Looking Down on the Moon is the story of a woman born to an affluent Houston family; of life in a home with material things, but devoid of love; and of her struggle to find life with purpose and meaning.
The mud-colored adobe house grew out of the side of the mesa overlooking the river that snaked through the narrow canyon below. The old woman, Lupe, the housekeeper, barked orders at Manuel, her husband, the caretaker, berating him for some probably unimportant chore he had forgotten, or had failed to complete, as more often than not he was likely to do these days.
Dolores de Los Rios, the Señora of the hacienda for the past thirty-five years, picked up only words or an occasional phrase floating on the breeze through the kitchen and onto the patio where she sat sipping her tea and enjoying the early morning spring sun, her daily routine.
However, the words, “…el hermano de la Señora, … Vayase. Al aeropuerto. Ahora!!” brought her out of her reverie of nature to her feet and into the cool dark kitchen.
“Lupe. What is this about my brother? And the airport?”
“ Lo siento mucho, Señora. Dios mio!” Lupe searched her mind for the right words; her English, a language she had spoken for the past fifty plus years suddenly faltering, which really annoyed Dolores. Especially so since she was almost as fluent as they were in Spanish, eventhough she was born and had lived her entire life in the US.
“Your brother call me last night. He is coming today. It is supposed to be surprise for you.”
Well. If he was trying to surprise her, he was succeeding. What could be bringing Paul from his comfortable climate-controlled Houston condo to “The Wilderness” (his description), with no advance warning? True, he had not been for a visit in more than two years, and their last encounter had been less than pleasant; but, why now and why the secrecy, she wondered.
No time to worry about why, now. There were things to do. Almost unconsciously, she began checking off the mental list of things to be done with Lupe. Manuel had been dispatched to the airport at Albuquerque, some hundred and fifty miles away. Open the windows; air the guest room; change the linens; order fresh flowers from the florist in town.
“Damn.” She said to no one in particular. “This is so like my brother. Trying to catch me off guard, unprepared.”
What was it he had said to her when he had last visited. “Dee. I would love, just once before I die, to catch you just being yourself, whoever that might be, relaxed, doing absolutely nothing and with nothing to do on your mind. You are a conundrum, you know. A walking contradiction. You live out here in the middle of nowhere, in the, the Wilderness, and yet you’re always busy, or else, you’re on the road. To El Paso; Albuquerque; Dallas. When do you ever stop? When do you take time to just be you?”
Well, he had almost gotten his wish, she thought. But not this time! She would be ready for him, as always. She would not allow her brother to discover her weakness. Her Achilles Heel would not be exposed for public viewing. Not this time. Not ever again.
As she drove to town, thoughts of her past filling her mind, she tried to decide exactly when this rivalry between herself and Paul had begun. She could no longer clearly remember the times when they were playmates. Distant faint images sometimes entered her mind unbidden, but they were more like memories of a book or a movie than her own life. Those times and places, so far removed from the years of her adult life, were a part of someone else’s life, having nothing to do with Dolores de Los Rios, or even the life of Diedra Dyane Summers of Houston.
The sun, now high in the sky over the New Mexico desert, shone down on the mud-splattered Explorer at just the right angle, flooding the front seat area with a rainbow of color broken apart by the windshield prism. She saw a scene from another time; a bedroom, a child on the floor playing in the field of color created by the Houston sun shining through a stained glass window.
The child, blond hair but very dark eyes and dark skin sang a song to herself. The noises in the background; the yelling, the occasional crashing of some item, had nothing to do with her. She got up, closed her door and returned to her artist’s palette floor, resuming her play.
They both loved her, they swore. But, they never had any time for little Deedee. Her only friends were the maid, Lupe, and her brother, Paul. She didn’t really know any of the Anglo children (as Lupe called them) on her street.
She had begun trying to imitate the accent and broken English of her friend, Lupe. She listened intently when Lupe was talking in her native tongue to someone, usually a maid or housekeeper from a neighbor’s house. She loved the musical sound of the words, the rhythm of the speech pattern, the passion with which they spoke of events that had happened.
Of course, on the rare occasion when she and her brother had dinner with their parents, she was on her best behavior, speaking only to answer a question, and then in her best English.
As a child, she was never really quite sure what her father did at work. He had an office in a tall building in downtown Houston. She had gone there once, with Lupe, to drop off some very important envelope he had forgotten. A woman with stiff blond hair and too much red lipstick met them at the door, almost snatching the envelope from Lupe’s hand.
Noticing the little girl, she bent down and with a huge clown-faced grin, pinched a cheek saying, “Well, aren’t you just the cutest little brown-skin sweetie. Did your mama bring you to the big city?”
Lupe, almost snorted, in perfect English, as the child retreated behind her, “This brown-skin sweetie is Mr. Summers’ daughter.”
“Oh! I am so sorry,” the woman said in a quiet tone of confidentiality, looking around nervously, hoping no one had heard Lupe’s response or her comments. Then ushering them out the door, and following to the elevator, she almost whined, “I am deeply sorry. I didn’t know. I mean, I knew he had a daughter, I just never saw her before. You won’t tell anyone, will you? I could lose my job.”
Lupe just glared at the woman as they entered the elevator, leaving her standing there with her mouth open, words and pleas going unanswered, unheard, as the door closed. “Stupid Anglo!” Lupe muttered almost spitting out the words.
The taxicab, which was waiting as requested, sped away from the buildings and traffic and returned them to the quiet of River Oaks. Lupe did not say a word on the ride home. The child sensing something she could not quite understand placed her head against Lupe’s shoulder and slipped her small hand into the protective grasp of her best friend.
That day was the beginning of her “real-world” education. It was her first encounter with prejudice, though far from her last. She soon learned that brown skin and dark eyes, even with the blondest of hair, were a liability to you in Houston, in 1952. However, many other things were becoming clearer: Why her mother insisted that she not be allowed to play in the sun; why the medicinal smelling shampoo was used on her hair once every week; and why her mother said things to her like, “Deedee. I think that hospital must have given you to the wrong family, you sweet little thing.”
She wasn’t sure what was wrong with brown skin. Lupe’s skin was even darker than hers. She guessed she would find out eventually. But for the moment she was content, playing on her floor, as the sun would soon move away, taking the colors with it. Oh, how she wished she could somehow stop the sun’s movement, keeping the colors on her bedroom floor forever.
As she drove on toward the town, the colors having stayed only briefly on the seat of her car, annoyed with herself for the mental digression from the task at hand, acquiring food for her brother's visit, she forced herself to focus on the harsh realities of life in this arid region. Nothing grew without extensive irrigation and the backbreaking work of many peasants, the campesinos, mostly illegals. Wetbacks, a word she detested, they were called.
On the positive side, Dolores de Los Rios fit in just fine here. Almost everyone was dark skinned.
She parked the vehicle in the supermarket lot and went inside the modern building, which was strangely out of place in the small town of mostly flat-roofed adobe structures. Normally, Manuel would drive Lupe in for the shopping. But this was anything but a normal day and Lupe who had almost conspired with her brother, was left behind, working to prepare the hacienda for Paul.
There were only a few stares at the statuesque lady in dark glasses mixed in with the usual smiles and nods of recognition from the locals, as she steered the uncooperative grocery cart into the produce section. She much preferred the produce from the market in Albuquerque, but this would have to do. The avocados and the mangos were mostly hard. The tomatoes, lettuce and asparagus were acceptable. She was more than pleased by the selection of fresh peppers. “The hotter the better,” she instructed Lupe in preparing the menu of Mexican dishes. She tried even in the food department, it seemed, to assault her brother’s being. She felt slightly evil when Paul, tears welling in his eyes, would say, “Delicious food, Lupe.”
Her brother was four years older than she, much paler, though tanned, with green eyes and brown hair. From the time she was six or seven, they were playmates, inseparable, contrary to her mother’s wishes and instructions to Lupe. She wasn’t sure if their playing was supposed to be bad for her or bad for Paul.
However, everything changed, when at seventeen, Paul graduated from high school, and went off to the University of Texas in Austin, leaving his sister behind, alone. That’s when the memories started to fade as she consciously forced the good thoughts of him from her mind. She would never completely forgive his deserting her and leaving her alone in that house.
“Why can’t you go to Rice?” She pleaded. “We could still be together.”
His response, “Hey squirt. I can’t be hanging out with my kid sister forever. Now get outta here so I can change clothes. I have a date tonight,” had hurt her more than his actual leaving. She didn’t see why they couldn’t be best pals forever.
The house was quiet and lonely after that. Even Lupe, who had two years earlier married the gardener, Manuel, was too busy for her, and had even yelled at her, for which she apologized over and over afterward, when one quiet afternoon she opened the door to Lupe’s room, an act she had done numerous other times. She didn’t understand what she saw from the doorway. Manuel hovered over Lupe, his brown skin gleaming with sweat, as he made their bed bounce up and down.
She remembered Lupe’s tone, though when she saw the little girl standing there; not her usual soft musical voice. “Dios mio, niña! Vaya! Vaya! Go back to your room.”
Startled by the reality that she had been standing in front of the meat counter for quite some time, when the attendant asked “Can I help you with something, Señora?” She snapped back to the present, smiled and said, “No thank you.”
Since Paul had given Lupe no indication of how long he intended to stay, they were at a disadvantage planning meals and shopping lists. But, Lupe would make her wonderful tamales, chicken enchiladas, and some type of standing roast if he stayed through till Sunday.
She began to suspect she had perhaps bought too much as the young man loading the bags into the back of her vehicle opined, “Must be planning a big party.”
“No.” she replied, “Just a family visit.”
Then again, she realized, all the times when Paul had visited in the past, were occasion for a party. Though she wasn’t quite sure if it was in celebration of his visit or just her possibly misguided feeling of competition with her brother getting the better of her.
She loved her brother, she was sure of that. And they had almost become close after the death of their parents, and again after Antonio. Death seemed to have a way of doing that. However, something, she still wasn’t quite sure what, had kept a distance between them.
It was well past noon when she arrived back at the hacienda. She cursed under her breath at the number of things still to be done and all those groceries to be unloaded and carried inside. Where was the help when you needed them? Oh yes, gone to Albuquerque to fetch her sneaky weasel of a brother.