The Girls, Part II

    The gunshot was loud, solitary, almost lonely. Mama was in the kitchen washing the dishes after breakfast, and one by one, plates and cups clattered down on the dirt floor. She ran out and headed to where she thought the shot came from, screaming “Dios Mio, Dios Mio!”

    AnaMaria was stepping out of the outhouse, her mind clear, goose bumps covering her flesh. The shot woke something within her, made her open her eyes, and everything was clear. The haze she had been in for most of her life was lifted for a few moments, and she saw what could have been, what dreams had been given up, and what she herself had lost.

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    Carmen and Selena screamed as one, each reaching for the other, embracing and crying, eyes weeping slow rivers of white down their blackened faces. Araceli jumped up, and she too ran out of the workshop, crying out for her Mama and Papa. All five women reached the main house, where the men left their hunting gear, and sometimes even stored peanuts and corn.

    Their bare feet crunched on some leftover peanut shells, and the smell of gunsmoke was still in the air. There, on Papa’s nice chair, a grotesque mask of what she once was, Mercedes sat. Blood dribbled down her white dress. Blooms of blood peppered the front, and oddly, it was a beautiful sight to behold. AnaMaria held back her smaller sisters, while Mama and Araceli reached for Mercedes.

    She was gone.

    The gunshot wound right where her heart once beat, for love, for life, for family. It beat no more, it would feel no more, and be no more. Mercedes; quiet, beautiful Mercedes. Her face was had no trace of blood, the only color, stark lipstick and rouge.

    Mama wept and wailed, holding her beautiful daughter close. Her mind raced through many possibilities, so many reasons, and she could think of none. Had she not been happy, being well cared for within her family.

    As Mama cried, Araceli felt something stir within. In that moment, she took charge. She grabbed a blanket and rope, pulled on some rubber boots, and went out to the back yard, where she found a horse. With only the blanket as her barrier, she clambered onto a stump and managed to jump on the horse’s back. Using only the rope and mane, she steered the mare in the same direction as the men had gone, off to look for help.

    The girls and Mama prepared a long low bench, covering it with one of Mercedes’ embroidered blankets, and slowly they placed her body over it, stretching it out so she lay in repose. Another blanket covered her, and the gaping wound no longer glared at them accusingly as she slumbered forever.

    The funeral was large. Don Aurelio was the richest man in the village, and everyone turned up to show their respects. All his workmen and their families took the responsibility of digging the grave in the family cemetery, preparing the food, and caring for the animals, for which a funeral meant nothing. The pastors from all the churches each prepared a sermon, blessing the family and asking for forgiveness. Don Aurelio did not break, he held his head high, and remained as stern as always. Every so often, he would hold his wife’s hand, but he refused to show any other weakness. His four surviving daughters wept silently, though they longed to wail, scream, and shout. They heeded their father’s need for respect.

    Alfonso sat close to the family, and AnaMaria, with her new clarity, saw things she had missed. She saw how Papa acknowledged him; saw that Mama leaned on him once, and how he seemed a part of the family. She knew then, what she had been missing. Those early morning moments were only stolen from the day, not from her family. She saw then that she never knew her sister. Mercedes, that enigma she had lived with for so long was always a stranger – the beauty in the coffin was simply flesh. The true Mercedes was long gone from her world, off to fulfill her true purpose in another realm.

    On the way to the burial, the girls, in their veils and simple dresses, cried a bit harder, mindless of Papa, and lost in their grief. A part of them was missing. It was always five of them, and when only four came back from the cemetery, they each felt a limb missing.

    Work was not the same after that. The air was thick with dust and a palpable darkness. Each piece of work carried something different – a melancholy air. The writer came, and as planned she slept in Mercedes’ bed. She observed and reported on the artwork, and in passing, commented a bit about the air of sadness that now cloaked the compound. She soon moved on to other things, but her written observation began a chain of events that would eventually obliterate the efforts of the remaining sisters.

    AnaMaria, serious, with a round, haughty face, and broad figure, tried to move on. Old and proud, she sought closure; even though she herself didn’t know it was what she looked for everywhere. She took to working late, muttering to herself into the night. Mama and Papa were unaware, too grieved to take notice of much, and the months passed by in a blur. She soon lost that sharp edge she’d experienced in the wake of her sister’s death, and only one nagging thought kept waking her at night.

    Alfonso remained an employee, but he no longer would be a son-in-law. Gone were his dreams of someday owning land, a dream which overshadowed much of his love for Mercedes. He remained confident that he never expressed his ambition openly, and his confidence was what kept him near the family.

    It was months later, during the dry September season, when AnaMaria took to the corner of the fields where most of the household crops were grown. She avoided the family cemetery, and walked with purpose to the farthest end of the land, where the cows began their grazing spot, and where she could hardly be spotted. Alfonso was tending to the cows, and he happened upon her on his way back. He too, avoided the cemetery as much as possible, a reminder of all he’d lost.

    It could have been the look on AnaMaria’s face, or perhaps the way she hunched over as she stood gazing out past anything he or the cows could see. Whatever he saw in her made him stop and hold her. She turned, and in that moment, she revealed a secret so closely guarded in her heart, it surprised even her. It was a rash few seconds, and she instantly regretted it, as she took in the look of horror, anger and oh – the revulsion on Alfonso’s face!! He pushed her off so violently, she tripped and fell over backwards. In his haste, and perhaps even hate, he simply stepped over her and headed directly for the cemetery. He mumbled his goodbyes to Mercedes, and then he headed to mumble his goodbyes to the family. He mounted his horse, and sped off into the distance as though demons chased him. What he didn’t know was that they were also riding the horse, hanging on to him all the way.

    As AnaMaria lay on the ground, the dry earth crumbling beneath and around her, she breathed slowly, carefully. The tiny window that remained open in her heart closed, and it became an impenetrable place. Slowly, she got up, dusted herself, and headed for the fence where the cows grazed silently, watching her with their big wet eyes. Hers were dry. Once again her soul hardened, and soon, she was ready to head home, where life was never to be the same again.           

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