Gabriela and the Widow
Author: Jack Remick
Take a stack of papers or note cards and throw them up it the air and let them fall to the ground. As they gently fall to the surface of the ground, each card or paper a different color and filled in with various colored pens the stories held within the small folds of each paper or line of each card relates a portion of someone’s life that they will never forget. Creating order out of chaos. Creating the events of your life by recording them on slips of paper, cards and then placing important facts on each one yet in no particular sequence or order. Gabriela lost everything when her mother died. No one to care for her, help or guide her in any direction or show her the right path to follow. Life journey brings each one of us joy, sorrow, love and many struggles. Gabriela was alone and as she hoped for someone to show her the way all she receives were stake, and instructions as to where and how to bury her mother. Gabriela needed to decide her own way and where life would take her but instead she becomes lost in her thoughts and finally winds up in the service of a woman we shall call La Patrona. To survive she had to do endure the pain, the shame and the unkindness of many. Living in a village without anyone to protect her, she had some type of status as a servant to this woman called La Patrona. Nothing more than a maid that had to clean up after her and more, Gabriela remained until she could no longer deal with what she had in store for her. Listening to the conversation between this grotesque woman and another she realizes she was nothing more than property about to be sold. But, Gabriela is young and naïve and does not realize that she may leave one horrible situation only to find herself in another. Going to Oaxaca she loves the lights, cars, buses and the scenery but does she love what she is asked to do? Working for Nando and expecting to have his sons, she finds herself selling articles made of toads, bags that carry an awful smell and toad purses that cause her to get sick. It is here that she meets a woman named Mignonne and her companion who comment about her illness and hope that she is not contagious. Gabriela only wanted to look above her station and she prided herself in wanting something special for herself. Going to the shoe vendor she vied for Nikes to replace her sandals. Hoping that she would be able to finally afford running shoes she ecstatic when about the purchase. When her owner sees what she has bought his reaction is violent, abusive and she winds up beaten on the street. But, with the help of the shoe vendor she finds her way to another place hoping she will find acceptance and maybe even love.
Livia is the niece of the shoe salesman that befriends her but she remains in this position to clean rooms for a short time. Entering a room she finds two women asleep and one that requires she remains. Explaining what she has in mind and why she should come work for her once again Gabriela needs to make a choice. Liah and Mignonne were the two who saw her get sick from the toad purses and the two women who took her under their wing and wanted her to live and work for them. But, things were not what they seem and the author and narrator allows the reader to know that they had another purpose in mind for Gabriela. Once again she was asked to leave but this time for a different reason as Liah wanted her to care for her 92-year-old mother and this is where our story takes a different turn and really begins. People bond in many different ways as Gabriela meets La Viuda a feisty older woman with a definite mission in life to create a timeline of the events of her life in a list. But, just how she does is will amaze the reader as she creates cards, pieces of paper and writes down certain facts, dates, adding specific photos, one specific event, place, object and letter within the paper. Each day the routine is almost the same and the chores created within the framework that the older woman set up. No variations just following the rules and adhering to the schedule. Yet, Gabriela, although not well versed in English, understands Spanish and sees the chaos in what she has been asked to do, realizes early on that this older woman is someone that is unique, special and even in her own way properly the best possible person to help her find her path in life.
Caring for her, creating her meager meals and listening to her, you hear the many sides of La Viuda, the suffering, the pain and the reminder that she is old and the secrets that she unfolds as she feels a closeness to this young girl who many think is unfeminine. Relating to her the life she came from, the war that in the jungle and the loss of those she cared for you can see the changes within her as this older woman takes the role of mother to her and she her daughter. But, there is much more before all is said and done as Gabriella tries to make sense of the cards and papers to help create what La Viuda wants The List.
La Viuda, The Widow lives within a world that she created for herself filled with jewels, coins, old pictures and a sable coat. As we get to know her upfront and personal we learn that her major goal before leaving this earth is to record and relate her memories and life on paper, which is why Gabriela’s help was enlisted. Nineteen-years of age, from Mexico or Mixteca, Gabriela is stronger than her years and a survivor. How would a 19 year old today have lived through a massacre and dangerous journey to El Norte? One young immigrant whose life would take on a different meaning as she meets this older woman living in the desert from a different era and culture. How can this young naïve girl understand herself, being a woman and yet live with men. As we read Chapter 19 and Gabriela stacks more cards and later enters more on the List, we learn about the flowers, their meanings and why she draws them. Love is hard to define as the Widow explains the precious items she received from someone dear to her and their meanings. Explaining the coins, the blue flower and the hateful pieces of coins she shares a card and explains that what needs to be added should wait until the story is told. A small red box filled with treasures or jewels as La Viuda relates the feelings of the heart, coupling with a man and the meanings of the stones in relation to each special moment she endured. Sealed her fate. A blood stone that would forever decide her destiny but Gabriela does not really understand as she states that choices her made yet she is told they were not. She reads the List and it contains only what this woman can recall. How can she have been chosen and what about those that came before her? Why was she THE ONE? The meaning of the blood stone and their bond fully described and explained on page 85 as the red ring was now hers. The story added in detail to the list titled El Senor.
Gabriella and La Viuda become one and the same as Gabriella begins to relive the experiences of the older woman in both her visions and her dreams. The power of the jewels that are shown to her and the mere touch or feel of one necklace holds secrets that are revealed when Gabriela is instructed to put them on. The coins and what lies beneath the metal covering or veneer takes them both back in time and in history relating past loves, events and struggles that brought them to a specific point in the present. Blending both history and research about ancient Greece, other cultures and time periods author Jack Remick tests the ands of time, the strength of two women isolated in the desert creating a legacy so precious and so fragile but eternal.
Faces in the mirror might deceit us all, as the distortions are many and the exaggerations great when viewing and image from different angles. Life is a deception, we all endure pain, degradation at times but the unbreakable bond between these two women will endure. Two women caught up in their own final journeys in different ways in order to find a new path in life.
An ending that is so powerful, a young girl whose revenge on those who took her innocence emerging in a more powerful light with an inner strength that no one can take away. A widow whose boundless energy spans decades and many life times and whose final words, her List is her legacy and will remain forever.
Walking down that same road where will life take Gabriela next and what will happen to those who felled her in the past? A story about survival, hope, trust, love and a bound stronger and more valuable than all the treasures that money can buy. What is next for Gabriela only she can decide and where will life take her? Gabriela/La Viuda: one in the same forever?
Fran Lewis: reviewer