Shambles\’sham-blez\[shamble(meat market)] 1:archaic: a meat market 2:SLAUGHTERHOUSE 3:a place of bloodshed:a scene of great destruction:WRECKAGE 4:a state of great disorder or confusion.
D. M. O’Neal
To my Hap … Steve Noonkester: A big man with a generous heart. I learned of your death today. Your deep hearty laugh will be forever missed. May the demons of your past lay forever concealed and your angels fly for all to see. Thank you for awakening me during a difficult time. —November 28, 2007
“Padre I am an old woman, no?” The subject of my age usually elicits a response of disbelief. I’ve always looked younger than my years, although of late, not so much. The constant worry and diminishing time to do what I must age me. Father Galindo replies as I expect.
“No Senora, you are a mature, beautiful woman. I would not say old.” Taking a handkerchief from his pocket he wipes at the sweat under his stiff collar and then his brow. Our figures of similar stature stroll along the gravel walkway from his dusty sedan to the house.
“I’ll be seventy years old tomorrow,” I state with elegance.
Aqua paint chips float on a warm breeze as the screen door slams shut behind us. The porch’s ceiling fan wobbles a clattering tune doing little to dissipate the humidity. I’ve grown accustom to the heat in my self-imposed prison as ex-pats do in tropical refuges.
A spindly wooden chair creaks with the Padre’s weight. “I know ….” Taking the sweaty glass I offer, he sips with a bright smile and continues. “And your nietos will soon arrive for the Fiesta Grande.” He motions toward the men stringing lights in trees bordering an immaculately manicured lawn. A postcard-perfect vision of emerald turf spills on a sandy path to the radiant sea beyond.
“How long have we known each other?” I feel a tingle in my jaws as tart lemonade tempers the sweetness of a cookie dissolving on my tongue.
A large green beetle catches the Padre’s attention as it creeps across the screen between us and the workers. The young man’s black eyes focus on the bug while he calculates the length of our association.
“Oh déjeme pensar, since I returned to the island eight years ago.” He dabs the cloth to his forehead again.
He doesn’t remember. We actually met when I arrived on the island twenty-eight years ago. He was just a boy. Father José Canales Galindo requested to serve the church on the island of his birth soon after completing seminary. I’ve come to know three priests since I began attending the Iglesias de San Miguel, and there’s a good chance José will be the last.
I’m not Catholic, but none of the priests or neighbors ever asked me about religion or more than polite generalities about my past. Taking a regular seat in Saint Michael’s prepared me for the inevitable day I will confess my sins, as I promised a dying man I would.
“Have you ever known me to be unkind or wicked?” Although my question begs reassurance from the virtuous man, his youthful appearance invokes doubt. Can I trust him?
“Wicked? I do not know the meaning of this word, wicked.”
“It means evil, Father, bad … muy mal.” I lay a hand on his forearm, my pale skin in stark contrast to his, smooth and auburn.
He looks intently at my frail hand and places his free one on top. “No, no Señora Brooks, you have always been very good and very generous to the Iglesias and the people of San Miguel. Why do you ask me these things?”
“I need to know that I can trust you. Trust you with something … something very personal.” I lean back, cross my legs and relocate loose tendrils of gray hair into an untidy knot, waiting for his reaction.
“Of course Señora, I am your priest. You can trust me with anything.” A deep wrinkle forms between his eyebrows. “What is it, a possession or perhaps a secret?” A sly smile erupts.
I wish the gift of a simple possession could bring peace. A precious jewel or cursed talisman dropped in his lap or laid at his feet could free my conscience. Perhaps his thoughts entertain the idea that I am seeking atonement for the benign secret of infidelity or coming clean on a past thievery. If only it were that uncomplicated. His naïve benevolence seems worthy of my trust.
“Only a possession of the heart, Father. I made a promise long ago, a promise I must keep before I die.” I pause fixing my eyes on his concerned look.
“Are you ill? Do you want me to hear a final confession?”
“No I’m not ill, but the time has come for me to return to the States. I want to be with my family in my final days. I’ve missed so much of their lives. I came here many years ago.” I turn away and stand as a tear stream cools my flushed cheek.
“I will certainly miss … my life here. This beautiful place, with its beautiful people ….” I’ve postponed a confession long enough. It’s time I be allowed parole from a self-imposed life sentence in my well-designed prison. There is a chance an admission will lead to a prison not of my devise, from which I can’t escape. Rising, he consoles me with a circular pat between the shoulders.
“I have a gift for the church, a large amount of money.” I face him.
“Señora you have already given the church so much.” He hands me a paper napkin.
“Accepting the money is not conditional, I want you to understand that. Okay? Once I tell you what I have to tell you. You do what you feel you must. Okay?”
Unsure if his perplexed expression requires definition of the word or my intent, I pause.
After mentally processing the request he agrees. “Okay.”
“I have a story to tell. A story of long ago when I was a young, beautiful woman.” I smile and brush a dark lock of hair from his forehead. “I need to tell someone what happened. Will you hear it?” The action gives us a more intimate appearance than our relationship warrants.
“Si … por sepuesto, of course I will, Señora Brooks.”
With a deep sigh of relief my shoulders relax and I stare through the screen door, beyond the iridescent bug and the dark-haired men to the ocean. To the north, the direction of the life I left behind long ago.