The Story of Gabrielle, Mother to Maria, Grandmother to Anna
Gabrielle could barely sit still. She tapped her feet, pressing forward every few beats to peer her eyes over the seat in front of her, not looking at anything in particular. She pushed her thumbs against each other until one bent and then the other, moved them up and down together, swirled them faster and faster around each other. She picked up the in-flight magazine, breezed through every page, seeing bright colors flashing before her eyes but never registering a single word, put it back in the seat pocket, then picked it up again as if she had never seen the thing before. Maria, seeing her mother’s nervousness and knowing it had nothing to do with being on a plane, tried to talk to her. About Miami. About all the new opportunities for the whole family there. Getting Anna into a good school, sending her to college someday, all things she had brought up a thousand times before. Gabrielle usually went along with her daughter’s fancy even though she had more pressing matters on her mind, popping in with ideas like running a little café that specialized in empenadas with many, many various and wondrous fillings. Today, though, she barely knew her daughter was there. Only nodding and mumbling affirmatives when she noticed pauses in her daughter’s speech. Today was the day she had waited for, been moving toward for oh so long, and she could think of nothing else. She played all the possibilities out in her thoughts, her nervous ticks, their outward voice. Anna, sitting on her mother’s lap, giggled at her silly Gran. It went on like this the entire flight to Caracas.
Gabrielle asked Maria if it would be okay if she visited the grave alone. She had never known this man and yet she owed everything to him. He had given her life. His death before she was old enough to crawl, before her mother had moved them back to Barquiesimeto in the winter of 1942, had shaped who she would become. That and all her mother’s stories. He was such a wonderful man, she would say, so thoughtful and giving, not like all the other young men running the streets of Caracas. There was one story her mother loved to tell. Her aunts always groaned when her mother got those weepy eyes of hers, sighed and started in on the tale, but she would tell it just the same.
“Ah, Trinidad,” she would start, “Your dear, sweet Papa. He was a very poor boy when I met him. Running the streets with all those other fools, but he knew better. He was just young and having fun with mischief as boys are want to do. He had a good head though; would have done great things. And sweet. You know what he would do? When he was courting? Not just at first either, but all through? Well, I worked at a little shop just off the square. I assisted the apothecary with his measurements and keeping track of inventories; we also sold salves and other healthful items. Anyway, everyday, without fail, the time might change, but everyday, your sweet Papa would bring me a single flower, smile and then run back out that door. It was a real flower, too. I always have liked paper flowers, but he insisted. He said I was too good for paper. Daisies, lilies, roses. Everyday a new flower and a smile. I never knew where he got them, but…”
And she would trail off. Her eyes that much more weepy for the story, and the groans that much louder from her aunts. For this story and others like it, Gabrielle, loved this Papa she had never known. She lived to please him. His memory. All of her actions were geared toward pleasing him, for she knew he must be watching, and she knew that all of her movements were leading back to him, to his grave. Where she could sit with him for a time and tell him everything, just as she had every night of her life, since she was but a small child, in her prayers. She would sit on the grass covering his grave, lay a single flower at his stone and feel right, feel complete.
Which is why when Maria began to speak more and more of the possibility of moving to Miami, Gabrielle did not deter her. Gabrielle’s mother had never wanted to go to the grave, though Gabrielle had asked her to many times. Gabrielle assumed it was because her mother had already said her good-byes, and there was no use in bringing up that pain again. But Gabrielle needed her time, and this seemed like her chance. It is true that Gabrielle would have preferred to live out her days in Barquiesimeto, but the thought of seeing her father in Caracas on the way to Miami, was well worth the chore of moving. She even thought that he would be proud, being so selfless as to move away from the only place she ever knew, so that her daughter and granddaughter could have more opportunities. She knew it was what he would want; what he would have done.
Maria agreed, nodding with her big eyes closed as Gabrielle walked slowly away from the running taxi. Inside she wanted to run, but her body had long since stopped such behavior. Her eyes filled the urge. Darting and scanning every tombstone she passed. She exhausted the engravings, names, dates, kind words of honor to and from past loves and children and friends. After fifty or so yards and around a craggily half-leaved tree, her eyes relaxed then went wide. She trembled briefly at the foot of the grave then fell sharply to her knees, bruising and cutting them badly on the unkempt mess of gravel and weeds that covered the bones of her dead father. Small exasperated gasps made it to Gabrielle’s lips then went back down and up again. She crumpled farther to the ground until she was a fetal ball sobbing, her head inches away from the tombstone that read simply:
Trinidad Vargas Requena
1923 – 1964
As she lay there, almost convulsing and hyperventilating, small but growing thoughts made it into her mind, all concerning her Mother. Had she made up everything? Were any of her stories real? Or had they been hopes or wishes? Or just taken from those stupid romance novels she used to love to read? She began to pray rapidly, over and over, for understanding, for meaning, but there was no longer belief behind her prayers. These thoughts, these lies, her empty cadence, consumed her quickly, and the wonderful Gabrielle that I had only known briefly, was gone forever.
Maria, had seen her Mother collapse, and rushed over to her crumpled mass. She began to ask what was the matter when she saw the tombstone and cut herself off. This possibility or the possibility of something like this had not escaped Maria, and she gathered her Mother up quickly saying all the things we say when there is nothing good to say. After several minutes, Maria was able to get Gabrielle to her feet, brush her off, and walk her unsteadily back to the taxi. They had a flight to catch.
Nothing changed for Gabrielle in Miami. She prayed relentlessly; empty, catatonic prayers at all hours of the day, sitting alone in her small, back bedroom or with Anna playing at her feet in the main room. She rarely ate or bathed, only doing so when Maria’s pestering grew too loud for her to concentrate. She wasted away to where even her hair became sparse and brittle. Then, on April 30, 2007after about eighteen months, on the eave of another hot Miami summer, Gabrielle gasped mid-prayer, fell to the floor and died.