Thursday, 9 October 2008

So Long Victoriana

In the corner house in the Plaza Mayor, Victoriana is dying.

It´s not a surprise, her son Celestino said. It´s no good feeling sad. She is 94 years old. She´s in her home, in her own bed. Four days ago she turned her tissue-paper face to the wall. She has not moved since.

Victoriana whitewashed that wall herself many times, many years, right after Holy Week, when women whitewashed entire houses with their own hands. It was women´s work then, plastering and patching the adobe, painting and slaking lime.

In that room she gave birth to Celestino. She had nine other babies, and eight of them still live – most of them are grandparents now. They are hovering, drifting through the rooms of the big corner house. They are waiting for her.

The other bedrooms are smaller than hers, as is fitting. In her own corner of the house she has her own double-size bed, separated with double doors of glass from her private sitting room. There are windows in her rooms, to let in the sunshine, and the children indulge her, risking chills each morning by opening wide the windows and letting the breeze billow the drapes. Victoriana is dueña here still, even as her body shrinks down, her mind moves on to things more lofty than soup, milk, mending, and laundering, and the kittens yowling in the patio.

There was a bar here once, in the big room now given over to two long plank tables and family gatherings. Used to be men in there at all hours, between their plowing, sowing, carting and grape-pressing. She made the orujo they drank there, she crushed the garlic for their soup, she counted the brown coins at the end of each day, sending the babies to bed to the sound of copper against copper.

The babies grew up, left the pueblo, went off to Vittoria or Madrid or San Sebastien to drive trucks or marry good-looking soldiers. Milagros stayed, though. She and Esteban and the chicos are still here in the village, still working the fields, but with tractors now. The mules went, the beautiful, noble mules, all gone so long now.

Mules, donkeys, milk cows, and now even the sheep all are gone. The streets are paved, and the big laundry trough, the springs that used to bubble up across the Calle Frances and send up every kind of little flower are tamed now too, shut up inside little buildings. The bodega collapsed, her father´s father´s father´s cave, the big one where bored men gathered under oil lamps in the winter afternoons for a game of Mus and a bottle or last year´s tinto. When she was a girl, before the bar, before the babies, before the war took so much away, her father hung up the cheeses and hams and sausages in there. He laid up the jars of oil, and sometimes other things. Secrets. Men keep secrets in the bodegas, especially during the war, but before that, too. Things that girls and women cannot ask about, and best not consider.

Victoriana minded her business. She kept quiet. She keeps quiet now, curled up like a baby in her bed.

Outside her windows, out in the campo her grandsons are plowing, planting. They´ll stop when they hear the church bell tolling. All the Moratinos men will turn their tractors to home then, take off their hats, lower their gaze for a couple of days. The seeding will wait that long. The harvest will be the first in almost a century that Victoriana will not see.


Anonymous said...

Yes, today you wrote a beautiful piece about life in your adopted village. It amazes me the empathy you show and the way you have connected with a life that it was stranger to you. Nice job, Reb.


Gareth Thomas said...

That was a very poignant post, Reb. Thank you.

It takes me back to that morning in July that I spent just sitting in the dust by the entrance to the village, near the bodegas. I was having a break from the Camino and just watching the world go by. It was very peaceful, and apart from the pilgrims passing through at the rate of one every twenty minutes, nothing else moved for the two hours I sat there.

Slightly different from life here in the centre of Rome!

Gareth said...

Victoriana died Friday 10 October at 8 p.m.

Anonymous said...

So it must be. We must all take our turn.

You have touched many a soul young lass. God bless you!

Till then....