The Short Story Series were originally published on Through Frog Eyes as a collaborative effort between a guest photographer and my writing. I am relaunching the stories individually for all those who are new to the website and Marie Balustrade´s writing. The IOE Series features guest photographer Ismael Ortiz Escribano from Spain for four stories. Click HERE for the full set.
As Reina walked down the pavement holding on to her walker, it seemed as though there was pain all over her body. Her arthritic hands were numb and she could barely feel the handlebars, and the sandals felt more like torture instruments than comfortable shoes. There used to be a time when she could hold on to the arm of one of her children and later on her grandchildren and feel like a queen, never needing her walking cane, but ever since they placed her in the nursing home two years ago, they all stopped coming. At first, they took her out for Sunday lunch every week without fail. Then the schedule changed to every other Sunday, and soon thereafter it was just once a month. She could not remember anymore when the last Sunday lunch was anymore, because so many months had passed since Easter, and nobody had called to greet her on her 90th birthday last month either. It was a good thing that the nurses at the home always bought a little bouquet to the celebrants and placed it on their bedside tables. On special birthdays like 80, 85 or 90, she and her companions even received a little cake and an extra pot of tea to share all around. She envied those who still had relatives that came to visit and sit with them, especially those with small children who eagerly climbed up to the grandfather’s lap or held grandmother’s hand.
Luz looked up from her dilapidated and flea-infested orphanage bed and noticed that the light outside was beginning to fade, just like her. Another day was ending and she was still sick. The fever had not broken and she slipped in and out of consciousness. Voices echoed in her head, snippets of conversations picked up here and there, some of concern and others of annoyance. Mother Superior was angry that she was taking so long to recover because that meant additional expenses for medication and doctors’ fees, both of which the orphanage could barely afford at the moment. The children with slight fevers and colds were still assigned chores and sent to lessons, but those like Luz who were incapacitated were confined to the infirmary until such time that they could be deemed fit to stand on their own two feet again. As a frail and sickly child, Luz’s chances of being adopted were low, as proven by the stream of couples who had inquired over the years and never returned for a second visit. Her biological mother had left her at the cloister entrance as a baby, knowing that the city’s red light district was no place to raise a child, and hoping to take her back one day and offer her a better life, away from all the evil. That day never came and Luz had been forgotten and moved down the list of recommended children for adoption, ignored like the cobwebs on the shutters she could discern from the bed.
Angel peered out the door to check if the police car had turned the corner already. He and all the other street children who slept in the abandoned warehouse by the pier had narrowly escaped arrest again. They slept under a different roof each night, and sometimes it wasn’t even a roof, but beneath the bridge or on cold days, inside garbage empty dumpsters. Last night they got lucky and found a building that offered them shelter from the pouring rain and peace from the human predators that roamed the streets. Their little group consisted of boys and girls aged six to sixteen, most of whom had been left on the streets to fend for themselves. Only Angel had left home voluntarily, finding more comfort among the street dwellers than the abusive parents at home. Sleeping on a flattened cardboard box was far more peaceful than the luxurious bed back home because there was no drunken father who would come into his room in the middle of the night. The other children had equally horrific stories to tell, some of them far worse than his. There was safety in numbers and they looked out for each other, scrounging for food wherever they could. At night they gathered at the designated meeting place and shared their offerings as one family. There was always the option of going to a halfway house or a warm meal at the soup kitchens throughout the city, but there was always a social worker on duty who was over eager to take them to social services and place them in foster homes.
Felicidad walked beside her neighbour on the way to church and wondered for the fifth time that day why she was named happiness when she had never experienced it, or at least not genuinely. Growing up on the farm had meant hard work from an early age onwards, sacrificing playtime and parties for barnyard chores and harvest time. She spent years looking out the kitchen window yearning to go to the village and dance with the other girls, or even spend an afternoon at the fair with her cousins drinking beer and sneaking cotton candy. These were all frivolities that her father frowned upon, drumming into their heads that parties and fairs were the devil’s playground and no place for his children. Her brothers were big enough to climb out the window at night for escapades, but her room was attached to her parents and the floorboards creaked each time she moved. There was no way she could have sneezed without her parents calling out to her and ask if she was alright. The years passed, the war came, and all the young men she knew were drafted, and only a handful returned home. When Father fell ill and Mother had a nervous breakdown after the third telegram informing them that all her sons had been killed in action, Felicidad took over the farm and forgot all about personal happiness.
Gabriel drove past the abandoned country road and suddenly jammed on the breaks. There it was! The entire family had forgotten the location of the cross that marked the spot where his brother had lost his life one fateful night. It had been High School graduation night for the class of 1975 and his brother Ken had just been accepted to Cambridge University. He would be going away for the next six years and the family had every reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, nobody stopped Ken when he sat behind the wheel and decided to take his girlfriend out for a joyride. She escaped without a scratch but he died on the spot. Gabriel shook his head again, wondering what life for his brother would have been like with that prestigious university degree. His parents had been so distraught at the time, and too ashamed to face the people in town to have a proper funeral that they refused to claim the body from the morgue. An anonymous donor, however, claimed Ken’s body the next day, had him cremated, and scattered his ashes on the spot where the accident happened. Soon thereafter, a cross was erected bearing only Ken’s initials, dates of birth and death. Guilt had killed the joy of youth.