Sixteen

 

Flushed, flustered, Albert walks too fast. Sidesteps off the street to avoid a horse cart. Yells over his shoulder, “Hey!” Looking the wrong way, he collides with a pedestrian, “Oomph! Sorry!”

“Albert?”

“Lucy? Hey I’m sorry! I should watch where I’m going!” Shaking his head, “Sheesh!” Pointing vaguely with his chin, “Heading down to the beach. Ah…. Your father’s home. Just went in. I was leaving…” She interrupts him, “Mamãe make escabeche?”

He steps back. Grinning, “Yes! How did you know?” Crinkling her nose, she sniffs his shoulder.

Blushing. Sniffing, “Oh, yeah!” Catching himself, “She’s so nice! Cooked me some eggs…” Looking her up and down, Drinking her in, Try not to show it. He lets out a deep breath.

“Papá wants me home.” She looks over his shoulder in the direction of her parent’s house, “I better be going.” Settling back on his heels, “Well. Yes! I suppose you should.” She shrugs. Looks down, right, then left. He’s been holding her by the shoulders since they collided.

He drops his arms to his sides. “I suppose you better go.” She nods and smiles.

“Good bye Lucy!” Her smile…. “See you later, Maria Luisa!”

Hearing her Portuguese name she turns, The light in her eyes. That look. Her father’s hard stare, Those same green eyes.

Albert Arthur Benjamin. What a strange boy! Still a child…. I’m eighteen. Boys I grew with are men, hard, bitter. Glad he’s not like that.

*

A little bell clangs above the door. Window glass rattles. Santos lets it slam. The shopkeeper Snow stares over at Luisa, folding linens behind the counter, stowing them away, Mrs. Cabral never buys anything.

October’s almost gone. Snow’s always griping. The drop in business. Expenses. Something about carrying extra help over the winter…. He’ll find some excuse.

Her father marches up to the counter. Damp rubber boots rain sand across the floor. Santos levels his gaze at Snow. Doesn’t so much stare at the shopkeeper as look through him. Doesn’t say anything. Looks down the counter at his daughter. Turns his eyes towards home. She nods.

He’s out the door. The bell jumps on its spring, tinkling. The shop windows rattle. He disappears into the glare of the street.

Snow tugs at his collar. Turns to minutely inspect a shelf behind him, “Why don’t you go on? Won’t need you for the rest…. No customers anyhow….” Directing his words at his bottles and jars.

She steps into the dark back-room. Hangs up her apron. Collects her things. Gently closes the shop-door behind her. Its little bell jumps once and goes silent.

Her mother’s clearing a soup bowl from in front of her father. Sets down a steaming platter of grilled chouriço and boiled potatoes. Glances at her daughter over his shoulder. Smiles. Leans across to pour her husband another glass of wine. Lucy steps across the kitchen. Bends down. Kisses her father’s proffered cheeks, right then left. He keeps chewing. She crosses to her mother, standing at the stove. They exchange kisses and little, hidden smiles, “Boa tarde, Papá, Mamãe. Good afternoon…”

Her father motions for her to sit. Tears a chunk of bread off the loaf. Dabs it in meat juices. Bites off a large piece, lubricating it with a long pull of wine. Lowering his glass, “Tu vais casar. O vais trabalhar. You will marry. Or you will work.” With a nub of bread he pushes potato and sausage onto his fork. Shovels it into his mouth. Fixing a steady, neutral gaze on his daughter. The muscles at his temple beat time with his jaw.

Marrying means marrying Fernando. Working, means moving to Fall River to live with aunt Tília,. Take a job at a textile mill. A choice…..

Freddy came by the house a few weeks ago. A Sunday evening. His best suit. Sat with Papá in the parlor. When I got home from the store they were standing in the front hall. Freddy, stiff, erect. Hat in hand. Papá, grim. They shook hands, formally. Papá paced off to the kitchen, shutting the parlor door behind him.

Confused at first. Somebody die? Why else would Freddy be here? At that hour. In the parlor. Dressed for church.

Freddie was mawkish. More than usual. Sentimental. Fear and condescension barely disguised behind smug satisfaction.

Excused myself. Followed Papá into the kitchen. Left Freddy speechless at the door. Papá had gone to bed. Later, Mamãe tiptoed into my room. Talked as if she were telling me about some great storm, Change your life! Nothing to be done….

 

 

Continue…

 

 

 

 

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