Finding Alberto (Chapter 5)
Jul 02,2013 0 Comments
Story by Joan Lopez-Flroes & Rico del Rosario
Elena Duffy, 55, was in bed but not asleep. In fact, she’s sitting quite upright, back supported by a pillow, hands busy. The bedside lamp gave harsh light, but she didn’t mind. It was just as she needed.
Elena was making a list of reasons why God is punishing her. On the top she wrote: Karma. She was thinking of all the bad things she must have done to deserve losing her husband and her best friend in the span of two months. Her list looked like this:
1. I am a bad parent to Hannah. I was late watching her ballet recital when she was six.
2. I must have smoked over 3,000 cigarettes in my lifetime.
3. I never really keep my promises. I never stick to my diet. To any diet.
4. I grounded Hannah on the night of her prom and if not for Daniel she would never have gone.
5. I lied to my parents about my virginity.
6. I once used Daniel’s toothbrush to clean the toilet.
7. I hate the slim blondes on billboards. I once wished Gwyneth Paltrow would die.
8. I found a dime on the street and didn’t give it to the panhandler.
Her list goes on. She was already at reason number 56 when she stopped, not because of exhaustion, but because her hand ached from writing non-stop.
“Tomorrow,” she muttered. “I’ll continue this tomorrow. Maybe if I get to confess 100 karmic sins God would see that I am aware of them. Maybe then God would stop hating me.”
She put her list down. She tucked it under Mintsy’s Quote Book which was resting on her bedside table by the lamp. She picked it up and opened it at random. She found this quote: “What is one nice thing about yourself? Remind yourself of that each day.”
Elena couldn’t think of any. She put down Mintsy’s book and got ready to turn off the light. Well, technically, it is her Quote Book now. For the past week, Mintsy’s landlord had given her incessant calls to go to the apartment and clear out Mintsy’s belongings. Mintsy did not have relatives in California. When, after the funeral, Mintsy’s remains were flown to the Philippines, the landlord connected with Elena. They both agreed that with Mintsy, being her closest friend, Elena should visit the apartment and keep what had value. The rest can go to Goodwill.
Elena sorted in boxes Mintsy’s belongings. There wasn’t much. Photos. Some jewelry. The Quote Book. Wooden ashtrays and other souvenirs from the Philippines that must have reminded Mintsy of home. Her collection of little flags from countries she visited.
“What a huge dildo!” the landlord said, pointing to a wooden phallus.
Elena laughed. “Sir, you have a dirty mind. That’s just an ashtray. It’s from the Philippines. See here it says ‘Welcome to Baguio City.”
“Can I have it?”
“Of course, sir.”
“It’s Giles. You don’t need to call me ‘sir,” he said. He didn’t quite know how to handle his new possession. He looked around as he groped the shaft of the phallus, not quite knowing where to grip. Elena came forward and offered him some old newspapers.
“Maybe it would help if I wrap it with this first,” she said.
Giles was quite cute, Elena thought. He was tall, about 5’7, maybe of Irish descent because of his square jaw and large eyes. She estimated his age to be around 60. He was mild-mannered and a bit uncertain. His white hair rose in tufts like bursts of light. Elena wondered why Mintsy never talked of him.
Elena handled Giles the wrapped ashtray. One would have thought it was a swan figurine. “Do you want anything else?” she asked him.
“Uh, no,” Giles said., suddenly defensive. “I’m gay, in case you didn’t notice.”
Elena tried her best to stifle her laugh. “No, I didn’t mean—I meant… If you wanted something else from here. I think I have my box full. I wasn’t… flirting.”
“Oh,” Giles said. “I guess that’s it. I can call Goodwill and have them take everything else away. The furniture’s not bad, though. Maybe I’ll keep that for future tenants.”
Now, sitting in her bed as she was about to turn off her lamp shade, Elena was finally able to laugh aloud. Laugh at poor Giles. Laugh as Mintsy would have if she were in the room with her. Laugh because life goes on. If there’s one good thing about herself, it’s her sense of humor.
Elena lay in the darkness, though unable to sleep. She glanced at her clock. It was 1:43 AM. Elena buried her face in her pillow. She thought she can go on life like this. Never having to come out of bed. She can sleep and wake up and sleep some more. She’ll quit her job. She’ll never have to look at the mirror until she’s 90 when she’s old and wrinkled and all her hair is gray.
Elena got up of bed and put some moisturizer on her cheeks. Then she went to her kitchen and poured herself a glass of milk. She returned to her bedroom and drank half of it. She put the glass beside the Quote Book. “What will I do? Will I really just grow old here and die?” she asked herself. “And why not? My husband’s dead. My best friend’s dead. My daughter is living her own life. I must have fulfilled my purpose in life.”
After an hour she took some sleeping pills and fell asleep and began dreaming.
She was at the grocery. Her cart was empty but it was an effort to push it. She knew she wanted milk, but couldn’t find the dairy aisle. She went to the check out, and asked the cashier where the milk cartons were.
“We ran out of milk,” the cashier said.
“I want some milk,” Elena said. “I drank only half. I need to finish my milk.”
Elena didn’t realize she was dreaming.
“I’m sorry, but milk is out of stock.”
“What should I do?” Elena asked. She tried to look but for some reason she couldn’t see the cashier’s face. So she looked at her nameplate. It read Mintsy.
“Mintsy?” Elena said.
The cashier replied, “You know what you need to do.”
Suddenly, in her dream, the scene shifted, as it often does in dreams. She was carrying her brown bag full of groceries. She has forgotten about the milk. She was in an unfamiliar place. She didn’t know any of the streets. She walked up to a tree and asked, “How do I get home?”
The tree replied, “Turn left, then right. You’ll find Alberto Rd. From there just keep going straight and you’ll find home.” The tree had Daniel’s voice. “Find Alberto Road and you’ll be home.”
“Thank you,” Elena said. To express her gratitude, she poured orange juice onto the soil for the tree to drink.
“Hurry!” the tree said. There was the sound of alarm, an incessant beeping. “Hurry!” repeated the tree in Daniel’s voice. The beeping was getting louder. She put her hands to her ears and noticed her skin was wrinkled and old, like a 100-year-old woman.
Elena woke up. Her alarm had gone off. It was 8:30 A.M. She was already late for work.
“Mintsy, what do I do?” Elena said. There was the half-full glass of milk on her table. She drank it. Then she knew what she had to do.
That morning, Elena handed her thirty days’ notice. She couldn’t continue to work in the hospital. Not anymore. Not without Mintsy.
The head nurse was incredulous. She said, “I don’t understand it, Elena. You are a few years away from retirement. And we have a great retirement offer. Please think this over.”
Elena said she promised she would within the next thirty days.
“Maybe you just need a vacation instead. One or two months?”
“Two months?” Elena said.
“Don’t be insulted, please,” the head nurse said. “You’ve great attendance, you do great work. The vacation is not an assessment of your work here. We like you. It’s just in light of what happened, it just may be what you need.”
Elena took a deep breath.
That night she looked up flights to the Philippines. She can schedule one in two weeks. “Is two weeks enough? Can I get ready in two weeks?” She knew she had to make a decision.
Elena got up and looked out the window. There, in the yard, was a mahogany tree. Elena remembered, passing by this house many years ago, how she pointed this tree out to Daniel.
Daniel said, “That’s a nice tree. Listen, one day I will marry you and we will buy that house with that tree that you liked.”
The mahogany tree stood still. No night breeze rustled its leaves.
Elena walked back to her laptop, got out her credit card, and booked the flight.