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THE VISIT • by Wanda Kiernan

Antonio and his co-workers sit in his kitchen around a small worn wooden table. They are there after work to enjoy some mate, and to wind down after a long day at the shop. This has been part of their daily ritual for the past ten years. But Antonio already knows that tonight is different.

Antonio fills the mate gourd with the yerba, makes a hollow with the bombilla, and pours hot water into the empty space. He is the cebador tonight, and drinks the first bitter mate. After that, he serves his two friends, each in turn, before it’s his turn again. The carved mate gourd passes from hand to hand. Each drinks the mate, talks, listens. They talk about everyday things, about the shop, about the work. There’s a note of pride when they talk about the work. And the warm mate goes round.

But Antonio feels sad tonight because he has told the people he loves that he’s leaving Argentina, and going to America. He is heavyhearted as he tells the people he loves, and who rely on him for their livelihoods, that he’s leaving them, and going to America. They chip away at his resolve. The conversation is strained tonight.

They say that leaving will not make it easier. He will feel the same pain, the same loss, maybe even more. They all lost her two years ago. They all miss her – a father, a brother, a husband.

He pours more hot water into the gourd. He holds the gourd and sips the mate, finding it hard to say the words that will explain why now and why America.

As he holds the gourd he remembers another night two months ago. A night similar to this one – the men, after work, drinking mate at the worn wooden table, and talking about the possibility of a contract to carve the new doors for the cathedral. The possibility did not sit well with Antonio, and at the time he did not understand why, so he kept his doubts to himself.

When the night was over, Antonio poured the last drops of hot water into the gourd and sipped alone. The gourd was special. He had carved it for her. On that mysterious night, for the first time in a long time, he studied his carvings of the sun and the moon, the stars and the sky. The carvings reminded him of a lost dream.

Then a familiar scent interrupted his reverie. It didn’t take long for him to recognize it as his wife’s. Was it rising from the gourd? He leaned in and inhaled deeply. He still remembered the day her scent faded from everything she had touched, and how, on that day, he had mourned her again. That night the scent surprised him, but also comforted him.

That’s when he heard Celestina’s voice, clear and earnest. “Remember our dream?” she said. “Don’t wait any longer. Now is the time. Go to America.”

It was only a moment, and he wondered if it was a hallucination, or a daydream, or was he thinking out loud? No, he was certain it was Celestina, and she was giving him permission, a permission he realized he needed, and was waiting for.

But in the kitchen tonight the words stay jammed in his throat, so he waits, and listens.

His father-in-law brings up the global economic depression already in its third year, and that Antonio probably has it much better in Argentina than he will in America. That here he has family, has his own shop, is his own boss.

Antonio listens, and waits for her words to reach him again.

They insist that he wait, that now is not a good time.

Antonio recalls the years of waiting, the times that were never right, and waits for her words to reach him again, and when they do, he says them out loud.

“She told me to go. Celestina told me that now is the time to go.”

They look away, feeling embarrassed for him, not knowing how to respond.

In that moment Antonio wants to fall back to old habits, confess “I had you going, didn’t I?”, so they could all have a good laugh. It would feel good to laugh, to relieve the heavy tension bearing down on their hearts. But tonight is different.

With her visit two months ago, Celestina gave him the strength to imagine the dream without her, to make it his own, and to make it come true.

Like his shop, his house is also sold, and no longer belongs to him. His suitcase is packed, hidden in a back room. Three wool suits, three cotton white shirts, three ties, and a few other personal items. Another case holds treasured carpentry tools that he cannot part with. He’ll also be taking the carved mate gourd that they are drinking from tonight as they sit around a worn wooden table, in an almost bare kitchen, listening to Carlos Gardel on the radio.

His father-in-law and brother-in-law feel offended and betrayed. They both have tempers, and he feels a little afraid. But he drinks the last mate, says gracias, and then adios muchachos.

He goes to the back room, gets his cases, and leaves the only family he knows in a stranger’s kitchen with Gardel singing on the radio.


Wanda Kiernan has been writing fiction for as long as she can remember. Has had super short fiction published in onefortyfiction.com, and came in second in a Writer’s Digest “Your Story” contest.


GD Star Rating
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THE VISIT • by Wanda Kiernan, 2.9 out of 5 based on 35 ratings
Posted on August 12, 2014 in Literary, Stories
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  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    So–he’s loving, caring, benevolent, and the man on whom they all depend for their livelihood–and he’s abandoning them–with what seems, as I read the story, without even a day’s notice–because she–the spirit of his loving wife–told him to basically screw her family? No kidding they’re offended and betrayed. “Adios muchachos” sounds just a little flip under the circumstances. Two stars.

  • D McMillan

    I enjoyed this story. I can understand that he has his own doubts about leaving for a better life in America and how he needs his late wife’s approval so much that he waits for her to tell him.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    It would have helped if the non-English words were in italics. At the beginning I thought we were in some weird sci-fi world with ‘mate’, ‘yerba’, ‘bombilla’ and someone who is the ‘cebador’. Then we’re suddenly in Argentina. I didn’t feel this was really short story material – more part of a life-affirming novel. The snatch of action we have makes me wonder at the father’s apparent selfishness.

  • Carl Steiger

    If I hadn’t spent some time down there, I certainly would have been flummoxed by those words. So I was momentarily amused to be in on the secret, but italics would be a kindness to most readers.

  • joanna b.

    Kudos for creating a different world in 1000 words. I could see the scene easily.

    The problems for me were twofold: one is that there was too much repetition. As in paragraph 3. Without this repetition, even in l000 words, more could be told.

    The second is the vagueness of it all. Where in America? Who gets the shop? When does he say goodbye to the rest of the family? How come he hasn’t discussed the logistics of his decision?

    To deepen this story, the emotional connections among the three men needed to be shown, either in dialogue or in historical narrative. The next to the last paragraph perhaps should have been the most important part of the story, expanded with dialogue, argument, etc.

    I hope you try again with this and, ala Paul A. Freeman’s comment, shoot for a much longer short story with fleshed out characters and more events in it.

  • MPmcgurty

    So there are two things here: the style, which I enjoyed hearing in my head very much, and the content, with which I had a few problems. Aside from the same problem it appears a couple of other readers have about his abruptly leaving behind the people who depend upon him for their livelihoods, toward the end I had some other issues, some gaps in logic that I can’t just slide past and say ‘who cares if it’s believable because it’s a great story’.

    Among them…He hid his suitcase in the back room of a stranger’s house? He’s afraid of his in-law family but he says ‘goodbye boys’ before he gets his suitcase? (I’d send them a postcard.) He sold his house without anyone knowing? And why did the possibility of carving doors for the cathedral not sit well with him?

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    They’re sitting in his house–sold but only now being vacated. I’m with you on everything else.

  • terrytvgal

    Well I have no particular problems with this story other than it seeming a bit ‘flat’ There was no real confrontation no ‘moment of truth’ for this family. I always feel that when someone knows they are doing the right thing, they don’t need to sneak around and lie to friends and family aout it. 3stars

  • MPmcgurty

    Then I may be less confused now. So, when the “stranger’s house” is mentioned, that’s his now-sold house? Okay, thanks.

  • Dustin Adams

    I can see the argument for Antonio being selfish and leaving, but sometimes one must do what’s right for them, not necessarily what’s right. He’s living in the shadow of his family, his in-laws, who he’s afraid of, and the specter of his wife. This place is dead to him.
    America is a destination – it’s simply somewhere else. Doesn’t matter where, just… not here.
    I didn’t take the wife’s words literally. He’s already packed, the shop is sold, and his soul is in pain. He imagines her letting him go on this final night, and he feels relief in his heart. But the decision is all his.

  • Erin Ryan

    1. I don’t mind the dead wife and the gourd, that’s all very magical realism-ish. I agree with everyone else that the abrupt departure is just … wrong. Antonio strikes me not as courageous, but as a coward. I’ve moved many times for one dream or another. I didn’t cut ties with my family when I did so, even if they didn’t agree with my decision to go. He’s afraid of what everyone will think, so he drops the bomb and then leaves the country without having to deal with their emotions.
    2. Maybe the family members will still get to keep their jobs under the new shop owner, but if that’s the case, I would have appreciated knowing it.
    3. To repeat what someone else said: Why did the contract to carve the cathedral doors not sit well with him?

  • http://denisebeck-clark.com Denbe

    While reading The Visit I was reminded of some of the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and wondered whether the author wasn’t intentionally writing a story in that kind of folk tale/surreal/of the spirit way. I thought that perhaps some of the repetition was in the service of that kind of writing. If it was I’d say the story really works. I liked it a lot; it kept me involved and I enjoyed a sense of difference or “otherness” created by both form and content. As a short piece of fiction, it worked, especially if it’s read without taking every word literally or imposing good old American morality upon it.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    This was so much in the style of South American fabulism that I wondered if it grew out of a writing exercise.

    It’s not literalism, in my view, to find it perplexing that even in the imagination of the bereft widower, he would believe his wife to condone the abandonment, without warning, of her family who depend for their livelihood on this man. Certainly he’s free to follow his dream, but a little notice would have been cordial–and I think there’s nothing particularly Puritanical in seeing Antonio as having committed a serious betrayal out of cowardice.

  • Jacquie Rogers

    I agree with all our comments. For me too the style was lovely, but the story didn’t develop and left too many niggling questions.

  • Joseph Kaufman

    Sarah, I took this line:

    =======
    But Antonio feels sad tonight because he has told the people he loves that he’s leaving Argentina, and going to America.
    =======

    as meaning he had already told everyone he is leaving (weeks ago), but this very night is the actual night of his departure.

    In that light, it didn’t seem like abandonment to me at all. He took the time to get his affairs in order, sell his house, etc. and now this is the final farewell, the nightly ritual. The in-laws still feel bitter (probably because they never thought he would really go through with it), but they have been warned.

    The church door job was what made him frown because he realized it would be a long job. And he realized he was done with this life. He didn’t want to start a lengthy job knowing his heart was no longer in it.

    And not to sound insensitive (but I am speaking from my own viewpoint), it is intriguing to consider what sort of loyalty one would feel to in-laws after a long time has passed from losing a spouse. I read this as it being a long time, perhaps years, since his wife has passed away. Would I still feel an obligation to in-laws, people related to me only through a long-gone marriage? How long would one hold on to that family? What if one marries again and again loses the spouse? Must one attend to two families now, plus one’s own? The story does not mention blood relatives, unless I am missing something (only in-laws, friends, and perhaps co-workers are mentioned). Antonio is leaving for himself rather than staying for people that, perhaps primarily, only serve to remind him of the pain of missing his wife. How could someone move on if one remained deeply entrenched in the extended family? Would they accept a new woman with open arms? Would there forever be awkwardness? These questions are rhetorical, intriguing, and somewhat difficult to consider. That’s why I find this particular consideration, this story, deeper than it might appear at first glance.

    In summary, I can completely understand why this man needs a clean break, and the only thing that had been keeping him from that was thinking he would be letting his wife down. She released him from that “contract” two months ago, and he’s running with it.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Joseph:

    The wife has been dead two years. It is reasonable that Antonio is now beginning to feel himself ready to move on.

    But I can’t get over the author’s own words–”who rely on him for their livelihood.” That’s a pretty strong statement of their ECONOMIC dependency.

    The first paragraph tells us that they’re winding down as usual after work, but only Antonio knows why this night is different.

    The author gives us details of an easy camaraderie–and then the bombshell is dropped. If he has given them even the slightest hint of what he’s done to them, why must the suitcase be carefully hidden in the back room?

    All Antonio owes these people is decent notice. He has every right to embark on a new life.

    He’s sold the shop out from under them. They are all fine craftsmen, the story tells us. Why didn’t he suggest they buy him out?

    It may be emotionally satisfying for him to be released by his dead wife, but in the practical world of the living there’s a big problem.

  • Joseph Kaufman

    I agree with you that if this is all happening on the one night, then certain things feel a bit off.

    Like I said, though, I took this to mean they have known about it (and no, I don’t know why the suitcase needs to be hidden), and that clears up most every issue you mention (for me, anyway).

    Perhaps all this needs to gain a star from you would have been for the narrative to make clear proper notice was served. If the author were to ever do more work on this piece (or a piece like it), that would certainly be some very constructive criticism, especially since you do not appear to be the only reader who felt that disturbance in the plot.

  • http://denisebeck-clark.com Denbe

    Well, the way I understand that style of writing, it precludes things being rational or reasonable. One has to suspend disbelief and all of that. Also, I agree with another commentator who said sometimes one has to follow one’s dreams rather than think of everyone else. Whether I believe this as a philosophy of life for myself (which I don’t BTW) I believe that in the context of a piece of writing it can work, especially if it’s integral to the storyline.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I felt the author was striving for an elegiac here, so much loss and pain, and a desperate burst of courage to seize for himself the dream that they once had together.

    But as you know from many of my comments here, I need the interior world of a story to hold together. This would have worked very well if these wind-down evenings of camaraderie grew increasingly tense, so by the end there was nothing left at all for him to stay for.

    An easy fix would have been in the first paragraph–instead of “Antonio already knew this night was different”, it could have read “This night was different.” That accommodates everyone’s feelings.

    But the author seemed to want it both ways–the caring padrone and the desperate escapee–and it just did not ring true.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I don’t require characters to be good, or to make perfect decisions–but I do want them to own their choices. An Antonio who didn’t give a damn about what he was leaving behind could have made a powerful if dislikeable MC, but one who’s willing to abandon people but at the same time is afraid of their reaction to the extent of hiding his suitcase–that’s just adolescent behavior, and not very interesting to me.

    As far as magical realism–that often means time working in unconventional ways, birds giving birth to toddlers and babies engendering their own parents, etc.–but people in those stories who behave badly are recognized as doing so. Antonio just struck me as weak, which made it hard for me to care about him.

  • MPmcgurty

    In a story written in that style, you may find things that are not rational or reasonable, and you are required to suspend disbelief. So I suspended disbelief when I read that Antonio’s dead wife talked to him. But there is no requirement to do so when a non-surreal situation is described. Antonio sold his shop on the sly, is now drinking mate with his family and friends, and has just told them he’s leaving. They have reactions. He’s uneasy. He says adios, gets his bags, and leaves. That’s the everyday action that frames the fabulistic tone or angle of the story. You can take that literally, and in those moments is where I lose all interest in him and am left unsatisfied. Like I said, I enjoyed the style, just not the way Antonio’s story and last action was constructed.

  • http://denisebeck-clark.com Denbe

    I understand, and your point is well taken. I hope that my original intention in posting a comment was received by the author and that all this discussion about a good story helps her to make it even better.

  • Chris Antenen

    ‘The Visit’ begins with such a rich atmosphere of ritual and place that I don’t mind not knowing some unusual words. They took me out of my space and into the life of Antonio.

    I don’t need to know about the selling of the house and shop, or the details of how his co-workers – friends and family – feel offended, or that they have tempers or even when he told them of his plans. I don’t need to know the location of his suitcase or why it is hidden. I only need to know about the dream he and his wife shared, that he sensed her presence by a unique scent; and that he knew the conflict of his departure and what it meant to others, but accepted his own role as singular.

    There are four paragraphs beginning with “She told me to go . . . ” The story to me is here, even his idea of making a joke. These are the thoughts passing through his head as he sits with his friends.

    In this story of a dream long-denied, we don’t even need to speculate on whether he and his wife would have have fulfilled the dream if she had lived? He is following the path he sees as his to follow now and he wants to leave the past.

    Sometimes, I think, the goal of staying within 1000 words makes us, for some strange reason, strive to use them all. This is a beautifully written work at the beginning — but the addition of so much detail makes the story heavy and disjointed. I would want a hatchet to use sparingly — and a very fine acalpel to edit ‘The Visit.”

    In spite of all those words I just wrote, I found the story appealing and full of a certain ‘mood.’

  • http://www.derekmcmillan.com/ Derek McMillan

    I enjoyed this story. I can understand that he has his own doubts about leaving for a better life in America and how he needs his late wife’s approval so much that he waits for her to tell him.

  • Cranky Steven

    Overdone ethnicity. I could develope no sympathy for the fellow and the plot was little different than that of millions of others who immigrated, including my own family.

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