Barbara de la Cuesta
The Driftless Unsolicited Novella Series • Release Date: December 19, 2017
Print ISBN: 978-1-942083-83-2 • Ebook ISBN: 978-1-942083-86-3
Brain Mill Press offers Rosa in ebook and in a limited fine first edition printing of signed, numbered paperbacks. Ebook buyers receive access to MOBI (Kindle), EPUB, and PDF files, offered without DRM restrictions. Print book buyers receive a physical copy of the book and access to the ebook files in all formats.
Rosa is a magnificent display of empathy, a chance to see through the eyes of those who are all too often dismissed with either disdain or pity. Rosa – the woman and the novella – does not ask for any of our pity. She does not ask for understanding. She only presents herself and her story, and what we make of it is up to us.
—Manhattan Book Review, five-star review
Gold Winner, Multicultural Realistic Fiction, The Human Relations Book Awards
“There were little sins and big sins, and if you committed too many little sins you were more likely to go on to the big ones. Some sins you did in your mind and then, sometimes, you went on to let yourself fall into them.”
Darkly witty and compulsively readable, Barbara de la Cuesta’s novella lets us into the private life and secret thoughts of Rosa, an undocumented home health aide grappling with menopause and her unruly body, unexpected romance, grown children who alternately worry her and fill her with pride, and how life is confronting her with everything she has ever denied herself or hidden away from. Rosa is a natural storyteller, insightful in hindsight about her own motivations and unflinching in her willingness to look at the girl she was and the woman she has become. Rosa is a daring, funny, and emotional story about a woman moving her life out of the margins and into the sun with the power of confession.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barbara de la Cuesta has one published novel, The Spanish Teacher, winner of the Gival Press Fiction Prize in 2007. A collection of her poems, Rosamundo, will be published this year by Finishing Line Press. In of 2008, she received a fellowship to the Millay Colony, where she completed Rosa. She has also been past recipient of a fellowship in fiction from the Massachusetts Artists’ Foundation, and the New Jersey Council on the Arts. Rosa is part of a trilogy of novellas titled Adam’s Chair.
AN EXCERPT from Rosa by Barbara de la Cuesta
© Barbara de la Cuesta, 2017. All rights reserved.
She has a new consumer. That’s what you’re supposed to call them now. Before it was clients, and before that they were patients. What will it be next?
The woman, who lives out in Piety Corner near Helen Schade, speaks no English.
She has just been brought from Italy by her daughter, who is a doctor and must leave her alone all day. When Rosa arrives she is weeping and scrubbing the kitchen table, which is already clean.
Rosa, not knowing what else to do, goes and puts her arms around her. The woman, whose name is Gina, begins to tell Rosa in Italian about her only son who died recently in Turin, leaving her all alone, with just this daughter who works all day. And there is not even a store she can walk to or a neighbor who is home.
Rosa is supposed to be cleaning the house, which she can see is spotless, so she just puts on some water to boil for coffee and seats the woman at the kitchen table beside her and holds her both hands in hers. Gradually she becomes aware that a great deal of what the poor lady is saying, she is understanding.
Quiere cafė? she tries out.
Dove e . . .
Del Mediterranio. Gina points to herself and then to Rosa. Then gets up to find the coffee and a little cast aluminum espresso pot with rubber rings where you screw it together, fills the top with powdery coffee and pours the boiling water into it.
Rosa watches. She remembers seeing pots like this in corner stores in Xoyatla. The milk hot, she understands next. La leche caliente . . . Two Mediterranean ladies, Gina insists. Rosa doesn’t get this about the Mediterranean. But at home they always scalded the milk. She still does it.
Now they’re both rushing around the kitchen. They find the milk and put it to heat. Her daughter’s terribly weak coffee with cold milk in it was disgusting, Rosa understands.
Sí, sí, sin gusto, sin sabor . . . They embrace. Two Mediteranean ladies, two ladies who understand the right way to drink coffee. Yes, they congratulate each other.
Delicioso, she says, sipping the cup that Gina has half filled with the strong brew and the boiled milk.
Rosa picks the thin film off the surface. La nata, she says. Gina shakes her head, puzzled, then laughs, and they embrace again.
So the day goes. There is nothing to clean. The house has gleaming wood floors and pure white walls with large paintings of nothing in pretty colors, and a few very old paintings in dark glowing colors: faces and views. She is shown three neat bedrooms and a dustless library; and there is the cat who has come all the way from Torino, Italy, a beautiful creature asleep on a lacy pillow on Gina’s bed. Bello, bello. There are dresses to look at, and shawls she has made herself.
Then Gina makes her sit and brings her crocheting, her sewing projects to the dining room table to display. Bello, bello.
At noon they have a little lunch Gina has prepared already, a fragrant soup of tiny dumplings and spinach and a fish salad she has ready for her daughter’s supper, which they must sample. Rosa begins to protest about how she needs to help, to cook, to clean; cocinar, limpiar . . . but Gina firmly misunderstands all these words.
After the lunch, Gina puts the dishes in the dishwasher, and Rosa watches to see how it’s done. Then she watches Gina clean the two bird cages in a pretty sun-room off of the large kitchen, and fill the little feeders with seeds. There is a white cockatiel and a small green parrot living with a lime colored parakeet named Domenico, who is Gina’s favorite and gives kisses.
The crocheting is brought out again. The hours drag on. Finally it is three o’clock and Gina takes some deeply chocolate bars out of the oven, and the two Mediterranean ladies heat some more milk to color with the strong brew in the cast aluminum pot, and there is another self-congratulatory sitting down to tiny cups of latte in which they dip the little finger-shaped biscuits. Rosa thinks she learns from Gina that she had only two children, that her son died of a blood disease, that her husband died many years before, and that he had been a singer of opera.
After she gets home, Rosa calls to inform the agency of this bewildering state of affairs and is told that the doctor daughter is thrilled with the arrangement. Rosa is to do an extra day each week and do exactly as Gina expects her to. We didn’t know you spoke Italian, they tell her.
I don’t speak Italian. Well, they think you’re from Spain, which is almost the same as Italy. Rosa looks at an atlas Laureano sent away for and finds Spain—a place as remote from her as China. When little Esmeralda comes they find Italy and Torino, and the Mediterranean Sea, so that now Rosa understands what is meant by Two Mediterranean Ladies who like their milk heated for their coffee.
This is the stuff of dreams, in Rosa’s opinion. Like her fantasies about Wolfie. It is many weeks before she is even halfway used to the arrangement. Her body itches to rise from the breakfast table and run the vacuum. She even has to remain sitting while Gina washes the breakfast dishes. Some of the food she is served is delicious, and other things are strange and tasteless. It is almost more of an ordeal than a pleasure, carrying out some of these obligations; she can’t explain it. Finally, she picks up some of the embroidery Gina is working on and says: Enseñarme. Demostrarme.
So the next time Rosa comes, there is a new piece of cloth with a basket of flowers printed on it that the doctor daughter had picked up especially for Rosa. She follows Gina in making the centers and the petals of the flowers, and this helps her to sit still at least, as the dainties are set before her.
Ever since the little girl came to interview her Rosa’s life has taken this novel turn. One day on Moody Street a woman stops her to tell her she has the nicest smile on her face. Another day on Main Street she practically walks into the arms of the Kisser, something she’s managed to avoid for years.
He is wearing his admiral’s uniform today and fairly clean and sweet smelling. His kiss is soft and his eyelashes flutter against her temple. Not a dirty kiss, Rosa used to tell people who were afraid of him. Like a brother kiss a sister. They both smile after the kiss, then Rosa laughs. Here she is going about dreaming of shameful things and she’s been caught. Serves her right!