Short Stories

Infatuation # 2

February 18, 2015

Change of Life

      Manford had never been to this particular part of South America. It didn’t matter, since this was a place to write and be away from the stresses of big city life. Mansford’s father did not approve of this jaunt into a remote area after all the money he’d spent on private education and a high priced law school. A few years practicing law and Mansford left a brilliant career behind; Mansford’s father did not agree with a lot of the ideas his child had managed to conjure up; he would have put a stop to it except for a large trust from R. Mansford’s grandfather making it unnecessary to work at all. For R. Mansford Esq. it seemed logical to pursue an activity that was more suitable for the talents undiscovered. Writers were not all wealthy but lived well, in some cases.

The real estate agent had shown many pictures of Casa de Verde and described the local points of interest. However there were no particular local points of interest, which suited Mansford, fine. The mines were far enough away and the small village provided the few things needed. Anything else could be ordered and delivered to the door. The train as unreliable as it was would provide.

Money was not an object; but money went a long way in this backwash of civilization. The thought of South American law did not interest Mansford. Contract law from the UK and other places would be a fine part-time job. But focus on writing poems and stories would take priority over all of that. Creativity outweighed the lust for money; not that money was an issue Mansford had to worry about.

Mansford’s tall slender frame did not taking kindly to the abuse by the train. The constant low speed rocking and jolting had caused a bruise on the hip and elbow, a pillow providing questionable cushioning from further injury. Taking off the shoes only marginally helped this roller coaster ride. Mansford would have to look into the possibilities of air travel in the future, a small plane perhaps. Horses will provide a nice diversion as a sport and means of flexible transportation as well. This rural area will undoubtedly be impossible to use an auto for more than a few trips into town. Serious travel might be had by the few small airstrips, which were dotted all over these rural areas. Surely, there had to be one close by.

Life was going to be rustic, until Charles managed to transform the place into something more suitable. Charles had agreed to do the job only, if he were allowed the proper amount of time, flexibility and a good deal of money. Money may not be an issue but it was still prudent to watch the drain on one’s bank account. After all, Mansford had a front to maintain; the English are never uncivilized.


Casa de Verde


Aldo spent the rest of the day unpacking the crates carefully, the man Charles flittering about directing all that needed to be done. Each piece of wood was pried apart carefully in order not to damage or break the wood. He wasn’t concerned with the contents of the crates but rather the lumber, which he had already promised to the Hotel Paradiso at a considerable profit. The crates were all clear, fine-grained lumber. Such material without knots was uncommon.

Mama had secured other cleaning women to help with Casa de Verde. They scrubbed the walls clean and shoveled out leaves, broken glass, dirt and small dead animals along with a few snakes that seemed put out by the intrusion. Snakes were always a problem; some were poisonous and some were not. All of them could give a nasty bite and the locals never chanced it, treating them with complete respect. You survive the wilds by acknowledging it is wild.

“Oh you! Boy! Aldo, is it?” delicately commanded Charles unsure of everyone’s name. “Just put all those things in the big room for now. We just have to get paint in a couple rooms before we go anywhere with it. The bedroom will take priority. The small crate has the paint for each room and they are all marked with a number that corresponds with a card I placed in each room. Please, por favor, do not mix up the rooms or it will be a disaster. You do read, right?”

Aldo acknowledged with a nod and went about preparing the rooms as requested. He didn’t like this man, Charles. He really didn’t seem like a man and was terribly bossy. Charles broke into tears when he noticed a broken floor tile in the main living area.

“My God! How on earth am I going to be able to match this?” he cried. “I am an interior decorator, not a magician.”

The day pretty much went that way, Charles getting upset over everything and Aldo feeling he was to blame in some way. In spite of the sissy complaints the house was taking shape, slowly. Casa de Verde hadn’t looked this nice since before Aldo was a boy that’s what his mama told him. Everything that did not belong was swept out or washed out. The clay tile on the floor became one shade of red rather than several stained colors. Men were painting rooms while Aldo wrestled with the awkward and impractical furniture.

Mama had figured out the number of hours worked and reported it to Charles for payment later. She made sure to include Aldo’s hours with hers. Gambling was not going to take away their hard work this time.

Aldo couldn’t remember working this hard in his life. The walk back home seemed long as his sore muscles reminded him of his daily toil. He pushed those muscles in hopes that a cold beer would make the pain tolerable. The cold beer idea was soon, vetoed by mama who caught him by the ear pushing him toward the house. She will not have her son drinking away the money they had earned that day. The indignation suffered by a twenty-three year-old man, bullied by a woman barely four and a half feet tall, was compounded by the sight of the young plump beauty, Rosa. She could never compare to Norita but she did have a sweet disposition and a tender place in her heart for Aldo.

Shortly after Norita’s departure Rosa and Aldo had their first pleasant encounter. He was drunk and poured out his heart to the very attentive Rosa. She in turn took it upon herself to comfort him in a way that most men desire. She had an endearing round face with large luscious lips that filled her face from cheek to cheek. She had breasts not dissimilar from the women in Hugh Hefner’s magazine except that her body was pretty plump everywhere else. Her slightly flattened nose did not detract from her basic animal appeal. Rosa was not easily dismissed and quite eager. He had since availed himself of her charms, claiming it was a friendship, nothing else. After all he was a modern man not prone to long tiring relationships except,…….. except perhaps Norita, who was out of the sight but not out of mind.

Another day of work passed at the Casa de Verde. Rooms were painted, sometime with two coats of paint to hide the mischief of children and damage done by jungle roots. Some stains resisted being covered. The place smelled of paint, chemicals and bleach. Charles spent much of his directing time in tears. He acted as if everything was wrong and no one could possibly fix it, Aldo thinking the stranger was crazy. The house looked better than anything he had seen in this village. There didn’t seem to be any way to please such a man as Charles. Perhaps it was just his way of acting. Foreigners were so strange.

          Señor Baum brought some fresh sweet rolls to the house hoping to tempt the newcomer to buy more. He was disappointed when he did not see the new owner and took most of the rolls back, leaving a sample for Charles.

“Oh dear God,” announced Charles in relief. “A touch of civilization at last. I’m so sick of all this fruit and awful fish. And I dare not ask what that meat in the bowl is. It could be some awful wild animal or rodent. I’ve heard about such things, you know.”

The noonday heat was beginning to slow the progress, demanding a rest by all present. Even the overly excited Charles sat in a wicker chair pressing a cold bottle of soft drink to his forehead. His wilted frame seemed overcome by the sheer amount of work that had to be done, none of it by him. Foreigners often found the climate too much to handle. At least it wasn’t raining.



God and a Little History

           Two things are consistent in this place. And that is a good thing, I suppose, thought Father Diego wiping the sweat from his brow, God, of course and this wretched heat. But one cannot speak ill of God’s creation even the heat. Many things would not exist were it not for the heat and humidity, flowers, animals and the waterways that provide for the people. It was meant to be so and perfect as any creation can be. Who am I to challenge the All Mighty?


Father Diego was a young priest, a decade removed from his ordination. The village where he was from in Spain was not much bigger than Inez; that’s where the mission church stood. The building managed a stone front with a wooden chapel. The artifacts inside were surprisingly sophisticated for this remote Catholic Church, many brought from Spain and several donated by other mission churches in the South American continent.

They had a healthy congregation consisting of Indians, miners and the usual local people. Whether people came because of God or the cooling effect of the partial stone building didn’t matter. The wealth of the mines kept the building in good repair lest the mining companies lose the good favor of the Church. The church had the power to cause a good deal of trouble with many of their Catholic workers. A few pennies here and there kept things happy and healthy, though the mines made untold fortunes.

Father Diego liked this place and thought it a reasonable calling, considering the many lesser alternatives. Junior priests did not get the big churches in the big cities. They were not sent to famous places with well-known names. A few had managed such appointments but were well placed in the political structure of the Vatican. Father Diego was not a very good politician, a tolerable priest and forgiving to those who aspired to higher positions in the church. Administering faith to the poor was more satisfying to him than dealing with Papal politics and the petty sins of the idle rich. The one thing he did not enjoy was his twice a month visits to the smaller village several miles away, Boa. The trip was hard and he was often exhausted after having to perform two masses a day. Confessions amounted to cross words with friends and family or petty theft of food. It was sad that one had to steal to eat.

It was rather the trip than the services that wore him thin. Many times he looked to the sky asking why administering the faith was so difficult. God never answered, of course but Father Diego would often stumble across something in his bible that gave him the answer. The easy path was the path of the devil not God. That reminder was good to consider as sweat rolled down his back on the long journey to Boa.

A mule carried him over the uneven terrain, Father Diego reflected on the events, which had brought him to this place and into the priesthood. His options as a young man were few. Unless one had a good education, one had to be a farmer, soldier or a priest; living in a rural locale restricted one’s vocation. There were not many glorious opportunities for a young man in Spain with limited funds.

Farming was hard and unrewarding at times. Farmers never earned much money and struggled with feeding their own. Soldiers often met with fatal mishaps depending on the changes in the government; the idea of killing someone seemed desperately wrong to him. His Spanish ancestors killed more than their share of people in the past, a trait, Father Diego did not wish to continue. He wanted to be a man of peace and now a man of God.

But like all things it took another element to urge him towards a life of poverty and chastity. He was devout enough as a Catholic; that wasn’t the motivating factor. It was a spurned love affair that moved him to a life he would sometimes regret. He loved God and never questioned his faith. It was people who often disappointed him, their shortsightedness and their ability to be insensitive to one another.

His affections had been focused on a young girl, named Anna Maria Costa. She was the daughter of a local winemaker, tall and willowy with sharp features, unmistakable from a distance. He had never expressed his desire to the girl until their final schooling had almost been completed. Not being a particularly handsome young man, Father Diego knew it would not be easy to woo this wisp of a girl. But he finally proclaimed his love to Anna and said he would not hear of a negative response lest he expire.

“          I am only fourteen,” she replied puzzled at the strange proposal. “How can I think of marriage to you? We have hardly spoken in all this time. It will be a several more years before I can begin to think of such a suggestion. You appear to be a nice boy but I do not feel anything for you.”

He hung his head wondering if he would expire as promised. Boys do not die so early unless they are sick.

“You have no work or money,” she continued. “My father would not permit it, anyhow. Maybe you can find some other girl, who will like you. I’m sorry.” Anna turned and walked away, as if the whole episode was no more than a tiny pebble dropped into a rapid flowing river, hardly noticeable.

The words cut deeply into his heart like a butchering knife. Tears fell down his cheeks looking for an escape from his sad eyes. He had never loved anyone before. Was this what he expected?


Is this the torture of love, he wondered, grief gnawing at his stomach? Is it always so painful? I am not sure I could love anyone again. God is the only one who loves me, or so I have been told. This must be a sign.


The very next day Father Diego went to the church and enlisted in the priesthood, the sting of love still stabbing at his heart. He was too young to become a priest at that time but was admitted for future studies. God filled the place where his pain lived and he denied all personal love, forever. Service to God was the only escape, loving God the right thing to do. It was not a bad choice but was it the right choice? Father Diego had to believe it was or fall from Grace.



Resurrection Heisler

          The train, which passed Boa was an antique steam engine, donated by a wealthy logging company in the United States. It had been in poor condition and had been sitting on a rail siding for years before the owners decided to get rid of the rusting hulk. The gift was not a display in generosity but an attempt at a tax write-off. The mining company in this part of South America was glad to get anything, since there was no budget for a real train. The train was so old; parts had to be custom fabricated before it could be assembled and operated. A hasty rail line was built, decay beginning immediately.

Narrow gauge railroads were almost a thing of the past; diesels with modern standard rails replaced many of the older trains. The narrow gauge was used in areas where steep grades and sharp turns prevented larger trains from maneuvering. This mining and supply train was an old Heisler with small wheels and a top speed of twenty miles per hour, downhill. The small wheels allowed the train to utilize the enormous torque it had to pull heavy loads. Though efficient with heavy loads, passenger service was slow and quite tedious. The mining company also owned another old steam engine called a Climax. It was going to replace the Heisler if they could ever get the engine to run. The huge pistons of the Climax required special alignment and parts that no longer existed. But it was not unusual for things to move slowly in this part of the world large or small.

Carlos had been a car and truck mechanic before signing on as an engineer with the mining railroad. It wasn’t his dream to become an engineer like a child wanted to be a fireman or cop; his employment was quite accidental.

One day his mechanical services were requested on a particular repair to the Heisler, his reputation known so a few in the community. Local people swore by his ability to make anything run that had an engine, which was mostly true. If parts weren’t available Carlos would find something else that would work. In the arena of old steam engines this was particularly important.

The engine sat in a rough, wooden shed, rust threatening to fuse it to the secondhand iron rails. Carlos had a reasonable understanding of what needed to be done to make the engine work, given some flexibility and mechanical magic. His skill or magic did indeed bring the behemoth iron animal back to an altered state of life, though tentative. Handles on parts were broken and a whole new learning curve on how to make the machine move forward and backward necessary. In the process he managed to operate it with enough skill that the mining company offered him a full-time job as engineer. His knowledge of the machine would help during the numerous breakdowns, getting away from his wife was a side benefit.

His relationship with the mining company was, not at all, a bed of roses; that would indeed be a fairytale for children. They were slow to pay and tried to short change Carlos on several occasions. They were not quick to provide funds for needed repairs, making Carlos’s job that much more difficult. The cab roof of the engine had rusted away in several places; rain and smoke competed for space inside the cab compartment along with the ample bulk of Carlos, himself. An old tarp lashed over the top provided some protecting from these things but was only a temporary fix, a vague promise by the rail company to get materials to repair it. The cheap coat of dark green paint was compromised by the many layers of rust working its way to the surface from beneath. The dampness of the area did not help.

Though Carlos complained, bitterly, he also had a small business created by appropriating errant cargo, which would somehow be lost in transit. His sly appropriations were never enough for the mining company to bother with but enough to keep him in beer and a few relative luxuries. The mining company dealt with the shortfall by officially documenting it as ’Engineer Bonus,’ a solution that worked well for all concerned. The value of the engineer exceeded the value of the pilfered items, no need to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

Though there were not many benefits involved in the job one meant being away from his wife for days at a time. He soon found out she was a woman who was never happy with anything. Either, he made too little money for her liking or she was dissatisfied with his general appearance, a bone on contention. It was always something. He had learned very early in his marriage to nod and ignore her; life was too short to pay notice to such a spiteful woman. But what is to say he would have done better with any other woman.


Carlos did not know who this new person, R. Mansford Esq. was. This Mansford person did have many crates to deliver, all labeled and numbered to prevent overlooking anything. It would be impossible to misplace them for ‘engineer bonus’ purposes and he was not sure what was inside anyhow. Light bulbs and toilet paper could be sold easily but what if the crates had things difficult to dispose of?

“Just as I would expect from some snotty English person,” he grumbled to himself. “All that money and they worry about every small thing. A man can’t make a living with that kind of worry.”

To go to Boa without any perks seemed almost sacrilegious. Perhaps he could find men to unload the train and pay them less than agreed; that might even things out a bit. R. Mansford would never miss the money paid out to these ignorant people here. These peasants didn’t need much, especially the Indios.

Now, two days later, Carlos was transporting the secretive R. Mansford Esq. on his train. He had been surprised at who this person turned out to be; others would be equally surprised.



God’s Day

           Aldo did not feel comfortable waiting to be paid. All too often people would have one excuse or another for not paying, dragging their feet and sometimes never paying at all. He usually made it a practice to always have money up front. This time he made an exception because the person was a foreigner and planning to live in Boa. The thought of wanting to live in Boa baffled him but then again the English were strange people. Besides the village was too small to ignore a bad debt. A word here and there would cast a black cloud over anyone, who did not honor their agreements. Life could become quite uncomfortable with an unwelcomed reputation; it wouldn’t take much.

Charles rumored R. Mansford Esq. would be in residence within a day or two, though he refused to be specific. To be sure Aldo would wait at the clearing where the train usually stopped for the next few days. He would be first to get paid and first to see this new foreigner with money to burn. He thought it could be someone like Hugh Hefner building another club in Boa, putting the village on the map. But Hefner was an American and Mansford was English entirely different dispositions from his experience. Americans over tipped while the English tended to want accurate accounting of the fees.

Aldo rose the next morning, pulling on his clothes and grabbing a piece of stale cinnamon, raisin bread. He hadn’t heard the train yet but did not want to risk missing it. Mama stood by the front door with her arms folded over her breast scowling at her son. “No, no, no Aldo! You are not going anywhere,” she barked. “It is Sunday, God’s day. Father Diego will be here this morning from Inez. You will go to confession first, then mass. I pray for you every day; your life is not as God would have it. Right now you have no time to run off with your no-good friends. What would Jesus say?”

“Oh mama, Jesus would say nothing,” he defended. “He would tell me to go get paid. That’s what he would say. I am not like Jesus and cannot feed the multitude with a loaf of bread nor can I change water into wine. I need money.”

“Ayee!” howled mama. “So you can waste it on drink and foolishness? The money will be there tomorrow. I have told the man called Charles to give it to me when R. Mansford Esq. arrives. You owe that to me and he has agreed.” She added with reverence, “ Now go wash yourself; God does not wish to see dirty men in His house. And wear a clean shirt and clean those dirty shoes before you go.”


Father Diego climbed off the mule gazing at the building used for church services. There was nothing to indicate this building as a church. There were no glass windows in the building but the roof did keep most of the rain out. The breeze blowing through the building made it tolerable during the long hot mass. The outside had remained unpainted for many years except for a small sign hanging over the doorway: Mass at 9:00AM and 11:00AM every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month. Confession 8:00AM and 2:00PM. No pigs or chickens allowed inside during mass. Wash hands before using Holy Water.

Father Diego walked through the front doorway crossing himself as he viewed the temporary crucifix at the far end. The Holy Water bowl was completely empty, a small task needing to be performed by the caretaker of this building. Father Diego would have to bless the water, of course. A couple of dozen steps brought him to the altar, where he crossed himself once again bowing his head at the likeness of Jesus on the cross. Dust and leaves littered the table and floor of the building but Jesus would welcome everyone nonetheless. This was not a new circumstance and remedied before mass.

Twice each month he came to this village and spent the early hours preparing the church for mass, removing insects, sometimes small snakes that have taken up residence in the religious artifacts. Father Diego reminded himself that they were also God’s creatures. Sometimes old women would come to help. There was plenty of time; it was rare for anyone to come to the early confession. Most waited until the afternoon, hoping the priest would be too hot to levy heavy penitence on their shoulders. Besides, it was difficult to recount one’s sins at such an early confessional. A lengthy mass gave the sinner time to think over his or her transgressions, formulating excuses or accepting the punishment. All sins large or small were dealt with in a serious manner. Father Diego felt strongly about that; sins carried equal weight in God’s eyes.

The large bronze crucifix was the only real art in the building. It had a beautiful green patina, which made it look much finer than it was. It had been a modest piece donated by an elderly couple from Inez, who had distant relatives in Boa. The old man had worked in a foundry, casting the crucifix as his final act before retirement. It wasn’t as much a work of art than a personal thing. In a small vase on the altar old dried up flowers sat on either side of the crucifix from the mass two weeks before. The chalice and host were held in a cloth bag Father Diego had brought. These things could not be left behind lest someone abuse their spiritual significance or spirit them away for profit.

All things in the world had a history to them. The crucifix was only one thing. Father looked about the small room taking in the modestly decorated building. A picture of the Virgin Mary was donated by an Italian merchant passing through the area. Seeing the poverty of the village he could not resist making the gift. The benches came from the Hotel Paradiso; they were old and in rough shape but served their purpose well enough. The owner of the hotel believed his path to heaven might be made a little easier with this donation. The hardwood table, acting as the altar, had been given to the church by a man, who sometimes worked as the butcher in the village. The previous old rickety table had collapsed once during a service, causing quite a commotion. The man did not think it right that mass should be interrupted by shoddy workmanship. But even these small histories had bigger stories behind them.

Father Diego’s thoughts were disturbed by someone tugging on his arm. An old woman, who had often come to help looked him in the eye and said, “Father, I understand we are to have another soul added to our flock. It is a foreign person, English, I think. I thought it best you know of these things. You are the eyes of God on earth, Father.”

Gracias, señora,” he returned smiling. “You are correct in your assumptions; I will make a point to see this foreigner before I leave tomorrow.”


English, he thought? Probably not a Catholic, Episcopalian or Presbyterian most likely. But I should not neglect my duty. We are all God’s children, even the Presbyterians.


Rays of sun glowed through the openings where the windows should be, light illuminating the agitated dust making the physical particulate more visible. There were two people waiting by the confessional, one a young man and the other an older woman. Father Diego pulled out his pocket watch and noted the time.

“Ah, yes,” he thought. “Time to hear confession.”

The confessional was a simple set of drapery, supported by threaded galvanized pipe. The wine colored velvet gave the confessional a sense of regality, though the rest was quite simple. The older woman was praying her head covered with a scarf, the young man looked very impatient.

Father Diego liked to see sinners impatient to confess. People were not meant to be burdened by their sins. Confession cleansed the soul, lifting their burden and renewing their walk with God. The older woman stepped into the confessional first, chanting the lines she had said for so many years. She had little to confess but Father Diego treated her as if her petty sins were serious and gave her the forgiveness she desired. The young man was next, nervously reciting the ritual request for forgiveness.

Padre, I do not have much to confess,” said Aldo wishing this session would be over as soon as possible. “It is my mother, who makes me come to you at this early hour. I really only got up this early to meet the foreigner, R. Mansford Esq. It is some English person, who has come to live in our village and also owes me money.”

“Ah, yes my son. I have heard of this new person,” answered Father Diego. “I can only hope the person we speak of is a good Catholic. It would please me, and God, of course,” he added. “Perhaps we should deal with your sins first.”

“That is my point, Padre. I haven’t committed any sins. Sure, I drink sometimes and gamble a little. Mama disapproves but she is a woman. Surely, you understand the ways of women.”

“Errrr, yes I have read many things about the ways of women,” responded Father Diego. “But you are here to confess your sins, not talk of your mother or R. Mansford Esq. Those are things of the world and not of the Spirit. Focus on the trespasses all men perpetrate, the frailties. You are only a man and therefore imperfect.”

Padre?” questioned Aldo. “I remember you saying that God was in us all.”

“Yes, this is true,” answered Father Diego solemnly. “Why do you ask?”

“It seems to me that God is beyond our reach. This is the reason you are here and we must pray in this building,” continued Aldo. “So how could God be in us and also so far away? It makes no sense.”

“Because that’s the way it is,” snapped Father Diego getting aggravated with needless chatter in the confessional. “You need to have faith. That’s all. No more of this, please. Let us work on you immortal soul for now.”

After a lot of effort and persuasion, Aldo managed to find a few sins, several which needed to be forgiven. Cavorting with Rosa bought him a few extra Hail Marys, his assigned prayers taking him an hour to recite. Mama would surely not let him leave just as mass started, so he faced a three-hour ordeal before he could light out for Casa de Verde and his latent pay.

Midway through the second hour of mass, Aldo could hear the distant whistle of the train. Carlos liked to blow the whistle when he came close to the river. There was no one to warn but it made an interesting sound and would travel a long distance over the surface of the water. It was the small bit of showman in the engineer. Aldo knew the train would deliver supplies and passengers within the next twenty minutes if his timing were correct. Visions of R. Mansford Esq. handing out English pound notes to everyone but him made him squirm in his seat. What if this English person ran out and had to wait for more money? Aldo would have to wait even longer. Debts have such a short memory. It was best to get cash in hand as soon as possible. The local bar would no longer extend credit until he paid his bill.

The service completed, Adlo shot out the door and headed for the dirt road leading to the rail tracks. A few other rented wagons were carrying off more crates stenciled with R. Mansford Esq. At the bottom of the dirt road Aldo could make out the train preparing to continue on its trek. Carlos filled the narrow landing of the engine cab barking orders and yelling obscenities. His stained undershirt looked like something he had worn for a good part of the month. His personal hygiene suffered considerably.

Agua, agua! Mas agua,” he yelled as a bucket brigade of men dumped water into the large tank. “This damn thing needs lots of water. My water tank is nothing but a piece of rust; no wonder it leaks. But I can’t drive a train without steam. Hurry you lazy people.” Carlos leveled his eyes on Aldo. “You are too late, my friend, if you look for work,” said Carlos. “Everything is unloaded and you were not here when I needed you.”

“Oh, that’s not why I came,” he responded eager to get to his question. “Did the English person, R. Mansford Esq. come on the train? I have not been paid yet, as you might remember.”

Si. Mansford is here but gone already,” replied Carlos. “Your financial arrangements are none of my concern. You can take that up with the new owner of Casa de Verde.”

This is no way to do business, thought Aldo. I will have to have words with this Mansford person. Of course, after I am paid.


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