El Valle de Cafe by Jonathan Ferrini

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Dearest Yvette:

I write to you beneath a candle on a small desk within my spartan quarters. It’s late in the evening, and all is quiet, except for the subtle melody of the tropical birds awaiting sunrise.
            The delicate flame dances about creating gorgeous amber hues and shadow images suggesting black caverns reminiscent of a lost love. Beware to all combustible souls who approach the irresistible flame because it may consume you, and together you’ll become one. Such was my blissful fate.
            I’m longingly staring at the photograph of you atop a Mayan terrace, the setting sun behind you is illuminating your fine hair blowing in the breeze as if orchestrated by the ancient priests.
            I recall your use of Valentine’s Day to introduce our class to romantic poetry. You chose me to read the verses dripping with wild honey drizzled on the page by Poe,
            “It was many and many a year ago…
            That a maiden there lived whom you may know…
            And this maiden she lived with no other thought
            Than to love and be loved by me.”
            I trembled in front of the class but my fear became resolve to deliver each heartfelt word to you as if we were in love.
            Your nun’s habit didn’t hide your beautiful face and devouring eyes when we were reunited at the university in Guatemala City. Me, an undergraduate pursuing a degree in religious studies, and you, a graduate student in archaeology.
            You had become the Bride of Christ and wore the gold band as a loving wife of the church.
            “…a wind blew out of a cloud, chilling…
            So that her high-born kinsman came
            And bore her away from me,”
            The months we spent visiting the cultural offerings of the capital, sipping coffee and enjoying modest meals, revealed a fissure in your communion.
            Reaching for my hand in the darkness of the movie theatre while we enjoyed a retrospective of the filmmakers, “Grupo de Cali,” I noticed your ring was missing, perhaps a signal to me that a dam of emotion, later to explode, would culminate in our visit to a hotel room.
            You exited the bathroom free of your habit, and the bath towel wrapping your statuesque body fell to the floor. Running my hands along your velvet flesh, travelling slowly along your feminine curves was too much stimulation for a man who was still a boy.
You were kind and loving when I prematurely completed my contribution to our coupling. You held my head to your bosom, stroking my hair with fingers resembling a delicate comb, confessing you had received the blessings and fond farewell of your order, calming my guilt of having laid with the wife of our lord.
            Your tender embrace communicated your passion to me in a manner far deeper and precious than our intended physical union.
            “…But we loved with a love that was more than love…”
            As I recall that moment, my loins are awakened. I glance at the flogger hanging by a single nail on my barren wall reminding me to keep my thoughts chaste.
            I apologize for running away and ceasing communication with you as the realization of my teenage dream of becoming one with you was too intricate for me to comprehend. I required time to process the multitude of feelings racing throughout my soul.
            I was one of the children of the poor who picked coffee beans within the hills and valleys of Guatemala. Our climate and rich volcanic soil produced coffee beans coveted throughout the world and provided a modest income to those who picked beans for the wealthy land owners.
            I was an only child of loving parents. My father’s horizons were limited to his earnings and the boundaries of our valley where he was raised and never ventured beyond. I was closer to my mother who held my soft, delicate hands, and understood the wanderlust within my expressive eyes. She knew I was chosen for a life beyond our valley and convinced my father to send me to our village parochial school. They struggled to pay the tuition. I worked part-time about the parish and school contributing to the tuition.
            You were sent to our village by the “angels” the old women of the village said. You told the class you were fortunate to have been assigned to Guatemala by the Peace Corps because of your interest in Mayan history and university degree in archaeology.
            I recall sitting in class and watching intently as a single bead of perspiration was born from your delicate brow, slowly finding it’s way down your beautiful face, onto your regal neckline, and disappearing into your cotton dress.
            Oh, how I wished to be the drop!
            I take pride in revealing to you it was me who provided you with the block of ice each day covered by soft, cotton towelettes to keep you comfortable within the sticky heat of our homeland. You made certain each student received a cool towel, and later retrieved a fan, placing it front of the ice block, creating instant air conditioning for our sweltering classroom. This was one of your many selfless acts instilling within me the desire to serve others.
            I’ve returned my stare to the lash, and I will endure more pain for my selfish admission as it reveals vanity which must be tamed.
            I confess to becoming distracted by your beauty and intelligence. The parish priest was understanding, convincing me my emotions were human, but suggesting I repress them in reverence to you as a gift to our school from our savior. I asked why you didn’t wear a wedding ring and was never seen with a man?
            He replied, “I see within your teacher’s eyes a yearning to find a home amongst others called to serve.”
            The boys sexualized you. I defended your honor and was pushed around. They taunted me with the insult.
            You brought our class to the Mayan ruins emphasizing the greatness of our civilization which, but for you, we would have remained ignorant. I was spellbound when you knelt behind me, leaning in, your flesh pressed against mine, reaching around, and gently guiding my hand holding the spade within the archaeological dig.
Your teaching was infused with a sophisticated examination of history from an unorthodox perspective, “Always ask what are the economic motives of the historical events” brought history into sharp focus. We read the great writers of the Americas, particularly the brilliant literature written in Spanish providing us with enduring respect for our cultural history.”
            You engaged the female students ardently and each reveled in the new found self-respect and opportunities available to them beyond the anticipated wifely responsibilities they had been taught.
            It took courage to approach the wealthy land owners, convincing them a daily base pay, in addition to the traditional pay per pound of beans picked, would encourage the workers to create greater output. You were correct. You improved the standard of living for the hard-working peasants, and earned the gratitude of the land owners who made donations to improve the school including air-conditioning within the classrooms.
Your absence from our graduation ceremony was noticeable. My heart was empty like the shadows surrounding me, now. Word quickly spread that you left our village in the dead of night to commence your next assignment. Along with the diploma, we received a class photo you had arranged including yourself. I treasure it to this day. You’d be proud to know the majority of your female students entered the university. The sense of pride on their mothers’ faces would have warmed your heart.
            In the years that followed, I came to admire and revere the dedication of a life to the betterment of humanity. Your contribution to our community and the lasting impressions you made within our lives fueled an intense desire to serve a higher calling guiding me here.
            I pray this letter will be forwarded by your sisters and eventually find you; perhaps happily married with children, engaged in a fascinating archaeological dig, or visiting a beautiful museum.
            “For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams…
            And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes…
            And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
            Of my darling—my darling—my life…”
            The morning sun selfishly entered the room and I face the dreadful task of extinguishing my precious burning memories with only a loving wisp of breath. It’s my wish that in your reflective moments you may find within you a dancing flame which shall ignite fond memories of our beloved time together.

With love, yours truly, and forever.

Fr. Francisco

Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego. He received his MFA in Motion Picture and Television production from UCLA. His recent collection of published short stories, “Hearts Without Sleeves-23 Stories”, may be found at the link below. https://www.chollaneedles.com/2022/05/new-book-hearts-without-sleeves-by.html


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