After the Fire, the Sound of a Low Whisper

Florinda’s daughter-in-law went for long walks up the Via Progreso. The people of San Pedro kept Florinda informed of Ámparo’s trips. They’d visit Flor in the early evenings under the pretense of bringing over a surplus of naranjilla and tell her that they’d seen Ámparo walking as far as San Gabriel or Río Blanco, seven or eight kilometers away. When the bus would slow to pick her up, Ámparo raised one flat hand and made a motion like turning over a page. Not here; not me.

Flor considered herself tolerant. She too had lost a husband—to stroke, not whim—and she knew the way a sudden loneliness could burrow its aching way into your bones. For weeks after her son, Lucho, left for Connecticut, Flor was patient with Ámparo. She prepared lunch for the children and walked Alma home from elementary school in the afternoons. Two months went by, and then three, Flor praying every morning in the sanctuary at the Sagrado Corazón, before she saw it clearly, as river sediment stirred will settle, eventually, and reveal water clear and infused with light: Ámparo needed purpose. She needed to care for her children. Flor could no longer accommodate this flightiness.

That night, when Ámparo came home, there was no dinner waiting for her. Ámparo moved through the house in her silent way, resting her hand on the head of her oldest son, Javi, bending to accept the embrace of her youngest, Victor, looping her fingers into Alma’s long braid. Flor stood in the doorway to the kitchen, her hands beneath her apron coiled in tight, anxious balls. Ámparo approached the stove, where other nights a pot had been waiting, filled with lentils or chicken. She peered at the empty stove, her face impassive.

Had she asked, then, for something to eat, Flor would have given it to her. Walking that far, the poor thing must have been hungry, and being made to ask for food was as much a punishment as going without. But Ámparo only turned and fixed her yellow-brown eyes on Flor, studying her for a moment before turning away. She didn’t eat that night, or any night after that. Ámparo may have taken to eating at a roadside stand that she passed on her walks, or at the house of an acquaintance discreet enough not to mention it to Flor or the neighbors. She may not have eaten at all. There were nights when Flor, overcome with guilt, would leave rice out as if by careless mistake, but Ámparo wouldn’t touch it. Nothing, she seemed to be saying, from you.

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