The twelfth day of the twelfth month was taking its final bow as Guadalupe locked up the store. Her feast day was almost over yet she couldn’t rid herself of the leftover gloom. The many salutations she received wishing her a happy day with a backhanded poke and prod were part of trouble. No, she had no time to attend mass this morning to receive blessings or give thanks for the virgin mother’s protection. Yes, she was very lucky to be named Guadalupe and indeed they were correct; her mother was truly an angel and she would be forever linked to her in life and death in the holy name they both shared.
Ridiculous. All of it. Sweet syrupy cherry cordiality is a waste of time. She understood the customary nature of it all and in no way did she consider herself a blasphemous sort, as that would be foolhardy. She had a good head on those diminutive shoulders of hers. She didn’t smoke, drink or ever neglect to pray for souls transportation out of purgatory. And she certainly didn’t spout any Bolshevik nonsense like those sauced labor organizers over at the beer hall around the corner from her house. Really, her only true vice was loathing of God’s earthly soldiers, if that was really a vice and not a hard lesson she learned at too young of an age.
Ah, she was so spent. Standing and squatting all day at work, stocking knick knacks, ringing customers, sweeping, mopping, that must be the reason. These grumpy thoughts will send her to hell if she wasn’t careful. She began to walk home and suddenly it occurred to her that hell couldn’t be hot if you lived in a prickly desert. Swaddling her black wool coat, it was the cold that must be eternal damnation. It wasn’t often that the temperature dropped like this. The desert winds were briskly sweeping through like a bobsled. The chill went up her skirt, making her pick up the pace. Her feet were going numb and her eyeballs were freeze dried as tear escaped. Ashes to Ashes dust to dust she thought as she swept the crystallized tears away from her face. Oh those children, how they startled her awake this morning. It was so cruel. What a noisy procession of privileged midgets in their starched uniforms. The Sister Servants of Perpetual Help orchestrated all this and she wondered if they were ameliorating the misdeed by marching past her street, force-feeding their child army into a rhythmic adoration of the Indian Virgin she was named after.
Desde el cielo un Hermosa manana, la Guadalupana, la Guadalupana, la Guadalupana, bajo el Tepeyac.
Oh how they sleepily slogged, moaning in unison, pummeling every note! Cats on a fence. She was tempted to throw a shoe but they were honoring the Virgin. Ah, the Indian queen. She could grind roses out of barren hills but she couldn’t grant Guadalupe the patience needed to tolerate las beatas de dios.
Her father created this breathing indignation even as he lay dying in his bedroom a few blocks away. He wore his dogmatic faith with such a badge of blind honor, Guadalupe fantasized about burying him in a priest’s frock. His bank position dodged the perils of the Mexican revolution only to get chased by a hit man into the states for throwing too much alms into the offertory during the Cristero rebellion. He always protected them more, unmindful of other dangers, the very ones that take their sweet time in ruining you.
Most of the retail shops were dim as she walked past them. The diner with its checkerboard tablecloths was still open. It was empty except for the short-order cook and a man at the counter eating spaghetti. She had been distracted while everyone had shut down sooner, evading the dampness that was beginning to petrify. She crossed the street into a hay-riddled lot that sold Christmas trees. They partially obstructed the view of her home. She would cut through them, perhaps it would be warmer and the smell could alleviate her somehow. She would be home any minute, escaping the cold but putting on a face inside a house of young adults unable to marry their sweethearts with children taking care of themselves. Her father was in a trance he would never recover from.
It was the depression and even those that spoke no English knew what it meant. Her wages were her families but her acumen for business made her a manager only months after being a stock girl. Ah America could be so promising, no one was carelessly looting and raping here based on the principal. Money didn’t always have to change hands to provide prosperity, a barter system would do, a similarity left from her Mexican homeland. Another similarity was her father handing land over to the church. All for those black veiled virgins. En el nombre de Dios para las beatas de Dios. Why didn’t he flog himself instead? Isn’t that an acceptable form of martyrdom?
The smell of wood and sap against the clouds of her breath gave her respite. Tranquility set in knowing she was almost indoors. It was snowing as she came out on the other side of the forest of chopped evergreens. The streetlight bathed her in an orange glow as a ticker tape parade of light ice greeted her. She had never seen snow, never expecting it in the low desert. It was a good omen she thought, something unexpected and pure.
As she closed the door behind her, a flash of heat hugged her hello as quickly as it ran off and left her with the parish priest who sat on the couch staring at her solemnly. He was alone as muffled sounds of the eldest putting the youngest to sleep were coming from the two small bedrooms. There was usual silence in her father’s room. Her moment of calm resignation was stifled as she realized that he was waiting for her. Nothing good, nothing helpful just pearls of wisdom to wash down like castor oil. She would rather vomit, as it was she felt like the demon he was about to exorcise. And yet she prayed, she prayed for every soul she knew, especially her mother.
“Greetings, Padre what brings you here?” She asked. Not taking his enlarged pupils off of her as he wore thick bifocals, he sat still except for his Adams apple, lifting and falling.
“Feliz Dia, Guadalupe, How has your feast day been?”
“A busy day at work with many good wishes, thank you. Have you been taken care of?” Was the padre about to tell her father was dead? It couldn’t, no one was wailing, there weren’t neighbors making coffee in the kitchen. Why was he here, she wondered.
“So very nice to hear that your were acknowledged. It’s a shame you couldn’t come to mass. Well some other time of course, however that’s why I am here.”
Her father must be dead; did he need permission to rifle through drawers for any jewelry that was left? Silly, silly girl, there’s probably some scrawled will where her father bequeathed the house, her wages, and the future earnings of every one of his children. Perhaps this would guarantee him sainthood.
“Dr. Orozco called me and thought it would be good if I administered last rites.”
“Yes, well that’s sensible, he’s far gone and we don’t expect him to come back to us.”
“My dear I know you are in charge, please know that the church will anything to alleviate the burden.”
“Anything?” Ah, that was not a good way to end the conversation with her. Did he not want to leave on a good note she thought?
“Yes of course, we work so closely with the morticians, I will make sure they give you and your family ample time to pay off any funeral costs. And I promise you that when the Lord finally takes your noble father, we will mourn his death but celebrate his legacy as he was truly servant of God.”
“My father made an error, Padre. He should have never given you the land willed to my mother. Kindly hand it back to us. Then you needn’t talk to anyone. We will pay everything up front.”
He strained his neck and shook his head, as Guadalupe knew she’d get nothing from him. He was all she had left of her father and she wanted to him to understand that she did not care that he had access to holy water and dispensations. They were just water and words.
“I’m sorry but the church already owns the property. It would be too difficult to undo. Besides, it was the right thing to do. It why your father is going….”
Guadalupe cut him short. “Straight to heaven, as a soldier of god, yes that was his plan. And you are as impotent as I always imagined you to be. You can show yourself out padre. Good night.”
It was a large plot of land with several elms, palms and rose bushes. Her mother had such gratitude for it, she expired in a state of relief as hard as Guadalupe tried to remedy her pneumonia with mustard plaster. All because her mother took pity on a pious little janitor and fed him every evening. He willed it to her and no sooner than throwing dirt over the other Guadalupe, her husband turned it over to the church, like the money he embezzled for them that had them packing in a fright and running for a train. God would provide he would always say and yet this was never his to give.
In the bathroom, she dressed her thousand paper cut wounds with petroleum jelly acquired while working in extremes. The heater kept her overheated and flustered while the outside icicle breezes made her bitter. There was no miracle. Only they think they can save fools from their misery or be venerated for handing out more to bear.
She tiptoed into her father’s room. The clock clucked forward as he slept. Sleep, was it really sleep? No, he was just mummified in those sheets. Their best soldier preserved and now he hibernated in wait. Did he dream of his days as a banker in gold buttoned suits? Or are his images lost days in white undershirts no longer keeping books for anyone? Anchored to his bed, his last rites made him ready for the eternal life he worked toward. It was only appropriate then that Guadalupe took his pillow and smothered his dreams away.
Guadalupe would not go right to sleep. She would wait until morning to tell her siblings their father was gone. Outside she sat on the porch sticking her tongue out to catch snowflakes, as she may never see them again. He prayers had intention tonight. She would pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe for her father’s lost soul on this glorious feast day.