This is an excerpt from the story I shared some months ago, about my grandfather who was literally given away, like a puppy, when he was seven years old. This portion introduces the story and some of its themes, on choices, outcomes, and taking responsibility. At this point in the story, Joaquin, the man who had been the child's adoptive father, is looking back on the "inciting incident," his first choice that really set the whole story in motion.
Joaquin sits in a big soft chair in his bedroom. He wears a starched white shirt and gray workman’s pants. His clothes are clean, with sharp creases ironed in. Large wrinkled hands encircle the chair’s padded armrests. The windows are slightly open and a warm evening breeze meanders through. Meanwhile, a little gecko sucks with its footpads, clinging to the outside of the window. Sunlight is shining right through the gecko’s pink-purple skin, so it looks like an unborn baby. Joaquin sees its skeleton.
Gecko Foot on Glass by Bjorn Christian Torrisen
Gecko cocks her head to watch Joaquin's sister, a large-boned woman with a profoundly hunched back, as she shuffles into the room and announces, "I'm going to church." Felicitas wears a long black dress and tightly laced black shoes. The dress covers her arms to the wrists and her legs to the ankles, her neck up to the chin. Gecko turns down on the pane and drops out of sight.
"You have everything you need?" Felicitas asks, looking around at all of Joaquin’s things. His tablets are stacked on the end table. There, too, are his pencils and pens, the pocketknife opened, a bowl of fresh fruit, and a large glass of water. A small blanket rests over his lap. "Yes, you have everything you need," she says, fixing her brother’s collar and kissing the side of his head. She leaves.
Joaquin takes the knife and begins sharpening some pencils. Wooden curls and bits of lead fleck into a piece of paper in his lap. He soon scrunches it up as tight as he can, which isn’t very tight, and drops it into the empty wastebasket beside his chair. Then he reaches for one of the unlined pads of paper stacked on the end table.
He sets the tablet in his lap and begins to draw a delicate vase. Joaquin sketches three carnations with feathery petals and fine blade-like leaves that reach up and outwards. He adds intricate designs to the surface of the vase and shades them with great skill and great care. The old man sits back in his chair and appraises his drawing. He is pleased, so he dedicates it across the bottom, For Carmela. "Carmela," his lips mouth, but no voice sounds. He leans back in his big soft chair. The drawing slides out of his grasp and down off his knee, lilting to the floor. His eyes glaze over. He stares out the window.
Joaquin puts sketching things away and stands up, folding his blanket before draping it over the back of the chair. Taking his cane from the corner and his hat from a hook behind the door, he drifts outside.
A girl, a woman, with tanned creamy skin and big brown eyes. Lips with two pretty peaks on top in the center. Hair, such beautiful dark curls, moistened, then drenched. A knife. The muffled crying. Sheets full of blood, and through the sheets, deep in the mattress. Carmela would not let him throw the mattress away. His baby, their baby, born with an enlarged purple head and blackened eyes. The beautiful lips with two pretty peaks on top in the center, just like her mother’s. A tiny pine box. And taking his daughter away. I had a daughter. I had a daughter. I had a precious baby girl.
Joaquin holding the knife to the midwife’s throat, speaking in a dark deliberate manner. "She lives. She lives or you’re going to die today. If you can save the baby, that’s fine. But," and he paused, choosing each word, "you save my wife. No matter what, my Carmela lives."
"No! No!” Carmela pleads, "The new life, our baby!”
The hands squeezing Joaquin’s arm, her nails gouging deep into his skin. Carmela’s screams, begging him to let her die so their baby can live.
Carrying the pine box over his shoulder, and the procession behind. A small procession, not too many came. They had sinned. He should have chosen to try to get the baby out alive--not that it would have been possible, not that both mother and child could have been saved. His feet scratching the surface of the hard dirt where he walked. Carmela’s wan face and beautiful sad eyes, watching from the window, watching him lower the box. The priest wouldn’t come, not even a deacon, so the nun said the prayer, like the first churches after Jesus was gone, when the men were all in hiding, only women-priests to care for the early flocks. Joaquin threw down the dirt.
The old man stands leaning on his cane. His black shined shoes are coated with the fine chalky dust of a small weathered grave. Joaquin looks at the tiny gravestone at his feet and reads to confirm a memory of his daughter’s name.
SOMETIMES WE CHOOSE, a work in progress.