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Abraham's Children

A Story from New Domange

By Lucas Díaz-MedinaPublished about a year ago 17 min read
Abraham's Children
Photo by David Romualdo on Unsplash

Jorge Paz y Mancha was peacefully enjoying his nightly ritual of reading the New Domangue Tribune obituaries when his wife burst into the living room. She flapped her dress, creating miniature whirlwinds. The edges of his paper fluttered wildly.

Señor García is dead,” she said.

“What?” Mr. Paz y Mancha’s face contorted somewhere between confusion, agitation, and surprise. “How can that be? I saw the viejo on Earl K. Long just the other day.”

“Well, he is dead now,” his wife answered. She stood over him as he adjusted his newspaper and prepared to resume his routine: reading the paper was one of his few daily pleasures. But Mrs. Paz y Mancha didn’t allow him to continue. He let out a significantly prolonged sigh, looked up at her with as much patience and attention as he could muster, and resigned himself to the inevitable.

“Father Gotatierra told us a little while ago that Señor García’s corpse was found floating in that little bayou that goes into the river. Three boys from New Orleans find him.”

“I didn’t see his name in the paper,” Mr. Paz y Mancha said.

“You will in tomorrow’s paper,” his wife replied, somewhat slyly. He understood what she meant and offered in response a resigned grunt.

“And just how did Father Gotatierra find out what happened to a homeless bum who nobody knew anything about?”

“The police found a missal from St. Joachim in a plastic bag tied to his belt. They called Father Gotatierra, and he was able to identify Señor García. It’s providence.”

“Yes, and you also believe that we can speak to our loved ones after they’re dead.”

“You forget,” his wife admonished. “You spoke to your father in a dream once.”

Mr. Paz y Mancha ignored his wife and made as if to move from his position.

“Wait, wait,” she said. “I’m not finished telling you what happened. Father Gotatierra said that when the boys got close enough to grab the corpse, the body turned over to show the face, and it had no eyes.”

“What do you mean it had no eyes?” Mr. Paz y Mancha asked.

“They were missing.”

“What do you mean missing?”

“Father Gotatierra saw for himself.”

Mr. Paz y Mancha let the words sink in. Missing eyes in a floating corpse didn’t seem possible. He couldn’t explain it. It sounded absurd, ridiculous. He wanted desperately to resume the normal pace of his afternoon.

“Jorge,” she said. “Don’t you want to hear what happened to his eyes?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Fish ate them,” his wife continued.


“That’s what Father Gotatierra told me. Can you imagine that? The poor man. It’s bad enough he drowns in the bayou, but to have fish eat your eyes. Ah, diós mío. God have mercy.”

“Sounds like a dumb explanation. The old fool probably got in a fight with some other bum over a bottle and got his eyes gouged out. What difference does that make, anyway? He’s dead.”

Señor García wasn’t a drunk,” Mrs. Paz y Mancha firmly stated.

“Could have fooled me,” her husband answered. “Didn’t he always have a brown bag in his hands? Probably got himself killed over a bottle.”

“No,” his wife maintained. “The police said to Father Gotatierra that Señor García died from diabetes. Poor man. He reminded me so much of your father.”

“Yeah, a drunk like my father,” Mr. Paz y Mancha replied sarcastically. He didn’t enjoy the rare moments when his wife referred to his father. She had met him once on a visit back home and had always liked him based on that visit. The old man had died alone in a small hut in a mountainside hamlet deep within the Dominican Republic. When the news reached him in the States, Mr. Paz y Mancha had not spoken to his father in ten years. And even though he never thought that the old man had been much of a father, Mr. Paz y Mancha felt nonetheless an occasional hint of guilt about having left him behind, a guilt that he avoided by simply not thinking about the long-deceased man. There were small moments, however, when Mr. Paz y Mancha confronted this guilt by convincing himself that he had done what he had needed to do.

“Well, all those times you thought Señor García was a drunk,” his wife continued, “he wasn’t. He was dying from diabetes. That was all. We should have helped him more.” She paused and took in an exaggerated deep breath. “Even Father Gotatierra admitted that he thought Señor García was a drunk. But you were both wrong.”

Mr. Paz y Mancha briefly stole into his memory for a glimpse of his father as he had imagined him for years, coughing and sweating his way to death, lying prostrate on a defunct cot, the only furniture in a ramshackle tin-roof hut that sat on a dusty cement slab. As this picture passed across his eyes, the figure of a floating, eyeless corpse glided into focus just long enough to disrupt his train of thought.

Emilio García had found repeated refuge and benevolence in the Paz y Manchas’ neighborhood, primarily due to the insistence of Mrs. Paz y Mancha. As Mr. Paz y Mancha sat in his chair, somewhat dumbfounded by the two visions he had just experienced, his wife argued for the donation of funds for cremation and a small funeral service. She maneuvered her conversation into a lecture concerning the duties of Catholics and of the Spanish-speaking community, reminding him that their fallen neighbors required the same love, the same duty and assistance that sons and daughters offer their fathers.

“What are you talking about?” Mr. Paz y Mancha snapped, irritated that his wife should now turn to such troublesome statements.

“It’s the least decent thing we can do,” his wife concluded, her manner not at all disturbed by her husband’s tone.

“I don’t want to hear anymore. We did enough for that old man,” he said, marking the statement as final with quick strides to the back door, through which he promptly disappeared into the yard.

He remained outside until dinnertime, finishing his paper and eventually falling asleep until the aroma of his wife’s cooking roused him from a very comfortable rest. Stretching his arms wide, he glanced at the small patch of sky that was visible through the canopy of trees in his backyard. The sky looked much darker than he expected it to be, and a quick glance at his watch confirmed his suspicion: he had slept for almost three hours.

He found his wife preparing the dinner table as he entered the kitchen. She offered him a sweet, ingratiating smile as she set out the plates and utensils in an orderly manner. Then, she followed with a bowl of lettuce and tomato, salt and vinegar for salad dressing, a steaming plate of fried ripe plantains, a bowl of white rice, and a plate of chicken breasts, thighs, and legs cooked in a heavy tomato sauce that smelled sweetly of oregano. He seated himself and waited while his wife brought out glasses of water and beer.

“I hope you are well rested,” his wife said. He responded with a simple nod, waited for her to sit down and ask for the Lord’s blessings, and then began to eat as if he had not eaten in days.

They ate in silence, and throughout the meal Mr. Paz y Mancha could not help noticing that his wife barely touched her food. Each time he looked up from his dinner plate, he was met with the same complacent smile she had showed him when he’d first entered the kitchen. He attributed his wife’s contented look to the personal, inner joy that only the accomplished cook understands, for in his estimation this dinner was one of the better meals he’d experienced in a long time. The idea struck him that perhaps she ought to read the obituaries with him from now on in the hope of having her emotions land upon sympathetic deaths more often, which would in turn result in more of these well-prepared delights.

After completing his meal without exchanging a single word with his wife, Mr. Paz y Mancha felt guilty about not having provided a single compliment. He demonstrated his satisfaction with a long, calculated aaahh, which he hoped would be interpreted as an acknowledgment of his wife’s triumph, and reclined slightly backwards in his chair as he placed his arms behind his head.

“Would you like some dessert?” Mrs. Paz y Mancha asked in an overly sweet tone.

Claro,” he responded. “What do we have?”

“After you fell asleep, I stepped out for a minute. I picked up some pastelitos de guayava at the Latin market,” Mrs. Paz y Mancha answered. She moved toward a plastic container in which she had organized a pyramid of small, square guava pastries.

“Do you know that I ran into Greta at the market?”


“Our old neighbor, Greta Malconsería. Father Gotatierra is always asking about her. She was such a help in the church. She moved to a new parish.”

“I don’t remember her.”

“Oh, but she remembers you,” Mrs. Paz y Mancha said. “She sends her best, and she said that she hopes to see you again at the funeral.”

“What funeral?” Mr. Paz y Mancha asked, his voice a full decibel higher than he expected.

“The funeral,” she began, picking up her dinner, “that Greta, you, and I are going to provide for Señor García.”

“What are you talking about? I’m not paying for a funeral for some bum I didn’t know.”

“Please don’t speak that way. I already told you, Señor García was not a bum. Besides, he deserves a decent, Catholic funeral, just like any of us.”

“And just how did you manage to get our old neighbor to pitch in?” Mr. Paz y Mancha asked.

“Oh, she felt guilty about not helping him much before,” Mrs. Paz y Mancha said. “Especially after I told her that it wasn’t alcohol that killed him, but diabetes. She didn’t know.”

“Oh, so now you’re feeding lies to people on the streets just to help you with your cause,” Mr. Paz y Mancha snapped. “I’ll have none of that. You can use whatever money you have saved and give him what you can afford. Don’t look to me for help, because I’m not doing it.”

As he rose from the table, determined to end the foolish conversation, his wife quietly let him know that the parish priest was on his way over to see him that very night.

“Why is he coming to see me?” he asked, knowing perfectly well why Father Gotatierra was on his way.

“Oh, he wants to speak to you about your absence from church, especially now that you’re retired and have more time. And he wants to talk to you about how you can help give Señor García a decent Catholic funeral. We’ve planned it all out already. Father Gotatierra said that he won’t mind, and cremation will be the most reasonable arrangement.”

“What else did he say?”

“That was all,” his wife said as she began to wash the dishes.

“Well, I won’t see him,” he said. His wife ignored him as she continued to clean the kitchen.

Mr. Paz y Mancha spent the next hour in agony, attempting several times to get away only to stop himself short of jumping into his car. He knew that if Father Gotatierra was coming expressly to see him, it would be considered beyond rude if he were to go out. It was one thing to be absent from church, but it was a completely different matter to avoid one’s own priest.

When the priest arrived later that evening, Mr. Paz y Mancha’s nerves felt so tightly pinched he thought he might burst a blood vessel.

Mr. Paz y Mancha briefly exchanged pleasantries with the priest and then fell into an uncomfortable silence that seemed to last an eternity. He suspected that Father Gotatierra purposefully prolonged the silence out of some need to reprimand one of his parish’s wayward souls. When the priest eventually began to speak, Mr. Paz y Mancha reluctantly listened to the appeals that followed. Father Gotatierra was the sort of priest who exercised the duties of his office with such fervor and devotion that it often made Mr. Paz y Mancha regard him as a sanctimonious farce that only he could see through, even though he never actually found any real fault with the man. Mr. Paz y Mancha believed that women, on the other hand, seemed to love him for the very same reasons, thinking that in their love of him they were experiencing Christ through the highest love possible. Mr. Paz y Mancha’s fellow church parishioners were primarily women. Still, he found himself incapable of ignoring the force of the Church’s plea, which included numerous reminders of neighborly responsibilities, brotherly love, and the role of fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters.

For years Mr. Paz y Mancha had explored the same line of thought about duty that Father Gotatierra spoke about. He had hoped to find some means of reconciling his feelings toward his deceased father, but could not come to a resolution. Eventually, he decided that perhaps clearer thoughts regarding this confused matter would emerge upon his deathbed. But as he considered Father Gotatierra’s impassioned speech, old words such as duty, forbearance, and forgiveness took on an almost new spiritual significance. Not that he would have admitted this to anyone, but the very idea that perhaps he could in this stage of his life find some peace through a small act of kindness gave him a glimmer of hope for peace in the everlasting.

Without quite understanding how his life might change as a result of this seemingly small act, he decided that perhaps it was meant to be that his parish priest should come to identify Emilio García’s floating corpse.

He interrupted Father Gotatierra and asked him to wait while he retrieved his checkbook. The priest stated the amount required and accepted the signed check from Mr. Paz y Mancha’s hands.

“Our Father will certainly forgive your sins for this kindness, my son,” Father Gotatierra said. “Buenas noches, and please wish your wife a very peaceful night on my behalf.”

Three days later, Mr. Paz y Mancha joined his wife for the small funeral service that was prepared for Emilio García. He watched a nonstop stream of cars fly past the funeral home’s windows while his wife waited patiently alongside Father Gotatierra for anyone else who might appear. She had informed her husband that she had invited everyone from the parish she thought might have seen the deceased on one of his many walks about town, but only her former neighbor, Mrs. Greta Malconsería, arrived to pay her respects. They waited a few more polite minutes before Father Gotatierra cleared his throat.

“Let us begin,” the priest said. He moved to the front of the meticulously arranged chairs while his wife seated herself next to Mrs. Malconsería. Mr. Paz y Mancha, who remained seated near a window that was just a short step to the exit, observed the two women exchanging glances as Father Gotatierra blessed the urn containing Emilio García’s ashes. The priest cleared his throat once more and began his sermon.

“We are gathered here today to pay our final respects to our beloved brother, Emilio García, whose continuous journey reminds us that we are like Abraham’s children, roaming the desolate streets of a new world like forbidden souls. We have been exiled from His paradise, but each soul we save will bring us closer to His Kingdom. Do not be sad: a friend has gone to prepare the way…”

“Oh, and the way Father Gotatierra speaks, such a beautiful sermon,” Mrs. Paz y Mancha said later that night while they prepared for bed. “There isn’t a better priest in New Domangue, I swear it. He’s so devotional and inspiring. Remind me to give the Church a special something next Sunday.”

Mr. Paz y Mancha grunted in acknowledgment.

“You know,” his wife continued, “he really did look like your father.”

“Who are you talking about?

“Why, Señor García, of course,” his wife answered. “I think he looked very much like your father. I always thought so. Didn’t you?”


“Did you know that the final report said that he suffered a seizure?” Mrs. Paz y Mancha asked. “It didn’t say anything about alcohol. He was just a sick man alone in the world.”

Mr. Paz y Mancha ignored his wife. He didn’t want to be bothered anymore about a dead man he barely knew. He wanted to forget about it, to push Emilio García’s image as far from memory as possible, which he began to do the moment it was polite to step outside of the funeral home.

The lengthy sermon, with only three mourners, the priest, the dead man’s ashes, and the cavernous room of weeping and death, had been too much to bear. Mr. Paz y Mancha felt he would have run out of breath if he had remained inside for too long. Once outside, he breathed deeply, taking exaggerated gulps of air as if he had never breathed before in his life.

Later that night, as he fell asleep beside his wife, he vaguely felt that he had overcome something major, something that he could not yet understand. He felt as if a release valve had just been opened somewhere inside him, and that years of building pressure were now being given the opportunity to escape.

Awakening to the natural urgings of his body late in the night, Mr. Paz y Mancha grudgingly opened his eyes. As he attempted to focus in the dark, he noticed that a faint wavering glow from the bathroom offered him enough light to distinguish most of the objects in his bedroom. He could tell that the light came from a candle and quickly surmised that his devout wife was performing a candle vigil for the deceased man. When he entered the bathroom, he discovered not only the candle, but also a small porcelain container alongside it, which rested peacefully at the base of their white fiberglass bathtub.

Instantly, he knew. As he considered giving in to the urge to run back into the bedroom and jerk his wife awake to ask her when and how, he recalled his wife’s oversized bag sitting on her lap as they drove home. He had believed she was bringing back the uneaten pastries she had brought with her and had thought nothing of it.

Now it didn’t matter. A dead man was in his home. Ashes. Of all things, ashes. He felt like shouting, but instead remained quiet and still for a few prolonged minutes, transfixed as if by some outside force. Almost immediately, as if startled out of a reverie that was too long and too slow to bear, he turned his back and walked out. Deciding not to speak to his wife about it, he quickly grabbed his robe, walked back into the bathroom, and picked up the porcelain container.

“No,” he said to the ashes. “You cannot stay here.”

He drove to the same bayou where the corpse had only recently been discovered, stepped out of the car in the dead of night, and walked to the edge of a small jut of land that rose slightly above the water.

“Here,” he said as he flung the remains out of the urn and into the water. “You can keep roaming, old man. And, by the way, you don’t look anything like my father.”

Short Story

About the Creator

Lucas Díaz-Medina

I'm a Dominican immigrant living in the New Orleans area since the 70s. A father of two, I've been a service worker, war medic, ER tech, pro fundraiser, nonprofit leader, city bureaucrat, and now a PhD'd person, but always a writer.

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