Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fiction Short Story "Friday Evening at the Seashore" by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

I'm sharing a story that's part of my first short story collection, Woman With Horns and Other Stories.  The collection is available in Kindle form  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004EPYZ4Y ~ Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

 by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
            Padre Zobel locked the rectory and, leaving the center of town, headed toward the seashore. He was a young Spaniard from the coastal village of Mojacar and he felt a special bond with the sea. It made his soul echo; it was home.

            He was an athletic man and as he walked, he swung his arms around and shrugged his shoulders to loosen his taut muscles. He had been sitting, hearing confessions for four hours and he was weary. A zealous man, he suffered with his parishioners the guilt, shame, and pain as they mumbled their sins in the dark confessional. True, she also felt the sense of release, of joy, when their sins were absolved, but hearing confessions wrung his spirit. Other priests had advised him not to be so involved, but Padre Zobel could not help himself.
            That Friday afternoon, another thought preoccupied him. He was concerned about a girl from his parish. Ligaya often attended the six o'clock Mass and Wednesday novenas to our Lady of Perpetual Succor. In his two years in Ubec, Ligaya had never missed Friday confessions until that day. He smiled to himself recalling her concerns: I was distracted during Mass, I was late for the novena. He had often wanted to assure her that her sins were hardly those at all. Such an endearing child, he thought. But recently there had been mention of a man, and she seemed flustered and withdrawn. Ligaya involved with a man — it was disturbing.
            It was almost suppertime. The tropical sun was dropping slowly and fishing boats that dotted the sea were returning home. He picked up a blue starfish stranded on a sandbar and threw it into the water. Then he sat on a coconut tree that had fallen from a past typhoon, and gazed at Ubec's bleached sugary sand and the frothy waves that curled up to the shore.
            He sighed, absorbing the tranquility. In Mojacar, the beach had been rockier, more coarse, and the Mediterranean had been rougher and colder. But it was the same tangy sea breeze. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths. He pictured Mojacar with its whitewashed Moorish houses cascading down the hills. His home had been on the highest hill, and from his bedroom window, he used to see the flattop roofs, the ancient winding paths, and the sparkling sea.
            When he opened his eyes, he saw the figure of a woman in the distance. “Ana Maria,” he shouted, then wondered why he had called out his cousin's name. The line the woman cut against the horizon must have reminded him of his cousin —graceful, well-shaped, pleasing to the eye.
            The woman turned his way. She hesitated and started walking the opposite direction. Then she stopped, turned, and walked toward Padre Zobel. He was surprised and pleased that it was Ligaya.
            “Good evening, Padre,” she said in that soft trembly voice.  he was blushing.
            “Ah, child, what are you doing here?”
            “Just walking and thinking, Padre.”
            She stood there, eyes downcast, with an uncertain air so he said, “Sit down. Come, sit down.”
            Her skirt rustled as she sat on the log beside him. Her back was straight, her hands folded together like those of a schoolgirl.
            “Walking and thinking,” she repeated. She had a sprig of sampaguita flowers in her hair and the sweet scent filled the air around them.
            “Were you sick today, child?”
            She shook her head. “No...well...I helped Mama with the baking. The Mayor has a dinner tomorrow and the tortas and the mamons are tedious to make.”
            “Ah, I have been worried. You have never missed Friday confessions.”
            She blushed once more, her bronze skin truning a deep coral hue. She stared at her bare feet and wrapped her arms around herself. She took a deep breath, shivering slightly, and started to say something by hesitated.
            “Something is bothering you?” he asked, feeling protective. How very much like Ana Maria's her mannerisms were. Ana Maria used to blush and hide her face behind her fan when embarrassed.
            “Do you know what my name means, Padre?” Ligaya asked.
            “Joy, is that right?”
            “Yes, but I have never felt more joyless in my entire life,” she whispered with pain in her voice.
            She looked forlorn, so helpless, and he felt moved. “You had mentioned a man. Is it because of him?” he prodded.
            She did not answer but studied her feet as they poked and dug into the white sand. Her silence gave him a sense of dread. He knew that her mother, a widow, was busy with her catering business.
            “Perhaps there is no one to confide in,” Padre Zobel said. “If you are involved...that is, sometimes it happens that a girl finds herself —”
            He hesitated and she looked at him questioningly. “That is, a girl may be in a difficult situation and not have anyone to turn to.”
            “Difficult, Padre?”
            “That is, with child.”
            Her head jerked up, her eyes widened as she stared briefly at him. “He doesn't even —” then she stopped, lowered her gaze, and gave a soft laugh. She shook her head and stared ahead. He could see her perfect profile and the dark hair in a bun with the star-shaped flowers woven in. It was a lovely face; in a few years this child would be a beautiful woman.
            Far away the sun touched the sea and the sky was splashed with red and purple. A solitary boat sliced across the horizon. The enchantment of the moment brought another memory to Padre Zobel — Ana Maria in the deep water with seaweed entangled around her legs. He had been a champion swimmer and brashly he swam the choppy water to help his cousin. She had flung her arms around his neck and he had removed the snakelike vines. Ana Maria had clung on while he swam back to the shore.
            Ligaya's voice brought him back to the present. “In a way I am deeply involved.”
            “Yes?” he asked, but she became quiet. He grew embarrassed for having brought up such an intimate matter. But it happened often: young girls getting pregnant; rushed marriages. Often the girls were sent to another town until the child was born. Then the baby was raised by relatives or given to an orphanage. This occurred all too often and he could not dismiss this possibility even with Ligaya. Why, Ana Maria had gotten involved with the English merchant who fortunately had been willing to marry her.
            “He has possessed me,” Ligaya said. She put her palms together as if in prayer. “I think about him constantly. When the cock crows at dawn and I awaken, he is on my mind. At the market or while polishing the floors, I think of him. Always, I struggle to put him out of my thoughts, but I cannot help myself.”
            Ah, a young girl's infatuation, surmised Padre Zobel. He wanted to smile, but appearing serious and choosing his words, he said: “These feelings are normal. One must pray. Chastity you understand is a virtue. If the boy loves you, he will respect your wishes.”
            She hesitated. “He is...the problem is...” then sighed deeply. She bent over and removed the tortoise shell comb from her hair. Long hair tumbled to her waist. The tiny white sampaguita flowers were almost blinding against that mass of black hair.
            Turning, she fixed wide somber eyes on him. A tender wisp of hair blew across her face. “Have you ever felt so passionately about someone?” she asked.
            Her words startled him but he caught himself and decided to best way to guide this young girl was to be honest.
            “The young have intense emotions. I loved once, yes, but God called her to another life, and I, to mine. Continue praying. Say the rosary and attend the novenas. God will give you strength.”
            Ligaya cocked her head to one side and with a slanted smile said, “I stopped praying because of him. I think of him and wonder how his mouth would feel against mine. Would his lips be soft, or would they feel like the back of my hand?” She brushed the back of her right hand against her lips and closed her eyes slowly. “I wonder how his kiss would feel.  I have never kissed a man before. I wonder how his body would feel against mine.”
            Padre Zobel had never heard such passion and he felt an odd sensation in the pit of his stomach. “Perhaps,” he suggested, “marriage is the best answer.”
            “He is not free to marry.”
            Ah, he thought sadly, at least in Ana Maria's case, the man had been unmarried. “Does this man know about your feelings?”
            She shook her head. “No, no, he doesn't know.” Before he could say anything, she rose and said, “I must go.” Then she departed, leaving his soul with strange echoes.
            Padre Zobel studied the figure walking away, her waist-length hair flowing around her. There was just enough light to see the woman's silhouette against the dying horizon. Padre Zobel caught his breath — what will happen to her, he wondered. He sat there, pondering her, even as darkness came.

Tags: #Philippines #Filipino #Cebu #Visayan #literature #fiction #book #writer #story 

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