“Your lifeline forks.” Isabela examined Maria Ramos’ open, extended palms. She said, “This could mean any number of things. You’ve either had a change in your life—a drastic one—or the opportunity presented itself and you didn’t take it . . .” Isabela paused, watched Maria’s face for a reaction. Seeing none, she continued. “Or the opportunity has yet to present itself, or perhaps it is at your doorstep right now.”
It wasn’t so odd, Isabela maintained, for her to be both a Catholic and a palmist. Both palmistry and Catholicism were systems of belief, and, though she’d heard some in the community called her a bruja, Isabela saw little difference between astrology and belief in the saints.
Maria, apparently startled, stuttered. “I’ve been tempted,” she said, “by another man.”
“Yes,” Isabela said. “I see you’re thinking about another in your life.” Isabela pointed to a faint line that ran up the palm toward the pinky of Maria’s right hand.
She became a palmist because her mother, also a believer in mysticism and a staunch Catholic, had recognized Isabela’s clairvoyance while she was still a child—Isabela had brief flashes of the near future (falling glasses of milk, etc.)—and encouraged her interest in the subject.
Her mother had kept four-leaf clovers and birds’ feathers in jars of colored glass she stored in the west-facing kitchen window so they caught the last rays of sun each day. She claimed that the rose garden she planted had been the key to holding her family together. When Isabela became pregnant—she was twenty-two years old, unmarried, her boyfriend a nineteen-year-old pot dealer—her mother told her that she was on her own. She taught Isabela to rely on no one but herself. Isabela believed that if one had problems and wanted to fix them, then the world provided earthly, and Heavenly, remedies. You only needed to believe, her mother always said. When her daughter was born, Isabela named her Cecilia, after her grandmother.
“It’s just,” Maria said now, stopped, then continued. “My kids drive me crazy, and Jorge does little to help. He’s tired after work, and after a beer or two, forget it. And this other man, he’s young, has no children, and he likes me. I’ve fantasized about him.”
“You want to run away from your problems,” Isabela said. “Maybe you should attack them at the root.”
Isabela paused for effect. Maria’s eyes widened.
She held shop in the tiny red house where she and Cecilia had once lived, before Isabela’s parents’ death. There she read palms and Tarot cards, provided remedies for ailments, relied on a short string of return clients, and occasionally did more than break even at month’s end. The shop sat, coincidentally, on the corner of Merritt and Palm Streets in Castroville, next to The Patio Drive-in, a hamburger restaurant where gangbangers—including Anita, Isabela’s cousin—hung out in the cabs of their white Impalas and candyapple-green Cadillacs and drank bagged bottles of beer.
Isabela had painted her roadside hand-shaped sign bright red. Currently, to Isabela’s dismay, one of the election signs had been posted in the soil next to her bright red palm: neon yellow and announcing one Kenneth Ellsworth, who was running for Monterey County Sheriff. The gaudy signs had been placed all over town and this particular one distracted potential customers. Fortunately she served regulars, like Maria Ramos.
Isabela had furnished the rooms in the tiny house according to function. The living room became a reception area and a small shop. Here she kept a couch, where waiting clients could sit, and a desk with a locking drawer to hold money. She stocked the shelf-lined walls with crystals strung on yarn, books on astrology, astrological calendars, and herbal remedies. She gave readings in the bedroom where she and an infant Cecilia had once slept. A black sheet covered the window; candlelight illuminated the room and she and her clients sat at a card table bordered by two chairs.
“Your husband and children,” Isabela said. “They need to help you; they need discipline.” Isabela herself believed in this assessment. She knew exactly what Maria wanted to hear. “You need strength,” she said.
Days before, a young tourist couple had come into the shop. They’d pulled off Highway 1 in Castroville to see the quaint coastal town, and to get a famous Patio Burger. They’d driven down from San Francisco. They were on their way to Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur. How could Isabela have known all these things? the couple wanted to know. Clairvoyance was a gift, Isabela maintained, for having an eye to detail. She sold the couple her last two crystals. Today, Maria came in with “an emergency” and Isabela hadn’t yet bothered to order more crystals. From beneath the black tablecloth, in a rhinestone-studded bowl, she withdrew a fresh raw artichoke, gray-green in the candlelight. Maria looked at the artichoke and then at Isabela as if she had just shown her a bowl of pig entrails.
“I don’t get it,” Maria said. She crossed her knees and arms, the first indication, ever, that one of Isabela’s return customers doubted her.
“The artichoke’s strength lies in its protective layers,” Isabela said. She took the thistle in her hands to demonstrate. “Whenever you’re feeling inadequate with your family, whenever you feel like running away, simply peel a leaf.” Isabela peeled a single leaf from the artichoke, took Maria’s hand, and pressed the dark green husk into her palm. “There are enough leaves to give you strength. So by the time you reach this artichoke’s heart”—she emphasized the word—“you will have found your own.” Isabela impressed even herself with this explanation.
And, apparently, the explanation also impressed Maria. She thanked Isabela—“Thank you, Madame Ordoñez”—for her insight, paid the forty dollars (twenty-five for the reading, fifteen for the artichoke) and Isabela reminded Maria as she handed over a receipt: “Let me know how things work out.”
If only Isabela could listen to her own advice and control her own family. Before Isabela drove away from her shop after Maria Ramos’ appointment, she spotted her cousin Anita with her long black bangs combed into a poof held together with copious amounts of Aquanet in a stiff freeze above her forehead. Anita was seventeen, her forearm already covered with various gang-affiliated tattoos.
Isabela pulled next to Anita where the girl leaned against an old Chevy. She was drunk and probably hadn’t been in school in a week. “How are you, cousin?” Anita drawled.
“Good Anita,” Isabela said. “How’s your mother?”
“She’s fine,” Anita said. She giggled. In the Chevy sat a man with a shaved head, a teardrop tattooed under his eye, a permanent stain. He smiled creepily at Isabela. His teeth made Isabela’s knees feel like Jell-O.
“Be sure to tell your mama I said hello,” Isabela said, and as she drove away, she thought she heard Anita laughing and saying …thinks she’s so high and mighty…can’t even control her own kid.
And if that was what Anita had said, there was truth to it. Daily, Cecilia wouldn’t wake for school, didn’t want her hair brushed, would certainly not eat Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast again. She wouldn’t pour the milk in the bowl herself—mom should do it—or be dropped in front of school—mom must drop her a block away so that she would not be seen with mom—which was embarrassing. And Cecilia should’ve walked to school in the first place, if the neighborhood wasn’t so dangerous. In their home, dirty laundry lined the halls, piled on the stairs, and strung the banister along the stairwell. Dishes stacked in the sink. Cecilia was sick of fish sticks for dinner. Cooking and cleaning had never been Isabela’s forte. Cecilia asked why Laura Ramos wore new jeans this year while she wore the same old faded, frayed pairs. Sometimes, with energy that burned Isabela’s heart, Cecilia screamed, “I wish daddy never left!”
To keep her busy, Isabela involved Cecilia in as many activities as she could. For Christmas Cecilia played her part as one of the three kings in a performance of the story of Jesus’ birth. Sprigs of pine and red velvet decked the church pews and the altar. The candles glowed and glinted in the sequins on the children’s robes. The child-kings gripped staffs. Two children acted out child versions of Joseph and Mary, and in a manger filled with hay lay a doll to represent the Christ Child. As the audience watched it seemed to Isabela that the people of Castroville—a town that under normal circumstances was rowdily drunk and gang riddled—had settled under the peaceful veil of Christmastime.
Cecilia played the king who brought Frankincense. But Isabela, and presumably everyone else in church, heard her clearly when she said, “I have brought Frankenstein for the Child Savior.” A murmur and some chuckles rose in the pews. Had Cecilia been younger than ten years old it might have been an honest, cute, mistake. But the children had rehearsed the play for weeks under Sister Nancy’s tutelage, and Father Scott squirmed in his seat on the altar. Isabela rolled her eyes, thought, Jesus, Cecilia, then crossed herself for taking the Lord’s name in vain. Then the three child-kings sang their song. But Isabela heard Cecilia distinctly, and instead of “traveled” she sang, “We three kings have ‘farted’ so far . . .”
When Isabela retrieved Cecilia from Catechism, Sister Nancy asked for a word. They stood outside Our Lady of Refuge, away from the children playing in the dirt. Dust caked the hem of Cecilia’s dress from squatting to shoot marbles from her grubby fingers.
“Can you believe all these election signs,” Sister said, gesturing to Kenneth Ellsworth’s name jutting up from the sidewalks.
“Oh, they’re everywhere,” Isabela sighed.
“What do you think about this new guy running for sheriff? His ‘I’m gonna clean up this town’ campaign?”
“I don’t know,” said Isabela. “I wish he’d get his signs off the roads. That’s what I think.”
“You going to vote for him tomorrow?” Sister Nancy asked.
“I don’t vote,” Isabela said.
“You don’t vote?” Sister Nancy said.
“I don’t believe in it. They’re all the same, these candidates. They don’t make any difference.”
“I see,” said Sister Nancy.
“What did you want to talk about, Sister?” Isabela said. A grandmotherly figure with glasses, pink cheeks, and coifed black and silver hair, Sister Nancy never wore a habit. Isabela herself attended this church as a child and, although a relatively new addition to Our Lady of Refuge, simply because she was a sister, Sister Nancy deserved respect. But, as always, Isabela cut right to business.
“Yes.” The old sister seemed to come back from somewhere. “There doesn’t seem to be any progress made with Cecilia, dear,” Sister Nancy said, smiling. “It’s almost Easter, her Reconciliation is coming, and I can hardly get her to complete a Hail Mary, let alone a Rosary.”
“I know,” said Isabela. She brushed a strand of hair that had fallen in her face in the day’s slight breeze. A nervous gesture. Since the Christmas play disaster she’d tried harder to control her daughter—half-enthusiastic verbal reprimands that Cecilia ignored—with little success. “I’ve been trying to get her to settle down, to not be such a nuisance.” She glanced at Cecilia, who circled the marble pot, wailing over some injustice in the game. “Do you think she needs medication? She’s not one of those ADD kids, you think?”
Sister Nancy touched Isabela’s arm. “I don’t know anything about that,” she said. “She needs discipline.”
Isabela nodded, fidgeted with the loose strand of hair. Sister Nancy must have thought, like Anita did, that she was incapable of controlling her own child. “Thank you, Sister,” Isabela said. Then, to Cecilia, “Time to go.” But Cecilia ignored her, and continued the game of marbles. “Cecilia,” Isabela repeated, louder this time. Still, Cecilia ignored her.
“It must be difficult without her father to help,” Sister said.
Everyone must’ve thought that. Cecilia asked about her daddy when she was five years old, after she’d started kindergarten. Laura Ramos has a daddy, Cecilia had said. Laura’s father worked at Pettigrew and Folleta Auto Parts. Cecilia compared everything to Laura Ramos. If only Isabela told Cecilia what Maria Ramos, Laura’s mother, said about her daddy.
Isabela had told Cecilia the truth about her own father: Alex wasn’t ready when they’d learned of the pregnancy. What had happened to him? Cecilia wanted to know. He’d stayed in Castroville for a while; they never talked and rarely saw each other around town. Then, he just disappeared, must’ve moved somewhere else.
Finally Cecilia slouched to her mother.
“I called twice,” Isabela said.
“The game wasn’t over,” Cecilia said.
Sister Nancy smiled, touched Isabela’s arm again and said, “Good luck.”
For a moment their looks lingered on each other, the way archrivals’ do in action films. Then Isabela smiled back and they left. In the car Isabela said a silent prayer asking forgiveness for thinking that the old sister was a bitch.
Isabela patted corn flour for tortillas and Cecilia watched television. Together they lived alone in the big house that had once belonged to Isabela’s parents. Her mother passed away less than a year before and after the reading of the will, rather than selling the house and dividing the money between Isabela and her brothers and sisters, they agreed to keep it. Isabela’s father had purchased the house many years before, after he’d secured a decent job and could afford a down payment, after he and his wife had migrated from Mexico. The house was a symbol of their parents’ success, and after they died none of the children could imagine another family living in it. But someone had to and Isabela seemed the logical choice, since, unlike her siblings, she had only Cecilia and she still lived and worked in Castroville.
When she and Cecilia moved in, Isabela painted the inside and tried to restore order to her mother’s courtyard. The garden had been planted before Isabela’s father added on the second story in order to accommodate their many children. After her father’s death, when her mother became so feeble she couldn’t walk outside to tend the garden, it grew wild. So far Isabela hadn’t found the time to tame it. She also tried to save money to contribute, along with her brothers and sisters, to replastering and painting the cracked and flaking walls.
As Isabela stirred the browning beef in the frying pan Maria Ramos called to say thank you.
“The artichoke really works,” Maria blubbered. “I haven’t felt so energized in years. I feel like I can take on anything. Jorge and the kids listen to me. It couldn’t get any better,” Maria beamed.
“Very good,” Isabela said, and she remembered what her mother always said: all that matters is that you believe.
Isabela loved the way one eats an artichoke: sucking the meat from individual leaves until reaching the heart with its tender core. Artichokes deserved patience—a true delicacy. Cecilia lacked such a delicate temperament, and thus couldn’t stand artichokes. But Isabela bought them for herself.
Dinner was ready. “Cecilia,” Isabela called, “set the table.”
Cecilia didn’t come. In fact the television’s volume increased. She could hear one of Kenneth Ellsworth’s annoying campaign commercials: “I’m gonna clean up this town!” Cecilia deliberately ignores me, Isabela thought. She took the milk from the refrigerator and, seeing an artichoke there on the shelf, peeled a leaf away.
“Cecilia!” she screamed.
She stepped into the kitchen, gripping the remote, a pout staining her face.
“Set the table,” Isabela ordered.
“Why don’t we eat in front of the TV like we always do?”
“Does Laura Ramos eat dinner in front of the TV?”
“I don’t know,” Cecilia said.
“Then set the table, sit down and eat, and tomorrow at school you can ask her.”
Cecilia stomped a foot, began a protest, but Isabela silenced her: “First go turn off the television.”
She had peeled no more than the outer layer of her artichoke’s leaves and Isabela rose from sleep with energy. She cooked scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Twice this week there’d been fresh-squeezed orange juice. After breakfast she found time to wash the dishes. The laundry had been cleaned, dried, folded, and put away. Cecilia was her next project. She wouldn’t get away with a bad attitude any longer. No more ignoring her mother, no more spoiling.
On Sunday Isabela threw the blinds and windows open in Cecilia’s bedroom, shedding bright morning light and cool air across her daughter’s bed. Cecilia moaned, rolled over, and covered her head with a pillow. “Mom,” she whined, “I wanna sleep.”
Isabela had already slipped into a pink dress and pearl earrings. She’d applied her makeup. “Time for church,” she said.
“I don’t want to,” Cecilia sulked.
Isabela ripped the comforter off the bed, exposing Cecilia in her nightgown to the brisk air. Cecilia yelped.
“Get into the shower and get dressed,” Isabela said. She took the comforter downstairs to the washroom, put it into the machine and began a cycle.
Rather than cooking breakfast, Isabela poured herself cereal and crossed her legs at the table with the newspaper. After a few minutes Cecilia showed wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. Her hair a ratty mess, it was obvious she’d neglected to shower. No way was Cecilia going to church like that.
“What’s for breakfast?” Cecilia asked.
Without looking from the paper Isabela said, “There’s cereal.”
Cecilia sighed, crossed her arms.
“What’s the problem?” Isabela asked.
“Can I have some cereal?”
“I bet you can,” Isabela said. “There’s a cupboard there against the wall, and in it you’ll find cereal. Bowls are in the cupboard above the sink and spoons in the drawer. That big white thing’s called a refrigerator. Inside you’ll find milk and orange juice. Knock yourself out.”
Cecilia sulked another moment then fixed her breakfast. At the fridge she said, “This artichoke looks nasty.”
When Cecilia finished eating Isabela looked up from the paper, said, “Put your dishes in the sink and get upstairs.”
“What for?” Cecilia said.
“You’re changing, and brushing your hair.”
“Come on, Mom,” Cecilia said. “Do you think Jesus cares what I look like?”
“Probably,” Isabela said. “And I care. You’re not looking like that.” Isabela gripped her hips as Cecilia dumped her dishes in the sink, scowled, and turned toward the stairway. Isabela followed, said, “Next we’ll work on those faces. I don’t want to see them.”
At the stairs Cecilia flung around, stuck out her tongue. “If I had a daddy he wouldn’t care,” she said. “He wouldn’t make me go to church.”
Isabela’s hand stung and Cecilia fell against the stairs, bewilderment splashed across her face. Isabela had never hit her before and remorse rose immediately. Cecilia whimpered, but her eyes registered no pain. She was scared. For the first time Isabela felt like she had some level of control. Isabela composed herself, rubbed her palm. “I don’t want to hear things like that anymore,” she said. “You don’t have a daddy, you never did, and I’m in charge and you’re going to church. Do you understand?”
“Get upstairs,” Isabela ordered.
In the following weeks Isabela created advertisements for her business and employed Cecilia to hang them on doors across Castroville. This was risky, Isabela knew; Castroville’s streets crawled with polyester-clad gangbangers. But Isabela told Cecilia that if they always lived in fear of their community they’d never change it. At first Cecilia scowled and whined, but after one forceful look she did as her mother said.
A parade marched down Merritt Street on Saturday. The high school band rang out with patriotic tunes. The new sheriff rode in a convertible, his big belly flopping over his belt and his jowls swinging under his big cowboy hat as he waved to the crowd gathered on the sidewalks. Isabela and Cecilia walked along during the parade and handed fliers to everyone they could.
Through the ads and word-of-mouth successes like Maria Ramos, people learned of Isabela’s artichokes and soon she was flooded with clients. The couch in her reception area filled. Her little driveway couldn’t park enough cars and clients began to use the Patio’s lot next door. The gangbangers who once hung out at the Patio moved elsewhere, and a few of them even saw Madame Ordoñez for help. Isabela gave them all readings; she didn’t discriminate. And she sold them artichokes for their problems. She bought up all of Ken and Son’s artichokes from their produce stand on Cooper Street. It got to the point that Sister Nancy pulled Isabela aside one day when picking Cecilia up from Catechism.
“The Church provides a solid foundation for those in our parish who need help,” Sister Nancy said. “These pagan rituals are dangerous. You should be honest with these people.”
Isabela said, “I am honest with them, Sister. I tell them they’ve only to believe and they can solve their problems.”
“We don’t want our parishioners practicing anything unnatural,” Sister Nancy said.
“Of course not,” Isabela smiled.
Since her husband died, Nancy Ausonio had been lonely. She craved companionship now that her children had grown and left the house, but no one seemed to care for her long stories that were sometimes even older than her. The men she’d met over the Internet—usually old fuddy-duddies in Carmel, or fakes, teens out to break an old woman’s heart—had proved fruitless. Isabela gave her an artichoke to peel away the pain of false matches.
Omar Mercado’s wife hadn’t touched him in months. Isabela listened to Omar’s story, dealt him the Lovers from the tarot deck. She gave him an artichoke and told him to peel a leaf before each night he and his wife dropped into bed together. By the time he reached the artichoke’s heart he would have also reached his wife’s.
And Anita worried about her boyfriend, who had dropped out of high school six months ago, and now planned a drive-by against Sureño gangbangers in Watsonville. Why had Anita come to her, Isabela wondered, instead of going to the police? She worried he wouldn’t make it home alive and safe. The cops were cracking down, Anita said. She didn’t want Hector—her boyfriend—to go to jail. Isabela instructed Anita to put artichoke leaves into the pockets of her boyfriend’s pants, inside his shoes, and inside various books. She said Anita should place these things around Hector’s house. This, she said, would make him want to stay close to home, in Castroville, and he’d want to start reading books again, for the smell of artichokes would be irresistible.
“You think it’ll work, cousin?” Anita said.
“That’s up to you,” Isabela said. “If you believe it will work, then it will.”
Anita, teary-eyed, stood and hugged Isabela. “I believe, Isa,” she said.
Isabela said, “And what about you, Anita? When was the last time you went to school, or church? When did you last see your mother?”
Anita looked hurt and her tears flowed so that the thick makeup caked on her face ran in streaks. “It’s been too long,” she said.
“Then you, too, need help. You need to think about your family, about your own well-being, Anita.”
“I know,” Anita stuttered. Her breath came in puffs from her crying. “I’ll try, cousin. I swear I will.”
Walking up Merritt Street after dark three new sheriff’s deputies ran the main street in cruisers and Isabela would see families gathered around the table talking, the blue glare of a television absent from a darkened living room. To Isabela it seemed that Moe’s Liquors closed early, the store windows black by eight o’clock at night. Isabela imagined the network executives in San Francisco and the liquor manufacturers scratching their heads at the sudden loss of 6,000 viewers and drinkers.
Isabela listened to stories from all lives in Castroville. Wives whose drunken husbands no longer made love to them. Husbands who knew their wives had cheated. Parents who worried their children would never be successful, or had begun to stray toward delinquency with the local gangbangers. Gangbangers who felt remorse for terrible things they had done to rivals.
Finally, as if she could have predicted it, Isabela heard something about Sister Nancy. Maria Herdez, a short and dark woman who spoke little English and worked in the fields picking the very artichokes Isabela sold to her customers, who attended the late Sunday mass in Spanish at Our Lady of Refuge, came to Isabela for good luck. Having heard of all the good fortune to those around her, she asked Madame Ordoñez for an artichoke so that she and her husband might earn more money in order to rent a larger apartment to house their three children.
“Gracias, Señora,” Maria said, after Isabela had sold her the artichoke. “La Monja Anita,” she said, turning back at Isabela’s front door. Isabela had walked the tiny woman to the door and Maria stood in the frame, her round face dark against the foggy gray sky behind her.
“Excuse me?” Isabela said. What did she say about her cousin? Since her parents had died Isabela’s Spanish had gone unused.
“The sister. Sister Nancy.” At first Isabela thought the little woman spoke of her cousin, forgetting monja, the Spanish word for a Sister in the Church, and Anita, Nancy in Spanish. “She say you no good, that you bruja.” The little woman, her head covered by a babushka, flashed a toothy smile. “But I no believe her. You good.”
“Thank you,” Isabela said. She knew Sister Nancy didn’t agree with what she was doing, but she didn’t know that the old nun thought of her as a witch.
“She tell all children to pray for you.”
“Well, that’s nice,” Isabela said. She waved Maria off, closed her door, and locked up shop for the day. She reasoned that with business going so well it didn’t matter what Sister Nancy thought. Then she thought of Cecilia, who attended Catechism with the old nun, and thought of Sister Nancy walking through the rows of tiny school desks in the Parish classrooms, smacking a ruler against an open palm, and instructing Isabela’s own daughter to pray for her mother, who was an evil witch and needed saving.
Isabela retrieved Cecilia from Catechism that afternoon. Since the artichokes, Cecilia had learned the Our Father and the Act of Contrition, and she’d been wonderful around the house, cleaning up after herself. She even allowed Isabela to drop her off once or twice at school, but more often walked, now that the neighborhood streets had cleared of gangbangers, the gutters picked free of empty beer bottles.
Isabela turned her Civic into a parking space and stepped toward Richard’s Hall where the children ran in the yard and shot marbles in the dirt. Cecilia came at once, after Isabela called for her. “Go wait by the car,” Isabela said. “I’m going to talk with Sister Nancy.”
Sister Nancy looked up as Isabela approached. She wore a flower print dress and her tightly curled hair, thick spectacles, and ubiquitous smile seemed to cover for any mal intent she harbored for Isabela.
“Cecilia’s doing much better,” Sister Nancy exclaimed.
“That’s because she listens to me now,” Isabela said. She crossed her arms. “What’s this I hear about you asking the children to pray for me? About me being a witch?”
A frown crossed the old woman’s face. “Well, I never—”
“Don’t think I don’t hear everything,” Isabela said.
“Everyone needs praying for, dear,” Sister Nancy said.
“I don’t need your prayers,” Isabela said. “I don’t need you turning my daughter against me.”
Sister Nancy’s hand drew to her chest, her face clouded with astonishment. Isabela gave her one good hard look, then left.
“What did you say to Sister Nancy?” Cecilia asked in the car.
“She wanted to tell me how good you’ve been at Catechism,” Isabela said.
“She doesn’t like me,” Cecilia said. “She makes me sit in the front of the room. So she can keep an eye on me, she says.”
“You just be a good girl,” Isabela said.
“I am, mom.”
“I know,” Isabela said.
At Sunday Mass, Isabela and Cecilia stood in a middle pew, left of the altar. Laura Ramos, who, along with Cecilia, recently completed her Holy Reconciliation, recited the Intercessions.
Incense smoke hung in the air. “For those in pain and illness, we pray to the Lord,” Laura said.
“Lord hear our prayer,” the church replied.
It was late May and unusually hot. The church had no air conditioning and Isabela felt the sweat in tiny beads under her eyes.
“For the unfaithful, may they find Jesus Christ, we pray to the Lord.”
“Lord hear our prayer.”
Cecilia wore a black dress with black lace around the neck. As they stood and prayed Isabela noticed that around them the other parishioners wore bright colors: reds, greens, and blues.
“For the misguided, may they find the Church in their hearts, we pray to the Lord,” Laura said.
“Lord hear our prayer.”
Sister Nancy sat on the altar beside Father Scott and Isabela thought the old woman stared at her, a look of mixed pity and disgust, the way Sister Nancy might look at her shoe after she’d stepped in dog poop.
Isabela missed the last Intercession.
“Lord hear our prayer,” the churchgoers said.
After church Isabela and Cecilia drove home. They pulled into the driveway and Isabela admired all the good work that had gone into restoring her parents’ house. She’d had the cracked stucco repaired and repainted. Rather than tame the bushes herself, Isabela had called a landscaping company and four men had trimmed the roses, pulled weeds, ripped out the overgrown sod from the tiny islands through which meandered the path Isabela’s mother had once walked to water her magnificent flowers. They stepped from the car, gathering their purses in clutched fists. Then Isabela noticed the graffiti sprayed along the outer courtyard wall, facing the street. “Bruja” it read in crude, childish lettering.
In the otherwise empty and clean street, a lone Coors can rolled in the hot breeze and came to rest in the gutter in front of the house.
Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)