Stella S. Counsell, 13, Santa Fe


The deathly silence of the sala almost made me shiver. It was so empty and lifeless without my mama’s mix of spices that she would always simmer in a pot, over low heat.

The day she was sent to the ER I was devastated and eagerly tried to invigorate the sala by copying her spice mix using my sense of smell. A few cinnamon sticks, clove and apples from the Trees of Life that grew near Calabria, my family’s homeland. They were sacred, golden apples that would only be picked by the humble farmers, like my brother Nino, who birthed and raised them. People who stole from the stock would get punished, even the ones who were greedy and didn’t want to change their demeanor.

There is a myth that says you will get turned into a pest like a raccoon that eats among the corn and maize, living your life as a thief or a trout eating the precious kelp of the river that the river didn’t grant permission for the trout to eat.

I found out I had skipped a few ingredient­s because the smell was very faint and dull, so I eagerly went to see Mama to complete my quest and restore the sala’s joy for her return after recovery.

When I reached the hospital, I asked a lady who worked at the front desk, “Is Mama still in the ER?” She told me Mama had improved enough to move to her own room in the hospital. My heart filled with satisfacti­on, and I found room 108 where Mama sat up in bed drinking a glass of water, looking up temporaril­y and seeming to be in deep thought before taking another sip. I knocked on the door after coming in to get her attention and crouched at the side of her bed.

“Hey,” I breathed softly. Mama turned to me and her face wrinkled when she smiled; she still had her beautiful dimples as before when she was full of youth.

“Ahh, Elena!” Mama rasped with joy. Her eyes were dark slits of happiness, a star in each one, her soft, heart-shaped lips rose with her large grin, with cheeks that lit up rosy red; her breath smelled redolent. Her cheeks where usually pale and concealed with a colorless shade of tan, but they sure came to life when she smiled!

“So? Why do you come to see Mama here, Cara?” Her sanguinity seemed to drop as she asked her question.

“I’ve been curious to know what else you use in your Pots of Life.” I felt needy asking but remembered I was making the pot for her, and even after her time, I would keep the tradition going in memory of Mama. “You promise not to tell?” I nodded soulfully. “I’ve already gotten the apples, cinnamon, and clove down so, what else am I missing?” Mama’s smile returned. “All that’s missing is anise seed.” My eyes widened with curiosity.

“Grazie,” I reached for Mama’s forehead and kissed it. She looked in my eyes, and my heart felt tender with conviviali­ty.

Nino was currently on a business trip in Paris, so I decided to give him a call to say goodbye to Mama because she was so delighted when I mentioned his name. “Sorella! How are you?” Nino greeted me warmly. “I’m doing just fine,” I answered. “Mama misses you!” Then I turned the phone over to her and left the room to give them some quality time to talk, just the two of them.

I fumbled with my fingernail­s and twirled my curly black hair. I worried for Mama but knew I also had to give her back independen­ce. And so I waited and waited until I looked at the time and decided it was time to go.

“Mama,” I whispered in her ear. She turned to me, slightly. “I have to go, I will visit again soon.” Mama’s nod was solemn, but I just told myself she was due for some rest, and I took my phone from her weathered and veiny hands she had used tenderly in all her years of knowledge. I rubbed her hand in mine to warm it up and gave her one last kiss on the forehead. She gave me a wide smile that reminded me of newborns when they are so jubilant to

be given life and a chance to learn the difference between good and evil and distinguis­h the two from each other.

“Carry on, young one, please fill yourself with understand­ing so you don’t become a thief of learning.” I smiled at her wisdom and pride about my future. I didn’t know what was in store for me, though. I thought an artista of the land who etched out the silhouette­s of the shrubs? Or maybe a potter? I furrowed my brow but kept it mostly to myself; this visit wasn’t for my sake or future, it was for Mama. So I smiled at her one last time and headed for the door. My smile stayed with me as I felt her presence right here flowing through my living body. It pumped through my veins like liquid gold, and I even looked over my shoulder once.

That evening when I got home, I decided to write a letter to Mama to thank her for everything she has done to make me into a better person. It started with a few do overs but I eventually got into the flow and imagined sprouts unfolding into heroic trees that subsided over the dirt road. They would never stop growing as long as I was writing and one day, they would be too strong for any sinner to cut down Mother Nature’s babies that allowed us to breathe. So I wrote until my pen got burned into my skin and put my writing to the side with a whole heart. “Tomorrow,” I gasped. “Tomorrow I will give Mama her gift ...”

The horizon lit up the clouds making them a spontaneou­s orange hue that tickled all the animals with pureness that was richer than bread made by the hands of beautiful people.

I raised my eyelids and found myself sleeping on the sala’s ancient hand-carved table. It smelled of holy juniper that didn’t dare make a soul in the world sick, and so I had no hesitation to rest on the blessing that had held me all night. I reached for the ceiling, though, as I stretched out the cramping in my arms. Just then I remembered: Mama’s gift! I snatched my full letter and started up the car, forgetting all about breakfast or harvesting the rest of the apples before the winter demolished them. I ran content fully through the hospital and wouldn’t stop when someone asked me to. I dodged corners and vases, halting at Mama’s room. The room was a mix of rosewater and sanitizer and that started to worry me. I went over to her tranquil body and cupped her plump cheeks in my hands. I shed a tear. “No, no, Mama, you are not dead, nature is just cradling you longer ...”

 ?? ?? Stella S. Counsell is a young writer and aspiring artist growing up in Santa Fe. In her early days, around the age of 3, she would raid her mom’s office for paper and a stapler to assemble her own mini-books to subsequent­ly have stories written into them. She “published” her first book, Overcoming the Wingless, at the age of 8.
Stella S. Counsell is a young writer and aspiring artist growing up in Santa Fe. In her early days, around the age of 3, she would raid her mom’s office for paper and a stapler to assemble her own mini-books to subsequent­ly have stories written into them. She “published” her first book, Overcoming the Wingless, at the age of 8.

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