La mulatta Guadalupe López came to her new employment at the honorable house of the Alvarado Rosedale e Ibarra Betancourt family, on a thirteenth of March in the year of the Lord, 1967. It was a sweet-and-sour day for the missus, Señora Rosabella, who was on her eighth month of pregnancy. Sweet for the impending, and unbearable pregnancy, was soon to end, thank God and all his Saints; but sour, because she was on her fourth servant in the short time of her marriage, a year, to the very distinguished, Don Monce Alvarado Rosedale e Ibarra, Esq.
The loss of so many maids, (her own mother had had Lucinda in her service for over forty years), was not due to Rosabella’s temperament. Of that she was sure, temperament, pure nonsense, a fabrication of evil-tongues, jealous tongues. She was not temperamental. Far from it; in fact, she was indeed a saint. Like her favorite, Santa Rosa de Lima, who destroyed her beauty with bitter lime and pepper to abate all her admires, (this pregnancy had distorted all her features, even her nose was wider). It was part of what she needs to suffer, for she, like Santa Rosa de Lima, had asked God to increase her suffering in turn to increase God’s favor for her. But this expansion of abdomen, feet, and nose was ridiculous. To top it all, she had to be in bedrest for a month. A month! And if that was not enough suffering, that insulting doctor said she had an incompetent cervix. Incompetent! She was so offended. Calling her cervix, whatever that was, incompetent right in front both her parents and her dear beloved Monce. She felt so ashamed, the stupid doctor was talking about her female parts with all of them as if she was not right there in the room. She wanted to throw her pillow at the ugly doctor with his ugly words.
If anyone was incompetent it was those good-for-nothing girls that came to be at her employment. How hard could it be to keep her house, not as grand as her parents, but only two people for now lived here. It was only a matter of washing the floors, doing the laundry, ironing, making dinner, and making sure she was comfortable in her bed. ¿Was that so much to ask? The problem with all this incompetence, was the fault of the industrialization of the island by that idiot of a Governor. It was his fault that the pharmaceutical companies had settled on the island. Opening their doors to all kind of riff raff to do labor work at minimum wage—a salary that was outrageous for the fine families, who had Christianized this jungle into civility—minimum wage. ¡What a ridiculous idea! Too much money for those people, if anyone cared to ask her. But no one did, not even her sweet Monce. Rosabella, times are changing. You should not worry your pretty head with those things. Leave politics to the politicians. You just take care of our baby.
That governor and his idiotic impositions to pay such an unjust and outrageous fee just to wash floors and clean windows, etc. Of course, they could afford to pay more than Eli Lilly, but that would set the wrong precedent, wouldn’t it? And then where will they be? On the road to communism, that is where this would lead. If this continued, the governor would have the servants riding the Mercedes and the people of class, la crème de la crème, would be riding donkeys.
The island would turn to another Cuba, God Forbid! Equality for all. Just thinking about it made her tachycardia worsen and her ‘incompetent cervix’ go into spasms. She crossed herself, and tightened the grip between her legs. This baby wanted to be born too soon, and a suitable maid needed to be found sooner. This situation was making her first year as bride quite bitter.
La Guadalupe came well recommended. The Soler family, a family of pedigree, if not of great wealth, times had been hard on them, sent a lively recommendation letter on behalf of Guadalupe. In it they extolled Guadalupe, who preferred to be called Guadalupe—this should have set off all kinds of bell alerts—which Rosabella hadn’t noticed, her mind was elsewhere, consumed by the expansion of her belly and the unsightly bellybutton pushing out like a doorbell. It was a hint she missed; she likes to be called by the full extent of her name. Instead of the usual Lupe, a perfectly suited name for a woman of her class. In the letter, the Solers extoled La Guadalupe’s virtues; She is very clean, hard-working and efficient. We have noticed that she is even quite intelligent. She would do very well indeed. She could even be of great help in taking care of your future little one. Love, blessings, etc., etc. That was enough for Rosabella, who hired la Guadalupe on the spot without even seeing her, without the required interview.
La Guadalupe announced her arrival the following Monday. She was punctual. At precisely 7 o’clock sharp, that was a good sign, but it was a few minutes before Monce, her devoted husband, departed to his work. But even the remarkable precision of her arrival did not reduce the tachycardia and migraine that Guadalupe’s physical attributes precipitated on the delicate Rosabella when she entered the private marital bedroom, on account that Rosabella could no longer get out of bed and walk the few feet it took to get to the office, a more suitable place for greeting her new maid.
The Soler family had failed to mention the mulatta’s physical attributes. Tall as a Fichus tree, with a figure that even another woman would admire, this very appealing woman’s visage ended on what they called these days an afro! Rosabella took immediate offence to the hair and to the letter of the Soler’s which, undoubtedly, had not mentioned this point on purpose; therefore they must have intended some malice. Rosabella could imagine all of the Solers having a great laugh on her behalf. But the house was full of dust motes, the laundry piling in the laundry house, food lately had been just cold cuts, and her feet were the size of breadfruits. She was truly in need of someone to put order to her home and take care of her. Maybe I am not meant to be a mother, maybe God indeed had answered with impunity for the increase of her suffering.
Rosabella had been turned down by her own mother. Mama please, let me have Jacinta. Her mother had sighed with deep and sincere pity, but unfortunately, this was the season when the social calendar was so full. Ay, querida, this too shall pass, you will see, you will see. Have to go now, the Sotomayors are calling. Bye, besos, muah. So Rosabella swallowed her significant discomfort and allowed the magnificent afro headed bronze statue in front of her to proceed and begin to work for the day.
At the end of that first day, Rosabella gingerly stood and walked, against the advice of her doctor, to inspect. She was sure La Guadalupe’s work would be slovenly and she could terminate her on the spot. At least, that was her hope. She would rather tell her she was not up to snuff, instead of having to talk about the offending hair. These days the help was so uppity. Refusing to wear uniforms or living in the homes of their employers.
But here were no dust motes hiding in corners. The beds were made with precision. Clothes ironed and placed in good order. Indeed, the rooms were impeccable. And then, La Guadalupe had served her dinner. She tasted the dinner, with trepidation. Gandinga. Normally she did not like liver, but the baby apparently had been craving it and she had asked La Guadalupe to make this dish. A dish not even Jacinta could do well. This was the best gandinga she ever tasted.
It was Monce’s favorite dish, and she worried this would totally bind this La Guadalupe to his liking. Rosabella’s shoulders sagged. She knew she would find it near impossible to fire this maid. La Guadalupe had played her card well, ¿is that what the Solers had meant, that she was intelligent? She was forced to play her own pawn, that damn afro.
“Yes, everything is satisfactory. Here is your payment for today. But please, let me tell you, if you are to proceed to stay with us…,” Rosabella swallowed hard, times were changing, thanks to the idiotic Governor, and now these days even the help was hoity-toity. “tomorrow, when you come, you need to do something with that maraña. That tangle cannot do in this very proper home.”
La Guadalupe did not even blink. From her height, which really was considerable, for La Guadalupe stood close to six feet tall, she smiled at Rosabella in a smile that seemed quite petulant.
“I am sorry, Señora, but the hair stays or I won’t be back tomorrow.”
The affront was so unexpected, that Rosabella did not have a chance to react. No servant of hers, or anyone she has ever met, had ever spoken to their employers with such…, well, for a lack of another word, frankness. These new times, and their changes, were going to be the end of her. It was all the fault of those hippies, and of course the Governor. These new ideas of equality and commonwealth were going to be the end of their peaceful and quite satisfactory small island. The idiotic governor and his moronic followers were unsettling what needed not be stirred.
The next day, La Guadalupe was in the house before Rosabella had even awakened, and in fact, was awakened by the delicious smell of brewing coffee, an aroma that always made her feel the island in her bones. La Guadalupe walked into the bedroom armed with a tray she placed by the nightstand table next to her. The statuesque Guadalupe filled her a cup in plain street clothes, no uniform. Tall, clean, and with a cloud of black hair shaped as a round lollipop on her magnificent head.
“Here is your coffee, Señora, ¿do you like milk and sugar?”
Rosabella nodded, but could not stop looking at the halo of black hair that surrounded La Guadalupe’s face. A delicate face, she noticed, quite pretty, for a woman of her class. She reminded her of one of those black singers she had seen in The Ed Sullivan Show, ¿what was her name?
“Here are your eggs and toast. If you want anything else, just let me know. I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”
“You can make yourself breakfast too, Guadalupe, your dishes are in the left cabinet, marked for the service.”
La Guadalupe looked at her patrona squarely in the eyes, producing a cup already filled from the same tray she had brought the dishes. One of the porcelain cups from Mama-abuela, and in defiance began to drink from it.
“I guess, you did not hear me Guadalupe, that cup you are using is for the family only, servants use plates and cups from the cabinet clearly labeled in the kitchen.”
La Guadalupe smiled, finished her cup in a manly gulp, and left the room closing the door with care. Rosabella stared at the ceiling of her bedroom. ¿How was she going to deal with this impossible woman? The baby in her belly gave her a strong kick. *** In the weeks that followed, Rosabella and La Guadalupe fought an incessant tug-of-war about the dishes, which bathroom she was allowed to use, and the infernal hair. Rosabella gave La Guadalupe a hair net, which she found later in the wastebasket of the master bathroom! The porcelain dishes from Mama-abuela were continually used, she found them washed and rinsed on the drying rack, the bathroom door to the guest bathroom locked during intervals. She was living the life of Santa Rosa de Lima, this was her insufferable passion. These things were so aggravating, making the baby in her womb kick and her incompetent cervix contract continuously.
Her mother visited her weekly, but she was no help. On the contrary, always praising La Guadalupe, as if she was some kind of hero. Oh my! This rum cake is better than Lucinda’s. Your house is so perfectly tidy, Bella mi niña, you should be so happy with this girl. So they talked about things she could not talk about with Monce. At least her mother was also obsessing about the damn war; the disgusting hippies on television, the idiotic governor, the horrors of the American television programs. Like The Ed Sullivan Show! Always showing blacks in his program. Once, she saw Mr. Sullivan kiss a black woman entertainer. Monce thought nothing of it. He liked the show, so she had to sit and watch with him. The world was changing, and they were witnessing the crumbling of the aristocracy.
And it was not only the television. Just last week, her mother called her on the phone crying. Telling her that Carlos, her own cousin, was powerless to use his last name to stay out of that blasted war. He too had been drafted. ¿Can you imagine? Drafted just like a common man. Not even offered a ranking.
Rosabella felt that no one was listening to her in this time of need. Not even Monce, who was still working, going on for ten or more years, on the case of those horrific revolutionaries who had bombed Congress. And doing those infuriating pro-bono cases for the women who had been sterilized without their knowledge. He was so distant now, so preoccupied with his work. She hated pro-bono work. Monce, por favor, at least just work on the cases that pay. He had smiled at her but left her in the bedroom going to his home office instead.
She felt abandoned and alone with this sirvienta, who was the best cook, but also an insolent and confrontational monster that was making her suffer. Every day now she suffered from more tachycardia, migraines, and contractions than ever before, and these were real, not just to get a little attention. Maybe God was punishing her for using those conditions before as an excuse to keep Monce and her Mother by her side.
The Solers were not answering her calls, they were probably in Spain. It was that time of year. It would have been her first trip to Spain with her Monce, but then the pregnancy happened and all that dream evaporated. Rosabella was also resenting Monce’s favor for La Guadalupe. He was loving La Guadalupe’s cooking so much, he reminded her every day, “That one is a jewel, make sure you keep her, we can’t let this one go.” Rosabella wanted to hold a frying pan over his lovely head when he said that, especially when he had that wink at the end of his sentence, and patted his stomach, that indeed looked like he had gained some weight from all the lovely cooking. That made her angrier even for all the charm he was putting in his words.
The sharp pang of pain was as sudden as the evaporation of the midday dream she was having in the many siestas that now seem to consume her days. The baby was coming. The doctor had said to still stay in bed, but the big danger was past. She reached for Monce; of course he was at work. No, not at work in his office. With dread she remembered he had flown to Washington the day before yesterday. Mother and Father were out of town too. They had joined the Soler’s trip to Spain. Don’t worry, dear, you will be just fine, we will be back in time for this little one’s birth.
The pain was coming every ten minutes and as she stood to fetch her phone off her vanity table her water broke right on the brand new Moroccan carpet, a gift from the Solers for the wedding.
She sat with her legs pressed tightly and between contractions screamed.
The maid with the bouncing afro raced to her side, stepping right over the wet rug.
“¿How far apart are the contractions, Señora?”
“No sé, ¿maybe ten minutes apart? Call doctor Gustavo, he will come right by.”
La Guadalupe looked at her as if she had said monkeys live in the sea.
“Mire, Señora, I will take you to the hospital myself. No need to worry.”
“In what, ¿a taxi?” Rosabella felt a terror as another contraction crawled all the way up her spine.
“I’ll bring my car to the front of the house, don’t move.”
As Rosabella gripped the back sit of her vanity stool, she was astounded that a maid could own a car. Good God, in heaven, let it be something that won’t fall apart.
Guadalupe was back quite fast, she must park in our garage, and helped her off her settee. Gingerly, Guadalupe placed her left arm under Rosabella’s back helping her with each step, and had the presence of mind to grab the hospital bag she had helped her packed weeks before, you can never be too ready. Rosabella’s face was resting on a patch of fluffy afro as Guadalupe helped her into an orange Volkswagen that was still running, the passenger door open. ¿How can she afford this car?
After Moncito was born, Rosabella found she needed La Guadalupe more than ever. Those first nights, Monce moved to the guestroom so he could have a good night’s sleep, and she was left with the care of Moncito all by herself. This was too laborious a task for someone of her delicate constitution. Rosabella asked Monce for a night nurse and he solidly refused the request, “Bella, Guadalupe, can take care of Moncito while she is here during the day, and you can then rest all day if you want to.”
Rosabella fell into a deep sadness she could not shake. Moncito, darling Moncito, with his perfectly fine little nose and blond-red curls was a monster, wanting to be fed every few hours. Rosabella’s face was puffy with dark circles under her eyes, she felt so ugly. Her breast were finally without milk, and their shape was coming back, but all those bottles during the night would be the end of her. She needed that nurse at night, she would have to pay her from her own dowry, if she must. She decided that La Guadalupe needed to stay with her full time. Afterall, it made sense, Moncito already was familiar with La Guadalupe.
During lunch, she put Moncito on the beautiful Moises that Doña Claudia had made them, and asked La Guadalupe to sit on the balcony with her, not to share the meal, of course not, but to stand with her as she sat and ate the delicious crab pastelillo. La Guadalupe stood next to her, frozen as a statue.
Rosabella stated her request in a very civilized voice, modulating it so there was no hint of desperation. She celebrated Guadalupe’s virtues as a maid and did not mention the insufferable hair, not all the peccadillos of impertinence. She instead exalted the extremely capable maid. And after much discourse, without begging, of course, La Guadalupe answered a simple, “No.”
“¿Pero por qué no?” Rosabella was astounded.
“Lo siento mucho, Señora.” La Guadalupe answered in an unaffected voice, “but nights are my own and I am not giving them up.”
That night Rosabella did not sleep, and not only because Moncito demanded five feedings. There was this horrible certainty of why La Guadalupe did not want to work nights. Rosabella was certain that La Guadalupe was one of those women. ¡Good Father in heaven, that is how she could afford a car of her own! She had let a woman like that in her home! That Guadalupe had even eaten food, and had drunk, from the porcelain dishes of Mama-abuela. She needed to voice her concern with Monce. And the Solers would hear a good talking to when they came back from Spain. ¡What betrayal!
Early that morning, before Monce left for the Roosevelt Inn Restaurant, where he took his breakfast with all the members of the cabinet that were working on that horrendous case of the disgusting revolutionaries, she went to the guestroom to talk to him.
“Monce, mi amor. I think I have discovered something horrible about La Guadalupe.”
Monce was tying his tie and looked at this wife in the mirror, “Mi Bella, you are not trying to find a way to fire the best maid we ever had,” he said this smiling at her in that mirror, a wedding gift from the previous governor. Rosabella withheld the vision of the frying pan over Monce’s head. She took a deep cleansing breath, put her face in her hands, and began to cry.
“Yes! she might be wonderful to you!” her voice was not the modulated voice she liked to hear herself use, but her nerves were shattered. “but as much as you might think SHE is, there is something horrible, lurid behind that Guadalupe, and not just the hair.”
Monce sat on the bed and coaxed his wife to sit beside him.
“There, mi amor, tell me what is bothering you.”
Rosabella felt like she used to when she was little, and her father consoled her. Father had this wonderful, if a bit supercilious, way to soothe her. Monce did the same now, and she felt better but also annoyed with his patronizing voice. Still, it was nice to have someone that cared for her feelings.
“I think La Guadalupe is a woman of the night.” Her voice sounded small even to her own ears.
“¿Por qué you think that my love?”
“I asked her to work full days and nights with us and she refused! ¿And do you know she even owns her own car? I even offered giving her minimum wage like they do in the pharmaceuticals, and this very room for her to stay, so you could move in with me in our bedroom. But no! She said her nights were her own. What else do you think that could mean? It has to be something improper. Imagine the horror to find this out, she has cradled our Moncito in those hands!” Again, she covered her face with her hands and felt as the bed bounced slightly up as Monce stood. He let out sigh that made Rosabella feel so incompetent, just like her cervix.
“Amor, it is time for you to face that times have changed,” Monce was standing in front of her, and she did not like, or understand, the look in his eyes.
“Bella, Guadalupe, is studying. She goes to school in that new community college in Turabo. They have a night program for nurses.”
Rosabella’s head snapped. She looked at her husband and saw a stranger. How had she not noticed the changes in him. He no longer wore a fedora, true, but the hair at the back of his neck was touching his shirt. And those sideburns! Those hideous fuzzy caterpillars obscuring his features, ¿when did he let them grow? ¿Could he possibly have been listening to the idiotic governor’s ideas? ¡No! She refused to accept that; she could hear Moncito crying in his Moises in the living room. Then she heard Guadalupe’s voice soothing him with that sing-song voice of hers.
“Calabó y bambú. Bambú y calambó. El Gran Cocoroco dice: tu-cu-tú. La Gran Cocoroca dice: to-co-tó.”
Where had she heard those words before? It was in ‘El Show de las 12’, yes, that was it. That terrible television show from the island, not one from the States, that showcased the music, humor, talent of the common people of the island. Yes, those words were the horrible lyrics by that poet, ¿what was his name? Oh, sí, Palés Matos. That is how they get you, her Monce, the village, the island. ¡Clever! The idiotic governor and his mouthpiece, the television shows, putting the world’s axis on its ear. First, the pharmaceuticals, then the miniskirts, now the afros. Behind Monce, in the mirror, she saw La Guadalupe, no, Guadalupe, cross the hallway with Moncito in her arms, still repeating part of that poem, “cru-cru-cru.” Her afro a wide umbrella floating over the curls of her infant son, and she wondered if Moncito felt that cloud as a soft comfort on his face, just like she did that night. ¿Guadalupe, studying to be a nurse?
She looked at her Monce again, and he was quietly smiling at her, she could not read his thoughts, but she could see, she was standing on a plane different from his, there was a door and a threshold she needed to cross. The displacement took her by surprise. Like suddenly standing and feeling faint, but at the same time there was familiarity in it too. It was as if all along she had known this was coming. During her pregnancy, all the signs had been there. From the news on the TV, to her dear Monce’s refusal to stop doing pro-bono, and the streets with more cars than people of high breed. She had not been willing to see them. She was being left behind, like a maid with a higher education than herself.
Maybe, just maybe, she could get used to Monce’s new hairdo. His sideburns were not as bad as she had first been shocked to see there as he soothed his casual blazer on his shoulders, she stared at her husband and noticed that the sideburns looked good on him after all.
Born in Mexico and raised in Puerto Rico, Amelia Díaz Ettinger has written poems that reflect the struggle with identity often found in immigrants. She began writing poetry at age three, dictating poems out loud to the adults in her life who wrote them down for her. Amelia continued writing poems and short stories throughout her life, while working as a high school science teacher. In 2015, her first book of poetry, Speaking at a Time, was published by Redbat books. A second book of poetry, Learning to Love a Western Sky, published by Airlie Press 2020, and poetry chapbook, Fossils on a Red Flag, will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2021. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in literary journals and anthologies. Presently, she and her partner reside in Summerville, Oregon with two dogs, two cats, and too many chickens.