by Cristian Velasco

Soledad

He maneuvered within the labyrinth of maize crops with nothing but the gale of the night and a solitary star for company. A devious ground-protruding root disrupted a step in his walk which provoked a late night serving of soil with just a pinch of potent fertilizer. Up on his feet, he could not remember which way he was going or which way he had come. Come to think of it, he could not recall what had happened prior, or why he walked through the corn field during the pinnacle of night. In all directions, the grassland seemed to extend as far as the eyes went, as well as the darkness devouring it. The only thing visible from the immense field was the church, an ivory tower penetrating the blackened sky. A sense of urgency erupted in the form of an indistinguishable silhouette hiding behind the stalks and leaves.

Cristian woke while the sun was still young in the horizon and the bitter taste of morning breath still lingered in his palate. He’d like to believe it was from the mouthful of manure in his dream. Similarly, he could still hear the rustling of the crops as he brushed his teeth and clothed to go into town. Calling it a “town” would be stretching the truth. Soledad much rather resembled cultivating fields sprinkled with some 150 people, some homes, small business and a church in the center. He dressed in a red and black plaid shirt, blue jeans and khaki colored boots and was off.

He lived on the frontier: a dirt road dividing acres upon acres of produce yielding land accompanied by two cottages. One cottage belonging to the beloved father of the church, Angel, and the other to Cristian. The destination was about a mile westward from his cottage while eastward sought uncultivated fields for countless miles. The vegetation tended to be more vivid and vibrant this time of the year, but the overcast sky this early morning engulfed all life with a grayish hue. Sediments of rock and dirt cracked under his boots and scraped the stroll all the way to town. He enjoyed these tranquil walks between the fields, the rejuvenating herbal aromas caused by dew and the symmetrical scenery. These moments of natural beauty were perhaps the only valuable traits of Soledad.

Just as the deteriorating homes, his fondness of this place diminished each day. The strenuous work of picking fruits and vegetables in the insufferable heat took its toll. Just at the age of 20, he was inflicted with frequent pains to the back from the countless hours spent hunched over the crops. Work was seasonal which meant the flow of income was scarce for a portion of any given year. One day, feeling that 7 years was an adequate amount of time, he asked for a raise. The foreman obliged and incremented his pay from $2.25 to $2.34 “That’s what they think of me,” he thought. “They can’t even give me a dime.”

The church was an immaculate white tower that seemed to amicably shake hands with the sky. When contrasted with the rest of Soledad, the church was Cinderella and the remaining shacks were the ugly stepsisters. The town was so desolate and lackluster that flies, cockroaches and rats would think twice about infesting the place. The only thing that infested the town were the cow pies that always reminded no matter where one went, a lump of dung always seemed to be at arm’s length. Likewise, the townsfolk never left their homes without the Bible firmly grasped in one hand as if by some miraculous occurrence, the author would manifest in Soledad and hold a weekly book club and singing.

Cristian entered the general store, gestured good day to the proprietor and eagerly went to the periodicals. His nimble fingers flew across the pages until getting to the section titled Employment Classified Ads. Before Cristian could scour the newspaper for job openings, the deep-toned ringing of the church bells announced the end of Sunday mass, and the beginning of his torment. Pious and unrelenting, the townsfolk took every opportunity to lecture those like him about the dangers of not attending church and upholding the word of God. To the townsfolk, they were heretics and the greatest offenders in the eyes of God. The growing possibility of emigrating, along with the loathing for the town, resulted in Cristian’s sabbatical from all things religion. This of course did not resonate well with the people of Soledad. They displayed apathy and shunned his presence when in town. Even Festus, the local dunce who was convinced by the youth that brown cows produced chocolate tasting milk, was held in higher regards because he attended mass. While he frequented town gathers and other celebrations to make a fool of himself, Cristian was secluded in his cottage pondering the move to San Francisco for the fisheries or to the ranching work in Salinas. As Cristian grew older and the need for food, water and shelter became an ever so present threat, his stern religious upbringing was shot down, severed and now occupied the same place as the mulch. “God didn’t put this food on the table,” he would frequently say. “I did!” Not wanting to cross swords with a devotee firmly standing on a soapbox while delivering a spiel about judgment, Cristian placed a dime on the counter and scurried out and back the way he came like a rat with the tail between its legs.

The dirt road began to subside and gave way to a picture of the cottages at the horizon: Angel’s to the right and Cristian’s to the left; both dilapidated by the neighboring crops and soil brought on by strong currents of moving air. Getting closer, he could see the outline of a man incrementing in size. “Oh shit,” he thought with a disapproving gesture. “It’s Angel.” Angel stood there on the edge where the dirt road ended and the field began on the side of Cristian’s cottage. He sported his debonair attire: a white button up shirt with a black tie, khaki colored dress pants and well shined monk shoes. One hand raised in the air waving to Cristian and the other by his side holding a tome.

“Cristian, my boy!” he announced from afar. “Where have you been?”

“Please not today,” Cristian murmured under his breath at the sight of the Bible in Angel’s hand. As he continued to near him, he lowered his head trying to avoid eye-contact. It was all in vain. Angel, just like Soledad is, were too pious for their own good. His attempt to zip past Angel was thwarted by an amicable handshake.

“How are you in the year of our Lord 1933 child? Where have you been the entire day? You look a bit flustered. What’s got you shook on this Sunday?” Angel always spoke this way: referring to others as “child”, “son” or “daughter” even though he wasn’t much older than the flock who would scurry through the plains to hear him reverberate the word of God. Angel spoke quickly and tended to unnecessarily accent and extend the ends of sentences. His hair, parted and combed to the side, complimented his infectious smile. His overwhelming optimism and persistence were always a nuisance to Cristian.

“Nowhere, Father Angel. Just admiring the scenery,” Cristian responded while walking past Angel towards the sanctuary of his cottage.

“Now hold on son!” Angel proclaimed. “Where’s the fire!” His congregation usually thought him to be quick to anger, but this was due to his time devoted in preaching passionately. “This is the town of Soledad; unless you’re attending mass, there ain’t much you can do!” He said this with admiration as he held up the Bible. It became apparent to him of Cristian’s loathing for all talk of religion. “Why don’t you attend church, my son? The clergy want to deliver your soul from the Lake of Fire!”

“I don’t need the church,” said Cristian with a certain reverence of his own. “The church didn’t die for my sins. I don’t owe it anything,” These words precipitated Angel’s face to gesture from content to sternness.

“You know Cristian,” Angel’s voice softened while he stared at the sun waning in the sky. “There was a time where I too was hesitant of my religion.” Cristian was intrigued by Angel’s honesty. “After my mother’s passing, I was mad at God for taking her away. I was mad at Soledad for quickly forgetting her. I was mad at myself for not doing all that I could have,” In recalling his mother’s departure, Angel tried to conceal his tears. “I reserved myself in my home just like you have done so much these days. The Lord then blessed me with the insight to realize that we are susceptible to malicious spirits and specters in the face of adversity that deter us from the path of the righteous,” Cristian looked hard at Angel, trying hard to comprehend and care for what he was saying. Angel opened the Bible and began to read an excerpt. “Tell me Cristian, God forbid, if today was your last day on earth, do you think you would join our Lord in heaven?”

“Uh,” Cristian’s voice staggered with each word. “I don’t know. I hope to be.” Angel reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black booklet and handed it to Cristian.

“You don’t have the patience for faith today, but perhaps you will in the future, my son,” he said, speaking from the heart. “You close your door, but He still waits with open arms.” Cristian took the small pocket sized Bible and opened the screen door to his cottage; leaving Angel outside.

Cristian threw the small black booklet into a cardboard box on the floor near his bookcase. The top shelf of the bookcase had volumes of Hubbard, McCarthy and Chboski while the box contained torn papers, useless notebooks, old newspapers and books he considered of the same quality.

 

 

 

Cristian Velasco  Attending Fullerton College as an English Major, hopes to write or teach as an occupation, favorite sport is soccer and loves to watch movies.