We went to the cemetery, where Sebastian had already laid Ishkin’s shrouded body in the grave. Then we stood around and shivered while the wind blew down off the mesas and Joaquin read some things from a book. Most of it didn’t mean much to me. I was too busy thinking of all those other funerals we had held here. But when he started reading about the valley of the shadow of death, I looked up and paid attention. I remembered this passage from Auntie’s Bible readings. Will and I had always associated it with this place and the things that had happened here.
I looked around at the mesas and mountains. They seemed like a fortress that could keep out wars, disease, and even death itself. That was an illusion, of course. We’ll grasp at anything to convince ourselves that we can make our lives invulnerable, as if death and disaster didn’t have a thousand ways of finding us. Mountains don’t keep bad things out. Every valley lies in the shadow of death.
“Diana, did you have anything you wanted to say?”
I looked up. I had let my mind wander again. Poor Ishkin. You’d think I could’ve at least paid attention at his funeral, instead of drifting about in my own morbid thoughts. “No,” I said.
Joaquin read a few more things and we each tossed in a handful of dirt. Then we let Sebastian fill in the grave while we went down the hill to the house. Señora Estrada had made a pot of posole and some empanadas the night before, and after she heated them up, we had an informal meal together, talking about inconsequential things.
I felt exhausted after lunch. I don’t know why, since I hadn’t done anything strenuous, but I guess I had been wearing myself out thinking, so when Joaquin and la Señora saw me nodding off and urged me to take a nap, I didn’t argue.
When I awoke I found the house quiet. I didn’t see anyone as I walked through the rooms and I wondered where they could have gone to. The church, perhaps?
The church appeared to be empty, too, and I sat down in a pew to think. I needed to quit dawdling and get back on the road. What was the best way to Kentucky? Due north would take me through Catalunia, and I didn’t want to go back there. West and northwest could pit me against Nativist Indian tribes again. Don Reymundo’s fiefdom was to the east by the reservoir, and to the south were the contested lands.
It all looked pretty grim and I was wondering if I should choose randomly and hope for the best, when I heard footsteps.
“I was wondering where you were,” Joaquin said, sitting down beside me. “Is everything all right?”
“Just thinking. I need to be leaving soon, and I want to have a good plan.”
“Where are you going?”
I thought I caught an odd note in his voice, like he had a lot more questions he wanted to ask, but even that seemingly simple question presented me with a problem. If Auntie had guessed I was heading this way, might she send someone to ask about me? What if she said something to Will? It wasn’t likely, but I didn’t want to take the chance. Telling Joaquin the truth was out of the question. Even using my story about Tennessee might not be wise, in case someone tried to track me. Confused as to what I should tell him, I remained silent.
Joaquin took my hand. “Do you want to talk about it? I haven’t wanted to pry because we’ve suffered so many losses already, but I’m sure could find a way to make more room in the cemetery if—”
I had to restrain myself from laughing. Poor Joaquin. He was so earnest and concerned, and had so completely misread me. “It’s not what you think. Auntie and Will are fine, as far as I know.”
He withdrew his hand from mine. “That’s good to hear. Usually when someone doesn’t say anything about their loved ones, it’s a bad sign. And here you are, a lovely young lady, wandering through dangerous country alone. . .”
“I can take care of myself. I fought in the civil wars.”
“I suspected something like that from your gear. Is that where you’re going now? Back to your unit?”
I shook my head. “I’m going far away from here. Someplace green, where there’s plenty of water, and I can work with horses and not have to kill people.”
“That sounds nice. Is Will going with you?”
Joaquin was silent so long that I began to think maybe he had other things on his mind. I let my thoughts drift until he brought me back to reality. “I’d be happy to counsel the two of you, if you want to try to make your marriage work.”
“Unless you can make me stop feeling like it’s incest because I grew up with him, I don’t think there’s much you can do.”
“If that’s how you feel, why did you marry him?”
Were people going to ask me this for the rest of my life? I silently resolved not to tell anyone else I was married, not even if it meant marrying someone else later on and committing, what is it? Bigamy?
“Okay,” Joaquin said. “We all make mistakes. Would you like to pray about it together?”
“Would it help?”
“I can’t say, but I doubt it will hurt anything.”
We knelt and bowed our heads on the pew in front of us, and I was grateful that he didn’t speak. He had a way with silence that affected me more deeply than words. We knelt for a long time before he finally crossed himself and stood up. He extended his hand to help me to my feet and suggested we light candles.
I don’t know why Catholics are so fond of their candles, but I followed him to a niche where a few votives glowed at the feet of a plaster Madonna. There was a table full of unlit candles nearby, and Joaquin urged me to light one for every person I wanted to pray for.
"I’d burn your whole church down if I did that."
I lit just one.
After supper, Joaquin pulled out a map and we looked it over for a long time. Joaquin and la Señora told me the latest rumors of which areas are safe and what groups to be on the lookout for. I think my best option will be to continue south through the mountains and cut east once I’m on the desert plains. That will put me south of Don Reymundo. Once I’ve cleared the perimeter of his lands I can turn north again.
It feels good to have a plan. There’s nothing left for me here in Valle Redondo unless I want to wallow in my memories. Maybe when I’m old I’ll come back and be one of those people who lives in the past and knits all the time. But after looking at that old map, I can see that it really is a big world out there. I bet it's amazing.
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