Antonio and his co-workers sit in his kitchen around a small worn wooden table. They are there after work to enjoy some mate, and to wind down after a long day at the shop. This has been part of their daily ritual for the past ten years. But Antonio already knows that tonight is different.
Antonio fills the mate gourd with the yerba, makes a hollow with the bombilla, and pours hot water into the empty space. He is the cebador tonight, and drinks the first bitter mate. After that, he serves his two friends, each in turn, before it’s his turn again. The carved mate gourd passes from hand to hand. Each drinks the mate, talks, listens. They talk about everyday things, about the shop, about the work. There’s a note of pride when they talk about the work. And the warm mate goes round.
But Antonio feels sad tonight because he has told the people he loves that he’s leaving Argentina, and going to America. He is heavyhearted as he tells the people he loves, and who rely on him for their livelihoods, that he’s leaving them, and going to America. They chip away at his resolve. The conversation is strained tonight.
They say that leaving will not make it easier. He will feel the same pain, the same loss, maybe even more. They all lost her two years ago. They all miss her – a father, a brother, a husband.
He pours more hot water into the gourd. He holds the gourd and sips the mate, finding it hard to say the words that will explain why now and why America.
As he holds the gourd he remembers another night two months ago. A night similar to this one – the men, after work, drinking mate at the worn wooden table, and talking about the possibility of a contract to carve the new doors for the cathedral. The possibility did not sit well with Antonio, and at the time he did not understand why, so he kept his doubts to himself.
When the night was over, Antonio poured the last drops of hot water into the gourd and sipped alone. The gourd was special. He had carved it for her. On that mysterious night, for the first time in a long time, he studied his carvings of the sun and the moon, the stars and the sky. The carvings reminded him of a lost dream.
Then a familiar scent interrupted his reverie. It didn’t take long for him to recognize it as his wife’s. Was it rising from the gourd? He leaned in and inhaled deeply. He still remembered the day her scent faded from everything she had touched, and how, on that day, he had mourned her again. That night the scent surprised him, but also comforted him.
That’s when he heard Celestina’s voice, clear and earnest. “Remember our dream?” she said. “Don’t wait any longer. Now is the time. Go to America.”
It was only a moment, and he wondered if it was a hallucination, or a daydream, or was he thinking out loud? No, he was certain it was Celestina, and she was giving him permission, a permission he realized he needed, and was waiting for.
But in the kitchen tonight the words stay jammed in his throat, so he waits, and listens.
His father-in-law brings up the global economic depression already in its third year, and that Antonio probably has it much better in Argentina than he will in America. That here he has family, has his own shop, is his own boss.
Antonio listens, and waits for her words to reach him again.
They insist that he wait, that now is not a good time.
Antonio recalls the years of waiting, the times that were never right, and waits for her words to reach him again, and when they do, he says them out loud.
“She told me to go. Celestina told me that now is the time to go.”
They look away, feeling embarrassed for him, not knowing how to respond.
In that moment Antonio wants to fall back to old habits, confess “I had you going, didn’t I?”, so they could all have a good laugh. It would feel good to laugh, to relieve the heavy tension bearing down on their hearts. But tonight is different.
With her visit two months ago, Celestina gave him the strength to imagine the dream without her, to make it his own, and to make it come true.
Like his shop, his house is also sold, and no longer belongs to him. His suitcase is packed, hidden in a back room. Three wool suits, three cotton white shirts, three ties, and a few other personal items. Another case holds treasured carpentry tools that he cannot part with. He’ll also be taking the carved mate gourd that they are drinking from tonight as they sit around a worn wooden table, in an almost bare kitchen, listening to Carlos Gardel on the radio.
His father-in-law and brother-in-law feel offended and betrayed. They both have tempers, and he feels a little afraid. But he drinks the last mate, says gracias, and then adios muchachos.
He goes to the back room, gets his cases, and leaves the only family he knows in a stranger’s kitchen with Gardel singing on the radio.
Wanda Kiernan has been writing fiction for as long as she can remember. Has had super short fiction published in onefortyfiction.com, and came in second in a Writer’s Digest “Your Story” contest.