( 1,135 words) A selfish girl learns something from a day sleeper.
Until her thirteenth birthday, Graciela had been pampered. But when Father passed away, the forthcoming stepfather challenged the lenient discipline in the house. With his debut, Graciela no longer would be cultivated into a princess. This is a story of how the guarded girl got into a crude predicament in San Angelo, Texas.
Jim, her stepdad had told her to gather broom weed from the pasture and bring bundles of it to the broom-maker on Concho Avenue. She saw her dynasty crumbling with this command. She was confident but never went out in public. That day, she certainly didn’t want to be outdoors gathering plants.
It had been that petty chore that had brought spoiled Graciela into her scratchy situation.
Jim had arranged for Graciela to deliver the bundles to the broom shop on Sunday morning; when most people were at church. Upon letting herself into the broom establishment, she heard the heavy door close on itself. When the corroded door latch wouldn’t give to her efforts, she realized that she’d become a prisoner in the small factory.
She would need church services to be over, in order to regain her freedom. As she waited, she sat on the floor near her bundled broom weed and considered crying. It was during this annoyance that she realized she wasn’t alone.
First, there were itchy things in her clothing; and secondly, there was someone else in the room!
She scratched at her waist and the top of her leggings. Chiggers! How maddening, she thought.
And in the chamber with her, there was snoring, timeworn woman using the clamping vise as a pillow.
Well, thought Graciela, there’s no need to wake her. As ancient as the broom maker looked, even she and Graciela together wouldn’t be able to open the door.
The old woman didn’t budge. The elder must have fallen asleep right there, while sewing the broom in the vise.
In due course, it didn’t matter that she wasn’t alone, because Graciela began to undress near a bucket of drinking water. A damp rag of cool water on the chigger bites would bring relief, she thought. She had time to tend to her rashes.
She had stripped to her petticoat and bodice, determined to rub away the invaders when the clock struck the half hour; and the woman began to stir.
“Please excuse me,” Graciela said as she ran half naked to a dark corner.
“Who goes there?” asked the waking octogenarian.
“I brought the broom weed that Jim prescribed. I’ve become locked in here with you. I am so sorry to alarm you.”
Graciela, in her haste, had left her clothes near the water bucket.
The elder in her surprise had dropped the huge double pointed needle she’d been using. While the grandma fumbled around feeling for it, Graciela dashed to her clothes; grabbed her leggings then retreated back to her dark corner.
“I say, girl, would you be as kind as to open a window. It is rather sultry in here during this Indian summer.”
“Ma’am, I would, but I am too frail due to my cold,” Graciela lied.
“Girl, do you have a fever?”
“My mother has been nursing me with hot teas. But my mean stepfather insisted that I deliver the broom weed here. I’m allergic to it, you know; I’m sure of it. He is so hateful.”
Finding her needle, the elder continued stitching the broom.
“I can survive the humidity, so no worries about the window.” Just then a pet cat meowed near Graciela. “Are you allergic to cats, as well? I hope not,” the grandma asked.
The insincere girl became melodramatic in her response. “No. I have cats of my own. They generally give me a nonchalant stare and it’s clear they’re just thinking: ‘Oh, it’s you again.’ I would rather not have any animals. They are crude and probably make me sick. Come to think of it, I am probably allergic to cats.”
Grandma finished stitching the broom and brought it to the broom slicer to make a straight edge. The cutter made a sickening noise.
Graciela was certain that the elder knew she was poorly clad in the shadowed corner. “Truthfully, the chiggers in the field found their way into my clothes,” she said modestly. She pointed to her pile of clothes near the drinking water bucket and hunched down to the floor in a fetal position. “My awful day started off with my hitting my pinky toe on the coal stove. Then my stockings kept sliding down into my shoes. At some point, I was telling a story to my mother when I realized she wasn’t even listening.”
“And you caught a cold, little one?” the grandma asked as she helped herself to a dipper of cool water from the bucket. Inches away from her feet were the girl’s shoes and dress. The girl silently shook her head.
Then the elder turned away and went to the broom making station. There she gathered broom weed to make another broom.
“I must say, it is embarrassing to be in this predicament,” commented Graciela. “Only my mother has seen me in my undergarments.”
“Well my son will be back from church shortly so it is best that you tidy up.”
Graciela hesitantly went to the bucket and finished getting dressed. She was still itching horribly. But with the proprietor of the factory due any minute, she had no time to relieve the irritation.
Graciela was ready to go home.
“I’ve never seen you before. Have you only just moved to San Angelo?” asked the girl.
“No. I’ve lived here for several years. I just don’t get out much,” said the grandma.
The octogenarian continued binding broom weed to a long stick. “Some people who have seen me think I should be flying the brooms I make. They think I mix up strange brews from toad and lizard tongues. They probably think I could cure you of your cold.”
“Oh, I don’t really have a cold, or fever. I just didn’t know how to explain why I was half naked in your shop,” Graciela held. “Do you fall asleep often?”
There was silence in the room. The elder seemed to have dozed again. Perhaps she had a sleeping disorder. Graciela patiently waited for her to wake up.
Upon the owner’s arrival into his shop, the grandma did awake.
Graciela was about to leave when she heard the grandma say, “Dear son, please untangle this string for me. Sometimes it’s so difficult being blind.”
Graciela’s slight smile became a frown as she thought, what must it be like to be blind?
Abruptly, she turned and walked toward the old woman. “Here, let me get that.” While her hands picked at the string, she felt different; as if the tangled thoughts complicating her view of the world somehow became less so.
For like a sweeper, the independent woman had swept Graciela to a different place. The grandma’s proverbial broom appeared to have cleaned out negative thoughts in the greedy girl.
That day, and days thereafter, were a series of new beginnings for the teenager. Remarkably, even chores brought about a new sense of satisfaction.