she only wore white around the rancho, because it kept her cool, she said, in all that central valley stagnant dry heat. but the truth was, it reminded her of home, of her family in their soft clean lace and silk, flowing, pure, fresh. she knew she romanticized home, but one minute detail, the smell of honey or jasmine on a windless morning, could take her back. back to the hidden turquoise pools and her older sisters' laughter as they tossed mangoes from the treetops, how the fruit would bounce on the earth and sometimes split, and Matilde would run pick up the sticky chunks, red juice dripping off their fingers, licking her fingers like a little monkey to the sounds of her sisters giggles and secrets.
she had been fixteen years old when she first saw walter. she was dazzled by the angle of his tall frame, the foreign sounds that jumped stacatto from his tongue, and his suits so bright the sun bounced off his chest. he came to talk to her father, el General, choosing men from their village to help him in the mines. he was a leader and a doctor, he knew everything, that was obvious. he carried pencils in his pocket and wore spectacles; he looked young and old at once. she smiled at him, furtively as a mouse, and then scurried back outside to sit with her sisters on the porch and fan themselves and glance shyly at this tall stranger.
recuerdos, she thinks fondly, and then pushes them from her mind, coming back to her farmhouse with its great wooden table and the road going in outside her front door. heading out to retrieve the laundry from the line, she stops to gaze at her silver crucifx hanging by the door, a gift from her mother, a trinket, which matilde carried with her all the way from honduras to the phillipines to california, like some tuft of bird feather stealing softly over the world and leaving no impression. this cross hanging here protects her home, and she whispers it aloud, "dios nos mira" and then looks at la virgencita across the room, so she won't feel left out, and says, "tu tambien, mamacita," and giggles at herself for the mild blasphemy of her affection.
the little ones run past her and she calls after them, "hijos! no me molestan!" as they nearly tear the clothes from the line. maybe i am too old to have little babies like these still, she thinks sadly, sighing as she gathers slowly the loose nightgowns, undergarments, stockings, and camisas, piling their soft floaty shapes into the basket by her feet. too many ghosts in this viejita's mind, she thinks, and refuses to let the tears gather in her eyes. her mother never cried, not when the General died, not with the Great Hurricane, and not when her youngest daughter Matilde left, crossing the seas, never to return. Her mother, Josefa Chepita Garcia Cordova, with the fierce black eyes and the softest touch, with a laugh as loud as a man's and as rare as a blue butterfly. Josefa with her constant but impossible urge to hide her smile behind her hand, behind her fan, closing her lips around her horsey teeth and wildness. ah mami, matilde thought, i will not cry for you, i will never see you again, but i will not cry now for you.
instead, hoisting up her basket and stretching her arms up, holding it up on her head like a great african queen and daydreaming of her mother's irrepresible smile, matilde laughed all the way to the door.