The music was done as the night turned late. She felt him touch her shoulder as she exited. “You are by yourself now,” he told her, “and I am not far down the road. You must let me know if there is anything you need.”
“It is very kind of you. Buenas noches, senor.”
“Mama, please,” scolded the daughters, taking her from her thoughts. “It is not proper for you to be with this one. It does not look good. What will our neighbors think?”
Her frustrations boiling over, she un-bottled her hostility, “You know, your father and I have known him for many years. He is a friend, an old friend,” the lines of her face tightly drawn, her eyes hot with fire.
A child was treated better. To live so long in the tiny cell they made around her, in the dark, only air and water, while they played in the sunlight. “Why?,” she wondered. Why did they keep her from her own life?
Their persevering dictates and never-ending presence imprisoned her. They brought home the news, gossip, obituaries and bleak accounts of friends in failing health, reminders of what she would become if she did not heed their warnings.
They tuned the TV to soap operas, organized her grocery list, and lectured her to take her pills at the right times. Most of her days they filled with these things. She was buried in bricks and gasping for air, her tears showing her anguish.
Her solitude, when she could find it, was her sanctuary and Mama filled it with reflections of the old days, weekend trips, the softball games, and the dances. Images of fishing and the picnics with Esposo and the family in the shade of the lush cottonwood trees that lined the river banks where they spent so many days — these were memories slow to fade.
Like memories, life’s natural gifts, sunshine, blue skies, and cool river waters nourished her. They were simple pleasures but she was growing restless, given to daydreaming, stirring hopes for carefree times and lasting pleasures.
Once, caught in a daydream and surprised by the question, “Mama, what are you doing?” she told them, “Smelling all the flowers, hijas. Can’t you smell them, too?”
She remembered Senor Palermo, dancing with him that first night, conscious then of what he was feeling, knowing it herself, the pangs come from hunger not fed. Maybe he had met a woman, succumbed and they had been drawn together. Maybe another dance. Maybe then she would know.
Mama’s garden was coming into bloom when the warmer night breezes delivered spring to South Texas. The honeysuckle, its bell-shaped flowers and sweet fragrances lilted in the air, stirred the heart like music’s rhythm and left her longing for the embrace of a slow waltz on an April Saturday evening.
Patchworks of daisies, red, yellow and white, wrapped the brick sidewalks and glistening English ivy adorned the wrought iron porch posts of the freshly painted VFW. The evening setting sun signaled the debut of the new dance season and summoned all to come where the music and the dance could wash away the restlessness of winter.
For Mama, a ritual began, monotony-filled weekdays endured, their drudgery polished by the anticipation of what the weekends held in store. When her sons came for her on Friday, she had them stop to get something for her little ice cooler, “…pero hijo no digo a mis hijas.” The daughters mustn’t know.
Mama would arrive usually to find the Senor already there. They kept proper appearances at first, pretending surprise at encountering each other. After a week or two, they abandoned the charade, Mama’s silent declaration that she would answer only to herself.
No sooner sounded the conjunto’s first tune, its sharp edge piercing the drone of the gossiping revelers, Senor, his paces brisk through the throng, found Mama’s table, extended the standing invitation, then in each other’s embrace, the night spent thusly, taking the tunes’ energy, the pair a cloud afloat above the dance floor, grounded only when the accordion’s lingering notes faded to silence.
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