The first thing I remember thinking is that something must have crawled in my mouth and died. It was just that nasty. In fact, so nasty that I started to gag.
“She’s gonna puke … I know she is … she’s that funny color again.”
Daniel. But if Daniel was where his voice was coming from who was helping me to lean over the bed to hurl into the bucket? Well, not hurl exactly; nothing was coming up, not even spit. I tried to struggle but it is very hard to fight and gag at the same time, it’s like the two things can’t exist in the same plain of existence.
“Querida, mi amor, mi precioso …” More nonsensical phrases in Spanish followed those and I’m thinking that I’ve well and truly sprung a leak in my sanity.
I was gently laid back against the pillows and I realized that it felt like the side of my face was about three times bigger than it should have been. I reached to feel it and a hand gently takes mine and pulls it away. “Don’t touch Dacey.” That was Daniel again. “Abel has a cold pack on it to help with the swelling. You know you aren’t supposed to mess with it or it won’t help the ouches.”
I tried to talk but my mouth and throat are so dry nothing is coming out. I feel a damp rag put on my lips and I can’t help it, I start sucking on it like it was a bottle. “Easy Querida, here … this is better.”
A cold spoon is raised to my lips and then a thin trickle of something that tastes like lemon water slides into my mouth and down my throat. Heavenly.
Finally I can croak, “Abel?”
I feel like I’m being smothered in the mother of all hugs, especially after I realize it is Abel and Daniel at the same time and then Dog adds her bit by jumping on the bed. OK, that’s too much. I mumble, nearly suffocating, and they finally turn loose.
“Home?” It was the only word I could squeeze out.
More lemon water and I begin to feel like maybe I won’t die of thirst after all. “Si, en la tarde … yesterday afternoon. Oh Dios! I should be shot for … for …”
Not only can I hear the despair and regret in his voice but I can actually feel it coming off of him in waves. After so many days of wanting to throw something big and heavy at him for leaving now all I can think about is making him feel better. I reach around and finally give him an awkward one armed hug because Daniel is still holding my other one like he thinks I’m not going to mind about not touching whatever is wrong with my face.
Which gets me to thinking and I start to panic. They both notice at the same time and Abel whispers, “Shhhhhh, is OK Querida. The … the bebe … it moves around like … like nothing I have ever felt.”
I settle for a moment but then croak, “Can’t … open … eyes …”
Daniel answers me because Abel doesn’t seem to be up for it. I feel him shaking as he holds me. “You tripped Dacey and smacked your face pretty good on a step. There was blood everywhere from a cut in your eyebrow. It was awful. And now your eyes are all swelled shut. You look like Terry Hanover when he got stung by wasps.”
I blanched remembering what Daniel was referring to. Terry was a few years older than me and he and some guys were helping one of the older ladies from church clean out her attic, only it wasn’t squirrels up there like the old lady thought but wasps and Terry took the brunt of the first wave. His face looked like a marshmallow that had gotten left a little too long to roast. Not pleasant.
I’m still tired and float in and out of it for the rest of that day. Every time I woke up Abel was right there spooning liquids down my throat. Eventually I had to get up and go to the bathroom. I was finished and unlatching the door to be helped back to bed when Daniel came up and kissed me … something he had not done in a long time. “’Nite nite Dacey.”
I whispered, “’Nite Daniel.”
“I’ll leave my socks on for you tonight.”
That was sweet. I know it sounds totally goofy but for Daniel to say it, it was really just sweet.
Abel let me take about two steps but then when I heard Daniel’s door close Abel picked me up and carried me back to bed. “Querida … I … Dios mio … there are no words … not in my language, not in yours …”
He laid me on the bed like I might break into a million pieces and then I felt him kneel and put his head on what was left of my lap. “Please forgive me.”
He’d surprised me. Abel could be emotional sometimes but this was more than usual. “Abel please don’t,” I whispered. “You needed to go … to see … to whatever. Just now … can you stay? Not go off again? I … I … I need you here.”
I’d never said it right out like that. It was scary, letting him see how much it all meant to me. “Si Querida … I am here and here I will stay.”
“Just … just for now. I know you probably need to …”
“No, but we will talk of why later. For now all that matters is that you … you …” His voice had grown hoarse. “Dacey … I … I want to … to see. I have not because Daniel watched me like a hawk. But now that he is to his bed … I … I have such a need to … to see …”
I felt his hand, tremulous against my belly. I wondered why I wasn’t embarrassed. In a way it seemed totally appropriate but totally crazy at the same time. When I didn’t object he slowly undressed me, being so careful it nearly made me irritable.
He was quiet for a long time. At first look was all he did, but then I felt feather strokes like he was almost afraid of touching me. Then he bent down and kissed my stomach. We both laughed when the baby didn’t cotton to it and gave him a kick in return. He carefully redressed me in a clean nightgown and said, “When you feel better I will help you bath away the bruises. Si, this I will do. But for now, we will both rest.” I was so dozey at that point he could have said we’d be taking a trip to the dark side of the moon and I would have just grinned and said sure, why not.
I felt him get off the bed and I panicked for a moment. “Don’t leave!”
“Shhh, I am right here. I will pull the chair over and …”
“No … no … here, with me. I need to know you’re here for real and not some crazy dream I’m having.”
He asked seriously, “Are you sure Dacey? You need not say these things for me.”
I would have snorted except my face had started to hurt too bad. You’d figure after all this time he would have figured I wouldn’t do something for that reason alone. “Keep me warm Abel. I’m so cold. I haven’t really been warm since you left.”
That did it. I heard him rush out of his clothes and then gently climb in with me. We didn’t do anything of course. I wanted him near me but I wasn’t up to anything else. I don’t think he was either. He was more rattled than I could guess and it was days before I was able to see well enough to see that his voice didn’t always match his expression.
I was not allowed to leave the bed except for a few necessities for nearly a week. I slept a lot. And I ate a lot. But that’s about all I did. For breakfast he would fix me this kind of warm oatmeal smoothie he called avena or something like that. It was a warm, very liquid oatmeal that I could drink through a straw. There was very little substance to it yet it filled me up as well. He also had me drinking something called orxata de xufa … kind of an almond milk or sometimes he would make it with rice. Whatever it was it was good. I told him he could do more of the cooking any time he wanted to.
He gave me a sorrowful look and said, “This is the extent of my culinary skills Querida. My grandfather would make these for my grandmother when she was not feeling well. He got the same distant look in his eyes I had seen in my own when memories from our pasts would come up.
“No matter,” I told him trying to make him smile. “These are worth it.”
He tried to give me a smile but he was still very affected by finding what he did when he came home. In some respects it seems like I was able to get over it better than he has. “Querida, did you trust me so little …”
“What?! No … no that wasn’t it at all. It’s just that I figured it out the same day everything seemed to start changing and every time I thought that this was the right time something else would come up. And then I couldn’t make you stay … because I knew you would. I don’t know Abel … please don’t … don’t be this way about it.”
He could see that I was getting upset and he scooted over to me and said, “Shhhh, I should not have brought it up.”
“No, better you do it now than let it fester. But really Abel, it wasn’t because I didn’t trust you. A part of me trusted you from the very first and that part only got bigger. It was just all so confusing coming right after all three of us being so sick … only …”
“Only I don’t know if I sick so much in body but in … in spirit or something. What if I’m a terrible mother? What if … what if … if I …”
“Terrible?! No! Impossible’! Ridiculo! Look how you have cared for Daniel. No, I’ll not hear such things … not even from your own lips. Nunca.”
I was finally able to go outside without the sunlight hurting my eyes so bad but I still sat in the shade rather than have them water so much that it looked like I was crying. I wasn’t allowed to do anything but sit and sort greens that Daniel had found and brought back. It was good to feel like I was accomplishing something but even that little bit seemed to take almost more energy than I had.
“Sleeping beauty, do I kiss you to wake you up?”
I had fallen asleep leaning against the tree. “You know, this is getting down right silly. I fall asleep faster than Dog does.”
Daniel who was standing right behind Abel liked that and laughed. “I’ll finish the forage Dacey. You better mind Abel and go inside, it looks like a storm s coming.”
I did get inside and the storm did come. Abel and Daniel were both soaked so they washed up and not long after dinner was finished Daniel went to bed.
I was prepared. I’d made Abel a cup of very rich hot cocoa and this time I wouldn’t be put off. “Daniel’s in bed and asleep Abel. I’m feeling better and can even see out of both eyes now. I’m rested and I’ve eaten.”
He sighed. “You are too …”
“Don’t call me fragile Abel. Just because I’m not one hundred percent doesn’t mean that I’m going to fall to pieces just because you tell me what happened. And I think I have a right to know what kept you gone so long.”
He nuzzled my cheek a moment and then sighed. “I suppose it cannot be put off any longer.”
“Was it that bad? Oh no … I … I didn’t even ask if anyone from Amish Town …”
“No Querida, we all returned safely … but it was a near thing. And a difficult thing for a couple of the men who had not seen war before.”
“War?” I asked quietly. “The military types didn’t say anything about a war did they?”
He gave an expressive shrug. “Perhaps war is not what they would call it but it was fighting and men dying. It was more than a riot or a mob … there was purpose and strategy to it. What they fought over was less clear however. We were caught between three different factions for nearly a month and never did find out exactly what they were fighting over.”
“If things are as bad as the soldiers made them out to be I’m surprised anyone had the energy to fight.”
“When there is nothing left but fighting men will always find the energy.” He sounded old and cynical and it was hard to believe that this man wasn’t much older than I was.
“Is that all? I mean fighting is enough but I mean is that all that kept you away?”
He shook his head. “Those young men are foolish. Every empty building they thought was an opportunity to scavenge. It became … tiresome.”
I think Abel was being polite for my sake but I interpreted it for him. “They were being a big ol’ pain in the backside.”
He sighed and said, “Si … a tomano estupendo pain in as you say, the back side.” I could tell he was annoyed just remembering it. “And had I known you were here, in this condition … I would have just left them to their foolishness. A couple of other men told them the same thing. The worst? That only two of our seven should have been so green and foolish. Instead two that should not have were and it left only three of us to try and control the infantilismo. It was like trying …” He couldn’t seem to think on exactly what he wanted to say then he nodded. “It was like trying to convince Daniel to keep his mittens and socks on that first winter we were together. Ay yi yi … they made me want to … my blood boiled Querida. Never again, never.”
“Ah so that’s why you say you aren’t leaving.”
He nodded, “A big part of it. Perhaps I am become too alone but I do not like this working with people I do not know, and do not know if I can trust.”
I looked at him and reminded him, “You’re not alone, you have me.”
I get the first real smile from him since he came home. “Si … I have you.” Then he got serious and said, “And I should take better care of you. Now let us rest.”
He was getting a little imperious but I know it was his way of dealing with being scared for me. My health was the only thing that he was that way about and since I seemed to need it I didn’t object.
June turned into July and I started feeling better but no matter how much I ate it all seemed to stick in the basketball shaped mound that sat on my stomach. I was as then as I ever remember being in every other part of my body … just my chest and the basketball seemed to get bigger. I felt silly … to me I looked even sillier.
“No, you are Hermosa … beautiful.”
I rolled my eyes. “I look like three balls stuck on the front of a stick paddle.”
He opened his mouth to deny it but the look I gave him had him closing his mouth. “I will call it what it is and one day you will believe me. Now, it is time for your surprise.”
“You’re being silly.”
“Perhaps but Daniel and I have worked very hard and you will enjoy it.”
I laughed because it sounded almost like a threat. He led me into the kitchen, sat me at the table and then instructed me to close my eyes. He called Daniel who was snickering and tell him to hurry up.
“Hold out your hands but do not drop it.”
“Uh … this isn’t a frog again is it Daniel?”
For some reason that cracked my little brother up and despite my best efforts I do nearly drop it when it is put into my hands. Cold … cold as the ice room.
“Now … open your eyes Querida.”
I did and what I saw was … was … “Ice cream? You made ice cream?!”
Abel shrugged but was obviously pleased at my reaction. “Not ice cream … frozen horchata. We have been stirring it since last night to make it as it should be … the texture needs to be as butter. Go ahead, taste it before it melts.”
“Get three spoons, it is for all of us.”
Daniel didn’t have to be told twice and soon we were all sharing the best thing I could ever remember putting in my mouth. “Oh Abel, how? How did you do this?”
“It is not so hard,” he said blushing a little at my pleasure. “It was mostly the stirring and stirring and stirring to make the smoothness.”
Daniel grins and says, “Happy Birthday Dacey!”
And suddenly I realize, I’m seventeen years old.