A Step Into the Past: A Short Story
Hello :) just popping back into this blog space because I felt called to share a short story I wrote this past semester for a Migration Literature class. We were given many opportunities to practice creative writing in that class which I greatly appreciated. For our final paper, we had many options and I chose to write a short story. We were challenged to incorporate archival history like Yaa Gyasi does in her novel Homegoing. I got inspired by Gyasi's use of artifacts and memory to comment on the past. This story is loosely based off my life and my ancestors, however, most of it is fiction. This story is for anyone who longs to form a connection with their past and the people who have shaped them. I had a lot of fun exploring my family's history in this way so I hope you enjoy the ride!
*disclaimer: Although I received an A on this paper, it could use some editing and I might publish a revised draft soon so be kind haha.
A Step Into the Past
short story by Miranda Rodriguez
In the space between Here and There, there is a room. A dark, empty room, void of any source of life, not even a flower dares peek its head in if it is not welcome. In this room, anything can happen. This time, there is a girl standing in the middle. She is young, not more than fifteen, and her dark brown hair stands in contrast to her blue dress and yellow shoes. Her skin is the color of cinnamon when sprinkled over whipped cream, a topping for a mug of hot chocolate (preferably Abuelita’s Mexican hot chocolate). The girl’s eyes peer wonderingly into the empty space, not frightened but curious. She notices a rope tied loosely around her waist with four smaller ropes attached to it. But she cannot see where they end, as they seem to lead to nowhere. Every time she tries to follow one, she is pulled back to the middle.
Suddenly, a booming voice fills the space of the room causing the girl to tilt her head upwards searching for the source. It sounds like a man, she thinks. The voice says “Do not be frightened. I am one of your ancestors. I have come to give you a key to the past.” The girl wonders what that means exactly until a dark brown door appears in front of her, the doorknob lined with gold. The voice tells her to open the door and walk through. Seeing no other option, she opens the door and steps through it onto a grassy field. She immediately smells the ocean and feels the salty wind blowing through her hair. However, that’s where the sense of peace ends because she realizes she is in the middle of a battlefield. Men are fighting all around her, some on horseback, angrily plunging swords into one another. She quickly closes her eyes because she does not want to see someone get stabbed to death. The next thing she knows she is being swept off of her feet by a man on a horse. His sturdy arms feel safe but she had never been on a horse before so she keeps her eyes closed until she hears a familiar voice. “Hola mija, Hello are you okay?” She opens her eyes and gasps. Her rescuer is an older man with dark brown hair and piercing blue eyes. His long mustache covers most of his face but his nose is instantly recognizable. He looks just like my dad! The girl thinks to herself. Then, she glances down and sees a gold chain wrapped around his neck with a cross pendant hanging from the bottom. It looks exactly like one she had seen her great grandfather wearing when she was a little girl and that now hung in a glass case above her grandmother’s fireplace. The connections begin to form in her head. She glances around, noticing the coastal scenery all around her. “Am I in the Canary Islands?” “Si, bienvenidos niña.” Somehow, even though he only speaks Spanish and she asks him in English they can both understand each other. (It makes sense though, it is a dream after all.) “I have been expecting your visit.” He said.
“Yes, you have many questions don’t you?”
“I do, so many questions, no one in our family knows enough about our history here!”
“Well, we don’t have much time because you have other places to visit. Let’s stop here and chat shall we?” He stopped the horse alongside a tall mountain, jumped down and then helped her mount off. They sat side by side on the grassy area, far away from the battlefield. The peace returned. “Ah, isn’t it beautiful?” The girl looked out at the view and smiled, agreeing “It is the most beautiful view in the world.”
“Do you think you’ll ever leave this place?” She asks as they stare out at the vast ocean waters. “Yes, there is so much of the world we have yet to discover.” His remarks sounded hopeful, with a note of sadness as he wondered if the Spanish conquistadors disrupting their town would ever allow such a movement to take place. Their reign seemed endless no matter how much the natives tried to fight back. He had heard tales of the Americas, the vast farmlands and green pastures, which he saw as an opportunity for growth and freedom. “Where did you get that necklace?” The young girl wonders aloud. With a deep sigh, the man held the piece of jewelry tenderly in his hand and told her a story about his father who was a goldsmith and a devout Catholic. He made the necklace for his wife who passed away giving birth to their only son. “It reminds me of where our people have been and the wealth of our faith.” The man remarked. “We have so much power with God on our side.”
“Don’t you feel like there are people threatening to take that away from you?”
“Maybe, but I have faith that they never will, that all of this evil is temporary for the good awaiting us.”
The girl was shocked by his answer, “How can you have so much hope?” He smiled, took her hand, and gestured toward the ocean once again, saying “How can you not?” Her smile began to reach her eyes in recognition of a piece of a puzzle finally fitting into place. She was about to ask him another question when she felt a tug at her waist and realized the rope was pulling her back. The two exchanged a hug and a tearful goodbye, “Tell your father I say hello and I’m proud of him.” said the old man. “Gracias por todo” Her vision blurred and the next thing she knew she was back in the empty room.
She hears another voice, this time belonging to a woman. “Are you ready for another key? Well, ready or not, here you go!” With this statement, a second door appears in front of the girl, this one painted red with colorful flowers reminding her of a dress her great grandmother used to wear. She opens it and places one foot inside. Immediately, she is hit by a wave of humid air that sticks to her skin in small droplets the size of rice. Her nose is filled with the comforting smell of garlic and burnt tortillas. She closes her eyes and breathes deeply, knowing where she must be. Mexico. As more of her senses awaken, those thoughts are validated by the sounds of children playing outside and women shouting at them to stay out of the street before going back to sharing the latest chisme with each other. She notices she is standing in a small kitchen with multiple pots and pans on the stove and bowls spread across the counter with avocados on a cutting board. The ceiling is low and she observes cracks along the walls chartering a course to nowhere. A framed painting of la Virgen de Guadalupe hangs front and center in the room amidst crosses and religious statues. “Mijita linda!” She hears before being swept in a strong embrace by a little Mexican woman wearing a colorful dress and blue apron. She recognizes the woman and the apron from a picture that used to hang in her buela’s house and now is on her abuelita’s mantle. “We’ve heard so much about you!” The woman exclaimed excitedly. “And we’re so proud of the bright young woman you’ve blossomed into! Como una flor.” “Quieres frijoles?” she asks and right away, a smile adorns the girl’s face as she never turns down a bowl of homemade beans. “I can tell that something is bothering you, Siéntate, let’s chat.” The words covered her like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day and the young girl welcomed the invitation to sit down on a small wooden chair.
“You recognize this apron?” The girl nodded yes. “It was sewn by mi mama who got the fabric from an old dress of her mother’s.” The apron is sturdy, with multiple pockets made of patches, and two ties in the back to secure it around her waist. “It makes me excited to be in the kitchen. Como mi mama. A love of cooking runs through our veins.” She tells the young girl about some of her favorite recipes to make, many of them sounding like music to her ears. Enchiladas, chilaquiles, albondigas, arroz con pollo, the same recipes that get passed down from generation to generation. The girl asks why she enjoys cooking and just then a little boy runs up to them whining that he is hungry. The woman says “Because I love to feed my family” she hands the tiny boy a bowl and he goes skipping away happily. “Because of that smile.” “But, don’t you ever get tired of it? Or feel like your husband should be helping?” the girl asks while furrowing her eyebrows. The old woman sighs, “Yes, sometimes it does get tiring but I know they are working hard too, in a different way. This is my way of providing for our family, keeping our bellies full so we are better able to love one another. Creating memories in the kitchen, a gathering place in our casita built on amor.” The girl smiles as she knows this exact feeling the old woman has described. “Thank you for being that example for your children. You don’t know how much that means to me,” the girl remarks. “Just promise me that you’ll never stop making things in the kitchen. And eating frijoles,” the old woman says. “Oh I promise, you have my word.” When the tug on her waist comes again, the old woman gives her a knowing look and a big kiss on both cheeks. The girl smiles, proudly sporting two lipstick stains on her cheeks. She takes one more look around at the messy kitchen and leaves through the door.
Once back in the room, she looks down and realizes she is wearing both the necklace and the apron. Out of the darkness her ancestors appear, from the Canary Islands and Mexico, their kindness shines as brightly as if they were alive. They each held the end of a rope that was attached to her waist. Handing the ropes to her, they embrace her and she awakens. For it was all a dream.
Sometimes I feel like I’m back in this room, unsure of which door to open next. Then, I realize that I don’t have to choose. My ancestors are looking out for me. They will share what they want to share. Their memory, buried in the sands of time, embraces me like a long lost friend. For now, I wear the necklace and the apron and reflect on how much they mean to both sides of my family.