Felipe Valverde owned an automotive repair business in Chapala, Mexico. As a boy he started washing car windows, fixing flat tires and after many hard years of hard work owned his own car repair shop.
In his office was a picture of Felipe and his wife Rosa on a vacation in Puerto Vallarta. He’s smiling, wearing a giant sombrero and next to him was his wife Rosa, her head covered in white Spanish lace, an open fan in front of her face; her dark seductive eyes peering out. It was Felipe’s favorite picture.
At 2 o’clock every day he drove home for comida with Rosa. They usually sat quietly in the back garden under their favorite purple flower Jacaranda tree and talked until Felipe fell asleep. At ten to four his wife would wake him with a gentle kiss on the cheek and he would return to work until dark. His life with Rosa was: He ate honey every day.
Rosa ran the house with complete authority. They had four girls. The girls were all named after the religious icons of Mexico: Maria, Guadalupe, Rosario. Except the youngest girl named De Soto after a vintage car Felipe kept covered in his backyard and was going to restore….one of these days. Through the years Rosa kept their life and house together when the girls were growing up. He left it up to her to discipline them and to fight with them when they wanted to leave the house dressed like “prostitutas.” When they were young, teenage boys flittered around the house night and day like hummingbirds ready to suck nectar.
Then one day the last girl left for the university in Guadalajara and Rosa said her days were over. All the girls were women now and on their own. She had done her duty as a mother. She could die a contented Mexican mother. Her duty now in life was to take care of Felipe and spoil her grandchildren.
A year later with the mountains a deep vibrant green, Felipe drove home to eat. When he got there the food was on the table but his wife was not in the kitchen. He thought she must be next door talking with Senora Sanchez. He was half finished when he heard her in the bedroom. “Rosa, you are sick?”
“Yes, but it will pass. Was the food warm?”
“Yes. Are you too sick to eat with me?
“I will eat later.”
When Felipe returned home after work his wife was still in bed and he could see she had cleaned the kitchen and his meal was prepared and on the table. The next morning Felipe drove his wife to the doctors and waited with her all morning. The doctor sent them to the clinic for tests. The next day the doctor said Rosa was very sick and was moved to a hospital in Guadalajara. Two weeks later she died, Felipe asleep in a chair beside her. The doctor said the cancer had killed her quickly and mercifully.
The next thing Felipe remembered he was sitting in the garden, staring up into the trees. He slept all night in the chair until his daughter came and woke him. By the end of the next day all the girls had arrived and the house was once again alive with his daughter’s laughter and love. He was again the king, but without a queen now.
The funeral was in the church in the cool of the late morning. Felipe and the girls walked arm in arm in the funeral procession to the cemetery. The wind came up and Felipe heard his wife’s voice in the breeze. The wind whispered she was at peace and she loved him.
All that day and night the house again bustled with neighbors and friends carrying food, praying and telling of the kindness of Rosa. Felipe did not speak much; he just looked around and thought how all the girls looked like his wife. He was a lucky man to have all these women in his life.
Then one night he returned from work and all the girls had returned to their lives. Without his girls, sadness now filled the house. The little pot of beans the girls had made was soaking on the stovetop. When he went to the bedroom his dirty clothes flowed out from underneath the bed.
Felipe loaded the washer with the clothes and poured in a cup of liquid detergent he had seen his wife do. He looked at the washing machine controls and they appeared to be written in Chinese. He told himself he worked on automobiles and they were more complicated than a simple washing machine. He twisted the dial around and around. Nothing. He pulled the little wheel and it came off in his hand. Finally he pushed it and the washing machine sprung to life. The water flowed and Felipe knew that an auto mechanic was superior to any washing machine. He stared down into the machine filling with water and remembered his wife and how many times she had done this for him. It was an act of love he would never forget.
With success he started for the living room and the machine stopped. There must be a control lever that put the machine in drive, he thought. He spun the dial again and nothing. He pushed and pulled the wheel several times. Nothing. He looked to see if it was still plugged in. Again he pushed, pulled, twirled, plugged and unplugged. He could ask Senora Sanchez to look for him. No, he could not ask another woman. He could not bring another woman in the house. Senora Sanchez had no husband and rumors would sing out like birds in spring. Maybe he could call one of the girls. No, they would think he was old and foolish now. Felipe looked down at the soaking clothes and felt defeated. Rosa would know what to do. Solemnly he closed the washing machine lid thinking how a washing machine had defeated him. Suddenly the machine sprung to life and startled him. When he raised the lid the machine stopped. Then he spied the little button under the lid. Felipe smiled and felt a stubborn man could defeat any washing machine. He closed his eyes and listened to the washing machine motor chug along remembering, long ago, the sweet sound of the first time he repaired a car and made it run. Rosa said he was a smart man and married him.
Later he hung the clothes on the line and tried to keep the clothespins in his mouth like Rosa, but he could not breathe and spit them out with every breath.
After late work that day, Felipe walked into the house and stared into Rosa’s kitchen. In there she was master of the universe. She knew where every plate, cup, glass and fork was. On that stove she made tamales better than his mother, the highest compliment a Mexican man could give his wife. One part of him said not to disturb HER kitchen. But another part of him was hungry and insisted he must try.
Like Marco Polo in the court of Kubla Khan, he explored dark recesses of kitchen cabinets and smelled the exotic spices. In drawers he discovered small metal objects made by men from Mars. Under the sink he found huge iridescent, black glazed bowls. Maybe it was too soon to be in Rosa’s kitchen, Felipe thought. He spied her apron on the back of a chair and brought it to his face and inhaled. With the scent of his wife, Felipe trembled and staggered back out of her sacred kitchen. From one pocket of her apron he pulled a small piece of folded tissue paper. He unfolded it gently, carefully, thought about his wife and cried. He struggled down the hallway, bracing himself with his hands on the walls, out to the chair in the garden and sat in the darkened shadows in the trees, holding her apron until he fell asleep.
The chickens in the early morning woke him. He looked toward Rosa’s kitchen and knew he must go back in. After much searching he found the coffee, heated some water and poured it into a folded paper napkin filled with coffee grounds.
In a new day’s twilight, dogs barking in the distance, Felipe drank coffee under their Jacaranda tree and watched purple blossoms float down from heaven.