Every Picture Tells a Story
by Beth Zigrossi

It was still cold out.  The last traces of snow clung to the ground, and crunched occasionally underfoot at its deepest points.  A chill wind blew, making Victor’s eyes water as he stood facing Maria.  But it was a good feeling, and he had never minded the cold anyway. 

It would take a lot more than a little nip in the air to spoil this day.  The warmth inside him bubbled up, threatening to make him laugh out loud.  Maria and he had waited so long for this, dreamed of it, worked for it. The unadulterated sense of accomplishment threatened to overwhelm him, to send him cavorting across the field like a five-year-old child chasing a butterfly.

He could see it in her eyes as well.  She looked younger suddenly, lighter.  She sparkled. Her long dark hair, pulled back as always, seemed somehow bouncier.  The lines of weariness on her face eased.  It was amazing what a day like this could do to a person.  Looking at her, Victor could see the woman he married, and the young girl of
sixteen he’d first me.  Not that they were old now – no!  They still had so much of their lives ahead of them.

His mind drifted back to those very early days.  Maria - shy, quiet, but with a smile that could turn so suddenly mischievous and playful – and he so full of bravado and promises.  He wondered what she’d seen in him, fool that he’d been.  He was always full of talk, ideas – most of them the romantic notions of a teenager.  The world had not
yet been unkind to him.  As the saying goes, he didn’t yet know what he didn’t know.

It reminded him of the one other time he’d felt this kind of joy.  He’d gotten down on one knee, looked at her with all the sincerity in his eighteen-year-old heart, and asked her to be his wife.  To his utter amazement she’d agreed.  And in that moment he knew the path his life would take.  He would spend all of it taking care of his Maria.

The wedding had been small and traditional.  Both sets of parents cried; tables groaned, laden with the delicacies of their combined womenfolk.  The beer and wine flowed copiously.  Old married couples held hands, eyes brimming with memories of their own youth.  There was laughter and dancing, and more than one long rambling, alcohol assisted toast to the future.

Alone finally in the tiny, dingy apartment they’d found, Victor and Maria talked about their dreams and hopes.  About the farm they wanted.  The chickens and cows they would have.  The children who would run and play and help Maria with the housework.  It wouldn’t be an easy life, in particular; but easy wasn’t what they were looking for.  They wanted a life out of the city, away from the teeming crowds of strangers who didn’t speak or even nod to each other.  Where the clouds of smoke and exhaust didn’t cling to your clothes, and burn your nose when you took a deep breath.  This was not the life they wanted for the children they’d someday have. 

They pictured their as yet unborn progeny.  A girl, with Maria’s deep brown eyes and quick smile, to help with the kitchen chores.  And a strong boy to help Victor in the fields.  Every night they would tuck their offspring into bed, and go sit outside and look at their land, and the stars.  They would be happy… they just knew it.

So Victor took a job working as a truck mechanic apprentice, and Maria went to work as a waitress at the diner across the street from where they lived.  The hours were long, for both of them.  Maria’s back ached from running back and forth, toting greasy burgers and fries to leering truck drivers and finicky old women.  Victor’s fingers, permanently darkened from the grease and grime of countless ailing engines, burned from the cuts and nicks of day-to-day mechanical abuse.

But they persevered.  It was slow going.  Once Victor was robbed while traveling home late at night, the glint of a sharp stiletto demanding his acquiescence of hard earned pay.  Maria had cried that night, both out of relief for his safe return and the loss of so many hours spent toiling – just suddenly gone.  The amount of work still ahead of them seemed often overwhelming, especially for two still so very young.  Maria at times dreamt of the dances and parties other girls of her age were still indulging in, and Victor yearned too for respite from the endless days of mindless labor.

Every Friday night, late, after the work of the day was past, and the two could sit under the dim bulb at their small kitchen table, they had their own ritual.  They would count out carefully the wages brought in between them both.  Money for necessities was carefully stored in envelopes named for each – food, rent, electricity.  The rest went into a pink envelope creased with many openings and closings.  It was an envelope from an old valentine – the very first that Victor had ever given Maria.  And into that envelope they poured their hopes, carefully writing out the deposit slip for the savings
account they’d opened the first day of their married life.

The amount grew, not like rainwater pouring out of a spout to a gutter in a thunderstorm, but as befitted the dream it was destined to fulfill, like soft summer mist on a freshly tilled field.  Quietly Victor began to look at the type of property they wanted.  He didn’t say a word to Maria.  It was too soon; it would be unfair to raise her hopes if there was nothing they could afford yet.  But perhaps, just perhaps –  It was just two days past his 28th birthday when Victor saw the advertisement.  “Small two acre property, fixer-upper, some outbuildings included”.  It was terse, and not the kind of wording that would inspire many.  But Victor saw hope in it, as well as a possibly achievable price tag.  Saving his pennies, he made the long bus trip to the outskirts of town to take a look at it.

As promised, it wasn’t much.  A few acres, a dilapidated barn, an even more dilapidated house.  It needed work, but Victor could see only the possibilities.  In his eyes the sun shone on neatly tended fields.  Chickens squawked about a newly painted barn.  And the house – with Maria’s touches he could see gleaming white curtains blowing in the breeze, hear the delighted laughter of the children…

After an anxious meeting at the bank, Victor was triumphant.  A few papers to sign, and the years of hard work would all pay off.  His mind raced, thinking of the things they would need.  He bought an old beat-up pick up truck from his boss, keeping it at the shop till the time they would need it.  And finally – once all the papers had been signed, the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted, he went to the shop.  He started up the pick up truck, the engine whirring into life slowly.   And he went to get Maria.

She climbed into the truck, clucking at him, asking where they were going.  He beamed at her like a delighted child, and refused to say anything beyond “It’s a surprise.”  She protested and wheedled for a while, then pulled her light coat around her closer as they left the city, the heat in the groaning pick up less than adequate on a chilly afternoon.

They drove the few hours, all the while Victor’s heart beating anxiously in his chest.  Should he have consulted with her first?  Would she be angry?  It was their life savings – perhaps he should have waited.  What if she didn’t envision the things that he did there?  Suddenly he was sure he’d done this all wrong, that he’d made the most terrible mistake.  His spirits seemed to sink with every passing mile, try as he might to shake off the feeling.  Maria was quiet too, puzzled at his chameleon moods – and terribly, terribly curious.

Finally, after what seemed to Victor an eternity, they pulled up to the small property.  He took Maria’s hand, sitting there on the frayed vinyl seat, and said, “Come with me.”  They stepped out of the car, walked slowly around the hard, semi-frozen dirt.

“I hope you will be happy with what I’ve done,” was all he said.  

She looked around, incredulous.  “Is this… ours?” she asked.

He nodded, his eyes searching her face for some sign of her reaction – bracing himself for the worst, already planning ways to extricate himself from this terrible mess he’d made, this huge error in judgment.

She smiled at him, and suddenly everything was all right.  He smiled back at her, relief washing over him like a warm bath.  He leaned his head back, and took another deep breath of the fresh air, his eyes closed, savoring the moment.

“Maria,” he whispered, almost not daring to speak the words aloud.  “We’re home.”

Beth says:  "I'm a middle aged woman from Chicago, currently working as an executive assistant.  I've been writing for about six years now, and recently took some classes which inspired me to actually do something with this! I'm divorced with 4 children, thankfully most of them all grown! I am an avid reader and love to cook, as well as hunch over the computer writing.  Again, thanks for looking over my piece."  Contact Beth.