Wednesday, October 25, 2006

La Gritona, Part Two

This is my Halloween ghost story. Please go back to Part One if you're just starting it. I'm publishing it here in five (5) parts since it's kind of long.

“Liliana,” Eulalia beckoned one day when she was feeling particularly weak.  The doctor had told them to prepare for the inevitable and Lillian knew they had limited time.  “Liliana, I want you to promise me something.”  Lillian reluctantly sat on the edge of the bed and looked into the piercing eyes that burned from her mother's narrow, drawn face.  “I want you to promise me you won’t let certain people attend my funeral.”

Lillian’s eyes slid away with chagrin.  “¡Liliana! I mean it,” Eulalia now clutched Lillian’s arm, her thin fingers like talons and Lillian had to fight the urge to pull away.  “Don’t you let Pedro Santiaguillo near my funeral,” Lillian recognized the name of the green grocer they had stopped going to years ago. The reason was that one day her mother had walked right into the grocer's glass door that was so clean it had been invisible, at least to Eulalia. Mr. Santiaguillo had actually apologized for keeping such a clean store, but Eulalia had never forgiven him for the forehead bruise she had suffered. This innocuous old man was banished from her funeral?

Eulalia continued, “And Ana Gonzalez.  I know she stole that empanada recipe from me, trying to make herself look like a good cook.  I don’t want anything to do with her, even if I’m dead.  Even if I’m dead and in my coffin.”  Lillian wanted to roll her eyes at her mother’s melodrama: some people were born to die.

Eulalia named half a dozen other offenders, quite minor in Lillian’s opinion, and ended with, “Okay?  Do you promise me you won’t let any of those people come to my funeral?”

Lillian took her time drawing in her breath and then exhaled heavily, “Yes, Mother.”  Eulalia’s hard face didn’t soften as she lay back against the pillow.  “Good.”

Eulalia expired within the week and Lillian exhausted herself with burial arrangements and event planning.  One thing her mother had gotten right was the uselessness of Lillian’s father. He offered no help with the funeral and mainly just sat in his recliner in silence, whether out of shock or relief, who knew? In the meantime, Lillian’s attention to detail was driven by the certainty that her mother would be furious if she chose the wrong coffin lining or served the wrong non-dairy creamer. Her mother’s judgement still felt very much alive and Lillian drove herself crazy trying to guess which version of “Pescador de Hombres” should be played at the rosary.

On the day of the funeral, Lillian was standing at the back of the chapel, feeling too tired to make her way to the coffin, when she saw Pedro Santiaguillo, the green grocer, enter.  What was he doing here? The people on her mother’s non grata list were people who hadn’t wanted any more to do with Eulalia than she had with them.  Lillian had never dreamed she’d actually have to face any of them.

“Lillian, I’m so sorry about your mother,” Mr. Santiaguillo murmured. Lillian stared dumbly before she was able to stammer, “Oh – yes –“

“I want you to know my wife and I are praying for you and your family,” he continued.

Lillian looked into his eyes and just couldn’t say any of the things her mother would have demanded.  “Thank you.”

Later she went over it again and again. She felt awful about breaking a promise she made on her mother’s deathbed, but what could she have done? To have asked Mr. Santiaguillo to leave would have been rude and would have carried on the pettiness of her mother’s grudge. Surely anyone could see that she had done the only thing a reasonable person could do: allow a well-meaning old man to pay his respects. She tried to put her mind at rest, but her mother’s old resentments wouldn’t die.

After the burial, the food, and the wrinkled old relatives who didn’t understand why they were still alive, Lillian packed and donated her mother’s clothes, then left for her home in San Diego. With each mile she tried to imagine putting the deathbed scene and her guilt behind her.

Parts Three through Five on the way...

No comments: