Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: "Rainbows and Bruises, and News of Some Unconscious Kind"

She knows it’s crazy, but she is breathing rainbows into her toes.

The music helps. In it, rain is falling. And tropical birds are calling, deep and throaty. Just when she’s begun to enjoy the birds, they give way to ocean sounds, with waves crashing on the shore.

Ronda is lying on a floor mat, upside down, balanced on her shoulders. Her feet tower above her face. In her mind she keeps floating to different places. Each has a sky as blue as a cornflower, and clouds of billowy cotton.

The teacher – whose name is Rama Do – is saying something. The words are slow and soft, his voice soothing. “Now let the breath come up inside your chest like a kitten and let the kitten lie curled there, right inside your lungs. Feel the rhythm of that air, in and out.”

He pauses and Ronda is hypnotized. She sees a milky blue sky. “Now let go of the air inside you. Watch it rise. Watch it swell slowly up through your pelvis. Stare at it. A pot of golden light.”

Ronda closes her eyes, wanting to give into sleep. The voice keeps going. “The air and light are moving into your thighs…and now your knees. Slow down there. Watch the light circling around your knees. And the ankles. Finally, it reaches the toes.”
Her calves are pulsing and the pressure on her throat and jaw are growing. But inside her head, she is watching something light rising up the smooth purple mountain slopes that are her legs.

“The light separates as it reaches your toes,” the voice goes on. “Each of your toes is a different color of the rainbow. See the big toe. Red. Orange fills up the next. And then yellow. And green.”

The green makes Ronda think of lush mountain slopes. And trees sprouting spring leaves.

He continues with the cool colors, but Ronda is distracted. The pressure is getting almost unbearable in her face and neck. She will be very glad when the teacher allows them to roll out of the pose and back down to the floor.

“Now, with your toes full of rainbow light, see if you can drop your hands from behind your hips. Try to hold steady in that shoulder stand just a few minutes without the assistance of your hands.”

She lets her arms drop to the floor. Her heart is pumping hard enough that she can hear and feel the steady beat, repeating inside her head. She struggles to stay balanced on the upper edge of her back, but as soon as the young woman on the next mat tips over and drops down to the floor, Ronda does the same.

Glancing to the back of the room, she sees Jack still balanced, sturdy on his shoulders.

She inhales and closes her eyes. She sees Jesús, sitting in a chair in a dark smoky cave, bound hand and foot. His mouth is bruised and slack and bloody, and his eyes are covered by a blindfold.

“My God,” Ronda whispers. She snaps upright and one hand over her mouth. For the first time, it hits her. Jesús is in trouble.

She glances at Jack again. He is back on his mat, lying limp like everybody else.

Ronda eases herself backward onto her mat. But the vision still grips her, goes even further than before.

Jesús is sitting in front of a fire, or at least some kind of a light is throwing an orange glow on his body. Two other figures are there. A young woman with billowing dark hair. An old man. Something about the expression on the man’s face scares her.

Following the teacher’s instruction, she rolls slowly onto her hands and knees. Her head hangs, chin to chest.
Jesús appears again. This time, he has been knocked off his chair. His blindfolded face plows into the dirt floor of the cave.

The older man just gave him a sharp kick him in the ribs. Jesús has buckled over, his mouth open, and blood is flowing out between his teeth. He chokes but makes no sound.

Ronda sits back on her haunches. Without understanding why, she knows two things: somewhere, Jesús is hurting. And somehow, she needs to go.


Something like seaweed – green, slippery, and heavily seasoned in what looks like soy sauce – is served for lunch, side by side with a small mountain of brown rice. She takes a small bite.

Across the table, Jack smirks. Neither of them speaks, as conversation isn’t permitted at meals. In the center of the long table, at regular intervals, sit small candles, flickering in the dim gray light. Chairs squeak. Silverware clinks against the plates.

She is dying to speak to her son. She has begun to make a plan. After the yoga class ended, she placed an urgent call to her travel agent.

“Book a ticket to Sevilla after all,” she told the young man who originally handled – and then canceled – her reservation. “I will take the first flight available next week.”

Jack is eating his seaweed with chopsticks now. One large piece of the frightful-looking green weed dangles below his chin.

Ronda grimaces and watches him place the seaweed into his mouth. He chews methodically. Then he sips tea from the small ceramic cup before him. Smiling triumphantly, he lifts the cup up to her, as if he’s making a toast. She shakes her head in disbelief. This is the kid who used to devour greasy hamburgers and fries. Who didn’t eat lettuce or peas. Who spit lima beans whole from his mouth. Now, he’s come home from Vassar addicted to tofu and rice. And a pale yellow grain from South America called quinoa. He eats grains for breakfast and for dinner, he extols the virtues of kale and collards and kohlrabi.

She folds her hands politely in her lap. Wonders how long she should sit here among these vegetarians, before she gets up from the table, goes in search of real food. She’ll drive into Lenox, find a diner or a deli, buy herself a good turkey club.

At the other end of the long table, an older white-haired man rises, bows slightly, and leaves. Ronda takes this as her signal.

Pushing her chair away, she stands, abandons her plate of seaweed and rice. Grinning at Jack, she makes an exit sign with her thumb. Mouths the words, “See you later.”

Jack shrugs and nods and she tiptoes out of the silent dining room.

Climbing the stairs, it occurs to her that she doesn’t have a clue what she’ll do once she gets to Spain. All she has is the phone number and address that Jesús left her last May, the place he was supposed to stay while recording the CD. The phone number she tried two or three times in early July. Each time she called, the phone rang and rang and then it went dead. Eventually, she stopped trying.

She pulls out her cell phone. It is only 6:30 in Sevilla. It can’t hurt to try calling once more.

Italy. The first time she calls, she reaches a wrong number in Italy. She knows because there is someone babbling to somebody else in her grandmother’s tongue. She hangs up and dials again. When the connection goes through the second time, there is the familiar ring she kept getting in July.

She sits in the grass outside the yoga studio, underneath a pine tree. The phone keeps ringing. Just as she’s about to hang up, somebody answers.

She hears music, singing.

“Hola?” she calls into the phone. “Hola?

“Sí? Sí?” She hears a voice, but it is low and so far away. It’s impossible to tell even if it belongs to a man or a woman.

“Habla inglés?” No answer. She calls louder. “Por favor. Habla usted inglés?”

“Sí, sí, hablo un poco.” The voice belongs to a man, an older man.

Ronda sits up, her heart pounding, her face going hot and cold.

“Quiero hablar con Jesús Becerra. He…he….plays…toca guitar…guitarra.”

“Ah sí, sí. Señor Becerra. Yo lo conozco. Pero, no esta aquí.”

“O, sí. Donde está?”

“No se señora. No se. El se fue el mes pasado.” And then, the speaker on the other end launches into a blur of words that leaves Ronda gasping.

“No entiendo,” she screams finally. “No entiendo. En inglés, por favor. In English?”

“He…Jesús…he leaves. One month or more now at least. He is not here now.”

“Sí, yes. I understand. Pero, where is he? Donde está aquí?”

“I do not know. He was sick, very sick, but then he got better, I think he…

“Sick? Enfermo?”

“Sí, sí. El estuvo en un hospital por más o menos una semana, para una operación, yo creo que sí.”

“An operation? He needed surgery?”

“Sí, sí, fue una emergencia, yo creo. No sé lo que era el problema.”

“Y ahora?”

“No sé. He leaves. He pays his bill. He says goodbye.”

“Did he leave an address…a phone number?”

The phone connection crackles. Ronda looks up. Jack is standing over her.

“I’m on the phone with someone in Spain. Jesús was ill apparently. He had surgery.”

Jack nods. “See? I told you.”

She turns back to the phone.

“Hello? Are you there?”

“Yes, yes. I am here. I think he leaves a number somewhere. I am looking now… I am not sure…”

The connection is in and out.

“Hello? Hello?”

No sound.

“Hello? Are you there?”

“Yes, yes. Jesús Becerra. Here it is. Esta en Granada.”


“Near there. The town is Lanjarón. Down in the south, below Granada.”

“But…what is he doing there?”


“A reason. Did he give a reason for going?”

“Señora, please. Speak slow.”

“Yes,” Ronda shouts, her voice rising as her words slow to a crawl. “DO YOU KNOW WHY HE WENT THERE?”

“No, señora. I do not know. I have a phone number. That is all.”

Ronda prepares to scribble the number on the back of a crumpled receipt.

He begins to read the numbers. “Nueve, cinco, ocho, zero, zero…” Thankfully, Ronda recalls numbers from high school Spanish.

“And the address, señor? Can you give me the address?”

“It says here, only Lanjarón.”

“I see. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“De nada.”

Ronda hangs up the phone. Looks up at Jack, who reaches down to help her up.

“So?” Jack says.

She shakes her head. “I have a phone number. He’s in a small town near Granada. That’s all I know.” She sees Jesús in a hospital bed. His head bandaged.

But why? What happened?

“I need to go, right away,” she says. “I’m going to see if I can fly standby.”

“Good idea,” Jack says. “You should go.”

“Thank you sweetheart,” she says, reaching up to hug him. She squeezes him as hard as she can. “Thank you for everything.”

As she hurries back to her room to pack, she tries to recall Jesús ever complaining of any chronic ailment, an ulcer, a heart condition. Once, she remembers him having the flu. And another time, he had a bad stomachache after eating raw oysters.

But when he left the states in July, he was healthy, thoroughly fit.

Soon she has her suitcase packed, and she is back at Jack’s door. She knocks.

“I’m heading out,” she says when he opens the door.

“Drive safely.”

“I will.”

As she turns to go, he calls out to her. “Mom?”


“Are you sure you won’t stay for dinner? I mean, I hear they’re feeding us miso and barley.” His eyes twinkle.

She stops. Smiles. “Oh shucks, I think I’ll have to pass.”

“You want a plate to go?”

She blows him a kiss. “Just so you know, Jack. I really do hate the food. But I love the yoga.” She shrugs. “You were so right about me coming here. I feel great.” He waves and she turns and disappears down the grey hall.

No comments:

Post a Comment