EPIPHANY AND THE ALABASTER ROSE
By Adrian Encomienda
Daylight dimmed beyond Lazaro’s bedroom window, leaving cold fluorescence . He sat at the edge of his bed with a cigarette sticking out of his mouth, in waist-deep memories. On his bed was a naked prostitute, Elvira, who he instead called Elva. She reached out to caress his rough skin, only to be met with a sigh of discomfort.
Two months prior, he was there on the balcony smoking and basking in the rays of the sun when he received a call that his mother, Rose, was hospitalized. Such news came not as a shock to him; she was in and out of hospitals for many months. After all, she was an Alzheimer patient with kidney failure. On the other line was his brother, Omar.
“She’s in again, L. She ain’t lookin’ so good,” Omar said, through what Lazaro assumed to be snivels.
“You know how far I am, hermanito,” replied Lazaro, nonchalantly. While on the balcony of his apartment, he turned toward the window and saw that his girlfriend, Cora, was waving him inside.
“We’re all down here, even some of our distant cousins.”
Lazaro sighed and bowed his head. “They hate my every fuckin’ inch. You think Tayo and them want me around? You think I want them around me after he called me a drunk, ‘good-for-nothin’ son?”
“Show up for ma,” said Omar.
Then, Lazaro ended the call and put out his cigarette. He walked back inside and sat himself in the corner of the bedroom, on a cushioned seat.
“What is it?” Cora asked, fastening her robe.
“Same thing as usual.”
“Your brother? Is he in jail again?” she asked, with her antique, Spanish accentuation.
“Na, its my mother. Shes in the hospital again,” then replied Lazaro, removing his shirt and tossing it across the room.
“Well,” Cora said, seemingly shocked, “will you fly out to the states to see her? Shes your mother.”
“Ah, I’ve lived this moment many times. Each time I fly out to the states I am greeted like a family outcast. My own mother doesn’t even recognize me. She sure as hell recognizes Omar, though.”
Cora then approached him, sitting herself on his lap. She placed her sweet-scented palm to his cheek and said, “But, if she did recognize you, would that change anything? Perhaps you would find another excuse not to see her.”
He then moved her hand away as an uncomfortable grimace came across his face. Then she stood and said to him, “I remember the photos you showed me of Rose when she was young. She is beautiful. That milky white face of hers — those green, dark-rimmed eyes. I sometimes am reminded of her when looking into the mirror.”
Lazaro then looked at her and stood from the chair. She did remind him of his mother, Rose. Their eyes were the same shade of green. Their skin colors were similar; milky white, except that Rose’s was lighter. So, after looking at Cora and seeing Rose, he left the bedroom and went to the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of sangria and left the apartment for a drive around Valencia.
While driving, he began thinking of Rose and her faithfulness to Christ. Such faith, he thought, was fruitless. He then thought about Omar and how he went out of his way a few years back to tattoo, “Rose”, across his chest. Growing up, Lazaro never knew his father well. The times he did remember with his father were brief and he was able to count them on one hand. At a red light, Lazaro leaned his head back and became lost in one of the several memories of Rose.
Rose stood outside beneath the large apple tree in the front lawn of the family’s San Jose home. In a small, baby-blue basket were about five apples. The basket was there on the ground beside the playing siblings, Lazaro, Omar, and Euria. Lazaro took an apple and ran to the neighbor’s lawn. The woman that lived there had a daughter, Jessica, and Lazaro fell in love with her the second he saw her in her bathing suit. Jessica was 12 and he was just a boy — 7.
When he ran onto their lawn, he tugged the woman’s shoulder and said to her, “Is Jessica home?” to which the red-haired woman smiled and told him to wait there. She then briefly went inside and after a moment — maybe two, Jessica came out of the house and stood there before Lazaro. She had thick, brown hair and big blue eyes. Her eyebrows were the most perfect brows he had ever laid eyes on. When Lazaro looked back toward his mother, he saw her smiling and leaning against the large apple tree. He then gave Jessica the shiny red apple and ran, embarrassed, back to his mother. While Rose hugged him, Lazaro looked and saw Omar and Euria giggling.
Then Rose said to her son, “Mi hijo, when you become a grown man you will find a woman, but you will treat her well. You will treat her how you want daddy to treat me. You won’t leave her. You will see that you will be strong, but she will be like a little, thin leaf; frail and prone to giving away. But, you will hold onto her, right? Because, son, a heart isn’t easily mended.”
To which Lazaro, with his small, round eyes replied, “Yes mama. She will be like you and I will love her for it.”
Lazaro then heard the honking of cars behind him and saw that the red light had turned green, so he picked up speed in haste and continued his stroll around Valencia, Spain. He knew only few people there — most were prostitutes and the others were just acquaintances. So, as he drove through the city, espying many beautiful sights, he continued to picture frail little mother lying in a bed of drab, white hospital linen. He continued to think of her even when he stopped to buy a new jug of sangria at a corner shop. His thoughts of Rose continued even upon his arrival at home.
The next week he came home from the wood-shop where he worked and approached Cora with a long, sentimental kiss. Then he said to her, “I am leaving tonight. You were right — she is my mother and I must be there. It is only right.”
Cora then gave him a wide smile and nodded. “Before my mother died, I spent as much time as possible with her. I had no regrets when she passed because I knew I was there and I knew that she knew that. But,” she said sitting Lazaro down on the sofa, “I don’t want you losing yourself when Rose leaves.”
“She won’t remember me — I already know that. Euria, Omar, and Hilda will be there with her and give me dirty looks. I have been through this so many times, babe.”
“But, at any time it can end.”
Lazaro then nodded. He knew she was correct in her thinking. So, that night, after making love to Cora, he packed a few bags and set them by the door. He waited on the sofa, in silence, for Cora to finish showering. The running water played like an endless loop to the dreadful ‘what-ifs’ he played in his head. ‘At any moment’, he thought to himself, ‘at any given moment’. When he heard the water cease it’s dancing, he hurried to the bathroom and entered without even a knock. He saw Cora standing like a naked, white pillar of daffodils. Her breasts looked as soft as beds of cotton and were, from experience, sweeter than honey.
“Goodbye,” said Lazaro, reaching for her hand.
“Goodbye? Oh, Lazaro, what means this?”
Lazaro started to speak, but then abandoned it all at once. He then kissed her hand and hurried to the door. As soon as he entered his car, he shook his head and called Omar on his cell phone. After a few rings, Omar answered, saying, “Yo.”
To which Lazaro enthusiastically replied, “Hermano! I am coming down there. I am on my way to the airport. How’s ma?”
“She asked for you. Well, I assume its you shes speaking of. We showed her pictures, but she didn’t remember a lot of shit. As soon as we showed her a picture of Papa, she began to tear up, saying ‘Lavaro! Lavaro!’”
“You think she is meaning to call my name?”
“Well, no one else has a similar name to that which she is calling.”
Then, Lazaro became silent. He remembered her voice — it wasn’t old. Her voice was not like an elderly person’s voice; her voice was like that of a forty-year-old woman. Or, perhaps, Lazaro thought, her voice sounded that way in his head because the last time he heard her was when she was forty-years-old.
“She prayed again last night,” Omar said, breaking the silence. “I saw how her eye lit up when she proclaimed that Jesus is Lord.”
Lazaro then ended the call and tossed the phone into the passenger seat. Her faith angered him not because it was ridiculous or dubious, but because such faith he had never seen in a suffering person. So, the question often pained his heart, What has her faith begot her but misery? He thought about the question his entire drive to the airport. When he was on the plane, he continued thinking of Rose. He also had wandering thoughts of Cora.
When he arrived at the San Jose International Airport, after the flight, he walked through the familiar terminal, remembering the last time he was there. The last time he was there he had one black eye, a broken finger, and blurry vision. He had fought with the boyfriend of a girl whom he had sexual relations with in a parking lot. Such memories were both sweet and sour. As he stood bethinking himself of prior days, he was approached by his sister, Euria.
“Laz!” she cried, hugging him from behind.
Startled, he turned around and kissed her on the head. “Where did you come from? Did everyone come along?”
“It is just I alone,” she replied, still smiling and examining him as if she hadn’t seen him in a decade.
“Tell me — how bad is she?”
Euria’s smile died and she then softly said, “She is worse now than before. Laz, I don’t even think she has a week.”
After the brief exchange, the two left to Euria’s car and began their drive to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. On the road there, Lazaro saw many familiar places, such as his old high school which was now repainted and renovated. The entire drive, Euria was silent save for a yawn or cough here and there. She resembled Rose in the slightest; Euria’s skin and eyes were both darker than Rose’s. Hilda, who was the only sibling from a different father, looked more like her father than Rose. But, despite their blood-relation, Lazaro was never close to Hilda. She seemed more like a cousin to him than a sister.
“How is Hilda?” Lazaro then asked, still looking out the window.
Euria sighed and replied, “She is well. She had her baby boy two months ago. We had tried to call you — to invite you to her baby shower a few months back, but you seemed to have been busy.”
Lazaro then nodded. He wanted to argue and claim how unfair it was to conceal family matters from him, but he hadn’t the energy.
The rest of the drive was silent. Even as they entered the hospital and walked to the elevator, they were silent. Euria pressed the round ‘10’ button inside the elevator and they were taken to the floor where Rose’s room was.
As soon as they began toward her room, Lazaro saw many familiar faces. He first saw Tayo, Rose’s half-brother. When Tayo saw Lazaro, he nodded at him and gave a weak smile. Lazaro, in response, smiled and reached out to shake his hand. He heard a faint sob and turned to see Hilda standing with her baby boy cradled in her arms.
“Hilda, oh baby,” Lazaro muttered and walked toward her. He embraced her, feeling her warm tears against the side of his face. Lazaro then looked at the baby boy and gave him a kiss on his tiny hand. “What is his name?” he then whispered.
“He has his father’s name,” she then replied, with what seemed like a forced smile.
After speaking very briefly to Tayo, Hilda, and some other distant family members, Lazaro entered Rose’s room. It almost killed him; her pink gowned, tiny body was there in the bed looking cold and abandoned. She was still milky white and she still had emerald eyes. She was still bosomy. She still wore her dark hair down. Most of all, she was still Rose — his mother.
Beside the bed, on a chair, was Omar. He still looked as he did before; a black tank-top, a baseball cap, and tattooed from the neck down. On the stand, beside the bed, was Rose’s Bible. The Bible that was there beside her was the same one she had read from when Lazaro, Omar, and Euria were just children. It had a ruby on the top right corner of it’s burgundy, leather cover. Lazaro knew that if he had turned to the Book of Matthew, he would find a family photo — which was rare for it included the siblings’ father. When he was a child, he remembered scribbling Jessica’s name on the backside of the photograph in red pen. He was tempted to open the Bible, but instead knelt beside the bed and said to Rose, “I’m here mama. It is me, your son, Lazaro.”
Lazaro then held onto his younger brother’s hand, waiting for a response from his mother. She seemed indifferent; she looked at him, but said nothing. She acted as if he had been there kneeling the entire day.
“Ma, its Lavaro. Your oldest son is here!” Omar then said, pointing toward Lazaro.
“Yes, ma, it is me,” Lazaro said, letting out a sole tear.
“But, you’re my son,” said Rose unto Omar. “Do I have more than one son?”
“Yes, ma!” exclaimed her eldest son. “I am Lazaro — your first born son. Remember me?”
When she gawked confusedly, Omar reached for the photo of the siblings’ father, Roses’ widower, Lazaro. He showed Rose the photo, saying, “Ma, your first born son looks just like your husband. Do you remember him — the first child you ever had?”
Rose’s eyes then widened as she reached out for her eldest son’s hand. She caressed his hand as her smile grew. When she began smiling, she became the mother Lazaro remembered. Then, after a few stutters, she spoke, saying, “Oh, Lazaro. I thought you had died a long, long, time ago, love. You did not die?”
“No, ma. It is really I. I am really here.”
“But, I remember I lived without you for a long time. I – I – I thought you had died.”
He then heard a squeak and turned to see that Hilda and Euria had entered the room. Turning back to Rose, he kissed her hand and said, “I am very alive. I was away, but I am not dead.”
“Oh, love, I remember how you were laid in that box — that casket. I remember how I tried so hard to save you from being lowered into that grave. I cried for weeks; my eyes were red every day and every night. My sons, they tried keeping me happy — it worked, well for a few years at least. But, love, that doesn’t matter anymore, for you are here with me again.”
After she had said this, Lazaro looked at Omar. He continued looking at him as if Omar’s gaze would somehow aid him in speaking — in thinking. Then Euria beckoned at Rose’s right side and said to her, “Mama, don’t you see your son there?”
To which she replied, “Yes, Euria, I see my son. That is him there beside your father!”
“No! Let her continue,” Lazaro said, cutting off Hilda.
Then, Rose looked about the room at her children. But, Lazaro knew she saw not four of her children, but three children and her husband. “My children, they kept me strong during your time away,” said she, still caressing Lazaro’s hand, “I was strong enough to find a new love — my second love. Well, we had a new child. So, I had four children in total once she was born.”
“You have four children? Tell me their names, Rose,” said Lazaro, anticipating the answer.
“Omar is my son.”
“Yes, but what about the other three?”
“I had two beautiful girls. There!” she said, pointing at Hilda. “She is there!”
“Yes, but what about the other girl? You said you had two beautiful girls.”
“My other beautiful girl is named Euria. She has the fairest features,” said Rose, looking around the room. Lazaro glanced at Euria and saw her in tears, in the corner of the room.
“Ma, look, there she is,” he said, pointing at Euria. “There is your fair child!”
Rose then looked toward Euria. Right as her eyes were laid upon her daughter, her smile grew again. With her right hand, she reached out toward Euria, saying, “Oh, my sweet, beautiful little girl. How long have you been standing there?”
“Ma, you’ve seen me just yesterday,” she said, through what Lazaro saw were heavy tears.
“Yesterday? Is that when my husband died and was lowered into the grave?”
But, before anyone could answer her precarious question, Lazaro stood up and said, “Rose, what about your other child? You have told me about Omar, Euria, and Hilda, the child from your second love. You said you had four children; tell me about this fourth child.”
“Calmate, L,” Omar said, just below a whisper.
Lazaro ignored his brother and said unto his mother, “Rose, my wife, talk to me about your other son. Please, tell me about your first born son!”
After he said this, there was a moment of unbroken silence. The beeping of machines still continued beyond the great, loud silence. Beyond his mother’s eyes, Lazaro saw her winding memory; it was like a roll of film that she was direly searching through. After a few moments, Rose began humming, “Pescador De Hombres”, with her eyes set upon the ceiling. When Lazaro saw this, he figured Rose had abandoned whatever she’d been summoning up in her memories. He placed his hand on Omar’s shoulder and saluted his sisters. With that, he was off toward the door. But, as he stepped out briefly, he heard Hilda frantically call out his name. He stood, with one foot in the room and one beyond the door, contemplating whether to continue with the trials and tribulations of forgetfulness, or to abandon the ordeal. As he stood, wavering this way and that way, Rose called out, in her maternal voice, “Lazaro!”
When he heard his name being carried by her voice, he hurried back to her side. He cupped her hand in his and said, “Yes?” like a curious child.
She looked at him with emerald eyes and cleared her throat of excess fluid build-up. She then spoke, “I did have another son. I remember his voice — it was like the sound of cascading water! He was a great son; in his youth, he was always close to me. But, as time went on, he became distant. Before I had time to notice, he had moved away with a girl. Since then, he has not come to see me. I loved him. I remember the day I found out I was pregnant — it was pure joy! Oh, my sweet baby boy. I pray each day that the Lord blesses me with just enough time to see his face again. But, I am nearing the end — I feel it.” She then gazed longingly into Lazaro’s eyes.
“The Lord,” Lazaro said with a sigh, “has answered your prayer.”
“My obstinate son, I hope, is still faithful. When I leave, my children will inherit only the memory of me, along with the faith I have gifted them. I know that my son, wherever he may be, has inherited the greatest thing about me — my light.”
“And if he hasn’t?”
“Well,” she said, and Lazaro thought,for a fragment of a second, that she was going to come to her senses and realize that he was her son. “If he ever loved me, he’ll learn to not loathe my faith, but loathe that which tried so hard to hinder my faith — darkness.”
And after Rose said this, she turned her head toward Euria, seemingly dismissing Lazaro. Lazaro kissed his mother’s cupped hand and slowly began toward the door. He felt the pity his siblings felt for him — it radiated, like a scent or a radio wave. As he walked through the door, he took a fleeting glance at his milky white mother who was laid out in a bed of linen and photographs. The door came to a halt behind him.
Within the next week, while at a local motel, he received what he had been expecting — news of his mother’s death. She had died at 3:08 PM in her sleep the day after he had last seen her. Upon receiving the news, he sat, forcing himself to cry. A tear — maybe two, fell onto his lap, but that was it. He spent the remainder of the night drinking wine and making love to a former high school sweetheart.
The next morning, Omar drove by to take him to the airport for his flight back to Valencia, Spain. While in the car smoking, the two laughed at jokes of the olden days. Lazaro attempted to rekindle the spark of brotherhood that he and Omar once possessed, but the conversation was dry; it was devoid of any true emotion and interest.
The car then parked. Before Lazaro left, Omar took a hold of his wrist. “Hermano,” he said, a somber reverb in his voice, “did she truly think it was Pa she was speaking to?”
Lazaro closed his eyes momentarily as he realized where the conversation was headed. “I believe she did.”
“Well,” Omar said, lowering the volume of the car radio, “here is what I think. I think that ma knew it was you. You heard the way she was speaking; she seemed all there in the head. She knew it was you — or so I believe.”
“She knew it was me? Well, hell, if that is true, then why did she speak to me that way?”
“L, she hasn’t seen you in many years. She likely couldn’t manage the shock of finally seeing you again. Perhaps she spoke about you in that way because she longed to say goodbye. Maybe she felt like a burden with all her health issues and whatnot. But, that night, after you had left, she said to me, ‘Omar, you’re like your brother — stubborn, but full of love’. When she said, ‘brother’, she motioned her hand toward the area where you were kneeling.”
“Na,” Lazaro muttered , after a brief moment of silence, “she thought I was Pa.” After he said this, he kissed his brother on the head and left for the terminal with his belongings.
A month or so after his arrival in Valencia, when he beckoned Cora in tears on the bathroom floor, he sat on the balcony, drinking a cup of red wine. He knew that Rose’s funeral was weeks ago, but he refused to attend it. His reason for not attending wasn’t spite, but fear and sadness. Had he attended, he’d be standing amidst other mourning loved ones in a cycle of ‘remember, cry, smile, remember, cry, smile…’. Seeing her alive and speaking was how he had envisioned her final day. But, what pained his heart was what Omar had told him. He could not help but question whether she truly saw him as his father, or if she knew it was really he all along. If she knew it was he, then he assumed it was her final wish for him to ‘be faithful’. She wanted him to not loath her faith, but the illness. She spoke, many times, about her faith being the uplifting device in her constant falling. The loathing of such strength, he knew, was to be loathed itself. So, he finished the last drop of wine and nodded, as if to say, ‘you were right, ma. You were right all along’. He left the glass on the marble balcony rail as he went inside.
With Cora away in Jerusalem for work, Lazaro confided in Elvira, the prettiest prostitute in Valencia. She was there on the bed wearing nothing but salmon-colored lip balm and golden earrings. With the last light of day behind some distant hills, Lazaro placed a cigarette in his mouth and sat at the edge of the bed, waist-deep in memories. Elva reached out to caress his rough skin only to be met with phlegmatic passiveness and a sigh.
About the Author:
Adrian Encomienda was born in Phoenix, Arizona. His writing is influenced by authors such as John Bunyan and John Milton. His latest short story, “Cicatrin”, can be read in the Summer 2017 issue of Dark Gothic Resurrected. He is currently working on his first full-length novel.