Cleansing and Healing: A Short Story
SARAH GRACE VILLARREAL

Teresa “Resa”

Resa had started the morning with a sense of impending doom. A feeling, while not unfamiliar, distressed her. She stared at herself in the mirror, checked her throat in her reflection a few times, and then brushed her teeth thoroughly. Her throat felt a little scratchy, but maybe it was just in her head. Suddenly, her mind turned to her grandmother. Was she okay? Resa’s heart raced her and her stomach sank. She remembered getting a similar feeling when her grandfather had his heart attack. She decided to check in on her grandmother just in case she was the cause of the impending doom feeling.

“Hi Grandma, just wanted to say hi. Hope you have a great day,” she texted.

Resa clutched her phone for a second and then proceeded to get ready for the day.

Resa had always been what her mother referred to as “a nervous child.” One of her first memories was of her swinging happily on a swing in the park. She remembered smiling as the wind blew past her face and through her pigtails. The sounds of the other children filled the air around her. It’s a happy memory, until the part of the memory when she realized how many children must have held onto the chains of the swings. Children who did sneeze in their elbows. Children who picked their noses. Children who didn’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom. How many germs were infesting these swings, the slide, and the jungle gym. Her smile faded. Her legs stopped pumping and for what seemed like an eternity, she just sat there thinking of all the dirt and germs as the swing slowed to a stop.

Playground Swing

A nervous child, she’d laugh at the term her mother used. It was true she got a little worried now and then. There was the time she got poison ivy on a camping trip and she convinced herself it was actually measles that hadn’t spread yet. She didn’t want to leave the house for fear of spreading the disease until she got confirmation from her doctor that the year of her last vaccine had nothing wrong with it.

True, she did miss out on most of her beach trip with her friends this summer. She spent three days in her hotel room researching how to tell if she’d contracted Zika. The mosquito bite she got on the first day of their trip welted to two inches in diameter and wouldn’t stop itching. And even though none of her web research indicated that the way a bite appeared on the skin had any correlation to whether or not the mosquito carried Zika, she still insisted on finding a doctor who would test her. Turned out she didn’t have Zika.

Resa didn’t have time to worry this morning. She was in charge of planning this year’s benefit gala and, with less than a week left, she didn’t have time for anything to go wrong. This “impending doom feeling” happened to her often, and yes, there were times that that feeling paired with a tragic event or some month-long illness, but surely there were times that it meant nothing. She tried to ignore the feeling, reassuring herself that it was nothing more than a strange mood. She checked her phone one more time to see if her grandmother answered and then headed out to her office.

Around 9:30 A.M. her phone buzzed. She held her breath and checked her phone. It was her grandma.

“Hi mija,” the text read, “I’m good, how are you?”

Resa relaxed. Her feeling of impending doom had mostly subsided, the tightness in her chest washed away. She refocused on the last minute preparations for the gala. She went on with her day feeling better only getting the feeling of impending doom now and then. She successfully brushed it away.

Scattered Lemons

Resa stopped at the grocery store for some tea and lemon on the way home from work. She figured her grandmother’s cure-all of lemon and chamomile surely wouldn’t hurt her sore throat. She started to imagine the warm liquid soothing her throat as she walked home.

Suddenly, she sneezed so hard she dropped one of her grocery bags. Lemons started rolling down the 3 flights of stairs she had just climbed. The sneeze sent a wave of pain through her limbs, like an electric shock pulsating through her body. She rushed after the lemons, only to sneeze again, dropping the three lemons she had just gathered. Was this the impending doom? She giggled; if this clumsy lemon scene was the cause of the dreaded feeling she was lucky. She sneezed again.

After she brewed the lemon and chamomile tea, Resa checked her phone, which flashed 7 P.M. Her grandmother was probably free to chat. She texted her, “Hey Grandma, what was that thing you told me to do for a cold?”

Almost immediately her phone vibrated, “Hi mija, are you talking about vapor rub or chamomile tea?”

Resa texted her back, “I’m drinking tea; the vapor rub thing.”

Her phone started ringing.

Resa answered it. “Hi Grandma.”

Grandma Chela, with a bit of agitation in her voice, said, “Why don’t you ever call? You know I’ll answer if it’s you. You’re nicer than your cousins.”

Resa laughed, “Sorry Grandma, I didn’t want to interrupt if you were at bingo or something.”

“Bingo! Que, tenes? I don’t play bingo.”

Resa laughed again. She knew this could start a tangent. “Sorry, Gran… “ She sneezed, “So what was that thing you used to do for coughs and colds with the vapor rub?” Resa grabbed a napkin to clean her nose.

“Put the vapor rub on the bottom of your feet in the shape of a cross, wear some comfy socks and then do the sign of the cross with some holy water, ask Jesus to help you get better. Are you sick?”

“Not yet—” Resa frantically looked for her box of tissues, under her mail on the counter, in the cabinet under her sink. She opened the junk drawer in her kitchen but no tissues occupied it, “but I’m afraid I’m getting there.” She found a box on top of her refrigerator. It was almost empty. She dejectedly put it on her counter. “I woke up with this weird feeling and then I started sneezing. I’ve got a big fundraiser on Friday for work. I can’t be sick. You know how I get when I’m sick. I need to be focused and commanding. What if I lose my voice? How am I going to make sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be?”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm, why ‘hmm’?”

“Nothing, just do what I said. Don’t forget the prayer, and the holy water.”

“Okay, Grandma. Why ‘hmm’?”

“And put a rosary under your pillow. If you wake up in the middle of the night, start praying it, it’s okay if you fall back asleep before you finish, Mother Mary understands.”

“Okay, Grandma.”

“I love you, mija, I’ll talk to you later.”

“I love you, too, Grandma.”

A nervous child. the phrase popped into her head again. A familiar feeling of shame rose in the pit of her stomach. Every time her mother used it people chuckled, her cheeks would flush, and that feeling of shame would bubble in her stomach. Grandma Chela, her sole defender, would take Resa in her arms and tell her daughter “dejala” anytime she’d use the phrase.

Rosary on Table

Resa hadn’t prayed the rosary in years. She still went to Mass somewhat regularly, she just didn’t really pray except on Sundays. Before bed, Resa dug around in her sock drawer for a rosary. She finally found a small pink plastic rosary that her second-grade teacher gave her for her first communion and put it under her pillow. With her socks on her comforter, she stuck her finger in the vapor rub and made a cross on each of her feet. She put the socks on and prayed a quick prayer. “Please let me get better, by Thursday.” She didn’t have any holy water so she grabbed the pink rosary from under her pillow and crossed herself with that. Her mind raced with thoughts of work, of failure, of losing the chance at the promotion to Director of Fundraising. But mostly, Resa heard her mother’s voice in her head on repeat, saying “Resa’s just a nervous child.”

The next morning Resa woke up refreshed. Perhaps the vapor rub had worked. She texted her grandma. “It worked!” Then started her day not giving a second thought to yesterday’s unpleasantness.

Things were going great, until Resa waited in line for coffee that afternoon and a barista swept her feet. She had a quick twinge of dread. She remembered it being bad luck for something, but she couldn’t remember exactly what. So she tried to ignore it.

But she couldn’t, she kept trying to figure out what exactly it meant. She thought about it the rest of the afternoon at work. She thought about it during her meeting. She thought about it when she grabbed her mail. But she couldn’t remember. She sat on her couch opening her mail. She suddenly remembered what her getting one’s feet swept meant as she opened a wedding invitation. Her ex-boyfriend’s wedding invitation.

Sitting Down, Holding Feet

“Don’t sweep your feet, or you’ll never get married,” she could hear her great-aunt Anita say.

“Ridiculous,” Resa said out loud. That superstition was sexist and archaic. Then she thought about the last date she had gone on. Months. It had been months since she had last been on a date. She felt sick to her stomach. The room started spinning.

“This is ridiculous!” she said out loud, again.

Her phone rang.

“Hi, mija. How are you feeling today?”

“Hi Grandma, terrible actually, can I come over?”


Grandma Chela

“I started to worry about you when I got your text last night.” Grandma Chela said as she handed Resa a warm cup of chamomile tea. “You are feeling of doom. Is that what you said?”

Grandma Chela sat down at the kitchen table where Resa slumped. The kitchen was warm with the fading light of the setting sun. Grandma Chela had her own cup of tea out in front of her.

“Impending doom. Yes.” Resa said with a sigh. “I think I have a fever, can you check my forehead?”

Her grandmother chuckled as she pressed the back of her hand to Resa’s forehead, just as she had done many times when Resa was a child. This time, however, Resa’s head was warm.

“Hmm.” Grandma Chela said as she shuffled out of the kitchen.

“Why ‘hmm’?” Resa called after her.

Grandma Chela walked back in with a thermometer. Resa put it under her tongue as her grandmother sat back down.

“Hmm, because your head is warm.”

Resa playfully made an angry face at her grandmother. Grandma Chela playfully returned the gesture.

“So you had this doom feeling, an itchy throat, then started sneezing.”

Resa nodded her head, holding the thermometer in her closed mouth and keeping it in place with her index finger.

“The vapor rub worked but you started feeling sick again after you got the invitation.”

The thermometer started beeping.

“102, not good but not too bad.”

Resa mopped, “I started feeling weird after that dumb barista swept my feet.”

Mentiras, that’s just a superstition. Don’t worry about that.”

“I know, Grandma, but then the invitation? I consider myself pretty logical but that seems a little weird don’t you think.”

“A coincidence, that’s all.”

“I don’t know, Grandma.”

Grandma Chela touched Resa’s forehead again, then lovingly and lightly pinched Resa’s cheek.

“Have I ever told you about the time my little sister almost died of a fever.”

“Why would you say that to me right now?”

Grandma Chela laughed; Resa joined in.

“Well have I?”

Resa shook her head.

“When I was seven and your Tia Anita was four, she got a really high fever.” Grandma Chela’s voice got lower.

“My mother had taken her to a doctor but he couldn’t do anything to break the fever. There was this old woman who lived down the street. Mama called her a Curandera. My dad didn’t like that kind of stuff so he didn’t want my mother to ask for her help.”

Resa sat up in her chair and rested her head on her right hand.

“My sister looked so sick. She would shake and sweat and hardly opened her eyes. One day when my dad left for work my mother told me to watch Anita and to make sure the wet towel stayed on her head.”

Grandma Chela took a sip of her tea and took a deep breath.

“Mama came back with the Curandera from down the street. She told me to wait by the door. I watch the old woman take an egg out of her pocket. She held it with so much pride and reverence. She mumbled a prayer and began rubbing the egg all over my sister. I remember my mother turning to me and saying I couldn’t tell my father. My mother had been holding a glass of water. Once the old woman finished she cracked the egg into the glass of water and put it under my sister’s bed.”

Egg in Black Background

“My mother pushed me out of the room but the next day Anita was back to her old self. But the egg in the glass was black.”

Resa turned pale, “Why was it black?”

“The Curandera said it was because it had sucked the sickness out of Anita. But it probably just turned bad in the heat of the room or something.”

Resa nodded. She had heard similar stories before but usually brushed them off as old superstitions. Her grandmother took one of her hands.

“I only ever saw it done that once, but I could do it for you. It’s really God helping you heal, not the egg, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.”

Resa had been through a rough day. Her grandma and the tea had already started to calm her nerves.

“It’s called a limpia, a cleansing. Do you want to try it?” Grandma Chela held Resa’s hand tighter.

“Yes.”

Resa had planned on staying at her grandma’s house that night anyway. She was a little put off by the whole story. She kept thinking about her mother’s logical thinking and overall skepticism of anything remotely curandera-ish. Her head hurt so much and her grandmother seems so concerned that she decided to let her try it. All the other remedies Grandma Chela uses work, like salt on a wet paper towel for a bruise or a bump on the head. Resa had plenty of spills running around the backyard as a kid, and the salty wet paper towel always worked.

As she changed into her nightclothes, Resa thought about the lemon water her grandma used to give her when she’d stay at her house after being sent home from school. “Water with lemon helps settle your stomach,” Grandma Chela would say. She thought about the vapor rub Grandma Chela rubbed on her feet the time she had bronchitis and missed her fourth-grade field trip. As she made her bed in her grandmother’s guest room, she remembered how Grandma Chela put holy water on her forehead to ward away the bad nightmares the summer her mother spent finalizing her dissertation. Before Resa went to bed, her grandmother knocked on the guest bedroom door.

“I’ve got a nice cool egg and a glass of water, can I come in?”

Resa chuckled, “Come on in, heal me!” she threw open her arms and smiled. But her smile faded as she noticed the reverent air her grandmother took as she walked in the door.

Grandma Chela put the glass of water on the nightstand. She then took the egg in both hands and began to pray, “Dear Lord, please use this egg as an instrument of healing. Take the sickness from Teresa,” she rubbed the egg in the shape of the cross on Resa’s forehead then started to rub the egg down her right arm then the left. She continued to pray as she rubbed the egg on her legs and then her feet, “Thank you, Jesus, Amen.”

It could have been the coolness of the egg, or the soft prayer of her grandmother but Resa was already feeling better. She watched as her grandmother gracefully broke the egg into the glass of water. She bent down slowly and slid it under the bed where Resa was lying.

“You’ll feel better in the morning, mijita.” Grandma Chela said and then kissed Resa on the forehead.

They sat and talked a while before Resa began to drift off to sleep. Her grandmother turned off the lamp on the nightstand and walked out of the room. As Resa slipped deeper into sleep she felt a serene calm wash over her. She loved Grandma Chela, and although the egg cleansing may have done the trick, she couldn’t help but think the evening with her Grandma was the real healing she needed.

 





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