Copyright © Daniela Chamorro Mantica, 2016
All Rights Reserved
Book Cover design by Miryam Mantica
First Shakespir Edition
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual person, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
I’m sorry. I really do think this is for the best.
Have a good time on vacation with your family.
Happy (early) New Year.
Anna swiped her phone’s screen and clicked on another message.
You better not be moping.
Anna typed out a quick “Maybe I am” before opening her suitcase. Inside, her new dress lay folded neatly next to a pair of heels. Anna pushed them aside and pulled out a t-shirt. As she did, a baseball cap fell out and onto the floor. Anna bent and picked it up: two red socks stitched on the front of a navy cap. Emmett had taken her to her first game that summer. Anna held the cap for a moment before placing it on her head and closing the suitcase.
Her phone lit up as Sam’s name flashed across the screen. Anna pressed the answer button.
“You’re in tropical paradise. You’re not allowed to mope.”
“Well, I’m a rebel.” Anna left her hotel room, locking the door behind her, and walked towards the exit.
“Please tell me you’re at least heading to a party.”
Anna walked out onto the cobblestone street, which was saturated with cars honking their way through the hordes of young people in glittery clothing, all walking in the direction of the bars that lined the shore. The cool air thrummed with the sound of distant electronic beats.
“Nope, no party.”
“You make me sad.”
Anna headed in the opposite direction of the crowd, making out snatches of Dutch, English, and German from the enthusiastic partygoers. “I make me sad too.”
At this, Sam grew quiet.
“I’m very mad that I’m not there.”
“Why, so you could drag me to a party and then abandon me to pick up hot foreign girls?” Anna asked.
“No. Well, yes,” Sam said. Anna laughed. “But also because I’m worried about you.”
Anna pushed through a group of blonde women speaking rapidly in what she guessed was German and turned onto a quieter street. “I’ll be fine.”
Anna shrugged, though she knew her friend couldn’t see her. “I don’t know.”
They were silent for a moment. “I should go. My friends are picking me up soon. But call me if you need anything, okay?”
“And I know you’re not into the normal methods of rebounding or starting over, but whatever method that works for you—go and do it. Promise me.”
Anna slipped her phone into her pocket and turned a corner onto the next block.
A crowd had formed in the middle of the street. Anna approached the clump and saw that they were dragging what looked like a lifeless body into the street.
Anna got closer. The body was actually a dummy, dressed in old clothes. It wore jeans and white sneakers too small for its bulging feet. Its side had ripped open, exposing innards of crumpled newspaper and red firecrackers.
Anna approached an older lady watching from the sidewalk. She was clearly a local, lacking the bathing suits and fair skin that classified vacationers in the small beach town.
“Que estan haciendo?” Anna asked, hoping she’d remembered the right words of her rusty Spanish.
“Quemando,” the lady said.
They dumped the first dummy on the cobblestone and lit it. Anna watched in anticipation as the outer layer burned, and finally with a series of cracks and bangs, a magnificent cacophony erupted as the fire reached the firecrackers.
“Why do they do that? Porque hacen eso?” Anna said over the noise to the lady.
“Un nuevo comienzo. Burn old, welcome new.” The lady motioned to the newest dummy and pointed to Anna. “Quieres hacerlo?”
“Oh! Yes. Sure.”
Anna walked up to the dummy as the lady called out that the gringa wanted to try. One of the boys offered her the matches. She looked down at the dummy for a moment before taking off her baseball cap and placing it on its head.
Then she lit the match and set the dummy on fire.
It burned slowly at first, spreading, the newspaper folding in on itself as it blackened. Then the flame ignited the first firework, and the whole dummy seemed to explode.
Bangs from dummies on other streets joined in, until the air was full of sparks and smoke and noise. The fireworks in the sky reflected the ones on the ground, putting on a colorful display. The crowd all hugged and kissed each other, wishing each other a Feliz Año Nuevo! Anna watched the dummy burn away in its old clothes, leaving behind a pile of ashes, firework residue, burnt newspaper bits, and the misshapen remnants of a baseball cap.
The fires of the previous night were gone, but the smoke had not completely dissipated in the morning air. Hannah sat on the cracked steps of the gray cathedral, watching her children run around the open plaza between the cathedral and the park. Behind her, two men’s voices echoed through the building.
“The structure is definitely unsound.”
“It will probably require a restoration budget.”
“Can the city afford it?”
“The city can’t afford to restore any of the damages caused by the quake right now. I doubt a church is one of its priorities.”
“This isn’t some cement box where evangelicals hold prayer meetings. This is a city landmark.”
“I know, I know.”
“Well, regardless, we can’t allow civilians in here. Not yet, anyway.”
“The archbishop should be notified. He will have to relocate the midnight mass tonight.”
“I’ll give him a call.”
“Thank you. You go—I can finish up here.”
A man came down the steps, passing Hannah with a wave. “Nice seeing you.”
“Stay safe, Phil.”
Hannah stood up and walked up the steps to the cathedral entrance. The weak sunlight came in through the three arched windows above the altar and fell on the arched columns. Several pews were on their sides, and petals from the altar bouquets littered the stone floor, like remnants of a wedding. The statues of saints that normally lined the walls had fallen off their stands and broken into several pieces. Hannah’s husband John stood a foot away from Saint Francis of Assisi’s head, writing notes on a clipboard.
“I’m almost done here,” he said as Hannah came inside.
Hannah folded her arms across her midsection and walked toward a statue of Saint Benedict. He had lost his feet. “You’re going to condemn it, aren’t you?”
“We have to.”
“Are the kids okay?”
“I know.” Hannah traced a long crack running down one of the arched columns. “They don’t completely understand what happened. Don’t know how many people…”
John sat down in a pew and ran a hand over his face. “It’s Christmas Eve. They’re allowed to forget for a little while.”
Hannah turned to him. “What do they even have to forget? A little shaking, some broken plates?”
Her husband opened his mouth to say something, then closed it and looked back down at his clipboard. “I’ll only be a few more minutes.”
Hannah walked further into the building. Directly underneath the middle archway, a white angel statue lay face-up on the floor. It was headless, exposing its hollow interior. It was also missing one arm and a wing, and a crack ran along the hem of its robe.
“What’s going to happen to all this? The pews, the statues?”
“It’ll probably all get thrown away,” John’s voice rang out.
Hannah knelt and touched the chipped wing.
“Can we take this one?”
“This statue. Can we take it home?”
John’s shoes clicked on the stone floor. He appeared over Hannah’s shoulder. “The headless horseman? Why?”
“You said it would all be thrown away anyway.” Hannah waved her hand, motioning around the room. “I just want to save one.”
Her husband raised an eyebrow, then knelt down and lifted the statue by one end, testing its weight. He looked up at Hannah. “Don’t tell the archbishop.”
Once John and their twelve-year-old son had carried the angel to the car, Hannah approached the altar. She looked up at the images of Jesus and the Virgin painted on the wall behind it, crossed herself, said the last prayer they would ever hear, and walked out of the cracked, dark cathedral.
“Have you talked to her?”
The balcony was covered with the dust that so often accumulated in the April heat. Perspiration from the glass of water in Barbara’s hand had already dripped onto the small table between her and the man, even though it had barely been two minutes since she’d let him into the hotel room and offered him a glass as well. He had declined.
Now he leaned forward in the plastic lawn chair in a long-sleeve button-down and tie, seemingly unfazed by the sun beating down overhead. He laced his fingers together and shook his head. “I’m not sure it’s the best idea.”
Barbara waited for him to continue, but he was silent. “The elections are going to happen, Mr. Rodriguez. You know that, right?”
“Can the United States truly guarantee that?”
“Of course,” Barbara said, running a hand through her blonde bob. “Garza has already agreed to the free elections at the beginning of next year.”
Rodriguez laughed. “Nothing is quite free when the world’s superpower is threatening you.”
“Nothing is free when Garza’s government is shutting down your newspaper, either, Mr. Rodriguez,” Barbara said. “Let me remind you it is thanks to the United States that it is still running at all.”
Rodriguez leaned back in his chair. “Not many Americans cared about free speech when a West Point brat was torturing my brother for speaking against him.”
“Well, at least we agree on that.” Barbara took a sip of water and set the glass down on the table. “Mr. Rodriguez. You need to speak with your sister. The CIA and the NED are fully willing to support her campaign if she decides to run, as well as contribute to your family’s newspaper, but we need her to announce her candidacy soon if she’s going to be chosen for the opposition party.”
Rodriguez looked down at his hands again. “Do you have anybody else?”
“None as good as her.”
“My sister is no politician, Mrs. Williams.”
“No, you’re right,” Barbara said. “She isn’t.” She leaned forward. “But the people know her. She’s liked. She’s respected. I’ve read her editorials in your paper.”
“We have American subscribers?” Rodriguez said.
“It’s required reading in Washington at the moment,” Barbara said, smiling. “Point is…I have read what she has to say. What I can understand, at least. She knows that right now, your country doesn’t need politicians. It needs peace.”
Rodriguez sighed and stood up. Through the long cracks in the wooden fence encircling the balcony, the city spread out in a mass of green and white. Roosevelt Avenue ran down the middle, all the way to the white columns of the National Theater, and the dark green lake past that. From this distance, it was almost beautiful. “I’m not sure we know the meaning of peace, Mrs. Williams.”
Barbara smiled. “Might as well give it a shot, Mr. Rodriguez.”
Rodriguez turned away from the view to face her. “Can I use your phone?”
Rodriguez strode through the open glass door into the dimly lit room, shutting it behind him. He walked over to the phone on the bedside table, picked up the receiver, and dialed a number. Then he sank onto the shabby, striped quilt spread over one of the beds.
“Sandra? I need to talk to you.”
Daniela Chamorro Mantica is a television writer and author from Nicaragua. Daniela holds a BA in English from Amherst College and is currently earning a degree in creative writing from Full Sail University. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Story Shack, tNY Press, 101 Words, The Gateway Review, and SPANK the Carp. Daniela enjoys magical realism, chocolate, The Color Purple, and the color purple.
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“Suegro” – coming soon
CHELA contains three stories: "Restoration Work," "The Candidate," and "New Year's Eve for Dummies." In "Restoration Work," Hannah visits the capital city's gothic cathedral after an earthquake destroys the city, looking for some redemption. In "The Candidate," the 1980s draw to a close as a CIA official speaks to the editor of Nicaragua's national newspaper. The CIA official hopes to convince him to bring the United States' preferred candidate into the upcoming presidential race, but the editor distrusts her motivations. "New Year's Eve for Dummies" jumps ahead a couple decades into present-day San Juan del Sur. A young woman who has been recently dumped finds it difficult to enjoy the beach town's loud New Year's celebrations, until she takes part in a local tradition.