THE LOT IN PARAISO
By James Tipton
Anna María had lived alone a long time now. It had been nine years since her beloved Juan Ramón told her he was leaving her. They had been together forty years, but one day he announced he was going without her to a little pueblo far away. It was called Paraíso. There he had inherited a lot that, he was convinced, “had a view of everything.” At last, he promised Anna María, he would build the little stone house she had always wanted. He would surround it with a matching stone wall, with bougainvilleas running along the top, and a profusion of welcoming roses below, and at the windows simple clay pots, none of them broken, overflowing with the dark red geraniums Anna María loved. Juan Ramón told her these things, and then he laid his head back onto the pillow, closed his eyes, and whispered her name for the last time.
In the nights that immediately followed the funeral, Anna María left his unfinished pack of Farolitos on the old wooden table beside the bed. In the heart of each night, she would wake, feeling the mattress sinking beside her, and she knew then that Juan Ramón had returned to comfort her. Each morning, one of the four remaining Farolitos would be gone. Years earlier, at her insistence, he had cut down to smoking only one each evening. The last was now gone. She bought a new pack and opened it, but he never returned.
Every November, though, during the Day of the Dead celebrations, in the familiar crowd at the cemetery, Anna María always saw, for a moment only, his sweet old face smiling at her, but when she lifted a foot to step toward him, he disappeared.
Anna María thought nine years seemed like a long time to wait for Juan Ramón to build that house in Paraíso. Their three children had all moved to San Antonio, Texas, even before Juan Ramón died, and she rarely saw them. Sometimes she missed them, but what Anna María missed most was the bony right leg and right arm of Juan Ramón resting over her own slender body, trying to give her all the warmth he had. Now every night she slept alone in this cold room without windows.
Juan Ramón had always been the romantic one, even though Anna María wanted to be, but no one in Anna María’s family had showed much affection to each other and it was difficult, even after she married Juan Ramón, to change. Her indifferent mother and father and her violent and abusive brother had together, unintentionally perhaps, conspired to lock her heart away. Juan Ramón was always patient with her and told her that he knew her heart, though hidden, was a very big one.
They were the same age when they married, but now that time had stopped for him but not for her, she worried that she would look much older when she was finally back in his arms.
When Juan Ramón developed congestive heart failure, Anna María never left his side, and in those final weeks together she was able, every night, to tell him she loved him, offering back the same words he had said to her so many times in their life together. Sometimes they would talk for hours, like a young couple, about the wonderful house they were going to have. Their last morning together, he told her the recent weeks had been the happiest of his life.
Now, with Juan Ramón in Paraíso, each year for Anna María was like a long and lonely walk down some interminable dirt road at dusk. This year everything exhausted her. And it was again winter. With what little energy she had left, she began to accumulate things Juan Ramón might need in the new pueblo. She knitted a couple of pairs of wool socks and a scarf. In a bright bandana she tied up some dirt from their native village, and she now wore both her wedding ring and his. She kept by the bed the wooden flute he had carved as a boy and which he had given her the first night he told her he loved her. She had purchased a few packs of Farolitos as well.
When she had everything in order, Anna María sobbed for a long time and finally fell asleep imagining as hard as she could that beloved bony arm and leg still wrapped around her. Then, as if she had hardly slept at all, she woke to the sun falling on her face, and to the sound of familiar feet walking just outside the window.