A few weeks ago, Mark, author of The Rambling Person had a little competition on his blog. He asked his readers to throw up an idea for a story, and he would randomly pick one to write. I didn't win said competition (although the winning idea was pretty good, too) but decided to take the idea I proposed and write it myself. So, without further ado, here it is:
A Letter Home
The neighbor's rooster has woke me up at the same time every morning my entire life. I can even hear him through the window when I close it, which is not often. A whole hour before I need to wake up to get ready to go to work. I do not want to get up yet, even as I hear the familiar thump of Papá's boot across the wooden floor of his bedroom. It has been four weeks since he fell working on a barn in the country and broke his leg. I hope it heals soon. Money has been tight since he got hurt.
It doesn't take long before I hear the sounds of Mamá making coffee in the kitchen. I decide it is time to get up: I can use the extra time to pick a nice outfit for the turistas at the cafe. I hear Mamá call my name as I run the water in the shower. The coffee must be ready.
Papá is already out in his shed, beginning to craft the little curios that he and my brother Miguel take to the market in the next town every Saturday. He is a carpenter, but since he broke his leg, he has been using his tools to make gifts to sell to the turistas for extra money. I sit at the table and Mamá places a sweetroll and a cup of coffee in front of me: "Marisol, good morning."
"Good Morning, Mamá." I reached for the paper and began reading. After finishing eating, I decided to leave for work earlier than usual. I kissed Mamá goodbye, and walked out to the shed, where I knocked on the window. Papá turned towards me, and blew me a kiss as I walked down the path towards the back street. The sun was barely rising over the hills. A breeze picked up,and the smell of the sea was carried with it. It was only a few kilometers away; perhaps I could convince my sister's husband to drive us there on Sunday.
There was a orange point of light from across the street. I could see someone standing on a porch slowly smoking. Rodrigo smiled and stepped down onto the street, his pants still covered in dirt from the day before. He waved towards me, and said, "Good morning, my love. You know, another two weeks and I will be done working for my Uncle. I'll have the time to court you properly. Another year, and I will be able to buy the land from him. Then we can get married." His handsome smile glowed under the streetlight, and almost sent shivers down my spine. Almost. He has had a crush on me since grade school, and all the girls were jealous of me. He's wanted to marry me since then, and although he is handsome, he is not very bright. Once I save up enough money from work, I am going to Madrid to attend university; he plans on buying a farm from his uncle and living here forever. That is not the life I want. I smile at him, but keep walking down the street. He calls after me "One of these days, Marisol." I laugh.
The cafe sits on top of the hill in the center of town, nearby the hotel and the little street of shops and restaurants. Placed perfectly for the turistas and the locals alike. Rosa has already opened the cafe, even though I am early. There are several of the farmers sitting around a table drinking coffee and talking quietly. Rosa hands me an apron before I am through the door, and motions towards the oven in the kitchen, "Good thing you are here early today, Marisol. I am behind in the baking and making today's lunch. I will pay you extra today if you can help in the kitchen, too."
"Of course, Rosa," I replied, tying back the apron she handed me. I checked the farmer's coffees before heading into the kitchen. Rotating the bread and sweetrolls in the oven, i paused every few minutes to look into the restaurant for new customers or to see if anyone needed anything else. I spent the entire morning running about in a frenzy, baking and cooking in the kitchen, serving customers in the dining room. By mid-morning, Rosa and I had successfully prepared for lunch, and I was wiping down the tables when the American staying at the hotel entered. He was tall and skinny, but quite handsome. He smiled in a good-natured way, but every time he does, I see sadness in his eyes. He asks for his usual coffee and toast before sitting down at a table, setting his bookbag on the empty chair.
The American usually stays into the afternoon, reading his newspaper, eating lunch, and looking through a leather-bound book while writing in a notebook. I know he doesn't speak any Spanish, which I find very strange. My mother insisted her children learn English, too, even though my father does not speak it. When I was a little girl, I would ask him why he never learned English. He would say "If I ever have a reason to talk to an Englishman, I'll get your mother to do it for me!"
After lunch was served and I had cleaned up, I spent the remaining time reading in the corner table. The American had left, when Rosa asked, "Marisol, would you close the dining room for me?" I walked towards the front door to switch the sign to 'closed.' As I began placing the chairs on top of the tables, I noticed an envelope laying on the floor. I picked it up, and looked at it. It was addressed to someone in the United States, somewhere called "Hanchetville." The American had dropped it. The envelope itself was open. I was sure he would want it back. I knew that Rodrigo would be able to give it to him; he was the hotel's porter after all. It was late in the afternoon, so I figured with tomorrow being Saturday, I'd give the envelope to Rodrigo then, to deliver to the American.
As I walked home, All I could think about was the envelope. I know it wasn't mine, it belonged to the American, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. So mysterious. Myabe it's why he always looked so sad. As I walked down the side streets, I didn't notice the car stopped in front of me until it honked and I fell backwards in fright. I could hear my sister and her husband laughing from inside. "Marisol, you're so clumsy!" laughed Gabriella. I stood up and brushed the dust from my dress. I gave her and Juan a mean look.
"Sorry for the horn, Marisol," chuckled Juan, "We saw you walking and you didn't notice us." Juan leaned over the steering wheel and reached for his sunglasses. He put them on with a large grin and pointed behind me: "We're going to the beach. Would you like to come?" I nodded hastily and climbed into Juan's car. He gave me grin and sped off home so I could gather my beach things.
The evening sun shone off the sea as my sister and Juan took off running towards the beach. I walked down slowly, my white sundress billowing in the breeze coming off the sea. I heard laughter behind me. As I turned around, I saw a group of teenage boys laughing by a car; they cheered as the wind picked up and blew the hem of my dress up, giving them a full view of my bottom. I gave a quick shriek and grabbed at the dress as they laughed harder. I hurried down to the beach, making it halfway before I remembered I was wearing my bathing suit underneath. I giggled and turned back towards the boys surrounding their car, but they had gone.
I swam a bit, through the waves as I heard my sister and Juan laugh and kiss on the beach. When I came out of the water, they were more interested in each other, so I decided to give them some privacy. I took my bag and walked to the end of the beach. As I watched the sun begin to set, I thought about the American's envelope again. I wondered if that was the cause of his sadness? I held the envelope in my hand and stared at it. Then, I opened it. Inside was a letter, wrinkled and discolored, like the American had touched it over and over again:
Despite your wishes, I am not dead. I'm not sure if you meant that or not. I think that even as angry and disappointed in me as you are, you still do not wish me dead. I think that Grandpa would be a different story, however: I hope you did not tell him. He probably couldn't handle the shock. I hope that you and Mother are well.
I am gay. That's the truth of it. And I remember what you said, and what our pastor says, and everything about it. I'm sorry. But I just can't hide it anymore.
Do you remember my friend from high school, Dan Renolds? The one who hung himself? He did that because he was gay. Because he couldn't live without being himself anymore and he was so terrified that his parents and his friends would react badly, ostracize and despise him for it, he thought the only way out was to die. I miss him, and wish that was not the path that he took, that he could have been stronger, or that I would have known what he was going through. It was because of people like you that he did that. People who just hate what they can't understand, even if it's their own son.
I know I did not live the life you expected me to. You wanted me to carry on the family tradition, become a police officer like you, grandpa, and the rest of the men in our family. Stay in Hanchettville and marry some girl. Raise a family, become sheriff, and die in that town. That's not what I want, on many different levels. I studied photography in college. I don't think you knew that. I double majored, with the criminal justice classes that you demanded I take. I'm in Europe, freelancing. I've been in Europe since the day we "talked."
Do you remember that day? I really can't anymore. All I remember is the yelling. And you pulling the gun. Was that necessary? To threaten your own son to get off your property? That you never wanted to see me again? Despite all your posturing, I still don't believe that you would have shot me, but I could be wrong. I hope I'm not.
I you get this letter, and read it, I forgive you. I remember all the Sunday school teachings about forgiveness, even if I forgot the fiery sermons against homosexuality. I am who I am, and even if the world cannot accept it, that is my lot in life now. I forgive you. I still love you, despite everything. Maybe one day, you can accept me.
The wind off the ocean seemed to pick up as I read the letter. I carefully wiped away the tear drops that had fallen on the page. I could not understand it. I didn't want to understand it. How a parent could do that? I thought of my father's smiling face, his hands carving little figures out of wood and leaving them on my dresser during the night, so their smiling faces greeted me in the morning. Telling me he would love me no matter what, even if I went to Madrid, or even to the Moon. I folded the letter and carefully put it back into the envelope. I had to give it back to Arthur. He had to mail it. He just had to. I heard my sister calling my name from down the beach, and i gathered up my things and trotted towards Juan's car.
I did not get to the hotel until much later in the day than I had wanted to. Despite my insistance, Mamá insisted that we all go to the market as a family. I couldn't help but agree. My thoughts were clouded so much, that everyone noticed. The did not say anything, except Miguel; when he saw me glumly staring at a turista family, he shook his haid and loudly exclaimed that girls were crazy. I stifled a laugh. When we returned home, I made an excuse about seeing Rosa at the cafe. I hurried up the main street towards the hotel as the sun set.
I knew that I had a better chance of finding Rodrigo smoking in the back alley than in the lobby of the hotel. As I walked to the back, the sun becamse eclipsed by the hotel. It was easily the biggest building in our little town. I smelled cigarettes before I saw Rodrigo: I could not marry a man who smokes as much as he does. He was sitting on a crate, eating with a plate in his lap. I saw smoke rising from a glass bottle next to him, half-full of cigarette butts. He choked and spit food when he saw me before cracking a wide grin. He started speaking right away, "Ahhh, Marisol. This is the first time you've ever visited me at work. So I take it you've come to your senses?"
"Not now Rodrigo. I need you to give this to someone." I held the envelope out as he looked at it curiously. He reached for it, but I pulled it away: "It's for the tall American staying here. His name is Arthur, and he dropped this at the cafe yesterday. Please give it back to him."
Rodrigo took a bite off his plate, and chewed slowly, staring at me, "The tall one, real skinny?"
"Yes. Please give it to him. It's his. I know he doesn't speak Spanish, but just give it to him. I'm sure he'll realize he just dropped it somewhere."
Rodrigo set the plate off to the side and reached into his pocket to smoke another cigarette. After he lit it, he breathed the smoke out and I crinkled my nose. I hate that smell. "He checked out this morning, Marisol. He left. Took the bus to the train station. Tipped me ten euros. Come, let's get a drink." He stood up and walked towards me, but I pushed him backwards. "What's this?"
Rodrigo grabbed my wrist and yanked me forward. He breathed smoke in my face as he said, "What's this? Why do you give a shit about some turista? What did you write to him? A love letter?"
"I didn't write anything. He dropped it!" I tried to pull out of his grasp but he tightened it: "Rodrigo! Let go, you're hurting me!"
"So, little Marisol is too good for Rodrigo, and she goes into the waiting arms of a turista? I always knew you were a whore!" I tried to pull away, but he tightened his grasp. I yelled at him to stop, but he began to grope at me with his free hand. I reached up and clawed at his face with my nails. He let go and gave a yell as I ran down the alleyway. He screamed out at me, cursing.
I didn't say a word as I rushed into my bedroom. My heart was racing, as I thought about what had just happened. I never liked Rodrigo too much, but I never thought he was that kind of a person. It happened so fast. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I thought of his hands moving up my dress and I shuddered. I needed a wash, I felt dirty and violated. After I had washed, twice, I went to sleep. It was not very peaceful. Lying there, unable to sleep, my mind wandered back to Arthur. How the sadness behind his eyes now made sense. My heart broke for him, and he was a complete stranger to me. I thought about my day tomorrow: going to mass with my family, spending the warm afternoon reading in the yard, telling my father about Rodrigo. Monday, though, Monday I would mail that letter. It needs to be read.