He wandered through the deserted streets of Old Sienna with an innocent heart that had not yet been broken by love.
He thought about the woman in the cemetery and he thought about the person buried in the unmarked grave. The way she mourned him, shedding tears and sitting alone without concern for the time that passed, as if she did not want to be anywhere else in the world than by his side. It reminded Isaac of how his father, Señor Rolando Quintero, whispered to his late wife in the darkness after he thought Isaac had fallen asleep. He’d tell her about their day and about Isaac’s academic progress before he cried himself to sleep in silence confessing he still loved her as fiercely as he did on their wedding day.
“Love is the only memory one never loses, Isaac,” his father had said. “Because even if one loses his mind the memory always remains in the heart.”
Even though Señor Rolando Quintero made a decent living as a hatter and had quite the reputation for the quality of his work, Isaac recognized the loneliness in his father’s eyes. Known as the Mad Hatter of Old Sienna, he occupied his time making Ascot caps, Bowlers, Panamas, Top Hats, sombreros, and his most popular item the fedora. His heart and thoughts, however, remained occupied by the memory of his late wife Maricela Aquino.
They had grown up together in the small town then known as Providencia before it was stomped out of existence by the emergence of Old Sienna. Despite the change they stayed, they fell in love, and they married. When his father passed, Rolando sold his father’s lot of land and used the proceeds to establish his hat shop. Three years later, they were blessed with a son, and all felt right with the world until a bout of small pox struck the budding city.
Some claimed it was punishment from God for erasing the memory of Providencia, but others believed the sickness arrived at their port city with cargo from infected parts of the world. For a brief time after Maricela’s passing the hat shop remained closed. No one had seen Rolando for several weeks while he mourned the loss of the love of his life.
It wasn’t until his brother-in-law, Gabriel Aquino, intervened that everything had changed. He arrived at the back door of the shop where their living quarters had been, and invited himself inside carrying a bottle of rum and two glasses.
“Let’s put my nephew to bed. Men must talk.”
Rolando looked at his brother-in-law perplexed. He always found him to be a peculiar man, but if he had to be honest he found Gabriel to be good company. And so, it was that after they laid Isaac in his crib, Rolando and Gabriel polished off a bottle of rum while reminiscing about Maricela. They mourned her death, but more than that they celebrated her life, which based on the way she lived is what she would have wanted.
Despite the hangover Rolando reopened his shop the following day. His first customer was his brother-in-law who arrived with a special request, and coconut water.
“Drink up!” Gabriel had said. “Coconut water is the best remedy for a hangover short of death.”
“What is it with your fascination with death?” Rolando said remembering Gabriel’s area of study.
“It is the only guarantee in the world aside from taxes, but beyond that it is as Edgar Allan Poe once said: ‘Love acknowledges no limits—not even the grave.’”
The quote had always been Gabriel’s favorite. Isaac heard him repeat it every day and twice on Sunday. It dawned on him that perhaps his uncle, or rather Edgar Allan Poe, had been correct in his assessment. Isaac reflected on his lessons. How is it that death and love are so deeply intertwined? Miguel de Cervantes compared love and war in 1604 when he wrote in Don Quixote, “Love and war are all one.” Two hundred and fifty years later Frank Smedley wrote, “All’s fair in love and war.” Isaac contemplated the analogous nature of love and war and wondered if it is true that nothing is the same after war and nothing is the same after love.
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