Mill of the Gods (Estrella Alfon

)
Among us who lived in Espeleta – that street that I love, about whose people I keep telling tales – among us, I say, there was one named Martha, and she was the daughter of Pio and Engracia. To all of us, life must seem like a road given us to travel, and it is up to Fate, that convenient blunderer, whether, that road be broad and unwinding, or whether it shall be a tortuous lane, its path a hard and twisted mat of dust and stones. And each road, whether lane or avenue, shall have its own landmarks, that only the traveller soul shall recognize and remember, and remembering, continue the journey again. To Martha, the gods gave this for a first memory: a first scar. She was a girl of twelve, and in every way she was but a child. A rather dull child, who always lagged behind the others of her age, whether in study or in play. Life had been so far a question of staying more years in a grade than the others, of being told she would have to apply herself a little harder if she didn’t want the infants catching up with her. But that was so dismal thing. She had gotten a little bit used to being always behind. To always being the biggest girl in her class. Even in play there was some part of her that never managed to take too great a part – she was so content if they always made her “it” in a game of tag, if only they would let her play. And when she had dolls, she was eager to lend them to other girls, if they would only include her in the fascinating games she could not play alone. This was she, then. Her hair hung in pigtails each side of her face, and already it irked a little to have her dresses too short. She could not help in her mother’s kitchen, and could be trusted to keep her room clean, but she was not ready for the thing her mother told her one night when she was awakened from sleep. It was a sleep untroubled by dreams, then all of a sudden there was an uproar in the house, and she could hear her mother’s frenzied sobbing, and it was not sobbing that held as much of sorrow as it did of anger. She lay still for a while, thinking perhaps she was dreaming, until she could hear her father’s grunted answers to the half – understood things her mother was mouthing at him. Then there were sounds that was clearly the sound of two bodies struggling in terrible fury with each other. She stood up, and like a child, cried into the night. Mother? She wailed the word, in her panic finding a little relief in her own wailing, Mother? And she heard her mother’s voice call her, panting out, saying, Martha, come quickly, come into this room! Martha got up and stood at the door of the room, hesitating about opening it, until her mother, the part of a terrible grasp, said Martha! So Martha pushed in the door, and found her mother and her father locked in an embrace in which both of them struggled and panted and had almost no breath left for words. Martha stood wide – eyed and frightened, not knowing what to do, just standing there, even though she had seen what it was they struggled for. A kitchen knife, blade held upwards in her mother’s hand. Her arms were pinioned to her sides by her husband, but her wild eyes, the frenzy with which she stamped her feet on his feet, and kicked him in the shins, and tried to bite him with her teeth, these were more terrible than the glint of that shining blade. It was her father who spoke to her saying urgently, Martha, reach for her knife, take it away. Yet Martha stood there and did not comprehend until her mother spoke, saying No, no; Martha, your father deserves to be killed. Then it was Martha who realized what she was to do, and slowly, hesitantly, she went near them, her fear of both of them in this terrible anger they now presented making her almost too afraid to reach up for the knife. But reach up she did, and with her child’s fingers, put her mother’s away from the weapon. And when she had it in her hands she did not know what to do with it, except look at it. It wasn’t a very sharp knife, but its blade was clean, and its hilt firm. And so she looked at it, until her father said. Throw it out of the window, Martha and without thinking, she went to a window, opened a casement and threw it away. Then her father released her mother, and once her mother had gotten her arms free, she swung back her hand, and wordlessly, slapped him; slapped him once, twice, three times, alternating

Martha cried with her. a trifle too given to laughter. he took her hands in his. Espeleta did not like him. She now wore her braids coiled on the top of her head like a coronet. Martha’s mother began to cry. And a man’s eagerness for sport. the words falling from her lips with a terrible quiet. That she did not have any too modern ideas. The night was very dark as she peered out of the windows to see is she could find him outside. When her father had gone. “Ashamed? Me. and a game.” And to her: “Martha. that woman!” And making excuses to Martha for her father. still not prone to brilliance. And Martha listened bewildered. she spat on him. until her father said. and slowly. You could see that in the way she looked at him. and told her she could not find her father. that the hurt of that night was invested with its full measure. And then her mother. Then her father strode out of the room. she told Martha. with the eager desperation of the . and without knowing it. Aciang. she fell in love. she told Martha to go back to bed. directed her to look for her father and Martha went out of the room. Her father was not in the house. And so. Martha’s pigtails had lengthened. and felt the blow as though it had been she who had been hit. go back to bed. And Martha was too young to wonder that her father. Her father said. It did not enter her head that there are such things as play. she said. a little too handsome. The air of shyness. and said. and listened to them. still weeping. but she had no words to offer. even after he had admitted to a lot of people that they were engaged.” But now her mother jumped up from the bed. she is just a child. should have surrendered to the repeated slapping from her mother who was a very small frail woman. and her sobs tearing through her throat. saying nothing. she asked him. And when she fell in love she chose the brightest boy of her limited acquaintance to fall in love with. and clutched at Martha. the rather full figure. She was easily one of our prettier maidens. and it went well with the placid features.with her hands. saying brokenly to Martha. And deliberately without looking at Martha’s father. It wasn’t until she was eighteen. the tears coursing down her cheeks. “It is that woman. And then her mother stopped talking. Martha watched his open palm as he did it. When her mother at last was able to talk again. ashamed? I’ll tell Martha about you!” Her father looked at Martha still standing dumbly by the window out of which she had thrown the knife. That’s enough. nothing to say. But it wasn’t the child that entered who went out of that room. who was a big man. And so when she noticed that his attentions seemed to be wandering. and Martha saw the saliva spatter on the front of the dark shirt he wore. led her resisting to the bed. and brought her to bed with her. he was too different from the other young me n on the street. also deliberately. “Aren’t you ashamed now Martha has seen?” And immediately her mother screamed to him. He was slightly older than herself. She still was slow to learn. wetting her cheeks with her tears that fell. on alternate cheeks. but he was nowhere. For when she was eighteen. Engracia. leaving them alone. Martha you are not too young to know. Martha heard them. And her seriousness with love was also part of the calm waiting nature. and caressed her mother’s b ack with her hands. So she went back to her mother. in her eyes the dreaming stolid night of the unawakened. But Martha loved him. saying it was never completely the man’s fault. “No. She was a girl of placid appearance. the awkward lack of sparkling conversation suited her Madonna – like face and calm. And saying so. The words that were strange to her ears. She watched while her father strode over them. and looking at her husband. It was well that she was not too brilliant. slapped her mother on the cheek. And yet the terror of that night was not so great because it was only a terror half – understood. Her mother cried silently. the way she listened to him. because this was so different from the venomous words her mother had told her while her father was in the room. and looked from her mother to her father. and made her sit down.

another chamber. his excuses to stay away when once no amount of sending him off could make him stay away. And she believed them kind although she hated their suspicions. Espeleta saw Martha turn religious. And into her eyes crept a hurt look to replace the dreaming. For they could see her heart was breaking and they tried to say sweet things to her. to whom her gravity of manner appealed. they tried to be kind to her. Another girl. saying they could not get married for a long time yet. They slept in the same bed. Because Espeleta did not know what she prayed for. Yet Martha’s mother and father still lived together. kindly. strove to be even kinder to her. and she wished she had not thrown that knife away. he must repay his parents first for all that they had done for him. After Martha had fallen in love. with all the good people. He must first be sure to be able to afford the things she deserved. For her coil of braided hair was still there. Older men. and yet Martha and Espeleta knew he had another bed. Gave her flowers. Espeleta praised Martha’s mother for being so patient. See how different she is from what should be her father’s daughter. Even after that night. But she made up for it by graduating with high honours. when she began hating her father truly then also she began despising her mother. Martha studied nursing. And Martha made up her earlier lack of lustre by shining in her class now. then. and the innate good sense that seemed so patient in her quiet demeanour. his frequent absences. The next day he had come back. and wanted to be assured of the easing of the gates of heaven. Espeleta clapped its hands when she graduated. turn aside the vengeance of the implacable fates. cruelly. More religious than Iya Andia and Iya Nesia. they said it to her gently. who were old and saw death coming close. And started having visitors in her mother’s hous e again. now she was a woman wise and wary. things like her being far too good for him. teasingly. But what they did not know was that all of these doctors Martha had to choose someone slightly older than the rest. She believed them kind. and she had called for him and looked for him and not found him. And told her that whatever mistakes she had committed to make her grieve so. Where the other nurses knew this doctor only as someone . You did not know it to look at Martha. And they saw her grief. And then they heard that he had married. Doctors this time. Charming little evasions. she must beware. She lost a little of the plumpness that was one of her charms. if a little too shy still. If not by himself. And understand. For look at Martha. too. to hate her father. And that night long ago came back to her. Well turned phrases he said his excuses with. and thought it strange that a girl should grieve over an undeserving lover or so. these but made her see. and they cited her as an example of what religion could do. and between her mother and him there was a silence. and the shy way of speaking. they understood and forgave. She knew her own father as much as they knew about him. And where the girl of eighteen that she had been almost a child unschooled. She seemed everything a girl should be. because she could if she were careful. when she was twelve years old and frightened. the coil of shining hair as it bowed over the communion rail. But now that she had learned her lesson. And Espeleta. Lift you out of the shadow of your inheritance. Because they saw only the downcast eyes under the light veil. Watched her grief and pitied her. Her mother and father were there. And if she did not see through them while he spoke them. you would think she was proud too.inexperienced. about their marriage. then by whom but she who was begotten by him? So. They never had separated. Laughed gently. and so she started. didn’t she see? How careful she should be? Because you could. And they did not blame her. And to look at Martha. to make her suffer so. And then the way neighbours will. He laughed at her. Espeleta approved. and spent the nights in the same room. And they were proud. She was eighteen and not through high school yet. and the charming awkwardness at conversation. Espeleta was now rather proud of Martha. And it was in the Fates that his sins must be paid for. where his visits had been as a habit.

It was the doctor she loved who was in charge. and the pain you feel is not of sorrow but of the cruel justness of things. even Espeleta had taken the situation in Martha’s house as something that could not be helped. when her mother had sat on the bed. She now learned of bitterness. about the mill of the gods. Martha joined them. Martha knew why he didn’t. She still had the instruments to put away and the room to put in order. And Martha went to church regularly. and to condemn. she found within herself the old deep – abiding secret hate. she found her mother weeping beside the shrouded form on the wheeled table. then went to the other one.” Espeleta hadn’t heard that one. But all while. And still called her father. they said. Martha was. no weariness against love. that was so quick to censure. There were three bullets through his chest. as flippantly of love as the younger ones. saying simply. a quick lifting of the pulse. He had a wife. one day at the hospital.who did not like their dances as much as the younger ones. Anyhow. And watched as they wheeled him out of the room. Against the laws of man and church. A man had been shot. But this did not take long and when she went out into the corridor. Against her father. wouldn’t she? Espeleta cited heavenly rewards. but he was still alive. knowing that she should be in tears. Not her father. It had been as though her mother had shifted on to her unwilling. he chose the very first time they were able to talk to each other. Martha said to herself. something that might not see light. and whether he loved her or not. It would ease the tightness within her. that he would arrange it . And where he could have concealed the secrets of life. and grind exceedingly slow. and welcome him home again. long ago. She could not even put her arms around her weeping mother. and in deliberate words told her just what kind of a father she had. But there is no wisdom. He never gained consciousness. which she was. there had been the irrevocable ceremony to bind them. Because she could not help thinking of that night. Espeleta made excuses for a thing that. the goad of the grief. the way it could be any man. Martha’s father came home. as of pity. And as long as there was no open strife. on the surface. cloaking themselves in the impersonal masks of physician and nurse. When the doctor told her that she would be excused from duty the rest of the day. Not the kind of deep love she knew she bore him. who passed an arm around the shoulder of Martha’s mother. if he ever fell in love again. She was a woman now. how they “grind exceedingly fine. And since he was married t o Martha’s mother. Martha was attendant nurse at an emergency case. and over his face steal a twist as of pain. Against the very fates that seemed rejoiced in making her pay for a sin she had not committed. an immediate quickening of the breath. From the very start. And as even she him. something that must be hidden. You have heard that one of course. so must Martha’s mother bear it. But you cannot summon tears when you feel no grief. to tell her that he was not free. she raised her eyes to meet his. Because she would rather he came home. to always make his love for any other woman. form the very start. Father. They were instantly their efficient selves again. For Martha’s mother. unready shoulders the burden of the sorrows. Espeleta. I am imagining that man has my father’s face. the good husband. Beside the policeman stood also the doctor. but it is my father. would loosen the hard knot in her heart to cry. we tried to save him. He died on the table. who did not speak as lightly. With a queer dreaming feeling. and was shocked to see him drop his gaze. Martha drew the sheet over his face and form. Martha laughed queerly to herself. saying I must be dreaming. had been designed by Fate. Between the two of them there had been. training and discipline unavailing. Wise and wary. yet finding that she had none to shed. There was a policeman beside her awkwardly trying with gruff words to console the little woman over her loss. whether she was unfaithful to him or not. nor had Martha. It was as if he who lay there beneath their instruments and their probing fingers was any man. and was a good nurse. But Espeleta of course would have a more winded version of it. Acted.

Death had left no glare in the eyes that the doctor at the hospital had mercifully closed. The man had gone out in the street. But everyone knew he would not pay with his life he had taken. . taken out his revolver. in that other woman’s house it had been the husband who had bided his time. Her mother and she took a taxi together to accompany the hearse that took her father home. For it is a long street and broad street. For the woman was his wife and he had come upon them in his own home. there were flowers for him. and if he raised his voice against his wife.” She went to look at her father lying well arranged now in his bier. Upon the crossed wood was the agonized Christ. For indeed he had seemed like a man blind and deaf. Martha heard all these. even as he seemed far enough from the house to be safe. he had come home. very fervent thanks. There was a crowd awaiting them. the houses group together in intimate warmth and neighbourly closeness and its families live each other’s lives almost as meddlingly as Espeleta does. Among the people in Martha’s house were some from Colon. And running. They would have praises like “The good God knows best. their kind neighbours – that Martha learned how “God’s justice had overtaken the sinner. She left her mother for them to comfort as best as they could. That explained why the bullets had gone in through his back and out through his chest. They said that the street was spattered with blood and where he fell. after he had said he was going away somewhere. and had.for her. So she gave thanks. Only where in Martha’s house it had been a wife who was patient. Death was kind to you. let your other grief commence. It was from them – their good neighbours. the gun in the husband’s hand had come right again. the more lucid picture.” t hey would have words like. In that other woman’s house – and Martha did not even know the other woman’s name there had existed the stalemate state of affairs that had existed in Martha’s house. and on her lips no words appealing for pity for him who had died. The killer had surrendered himself at once. she hoped. And it was they who supplied the grimmer details. how right! How just! When one’s father has just died. she would cease to pay. she did not thank him. it was not so they could hear it. and Martha’s father had been able to run. His eyes soft and deep and tender. But where the railroad crosses it. and prayed. For now. And yet the gun had not gone off. For one cannot say. aimed at the fleeing figure. Espeleta crying condolence and opprobrium in the same breath. “Your grief is ended. And thought you know often life seems like an old – fashioned melodrama. In Martha’s room there hung a crucifix. and lighted her candles. It had jammed. nor any emotions that required speech. and shot at him. there was a pool of gory red. Espeleta in tears. She did not say anything for indeed she no longer had any words. Yet today. and the thankfulness for a punishment fulfilled. A nd is as avid for scandals as Espeleta is. But as Martha knelt. without saying anything. guns and all. over the features lingered no evidence of pain. And yet the neighbours had thought he had not cared. And had come upon Martha’s father in the house. And Martha said. There was only the glitter of a justice meted out at last. Or should be given speech. even in his agony.” Colon is not as intimate as Espeleta. Already in spite of the manner of his death. in her eyes was no softness. Martha stayed with the kind condolers only a while.

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