The day Filomena packed three square cane suitcases and left the tiny tin-roofed house she had shared with that man for seven years, the wind quit blowing in the village of Caliba. The men and women of Caliba stopped what they were doing and listened. Women leaned out the windows to hear the silence. Men watched the trees to see how they looked when they were still. For the first time since some Spanish sailors slid a small boat onto the sand in that jewel of a place with palm trees and parrots and the scent of gardenia oiling the air, the wind had stopped blowing and people suddenly became aware of what things sounded like.
Lady Orlando Dey heard the wood screech and gasp when she flung open the window to listen hard to that silence. Lady Bianca realized that her singing voice was low and gray, with the haunting flavor of smoked fish. John the Carrier, given that name because anyone needing something heavy moved called on John, heard the little click his breath made just before he exhaled and worried that his heart might soon run out on him.
As soon as the people of Caliba stopped listening to the sounds they’d never heard before because the wind was making such a racket, they got scared. The wind didn’t stop blowing for no reason. Being a superstitious sort, the Calibans knew that the departure of the wind signaled some sort of frightful disaster. So they began to fret and wonder what the appropriate precautions ought to be.
Some of the women, like Lady Orlando Dey, decided to hammer the shutters closed on the windows.
“If the wind stops fast like this, it will surely start up again strong and mad,” she told her neighbor John the Carrier. But without the wind, it was hot as all get-out and to close the windows made it hard to breathe.
John the Carrier chose to sprinkle dried gardenia petals on the floor in the shape of a hibiscus. He wasn’t sure why, but it seemed like a good thing to do. Hal the Shrimpseller bolted the wooden shelves to the wall and removed the empty bottles from the high places. Old Lady Minna Lee sat in front of her altar and kept up constant prayer for twenty-four hours straight without sleeping. And Billy the Lover Man visited one of his women and tossed on the cot with her straight through the night, until the sun popped out from the clutches of the glittering blue sea.
All that night the wind was silent. There were at least fifty different fights that flew around because for the first time, the men could hear what the women were saying. In Caliba, the women were afraid to tell the men what was on their minds, so they muttered their displeasure an inch or two under their breath. In the huge silence left by the absence of wind, the men heard the words they’d been missing.
“Why don’t he pull his big fat butt up out of bed and cook himself some fish? That man’s a lazy no-good-for-nothing and one day he’s gonna find me gone.”
The men heard this instead of the quiet humming they’d liked so much before and grew wild. Someone who didn’t know better might have thought the wind had come back, given all the air the men and women of Caliba were stirring up inside.
Filomena carried her heavy cane suitcases the two damp miles to Caliba. Her old Grandmother Pope lived in that small village and strung necklaces from pearls the oystermen dug up. Filomena had vowed never to sleep again in the cramped tin-roofed house she’d shared with that man in Granville. That man, Filomena found out, was doing his business between the oily thighs of too many women in Granville to count. If that wasn’t bad enough, Filomena had caught that man in bed with her best friend Dalia.
Filomena was a strong brown woman, with wide dark eyes, high cheekbones and a smile that made men blink twice. Her breasts were ripe as late summer melons and her soft round hips danced when she walked. It wasn’t the weight of the suitcases that dragged Filomena’s back closer to the ground. It was that man weighing her down. The heat of the morning hadn’t made Filomena sweat and wipe her brow. That man’s damp breath on her neck and his hands fiddling under her dress the whole time she walked had turned the heat up inside her. She tried telling that man to get off her back but he hung on laughing, reminding Filomena every chance he got, “I’m your man, Filomena. Your man will never leave you.”
That afternoon, when Filomena dropped her heavy cane suitcases in the little square box of a wooden house next to Grandmother Pope’s, she tried tossing that man off her back. But the harder she tried, the tighter he closed his arms around her chest and the louder he guffawed. The whole afternoon, as Filomena dusted and swept and aired out the little house on Seven Pearl Way, where when she leaned out the window she could hear the sea, she moved around all bent over, while that man promised that he’d never leave.
As soon as Filomena dropped down onto the narrow cot, that man squeezed into the tight space next to her. She had trouble breathing because that man was taking in all the air. Several times during the night, she jumped out of bed and yelled at that man.
“You get away from me, you hear?” she shouted, waving her arms and then rustling in one of her suitcases and pulling out a sharp kitchen knife. “I’ll use this on you, if I have to.”
That man only laughed and answered back, “Don’t matter to me what you do, Filomena. I am your man. I will always be your man.”
By the morning, Filomena had come up with a plan. One thing that man had forgotten was that Filomena happened to be a woman of power.
“You have pushed me too far this time,” Filomena said, shaking her finger in the direction of the bed, where she could hear that man snoring and feel the hot air he was stirring up with his breath.
Filomena pulled a bright purple flowered dress over her head and walked across the bare wooden floor. She unpacked her small black pipe from a corner of the smallest cane suitcase and a blue can of sweet-smelling tobacco. She took her time filling the pipe and lighting it. The air grew thick with smoke.
She set the smoldering pipe on the table and looked through each of the three cane suitcases, pulling out dried branches and candles, small tins of incense and boxes of brittle chicken bones, crumpled leaves in wrinkled brown bags and mixtures of dirt and licorice and special herbs that brought on a lightheaded feeling to anyone standby nearby.
When she was done, she closed up the suitcases and carried them to three corners of the room. She cleared a space on the floor, roughly an equal distance from each of the corners, and began sprinkling bones, dried leaves and herbs and dusty licorice, creating small piles, in a pattern that resembled a six-pointed star. She started to whisper next and blow each of the piles, so that the lines of the star began to blur. She whispered and blew, whispered and blew, and muttered things in a language without verbs. An hour passed and then two, and Filomena kept up her whispering and blowing and muttering, until the colors had mixed and created the most beautiful dusty lavender imaginable.
As everyone knows, lavender is a color of sadness. And after all her effort, Filomena understood. Lavender had to be the color she was left with. She had made that man go away. She had lodged her whisper in his heart, so that he would always want Filomena but never know how to find her. But in that man’s place was a blueness Filomena would have to contend with. And a lavender she understood might never go away.
In the middle of the afternoon when Filomena finished sweeping all that lavender into an empty gray tin she placed on top of a wooden crate next to her cot, the wind suddenly started to blow again in Caliba. Lady Orlando Dey was nearly knocked off her feet. Old Lady Minna Lee ceased her praying to listen and wonder whether the wind had come back to stay. And Billy the Lover Man kissed one of his women and got all wet and salty with her again, in celebration of the end of a silence that had started to make Caliba seem such a dreary place.
When Filomena heard the wind start up again, with a screech and jolt, then a loud sputter, until it caught with enough force to blow in from the sea, Filomena simply shook her head and said, “Uh huh.” She opened the front door and watched the wind whip the curtains into a complicated tangle, fly up her skirt and fill the little house that only hours before had been breathless with that man’s presence.
It didn’t take long for the men and women of Caliba to learn that a woman of power had come to live in their little fishing village and that’s why the wind had stopped blowing. One by one, they stepped into Filomena’s house. Man after man and woman after woman spilled their troubles out, cluttering up the narrow rooms and dusting the bare wood floor. Not a single one asked Filomena about the blueness hovering in the air and the lavender spotted in the corners. Neither did they inquire as to why she had come to Caliba.
The people knew that Filomena was a woman of power. They realized that Filomena had stopped the wind and started it up again. That was all they needed to know, to ask Filomena to fulfill the many wishes they’d been afraid to let out, until the wind stopped and started and something marvelous took place, though they couldn’t say exactly what.
Patty Somlo lives in Portland, Oregon. Her short story, "Bird Women" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and she was a finalist in the Tom Howard Short Story Contest. Her work has been published in The Santa Clara Review, The Sand Hill Review, Under the Sun, Fringe Magazine, Switchback, and in the anthologies, Voices from the Couch, VoiceCatcher and Bombshells: War Stories and Poetry by Women on the Homefront. She also has work forthcoming in three anthologies: Rainmakers' Prayers, Solace in So Many Words and Common Boundary.