Absolution – Michael Anthony

The path tapers to little more than trampled weeds strewn with empty bottles, rusted car parts, and blanched animal bones. Like veins of a leaf, side trails shoot off left and right. At each juncture, the woman silently signals the way.

I tap my chest, saying, “Jack.” Then, I point to her and shrug.

She whispers, “Doralice.”

We maneuver through a dense thicket of trees until we reach a white stucco house behind palm fronds that arc to the ground. Purple jacaranda blossoms weave a fragrant carpet beneath us. Doralice unbolts a rusted iron gate and eases me against the door, which unlocked, swings open. Carved mahogany moldings and tiled floors suggest this once might have been the home of a prosperous family. But, such days are long gone. Walls crack from floor to ceiling. Meager furniture tilts on broken legs. Despite the condition, the place neither smells nor offers even a mote of dust anywhere. Clearly, the woman takes pride in her own isolated refuge away from malevolent whispers and physical threats.

Doralice smiles, and though imperfect, it is the first she has offered.

In a flurry of gestures and one word questions like, “Taxi?” and “Bus?” I learn both are unlikely.

‘How the hell do I get back to the hotel?’

Momentarily forgetting about my ankle, I go to step inside. Suddenly, I’m on the floor, my leg folded beneath me, my head twisted against the door jamb.

Doralice attempts to lift me, but can’t. I drag myself to a chair in what appears to be a kitchen. Once seated, I scan the interior looking for signs of a husband, boyfriend, roommate, anybody. None are visible.

Doralice opens a small battered icebox to reveal several bottles of good old coke, a pineapple, and something wrapped in brown butcher paper. She runs a cloth under a weak faucet and offers it for my ankle. I thank her with a timid, “Obrigado.”

She sits across from me at the table. Then, while dabbing the bruise on her forehead with a tissue she looks away, as though suddenly self-conscious. When she does, I study the old wounds that have etched her mouth and cheek. Scars from failed reconstructive surgeries are evident. Her face is a dichotomy of beauty and its opposite, each existing mere inches from the other. One eyebrow arches gracefully, the other a jagged cypher. Ropes of scar tissue run down her neck and under the collar of that flowered cotton dress.

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