September 4th, 2024
The private room had a window to the garden. There were half a dozen fluffed pillows, a massive bouquet of flowers from Benji’s garden which smelled only a little scorched, piles of books in the corner and even Carmen’s latest sewing project.
“Oh Angie.” Moe’s laughter caught painfully in her throat, giving it a hollow ring. She swallowed it down and led Carmen to sit on the bed.
Awkward, heavy weight hung in the air between the four women, charged with uncertainty, with the urgent ripples of unfinished business.
Moe let them off the hook.
After some assurances that Carmen had settled in, unspoken communications, and spoken excuse me’s and I’ll be back’s, four women became two.
Life whirled and danced like water through Carmen, beginning to gather and focus, building up and up like some kind of tidal wave. La Muchacha wasn’t riding low yet, but she had turned head-down and grown still, heart beating steady and strong. Moe offered Carmen a smile. She hoped it didn’t look as thin as it felt. “It’s gonna be a few hours yet. Need anything?” She glanced around the room. “Well, anything else?”
Carmen smiled wanly in return and shook her head. Then, the fire that had pulsed through her veins throughout the battle surged forth through the water. Her smile wavered and her face twisted. Her breath came a little quicker. This would be a rough one.
“Ah shit,” she breathed. Clearly she could tell.
She doubled over forward. Quickly, wordlessly, Moe slipped her hand in Carmen’s, which tightened painfully, nails digging in.
Bad bad bad idea.
“NnnnhOKAY honey,” Moe said, biting off her pained groan. She placed her other hand on Carmen’s shoulder. “Breathe with me. Just gotta make it through ten breaths. That’s all.”
“Easy for you to say,” Carmen gritted through her teeth.
“Hey, you’re sassing me! Good sign!” said Moe, her own teeth clenched. “Now, ten breaths.” To start it off (and forestall any further growling), she took a deep breath. Carmen followed suit. Slowly, bit by bit, her grip relaxed. And then Moe continued. “Ten more. You can make it through ten more.”
She did. After the tenth breath, she released Moe’s hand. Her eyes were turned aside, to the opposite corner of the room. “Thanks.” Slowly, Carmen lowered herself onto her side, smoothly lifting her feet up to rest on the bed. She stared straight ahead, her face tightening a little, mouth twisting. “Oh gods. Oh gods.” Her hands gripped the sheets and her knees drew up. Tears began to spill down her face again. “He’s dead, Moe. Mi corazoncito—” The rest was choked off.
Moe felt the same wave washing over her, then, powerful, overwhelming, salt water stinging over wounds both new and slightly less new. It was an all-too-familiar feeling, still raw.
Fighting back her own tears, she draped a blanket over Carmen like some kind of enveloping wing, laid down behind her, scooted in close, and hugged her tight. “Ten breaths, hermana.” She took in a shuddering breath of her own.
They made it to six before the tide of grief swept them away. And then, after an eternity, they washed up empty upon the sands of sleep.