|Frequent finalist and past Grand Prize Winner Phillip Parotti returns to our contest with a tale of youthful scheming in a town that sounds a lot like one we know well.|
The St. Ignatius Day Parade
When you need your very own saint, sometimes you have to improvise.
by Phillip Parotti
In the Village of San Vicente, by turning right off Sonora Road, up beyond the Martinez Grocery, one finds a narrow street that winds downhill behind the Lincoln Street Public School. Thereafter, the meandering passage rises slowly across the western saddle of Yucca Hill until, quite suddenly, it comes to an abrupt stop against the chain-link fence surrounding the manganese mine. The name of this street is Little Belyle or, in the dialect of Spanish often spoken along the street, Belyle Pequeño. Where the name originated or what it might mean have never been matters of concern to the people whose homes line the street's unpaved surface.
Once, however, in conversation with the fat Señora Gallegos, Doña Serefina, Belyle Pequeño's oldest inhabitant, is reported to have said that she thought the name had something to do with the well water in the area. The exact significance of this idea seemed to have been lost by Doña Serefina, who had exhumed the recollection, naked and unadorned, from a few words heard in her distant youth. The fat Señora, something of a prodigy on Sonora Road, gave the issue considerable thought and eventually concluded that wells in the backyards along Belyle Pequeño were in some way responsible for the high fertility rate in the neighborhood.
Rodolfo Gallegos, the fat Señora's husband, seemed much amused by his wife's deduction and went so far as to suggest that perhaps the water contained special micro-organismos that might contribute to the street's epidemic pregnancy following Lent. Although the fat Señora had no trouble belittling her husband's analysis in his presence, she did hasten to present the idea to her friend, Lupe Madelena Hurtado, as a probable scientific fact. Whatever the case, Belyle Pequeño constituted a San Vicente neighborhood absolutely crawling with children.
And there was another thing interesting about the demography of Belyle Pequeño: By far, the largest concentration of children seemed to be living midway between Holguin's Fix-It Shop and the mine. No one had ever tried to explain that; it was merely a fact that along a 200-yard stretch of the street, the largest families seemed to be living in houses that bordered the playground of the Lincoln Street Public School.
Efrim and Tina Melendriz, for example, lived directly across the street from the swings; they had nine boys and a girl. Charles and Rose Wiggins, the Mormon family, lived across from the teeter-totters; they had four boys and six girls. Emilia and Joe Lopez had seven girls, and Alex Madrid and the diminutive Maria, who lived close to the merry-go-round, had an even dozen, split down the middle by gender. Danny and Sally Huerta, who had produced only three daughters, were pitied by the entire neighborhood and by Father Latelli, who often found himself called upon to give Sally commiserative consolation during her frequent confessions. "Be patient," he kept telling her, "you are only 23. You still have plenty of time."
As San Vicente's older residents passed up and down Belyle Pequeño, school always seemed to be in session at the Lincoln Street Public School because, winter or summer, day or night, the lower playgrounds seemed to be overflowing with children, their voices splitting the air. Some neighborhoods gave thanks to be free from so much noise, but the people living along Belyle Pequeño rather liked to hear their children's voices; they said that the sounds made them feel young.
All save one, that is — the widower, Baltasar de Zaragosa, who considered the furor to be utter pandemonium. To Baltasar, a man of education who worked as a proofreader for the San Vicente Enterprise, peace and serenity seemed nothing short of divine gifts from a benevolent God. But the activities daily taking place on Belyle Pequeño — activities that he witnessed from his small apartment in Doña Serefina's attic — seemed to resemble the chaos of an overturned anthill. No matter. Along the street, the ants remained perpetually oblivious to Baltasar's existence, or nearly so.
At the northern end of the Lincoln Street Public School's lower playground, Hortencia Madrid and Lupita Gomez shouted at each other.
"Oh yes you can!" Teresa Melendriz snapped with a sneer. "You can so pray to a saint!"
The unexpected appearance of the older Teresa caused Lupita to take an immediate step backwards, and then another, while a smile of satisfaction spread across Hortencia's face.
"No hitting," said Lupita, backing even farther away and preparing to run.
"Holy Mother of God!" Teresa Melendriz said, her eyes seeking the sky as she intoned her mother's favorite expression.
Hortencia's mouth fell open.
"Really, Lupita, you are to be pitied," Teresa continued. "The church teaches us to pity, not hit the ignorant."
Lupita did not quite know the meaning of ignorant; neither did she quite know the meaning of pity. What she did know was that the last time she had passed Teresa Melendriz on the playground, Teresa had slapped her hard on the arm, twice, and that the welts had taken an hour to disappear.
"That is not what you said to me on Monday, and if you hit me today, I will tell my brother, Raymond, and he will beat you up," said Lupita, dropping back two more paces.
For a moment, Teresa Melendriz's eyes looked mean, but then, suddenly, they became wide and soft, and Lupita sensed that she had passed a crisis and that maybe Teresa wasn't going to slap her after all.
Hortencia said, "Let's play on the swings."
"Just a minute," said Teresa. "I am not going to hit you, Lupita. I'm just going to tell you what Father Latelli said to Sally Huerta when we were coming out of Mass yesterday."
"What was that?" Hortencia asked, eager to rub in her victory.
"He said, ‘Pray to the saints to intercede.'"
"What does that mean? That word intercede. Stop using fourth-grade words, Tessy," Hortencia said. "How do you think we can understand you?"
Lupita picked at a scab on her knee and said nothing. She also did not know the meaning of intercede but feared that if she said so, Teresa might hit her, and so, she said nothing.
"Really, Hortencia," Teresa said, "don't they teach you anything in the third grade? You babies are so dumb!"
Hortencia hung her head.
Having reestablished her authority, Teresa continued. "Intercede is like dar; it means to give. You pray to your saint, and your saint gives you what you pray for."
"I prayed to Santa Rita for a bicycle, but I didn't get one," Lupita ventured.
Teresa Melendriz took a step backward and put her hands on her hips. To Lupita, Teresa's eyes looked like they might be narrowing with menace, and she began to fidget.
"Hija, you dummy! Don't you know anything? Is this the parish of Santa Rita?"
Lupita looked at the ground.
"No it isn't, is it?" Teresa said with disdain. "No wonder you didn't get the bicycle: you prayed to a saint who lives 20 miles from here."
"Which saint do you pray to?" Hortencia asked.
"I," Teresa said majestically, "pray to Saint Vincent de Paul."
"So do I," said Hortencia.
"You can't!" Teresa said at once.
"Why not?" pleaded Hortencia.
"Because… because I'm already praying to him," said Teresa. "Do you expect him to hear both of our prayers at once? What if you try to pray to him while he's already busy interceding for me? You can't expect him to be in two places at once, can you?"
Hortencia started to cry.
"I know," beamed Teresa, "you can pray to Saint Cecilia. Her chapel is only on the other side of the hospital, so she's still in this parish."
"Well, what saint do I pray to?" begged Lupita. "Where's another saint?"
Teresa frowned. "I can't think of one," she said. "Saint Lord must be in Lordsburg, but that's farther away than Santa Rita. Maybe you can get your mother to take you to Santa Rita."
"She can't," said Lupita. "My father takes the truck to the mine every day. Why don't one of you share your saint with me?"
"Can't," said Teresa.
"Can't," said Hortencia.
"Just on Mondays?" Lupita begged.
"Can't," they both said.
Lupita began to cry. "I'll tell Raymond," she threatened.
"You just get your own saint," Teresa snapped.
"Crybaby," said Hortencia.
"Am not!" cried Lupita.
"Oh, you're such a baby," Teresa hissed, turning away from her and starting toward the swings. But after three paces, she stopped, turned again, and running back by Lupita in the direction of the merry-go-round, slapped the younger girl, hard, on the arm.
Lupita howled with pain.
Father Angelo Latelli, El Gigante as he was known among his parishioners, walked heavily past the front door of Holguin's Fix-It Shop, turned right, and stopped dead in his tracks. Before him, the entire length of Belyle Pequeño seemed to be seething. Bees, he thought, they are like swarms of bees; the whole street is a beehive.
The trick, in so far as Father Latelli was concerned, was not to bring down the full weight of his 260 pounds on one or another of the buzzing little bodies. But Father Latelli had met that problem and solved it. Children, he had observed, disliked the odor of cigars; therefore, when Father Latelli visited his parishioners on Belyle Pequeño, he armed himself in advance, lighting a thick Manila Blunt at the head of the street and then blowing the smoke directly ahead of him as he walked. The children then parted in front of him like the Red Sea when Moses first advanced upon it.