Red Bank (3)

 

Aura had been deeply in love with her husband Adonis.  Twelve years earlier they had come from Caracas to Chicago and then Chattanooga, bringing along their family of four sons, now adults.  Three years before we met he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, and in six months was dead.  Aura had taken no interest in any man since then.  She had stayed at home and grieved for two and a half years.  For better or worse her husband’s insurance had made work unnecessary.

Adonis was a quiet, bookish sort of man who taught spanish at a local university.  He was also, of all things, a baptist preacher, in charge of a hispanic baptist church there in Red Bank.  He and Aura had both been raised baptist.  As they came from Venezuela, one supposes that their families must have been catholic not too far back.  But I never did learn how or why the families converted.  I have heard that in some latin american countries joining a protestant church is a way to make connections and get ahead in business or profession.  Whatever the reason, Aura and Adonis and their sons were baptist.

They were also friends of Ligia and Jelitza, and Jelitza had told Aura all about her new neighbor, a quiet, scholarly sort (so she described me) who was meeting her and Ligia regularly for language lessons.  From that brief description, Aura had jumped to the conclusion that I was just like her husband, and was the right man for her—all this before meeting me.  Nor did she wait for an accidental meeting, nor did she arrange such an accident.  She just point blank came to see me and stated what was on her mind.

If there is any one word that characterized Aura’s stance toward me, it is honor.  Her every act and word expressed honor, told me that she honored me.  Reverence is not too strong a word to describe her position; respect is not strong enough.  I had heard that latin american women treated their men with reverence.  As a generalization perhaps that is true.  It was certainly true of Aura in particular.

Aura and I met her friends and mine, and occasionally went to mass together.  She was there that sunday that I first read a lesson.  She frequently made supper for me at her house.

Her house!  On the outside, a conventional split level on the low side of the street.  Inside, every square inch painstakingly decorated by hand.  Rooms wallpapered with two or more patterns intricately mixed.  Walls hand painted in delicate tracery.  Heavy carpets and drapes.  Elegant furniture.  And pots, jars, urns, everywhere, for Aura collected these.  But of course the real art was Aura herself, for it was she who chose everything and fit it together.  One day I was commenting on the contrast between her expensive furniture and the old shabby pieces I had.  And she proceeded to pull off a cushion here and an afghan there, showing me the rips and tears, and explained to me that everything she had was old and acquired in junk shops and flea markets.  The elegance was all in her, and her ability to combine and arrange.

After the loss of my wife, I eventually ended up living a fairly ascetic life.  There is room in it for friendship, with men and women.  But at heart I am a celibate, and do not wish to be otherwise.  I told Aura all this from the beginning.  But she elected to build a friendship with me anyway.  And I could not say no to her.  For her honor was a two way street.  She brought out all that was best in me.  I could not fail to reciprocate her honor.

The most I could wish for Aura was that she find that husband she needed so much, and which I could not be.  Two years after I left Red Bank, she called one day to say she had found him.  She now lives a full, busy, and happy life.  No one deserved it more. 

And I remain friends with her, and now with her husband, to this day.

 

© 2004 Joseph Mansfield

 

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