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Estancia Aldea Norteña 30: Separación y Reunión

April 21, 2023 11:30AM
"Separation and Reunion," coming together again after being apart for a long time (Britannica Dictionary).

The bus station was mostly empty that early in the morning, besides a mother with four children crawling around, and a few shifty men smoking in the corner despite the signs warning against it. Catalina clutched her suitcase and garment bag, worried to lose sight of either, checked her ticket again, and looked back up at the clock in the corner. Almost five. The bus would arrive soon.

Leaving the ranch was awful. Elena had blocked the door with her chair, horrified and upset, demanding to know why Catalina should go at all. Sr. Tilve shouted her down, in a terrible temper, and used language that Catalina blushed to hear. It was a horrible scene, one Catalina felt ill-prepared for in her nightgown. She forced herself to get up and speak, if only to stop the onslaught against her friend, who begged in tears for her father to relent. "I can be ready to go," she said as bravely as she could in her bare feet.

Sr. Tilve looked ready to explode, but he only ground out, "See that you are," before turning and marching away.

"You can't!" Elena exclaimed, wheeling her chair around to block the door. "Let me call Enrique, he'll speak to Papá, this is crazy!"

Catalina handed over her phone but began packing anyway. With such a limited window, Mamá would say not to waste any second. Elena tried several times, moving around the room in search of better reception, growing increasingly frantic when she couldn't get through. "No texts either, they're not sending; let me get my phone, it might be better. Or a house line, this can't be happening!"

Unfortunately, it felt all too real to Catalina as she folded clothes and tried to make everything fit back in the suitcase she hadn't touched for weeks. Sure, in telenovelas, the heroine got to live in exciting places, learn new skills, and fall in love with someone amazing. She wasn't a television character, though, and she didn't belong here. It had all just been pretend, a very wonderful fantasy, but one that couldn't last.

The sense of her own unimportance hit as she retrieved her textbook from a forgotten place on a shelf, over a decade out of date and spine coming loose. Even her cellphone was cheap and temporary, useless now to help her. It was like the actual Cinderella, not the one on TV: her carriage turned back into a pumpkin, her beautiful clothes put away, probably never to be worn again. At least, she remembered as tears started to form, she had a loving family to return to. And how she missed them right at that moment, more than anything!

Elena came back into her room dejected and defeated. "Papá's got the house phones tied up, and I can't get through on my cell. Do you have the Perez's number?"

"Yes, in my notebook—" Catalina said, looking around for it, before she remembered. "But I gave it to Enrique, in case he needed the information I wrote down." Which, she now realized, was stupid. Why would he need such a thing when he had his computer? It was mostly notes on clinical procedures and patient care. As if he needed to be reminded of that! Then she remembered the other, more personal pages he had access to and her face flamed. The need to continue packing was a welcome distraction, anything to keep from melting with humiliation.

Elena even tried to reach José Perez by dialing the base he was stationed at, but got lost in a long menu of departments and officer listings. She let the phone drop back into her lap, closing her eyes tight, then opened them with a sharp intake of breath. "The bus doesn't leave until five, I'm sure we can reach someone by then."

"No, don't," Catalina said, taking her friend's hands and holding them tight, nervous for another's plight beyond her own fears. "I've probably stayed too long anyway, it'll be fall soon, I need to take my entrance exam, it doesn't matter—"

"But your internship!"

It was the thing Catalina had been trying hard not to consider. "I'll call Doctor Figueroa when I get home, maybe I can finish it out at the clinic with Mamá, it'll be fine." Her voice faltered, since she was not sure of any such thing, and she couldn't go on, unwilling to lie to her friend even if she had hoped to convince herself.

They held onto each other a moment, then Elena pulled back shakily. "How can I help?" she asked, and soon was pulling items out of drawers while Catalina finished rolling up her blouses in the tight little folds Mamá had taught her, carefully cramming them in the suitcase. Eventually Elena insisted she stop and take a shower. "I can finish up in here, you need to get clean and dressed," she said, no longer crying, determination knitting her brows.

When Catalina stepped out in her jeans and a comfy tunic, Elena had everything ready, her phone to her ear. "It's going through!" she said hopefully, and they both sat and listened as the call rang twice more. Then Enrique's voice asked them to leave a message and wished them a good day. Elena started to explain everything, tangling her words in her desperation to speak, but the line cut off before she could finish. She immediately tried to call back. Nothing happened. "I'll keep trying, maybe he can go to the bus station," Elena fretted, but Catalina shook her head.

"He's probably up with the patient, and the storm sounds bad, I wouldn't want to worry him," she said with as much dignity as she could muster. "Besides, I should get to the front door, it's almost time for me to leave."

"But!" Elena cried out softly, clutching her arm rests, then asked, "Do you have any money left, for the buses?"

This question undid all of Catalina's carefully built up calm, as she realized she had no idea how much money was on the little card Papá gave her months ago. "There must be something left," Catalina mumbled incoherently, staring at the plastic with dread, remembering all the gifts and souvenirs purchased before leaving Mar del Plata.

"I've got some emergency money stashed away." Elena was already turning to go out the door. She returned with a jewelry box, fitting a key in it and pulling out a brown envelope. "Here, take it all, no telling how much you'll need."

Catalina stuffed the envelope in her purse, murmuring gracias, and catching herself about to sob. Elena hugged her fiercely. "Call Enrique as soon as you can, or my phone, whoever you can reach first."

"But Señor Tilve said—"

"I know!" Elena broke away, pulling back with her chair. "Sorry, I'm so sorry, I just.... If you don't want to talk to me though, please let us know you're safe."

Catalina couldn't leave her friend like that. "Oh no, of course, I'll send an email when I get home, muchas gracias for everything Elena."

They were still saying adios when a knock sounded on the door. Sra. Rosa came in, and kindly reminded her that the car was waiting. "May I help carry your things?" she asked, already picking up the suitcase.

Elena followed them, not saying a word, and would have gone outside if her father hadn't been standing in the foyer overseeing everything. So Catalina climbed into the backseat of yet another fancy car, to be driven the hour back to the highway, and left to figure out how to purchase tickets for the long ride back home.

Looking around the terminal again, she realized she should call her family. Even with it being so early, someone would answer, and she so wanted to speak to them. Catalina quickly dialed the number she knew by heart and listened to it ring.

"¿Holá?" Her father's voice came over the line, and Catalina felt a glimmer of hope amid the gloom.

"Oh, Papá, I need to tell you—" she began, but the phone died abruptly.

She tried to dial again in vain. In despair she remembered that with everything going on, she hadn't charged it for an entire day and night. Now it was too late to plug it in: the bus had arrived.

Catalina was too nervous to doze off on the first leg of her trip. The bus stopped frequently, picking up passengers along the highway, more and more getting on as the sun rose. She watched anxiously for her stop, and got off at a larger junction. As she struggled to carry all her things, a loud speaker announced that the bus she had just departed would head for Mar del Plata next. Tears threatened again, and she resisted the temptation to turn around and get back on. What good would that do? Who would help her there?

No, it was best to just keep moving. So she did, all that day, riding from one town to the next, the various roads blending together, and the terminals growing more infrequent as she headed west towards home. One time she almost went past her stop, and frantically called to the driver, barely able to drag her bags out the door before he continued down the road. She had to walk back to the station they'd only just pulled away from. A truck slowed down and two men leered, offering to give her a ride, but she politely said no. "Too bad ugly!" they yelled, laughing as they revved the motor and sped away.

She didn't feel the insult at all, relieved she was too plain to warrant interest, and furiously fought back the memory of someone else calling her darling.

The bus pulled into Santa Rosa that evening, a city she had only been to sparingly, and never by herself. Her head hurt from exhaustion and hunger, and the crowded depot was difficult to manage. By this point Catalina had got in the habit of doggedly pressing onward, not giving herself leave to feel or think, focusing all her energy on getting from one part of her journey to the next. There were still enough pesos to buy another ticket despite how many she'd spent that day. With some time before she departed, Catalina looked around for a pay phone, only to find them all in use or out of order. By the time she found her charger it was time to go: the bus was being announced.

After another hour's travel, an older lady sat next to her and realized after a few moments of conversation that she knew Catalina's grandmother. She was horrified when Catalina admitted to not having anyone to meet her when they arrived. "It's getting to be so late. How far will you have to go?"

"Only 16 kilometers. It's where I went to school, I'm sure someone will give me a ride." In comparison to the rest of her trip, this limited distance felt easily navigable.

The lady clucked her tongue. "I wouldn't tell you what to do, I'm sure you've done this 100 times, but I'd feel much better if you'd come with me. We could at least find you a phone."

When they got off the bus, Catalina was relieved to discover the lady's grandson was Jorge Paz, an old classmate of her brother's. "Catalina, what are you doing back?" he asked as he accepted the lady's kisses. "I thought you were off becoming a nurse in the big city."

"She's been keeping me company, sweetheart, and we need to help her get home."

"Of course, Antonio would kill me if he found out I left her behind, not to mention my mother!" He made a face, and lifted their luggage in the back of the old truck with ease. "We'll have to squeeze in but it's not far. You remember the way, don't you Lina?"

It was so wonderful to be back, safe, near home, and with people she knew, that Catalina almost broke down as she had kept from doing all those lonely hours. She managed to keep a brave face through her arrival at the Paz home and being fussed over by Jorge's parents, right up until she got on the phone.

"¿Holá?" her own little Jorge answered cautiously, then hearing his sister's voice he squealed in delight. "Catalina! Are you having fun? Is the ranch big? Are there lots of cows?"

"Let me talk to her!" Raquel's voice came on the line. "I got your present, it's so great, gracias. Did you really paint it yourself?"

She couldn't answer, choking up, and was relieved when Mamá finally took the phone. "We've been a little worried after that strange call this morning, and you not answering when we tried to reach you. Did something happen to the phone?"

"Oh Mamá!" Catalina felt as young as her brother and sister, and let her tears fall. "I had to come home suddenly, there was — an emergency. I'm at the Paz home, I just came in on the bus."

Sra. Moreno had dealt with so many crises between nursing and parenting that she largely greeted all news with unflappable cool. "I see, well, that will be an interesting story I'm sure," she said. "Let us see what we can do about getting you home, put Señor Paz on please."

Papá came to fetch her in the clinic's small van. He hugged Catalina with tender affection before putting her things in the back seat. "Well, what a surprise! We've certainly missed you my sweet girl."

"You too, Papá: oh, I've missed you all!"

Everyone at home came out to greet her, with hugs and kisses all around. Mamá had café, milk, and cakes served in the kitchen; she didn't even ask for explanations at first, or make Catalina unpack, instead letting her sit and eat, and shushing if too many questions were asked at once. In fact, when it became clear her daughter was about to nod off over her plate, Sra. Moreno insisted she go to bed at once. "You've had a very difficult day, and Sofia can help me get your nicest things hung up. We'll talk tomorrow." She kissed her daughter goodnight, and Catalina was almost asleep before her head touched the pillow.

The next day she felt much better while joining her family at breakfast and Mass, reveling in the familiar surroundings and happy bustle of her home. But after her youngest siblings were sent playing outside, Mamá sat Catalina down at the table and asked her very gently to talk about why she was home. "Did the internship not work out?"

The long ride at least gave Catalina plenty of time to think of what to say, and she had formulated a theory that was both ridiculous and yet the only one to fit the facts she could reveal. "I think most of the work was finished, so there was not so much for me to do anymore. Then Señor Tilve was very upset when his son didn't come home at Easter. Family is very important to him, and I'm sure he wants to spend the coming Veterans Day with everyone together, maybe alone. And it was such a bad storm, no phone calls could get through, so he was probably irritated when he got home and I hadn't packed."

Her parents looked as confused as she still felt. Even Papá, usually so mild, looked very stern when he said, "That's no excuse to throw you out!"

Mamá nodded, but patted Catalina's hand in reassurance. "It does seem very strange, but he was a general, yes? There are many ways to cross men like that without ever realizing it." She looked meaningfully at Papá, who shook his head gravely and murmured about Memorial Day and lost souls. "Well, at least he only sent you home to us, nothing worse. We are very grateful for that."

"Yes, very grateful, don't worry about the internship, I'm sure you did your best." Papá kissed and hugged her very tight.

"And you've certainly learned a great deal. Who would have thought Catalina could manage getting everything back all by herself!" Mamá squeezed her hand, her proud smile warming Catalina's heart. "There's no need to worry any further. It's not as if we're likely to ever see them again, so far off. Now let's get the rest of your things put away, and then we can review where you are in prepping for school."

It was very lucky that Mamá kept her busy, or Catalina would have felt horrible at being reminded how cut off she was from Elena and Enrique. Papá said he would see about returning the money Catalina had spent. He sat down at the table with all her receipts, adding sums with his calculator and tallying them up in his fine script. Mamá took her over to the Aguirres to use their computer, since Catalina had promised to email upon her safe return. Surrounded by so many people watching her, she kept it short and to the point, only blinking very fast when she recognized the email Enrique sent her with study aids. Her heart lurched as she remembered what had followed.

Their neighbors were overjoyed to see her, although Tío Ruy looked as grave as Papá when he learned more about what had happened. "If I had known, we would never have let her go," he said quietly to Mamá while they all sipped café. "For such things to happen even all these years later!"

"Gracias sir, we're just happy to have her back safe and sound. Strange, of course, but no permanent harm done after all."

"No, but how dreadful: they seemed like such good young people." Tía Lola was beside herself, repeating several times how terrible it was not to know who to trust, and all of them dressed so nice too. "Especially that young Señor Tilve, when you danced together! Ah well, at least you got all your clothes home safely, what a tragedy if you had lost something!"

Catalina said little, answering only when spoken to, and could barely eat any dinner that evening. Antonio called, and Javier, both alerted to their sister's return. Javier especially was all sweetness and conciliation. "I'm so sorry, Catalina, it sounds like you had a hard time of it too. But I'm glad you're home."

"Gracias, I hope you're doing well," Catalina said by rote, trying to feel more than pain and disappointment at answering the phone and not hearing either voice she wanted.

"Better, I suppose, but enough about me. Little sister, please, you know you can always tell me anything, if you need to, even if you can't talk to Mamá. Anything at all." When she didn't respond, he couldn't help adding in anguish, "If he hurt you, if that doctor or therapist or whatever he is so much as touched you, I knew he was too smooth a talker! Juan said—"

"No, please, I'm fine Javier, don't say such things!" Catalina's raised voice drew her sisters' attention, already alive with curiosity. Lowering her voice, Catalina assured him that she had not been harmed in any way. Hanging up, she felt worse: she had never lied so freely to her brother, not even as a child. Her only release was found outside admiring Raquel's new kitten; she let a few tears fall into the ball of fur pressed to her face.

She could barely bring herself to speak of Elena to anyone, since it would only invite talk about her, and she remembered how clearly the family had been harmed by gossip already. But if she avoided speaking of her friend aloud, she fled from Enrique even in her thoughts. At night, snuggled near her sisters, she let herself dream briefly of dancing, shiny eyes, and ever-present laughter.

Mamá was right: she would likely never see him again. Yet even as she turned over on her side, and pushed away those dangerous desires, she knew she would not forget him either.

On Monday she fell into her old routine, getting her siblings ready for school, then trudging into the clinic to help her parents. Mamá showed her a new system of arranging the supply closet, and while they were alone, also said how good it was for Javier to focus his worries on someone besides himself. "We've been concerned for him, it was a very bad experience, but it's probably all for the best. The loss of that ring is regrettable, of course, the price of silver being what it is. It's a good lesson for him to watch himself in the future. I'm certainly glad we didn't have to worry about your heart getting broken yet!" She actually smiled at her daughter, trying to encourage her with an attempt at humor, and like all her previous attempts in life it fell flat.

Just after lunch Papá answered the phone and came out of his office in alarm, asking Mamá to pack her bag at once. "There's been an accident on one of the farms," he said, reaching for the van keys.

"Now, Catalina, see how good it is you're home? I know you'll be able to mind things while we're gone, you remember how it all works. And you might give the lobby a good sweep."

It was freeing to be alone in the clinic, working without concern for how people would see her or hiding her feelings. Sweeping and organizing, answering the phone and taking messages, all these tasks let her do something useful, and none of them asked that she pretend to be cheerful. However, her solitude was interrupted after only fifteen minutes by some people asking after the nurse. "I'm afraid she's not in right now," Catalina said, and hunted around in a drawer for some forms. "Here, could you fill these in? I'll make sure she calls as soon as she can."

No sooner had the couple sat down then someone else came in, also asking for Sra. Moreno. Catalina likewise handed him a form to fill out, then had to help the others when they weren't sure where to sign. A few more came, and then an entire family, including her Tío Ricardo. "It's that stomach bug going around, we've all had it already and it's come back through."

"But what about everyone else?" Catalina asked as more people came in, and her stack of empty forms shrunk.

"Maybe the accident? I heard it was bad, do you know what happened? Che, Esther, is the baby due soon?" he asked, sitting to chat as several others had, filling up the lobby in a bottleneck that threatened to keep anyone else from coming in.

Catalina took a breath, let it out, and put away all her self-pity. Trying to remember exactly how Sra. Mundo had spoken, she announced clearly and firmly. "Please, everyone, it is very important to get the paperwork complete, and we have a great many people to see today. Now, if you are filling in your form, step to the right. If you already have, you may wait in a chair to the left." She walked around the small room, chivying her friends and cousins to obey, although they were all reluctant to move.

Fortunately Mamá returned soon after on a large farm truck. Catalina explained the system she had developed, and Sra. Moreno nodded with mild approval. "Good, your father will be held for a while, they're concerned about some pesticides and he has to do a full inspection. Well, I'll start seeing people, but try to send the worst cases back first dear, I think Tío Ricardo has wine flu again."

Catalina found a set of stickers and started a system to identify cases mild to immediate attention, wishing she had time to start entering information in her father's office computer, where it would put everything in order for her. "Yes, please, just fill out this form, the nurse will see you soon," she said, barely glancing up, and showed a young girl back with her boyfriend sympathetically.

Jorge and Raquel came by as soon as they were released from their primary classes, and Catalina set them at once to help keep the line moving, especially not letting the door get blocked. She didn't remember a day with so many people showing up in Fortuna! But perhaps, she realized as she read through a form, it was just that there was so little room for everyone, and it was Monday; the clinic had been closed all weekend.

"Please, fill out this form, the nurse will see you as soon as possible." She pushed it across the desk while still reading through one in her hand, attempting to parse the scratchy writing. When the person didn't take it, she asked, "Do you have an emergency? Any head trauma or heart pains?"

"Perhaps both," a familiar voice answered, and Catalina looked up with a gasp to find Enrique Tilve smiling down at her. He was more disheveled than she had ever seen him before: his T-shirt was wrinkled and untucked, hair in complete disarray around his pushed up sunglasses, and a faint trail of stubble could be seen on his chin. But she didn't care at all.

He was the best sight imaginable, and gloriously, without a doubt, real.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 30: Separación y Reunión

MichelleRWApril 21, 2023 11:30AM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 30: Separación y Reunión

Maria VApril 22, 2023 05:21PM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 30: Separación y Reunión

MichelleRWApril 23, 2023 03:22AM


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