Instead of a prompt, this week I figured I’d give you a piece of flash that was published in the fifth edition of Fictitious Force. A fine publication; on hiatus now, but hopefully it will return soon.
The prompt for this little story came when I was a member of Critical Ms — one of the best workshops in which I’ve participated. Quite a stellar group of writers, and at first I felt over my head. One of the guys threw out the prompt — “garbanzo beans” and this little story resulted. It’s actually one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it.
(Yes, I’m aware it needs another edit — I’m never “done” with a piece, but sometimes ya just gotta let them go.)
Learning The Hard Way
“Roberto, get that out of your nose right now!”
Miguel jumped at the sound of his mother’s voice, and looked over at his brother. Grinning sheepishly, Roberto folded the garbanzo bean in his napkin. Miguel giggled and gazed at his eleven year-old brother with respect. He never would have thought to put a garbanzo up his nose.
He looked over the stained tablecloth at Noni into her sad, dark eyes.
“No, Miguel. Just because Roberto tried it doesn’t mean you have to.”
Miguel blushed and hung his head. How did his Noni always know what he was thinking?
“Hush, Mama,” said the boy’s mother. “Miguel knows better.”
Roberto snorted, knowing Miguel certainly did not.
Noni sighed. It was a big sigh for her tiny, frail body. Miguel always wondered how someone so strong could be so small.
“Roberto should know better too, Rosa. Miguel will try anything Roberto does.” Noni turned her gaze on her grandsons. “I think I need to tell you two niño traviesos a story tonight.” Miguel sat up straighter in his chair and exchanged an excited look with his brother. They loved Noni’s stories.
“Mama, not that story. You’ll scare them.”
Noni turned her patient and sad gaze on her daughter. “Rosa, I am their grandmamma. I will tell them what they need to hear.”
Rosa gave up. She had heard the story as a little girl and it had scared her ever since. Some things are tradition.
Noni tucked the boys into the bed they shared. They were both wriggling in excitement, giggling and getting comfortable under the well worn quilt that Noni had made with her own two hands. They loved their grandmamma’s stories. She didn’t tell them every night, so it was exciting and special when she did.
Her grandsons were her joy. Their beautiful liquid eyes; their chubby little boy toes; their sleek dark hair. Noni made herself comfortable in her special rocker beside their bed and folded wrinkled hands in her lap.
“Tonight I’m going to tell you a story about what happens when little children don’t listen to their mama.”
Both boys shivered in anticipation. Oh, this was going to be a good one. All the good ones started this way.
Once upon a time, there were two little girls who were sisters. Their names were Maria and Lucita, and they loved each other very much.
Maria was the elder of the two girls, and every thing that she did, Lucite wanted to do.
(Noni looked gravely at the two boys, and Roberto blushed.)
It wasn’t always a bad thing, such as when Maria helped her mama cook dinner and Lucita helped. Maria assisted with the laundry because that is what Mama did to earn money, and Lucita would help too. But when it came to naughty things, or bad things, Lucita would follow right along with her sister and end up in as much or more trouble than Maria.
One night at the dinner table, Maria started to put a garbanzo bean up her nose.
(Miguel started to giggle, and Noni quelled him with a glance. “Do you want me to stop, bambino?”
“No, Noni, por favor.”
Mama caught Maria right away, (like your mama caught you, Roberto.) But Mama didn’t see Lucita putting the bean up her nose, like Maria tried to do. Maria was banished from the table, and Lucita wanted to finish her enchiladas, so she didn’t tell.
At first it didn’t bother her, this bean. But it liked it so much in Lucita’s nose it swelled and grew bigger and bigger. You couldn’t tell from the outside. It grew inside, towards her brain and her heart.
Days passed and the bean grew and grew. It started to change Lucita.
One day, Mama said to Maria, “Maria, take this basket outside and hang up the clothes for me. Take Lucita with you to help.”
“I don’t know where she is, Mama. I haven’t seen her all morning.”
“That child is going to get a beating.” Mama sighed. “Get those clothes on the line before it rains, hija.”
Maria lugged the big basket of clothes to the yard, mumbling under her breath because Lucita always helped her carry the basket.
(“I get mad at Miguel when he doesn’t help,” said Roberto.
“I always help!” was the retort.
Noni rocked in her rocking chair until the boys fell silent. “Do you want the rest of the story?” Both boys nodded solemnly.)
Maria set about pinning up Mr. Lopez’s we, heavy work pants. As she turned and bent to get the next pair of pants, she caught a glimpse of her sister standing in the garden.
“Lucita, Lucita!” she called.
Either Lucita didn’t hear her of didn’t want to hear her, and Maria started to get angry. She marched over to the garden and grabbed Lucita by the arm.
“Lucita! I called you and called you…” Lucita’s head swiveled around and Maria screamed. Lucita’s beautiful, brown eyes were now green and empty. It was like she didn’t recognize Maria at all. The loamy aroma of the soil was rich and fragrant in Maria’s nostrils.
“Lucita, what’s wrong with you?” Maria looked down and saw Lucita’s feet buried in the moist soil of the garden. “What are you doing? You need to help me; you need to come out of there. Pronto!”
“No, Maria. I need to be out here. When I go in the house I’m so … hungry.”
“Hungry? Are you loco? Mama’s been looking for you, and I have too. I thought you would help me with the clothes.”
Lucita started to cry. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Maria. I feel so strange. I don’t like it in the house, I don’t like it in the dark, and I hear whispers in my head.”
“Whispers? What kind of whispers?”
“I don’t know what they’re saying. Not yet. I feel like I could understand them, but I don’t. I hear them all the time.” The tears continued to fall. “I can’t sleep, the only time I feel better is when I come out here and put my feet in the dirt.”
Maria lost patience. “You need to stop this daydreaming and help me with the clothes. Come on, or I’ll tell Mama you’re not helping any more.” Seeing her sister cry harder made Maria feel sad, so she wiped Lucita’s tears with her apron and said, “Come with me hermanita, help me with these clothes and then we’ll get something to eat. Don’t cry, you’re probably just tired.”
“Don’t tell Mama, promise me,” Lucita sobbed.
“I promise,” said Maria.
The two sisters went to hang the clothes, and it wasn’t until later that night Maria noticed the green smudges on her apron. At first she couldn’t figure out what they were, and then remembered how she had wiped Lucita’s tears.
Two weeks passed, and every time Mama couldn’t find Lucita, Maria would go and pull her from the garden, never telling Mama because she had promised. But Maria was very troubled and didn’t know what to do.
They shared a bed (like you two,) and one night Maria felt her sister shaking with sobs in the darkness.
“Lucita, what’s the matter?” Maria put her arms around her sister and held her as she cried harder. When the worst of the sobs had passed, Lucita whispered, “Maria, I have to tell you something.”
“What is it?”
“Something is happening to me. And I think I know what it is and why.”
“Does it explain why you’re barefoot in the garden all the time?”
“Si, and I’m scared. Remember that night you put the garbanzo up your nose?”
“I put a bean up my nose when you did, only I didn’t tell and I never got it out.”
“Oh, my God.” Maria peered at her sister in the dark. “In your nose?”
“Are you sure you didn’t get it out? I can’t see it.”
“I’m sure. I think it’s growing … inside me.”
“Inside me. The only time I don’t feel hungry is when I’m outside in the dirt, with my face turned up to the rain and sun. The only time I feel at peace is outside. I think the bean is changing me into something.”
“Oh, you are crazy, loco!”
“I knew you would say that.” Lucita started to cry again.
“No, no, don’t cry anymore. We have to tell Mama.”
“No! We can’t! She would be so mad and what can she do? It’s in there now, so deep it’s not coming out! It’s never coming out, I know its not and I just had to tell you. I love you Maria, I want you to remember that.”
“I love you too, niña, but what do you mean? It’s never coming out? That’s it, I’m telling Mama tomorrow, we’ll get it out.” Maria hugged her little sister closer. “I’m telling Mama tomorrow.”
“It’s already too late.” The finality in Lucita’s tone chilled Maria’s heart.
(Miguel shivered and moved closer to Roberto.)
The next morning, Maria woke up in an empty bed. Her heart beating frantically, she ran through the little house looking for Lucita. She was nowhere to be found, and Maria ran to her Mama’s room and woke her up. She told Mama what she and Lucita had talked about the night before. Mama heard her out in silence and with tears in her eyes said,” Why don’t children ever listen? Do they think we know nothing?” Mama started sobbing.
“Oh my Lucita, we’ve lost you!”
“I think I know where she is, Mama,” and Maria started to cry.
Holding hands, Mama and Maria went to the garden where Maria had found Lucita day after day. In the middle, in Lucita’s favorite spot, was a beautiful bush with green, shiny leaves and fragile pink flowers just the shade of Lucita’s favorite hair ribbons.
The leaves rustled and Maria thought she heard them whisper, “Mama.”
The boys were silent.
“Is that a true story, Noni?” Roberto asked.
“You know I never lie, mi hito.” Noni pushed herself out of the rocking chair and bent over her grandsons to kiss them each goodnight. Miguel was unusually quiet, and he hugged his gandmamma tightly.
“Off to sleep with you. Remember, your Mama knows what’s best for you.”
“Yes, Noni, ” the boys chorused.
Noni made her way out of the bedroom, down the hallway and into the living room where Rosa was busy with her crocheting. Noni sat in her comfortable chair.
“All done with the story?”
“Did they believe it?”
“Si. I expect Miguel will come to you tonight.”
“At least they didn’t learn the hard way.”
“You still miss her, don’t you?”