PHILEMON STEED #12

Philemon Steed Photo 2

***

            Fog squatted on the pastures refusing to budge. Milk-heavy cows disappeared from view as Joe Brazil stood at the barn door watching the thick grayness swallow them up.

He rang the cowbell and swung the big flashlight back and forth. The cows couldn’t see him but they could hear.

“C’mon, Girls!”

And the bell rang and the beam of light crisscrossed the gravel road in front of the barn.

“C’mon, vaca vaca vaca!” he called out in Portuguese.

A faint mooing oozed through the impenetrable wall of water molecules.

Joe Brazil whistled sharply and kept ringing the bell and swinging the flashlight.

More mooing could be heard. And it was getting louder.

“C’mon! You can do it, Ladies!”

As if being shoved onto a stage through gray drapes, one cow popped out of the fog right in front of him.

He whistled again as he patted her back. She headed straight for the warm barn, well-lighted and waiting to relieve her hardening udder.

Another cow immediately followed through the dense gray curtain, and another.

Joe kept ringing the bell and whistling.

They voiced their opinion of being lost and still not milked as they followed one another back home to the barn.

Joe closed the barn door when all twenty cows were safely inside. He hooked them up to the milking machines as fast as he could. They were all aching and complaining. Milking should have happened an hour ago.

He couldn’t hear a thing with all the machines going but he felt the cell phone vibrating in his shirt pocket.

“Brazil Farms,” he answered formally, as always.

“Joe? It’s me. Luzanne.”

“Luzanne?” He nearly dropped the phone. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” She fought back tears as she sat there in her hotel room staring at Philemon’s note.

“Talk louder! I’m in the barn milking!”

“I’m fine!” she hollered back. “I called to tell you I’m coming home! And bringing Paul with me!”

Joe couldn’t help but smile with relief.

“Good! Is he alright?”

Luzanne glanced over at him staring out the window.

“He’ll be alright when I get him home!”

“Good!”

“How are the kids?”

“Fine. Helen’s been such a big help.”

“Of course she has,” Luzanne mumbled, knowing how she favored Joe over her.

“What?”

“I’ll call again when I know more!” she replied.

“Okay! You better go! This is going to cost a fortune!” Joe declared.

“Goodbye!” Luzanne cried, and hung up. Tears streamed down her face, a silent wet testimony to her breaking heart.

Joe Brazil hurried back to the milking machines making a mental note to check the charges on that call when the next phone bill arrives.

Luzanne rinsed her face in the bathroom sink.

“It’s your turn, Mother,” Paul said when she came back in the room.

“My turn?”

“I told you my story. Now it’s your turn to tell me how you and Philemon Steed know each other.”

Luzanne started straightening the bedspread and gathering up dirty dishes.

“Mother!”

She stopped and looked at her son. His face, so tired and drawn, was still tender and kind.

“Please, tell me,” he said softly.

She sat down in the chair next to him and took a deep breath before diving into the pool of memories. When she finished, Paul let out a slow whistle.

“And you still love him,” he said.

“I didn’t say that,” she replied.

“It’s obvious you do, Mother.”

“Jesus-Mary-Joseph, don’t say that!”

“It’s alright. I understand. I see how you look at him. You never looked at Father that way.”

Luzanne dabbed at her eyes.

“Mother, I now know what it’s like to love someone more than life itself,” Paul said, his voice breaking. “And to lose them.”

“Oh Son, this was a long time ago. We were kids. We made a mistake. We committed a sin.”

“That would explain why you were always so hard on Helen,” he replied.

“I didn’t want her to make the same mistake I did. And we didn’t want her to ever feel less than you other three kids so we never told her she was illegitimate. That’s why your father doted on her so much. But we never told her the truth.”

“Does Philemon know?”

“No!” cried Luzanne. “He doesn’t even know I was pregnant when my family moved away. He doesn’t know that was the reason. My parents put the fear of God in me should I ever try to get in touch with him. They never approved of him. He was older, for one thing. And he’d been kept back a year in school. But more than that, he wasn’t Catholic. And he was from a broken home. And then came all the shame when people started to talk. I basically had no friends. But I wouldn’t give up the baby. They wanted me to. Everybody wanted my baby to go somewhere else. No one cared what I wanted. I swore I’d kill myself if they took her from me. That got their attention. And I meant it too. So they got busy and found a man who agreed to marry spoiled goods, as Mother called me.”

“Father?”

“Yes, your father. Joe Brazil. He was from a good Catholic family, as you know. He hadn’t been real lucky in love. I don’t think he ever dated a girl. Being the youngest boy and self-conscious about his Portuguese parents made him kind of shy. He still lived at home saving his money to start up his own farm. His folks had the land but not much else. So my parents gave him enough money to build a small house and a big barn in exchange for marrying me and adopting Helen.”

“My father did that?” Paul was incredulous.

Luzanne brushed the tears away.

“Mother, you have more than paid for your sins. Nowadays, it seems more children are born out of wedlock. Not that I’m condoning it. But it certainly doesn’t have the same stigma it once did. I’m sorry you had to go through all that.”

Paul took both his mother’s hands in his.

“Thank you, Paul. It’s okay. It’s been a good life. I have you. And Jack and Marianne. And Helen, of course.  And your father is a good man. He’s been a good provider.”

Paul dropped her hands and jumped up. “He’s a stubborn, thick-headed, cold-hearted…”

“Stop right there!”

Paul paced the floor.

“He’s your father. He’s worked hard and given you everything you ever needed or wanted.”

“Oh really, Mother? He never gave me love. Or respect. He never gave me one encouraging word about anything. He never talked to me like he talks to Jack. Not one kind word. He knows I’m gay. He’s always known and he’s never going to accept it.”

“Well, we’ll see about that when we get home.”

Paul dropped his head in defeat. Luzanne embraced him as her child, her son, as a human being, as a man, a priest.

Tap-tap.

Tap-tap.

Luzanne and Paul glanced at each other.

Luzanne stood by the door. “Who is it?”

“Jessamina.”

She looked at Paul who nodded to let her in.

Jessamina was so loaded down with bags plus the Chihuahua she nearly fell to the floor when the door opened.

Luzanne locked it quickly behind her.

Buenos dias, Señora,” Jessamina curtsied. “Buenos dias, Padre.” She curtsied again.

“Where is Philemon?” Paul asked.

“He send me. Bring all this to you. He say put on this and this, Padre.”

Without letting go of the dog, Jessamina pulled out of a gym bag a pair of running shoes, long training pants, a sweatshirt, and jacket, a cap that said “Soccer” on the front with a soccer ball below it, and a pair of dark sunglasses.

With any luck, Paul would be mistaken for one of the dozens of soccer players wandering all over Marsella before the big game.

Jessamina carefully removed from a woven bag a few arepas and empanadas and a fried chicken cut up, all wrapped in paper, with two bottles of water.

Luzanne and Paul didn’t hesitate to grab the food and start eating. It had been too long since supper the night before.

Jessamina eyed Luzanne with suspicion. “You his madre?”

Luzanne, mouth full, nodded.

Padre, she your mama?”

He nodded.

“You no be with Philemon.” This was not a question but an order.

“Excuse me?” Luzanne coughed.

“Philemon is mine. I belong to him. He belong to me,” she pouted.

Luzanne smiled at the girl. “I know that. I understand. Comprendo. You are a lucky girl.

Afortunado. Verdad?”

Jessamina instantly grinned and hugged them both with the Chihuahua squished in the middle.

“We hurry, yes?” she said.

Paul changed in the bathroom. Luzanne tied a scarf around her hair and put a straw hat on over that, tying it under her chin. She put on her sunglasses and shoved Philemon’s note in her purse.

Paul reappeared in his athletic disguise. Jessamina clapped her hands with approval.

Vamanos!” she cried.

***

            Marsella is a terraced town on the Cuaca River

            Where blood flows silently within its banks.

            Flowing blood roars out of Ana Garcia, her tears salty as the sea.

            Blood pounding loud in the heart of Señor Bravista.

            Blood throbbing for help as Littorella chokes.

            “Run, Dulce, Run!”

            The girl does as she’s told.

            Señor Bravista no longer patient.

            His hands far apart from prayer as he presses the long, damp neck of Littorella between them as hard as he can.

            WHERE IS HE?

Like blood pulsating.

            DÓNDE ESTA SEÑOR STEED?

            The valve lets the blood rush through.

            DÓNDE ESTA EL PADRE?

            Blood swishes behind her eyes.

            DÓNDE? DÓNDE? DÓNDE?

            Her head hitting the wall in perfect unison.

            Her screams absorbed by the noise from las hinchas.

            Hundreds of soccer fans roaming the streets eating and drinking.

            Viva el fútbol!

            Fights breaking out between the hinchas of rival teams.

Big game.

            Big event for Marsella.

            Even Manuel put his shovel aside.

The gravedigger takes a day of rest.

Killing takes a rest as a river of fans flood into Marsella filling up the hotels, pensiones, private homes, and the poorer ones camping along the Cuaca River.

Big game mañana.

Fans flow in from the airport, on buses, in private vehicles, on vespas and bicycles, and the poorer ones on foot, or riding a donkey.

Red yellow.

Green red.

Green red yellow.

White red.

Viva Vergara!

Viva Balanta!

Viva Quintero!

The locals shout their favorite players which Littorella hears so clearly until Señor Bravista beats her into unconsciousness.

            Black white.

            Black and blue.

            Nothing but black.

***

Dulce ran.

She ran past the black and white.

Past the blue and yellow.

And black.

Through the red and black and green.

And around the red and blue.

And in and out of the yellow and white and green as if no one were on the streets of

Marsella.

And being small for her age, the fans didn’t seem to notice her.

All the frenzied boys and young men might have figured her for a street waif, a beggar

girl, or somebody’s raggedy little sister.

But way too young to be la novia, to be had sexually.

So Dulce slipped past all the potential predators as if disguised.

She turned down a side street lined on either side with small sheds open on each end,

their tin roofs attached with nails pounded through bottle caps, buckets of water standing near each shed, perros splayed like dead meat in the dusty street, chickens pecking around them, a pig tied up to a chunk of bent metal stuck in the ground, the crowds less evident here, the slap-slap sound more prominent as women in some of the sheds slap-slapped clumps of moist masa between their hands to form tortillas and children ran in and out, some with two dozen tortillas wrapped in paper their mother sent them to buy, or a child clutching a rolled up one in her fist, and finally Dulce slowed down.

And then quit running. She was scared for her mother but even more, she was hungry,

and she had not one single peso in her pocket.

A large hand grabbed her skinny arm and pulled her inside the nearby shed. The other

hand covered her mouth before she could scream. An old woman sat in the corner watching as a young woman stood at the table in the center making and then frying small tortillas. Both women watched but didn’t make a sound.

“Dulce! It’s me! Philemon.” He dropped his hand from her mouth.

“Oh, Señor Pheel!” The girl started sobbing. “He kill my madre.”

“What?”

Dulce nodded and kept on crying.

Philemon kneeled down and wiped her eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.

“He come looking for you. Mama no tell him where you go so he kill her.”

“Jesus,” Philemon whispered. “Who came, Dulce? Who was it?”

Señor Bravista.”

Philemon thought he was going to be sick. He was more furious at himself at that

moment than he was with Bravista. How could he have missed it? All this time?

He paid the woman for six tortillas and took Dulce by the hand and ducked inside the next shed.

Stuck in one corner was a tiny rusted metal table with a bottle of hot sauce on it, and three rickety chairs. The table in the middle overflowed with a pile of cooked, shredded meat with a woman standing beside the table waving a rag off and on to keep the flies away. Philemon bought a small mound from her and he and Dulce sat down at the little table and stuffed the meat and tortillas into their mouths as fast as they could.

“C.mon, kid.” Philemon grabbed Dulce’s hand. They hurried to the end of the street and inside the last shed.

Pantalones, zapatas, huaraches, sombreros, ponchos, camisas, and a couple piñatas hung wildly from the ceiling on hangers strung on wires.

Philemon pointed and the woman obliged, taking down each item indicated.

Señora, por favor. Tiene tijeras?”

The woman handed him scissors and Philemon promptly cut off most of Dulce’s hair. She started to protest.

Silencio! Es muy importante,” he said. “I am saving your life.”

The woman watched without a word.

“Put these clothes on now. Pronto!” Philemon stood in the open doorway, his back to Dulce and the woman who helped her change from her sandals and a sundress to pants, shirt, shoes, and a cap.

Finito, Señor.”

He turned around. Dulce had been transformed into a scrawny boy wearing clean hand-

me-downs.

Que bueno.” He paid the woman. “Gracias.”

“Now listen to me, Dulce.”

The girl’s dark eyes overflowed with tears.

“No, don’t cry. Please. Por favor? You must be brave. Valeroso. ? For me, okay?

Valeroso?

She nodded.

“Here’s some dinero.” Philemon stuffed a wad of pesos deep inside her pants pocket.

“Go straight to Refugio’s abuela. You know where?”

La Casa de Meemee,” Dulce said softly.

“Of course you know it,” Philemon mumbled to himself. “The old woman has fed and

clothed every girl in this godforsaken town at one time or another. Given them a bath, a brush through their hair, and a bed to sleep in safe from men.”

He poked his head out and looked up and down the street. He laughed at the sight

of las hinchas walking around as if Marsella was just another town with families, TVs,

food, houses, jobs, and a stadium for soccer.

Blood built the stadium. All the death and drugs it took, all the heads at the

bottom of the river, the graves, the killing, the fear and violence, and bodies that float on the river paid for the stadium, a modern-day bread circus for those left behind to bury the dead, the ones who continue to witness it all, see it all, smell it all, hear it all, yes, the ones whose blood has become deaf and dumb.

To be continued….

Read More by Renee Walker

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