El Orfebre

Just outside the gate, on the right side of the access road to the Orfebreria de Coral the vigil crowd, a line of twenty or so laid off jewelry makers, stood under cover of the bus shelter and screamed, "Somos el mandato, Cayetano. Somos el mandato." Cayetano stood at the window of his second floor office and watched them. He counted on his fingers the number of days since he laid them off which was the number of days they'd been holding their vigil outside the factory, round the clock in day and night shifts. Twenty one days. The rain pounded on the Orfebreria's tin roof.
A woman on the other line, across the street from the plant, screamed back, "Dejennos trabajar." That line, mostly women, was being pelted by the rain. Cayetano stared through the rain spattered glass. Even through the heavy rain he could see the line of job applicants went all the way from the Carretera Naval, past the cinderblock cubes of factory row, up the access road, to the door of the Orfebreria de Coral. He pivoted and looked over his and Maggie's desks through the glass wall. He could see the plant on the ground floor where workers had been at their tables and their polishing stations for at least two hours. There were several polishing stations unpersonned. Magdalena had taught him to not say unmanned. He glanced over Magdalena's curly head at her accounting books on the desk. Of course he could not afford to hire anyone.
"Maggie, why didn't you pull the want ad?" Right away he was sorry he berated her. The ad was posted automatically in the Voz de Coral the first Monday of every month, unless he pulled it. Like his father Cayetano Viejo before him he always took care of the hiring. Pulling the ad was his job. She looked up and broke into a laugh. Of course she didn't take him seriously. Mostly, he let her do what she wanted because she ran the Orfebreria as his secretary at a fraction of what he would have to pay a male with a manager title. Even though her heart wasn't in it and she'd rather be writing her novel, she knew how to run the factory better than he did. He welcomed not having to think about any of it. But there were things she didn't know. He laughed and his square shoulders shook. He stroked his close beard. "Past time I get it trimmed." Magdalena shook her head and laughed again. He liked to think there were things she didn't know but she knew everything. After all, she kept the books. She knew as well as he did that since the union won its raise his margins had been tight. And all of Coral knew he'd had to lay off workers, something Cayetano Viejo never did in his 50 years running the Orfebreria.
"You know what, Maggie? The one who's going to tell those women we're not hiring today is gonna be you." After all, just because his father, Cayetano the elder, rest in peace, had considered the hiring something the owner must do without exception, didn't mean that he did.
She laughed again. "The king of delegation. Overdelegation."
Magdalena walked out and he saw her through the glass wall overlooking the factory floor as she made her way down the metal stairs. He sighed. It was a good thing she seemed to find his deficits amusing. He saw her reach for the megaphone on the shelf by the Guardia's desk. She could be asking the Guardia to do it but Maggie wasn't one for overdelegation.

Magdalena strode toward the door. It wasn't really her mistake but she was used to protecting Cayetano. She stood tall. How was she going to tell these women that they had wasted their morning standing in the rain because there was no work? Maybe pretty soon none of them would have work. Cayetano didn't have what his father had, that desperate, feral drive. And he had that parasite wife of his at home, suffering from chronic grief or maybe permanent guilt at everything her family had stolen, holed up in her bedroom in the dark, watching television shopping shows and buying, buying, buying. It was a kind of religion for her, Magdalena suddenly thought. She'd give that very thought to Renata, her character. Renata would think that about her own mother, and that would be one of the reasons she'd leave her luxurious home in Coral Viejo and move to the Palenque encampment by the beach and by the Base Naval. Her character Renata's mother (Magdalena saw this perfectly in her mind), could never leave her home, her bedroom, and yet she never found her home. She longed for home. When everything you had was stolen from somebody else, how could any place feel like home? That was one more problem in her novel solved. Renata's mother, like Cayetano's wife, had gone from spending her days and her money to be beautiful, bragging about knowing Violeta Silva and other movie stars, imagining she was virtually a star herself, to spending her days under voluntary siege inside her bedroom bankrupting her husband buying useless stuff.
She stood just outside the factory door, combed her curly hair with her fingers, put the megaphone to her lips, and her words exploded. "All positions are filled. We will not be conducting any interviews today." She didn't dare look at the drenched women. She had not chosen to be their enemy. She hated this upside down world. She would give that thought to her character Renata. Three women on the front of the line, who must have been waiting since three in the morning, tried to follow her into the building but the Guardia at the door held them back. She had come to that. "Soy tan mala como los duenos."

There was one thunder clap like a firework as Maggie crossed the Orfebreria gate. The rain stopped completely as she reached the bus stop on the Carretera Naval. The laid off vigil members and the job seekers had merged into one line and emerged from the bus shelter into the sun. "Hola Maggie." She was ashamed to see who among the demonstrators was greeting her. Who among them knew her from her real life and was seeing her here, where she had sold herself out and sold them out too? The rich like Cayetano had their houses and their factories, but those others in that now swelled vigil against the Orfebreria's labor practices, they actually were as good as an army. "Tragame tierra." If only the earth would swallow her. To the demonstrators, fist raised, she called out, "Somos el Mandato! Somos el Mandato."

Maggie got the last seat on the bus and watched the workers filing in from the row of cinderblock cubes of the Carretera Naval's factory row. Workers filled every seat and jammed the aisle. By the time the bus passed the Palenque encampment where her character Renata had moved to escape the prison of her wealth, and had become a revolutionary, Magdalena had begun to return to herself. At the Palenque bus stop she saw two guys with dreadlocks. They were waiting for the bus going the other way. She recognized her cousin Marco and his friend Rolo, who'd been living at Palenque since the recent Guardia sweeps in Coral just after they got laid off at the Orfebreria. She waved but they didn't see her.
Beyond the Palenque lean-tos and tarps she could see the beach. After the storm the sea was turquoise all the way to the horizon. She got off the bus in the center of Coral at the corner closest to Cuentos y Café and headed to the coffee shop for her reading. She waved to Mayra, who would be reading a new short story. Mayra had cut her hair close to the scalp and dyed it jet black. She stood at the door waving her hand. Maggie stopped short. Mayra wasn't waving hello. She was waving her away. Why? She guessed Mayra wanted her to leave but she froze like a rabbit in headlights instead. Only then did she see the two Guardias who were across the street from the coffee shop. Before she could turn toward the Plaza they caught up to her. Peruchito took her arm. She shook herself free. "Am I being detained?" He stroked his bushy mustache, glanced up at his tall, thin partner Romualdo and nodded his head.
She stared at them. "When did you have the idea to kidnap me?" She'd grown up with these two jokers and after she said this Peruchito told her she was going to be interrogated about her book. "What book? The novel I'm reading from tonight is in progress and nobody's ever heard of it."
"In Coral everybody's heard of everything. You're a come candela and if you're writing a novel about Palenque it's gonna be bleeding red. The Comandante says he's got orders not to let that book happen. People like you don't like to know we're in a state of siege here, but we are. You know he's wanted a state of siege for a long time so he can detain whoever he wants and people stop getting ideas. With all the Somos el Mandato rallies Palenque's going to keep swelling and the encampment's gonna overtake Coral."

Rolo and Marco got off the bus outside the Orfebreria and waited in the dark. They knew Cayetano's routine. He was always the last one to go home. When they saw his headlights they ran into the middle of the road. He braked.
Cayetano rolled his window down. "This isn't the first time someone tries to kidnap me."
He tried his radio. It was dead. He reached into the glove compartment for his gun. He didn't move quickly enough. Marco pulled a gun. Cayetano opened the car door. Marco yanked him out and led him to the trunk. A knife of rage rose up Cayetano's windpipe. He saw an image of his wife Cecilia on her bed in her permanent peach colored silk nightgown. He hated her fiercely for one second. Then he moaned. "I killed her. My life killed her." As he spoke these words under his breath he saw that he was just like Cecilia. "My life killed me. I'm locked away at the Orfebreria, as locked away as she is in our bedroom." He screamed at the top of his lungs. Marco nearly dropped his gun. "You're not the wounded beast here. We are."
"What suddenly gave you the idea to kidnap me? The joke's on you. I'm bankrupt."
Marco smiled. "You bankrupt is richer than us poor. We're just collecting your taxes."
"All I have is this." Cayetano pointed to the Orfebreria. At night the shiny sign was lit up and glistened.
He stared at the factory he never wanted and let out one sudden, loud sob. Pobre Cecilia. He imagined there must be pills to straighten out her brain and maybe if he could escape the Orfebreria she could escape her bedroom. Or maybe both of them could lock themselves up in a room together and scream and rage and wail at the top of their lungs until they could think again. He screamed again so loudly he frightened himself.
"All I have is this and I don't want it but you do."
He looked at the young men. "You know what, put down your gun and let's go inside." Cayetano pointed to his car. Marco insisted on taking the car keys. He kept the gun on Cayetano and handed Rolo the keys. They piled into his car and Rolo drove to the plant's back door. Cayetano was humming. He felt light, freed of his abiding panic. "Jovenes, I've just realized this very second that man, and of course woman, is freed of panic when we see the glory of God and we believe. I have just seen the glory!"

Next morning Cayetano stood at the window of his office watching the workers get off the bus, walk the access road, and file into the plant. He heard Magdalena's quick footsteps behind him and turned to accept the coffee cup he knew she would hand him.
"You won't believe what happened to me last night." They both said these words at the same time and he turned to face her and they both laughed.
"I got kidnapped."
"I got kidnapped."
Again they spoke at once.
"Actually, I got arrested. For all my demonstrating it was my first time." She told him she'd been held and questioned for several hours. "This is the most attention my writing ever got."
"well, I got freed." He told her the story. He told her his decision. He asked her to call the workers into the cafeteria and to send the Union steward Tomas upstairs to see him first. He told Tomas his decision and they walked into the cafeteria together. Tanama was seated at the table closest to the door. She called out, "Don't come in here to tell us you're going to shut the plant."
Cayetano nodded and then shook his head. "Yes and no. I'm shutting it and you're opening it.
"I turn this meeting over to Tomas." The shop steward's voice trembled and a tear ran down his cheek. "Today is the first day of the worker run Orfebreria de Coral."