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Beyond a Doubt
Teresa never forgets.
Every morning, she rises before the sun to make the solitary, harrowing walk down Main Street. Her march is stoic and under strict meter: a mark upon many marks left by her past—or were they scars?
One morning, she initiated her march to Baptiste's humble grave especially early, for something had troubled her in her sleep. She took her bowl and her flowers, lifted them over her head, and traveled under darkness for nearly thirty minutes before reaching her destination. Gasping, she set down the bowl and took out the roses. They were not her roses, nor did she care; her employer, Robert, a very rich American, had many rose bushes, and she took care of them all. She watered them every day, sprayed them, weeded them, sang to them in false, coarse notes. Did this not make them her very own? Teresa laid the roses neatly by each other on the dirt in front of the unmarked grave. The dew that collected on the petals glistened like mercury in the soft moonlight. Teresa closed her eyes, but did not pray, for she had given up that practice long ago.
"I was always the only one for you," she said, caressing the tombstone. "Now you are dust, and nearly forgotten, but I remember. Only I."
With that, she began to weep quietly. She wept until the sun broke the outline of the mountains, and then started for work.
Teresa never doubts.
Teresa found her way through the darkness confidently, for she knew the feel and location of every brick that led to her home. The sun was up completely when Teresa arrived at her home; she lived on the highest floor of a very tall and very old apartment that blocked the sun and threw distorted, oblong shadows all over the sidewalk.
"¡Ay!" the neighbors would snarl. "That big apartment building blocks all the light and makes the entire street very ugly. We want more light, and less ugly buildings."
But Teresa did not care, because she knew that the light wrapped around the edges of the building looked like a halo, and that was beautiful. She climbed tediously up all seven flights of stairs, for there was no elevator, retrieved the key from under the mat, unlocked the door, gave it a push, and stepped inside. Her apartment reeked of secondhand furniture and unkempt restrooms. It had only one bedroom, one restroom, a kitchen, and a living room. The walls were once white, but slightly yellow now. The ceilings were low, but she did not care. Teresa walked into the center of the living room, and wondered why everything looked so still, so static.
"Don't be silly," she thought. "It’s just furniture. You couldn't expect it to move."
Teresa pulled to her a chair that was to the side of the only table in the entire apartment. It was a very modest table, nothing more than four wooden pegs and a slab of wood. But she was satisfied with just this.
Teresa sat down at the unfinished bowl of cereal that she had abandoned in the morning. There was no helping it; for the past three years, since she read about Baptiste's death in the obituaries, she had been having trouble falling asleep at night. There were too many unanswered questions—and so she'd risen before the sun every morning since then to draw her own conclusions.
She looked at her reflection in a secondhand mirror covered in grime, which she had found searching through the city dump looking for her paperwork. It was lying under a truckload of cardboard boxes, but she had gone in and retrieved it because she knew that mirrors were luxuries, and to come across one by chance was a rare occurrence. She never found her paperwork but decided that she was happy with just the mirror.
Her face was like the great plains of her storybooks, flat, wide, without a lie in it, though full of creases and valleys. Every day it got flatter and wider, though not necessarily more honest. Her hair was like a crushed nest of spiders, matted, oily. She had not washed in days, instead let the rain cleanse her when it will. That is how the flowers get cleaned, and they are beautiful, she reasoned. With every day, she expands like rising bread, her sides becoming heavier, more unshapely, but that was not what she saw. Smiling bashfully, Teresa crooned to the apparition in the mirror, a slender woman with high cheekbones and long, tanned legs. They called her senorita, and jokingly asked her if she would marry them, and she would said no, there is only one for me, only one. Then they would ask her, who, who, but she would just push them away playfully, and they would laugh. She would visit all the bars in the city and let the men buy beers for her, only to thank them slyly and wish them a good night. Feeling validated, Teresa put on her gown and walked down all seven stories, then all the way through Main Street, past the poor, out of the indignant enclave of her people, and into a land of the rich. It was a land of marbled buildings with tall, elegant pillars and fountains that gushed forth water as if water were free. She checked in with her boss, Robert, and got to work on the garden. She tended the trees first, because they required the most work, and then the potted plants. She worked on the roses last because she loved them, and knew that they loved her back. Like every other day, she carefully made sure that nobody was watching, plucked a few roses from the bushes, and put them in her bowl. Through the screen door, Teresa could hear Robert and his clients jeering at her behind her back, but she did not care. When six o' clock arrived, she checked out with Robert, took the bowl with the roses, and went back to her apartment.
Teresa never worries.
Teresa climbed the seven flights of stairs back to her apartment in a good mood, as she always is when she has roses. When she was young, people would give her roses and beg her for a dance, but she knew better. Teresa entered her room and set the bowl of roses in the center of the living room, so that whenever she needed to, she could look over and have them in plain sight. When it came time for dinner, she flattened the flour into thin, circular sheets and heated them in a skillet to make tortillas. She took strawberries from the basket next to her and rolled them up in the tortillas. I am very lucky to have strawberries, she thought. Not everyone does.
When she was finished with her modest meal, Teresa gave the roses one last glance and headed off to her bedroom, a very small room with only an air mattress on the ground and a statue of Virgin Mary nearby that was not needed but had been kept in the room for decoration's sake. She fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.
Teresa woke up in the middle of the night, her heart beating thunderously like a drum roll. She got up immediately and switched on the light. She made her way to the mirror, and studied her reflection for an entire minute. Then, she went to the center of the living room, knelt down, closed her eyes, and felt the roses. She rubbed the petals with her callous fingers, feeling their velvety texture, their softness, then dipped her hands in the cool water. Satisfied, she went back to bed, drifting to sleep easily.
Teresa never dreams.