Memories in the Dust





Father Felipe walked in the small courtyard of the mission grounds, trying to find solace from the fountain that stood in one corner.  The trickle of water was not peaceful to him right now; it seemed almost an indictment of the horrid past that could not be washed away. 

Eight weeks after Minta’s people had taken her away, Diego was every bit as disconsolate as he had been at her initial departure.  What was worse was that the young man’s sharp memory could not forget his own words, words the priest had used the very night of the beating to calm and console the young man.  Everything will be all right, Diego,” he had said and he had believed it.  It was such a strong assurance and it had come to him in such a powerful way, almost, he imagined, like the writing that had come to the Babylonian king on the wall of the temple. 

Yet, Minta was gone, taken away by her people to be saved from death and placed somewhere among the stars.  All that Diego had left were his dreams.  Sighing, Father Felipe paced some more.  He remembered the conversation earlier in the evening in this very courtyard.  Diego had been staying at the mission; trying to make sense of the past, deal with his grief and guilt, trying to return to normal. 

“Padre, I wish that I had gone with her.”

“But, mi hijo, you had told me that to live on her world would be a sentence of death for you,” he had replied. 

“Better that than what I have here,” Diego had answered brusquely.   The priest had nodded, trying to understand.  “I would at least be with her as I died,” the young man added. 

“But what would such a death do to her?”

Diego sighed.  “That is what Jerintas said.  I do not know.  I only know that I feel ripped apart.  I feel almost as empty as I did when I woke up on her world.”  He paused.  “No, I feel more empty,” he finally murmured.

“It will take time, my son.  These terrible hurts will dim.”

“Does that mean that my memories of Minta will dim as well?  I do not think I could stand that!” Diego responded, his voice shaking in his anguish.

“No, I do not think you will ever forget Minta, and you should not forget her.  I am only saying that your pain will ease.”

“You also said that everything would be all right in the end,” Diego said as he got up and paced the confines of the courtyard.  

“I do not understand this myself, Diego.  It was a sure knowledge that came to me at the time,” the priest said. 

“What does your sure knowledge tell you now, Padre?” Diego asked, stopping in front of the priest.

“It tells me nothing, my son,” he said.  “I have no answers right now, except that you must trust God, praying that we will eventually understand what He had in mind.” 

“I have nothing left to pray with right now,” Diego said.  He touched a rose that was just beginning to wilt with age and looked at it. Then his fist closed around it and he jerked it from its stem.  Opening his hand, Diego let it fall into the fountain.  Father Felipe saw the blood red petals floating here and there, separating and flowing together like bloated drops of blood.  Diego must have seen the same thing, because he cried out in his anguish, turned and rushed from the courtyard. 

The young caballero had not shown up for dinner and his little room was unoccupied at vespers.  The priest worried about Diego.  He wondered if time would heal him or if all of the ordeals of the past eight months would finally cause this strong young man to buckle and lose his mind to madness. 

As he paced the dark confines of the little courtyard, Father Felipe said a quick prayer for Diego, hoping that he would be strong enough to endure. 

A slight glow off of his left shoulder caught his attention and the priest looked up.  It was in the direction of the de la Vega rancho and it looked like fire.  This was not the dry season, but it had not rained since the night of Minta’s beating over two months ago, and the days had been hot.   A fire of any size was a cause for worry when the grasses were dry.  Rushing into the sacristy, he called to one of the novitiates, “Manuel, gather a group of neophytes.  There is a fire nearby.   The de la Vega lands.”  The younger man gathered up his robes to avoid tripping on them and rushed out of the room.  Soon the bell rang twice and Indians gathered near the church in the large courtyard. 

Quickly gathering two dozen Indians and under-priests, Father Felipe climbed into the lead wagon. Soon they were rumbling through the darkness toward the de la Vega rancho.  The glow still seemed bright as though there was a large building burning.  The priest whispered a prayer of protection for all who might be there. 

The closer to the fire they traveled, though, the less likely it seemed that it would be the casa grande itself.  Then it dawned on him, they were approaching the area of the tanning shed and suddenly Father Felipe realized what they would find.  

Cresting the hill, he saw before him a great bonfire engulfing what was left of the adobe and wood shed.  The tanning shed had become a conflagration that went beyond the wood and straw that had once been part of the outlying building.  Father Felipe surmised that Diego had to have gathered flammable materials all afternoon and evening.

Don Alejandro and a vaquero, Benito were restraining the young man.  The flames made flickering shadows and highlights across Diego’s face, accentuating the look of fury and despair.  Quickly scrambling down from the wagon, Father Felipe approached the distraught young man. 

“I have to finish,” Diego said.  He repeated the sentence several times, never taking his gaze from the inferno.  In his hands were several branches. 

“It is finished, my son,” Alejandro said gently.

“No, it is not gone.  It has to be gone…completely gone, like Minta,” he responded, his voice suddenly going flat.  

“Diego, let us watch the building fall and then we can return to the mission and talk about it,” Father Felipe urged.  “You have done enough to obliterate this symbol of hatred and evil.”  The priest lightly touched the young man’s arm. 

Diego reluctantly pulled his eyes from the fire and gazed at the priest.  His eyes seemed to be focused far away for a few seconds before becoming aware of the older man.  Nodding, he allowed his fingers to relax and the branches to fall to the ground.  With an audible sigh of relief Father Felipe stepped to Diego’s side and turned to watch the fire.

Alejandro stayed by Diego’s side as well.  A slight hand motion from the old don sent the vaqueros to the periphery of the fire to make sure that it didn’t spread.  Padre Felipe nodded to the Indians to do the same. 

Heat caused the adobe bricks to burst, sending clots of dried mud and puffs of dust skyward.  The muted explosions made the priest jump slightly.  Sparks rose into the sky, flashing brightly before winking out.  It almost seemed a plea for justice to the Almighty from the innocent.  He shivered.  “May God have mercy on those who began this,” Father Felipe murmured. 

“They may need it,” Diego said tersely. 

Father Felipe looked up sharply at the younger man.  “Surely you cannot be thinking of wholesale retribution, my son.”

Diego shook his head as though clearing something distasteful from his mind.  “I cannot say that the thought has been totally foreign to me, Padre.”

“Do not become like those who did this horrible thing to you.” 

“I am trying, Padre.  I really am,” Diego said, his voice almost a whisper. 

The last wall sank almost silently to the ground, dust billowing, darkening the already stygian blackness.

Later that night, after the young caballero had finally fallen asleep in his room, the priest went into the chapel and sat down in the first pew, facing the altar and the statue of Christ behind it. 

“Oh, Lord, why did You tell me that things would be all right, and then let this happen?  So much suffering for one who has done so much good,” Father Felipe murmured, his head bowed.  He felt the hot tears falling down his sun-darkened cheeks.  “Madre de Dios, it is not all right.  Nothing is all right for this child of yours.”  Sliding out of the pew, he found himself on his knees, falling forward until his forehead touched the hard floor.  Still he prayed, silently as well as vocally, trying to find answers to all that had happened.   As he paused, he heard the soft rustling of the birds that often roosted in the bell tower at night.  The sounds were reassuring to him, making him think of the sound of angel’s wings.

Then he heard something, like a whisper.  It was soft, but unmistakably plain and it sent shivers coursing through his body….   “But it will be all right, mi hijo.  In the end, it will be all right.”  



The End


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