BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
MANUELA’S MISSION Part II
The Beanery Writers Group extends congratulations to Kathleen Clark, who won Second Place Award in the 2009 Short Story Contest sponsored by the Works in Progress Writer’s Workshop in Somerset, Pennsylvania. Her story will be posted in two parts. To read Part I of Manuela’s Mission, click on: Manuela’s Mission Part I
Father Angelo knocked loudly, insistently. Well acquainted with the older priest’s temperament, Father Santiago opened the office door. Leaning heavily on the silver-footed cane, Father Angelo limped to the desk side chair and sat heavily. “What is going on?” he spoke without preamble, his square jaw set in a hard line.
“The incident is under investigation,” Father Santiago replied. “It’s too soon…”
“Unforgivable! Disgraceful!” Father Angelo interrupted, his slate-gray eyes flashing. “Reportedly, it’s a young person. Explain that!”
“No one knew about the arrangement, least of all a child.” Father Santiago stood his ground. “Meetings were strictly confidential. All calls screened and secure.”
“Nevertheless, information was leaked,” Father Angelo hissed.
“Give it time. The relic will be recovered. I’ll handle this. Trust me,” Father Santiago stated.
Red-faced, Father Angelo rose and thumped angrily out of the room.
Tip-toeing across the hall to Rosa’s room, I knocked lightly, “Pssst! Wake up! Want to show you something. Come with me.” I grabbed her hand.
We stumbled to my room and I settled her in the rocker. “Wh-what’s so important, Manny?” Rosa rubbed her eyes.
From under my bed, I retrieved the cross and slipped it out of the sack. Rosa’s eyes popped. “Oh . . . my . . .God!” she exclaimed, instantly recognizing the relic. “What . . . are you doing with it? Are you loco?”
“Actually . . .I stole it,” I said, pulling no punches with my sister. “I’ll explain, . . . later. Right now . . . hold it! This beautiful, sacred relic . . .Rosa, the leukemia . . .with a piece of the actual cross of Jesu`s inside, maybe touching it will bring healing.”
Rosa’s outstretched arms cradled the crucifix. She traced thin fingers over the figurine’s face and body as tears trickled down her cheeks. “I’ve prayed so long, to the Blessed Virgin, and . . . the, the white blood cells still eat the red ones. Does Jesu`s . . . do you think He really cares?” she asked, eyes wide.
“Of course,” I replied.
“It’s just . . . there’s hundreds of sick kids, maybe He doesn’t hear me. I’m so tired of chemo and radiation and burdening Mama and Papa! I want to be well. Please Jesu`s, hear me!” Rosa kissed, then pressed the crucifix to her heart. I brushed tears away.
Mama tapped lightly, opened the door. She’d heard voices. “What is it girls?” She asked, then gasped seeing the crucifix in Rosa’s hands. “Holy Mother of Jesu`s! What – how did you get this? What’s possessed you, Manny?”
Angry, confused, she gripped my shoulders, shook me. “Mama, I . . . ”
“Whatever your reason, you’ve got to return it! No excuses! You’re calling Father Santiago – NOW!” Dark eyes flashing, she left abruptly. Rosa and I stared at each other open-mouthed. I’d planned to explain the unusual circumstances and return it. “But, it’s the middle of the . . . night!” My voice trailed off.
Saint Joan, help me! Unable to wait, beyond upset and speaking rapidly in Spanish, Mama dialed and handed me the phone. “Father Santiago wants to talk to you! We’re both listening!” UGH! With sweaty palms, knees knocking, I plunged.
“Father,” I pleaded, “please try to understand. The other day, while praying at the mission, I overheard two men plotting to steal the sacred relic. I panicked, did something very stupid and I’m sooo sorry. But I couldn’t let them swipe it! I tried to tell you, but there wasn’t time. Am I going to jail?” Breathless, dizzy, I collapsed on the floor.
Silence. Father Santiago wanted to laugh and cry. “Manny, those men you thought were thieves were the curator and his assistant, from the Louve museum in Paris. They were meeting me to complete the sale of the relic. It’s an unfortunate but necessary move to save Mission Santa Domingo and increase it’s outreach to the needy. Manuela, your assumptions were wrong. No more eves dropping, young lady!” He chuckled. I groaned. The cracked, damaged wall, the mess I’d left behind . . .
I was so embarrassed. “Por favor, Padre, don’t tell anyone I took it!” I pleaded.
“Manny, most importantly . . . the relic is safe. It will be our secret, I promise”
Father Angelo called the next day, impatient and threatening drastic measures. “The person will remain anonymous,” Father Santiago firmly informed him, revealing only that the relic was being returned. I’ve remained eternally grateful!
Christmas Eve we attended candlelight Mass. From the elevated pulpit, Father Santiago greeted the parishioners, “Feliz Navidad, mi amigos! Welcome. Before celebrating Mass I’ve some wonderful news. The Vera Cruz, our “true cross” has been found and returned . . . unharmed. Muchas Gracias!”
“Blessed Maria!” someone exclaimed. Throughout the church, people signed the cross, kissed Rosaries, blessed Jesu`s and the Mother of God. Rosa squeezed my hand. I squirmed and blushed. Breathing a sigh of relief, I felt a whole person lighter.
No matter our hardships, Christmas meant special sacrifice and brought great joy. During the holiday season, between running Rosa to the cancer clinic, Dolores baked, shopped, and helped at the mission. Exhausted, she’d fallen into bed shortly after midnight Christmas Eve. Rosa and I, buoyed by excitement, stayed awake as long as we dared, then drifted off snuggled together in Rosa’s bed. Some time later, Rosa’s sudden spasm of coughing and wheezing woke us both. Alarmed, I slipped from the bed, heart pounding and ran down the hallway to get Mama.
“Mama, Papa, come quick. It’s Rosa!”
Papa Lorenzo sat beside her, hugging, comforting the best he knew how, while Mama called the hospital. We’d faced this many times and after proper medication Rosa always recovered. Tonight though, she looked haggard and weak. The harsh coughing
continued for some time, then her eyes rolled back and she slumped in Papa’s arms.
Mama screamed. “Mi nina! Mi nina! Rosa! Dios mio!”
The medics arrived but even the use of electrical paddles couldn’t revive her.
I watched helplessly as Mama, looking like the famous Pieta, cradled and rocked Rosa, crying inconsolably. I knelt beside my little sister, my head in her lap, tears gushing down my cheeks. My chest filled with the worst penetrating ache I ever felt! How do you say good-bye to your sister, pal, confidante?
Father Santiago called, profuse with condolences. Was there anything he could do? Parishioners brought food, flowers, wept copiously with us and contributed enough pesos for Father Santiago to establish the Rosa Sanchez Scholarship Fund. “To aid families of children stricken with leukemia,” he said.
The envelope lay on the end table, addressed to me. Inside, the beautifully illustrated card was signed by teachers and students from St. Lucia, the school Rosa had attended. Dulce! A note explained how the bright, vibrantly colored native flowers, swirling in abstract design had caught the judges attention. Rosa and several students in her art class had submitted sketches to a contest held earlier this year. One of Rosa’s had been chosen.
“Mama!” I hollered, excited. “Quick, come here!”
Dolores hurried to the living room. “Look!” I showed her the note and card.
“How wonderful!” Dolores exclaimed, eyes misting.
“Rosa’s talent, her memory—will live forever, Mama!”
ADDITIONAL READING written by Kathleen:
To read more of Kathleen’s writings, see the Beanery Online Literary Magazine, www.beanerywriters.wordpress.com, and click on her folder: BW/WR KATHLEEN, on the right side of the page.