A new day, a new day’s work.
There wasn’t a day that had passed in the last forty years that hadn’t seen Antonio place his boots, skin aged as much as his own, by the side of the back door, rest his hat atop the coat rack that held only one coat, and stop to rest his soul on the wooden chair. There he’d sit for half an hour, sometimes eyes open, and sometimes eyes closed. No TV. No book. No phone.
Cecilia saw him approach the door. She grabbed a glass, held it under the tap, and placed it by the chair. Then she left before the door opened. She did this every day since before she knew such acts of kindness were a special thing in this world. Since before life outside this fenced in land, before peers and tests and puberty. Before the kind of love you weren’t born with, but learned through stumbles and, sometimes, regrets. She did this because no one ever asked.
Back at the table, Cecilia ate with Andrea, who placed rice and beans on plates between her and her daughter.
Antonio stepped into the room, nodded to his wife, and made his way down the hall to the shower. He wouldn’t be long. You could just about count the second between his steps, but he was still where he said he would be, when he said he would be there. Discipline and routine had ironed out many of the wrinkles that slowed a person down.
Then he led the family in grace. This, too, was the same grace he had said every day Cecilia could recall. Andrea knew that this tradition started many years before that, back to the days when they had first acquired land for their own farm. Both families had chipped in to make this happen for their children. They had lived on this land for generations, but it was another thing to own a piece to call your own.
For this reason, Antonio always ended the prayer with “Gracias,” not “Amen.”
Andrea asked Antonio about his day and about the field, though the two were one in the same. Then, that day, routine ended. A ringing phone snatched Andrea from the table. There was a hole in a neighbor’s fence and several cattle we’re missing.
Antonio started getting ready before Andrea was even off the phone.
He didn’t return that night.
Or the following morning.
Search teams were able to find the cattle, but not Antonio.
Sometimes even mountains disappear in the time it takes to breathe.
Cecilia sits at the bar with Gretchen, the neighbor’s daughter. A decade or so later, they’ve managed to stay friends. Tragedy had put distance between their families, but it had fused these two together. They shared the agony of loss and guilt.
Here at the bar, they both ordered sodas. Cecilia had never tasted the tinge of alcohol. But she found comfort in the company of people who had things they wished to forget.
“They say rain’s coming, but I don’t know.” Gretchen coated her teeth with sugar, then clinked the glass back on the counter.
“God, I hope so,” Cecilia said, a prayer. “Let’s talk about something else.”
Since those days, which went unspoken now, Gretchen had worked Cecilia’s family land. It was all she felt she could do at the time. School wasn’t enough of a struggle to busy her at home. With three older brothers, her family never expected her to spend much time outside. They thought it weird when she first volunteered to help the Gopez family farm, but their shame kept them as quiet here as it had in other aspects of life. By the time she graduated, they knew the land, their land, meant too much to ask her to walk away.
“I heard a song the other day,” Gretchen said. “Something about all people being good. Do you believe that?”
“That all people are good?”
Cecilia swirled the soda around in her glass.
“I do,” she said without breaking her gaze. Cecilia stared so deeply into the bubbles that Gretchen pondered if her friend could see the oxygen, seperate it out from the hydrogen the way ony she could see through flaws directly to a person’s worth.
Cecilia took a sip, then, “Let’s talk about something else.”
“I’m beginning to think you don’t walk to talk.”
Cecilia didn’t say anything. Her eyes continued to stare, but the glass had moved. No hydrogen now. Only oxygen. But her right hand made its way up to the table, palm upward. Gretchen placed her hand on top and squeezed.
With her other hand, Gretchen flipped over her phone and checked the time. It was then that she saw the date. As they held hands, it was she, not Cecilia, whose cheek felt the stream of a tear.
“Tía Gretchen! Tía Gretchen!”
Gretchen smiled down at little Christina, who, unless she concentrated really hard, could only say her aunt’s name in pairs. Her tía’s name, rather, as Cecilia had taught her.
“What is it, child? Gretchen asked, sounding more like her mother had all those years ago.
Christina sticked an emply plate in Gretchen’s hands, expecting it to come back with a serving of rice or beans or whatever poor Gretchen tried her hands at cooking. It was a shame Cecilia spent so much time in the field, because she was also the one who knew what to do at a stove.
Christina’s father didn’t stick around to see his daughter born. Unlike Antonio, at least he had the decency to tell Cecilia he was stepping out of her life. Over time Gretchen had grown angrier, not so much at Antonio, but at the universe and the men who tried to shake it. Much to her parents’ disappointment, Gretchen never found a man she could trust long enough to love. Or love long enough to trust.
For her, Cecilia and Christina were it.
Like clockwork, footsteps approached around back. Weathered hands reached for aging boots and slid them off, placing them by the side of the door. A hat went atop the coat rack. A tired soul rested on an old wooden chair. Eyes close, with no TV, book, or phone to distract them.
Half an hour later, Cecilia stood up to take a shower, join her family at the table, and lead them in grace.