Welcome! This blog features short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, a mental break during these tough times.
Over the next week, I’m switching things up a bit in honor of Short Story Month. Each day will feature an installment of my short story “Let Me Take Your Hands,” originally published in The Woven Tale Press as a prizewinner in WTP’s 2017 literary competition. There will be seven installments total
This is a favorite story of mine. It starts out a bit dark, but hang in there: ultimately it’s about the good that people can do for each other. Each part of the story will be paired with a piece of piano music I’ve recorded.
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“Let Me Take Your Hands”
On the summer night when the police took his housekeeper Consuelo away, Antonio Guerrera felt helpless for many reasons. One was that he himself had paid Consuelo’s wages in cash for years, rather than insisting she become a tax-paying American citizen. Another was that the police refused to listen to him or release Consuelo on his recognizance: she was to be sent back to Mexico as quickly as Antonio would consign a failed mug from his potter’s wheel to the slop bin. Bu most of all, he felt helpless and much too old because he could explain nothing to Tess, Consuelo’s daughter.
Tesoro – Tess, in English – was her mother’s treasure. Un tesoro real. Antonio knew that to Consuelo, it made no difference that Tess was the result of her mother’s work as a prostitute, long ago in Mexico City, before Consuelo fled across the border. Nor did it matter that, as Tess grew older, it became clear that she would never be a normal child. She looked normal enough, certainly, but she didn’t speak, couldn’t stand to be touched by anyone but her mother, and often shrieked in seeming agony when something unexpected happened. “Something unexpected” could be chunky instead of smooth peanut butter on her sandwich, a bee buzzing against a window, or something Antonio could neither see nor hear.
The ICE police had been waiting outside the mountainside chapel, Our Lady of Tears, where Consuelo took Tess every evening to pray for the Virgin Mother’s blessing. After eleven years, Consuelo still believed that if only she and Tess made enough trips to the chapel, knelt enough times in front of the statue of the Virgin in her sky-blue robe, and lit enough votive candles, the Virgin would heal her girl. The police must have known Consuelo’s routine. They chose a mild, soft, cloudless evening to make their move.
If Antonio had not left his Catholic faith behind in Mexico City decades ago, along with the bodies of his friends who died in the Guerra Sucia riots, Consuelo’s frantic phone call would have taken that faith from him. No just God would have allowed the ICE to make such a capture outside a church. But he went to the jail, driving out County Road 63L from Telluride to the San Miguel County Detention Center, while the sun went down in a wash of color behind the mountains. The color made Antonio think of copper red glaze fired on ceramic. Copper red was one of his favorite colors, one of the richest in his palette, but the sight of it in the sky did nothing to encourage him as he parked his car in the chain-lin-fenced, barbed-wire-ringed lot.
In the jail, while Consuelo sobbed behind bulletproof glass and Tess screamed in some holding cell down the hall, Antonio tried to tell the officers why they could not take this woman away. After so many years in this country, his voice still had the old lilt of home. “Can’t you see,” he said, “her daughter needs her?”
The officers, one black and one white, mouthed words. They were both big and tall, facing off against Antonio as if it took that show of strength to subdue one bent-backed old man. They said things like no exigency plan for parents and no proof of demonstrable hardship. Antonio suggested, angry now, that Tess’s desperate noise indicated more proof of hardship than the police could possibly need, but anger made both his hands and his voice shake. The policemen told him Tess was “having a tantrum” and would “quiet down soon.” They suggested Antonio take her home, because it was getting late, and “make sure she got some supper.” She had been born in America, carried across the border from Mexico in her mother’s belly, so she was not the police’s problem.
Antonio could not offer Tess a hug to reassure her. He couldn’t explain to her what was happening, when he himself could barely take it in. He did insist that one of the officers lead Tess by the hand out to his car and put her inside. The white officer obeyed. By now the sun had disappeared and the sky was the color of Antonio’s cobalt glaze, with the first stars gleaming above the mountain peaks. In the policeman’s grip, Tess howled and struggled, as if the strange hand was a rope of nettles wrapped around her arm.
The doctors said Tess had the mental age of a toddler, though Consuelo had always refused to believe it. Toddler-mind or not, Tess had the bones and muscles of an eleven-year-old. Antonio thought of the bruises the girl’s brand-new, shiny white sneakers were leaving on the police officer’s legs, and tasted faint satisfaction. He braced himself to be deafened by Tess’s ongoing screams on the drive back to his house from the jail, but when she found herself in the car, she quieted. She had ridden in it before.
Antonio talked to her on the drive to his house, because he could think of nothing else to do. He navigated the streets he had known for decades and spoke in Spanish, the language he always fell back on in times of stress. He told Tess he would put her up for now in his own guest room. He asked, knowing he would get no answer, whether Tess knew of any family Consuelo had, anywhere. He asked, talking mostly aloud to himself now, why in her decade and more in Telluride, Consuelo had never formed friendships with anyone except him, more or less, and the statue of the Virgin at Our Lady of Tears. He told Tess he had no idea what to do now. He couldn’t think of anyone less fit than himself to take care of a child, especially one like her.
By the time they got back to Telluride, Antonio’s anger and fear had spent themselves into tiredness. The girl had sat silent and unmoving in the passenger’s seat the whole time. Waiting at a stoplight, Antonio glanced over at her. Her face in the light of a street lamp had the wild lost look of a mountain mustang caught in a pen. Her big dark eyes stared straight ahead out the windshield and a shock of her dark hair fell across her face. Antonio had never noticed, before, how much her face looked like her mother’s.
He heard himself saying simply, as if she would understand, “Lo siento, hija.” I’m sorry, child. For everything.
Tess didn’t respond to that any more than she had to anything else. Antonio drove on in silence.
~story continues on the blog tomorrow~
Musical pairing: Sinfonia no. 11 in G minor, by Johann Sebastian Bach
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