It was a cold dark night, yes that. Flamenco Street, 1 am. The cafes were closing up and the only sound was Jaime’s boots hitting the cobblestone street. It hadda be winter, of course. The wind blew dry as a bone. Jaime pulled his coat to his neck and swiftly made way down Flamenco, trying his best to blend in with the shadows.
No need to draw attention to himself.
When he made it to the Plaza Del Mundo, he huffed and puffed. He laughed, “I’m lucky I didn’t crash into any walls,” and his mumbling bounced off the brick buildings. The plaza was empty, although noise did come from behind several of the closed, brightly painted shutters. People murmured. A single dog barked. At this point in his drunken stupor and through all the confusion, Jaime’s only wish was to be home in bed.
Margarita sat in her bedroom on the plaza at number 3 Flamenco, way up high on the fourth floor. Mama was asleep on the third. The rest of the house and the sidewalk below were still. Margarita sat and burned beeswax candles in the two front windows that overlooked the plaza, like candles burned in the windows and parlors all around the Del Mundo. Bee keeping was the main source of income here for as long as anyone knew and had brought a modest prosperity as well as bohemian flair, not only to the Del Mundo proper, but to the former shantytowns throughout the province. Margarita lit candles on the windowsills, as well as the on mantle and in the fireplace. She looked out across the plaza- the basilica glowed, its spires lit and its steep marble staircase reaching for the sky. The basilica had always been the dominant presence in the life of the Plaza Del Mundo. And Margarita’s. Mama always said, “All my life I’ve been up and down those steps. For every reason. You will too.”
She heard it in her sleep. Mama yelling. Mama told Margarita that at the time people wailed at the top of their lungs! It was as if Mama heard it from another room or maybe another realm. Margarita sat and looked out over the plaza. Her mantle was filled with candles of various colors and shapes, each representing one of her departed. For Margarita, the scene was one of mysticism and wonder. She’d stay up all night and spend time longing over each candle. And praying. Lost souls with whom she’d someday reunite.
When Margarita was a little menina, Mama told the story: the screaming and crying and how she still didn’t know, couldn’t reconcile, whether falling out the window was an accident or deliberate. Nobody knew for sure, and over time the story only became more mysterious. As a child Margarita was discouraged from going too near the windows – Mama would yell “Margarita!”- and instead she was placed in a straight-backed wooden chair in the furthest corner of the room. When she grew older and returned from secondary school, first in Rio, then Lisbon, she arranged the space to suit her- fearing the windows was childish, right? She brought in the flowered sofa that was a fixture in the parlor all those years; the straight-backed wooden chair; the daybed with the brass headboard, with her colorful bedspread neatly folded on top. Mama tsk’d and grimaced at Margarita’s easiness, but Margarita had to make it her own. It was now in sitting room formation in front of the windows looking over the Plaza Del Mundo.
In front of the windows she sat.
Jaime was set to meet Hilda at the Cafe Del Mundo, which despite the name, was actually located right outside the district. He sat at a table in the back corner of the restaurant, perusing the menu and occasionally looking at his watch. It wasn’t like Hilda to be late. He finished his second double Caipirinha, and the strength and the sweetness of the drink coupled with the unusually bitter cold these last few days lit him up. He’d gotten up the nerve. He was going to ask Hilda to marry him.
Where is she?
Hilda’s house had filled up with friends. It happened often on the weekends that overflow from the revelers in the Del Mundo wound up at the top of her steps. She was running late and Jaime was waiting. The fireplace was lit. She helped lay out chorizo and salt cod and a tray of custard. People could help themselves, right?
She crossed the plaza to the basilica.
Once up the steps and inside, Hilda was alone, save the parish hierarchy who lived in the back behind the altar. She dipped her fingers in holy water, made the sign of the cross, and approached the front pew. She pulled out the kneeler and lowered herself, bowing her head. She prayed for her family first, and then for the family that she just learned has taken root in her. She prayed to God and Mother Mary to please show mercy for her indiscretion. And to appear self-sacrificing, she also asked God to watch over the future of not only Plaza Del Mundo but the world.
She went down the steps and crossed the plaza. Destination Cafe Del Mundo.
Cafe Del Mundo buzzed. Soft bossa nova played and due to the unusually frigid weather, the outdoor seating area was empty. Patrons drank and dined inside, and Jaime sat in the back corner, now impatient at the nerve of Hilda coupled with anxiety that something may be terribly wrong. He wiped the sweat off his brow. Didn’t she feel the same about him? He had no reason to doubt she’d say yes.
It should be easier now that he’s liquored up.
“Sorry to keep you waiting Jaime.” She sat and smiled up at the waitress, pointing to Jaime’s cocktail- “The same, please.”
“Hilda, everything’s okay?” He looked wounded but was everything okay? He came here for a reason and wasn’t going to leave until he asked her.
“Yes Jaime, it’s fine. Francis and Abelio showed up with Martha and I couldn’t rush right off, but yes Jaime, everything’s fine.”
Hilda sipped her drink through the straw. Jaime reached out for her hands. “Hilda I called you here for a reason. A special reason.” He motioned the waitress for another drink. “After all this time, Hilda. After all this time, don’t you think we-”
“Jaime, no. Jaime, I have a reason for being here too and I know what you’re going to say Jaime, so don’t.” She lowered her head while resting a hand on her belly. Jaime waited. “You won’t want to marry me Jaime. I’m pregnant.”
“What do you mean I won’t want to, that’s great isn’t it? We’re pregnant?” He smiled, even a giggle, and ran his hands through his hair. “I mean then it all makes sense Hilda, right? You and me and-”
“Jaime, it belongs to Abelio.”
Francis, Abelio and Martha sat in the parlor upstairs at 3 Flamenco. The candles were lit, the room was set with various dishes, and the last of the patrons on the plaza below could be heard through the front windows. The three drank and played cards and laughed like they always did, with Martha leading the charge, telling stories they’d all heard before but in new, funnier ways.
MARTHA: It’s getting late already, Abelio, Hilda should be along soon no?
She lay back on the sofa.
FRANCIS: Just close your eyes.
ABELIO: Yes, close your eyes.
MARTHA (dreamily): Abelio, is she going to rid herself of that Jaime?
ABELIO: Under the circumstances I don’t see how she can’t.
Martha opened her eyes and took a long look at Abelio before drifting off.
Jaime got up from the table and took a final swig on his drink. “Why that son of a bitch.” The expression on his face was only thoughts tumbling. He reached in his pocket for his coat check ticket and abruptly grabbed the coat, pulling it on while walking out the door. His face hit the cold air and he picked up his gait down Flamenco, boots making too much noise on the cobblestones. Most people had already gone home. He laughed aloud at his current fate and his own haphazard footing as he came upon the Plaza Del Mundo. “I’m lucky I didn’t crash into any walls.” He arrived at number 3, with a candle in each window, went in the front door and ran up the steps.
FRANCIS: But Abelio, you know she set you up.
They glanced at Martha, whose chest rose and fell and mouth hung open.
ABELIO: No she didn’t. And anyway, so what? What if she did?
They again eyed Martha.
FRANCIS whispered: Martha doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It’s not yours and you know it. Hilda roped you in.
Abelio looked out the window with his hand on his hip, considering this. He watched the stragglers on the plaza, slowly getting home. And the spires of the basilica beyond.
Abelio turned to Jaime in the doorway. He threw his coat on the floor and headed for Abelio. With his finger in his face Jaime sobbed about being done wrong by Abelio and Abelio not being man enough for Hilda and Abelio being unable to take care of her the way she needs and what kind of a son of a bitch was he “I’ve loved here since I was eight years old.”
When Martha opened her eyes, there stood Francis, Abelio and Hilda. And screaming and crying.
Margarita went to sleep.