Saint and Soul
Joanne Faries

Another prick of blood. I sucked on my finger and resumed work. My vision of yellow roses entwined with heather was a limp garland mess. Compelled to decorate our home altar for Mexico’s Day of the Dead, I was the zombie. Tamales, enchiladas, and tortillas cooked for the graveyard visit filled my tiny icebox. Gifts purchased at market in Mexico City yesterday required wrap and ribbon. Games designed to amuse nieces and nephews sprawled on my kitchen table.  

Weary, I contemplated my heap of flowers. Perhaps if I go pick up grandmother and the aunts now, they will help me complete the garlands. I wanted to surprise them with everything fantastically arranged, but it was too great a task. I was mad at mother and father for their fatal car crash, and I hated my little sister, Elena, for her disappearance.  My parents lived on in my heart. Elena was dead to me.  

Jesse stuck his head into the kitchen, “Bye, sis. I’m going to Lupe’s.” He had his helmet in hand. “Be careful, and come home for dinner.” He ducked out and I heard the rev of his motorcycle as he rode away.

Wiping my hands, I retrieved my keys. The old Volkswagen bug sputtered and caught.  I chugged to the next village for my relatives.  

My heart lighter upon return, I helped grandmother out of the car, and basked in the Spanish lilt of my aunts’ chatter. They brought food and gifts, too. Aunt Maria pouted that she couldn’t bring the goat, but conceded there was no room in my teensy VW trunk. We entered my house, and Aunt Tini dropped to her knees and began to cross herself. Puzzled, I walked in and exhaled.  

Garlands enveloped my altar. Sprays of flowers surrounded the mantle pictures of our deceased ancestors. Foil wrapped gifts piled on the hearth, and a huge jeweled cross sparkled on the wall. I sniffed the air. Was that tortilla soup?  A brief thought of Elena froze me. That would be too easy. I shook my head.  

Lupe and her mother, Esperanza, peered out from the kitchen and overcome, I cried and hugged them both. Lupe’s younger sister scampered in, and the elders made a fuss over her long black hair done up in bright red bows. Lupe poured glasses of lemonade and we settled in to visit. Everything was complete and I could relax.  

A roar of the motorcycle. Then silence. My saint, Jesse, strode in shaking out his dark flattened curls. A shy smile to all, he placed two tall candles on the altar and lit them. In unison we prayed to honor our dead, and I’ll concede, one missing soul.    

First published: November, 2007
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