Unlike her sisters, Alicia liked to wear grubby work clothes. It made her feel ready for action, more determined, and more resourceful. She dug into the clothes basket and reached for her dungarees and ragge d dock shirt. She was overjoyed to be back in the quiet of her home after her sad goodbyes with friends departing for Monterey. A knit cap lay nearby. She snatched it and tucked her long hair underneath.
“Two ships are arriving.” She found Clara pulling weeds that grew up between the beans and onions in Mama’s garden and announced her news. Sitting in the dirt, wearing a broad floppy hat, Clara looked like Mama.
“The Presidio scouts spotted them on the horizon,” Alicia reported. “One is headed to the government port; the other may anchor here.” They both had chores at the hacienda now, since they were alone. Clara tended the yard and the hens. Alicia tended the anchorage, like Papa used to do.
“They might as well sail on. Papa’s not here.” Clara shook soil off an onion.
“I will handle it. If Papa, Tío Salvador, and Harris are all gone, then I’ll work at the tie-up.”
“By yourself? You’re just a girl.” Clara rubbed a hand on her back and straightened up. “I’ll pull weeds, but I can’t plant and plan like Mama, or cook and clean like Nina.”
“We must until they come home. Where is Harris’s ledger? I have an idea.” The sisters went inside to rummage through the sala for the homemade accounts book.
“Look, it still has empty pages. I’ll make a list of the ships, captains, dates, and merchandise here.” Alicia tore out some of the stiff pages and got Papa’s quill and pen. “Help me calculate the real tax so we never fall behind again.”
“But will the men pay us? I could never ask a strange fellow for money.”
“We’ll write an invoice and place their payments in the ledger. It’s the family dock and we are Ortegas, the only Ortegas here now.”
Alicia waited for the ship to approach all afternoon. She strolled back and forth and heard the shell mound below the planks crunch and clack. She wondered if Nina’s relatives were complaining about her disturbance above. A dinghy filled with goods approached.
“Ahoy. Hola,” a sailor called. “Señor Ortega?”
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