Un Fracaso?

A short story inspired by NPR’s series Three Minute Fiction. This particular round of the contest required that the opening line be: She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

Here’s my entry:

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Illiterate. Ill-prepared, irreparable marriage of fifty-four years. She weighed the pages of her life like the holy book in which she tried so hard to have faith.

For years she feared the family that would scorn her. Un fracaso. A failure. Fractured faith in her husband, children, religion. What good were they now, dissipated far beyond the margins of her pages?

With her rheumatic and wrinkled hand, she let go of the door knob behind her and stepped outside onto the gravel. A pebble lodged itself in between the sole of her foot and the chancla that protected it. It fell out as she curled her cracked toes.

She surveyed her cactus garden for the last time. Once lush and green, the cacti were drying, their pronounced needles the sign of a jaded, unrequited life. A road runner dashed past her feet with a wayward salamander squirming in its mouth. Even the prospect of death meant life to her now.

The sun’s rays assaulted her salty skin. With each step, the load of her sagging years weighed sadly upon her. Inch by inch she found herself closer to the edge of the property. She could see the stream of dust stirring down the road beyond the arroyo. She wondered again about her droughty universe. She remembered her wedding day – the last time she existed beyond the dust.

Sweat formed in the crevasses of her body so that by the time she neared the fencepost at the gate of the ranch that long held the deadbeat of a husband who’d been with his mistress that afternoon, her heart raced.

The dusty stream drew closer. In front of it she could make out the shape of the pickup truck. The reflection of the sun on its windshield blinded her for a moment. She pressed her fingers on the rosary around her neck. A wisp of her wiry gray hair fell onto her face, sticking to her wet forehead. A mockingbird jeered from the lone cedar tree in the field beyond the gate.

Callate! She swung her arm above her head.

Otra vez … the bird bawled back.

She looked at the open gate in front of her. The approaching truck. The thirsty ground. She stepped forward urgently. The bird stopped. Another step. Hard breath. Another. Perspiration. Waves of heat. Another.

The Chevy accelerated up the road. It stopped in front of her. Her husband jumped out. Cursed woman. Unappreciative like an Americana. She objected. He persisted. She stood, silenced by the laughing bird. She could smell the burning oil from the engine. Her stomach turned. Her horizon moved. Farther and farther away it moved. He saw her eyes and grabbed her in time. He held her around the waist as they returned through the gate. They passed the cactus garden. The tailless salamander limped around a horse crippler. Faintly, she heard the bird mocking, Un fracaso!

He opened the door and led her back into the house of deception. He rested her limp body on the living room chair where she always pretended to read. He brought her water and her holy book. Eyes closed. In time her hard breathing subsided.

She soon could smell something familiar cooking on the comal. He was humming an old bolero. Outside the mocking bird joined him in song. She smiled realizing they were two tone-deaf bastards. She opened her book and laughed. Pretending to believe, she turned another cursed page, and laughed.

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