May 17, 2021
Here’s a prompt from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem Travel:
. . . there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
Create a character who cannot wait to leave their town. Why do they want to leave? What or whom will they leave behind? Will the decision to start anew prove to be a good one?
She used to call it pueblo quieto, or quiet village, mostly because there was not much going on there at any given time. Everybody knew everybody, and most of the families had lived there for generations. It was the case for Vera as well. Her family, apparently, could be traced back as living in that same village all the way to when Texas was a part of Mexico. “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us,” Apá used to say. The rancho had been in the family for more generations that could be counted, always becoming a source of dispute between its members whenever the current owner died. It was usually a matter of days, weeks at most, before a long lost relative came to pueblo quieto to claim the rancho was their mother’s or father’s to begin with, and bring the legitimacy of the deceased owner into question.
That was the reason why Amá had decided to put Vera to the deed of the rancho when she first got sick. There was no reason to leave any loose ends. With cancer, there was no way of telling how long it would take for Amá to go, and the least she wanted was to leave Vera encombrada with family issues. She didn’t find out about what Amá had done until after she passed and pueblo quieto was flooded with relatives wanting to take back their rancho. Apá told her there was nothing to worry about, that everything had been taken care of. That was the last she had heard him say, before he decided to take his own life. He and Amá had been together since they were fourteen. Nearly forty years in, Apá found it hard to conceive a life without her.
Tía Felicia, Apá’s sister, moved in with her afterwards. She was Apá’s elder sister. Never married, she had lost a bit of purpose since their mother had passed away—she had been Abuela’s sole caregiver and now she was going to be hers. Vera was twelve at the time. That spring, like all the springs before, the most exciting event to ever happen at pueblo quieto took place. The seasonal workers arrived from Mexico, and would stay all the way until the end of the summer. Tía Felicia thought it would be a good idea to rent out the three rooms of el rancho that nobody was using. They had lost a lot of crops, mostly due to the fact that Apá wasn’t exactly clear on how they should care for the land, and Vera had never cared to learn either, so renting out the place seemed like the easiest source of income.
It was that spring that she'd met Ricardo, a seasonal worker that rented the room right next to hers. Tía Felicia was smarted than that, though, and she’d made sure that she stayed on top of her niece, not allowing her one minute alone. But no matter how hard she tried, Tía Felicia couldn’t be with her every second of the day, and Vera would cut class sometimes to go see him work the fields. It was purely platonic until the third spring that he came and rented the same room. It was clear that that time he had noticed her, too, and it was probably because by the end of the summer before, right after he had left town, she had finally flourished into what could be considered as a woman. He was nearing thirty and she was barely fifteen, but if he didn’t see the problem, there was not a reason why she should.
Vera had lost her virginity to him and had spent the whole six months he was there sneaking out to see him, knowing full well he was her first love where she could only aspire to be one of his pit stops. He never said anything to that effect, but his inability to write to her after he’d left, or let her know anything about his life, his real life, his life outside pueblo quieto, told her all she needed to know.
Ricardo came back three more springs after that and, on their last night together, when she was finally eighteen and she had told him that they could be together without asking permission from anybody, it was that he told her that he wouldn’t be coming back to pueblo quieto after all. He then added that he had a wife and children back in Mexico and that, although this—seeing her grow up into a beautiful woman—had been magnificent to him, she was no longer of his interest. Vera felt stupid after all those years longing for March while fearing August. Years where she hadn’t seen anybody, dared to talk to anybody much less love any other man that wasn’t him.
“You’re lucky he didn’t get you pregnant,” Gracia told her, as she was packing for Brownsville, where she’d start college in the fall. Vera had been too dumb, thinking that maybe Ricardo would want to move in with her to the rancho, not leave anymore, and that they could have a fairy tale life, working the land with plenty of chamacos running around.
But yeah, Gracia wasn’t necessarily wrong. After all those years it was only to be expected that at some point she would have gotten pregnant—and her curiosity only intensified when she learned about two girls in a neighboring town who had both given birth to children they said were Ricardo’s, even though Vera refused to believe them at first.
Seeing Gracia that day had a deeper effect on her, though. There she was, packing up to go after something better, to somewhere better. Gracia would go to a bigger town, study in a bigger school, probably build a brighter, better future for herself. And all Vera could ever aspire to was to stay in pueblo quieto, caring for el rancho. It was right then that she told herself it couldn’t be so. There wasn’t any reason for her to stay anymore. Maybe there wasn’t much waiting for her elsewhere either, but it couldn’t possibly be worse than seeing her life repeat the same monotone pattern as the last five or six generations.
“I’m going with you,” Vera said, resting her hand over Gracia’s bag as soon as she closed it. “I want to try out life somewhere else, too.”