momentarily, covering her seat with it, but she was too miserable now to do anything but drive.
     As her old car struggled up West Burnside, Rose Festival crowds filled the streets. Neither they, nor the traffic they engendered, seemed to be effected by the rain. The celebration along the waterfront promenade deepened her grief. What right did they have to be so happy on a night like this?
     Lucy thought about going home, but she didn’t want to be alone. Maybe she should have accepted that glass of wine from Will. Poor Will, alone in his apartment with all those questions going through his mind, the same questions that plagued her. How could Emmy have died like that, like the police–like her friend, Tom Morris, believed? Lucy didn’t believe it for a minute. But what about Will? Was there something about Will that Emmy hadn’t told her?
     And then she thought about Marta. How was her daughter handling this? Lucy had been so concerned about Will, so busy looking for him after that phone call this morning, and then finding him, and now it was late. She hadn’t seen or spoken to Marta since dropping her at Colin’s this morning after they left the police station. That was where Marta wanted to go. “Someone has to tell him and the rest of the group. I can’t do it over the phone,” Marta said. So Lucy took her to Colin’s apartment and waited until he buzzed her into the building.
     She should go to Marta’s. But not yet. She needed some quiet, reflective space. She knew she would go where she always went when things went badly. She was resisting it, but she would go–Mother Church. St Mary’s would be open, unless there had been a change in policy since she had last sought refuge there. She could sit for a moment in the cathedral. It wasn’t that she went on any regular basis. She was a foul weather Catholic, and she freely admitted it. It wasn’t, after all, as if she really believed. But she had come when Marta was living on the streets, and that other time when Elena, sweet baby, Elena…where had that bastard taken her? Lucy felt hot, fresh tears as her griefs, intermingling, compounded.
     Lucy turned the old beater up NW 18th and found a parking spot around the corner on Davis, a small miracle. She did not attempt to compose herself. Let the tears flow, it was raining, anyway. Who would take notice? As she entered the Chapel, the remaining light from the late spring sky infused the stained-glass windows and gave the dark, woody interior an aura of mystique that brought back her childhood in L.A. and her grandmother. Was it Grandmother to whom she returned when she came to these places? Was it that old woman’s faith she was seeking as if she could borrow on it, some kind of barter with God.
     In Lucy’s memories, Grandma Hidalgo had always been old, bent, and tiny. But the whole family knew that she was stronger than anyone–stronger than her son, Henry. Stronger than her husband. She prevailed over these Chicanos, their generations of California. One of the old families, they liked to say. They looked on Mexico as a place foreign and curious. Epifania was part of that curiosity. She had left Mexico, crossed into San Diego, worked in the shipyards there, and met a young sailor named Carl Hidalgo.
     Epifania believed certain things. She believed that the Virgin de Guadeloupe had kept her safe on her journey from Nayarit to San Diego and had even brought her and Carl together. Because of this, Epifania believed that it was her duty, her absolute duty, to dedicate her daughters to the Virgin. She had no daughters. Never mind, there would be granddaughters. She suffered for her son’s lack of faith, and then for their lack of female children, and when her youngest married a white, non-Catholic, girl, Epifania’s faith faltered. Could it be that she had not been in the Virgin’s grace after all?
     All this, Lucy had learned over time. Little pieces of the puzzle came slowly, out of sequence, following questions. “Why doesn’t Frank go to mass, Mama?” Because he is a boy. “But there are boys at mass, Mama.” Not Hidalgo boys. And that was enough truth for a week or two. Eventually, Lucy and her sister came to understand that there was a bargain between Epifania and Mama. The girls would go to mass and Epifania would accept Mama. That was it, that was what accounted for catechism and confirmation dresses, for Saturday night confession and all those candles and those Hail Marys and Our Fathers and the strange, beautiful Latin…domine, domine…lavabo inter innocentes manus meas…
     An icon of the Madonna stood to the left of the altar, the baby Jesus in her arms. The figures, shrouded in a mist of dust motes, reflecting the oblique rays of the setting sun, seemed to be in a distant, unreachable dimension. They were magical now, but if she tried to touch them, they would turn to stone. They always did.
     She walked forward, tenuously, into the light. A slight whiff of incense drifted by her nostrils as Lucy slid into a pew at the back of the church and knelt.
     She let her mind drift around the memory of her friend. Of all the young people she knew, Emmy was the one most vibrant and most vulnerable. She was the one least deserving of a fate like this. Oh, Emmy, why have they done this to you? It’s so god damned ironic for you to go like this. I hope you know you were like a daughter to me.
     “I know, Lucy,” Emmy knelt next to Lucy in the translucent light, a scent of soap mingling with incense, radiant smile…”You were like the mother I never had.”
     The air whispered, and Lucy felt something brush her shoulder.
     “Tell Will I love him,” Emmy said. “Tell him that life is worth living.”
     Lucy felt the light slipping away. “I will, sweetheart,” she choked. “I promise.”

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One Response

  1. Really wonderful stuff. So well written, so engaging. I can’t wait for Thursday to get here. 🙂

    Anyway, great stuff. Keep it up, and thanks for the literature.