A Song of Joy
(A Sergeant Garcia Story)
“I want to hold him, please,” she said,
reaching out for her child. Garcia
handed her the baby. She held
him in the crook of her arm
“I need to cut the cord, I think,” he said,
trying hard to remember that peon woman so long ago.
It was easier with horses and cattle.
The cord broke by itself during the birth. He found his knife near the other part of his halved
underwear and he reached over to do the deed.
Then he remembered, the women did something first.
Ah! he thought. They
tied something around it first to stop the bleeding.
He used the knife to cut two strips from the bottom of the Señora
Perdiz’s skirts. “My
pardons, señora,” he apologized.
“It is all right, Sergeant.
Do whatever you must,” she replied, her eyes locked onto her
Garcia tied the strips tightly and then he paused.
“Do you think it will hurt him?” he asked.
Señora Perdiz pulled her eyes away
from her baby’s face and gazed at him.
“I do not think so, Sergeant.
But either way, it will have to be done.”
“Sí,” he said, and quickly did the
task. At about the same time,
the new mother began moaning and Garcia realized that, like in the birth
of new foals, there would be afterbirth.
He remembered what the women had done with the young girl, just
before his own mother had jerked him away.
Laying his knife aside, he reached over and gently massaged the
She looked at him in surprise and slight
suspicion. “What are you doing?”
“It is what the midwives do . . . I think,” he
replied. His fingers tingled
and he felt a warmth inside that he had never felt before.
“It feels good, Sergeant,” said Isadora.
The massage was gentle and she relaxed, despite the pain she was
experiencing once more. There was one sharp pain, but it did not compare to
what came before the baby’s birth.
Then there was a feeling of physical emptiness.
The pain ended and she felt lethargic.
The sergeant stopped massaging her and she turned her attention to
her baby, counting the tiny fingers that waved in her face.
Soon Garcia had cleaned up the site of the birth
and covered the new mother with his clean jacket, helping her put on his
extra set of trousers. The
baby was wrapped snugly in the top half of his underwear, and he had built
up the fire to warm the woman and her babe, as well as to frighten away
predators that might be drawn to the scent of blood.
He sighed, feeling a slight sense of euphoria.
He watched Señora Perdiz feeding her now rosy pink child
before blushing and turning away.
Isadora gazed at the child suckling at her breast.
She rubbed a finger across his forehead and down his cheek.
For much of her pregnancy she had wanted nothing more then to give
this child away, to exorcise the visible sign and symbol of her shame.
But now . . . now she looked down at the wispy dark hair, the steel
blue eyes, the rosy skin and she wanted to keep him forever.
Leaning forward slightly, she kissed him on the top of his head.
The little fingers opened and closed as he drank, his slurping
noises a comfort. She looked
up at the sergeant with undisguised gratitude.
“Sergeant Garcia, I am forever grateful to you.”
What did I do? he thought, looking
into her face. Even as tired
as she was, there seemed to be a glow to her, a happiness in her eyes that
was the antithesis to what had been there before.
What did he do? He had only found the shelter.
“Señora, you did all the work,” he said aloud,
completing his thought.
She laughed and then yawned. “Perhaps in that sense, I did, but you were here and you
helped me.” She paused.
“And never has anyone treated me with such kindness before.”
Garcia thought she must be exaggerating.
“Surely you jest, Señora.
All good things must end. It
never lasts, not even joy. And
she had felt joy, briefly, with the birth of this beautiful boy, with the
kindness of this unkempt but sweet spirited individual.
She could not continue to deceive this gentle giant of a man,
though. Later was now. “There is no husband, Sergeant.
There never has been.”
Garcia stared at her in shock. “But you said . . . I mean, you are, uh . . .”
“Sergeant, I never got a chance to explain about
‘my husband’,” she countered. “You
made assumptions.” She
paused, seeing his confused looks. “May
I tell you the whole story?” she asked hopefully.
He nodded, placing another limb on the fire and
settling his bulk more comfortably on the ground.
“My mother died bearing me and because of that
and my deformed foot, my father had little to do with me. He only tolerated me because I was a fruit of his loins and
it wouldn’t do for a hacendado to just abandon his child at the
local monastery. He
simply shunned me most of the time. Even
the peons’ children shunned me.
I had a dear servant; only she seemed to feel any kind of sympathy
toward me. When I was very
little, she would hug me and sit me on her lap and sing to me.
She rubbed my foot when it ached, taught me how to sew and do
needlework. As we both got
older, she was able to do less to comfort me.
I found that the world outside my house was closed to me.
People made signs against evil when we attended Mass in the pueblo.”
She paused and looked into his eyes before continuing.
The sergeant stared open-mouthed, his eyes sad.
“Oh, they were discreet about it, not letting Father see, but I
saw. I saw them all. And apparently Father did see a little, or someone told him
about it, because he started making me go to Mass in the tiny family
chapel. When I was almost
twenty-one and well beyond the age of marriagability, he tried to arrange
a union with an older don who had a rancho some miles north
of us. ‘I am getting old,’ father told me. ‘I can’t take
care of you and you certainly can’t take care of me.’
My older brother, who had been twelve when I was born, agreed with
him. They are very much
alike, those two, including their dislike of me,” she said, bitterly.
“And my brother’s wife loathed me and wanted me gone.”
She looked up again.
Garcia saw an anger and bitterness in her eyes that he had seen
very seldom in his life. He
felt sorry for her and wished there was something he could say and do, but
he knew of nothing, so again, he said nothing.
“The don was a widower and liked the idea of the rich
dowry that my father provided to get me out of his house.
He agreed and the date was set, but he changed his mind and
protested at the reading of our second bans.
That was right after I had been sent with part of my dowry to meet
my intended. So me and my
dowry and my old dueña were sent home in shame.
For several more years my only solace was the meager library we
owned. I only knew how to
read because a kindhearted novice priest taught me.
I loved the stories of El Cid, of Odysseus, of kings and
their ladies. I forgot my
foot, my family, everything during that time.
Those are my most precious moments.”
The baby rustled in her arms, yawning.
She looked down at him and smiled.
“Oh, Father kept trying to marry me off, but there was no one
willing to take me, even for the nice dowry.
Then came Marcos, the younger son of a Monterey landowner.
He had started working for my father as his vintner. He began sitting with me in the garden whenever he came to
see my father on business.” She
looked up and smiled, but Garcia could see that it wasn’t a happy smile.
“And business suddenly began picking up.
He began coming more and more often, always seeing me in the garden
where he and I would sit under the arbor and kiss.
He would hold me and tell me of his love for me. Marcos
made me feel better. I
thought he loved me.”
“But he did not?” Garcia asked.
“No, I think he was simply enamored with my
dowry. But I didn’t know
that until later. He continued to woo me, then he went to Father to ask
for my hand in marriage. Ah,
Father was elated and gave Marcos a goodly portion of the dowry on the
night that they toasted the engagement and set the date.
I was overjoyed when he came and told me.
That evening was so special, at least at first.
He stayed with me until the sun set.
The night seemed so soft and beautiful at that time.
Marcos was more passionate then he had ever been before.
There was no dueña this time.
I had never needed one, except for that trip to my so-called
intended. He took me behind
the arbor, into the deepest corner of the garden, where his passions soon
rose to a fever pitch. I must
admit that he awakened in me passions that were almost equal to his, but
my conscience told me that we needed to stop.
I told him that the wedding was only a few weeks away, surely we
could wait that long. He
laughed and said that his love could not wait.
I protested again and he said, ‘Truly you love me.’ ‘Yes,’ I answered him.
‘Then show me. Show
me how much you love me,’ he said, his hands finding the hooks at the
back of my dress. I told him
again, that we must wait, that this was not seemly.
‘Perhaps you do not love me after all,’ he said.
‘Perhaps I should just give the dowry back and tell your father
that you do not want me.’ I
was weak and afraid that he would do just that.”
She rubbed a finger down the side of her baby’s face.
When she looked back up, there were tears coursing down her face.
“I could not bear to be alone again, to be shut in that house
with a family that hated me. I
gave in and let him have his way.”
Her voice softened until Garcia had to struggle to hear her.
“Somehow when he was done, his kisses didn’t seem so tender and
sweet. But I consoled myself
with thoughts of the wedding. The
next day Marcos disappeared, along with the part of the dowry that Father
had given him. To say the
least, Father and Manuel, my brother, were furious.
They were even more furious when they found out I was with child a
few months ago.” She looked
up and smiled again. “I hid
it well. It was fairly easy. Even
the servants ignored me, after all. But I still had great incentive to
hide my shame. I was
afraid of what would happen when everyone found out.
Marcos was gone. I was
alone.” She lowered her
head and looked at her babe once more.
“But surely they would understand,” Garcia
whispered. A tear rolled down
his cheek, which he quickly wiped away.
“But surely they would not.
Father screamed and ranted. That
was the last time I saw him. Later
I was told that after he had calmed down, he began making arrangements for
me to go to the monastery near Los Angeles and to later travel to a
convent in Mexico City. I
would have already been there, except for the fact that Manuel’s wife
became sick and all attention was diverted to her.
And here I am, in the wilderness with a baby and a kind, gentle
sergeant from Los Angeles.” She
paused, gazing once again into his eyes.
“I am sorry for the deception.
So many have shown nothing but contempt for me.
I could not stand another. Please
do not feel too harshly toward me.”
Garcia felt almost ready to cry in earnest.
He swallowed, not trusting himself to speak and gazed at the new
mother, reclined against the saddle with the baby in her arms.
The child started making mewling noises and he held out his arms to
hold him. Señorita
Perdiz passed him over. One
arm of his underwear dangled and Garcia wrapped it back around the tiny
baby. He held the child close
and thought what a wonderful mother this woman would make.
He crooned a lullaby that his own mother had sung so many years
ago, then he looked up. “Fault
you, señorita? I
cannot fault you,” he finally said to her.
“You have been through much.”
He gazed deeply into the eyes filled with such sadness and pain;
sadness that no one should have to bear.
Again, he wished he could take this woman in his arms and try to
take away her sorrow. He felt
great pity for her. He wanted
to make her feel safe so she would never fear anyone or anything again.
This poor, wretched woman, no one should feel so lonely, he
thought. Then he thought of
his own loneliness. No, he
had friends. He wasn’t lonely. He
had Corporal Reyes. Don Diego
was his friend, too. But
then, there was something missing. Some
void that he felt during the wakeful moments of the night when he lay
sleepless in his tiny room alone. He
felt a wash of self-pity to go along with the pity he felt for Isadora
Poor woman, he thought again, to
be so lonely. Then he
realized that he felt something else.
He found that he felt a great desire to have this woman near him,
to be his companion to chase away the emptiness that he sometimes felt;
that even the wine couldn’t take away.
He found himself drawn to her in a way that he had never felt drawn
to any woman before. He
looked down at the babe in his arms, and he felt a link to the child as
well. Is this what it’s like to be a father? he asked himself.
He remembered Magdalena’s Aunt Inez and Señorita
Bastinada. He was drawn
to the advantage a marriage to these two women would bring, not by any
feelings of love or even liking. Garcia
remembered those incidents with distaste now.
But he really liked this woman.
There would not be an advantage to a marriage with her, he thought
and then he checked himself. How
in the world could he support this sad, lonely and destitute woman?
How could he even think of asking her to marry him?
Marry? his thoughts repeated in shock. Yes, he found he wanted Isadora Perdiz to be his wife, wanted
it more than anything. But he
couldn’t take care of her, couldn’t buy her food, couldn’t take care
of her child. The baby looked
up at him and chortled, then stuck his fist in his mouth.
I cannot even take care of myself, he thought in despair.
I only get paid occasionally and that is barely enough to take
care of my own needs. He
continued to gaze at the baby. No,
you deserve much better, little Señor, he decided.
He sang a soft melody, one he had made up about
Zorro and his magnificent stallion. If
only he could catch Zorro. But,
no, that is just a dream, too, he thought sadly.
Garcia looked up and saw Señorita Perdiz looking intently
at him. She appeared tired
but happy. “Do you want me
to take care of him while you sleep?” he asked.
“No,” she said.
“You have him bundled well.
He can sleep near my side and we can both rest.”
Garcia nodded and handed the baby back to his mother. Her hand touched his and he felt a thrill course through his body. It chilled and heated him and made him shiver all at the same time. He wanted to take her hand and hold it close, but this could not be. He pushed his thoughts away as unseemly. He, too, was tired. Throwing another branch on the fire, he lay down, settling as comfortably as he could on the hard ground. Soon, despite the fact that he wanted to stay awake to guard the woman and her baby, he fell sound asleep.