- 1 –
Estan Manwell rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The late morning sun peered into the small bedroom through the space of the window shade where a slat was missing.
Sitting up on the side of the bed, he let his feet dangle without touching the cold floor of gray linoleum. He was short for a twelve-year-old. He wrapped the blanket around his shoulders to give warmth to his chill. Estan was glad it was Saturday, but not, that it was February.
The kitchen table was draped with a red and white check oil cloth as he sat on the wooden chair to eat his cold cereal. Looking out through the large window, his dark eyes embraced the sight of the snow. Across the white, lay marks that birds had made as they hopped about looking for food.
Homemade bread gave off its familiar smell as he shoveled the food into his mouth and watched his mother go about her baking. The natural light focused on her umber hair which made it appear as blond.
Estan broke the silence. “It snowed last night.”
Without turning to face him, the woman in the print dress said, “A little.” As she removed the hot bread from the oven she continued, “Mr. Morgan delivered the coal this morning and your father needs you to help him put it into the bin.”
Her son smiled at her.
“You like to shovel the coal?”
“Sure mom, but I like working with dad more. We take turns and that makes it easy.”
As he finished his breakfast he watched as his mother placed the hot items onto a wood placement so it wouldn’t burn the oil-cloth.
It was close to noon when Francisco Manwell entered the woodframe house through the door that led directly into the kitchen. The odor of the baking lingered and he took a deep breath. He loved the smell of fresh bread.
“Where’s Estan,” he asked his wife.
“In his room waiting.”
‘Fran,’ as Francisco was called to shorten all dialogue, was a square chested, broad shouldered specimen. His round face displayed a weak jaw but his dark eyes were intense that gave his demeanor a serious exhibit.
“Here’s some Spanish sausage you can cook for lunch.” Fran set a white freezer paper fastened with one strip of brown tape onto the table. He looked at his wife and said, “You know how much the boy loves that food ever since the fiesta.” His smile was matched by hers.
- 2 –
At fifteen Estan found his interest in reading the many books a library had to offer. While he was a learned person he was a private person also. The summer day would find him riding his bicycle to the local park just to walk the trails and scribble the words he called stories. The saddle bags on the green bike served well to carry his paper and pens.
He sat on the ground under the big tree that afternoon. The large tree didn’t provide shade on that particular day of clouds and bleak sky, but, it did serve as a firm back that the young man could prop himself against. As he looked upward to the gathering darkness he decided to ride his Fleetwing Cruiser to the nearby library and park it under the building’s extended roof. This allowed Estan the time to bury his thoughts in the pages of the books that he enjoyed.
The one-room structure was painted beige with a large window at the east side. Tall oak shelving was set from wall to wall across the floor and the spines of the books were like a rainbow of many colors. As he ran his fingers through his black hair he wished he could read them all.
An oval clock hanging on the wall showed it was a couple of hours past mid-day and it chimed twice. Some of the patrons looked up at the timepiece while most just ignored it’s presence. Estan sat just under the large window to make himself comfortable on a small couch. He skimmed through the most recent issue of Writer’s Digest looking for the fiction writing section.
Ten minutes had passed when he looked up from the magazine to see Alaine Soto. Estan had met Alaine a year earlier when her father had been re-located from Arizona to Pennsylvania. Their bonding as friends was automatic as the two shared similar heritage. Having a keen interest in the history of motherland he often repeated stories that his father had told him of horses and politics. The girl would sit with her friend for hours and listen to him talk to her like he did with no other.
“Hi Alaine,” said Estan as he closed the magazine and stood to his feet. His height was one head taller than the girl.
“Hey, Estan. It looks like we’re in for a rain storm.”
“Let it rain, we’re warm and dry in here.” Both let out a little chuckle. “Let’s go sit at a table.”
The room had an alcove of some privacy where the pair settled. The white blouse she wore sanctioned the shade of her skin; she was unique and likable. The gold hoop earrings she wore created a gypsy quality and she was wrapped in mystery.
“Nice earrings,” complimented the boy.
She responded with a smile. They watched as an elderly woman took a book from a shelf and hid it under her clothing. The teenagers looked at each other and shrugged, “If she loves to read enough to steal a book then who are we to stop education.”
The friends laughed out loud.
- 3 –
It was in November 2010 when Estan received a package from Alaine Soto who had turned twenty while working in Haiti. On opening the small parcel he found loose pages of handwriting. He recognized his friends penciled longhand immediately and a surge of interest grabbed his mood.
She told him of the cholera outbreak and the work she was doing “to save lives and control the spread of disease”. Food and water contamination brought the constant threat of diarrhea and dehydration and too many could not make the five-hour walk to a health center.
Once he finished with the correspondence, the young man placed the letter away in a safe place next to the felt hat that Alaine had bought for him when he turned seventeen and the two of them had taken a day-trip to the Baltimore Inner Harbor in Maryland. It was at a gift shop at Fells Point where the water-taxi had docked the pair. The sun was so bright that day as its reflection off the Atlantic inlet caused everyone to wear sunglasses. “Here, Estan, I’m going to buy this for you as a gift.”
He grinned as she placed the elf-hat upon his head. “Thank you, Tinker Bell,” he responded.
She took hold of his forearm and squeezed it gently, “Happy Birthday.”
As they walked along the path at Fort McHenry the boats in the far off distance looked like white pinpoints that an artist might place in a painting of Chesapeak Bay. When they looked to the left the big canon sat high at the fort; an artifact of history. Estan ran his fingers over the kelly-green hat as he remembered it all.
Walking to the window he gazed out into the yard to view the white fence that stood less than a foot in height. Fran had placed it there to protect the few flowers that were planted the past summer. Estan picked up the comb off the wardrobe and slowly ran it through his thick hair. After a few strokes of the plastic comb he put it back onto the bureau and made his way down the flight of stairs. The boards creaked under his weight even though he tried to be quiet. He knew his father had worked the night-shift at the steel mill and was sleeping.
He pulled on his winter cap and slipped into the hooded jacket; just wanting to breath some fresh air and move his legs to get the blood flowing. Snow had melt and the ground was soaked with moisture; a unique warmth caused mud to form. Removing the cover from his head, he placed it in his pocket while he strolled to the west side of the yard.
Estan stood at the alley faced with red dog gravel and the neighbor’s cat ran over to rub itself against his ankles.
- 4 –
It was the summer of 2011 that the avant-garde writer checked the mailbox everyday to see if his scribble was of any value. He watched for the postal truck at the same time, always. Three months prior to that Thursday he had submitted a story he had written to an anthology with high hopes of being published.
While his mom sat in the gray rocking chair on the porch, his father worked at his garden at one side of the yard. The light blue shirt Francisco wore had holes at the elbows and was faded from so many washes. “Hey, dad, you should cut off the lower arms and make it a short-sleeve,” said Estan, as a verbal lark.
Without being told, he descended the exterior steps and moved close to where his dad was hoeing the ground. “I’ll do some and you can take a break.” It was how the two had always worked together. By late afternoon the mail showed no sign of news from an editor and the digging was done.
After a supper of pork chop, mashed potato, brown gravy and cucumber salad Estan went outside to sit on the porch. He relished the time he spent with his parents while listening to the narrative Fran told of working in the mill. It was like a history lesson from the 1960’s and it would include the hippies and the Viet-Nam war. Estan sat until darkness settled and fireflies filled the air.
“Oh Estan,” said his mother, “I forgot to tell you that Mr. Carnival received your mail by mistake today.”
The boy looked at his mother. Hope filled his presence and caused him to ask, “Where is it?”
“I put it on your bed. I think it’s what you are waiting for.” She smiled at the excitement she observed in her son’s expression. “Mr. Carnival said the post man is new and made a mistake.”
The young Manwell had no interest in what the neighbor had said as he rushed to his small room taking two steps at a time. His heartbeat had quickened and his breathing became deep as he climbed the stairs. He remembered how Alaine had always told him, “You can do it,” when all the others ridiculed his intent.
A letter from the editor explained that his story was accepted for publication and that he would be receiving a check as full payment. The writer smiled openly while holding the communication in his left hand and using his right to clench a fist and raise it toward the ceiling.
Continuing to read the great news the author discovered that the book would be placed in the local library insuring that anyone could read Estan Manwell’s story, GARMENT OF FLESH.
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© 2010 Xavier F. Aguilar