The Spirit’s Offering
An original story by Prita K. Shalizi
It was one of those rare days in Santa Fe when the sky was a cerulean blue canopy without one fluffy white cloud to soften its brilliance. But it had been perfect for Dona Alicia to lunch with her friends at their horse ranch; to spend a lazy hour watching frisky colts and fillies prance around in their corral while in an adjoining one sedate mares took delicate nibbles at grass which their quivering soft nostrils sniffed out for them. Reluctantly, Dona Alicia bid farewell to these family friends, slid into her four-wheel drive Subaru station wagon and sent it up the incline to the pueblo road which led on to Santa Fe.
As she paused to make the turn, her eye caught a ‘For Sale’ sign. How had she missed it before? She was on the look-out for property in the country where she could start anew. Recent widowhood had left her adrift. True, she had sweet Miranda, their seven year old grandchild whom their worthless daughter and son-in-law had blithely left as a toddler on the grandparents’ hands when they had gone junketing off into the wide blue yonder with never a word since.
Slowly she moved the car forward, and stopped next to the Realtor’s sign which proclaimed unequivocally, “By Appointment Only.” She considered the sign thoughtfully, then looked passed the gate. No meandering owner or wandering watch dogs were to be seen. A faint, irresistible, soft call, “come in, come in,” urged her on; impelled her to open the gate, drive in and close the gate behind her. On the alert, she inched down the driveway till she reached the house. In awestruck wonder she gazed at a towering Tamarisk. Usually, tamarisks were spindly shrubs along the Rio Grande, but this one had developed a group of thick trunks tapering into lacy pink boughs, drooping protectively on both sides of an enclosure.
She stepped out of the car. Immediately, she felt the presence of a woman reaching out to her, welcoming her, “I have been waiting for you. Come explore, you’ll love this home as we have loved it.” Never had Dona Alicia felt such a strong aura before. She was a pragmatist, not a visionary, not a New Ager, yet she felt drawn forward by that unseen presence.
The enclosure proved to be a graveled square holding a deteriorating doghouse, a few shriveled plants, what may have been a flower-filled corner accommodating a statue of St. Francis of Assissi, the patron saint of Santa Fe, such as is found somewhere in every Santa Fe home and garden. In seconds, she envisioned it as the perfect play yard for Miranda, safe and secure with its quota of jungle gym, swing set, etc. Miranda, a second grader in a Santa Fe private school, was at home in the care of a needy relative, who served as companion and housekeeper to Dona Alicia.
Crossing on the stepping stone covering the streamlet, home of the Tamarisk, to the house, she peered through the half-glassed back door. She staggered back in utter disbelief! There taking up the entire wall stood a 1960’s black, cast iron gas range – a 1960 Garland! The innovative model designed specifically for restaurants – with a six-burner top, a griddle and two ovens – in each of which she could see sizzling a plump turkey roasting to perfection for a joyful crowd of Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrants.
She, the unbeliever, whispered, “Oh, thank you sweet lady for leading me here to the dream of my life. Did you know I had been chef to many celebrities and struggled for years until I became editor of national and international food magazines during the feminist era? Did you know that during those years I cooked many a delicious meal on just this model and that I hankered to own such a range myself, but my desire remained unfulfilled? And now, here I find one on which you must have loved to cook, since you have kept it in pristine condition and which you have now shown me. Thank you, oh, thank you,” she concluded fervently.
She hurried on to the front portal. At the corner she noticed a jumble of lichened stones, curling between them withering cacti and ground cover. “That must have been her rock garden. I’ll fix it for her,” vowed Dona Alicia. The first window along the portal showed a long, skinny room – perfect for a simple refectory table with high backed chairs to seat twelve, fourteen, maybe even sixteen. The next set of windows were large ones, opening on to a spacious airy living room with French doors leading to a screened porch. Behind it a hall, presumably leading to bedrooms.“Yes, indeed!” she thought to herself. A fast-growing sense of proprietorship exerting itself.
She paused, gazed before her at a tier of two broad terraces, dressed in yellow stubble, delineating the border of the property. Imagination painted a vivid scene – her darling Miranada, hair streaming in the breeze raised by her fast canter on a thoroughbred, golden-brown filly. The vision doubled, tripled – two or three horses, stables, a casita for a retired horse trainer and his wife – enough room for all on that level. Waving alfalfa on the next level – providing enough fodder for the animals. Wonderful! Now to make it my own.
Soft as a sigh came the chorus, “Make it your own! Make it your own.”
Dona Alicia was not surprised to hear it. Urbanite though she had been all her life, her love of Nature and the solitude of the country had strengthened her belief that we are one element, one in the many components that make up Nature and as such when we part company with our bodies, our spirits do not disappear. They remain in the place where they had dwelt as much a part of Nature as the tree which stays where it takes root. Already, the caring spirits who lived here and remained here had assured her that she was welcome – that this was where she, too, belonged.
She continued her perambulations. From the end of the portal, she saw that further up on the property lay two buildings in urgent need of help to make them livable. Her mind spun into overdrive, whirled with plans, maybe three or four casitas – not gaudy, not garish – just right for a serene weekend get-away. Guests for whom it would be a delight to produce delectable meals on her very own 1960’s Garland range.
She descended to earth with a jolt. This was not her land; but she had better hurry to make it so. Like a zephyr came the reiteration, “Make it so. Make it so.”
Dona Alicia sent the Subaru smartly down the drive, out through the gate to park by the Realtor’s sign. Prepared to confess her trespass, she whipped out her cell phone, dialed the number and threw herself on his mercy. It was given without hesitation and much to her surprise, she was invited to the office.
Thrilled, she sped down the pueblo road, slowed to negotiate the busy highway skirting Pojoaque and Tesuque before continuing to Santa Fe.
Sedately, she stepped into the Realtor’s office. Devoid of make-up, her patrician good-looks lent her an air of distinction rather than beauty: well-spaced dark eyes under uncompromising straight brown brows, a long thin nose, a generous mouth, a firm chin, an abundance of shining chestnut hair gathered into a soft chignon to nestle on the nape of her neck. Suspended from a delicate gold chain a striking zig-zag of glowing amber hung at the base of her throat while miniature replicas were pinned to the lobes of her ears.
She was a picture of elegance in a shin length, Tussore silk dress, her still slim waist circled by a gossamer scarf – an iridescent rendition of the evanescent light of a rainbow – the tips of its fringe touching the hem of her dress.
Dona Alicia lived by her grandmother’s traditions – adherence to those precepts had proved their worth. They were: always be feminine, courteous, ethical, and tolerant. Aspire for equality with men in every aspect of life. Woman power is as necessary as man power, like Yin and Yang, so too, woman and man must work together in harmony. Always remember you are a woman with your own wisdom – in no way inferior to man!
Not a brash young Realtor eager to scale the heights to fame, but a courtly, old, gentleman rose to greet her and usher her to the chair in front of his polished teak desk. “Welcome, Dona Alicia! What a pleasure to meet the celebrity in our midst, moreover, one who is interested in our beautiful estate in the country. How can I help make it yours?” he asked without further preamble.
Taken aback by his directness, still unsure of the feasibility of her proposition, but with nothing better to offer, Dona Alicia with a wry smile, played her cards. “A substantial down payment, installments paid as each of my holdings in Albuquerque sells, complete payment within five years. Immediate possession so renovations can start under my guidance,” she concluded.
The courtly gentleman listened to her gravely without interrupting. Now he smiled, “You are renowned as an exemplar of probity, Dona Alicia. I’ll present your offer to the inheritors and after they agree to your proposition, which I am sure they will, we can close the transaction and I will hand you the keys.”
Unable to believe her good fortune, with a tremulous smile, she said, “Thank you, kind sir. This is a milestone in my life and you have helped make it possible.” Thereupon, forms were filled, financial declarations signed and Dona Alicia walked out on air.
“My eternal gratitude to you dear lady and to you other welcoming spirits hovering over your loved home. Together, we shall make it such a home again,” she murmured as she drove home in a rosy haze.
A few days later, she erupted in a whirlwind of activity. All the necessities for a camp-out were thrown haphazardly into cartons and shopping bags. “Miranda! Miranda! Stop texting your friends. Do that later. We are going to our new home in the country now,” she called out happily. “Hurry, dear, it is a long drive from here.” Her thoughts ran on in pleasant anticipation: tomorrow, we will explore the interior of the house and consider ways to bring it up-to-date yet keep it homey and inviting; I’ll stroll around setting in order the priority of renovations while Miranda, like a frisky pup can gambol to her heart’s content; in the cool of the evening we will have tea and cookies on the portal and admire the few hoary cottonwoods dotting the landscape in a blaze of autumnal gold.
And, so they did. Her heart throbbed with joy. She was now the lucky owner of this charming home that had housed a large, loving family, and a much coveted 1960’s Garland stove, on which she would turn out delectable meals as the lady of the house had once done. Now, she and Miranda would establish their roots here, in harmony with the benign spirits who had welcomed her so warmly. “Thank you, one and all,” she said softly, with immeasurable gratitude.
Prita K. Shalizi was born in Palamcotta, South India on September 4, 1918. She obtained her B.A. in Psychology from Barnard College, NY; her M.A. in Childhood Education from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; while studying for her PhD at Columbia University, NY she met and married a student from Afghanistan. She lived in Afghanistan for over thirty years where she raised her family moving back to the US in 1972. Her travels have taken her to over 33 countries and she has had two books published, Here and There in Afghanistan & Transitions. Prita passed away on April 4, 2016 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Editor’s Note: I was fortunate to have known this extraordinary woman, and to publish her work in “The Santa Fe Literary Review” and here.