Sunday, July 1, 2007


The owner of the house was an aging widow named Cristela Varamendi. She had the light skin and proud bearing of her Hispano ancestors, and she led Miguel and Amalia into the living room, where Libby rose from the shabby sofa to greet them. Before the young woman could say a word, Amalia pulled her close. "I'm glad to see you again, dear."

"I'm glad to see you, too. It feels like such a long time..."

"And other times, it’s like it all happened just last week," Amalia finished for her. She looked around the room, taking in the neat but fading furniture and photographs, the Indian pottery, crosses and terracotta madonnas.

The room was lit with a small electric lamp, charged during the day by a battery fed by a solar panel on the roof. This was indeed a safe town, if they could use solar panels and not have to worry about having them stolen. "Where’s that girl of mine?"

"She wasted no time going to see Sputnik. She said you'd be right along or I would be back there with them, myself."

"Well, let's go." Amalia looked over her shoulder at Miguel. "Are you coming?"

"No, I'll visit with Cristela a bit. Sputnik doesn't know me well, and filling the sick room with visitors will be no help."

Amalia followed Libby down the hallway to a room cozy with books, rugs and porcelain knick-knacks of a general uselessness that struck her as decadent after so many years of privation. She found Sputnik wasted and hardly recognizable, lying in a narrow bed, covered in quilts and propped against a mound of pillows. A single glance at his sunken cheeks and yellowish skin told her he was still very ill. Diana was sitting by his bed talking quietly to him, but when Amalia entered the room, he looked up and tried to smile. "Hello, Ms. Channing."

"What's this 'Ms. Channing' business?" Amalia said, taking one of his limp hands in hers. "After what we've been through together, you should be calling me Amalia, or anything else you like."

"Then you have to call me Robert."

"Can I call you Robert, too?" Diana asked.

"I'll be disappointed if you don't."

Remembering her manners, Diana got out of her chair. "Do you want to sit down, Auntie?"

"I'll get another chair," Libby offered. But by the time she returned, Amalia had taken Diana's seat and Diana had settled herself on the edge of the bed. Now it was she instead of Amalia who was holding Robert's hand, which seemed to please him. Libby pulled her chair close and sat down.

"I must be important to merit such an audience," Robert murmured. He looked like he wanted to say more, but closed his eyes instead.

"We only just got here today," Libby explained. "The trip took a lot out of him."

"Too much bouncing in a donkey cart," Robert said without opening his eyes. "Damn uncomfortable. And cold."

"At least we found a cart with rubber tires. That helped."

"I found the cart with rubber tires," Robert corrected her.

"Oh, yes." She looked at Amalia and Diana. "He won't quit trying to organize things. He keeps making plans, telling us who to talk to, and trying to write notes." She patted his shoulder affectionately. "You'd get better faster if you'd stop thinking so much."

"What else am I supposed to do for entertainment? I can't do a thing, not even read, because books are heavy and the words get blurry, especially when you've given me that damn opium." He sighed and looked at Diana, who was still holding his hand. "It's nice to have a visitor, even though I probably look like hell."

"You look sick. If you looked well, you'd get no sympathy at all."

Robert frowned slightly. "There might be a small blessing in that. It's no fun to be pitied."

Libby shook her head. "Enda'a. No one pities you."

"She's right," Diana said. I'm mad at you, though. You told me you were a coward, but you were one of the bravest men in San Eusebio."

"It takes no special courage to get shot. You just have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Trying to save our commander's life was not the wrong place to be," Libby said.

"But I don't remember it. What's the point of doing something heroic if you don't remember?"

"It's not uncommon to forget the immediate past when you've suffered an injury," Amalia said. "But we remember. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you."

Robert sank a little deeper into the pillows and closed his eyes. "The bravest day of my life, and I don't even have the satisfaction of remembering it."

Amalia felt his forehead. Then with his permission, she moved some of the blankets aside and felt his belly, taking note of the way he sucked in his breath and turned a little pale when she pressed under his ribs. She frowned and looked about. The nightstand was littered with jars, bottles, rags and medical paraphernalia. She selected the cleanest of the cloths, wet it and placed it on his forehead. Then she inspected the labels on the bottles. When she was finished, she looked at Libby and indicated with a jerk of her chin that they needed to talk. "Are you going to stay here?" she asked Diana.

The girl nodded. "I promised I'd stay until he fell asleep.”

Previous Entry
Next Entry


Alice Audrey said...

I take it we're building up to something here?

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

At your current pace, you're still over a week away, but yes, something big is on the horizon and it was difficult stuff for me to write.