Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Box of Valentines

Welcome to Day 3 of the Chica Lit Valentine's Blog Tour. Cynthia Reeg is the winner from yesterday's story: "The Painting” by Mayra Calvani, http://www.thedarkphantom.wordpress.com/. Congratulations, Cynthia! Okay, everyone, I hope you're enjoying these good reads! I know I am. On we go...


Abby Moreno-Smith sat cross-legged on the Berber carpet of her new home, a one bedroom cottage made entirely of miniature-sized boulders nestled in the middle of the redwood forest. The locals of Santa Cruz, California, affectionately called it “The Rock House” and it was the coveted home of many artists. For the last seventy years an artist or author was selected to live a one year in-residence in the Rock House. The artist left a piece of original art or an autographed book and signed the guestbook that would put them in the company of Robert Frost and Georgia O’Keefe. Abby told anybody who asked that she was the first Latino in residence since bohemian artist José Ramón Lerma. But of course, it wasn’t an easy road.


“Would you bring me that box over there, mi’jito?” Abby pointed to a cardboard box marked “office.” She took a swig from a dark green bottle of ayurvedic tea. It tasted like dirt but calmed her over anxious vata tendencies.


“Can I have the box after you empty it?” Six-year-old Keegan asked as he shoved the box toward his mother. “I want to add a lookout that I can stand in.” Keegan pushed the long dark blond bangs out of his eyes and nodded toward the line of empty boxes on the other side of the living room.


“I’m leaving most everything in here,” Abby pulled open the box lid. “I just need some paperwork,” she rummaged through the box, pushing aside a mish mash of photos, documents, pens, and random items like a bottle of lotion or a seashell. It had been the last box to pack and by the time she reached this one, she hadn’t really been thinking clearly.


“Oh, a picture of me,” Keegan said reaching for a silver frame with moons and stars. In the picture, Keegan was a rotund little baby sitting happily on a blanket.


Abby glanced down at the picture. She smiled. “We used to call you our little Buddha.”

“We?” Keegan asked, as he cocked his head to the side.

“Daddy and me,” she said tentatively, wondering how he would take the mention of his father. She returned to digging through the paperwork and thankfully pulled out the file she was looking for. It had all the notes she needed for building a cob house. In addition to making exquisite ceramics that sold for buckets of money, Abby had decided to build a cob house for her and Keegan to live in next year.

“When do I see Daddy again?” Keegan asked looking up at his mother with concern creasing a worried brow.

“Thursday,” Abby said with a direct look into her son’s eyes. She had promised herself that she would make certain her child saw his father, no matter what problems she may have had with the man.

“Every Thursday?” Keegan asked.

“Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday,” Abby tapped Keegan’s freckled nose. “And sometimes on Sunday.” Particularly when I’m working a deadline, Abby thought to herself. Worry crept up her spine and she wondered for the hundredth time if she could keep up her creativity with the pressures of being a single mom. Well, she’d have to jump off that bridge when she got to it.

“Pinky-swear.” Abby locked pinkies with her son and shook.

Keegan squinted his eyes at his mother. “Hey, that reminds me, you promised after Christmas you’d teach me to read.”

“Yeah, I did,” Abby agreed. She looked around absently for the homeschooling box. “I think the flashcards are in there.”

While Keegan shuffled over to the box Abby had indicated, she thought about how incredibly fast January had whizzed past and now it was almost Valentine’s Day and she had no sweetheart. There had been a flurry of fights with James, tears, desperation over what to do next, and then the miraculous move into this infamous house. It had seriously been the best and scariest day of her life when she got the letter of acceptance.

“Who’s this?” Keegan brought a square picture with a white border to Abby.

It was the last thing Abby needed right now. “I don’t think that was the right box,” Abby took a deep sigh. Keegan waited for an answer to his question. “It’s my father.”

“Have I ever met him?” Keegan asked looking at the picture again.

“No,” Abby said in a deadpan voice.

“Do I look anything like him?” Keegan asked eagerly holding out the photo.

Abby wanted to say that she didn’t know. She wanted to say that she had only seen her father a handful of times in her life, so how could she possibly remember what he truly looked like. But her son was looking at her with his puppy-dog, brown eyes, and she knew how upset she would sound if she spoke her truth on the subject. She refused to lay such a heavy burden on him. She studied the picture a moment. “You have the same eyes. See how they crinkle when they smile? Yours do the same thing.”

At that moment the door swung open and Hillary Kerivan, Abby’s best friend since sixth grade,

swept into the room. Her long trim legs looked fantastic in a white tennis skirt. She had a visor pulled over her short cropped blond hair and big baby blue eyes. “Hey guys!”

“Auntie Hillary!” Keegan jumped up and ran to give her a hug.

“How’s my number one man?” Hillary picked up Keegan and gave him a bear hug.

“Great!” Keegan said enthusiastically.

“Keegan, why don’t you go play in your tunnel?” Abby scooped up a handful of markers and held them out to her son. “You can use these to draw on it.”

“Mom, it’s a fort,” Keegan said releasing Hillary and taking the markers from his mother.

“Sorry, I forgot. There’s some other decorating crafts in one of those boxes.” Abby got to her feet and stretched her arms toward the ceiling.

Hillary walked over and gave her friend a hug. “So you gonna put me to work? I just creamed them in singles today and I’m fired up.” She practically bounced on her toes.

“Whoa there, who do you think you are Maria Sharapova?” Abby smiled. She loved her friend’s happy-go-lucky attitude. Hill’s lightness was just what she needed.

“I could take her,” Hillary said with a big smile.

“Let’s work on the kitchen. I’ll pour the wine. I could use a glass.” Abby led the way into the open kitchen. A large window overlooked the redwood trees surrounding the cottage. She was aching to take a walk and check out the mushrooms in this part of the forest. She loved to collect them and often made either soup from the edible ones or medicinal creams from the healing plants.

Abby pulled open a drawer and held up the wine opener. “First thing I unpacked.”

“Good girl,” Hillary laughed. “I like this kitchen.” She ran a finger along the vintage wooden cabinetry with glass windows and knobs.

Abby opened a bottle of Wild Horse Pinot sitting on the granite counter, poured the red wine into two glasses, and handed one to Hillary. “Everything about this place is cool.”

“How’s Keegan doing?” Hillary drank some wine.

“Alright. Better than I expected, really.” Abby leaned around the partition that separated the kitchen from the living room, and snuck a peek at her son. Keegan was busily drawing windows on his fort.

“I told you he is stronger than you give him credit for,” Hillary said.
Abby stared at the light reflecting through the ruby red wine. She didn’t answer at first. The tightness in her chest made breathing difficult. She felt the tears getting ready to fall. “Hill, do you think I’ll ever get over this ‘I’ve broken up the family’ feeling?”

Hillary put her glass of wine on the counter and looked at her friend with a tender expression.

“Of course you will.”

Abby shook her head, sending her brunette ponytail flopping from side to side. “I never wanted this. I wanted to create the family I never had. I wanted a whole family – not a broken family. Why did it have to be this way? Is there something more I could have done? Something I missed?”

“I don’t know.” Hillary took her friend’s hand and squeezed it.

Abby let herself be consoled for a moment before pulling away. She gulped some wine, pulled a box closer to her, and yanked it open. “Keegan found a picture of my dad.”

“Does he even know about Keegan?” Hillary pulled up a stool and sat down to watch Abby work.

“No, I haven’t talked to my dad in ten years.” Abby peeled the newspaper away from a juice glass and placed it upright in the cabinet. She liked the significance of her cups in the position of receiving – as a symbol of her willingness to accept abundance. Like a horseshoe, except for the fact, that Abby had about a hundred of these various symbols through the house. Hillary called her superstitious. Abby preferred to call it “being in-tune.”


“Have you ever tried calling him? Maybe you should give him a call,” Hillary suggested.

Abby shrugged. Throughout her childhood, she only saw her father at intermittent times. She had always believed that the bulk of responsibility for the relationship rested firmly on the shoulders of the parent. Now that she was an adult, her stance hadn’t changed one bit.

“When’s the last time you saw him?” Hillary picked up a fish of blown glass and inspected it.

“At my wedding. Ten years ago.” Abby avoided eye contact with Hillary. She didn’t like addressing the fact that she had no contact with her father. It made her sound like a charity case.

“That’s right. Did I meet him?”

“I didn’t exactly introduce him around,” Abby said sarcastically. She hadn’t a father-daughter dance or taken pictures with him either. She gave him the invitation out of a last ditch effort to open communication with him. The rest was up to him to create something more. She wanted him to make an effort that showed he cared. “He gave me a boom box as a present.” She snorted in a disgusted way.

“Well, that’s nice,” Hillary said brightly.

“You don’t give your daughter a boom box for a wedding present.” Abby retorted. “Hey get to work.” She threw a crumpled up ball of newspaper at Hillary.

“Maybe he didn’t get the script.” Hillary said getting up.

“You know I hate it when you say that.” Abby turned her back on Hillary to put away a crystal vase under the sink.

“Well, I love you girl, but you’ve got such a firm idea of how things should be in your head. I just ignore you when you get uptight like that, and eventually you give up. You’re not as tenacious as you think you are.”

Abby pulled out a picture of her, James, and Keegan and placed it on the window sill. What could she say to that? She had always considered herself a person of strong convictions, now she felt so wishy washy.

“You’re going to put that picture up?” Hillary asked.

“I’m not going to demonize James. Just because he wasn’t a good husband, doesn’t mean he isn’t a good dad.” This was her one resolute point.

“That’s really mature of you,” Hillary said as she placed the juicer on the counter.

“My mom was always trashing my dad and he was so charming and loving when he visited. It just confused me. When she talked that way, I felt like half-asshole, since I got half my genes from him. But you know, I’m beginning to sympathize with him.”

“Your dad? How so?”

“Well, Mom told me once that he used to say he felt like a caged tiger. It was the same with me and James. I had to get out. I was suffocating in that relationship. I felt like the life force was draining from me. What if he felt the same way?”

“Yeah, but he never hung around. Never even sent child support if I remember correctly.”

“He took me to Disneyland once.” Abby opened a cabinet to find it full of plates.

“Seriously, they have a name for that. It’s called Disney Dad.”

“He bought me a pink princess cap from Sleeping Beauty Castle.” Abby said wistfully looking out the windows.

“Ohmigod, I love you honey, but that’s pathetic.”

“I think I still have it. In one of those boxes in the living room. Whenever he visited me he made me feel like I was the most important person in the world.” The damn tears started to well in her eyes.

“Until he returned flew back to the other side of the country and stopped calling.”

“I didn’t want him to prove my mom right, but when he didn’t call, the hurt was so deep.” Abby wrapped her arms around herself.

“Then each time, you’d get woo’d back with a princess cap.”

“Something like that. I wanted to be Daddy’s Little Girl. But after awhile I didn’t know who to trust.” Abby looked apologetically at her friend. “It was always my mom I bashed in therapy sessions, and he never… and now the divorce… I’m just so confused.”

“Let’s settle this. I’m going to Google your dad,” Hillary whipped out her Blackberry. “What’s his name? Where does he live?” Her fingers poised over the keypad. “It’s time you stopped living out of the past.”

“I don’t remember where he lives. Somewhere in Florida last I heard. I think my mom has the number. But I don’t think I should call.” Abby dug into another box.

“What? Do you need a sign or something? You gotta move on,” Hillary said.

“Mom, what’s this?” Keegan walked into the kitchen carrying a shoebox covered with doilies, hearts cut out from pink and red construction paper, globs of glitter, and ancient-looking Sweetheart candies.

Abby looked from Hillary to Keegan. She bit her lip. “It’s a box of Valentines from my dad. For about five years he sent me a Valentines card. I kept them all in that box.”

Hillary clapped her hands together. “Road trip. I’ll drive to your mothers.”

“But then after my dad divorced his second wife, the Valentines stopped coming. She was probably the one who sent them.” Abby said softly, like she didn’t want to admit it.

“So why did you keep them?” Hillary put her hands on her hips.

“Just in case they were from him,” Abby tugged on her ponytail.

Hillary crouched down to be at eye level with Keegan. “Why don’t you grab your jacket? We’re going to Abuelita’s.”

“Okay,” Keegan ran into the living room.

“I’m not ready to call him. What if he doesn’t want to talk with me?”

“Then you’ll know. But it seems to me, you really want a relationship with him. Look at all the stuff you keep from him. You’re hanging on to him. Hanging onto an idea of him and how he’s supposed to show up. Like the boom box. You can’t have any hurdles for him to jump. If he gives you a pencil for Christmas, you just accept it. My dad does stupid stuff all the time. He can be a down right ass. But he’s still my dad. You can’t script people into character roles that fit your every need.”

“Do you think that’s what I did with James?’ Abby asked, torn between shock, revulsion, and uncertainty. Could her unresolved baggage with her dad have anything to do with her marriage falling apart?

“I don’t know Abby. But clearing this with your dad could be the first step to clearing a lot of junk out of that mixed up brain of yours.” Hillary poked her head gently.

Keegan entered the kitchen. “I’m ready.”

“I’ll bring you some snacks, Keegan.” Abby grabbed a bag of seaweed and filled an aluminum bottle with water.

“I can’t believe he eats that stuff,” Hillary said scooping up her purse and pushing Abby out the front door.

“Hush!” Abby admonished her friend. “Don’t you listen to her Keegan. She has fake teeth.”

“They’re not fake underneath the caps,” Hillary said defensively.

On the drive to her mothers, Abby wondered if she should borrow Hillary’s phone. That way her dad would not see her name on the caller ID. She ran her fingers along a doily on the box of Valentines. She tried to settle herself with deep breaths. She was going to call her father for the first time in ten years. What would she say?


Question: Who was the famous Latino artist?

To win a one pound bag of Totally Toffee, comment here with your answer or email jamie@jamiewood.com. I'll choose the winner at random.

Next: Visit http://www.margocandela.blogspot.com/ to read “Missed Connections” by Margo Candela

3 comments:

Mary Castillo said...

You're writing a sequel, right? RIGHT?!? This is a great story. Touching and complex. Loved it.

Love,
Mary C.

Jamie Martinez Wood said...

Mary

I'm taking a page out of your book and used this story to flesh out a character for my new novel. More on that to come!

Crafty Chica said...

awww, sweet!!! i just blogged it!!