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Authors: Francisco X. Stork

Irises

BOOK: Irises
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Table of Contents

Cover
Title Page
Dedication
Prologue
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
Epilogue
Acknowledgments
About the Author
Copyright

K
ate had finally agreed to pose under the willow tree.

Mother came and stood behind Mary at her easel. She placed her hand on Mary's shoulder. “It's beautiful!”

“Let me see.” Kate started to get up.

“No!” Mary and Mother shouted at the same time. They looked at each other and laughed.

Kate sat down again reluctantly. “I want to see.”

“Be patient,” Mother said.

“How much longer?”

“Soon,” Mary said.

“I've been sitting here for hours.” Kate shifted in the wooden chair. The late afternoon sun illuminated her face. A slight breeze shook the leaves of the tree.

Mother touched the back of Mary's head. “Kate looks like a saint. There's a halo around her.”

“I tried to capture the light that surrounds her.”

Mother bent to examine the painting. “The light seems to be coming from inside of her too.”

“It
is
coming from inside of her. It's her inner light. Can you see it, Mama?” Mary stopped painting for a moment and looked at Kate.

“What light? Are you all done now?” Kate asked.

“Almost. I just need to touch up the lips. I'll finish the background later.”

“Her hair looks blacker than it really is,” Mother said.

“The black is dark now because it's wet. It'll be just right once the paint dries.”

Mary continued painting in silence. Mother walked to the back fence and touched the bud of a white climbing rose. “Mary, these roses you planted are going to be so beautiful when they bloom.”

They all heard the phone ring inside the house.

“That's probably for me.” Kate made a move to stand up.

“Papa will get that,” Mother said quickly. “Let your sister finish.”

“Five more minutes, Kate, that's all. Do you know how long I've been wanting to do this?”

Mother stood next to Mary again. “If you only knew what I had to promise to get her to sit for you.”

Kate said, “Shhh, Mama, that's our secret, remember?”

“What did you promise her?” Mary looked up at Mother.

“Should I tell?” Mother asked Kate.

“No.”

“Yes,” Mary countered.

“Keep on painting, Mary. I don't think you're going to be able to keep your sister in that chair for too much longer.”

“Okay, but tell me what you promised her.”

Mother looked at Kate. “I'm sorry, sweetie, I have to tell her. Kate and I are going to visit Aunt Julia in California.”

“Just the two of you?” Mary asked.

“You'll need to stay with Papa and help him around the house. I promised Kate a special trip before she starts high school. In two years, when you graduate from middle school, we'll take a special trip as well.”

“I just wish it didn't have to be Aunt Julia's,” Kate said.

“You're going to like this trip,” Mama said. “I have a surprise planned for you.”

“I think I'm done,” Mary said. “I put a touch of brown on the hair, just like you asked.”

Mother stood back. “Wow!”

“Can I see?” Kate came to where Mary stood. Her eyes opened wide. “Is that really me?”

“Of course it's you.”

“I look beautiful,” Kate said, her voice full of discovery.

“I touched up your bad spots,” Mary said, smiling.

“Can I see that brush for a second?” Kate took the brush from Mary's hand.

“What are you going to do? Don't touch my painting!” Kate swung the brush like a sword and tried to paint Mary's cheek. “Nooo!” Mary screamed and ran. Kate chased her.

“Kate!” Mother laughed. She ran after the girls. Kate cornered Mary by the chain-link fence and dabbed her sister's arms and face with paint. Mother tried to take the brush from Kate's hand and ended up with a brown splotch on her forehead.

The three of them burst out laughing.

Four Years Later

K
ate and her father sat in the shade of the willow tree, side by side in two wooden chairs. It was unusually hot for an April day in El Paso. Father had taken off the black coat he always wore to church, and Kate had tied her hair back in a ponytail. Two glasses of lemonade stood on the small wooden table between the chairs.

“Kate.” Her father's voice was unusually soft, almost a whisper. “I noticed that you were not paying attention to Reverend Soto's sermon.”

“I'm sorry, Papa,” she said, looking down at her feet.

“A part of me, the vain part, would like to think that your lack of attention was due to the fact that it wasn't me delivering the sermon.” He stopped as if waiting for her to realize that this was an attempt at humor. But if it was, she didn't notice it. He went on, “But I've noticed the same lack of interest the past few months, long before Reverend Soto came to the church. I've hesitated to bring it up.”

For a moment, Kate thought of telling her father what was occupying her mind, but she decided against it. “I have been a little distracted, thinking about school. It's nothing you should worry about, Papa.” She looked up and saw a single gray cloud in the otherwise light blue sky.

After a while, her father spoke again. “It used to be that I could look out into the congregation and find you attentive to every word of the Gospel and every word of the sermon.”

Kate tried to think of a funny reply, something that would make her father smile, that would lighten the conversation. Her father was so solemn, and she loved him for that, but there were times when she wished she had a father like her best friend, Bonnie, did — a father who cracked jokes, who could understand the ways of an eighteen-year-old.

“Is something the matter?” he asked.

She sneaked a look at her watch. She wished Mary would come out and tell her that the meat loaf was burning. “Oh, Papa, you worry too much. It's just that I have so much to think about these days. I'm taking some very hard courses.”

“Yes. But if that were all, I wouldn't be talking to you now, the way I am. I believe there is more to it than that.”

“Like what?” She didn't mean to sound as if the question scared her.

“How is your soul?” He looked at her softly.

“Pardon me?”

“The state of your soul, your faith. How is it doing thes
e days
?”

“It's fine,” she said quickly, aware that quite possibly, she had just lied to her father. She saw the sadness in his face, his disappointment at her unwillingness to share with him whatever was in her mind. “I have to finish cooking dinner,” she said kindly.

He closed his eyes, then opened them again as he spoke. “I have tried my best to raise you and Mary. After your mother . . . entered her current condition, after the accident, I tried to get you to be self-sufficient. I have endeavored to make you strong. I wanted to fortify your heart against sorrow. I believe I succeeded, but I might have been overzealous. You and Mary are strong in different ways, but strong nevertheless. I wonder sometimes if I wasn't too extreme in my efforts and now you are too strong. You can withstand any blows that life hits y
ou with,
but . . . at what cost?”

Kate stared at the chain-link fence, where beautiful white and red climbing roses bloomed. It was strange to hear her father talk like this — not just the words but the tone. She had never heard him confess to any faults, and now he spoke wearily, as if he had suddenly discovered that human speech was exhausting. “You've done all right,” she said, trying to cheer him.

“I've never worried about Mary. She will find a way to keep her faith. You're the one I worry about.”

“I know,” she said. Mary had spent the whole sermon drawing on the small pad of blank paper she always carried in her purse, and yet Kate understood why her father was not worried about her sister's faith or her interest in the sermon. Faith was in Mary's blood.

She started to get up, but her father touched her arm.
One more moment, please
, he seemed to say. She sat down again.

“I want to tell you something today.” He was having trouble breathing, and there were drops of sweat on his forehead despite the shade.

“Are you all right, Papa?”

He waved her question away. “I want to tell you this. I have tried to do my best as a father. I should have been more of a mother as well. Maybe I should have been more lenient, more understanding of young people, of young girls. If I was strict, it was because I was afraid that, without rules, you would not be able to care for yourselves when the time came.” He coughed and put his hand on his chest.

“Would you like to go inside now?” she asked, concerned.

“Yes, I believe I will go inside and lie down for a while. I don't really feel like dinner today.”

“Maybe you will later. I'll make a plate and save it for you.”

“Okay, but let me finish telling you what I want to tell you.” He looked at her and spoke slowly, deliberately, as if he wanted his words to be remembered. “You are the oldest in the family. If something ever happens to me, you will need to put the family first. You'll think it's not fair for such a burden to be placed on you, but that burden will fall on you nevertheless.” He waited for her to look into his eyes. When she did, he said, “Without love, the burden will be too heavy for you to bear.” Then, as if remembering something he had read or heard a long time ago, he said, “Love makes everything that is heavy light.”

He paused and then tapped her forearm. “All right, I'm ready to go now.”

BOOK: Irises
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