Jessamina, holding her Chihuahua with one arm and Philemon’s briefcase with the other hand, stuck her foot out and tripped Dulce as she raced up the terrace steps to La Casa de Meemee.
“No niño! No aqui! Andale!” She started kicking the girl.
Dulce pulled to get free and Jessamina hit her on the side of the head.
“Huy! Alto! Que lástima!”
“Los muchachos no permitidos!”
“Yo no soy un niño!” Dulce cried, pulling off her cap. “I am no boy! Soy yo! Dulce!”
Jessamina finally recognized the girl. She dropped the briefcase and the dog on top of it.
“Meemee!” Jessamina called to the old woman as she dragged Dulce inside to safety.
A VW bug pulled up to the bottom step and idled, with Refugio behind the wheel.
Jessamina came back out, grabbed the dog and briefcase, and ran down the steps to the car.
“Donde?” she asked, as she got in.
“Al aeropuerto,” he replied.
They exchanged worried looks.
“Flight 1214 to El Paso and San Francisco now boarding at Gate 3,” the airport loudspeakers announced.
Luzanne joined Paul in line without taking her eyes off the entrance.
Philemon’s taxi came to a lurching halt. He raced inside, black robes flowing behind him, and saw Luzanne the same moment she saw him.
He couldn’t go any further due to security.
She gave him a strange look, seeing him in black robes with the black hat.
Passengers on the plane that just arrived started filing off.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Luzanne said, suddenly stepping out of the boarding line. A woman just getting off the plane stopped.
Philemon watched as Luzanne pointed at him, telling the woman something, pointed again, and then handed something to her. The woman exited the loading area and handed the paper to Philemon.
He quickly read it and smiled as Luzanne and Paul moved forward in line.
Luzanne looked back at him one last time and blew him a kiss.
“Goodbye,” Philemon mouthed silently.
They disappeared down the loading ramp.
Philemon strode back outside just as Refugio and Jessamina pulled noisily up to the curb in the old VW.
“Let me have the briefcase,” he said.
Jessamina handed it to him.
“Keep driving around till you see me come out.” With black robes flowing behind him, Philemon rushed back inside to the locker area.
Throngs of turistas clogged the aisle storing piles of luggage and bags of souvenirs in several lockers. Finally Philemon squeezed past them all and got to his locker. He removed the key from its hiding place inside the briefcase, put the postcard of Virgin Mary in his pants pocket, and opened the locker.
A brown paper sack fell out spilling a wad of American hundred dollar bills all over the floor. Philemon grabbed them up and stuffed them back in the bag before anyone could see. He put the bag inside his hat and the hat back on his head and shoved the briefcase inside the locker.
He looked all around and then locked the locker and threw the key in the trash.
“Mira! Mira!” cried Jessamina as she spotted Philemon.
The VW chugged back around to the curb again. Jessamina climbed into the back seat with the Chihuahua. Philemon plopped down in the passenger seat.
Refugio pressed the accelerator all the way to the floor and drove out of the airport and down the highway.
Philemon hunkered down in the seat with the black hat pulled down tightly over his head.
They came to the V in the road where a sign with a curving arrow said “Marsella”. Refugio started slowing down to make the turn.
“Keep going,” Philemon said.
“Sí, jefe.” Refugio, serious in his duties, was honored to be helping il patron, Philemon Steed.
“Just stay on this for awhile, okay? Este camino es mejor.”
“Sí, jefe. No hay una problema.”
Jessamina sang and whistled in the backseat, holding and kissing Mama Dog. She was so happy being with her Pheel-e-mon. Now it will be forever and ever. She could just feel it. Especially now that the padre and his mother have gone away.
Marsella is a terraced town.
Ana Garcia lingers on her terrace, wondering what the outcome will be. Whose head will float down the Cuaca River? Will it be Bravista or Steed?
Numb to it all, she watches as a plane flies further and further away from Marsella.
Philemon glances up at the sky and sees a jet climbing higher and higher and flying further and further away.
Luzanne looks out the plane window at Marsella far, far below and sees the Cuaca River getting smaller and smaller as it snakes through it.
Refugio drove and drove while Philemon kept watch. Neither one spoke.
Jessamina had sung herself to sleep, dog tucked in her arms.
At one point, the road ran alongside the Cuaca River.
Philemon knew it so well.
And he knew he was never going to have to look at its dirty filthy bloody deadly stinking rotten disgusting putrid rank waters ever again.
The road veered back away from the river. The further they went the less traffic they passed.
Way up ahead, Philemon could see a local bus rambling along. He took off Bravista’s hat and pulled a handful of money out of the paper bag.
Refugio nearly drove off the road when he saw all those hundred dollar bills in Philemon’s hand.
They looked at each other but said nothing.
The bus ahead hit its brakes and pulled off to one side where two young girls with a baby goat stood waiting.
“Pull over behind the bus!” Philemon suddenly cried.
He rolled up the paper bag with the remaining money and put it back under his hat.
Jessamina woke up as the VW began to slow down.
“Donde estamos?” she asked, rubbing her eyes. “Why we stop? Porque aquí?”
Philemon climbed out of the VW, stiff and aching.
“Get in front, kid.” He motioned to the girl.
She got out of the car, leaving the Chihuahua in back.
“No, Pheel! No! I go with you!” She grabbed onto him.
“No, Jessamina. It’s impossible. I must go alone.”
She fought and kicked as he picked her up and placed her in the front passenger seat.
“Refugio, take this money. As soon as you get back to town, you marry her. Understand?”
Refugio nodded in disbelief as he crammed the wad of bills into his pocket.
“No, Pheel! I belong to you!” Jessamina protested.
“Kid, you belong to nobody. Estas liberada. Pero, es necesario que te cases Refugio. It’s safer that way. Comprende?”
Jessamina reluctantly nodded her head.
Refugio smiled at the girl who he had loved since she was born.
“No worry, por favor. I take good care of you, Jessamina,” he said.
“Keep this for yourself, kid.” Philemon rolled up several hundred dollar bills and closed her fist around them. “A woman should always have her own money. Even if she’s married.”
She couldn’t help but smile at him. He winked back at her.
“Refugio, you heard that too?”
“Si, Señor Steed!”
“Promise me you will marry her. And give her a home. And be good to her.”
“Si, Señor Steed. I swear it on mi madre’s grave.”
The bus coughed out a cloud of black exhaust as it prepared to leave.
“Then go! Now! Andale!”
Philemon hobbled as fast as he could to the bus and climbed aboard. He could see Jessamina through the bus windows waving from the VW as it drove off.
Philemon found a seat amidst cages of chickens and rabbits, bundles of tied-up bedsheets full of onions, corn, and small heads of lettuce, several small children sprawled out asleep on the floor and other seats, an old woman with a guitar, a toothless old man with a harmonica, the two young girls with their baby goat, and a woman nursing a baby.
They all nodded respectfully to him as one does to a priest. He nodded in return.
Philemon stretched his stiff legs out in front of him and pulled the hat down tighter on his head. He allowed his head to rest against the back of the seat.
As the bus rambled further and further away from Marsella, Philemon Steed relaxed and closed his eyes.
Two Months Later
The fog had lifted.
For the first time in years, all the Brazils gathered together to celebrate Paul’s birthday. Paul had been gone for so long, it seemed.
And during that time, Helen had married Will, and they had baby Jessie.
Paul held Jessie on his lap while he sat at the kitchen table playing cards with Marianne.
Jack kept busy running in and out.
“Don’t you ever walk?” Helen asked as he ran back out the door.
Luzanne laughed at her daughter’s irritation. “You used to do the same thing, Helen.”
“I did not.”
The girl always argued with her.
“Ask your father,” she shrugged.
Joe Brazil and Will had just gone back outside to the barn, each with a beer. Paul watched them go but stayed where he was. Even though he’d been home two months, the tension hadn’t lessened between him and his father.
Helen insisted on doing all the cooking and even baked the cake so Luzanne could just rest and have a day off doing nothing.
But Luzanne knew what Helen wanted was for the party to go the way Helen wanted it.
So Luzanne stood nearby, out of the way, but ready to pitch in if need be.
“Here’s the mail, Mom,” said Jack, as he ran back inside. He handed her a bundle with a rubber band around it.
“Look at all these catalogs I get. I wish I could stop them.”
Luzanne went into the living room and sat down in her favorite stuffed chair, putting her feet up on the footstool with its needlepoint cushion, and started going through the stack of mail.
Catalogs, bills, tax appraisal notice, reminder from the dentist for Marianne’s six-month teeth cleaning, a flyer announcing a sale at Fortuna Glass, and then she saw the postcard.
An old beat-up postcard with a photograph of a Virgin Mary statue in some ancient church.
Luzanne stopped breathing. She glanced towards the kitchen where everyone still sounded busy and occupied. She was alone, for a moment.
She turned the postcard over. On the right it was addressed in a familiar hand to “Luzanne Sistrunk Brazil” with a Portuguese stamp and postmark that said “LISBOA.”
She nearly cried out as she looked at it.
In the upper left in tiny letters was printed: “The Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major; Lisbon, Portugal.”
Below, in the same familiar handwriting, were two words:
And below that the initials PS.
Luzanne clutched the postcard to her breast.
She allowed her head to rest against the back of the chair.
As the old grandfather clock ticked heavily in the hall, Luzanne Brazil closed her eyes and smiled.
*** THE END ***