Orchids and Magnolias
by P. Dumalogdog
Bold thick lines zigzagged through the canvas merging with the bright vibrant colors of red, orange, yellow, purple, and deep green. The colors swirled around and through the lines, like a colorful, cloud, brewing for a powerful storm. Energy radiated though the image, attracting and touching anyone who would look. The oil painting of an orchid practically leapt from the canvas, so real it seemed.
This painting reminded me of my family. The Prata’s. Bold, passionate, loyalty blind, and loved without reservation or condition…
In a sibling of three rambunctious brothers, it was very easy to get along and much easier to get into a fight over the most mundane things. Mama would give us a quite “enough!” and we’d settle with glares and hissed threats of “wait till mama leave!” When we did got along, Mark, Will, and I would argue about which team would win the NBA Finals or talk about the merits of our favorite players. These eventually would still lead to friendly arguments. The only topic that never ended us in a braw! against each other was about the fine attributes of women.
Our mother had been a very promising law student. Marrying early had aborted her plans of having her own private practice. So she worked for the Herras Law Firm as a paralegal to put her education to use. I had thought her frustration and dissatisfaction led to the painstaking care of her appearance that made her look like our older sister than our mother.
Our father was a hand worker; raising three growing teenage
sons who got into any sport that caught their interest and living with a wife who grew up in a comfortable lifestyle, he dropped the businessman mien and joined in the rowdiness of his sons. Mama would be by the patio waiting with a cool pitcher of lemonade while reading the latest “showbiz chica”. She would look up occasionally at our burst of laughter and smile even though she never knew what we were laughing about. I guess she was just happy to hear us having such a good time. We never volunteered the information either, because most of those jokes had something to do with a girl — or two sometimes even three — or a fistfight as school. all of which would land us a lecture or worse, it could ground us for a mouth!
If mama would raise hell for hearing such things, paps would take it all in stride and laugh with us. But at the end of the retelling of every story he’d say “Don’t get anyone pregnant” or “Don’t land yourselves in jail” and most of all “Don’t get yourselves killed, o.k. It’s too damned expensive to die these days!”
As I shook my head over my father’s crazy opinion something white flashed at the left peripheral of my vision. I turned to examine the source.
Pure, calming white was caressed by sky blues, soothed by pinks, and smoothed by gossamer lines of peach, as light green leaves contrasted the delicate hues. The picture perfect magnolias that seemed to gently float to the ground made me held my breath. I was afraid I would disturb the fragile blooms from their perch.
If the orchids energized my senses, the magnolias cloaked quite seized by boisterous family…
One Sunday afternoon, papa gathered us around the dining table. The three of us sat warily, we hadn’t done any misdeeds that week. But we have learned early that past transgression had a way of catching up and biting you in the ass. So we were unprepared the mama’s announcement. She was pregnant.
“Way to go dad,” Mark said winking at dad.
I sat there smiling saying nothing. I was watching mama and papa closely. I knew a child cost a lot of these days, so I charged papa’s pained expression and mama’s almost guilty look to the worry of raising a child.
Soon after that, our happy Sunday afternoon dwindled into just the three of us boys, halfheartedly shooting hoops. Papa started working later and later into the. A month after announcing her pregnancy, mama came home announcing she had quit her job. No explanations were made. The three of us were too surprised to ask why. Papa hadn’t seemed to care.
Our whole family started to unravel as my mother’s stomach grew. mama started cleaning up after us without usual barrage of lectures and when Will failed one of his subjects, she merely encouraged him to do better next time. This came as a shock to us because our mother was never the type to cuddle or clean up after some else’s mess.
One night, papa came home to find mama wearing one of those for-special-occasions-only outfits and asked her where she was going in a hostile tone. Mama’s expectant expression crumbled into the unhappiest features I had ever seen.
It’s February eighteen, I thought we we’re going to Paulo’s like we always do,” said mama.
In all my life I have never known my father to ever forget about their wedding anniversary. Even when he didn’t have money to spare, papa managed to bring mama to the ritzy restaurant they go to, to celebrate their anniversary.
Seven months later, Ana was born. She was the cutest thing that I ever saw. She had mama’s beautiful and fair complexion. Even then we knew she wasn’t going to grow up very tall like us. The night of her birth papa refused to even visit the viewing area.
After giving birth to Ana, mama’s subservient attitude gave way to her angry old self. Instead of taking the cold shoulder and derisive remarks papa had been doing out parents’ about and curses.
One day I came home early than I had used to. Mama was nowhere outside the house so I went looking for her in their bedroom to kiss her hello. The door was only partially open but I could see Papa passionately kissing mama. I was turning so leave when mama slapped papa.
“What do you think I am, a whore? Who you can use whenever the mood strikes you and treat like dirt after,” mama spat at him struggling to get out from under him.
“You are a whore. Or did you forget about Ana?” Papa sneered. My body went cold as the words meaning hit me. “What nothing to say?” papa asked as mama stilled under him. I couldn’t see the tears, but I was sure mama was crying. I saw my father’s expression change from decision intense pain. “Why did you do it, Anita?” The anguish in papa’s words echoed the hurt etched on his face. “I loved you, did you already stopped loving me then? I did everything I could to make you happy, was it not enough?”
Mama shook her head vehemently. “No! I cherished everything you gave me,” said mama as tears chased salty tracks down her temples. “What happened was alcohol and my dissatisfaction with what I had. And ever since I have been praying to you for your forgiveness.” A sob halted mama’s confession. Tears picked my eyes as the feeling of betrayal and anger swirled through me. “And when you wouldn’t listen I started hating you. I’m so tired of what’s going on and the boys don’t want to come home anymore.” mama choked over the words. “It’s time we ended this. I don’t want our boys to suffer for the what isn’t even their fault.”
That night mama with little Ana left for the province. Will and Mark pleaded with her not to leave but mama could not be swayed. They watched helplessly as the taxi sped away. I did not even want to say goodbye. I didn’t know if I could hold all the anger I was feeling that night and I didn’t want my brothers to know what I had overheard.
Standing in front the magnolia painting twenty years later, as I recall that eventful night I finally understood what drove my mother into doing what she did. She was a woman who had tasted what it was like to live among the privileged, but heeding her love for a man brought her down among the commoners. For a time, she had been contented but in a moment of weakness, she committed a mistake so momentarily revel in the possibility of “what if”. She had been too immature to see where her discontent was heading but she was mature enough to try and atone for her sin. She was brave enough to leave us when the family started falling apart.
Back then, I though, it was cowardice and weakness that made her leave. Now I respect her for it. She did not want to ruin all the good memories we had as a family. I’m very certain that it had broken her heart, because for all her fault mama love us with all her heart. How I wished I knew where they were right now. So I could say all these things to them. I would give her this painting as my gift.
Stepping closer to examine the picture one’s more. The painters’ signature at the right bottom corner of the painting caught my eye. Just out of curiosity, I bent down to know the artist’s name. My breath halted in my chest and the then urge laugh out loud almost overwhelmed me. God was heeding my prayers, because the beautiful magnolia painting was signed: Ana Prata….