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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

Martha and without thinking. When her father had gone. So she went back to her mother. When her mother at last was able to talk again. And when she had it in her hands she did not know what to do with it. And saying so. Then her father strode out of the room.” But now her mother jumped up from the bed. And then her mother. Martha. 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. hesitantly. who was a big man. And so she looked at it. Martha watched his open palm as he did it. saying nothing. Engracia. and listened to them. but its blade was clean. also deliberately. and brought her to bed with her. She watched while her father strode over them. saying it was never completely the man’s fault. and its hilt firm. And Martha listened bewildered. 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. Throw it out of the window. except look at it. and slowly. leaving them alone. no. And so. And deliberately without looking at Martha’s father. The night was very dark as she peered out of the windows to see is she could find him outside. “No. “Aren’t you ashamed now Martha has seen?” And immediately her mother screamed to him. Martha you are not too young to know. and her sobs tearing through her throat. and once her mother had gotten her arms free. nothing to say. and felt the blow as though it had been she who had been hit. should have surrendered to the repeated slapping from her mother who was a very small frail woman. “It is that woman. and wordlessly. she spat on him. slapped him once. and said. until her father said. That’s enough. Her father was not in the house. Then her father released her mother. your father deserves to be killed. and told her she could not find her father. until her father said. And Martha was too young to wonder that her father. and with her child’s fingers. wetting her cheeks with her tears that fell. go back to bed. and slowly. slapped him. because this was so different from the venomous words her mother had told her while her father was in the room. saying brokenly to Martha. on alternate cheeks. the words falling from her lips with a terrible quiet. put her mother’s away from the weapon. opened a casement and threw it away. and Martha saw the saliva spatter on the front of the dark shirt he wore. And then her mother stopped talking. “Ashamed? Me. Martha cried with her. alternating with her hands. It wasn’t a very sharp knife. that woman!” And making excuses to Martha for her father. she is just a child. but she had no words to offer. three times. but he was nowhere. twice. and looking at her husband. Aciang.” And to her: “Martha. and caressed her mother’s back with her hands. led her resisting to the bed. she said. Martha heard them. and made her sit down. she went to a window. and clutched at Martha.No. she swung back her hand. she went near them. Her mother cried silently. and without knowing it. and looked from her mother to her father. the tears coursing down her cheeks. Then it was Martha who realized what she was to do. directed her to look for her father and Martha went out of the room. still weeping. Her father said. she told Martha. she told . he took her hands in his. Martha’s mother began to cry. The words that were strange to her ears. slapped her mother on the cheek.

he must . And Espeleta. they tried to be kind to her. She now wore her braids coiled on the top of her head like a coronet. But it wasn’t the child that entered who went out of that room. his excuses to stay away when once no amount of sending him off could make him stay away. these but made her see. the way she listened to him. And that night long ago came back to her. You could see that in the way she looked at him. That she did not have any too modern ideas. and a game. then. Watched her grief and pitied her. And then they heard that he had married. strove to be even kinder to her. to hate her father. And into her eyes crept a hurt look to replace the dreaming. Espeleta did not like him. And when she fell in love she chose the brightest boy of her limited acquaintance to fall in love with. Well turned phrases he said his excuses with. And it was in the Fates that his sins must be paid for. things like her being far too good for him.Martha to go back to bed. And a man’s eagerness for sport. And then the way neighbours will. she must beware. where his visits had been as a habit. It did not enter her head that there are such things as play. She was easily one of our prettier maidens. She knew her own father as much as they knew about him. It wasn’t until she was eighteen. she fell in love. a trifle too given to laughter. And they saw her grief. and she wished she had not thrown that knife away. teasingly. with the eager desperation of the inexperienced. still not prone to brilliance. And if she did not see through them while he spoke them. And understand. Laughed gently. Martha’s pigtails had lengthened. He was slightly older than herself. Another girl. And yet the terror of that night was not so great because it was only a terror half – understood. because she could if she were careful. But Martha loved him. turn aside the vengeance of the implacable fates. about their marriage. the rather full figure. with all the good people. his frequent absences. they understood and forgave. didn’t she see? How careful she should be? Because you could. repay his parents first for all that they had done for him. they said it to her gently. she asked him. It was well that she was not too brilliant. And she believed them kind although she hated their suspicions. in her eyes the dreaming stolid night of the unawakened. The air of shyness. then by whom but she who was begotten by him? So. a little too handsome. that the hurt of that night was invested with its full measure. She was a girl of placid appearance. She believed them kind. Charming little evasions. He laughed at her. to make her suffer so. even after he had admitted to a lot of people that they were engaged. and it went well with the placid features. And her seriousness with love was also part of the calm waiting nature. She still was slow to learn. And told her that whatever mistakes she had committed to make her grieve so. But now that she had learned her lesson. and thought it strange that a girl should grieve over an undeserving lover or so. For when she was eighteen. She lost a little of the plumpness that was one of her charms. kindly. If not by himself. cruelly. He must first be sure to be able to afford the things she deserved. he was too different from the other young me n on the street. For they could see her heart was breaking and they tried to say sweet things to her. And they did not blame her. the awkward lack of sparkling conversation suited her Madonna – like face and calm. And so when she noticed that his attentions seemed to be wandering. and so she started. saying they could not get married for a long time yet.

as flippantly of love as the younger ones. You did not know it to look at Martha. to tell her that he was not free. Martha studied nursing. Against her father. when she began hating her father truly then also she began despising her mother. But she made up for it by graduating with high honours. now she was a woman wise and wary. who were old and saw death coming close. who did not speak as lightly. form the very start. and they cited her as an example of what religion could do. Doctors this time. Because Espeleta did not know what she prayed for. and the charming awkwardness at conversation.Espeleta saw Martha turn religious. he chose the very first time they were able to talk to each other. They never had separated. But there is no wisdom. and she had called for him and looked for him and not found him. Wise and wary. when she was twelve years old and frightened. if he ever fell in love again. a quick lifting of the pulse. And where he could have concealed the secrets of life. if a little too shy still. the coil of shining hair as it bowed over the communion rail. See how different she is from what should be her father’s daughter. And Martha made up her earlier lack of lustre by shining in her class now. And they were proud. After Martha had fallen in love. Martha was. another chamber. when her mother had sat . Espeleta was now rather proud of Martha. Lift you out of the shadow of your inheritance. Because she could not help thinking of that night. Not the kind of deep love she knew she bore him. Older men. Her mother and father were there. Martha knew why he didn’t. to whom her gravity of manner appealed. something that must be hidden. and spent the nights in the same room. She was eighteen and not through high school yet. She now learned of bitterness. Because they saw only the downcast eyes under the light veil. there had been the irrevocable ceremony to bind them. an immediate quickening of the breath. Espeleta approved. And to look at Martha. no weariness against love. And where the girl of eighteen that she had been almost a child unschooled. and between her mother and him there was a silence. She was a woman now. For look at Martha. too. Espeleta praised Martha’s mother for being so patient. Against the very fates that seemed rejoiced in making her pay for a sin she had not committed. The next day he had come back. you would think she was proud too. From the very start. For her coil of braided hair was still there. Gave her flowers. and the shy way of speaking. She seemed everything a girl should be. to always make his love for any other woman. Where the other nurses knew this doctor only as someone who did not like their dances as much as the younger ones. Even after that night. whether she was unfaithful to him or not. long ago. Between the two of them there had been. and whether he loved her or not. she found within herself the old deep – abiding secret hate. and the innate good sense that seemed so patient in her quiet Martha had to choose someone slightly older than the rest. And as even she him. demeanour. and wanted to be assured of the easing of the gates of heaven. But what they did not know was that all of these doctors Yet Martha’s mother and father still lived together. which she was. More religious than Iya Andia and Iya Nesia. Espeleta clapped its hands when she graduated. and yet Martha and Espeleta knew he had another bed. They slept in the same bed. Against the laws of man and church. And started having visitors in her mother’s house again. something that might not see light. He had a wife.

and in deliberate words told her just what kind of a father she had. Her mother and she took a taxi together to accompany the hearse that took her father home. For one cannot say. They were instantly their efficient selves again. Martha was attendant nurse at an emergency case. It would ease the tightness within her. would loosen the hard knot in her heart to cry. And since he was married to Martha’s mother. how right! How just! When one’s father has just died.on the bed. But you cannot summon tears when you feel no grief. but it is my father. And watched as they wheeled him out of the room. they said. But this did not take long and when she went out into the corridor. Not her father. But Espeleta of course would have a more winded version of it. one day at the hospital. There was a crowd awaiting them. Martha laughed queerly to herself. Because she would rather he came home. And still called her father. that he would arrange it for her. who passed an arm around the shoulder of Martha’s mother. There were three bullets through his chest. the way it could be any man. that was so quick to censure. There was a policeman beside her awkwardly trying with gruff words to console the little woman over her loss. training and discipline unavailing. and was a good nurse. cloaking themselves . I am imagining that man has my father’s face. Beside the policeman stood also the doctor. With a queer dreaming feeling. she did not thank him. unready shoulders the burden of the sorrows. saying I must be dreaming. she raised her eyes to meet his. then went to the other one. but he was still alive. Father. wouldn’t she? Espeleta cited heavenly rewards. But all while. saying simply. She did not say anything for indeed she no longer had any words. nor had Martha. and over his face steal a twist as of pain. She could not even put her arms around her weeping mother. Espeleta in tears. And as long as there was no open strife. we tried to save him. It had been as though her mother had shifted on to her unwilling. Anyhow. she found her mother weeping beside the shrouded form on the wheeled table. Martha drew the sheet over his face and form. For Martha’s mother. and to condemn. the goad of the grief. Or should be given speech. on the surface. She still had the instruments to put away and the room to put in order. Martha joined them. When the doctor told her that she would be excused from duty the rest of the day. so must Martha’s mother bear it. Acted. had been designed by Fate. and the pain you feel is not of sorrow but of the cruel justness of things. And Martha went to church regularly. as of pity. knowing that she should be in tears. and was shocked to see him drop his gaze. He never gained consciousness. yet finding that she had none to shed. Espeleta. nor any emotions that required speech. and grind exceedingly slow. He died on the table. Martha said to herself. Espeleta crying It was the doctor she loved who was in charge. in the impersonal masks of physician and nurse. It was as if he who lay there beneath their instruments and their probing fingers was any man. how they “grind exceedingly fine. Martha’s father came home. You have heard that one of course. the good husband. even Espeleta had taken the situation in Martha’s house as something that could not be helped. and welcome him home again. about the mill of the gods. Espeleta made excuses for a thing that. A man had been shot.” Espeleta hadn’t heard that one.

over the features lingered no evidence of pain. and if he raised his voice against his wife. even as he seemed far enough from the house to be safe. it was not so they could hear it. And running. Yet today. And Martha said. For indeed he had seemed like a man blind and deaf. And yet the neighbours had thought he had not cared. very fervent thanks. and Martha’s father had been able to run. There was only the glitter of a justice meted out at last. And had come upon Martha’s father in the house. figure. their kind neighbours – that Martha learned how “God’s justice had overtaken the sinner. The man had gone out in the street. she hoped. there was a pool of gory red.condolence and opprobrium in the same breath. and shot at him. Only where in Martha’s house it had been a wife who was patient. and on her lips no words appealing for pity for him who had died. and the thankfulness for a punishment fulfilled. For it is a long street and broad street. in that other woman’s house it had been the husband who had bided his time. But everyone knew he would not pay with his life he had taken. For now. let your other grief commence. That explained why the bullets had gone in through his back and out through his chest. taken out his revolver. and lighted her candles. And thought you know often life seems like an old – fashioned melodrama. the more lucid picture. Among the people in Martha’s house were some from Colon. even in his agony.” they would have words like. Already in spite of the manner of his death. So she gave thanks.” She went to look at her father lying well arranged now in his bier. “Your grief is ended. It had jammed. They would have praises like “The good God knows best. Martha stayed with the kind condolers only a while. without saying anything. and had. guns and all. His eyes soft and deep and tender. in her eyes was no softness. Death was kind to you. she would cease to pay. there were flowers for him. the houses group together in intimate warmth and neighbourly closeness and its families live each other’s lives almost as meddlingly as Espeleta does. he had come home.” Colon is not as intimate as Espeleta. In Martha’s room there hung a crucifix. It was from them – their good neighbours. The killer had surrendered himself at once. But as Martha knelt. And it was they who supplied the grimmer details. 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. Upon the crossed wood was the agonized Christ. aimed at the fleeing . For the woman was his wife and he had come upon them in his own home. Martha heard all these. Death had left no glare in the eyes that the doctor at the hospital had mercifully closed. And yet the gun had not gone off. But where the railroad crosses it. She left her mother for them to comfort as best as they could. And is as avid for scandals as Espeleta is. the gun in the husband’s hand had come right again. They said that the street was spattered with blood and where he fell. and prayed. after he had said he was going away somewhere.