Antone’s last communion followed not long after his first. This was back on Pico. A lad of seventeen, apprenticed to a woodcutter. Madly in love with his dark-eyed Maria. Dazzled by vistas of open ocean. The grand circling horizon beckoned him toward the setting sun.
My future set. Work hard. Tend the stony fields on the volcano. Fix the ancient terraces. Stones loosened by winter rains or tremors that shook the land as the Atlantic struggles to spread beneath their feet. Cut firewood. Harvest a little lumber to repair a roof or build a new canoa. Join my uncle and cousins to chase baléias in mile-deep water.
I marry Maria. When she is sixteen. I will be twenty when we come out of the stone church. Surrounded by everyone I know. Flower petals in our hair. A procession to her parent’s courtyard. Rough-plank tables set amid chickens scrabbling for grubs on the freshly bared ground. Everyone gathered to feast on roast kid and pork. The hog raised in a stone pen beneath her parent’s house slaughtered in the days before the wedding. Her Father and Uncles slitting its throat before dawn to be cooked by her mother and aunts and female cousins.
Red wine poured from terra-cotta jugs. Sangue de Boi, bull’s blood, spilled freely on brilliant white table-cloths, staining treasured embroidery long-reserved for this occasion. Escorted up narrow stone steps they would enter a tiny bedroom prepared for their wedding night. Its doorway garlanded in blue hydrangea. A hoarded counterpane spread over linen sheets. All set-aside since before her birth, a trousseau assembled in joyful anticipation. An ancestral family crucifix above a chestnut headboard is draped by a beaded rosary.
His thoughts for the future never took him any farther. Blushing a deep scarlet as all eyes turned to him as Maria caught the bouquet at her cousin’s wedding that last summer he spent in his childhood home.
Her tear stained face is etched in his memory. This is all that remains of the day he destroyed her hopes and dreams. He watched them bleed away as he told her of his good fortune, “I leave in an hour! A lancha waits to take me out to the Americano.” A whale-ship hung over his shoulder jogging just off shore. “I send for you when I get to America.”
His enthusiasm had carried him up the steep path to her parent’s gate. Well past the point of no return. By the time he realized the depth of his betrayal he felt beyond any redemption. He saw in her eyes that she did not see his hope for their future. Just abandonment.
Breaking her heart he broke his own. It took years for the full realization to sink in with mortal finality. Unease spread through his frame even then as he jogged down the too-steep path to the slipway, congealing his heart. His first taste of a bitterness that has settled inside him.