Drama Sad Fiction

   This was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives, at least, that’s what parents having their first baby were supposed to feel. Carmen, Arturo's wife, was radiant. After nine months, they were finally welcoming their daughter, Delilah, into the world. But Arturo couldn't share his wife's joy. For his night had been plagued by dreadful dreams and his morning haunted by an inescapable feeling of approaching disaster.   

They had been in the hospital room for an hour and Arturo felt cornered. It was too small, too blank, too sterile and the medical staff was too robotic when they needed to be more human. It was like they were caring for cattle and not for people. Worst of all, Pasquela, Carmen’s mother, had already made herself at home and taken the best seat. 


“And the nurses?” Pasquela said. She was a short, gray haired old woman with glasses so thick they magnified her eyes and gave her the surprised look of a plucked owl.


Carmen ignored her mother and focused her gaze on Arturo. “Are you okay?”


He looked up in surprise. “Yeah,” Arturo said, “What about you?”


“I’m fine,” Carmen lied. Sweat beaded the damp pale-skin of her forehead and left her black hair wet, its strands bonded in clumps. She breathed in short shallow breaths and tried to hide her pain, but her wincing dark eyes gave it away. Carmen was a rare type of person. It was one of the reasons he loved her. She could be caught in a trap and wouldn’t yell out in panic, but would calmly tell her saviors not to worry, to take it slow and not hurt themselves in the rescue. Carmen squeezed his hand. “You look distracted.”


Carmen had seen through him. His mind was someplace else. Today was supposed to be the day he closed the deal of a lifetime, a three-year project of sacrifice and toil, whose completion meant he could take care of Carmen and their soon to be daughter for the rest of their lives. The only problem was Carmen had gone into labor early and he wasn’t sure how he could manage both the birth of Delilah and the signing of the paperwork that would seal their future happiness.


It all felt so unreal. And worst of all, Arturo didn’t feel like he was in control of anything. A sense of disquietude troubled him. The night before a dreadfully powerful voice had interrupted his dreams and boomed out a question for which he had no answer. The question remained branded on his consciousness and continued to haunt him. It flashed in his mind like a neon-sign. Was it worth it?


“Bad dreams?” Carmen asked.


“You noticed?”


“I always do,” she said. “Did you dream about him again?”


“I don’t know,” Arturo said and shrugged his shoulders. His father would sometimes visit him when he dreamed. Made of glittering dust that would shiver and shake, his father would speak to him, but when Arturo reached out to grasp him, nothing materialized and he vanished. A mirage, nothing more. “It don't think so. It didn't sound like him.”


“Well,” Carmen said, “I’m sure he had nothing but good things to say about the birth of his granddaughter.”


Was it worth it? Arturo smiled faintly and tried to mask his unease.


Carmen frowned. “Hey,” she said, “Don’t worry. Everything will be okay. If you need to leave to sign the paperwork, we'll be fine. Me and Delilah will be waiting for you when you get—” Carmen winced and let out a long painful moan.


“Where the hell are the nurses?” Arturo yelled. The sound of his own raised voice brought him comfort. In certain circumstances, certain people survive on such things, and Arturo was certainly one of them.


Carmen squeezed his hand. Calm down. Everything will be alright. She often spoke to him without words. Like her mother she had a great sense for the unseen.


“These goddamn doctors need to get in here,” Arturo said. He turned around and nearly collided with Pasquela, who had decided standing behind him was a good idea. Short on size and sense she lived for the moments she could cut him down. He blinked twice but unfortunately, Pasquela did not disappear. Damn! “Sorry, señora,” he said and shuffled around her.


“Where are you going?” Pasquela said as Arturo walked towards the door.

He stopped and turned. “To get a doctor or nurse. Can’t you see your daughter needs help?”

“Carmen needs you more than she needs anything else. Stay here and I’ll go and speak to the nurse.”


“No,” Arturo said, “I’ll go.” He needed to do something. Besides, if you wanted to get something done, you had to do it yourself. That’s how life worked. Relying on other people only leads to disappointment.


“Always off and running,” Pasquela said. She stared at Arturo and shook her head as if to say, you just don’t get it. And then she held a finger towards his face and scolded him like a child. “A father is there when it matters most, or didn’t yours ever teach you that?” 

Carmen gasped, “Mother!”


Pasquela's words were daggers laced with venom whose poison worked slowly, deeply and painfully, over time. The room was silent except for the beep of machinery and the squeak, squeak of nurses' shoes passing in the hallway.


Arturo glared at Pasquela. He wanted to respond, tried to respond, but when he opened his mouth no words came out. Mother and daughter watched him and held their breath. Carmen had even forgotten her own pain momentarily and wondered if he would erupt. It looked like he would and instinctively Pasquela took two steps back. But Arturo was at a loss for words and with his face burning all he could do was leave the room.


When Arturo closed the door, his head was throbbing and he had to steady himself on the wall. He knew Pasquela didn't accept him because he was fatherless, but he didn't understand why that had to be the case. After-all, it wasn't his fault his father had left him and his mother when he was still in diapers. How can she blame me for that? he thought. I'm not a deadbeat like my father, if anything I'm the exact opposite. Why can't she see that? But prejudices are never so simple. Another person's truth is always more complex than we can imagine.


And Pasquela's truth was very complex. For she believed the blood pumping through one’s heart and running through one’s veins carried the accumulated curses and blessings of one's ancestors. A son abandoned by his father was cursed to the same fate, no matter how hard he fought against it. We can’t escape who we are, we can only accept the truth of it. And so, Pasquela held firm — certain the day would come when Arturo would fail as a father. The blood ran too strong for it to be otherwise.


Arturo didn't know this. But even if he had, it wouldn't have changed anything. For Pasquela belonged to the older generation and her beliefs had had a lifetime to petrify into something unbreakable and impervious to change and transformation. Arturo was just glad he had left the room calm, cool and collected. Was it worth it? Maybe. He hadn't given Pasquela the pleasure of seeing how deep her words had settled. Arturo sighed and let go of the wall. Carmen needed a doctor and that was all that mattered.




“My wife needs help,” Arturo said to the group of nurses gathered at the station. “She’s in pain and needs medication.”


A young nurse with Ashley on her name-tag, looked up from the cluster of her co-workers and stared at Arturo. “Excuse me," she said, "but would you like something?” 


“Someone needs to look at my wife," he said. "She’s in too much pain. Somethings wrong.”


Ashley sighed. “Room number?”




Ashley took a clip-board off the wall and the other nurses continued to whisper among themselves. She flipped through the pages. “Ahhh — here we are. Well, Mr...?”




“Well — Mr. Gomez it looks like your girlfriend—”


“Wife," Arturo corrected her.


 “Oh — sorry!” Ashley said and her face pinkened. “Well, your wife will be seeing the doctor as soon as he makes his rounds. Lots of people without insurance are coming in these days.” She shrugged her shoulders, tilted her head slightly and smiled professionally.


Whether the nurse's mistakes were purposeful insinuations or not didn't matter. Over his lifetime Arturo had learned not to take misplaced assumptions personally or seriously, but that didn’t mean they didn't bother him. He had just learned how to brush them off with little reflection or bad feelings. But not today. Today he had already dealt with too much. Arturo said flatly, “She’s my wife and we have insurance. We’re married and both college educated.”


“Excuse me.” Ashley said.


“She’s my wife," he said pressing his finger into the table-top between each word, "and we have insurance, Ashley.”


Her face ripened and she coughed and looked down at the clip board. An awkward silence settled between them and its heaviness blossomed. The other nurses stopped talking and shifted their attention to Arturo. “Everything alright, Ashley?” one of them asked.


Ashley muttered something beneath her breath before answering. “Yes, Roger. Everything is fine. I was just letting Mr. Gomez know the doctor will be on his way shortly.” She looked up at him and though her tone was flat her eyes were apologetic. “I’ll call the Doctor and ask him to go to your wife’s room directly.”


“Thank you,” Arturo said and walked back towards the room. He imagined Pasquela handling the situation, the old ding-bat would have shriveled under pressure and ran back to the room mumbling apologies, and chuckled at the thought.



Arturo stood outside the room and ran his hand over his phone. He was reluctant to pull it out. He had avoided looking at it because once he did, it would be hard to put it away. Grace, his business partner, was competent and capable of handling the deal on her own, but his sense of worry continued to gnaw at him. What if she couldn’t? I’ll have to go to the office. Simple as that. Nurse Ashley had said the doctor would be there shortly. It's now or never, champ. He took out his phone.


Grace had called him six times. She wouldn’t have called unless it was an emergency. Maybe something went wrong? His arms felt like wet noodles and his stomach churned. He hoped nothing had gone wrong. If he had to leave Carmen would understand, but Pasquela would give him hell. Arturo rubbed his forehead. Well, the old crone won't have much to say when I have the family taking summer long trips to Europe. He hit the callback button.


“Arturo!” Grace said. “I’ve been calling you like crazy.” Arturo had no time to reply. When Grace was excited about something she hardly took a breath between words let alone sentences. “Listen, I know you're with Carmen and the baby but we need you to get your ass over here."


"I can't."

"Mr. Watanabe showed up himself—”

“Are you serious?”


“Yes,” Grace said, “he’s sitting in the boardroom right now. I’m doing my best to explain the product but that’s where you shine. He seems skeptical. You gotta come in and close the deal.”


“But his representative—”


“Watanabe decided he needed to see your product for himself,” Grace said. "It's now or never, Arturo."


He couldn’t believe it. Mr. Watanabe had revolutionized the industry. He was a God. It was supposed to be his representative at the office, not the man himself. But the man himself had shown up — to see Arturo’s product. Born of his imagination and dreams and brought to life through hours of scribbling out notes, running tests, tracking experiments and tweaking and tuning along the way. The product had taken years to develop and no one knew it better. It was his progeny. Grace had her strengths but explaining the technical aspects and potential uses of the product wasn’t one of them. That’s where Arturo shined.

"Everything hangs in the balance," said Grace. "Do this for Carmen and your daughter, Arturo."


He had to make a decision.

After hanging up Arturo stared at the door. His anger for Pasquela had dissipated and the dread that had followed him like a cloud had magically disappeared. Once he signed the paperwork and had the check he would prove Pasquela wrong. I'll be there for Delilah the way he never was for me. She won’t have to worry about anything in the world. His shoulders were loose and he felt an energy surging inside of him that he hadn’t felt all day. He took a deep breath and entered the room.




The curtains were drawn and the room was dark. Arturo's body was shaking and he felt weak. Carmen's face was paler than when he had left. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was slower, deeper, calmer. He stumbled towards her. It would be a long time before she woke up. For the drugs had her under their spell.


Arturo went to his knees and took up his wife's hand. “I’m so sorry.” There was no reply but the steady beep of the machines.

Pasquela sat in the darkest corner of the room hidden in nebulous shadows. For a long time she watched and listened as Arturo cried and begged for his sleeping wife's forgiveness and when she judged it was time to speak she said, “I called you forty-six times. Every call went to voice-mail.”


He couldn’t bear to hear her voice. When he had told them he was leaving, Pasquela had had enough. Carmen understood how important it was, but Pasquela had called him worthless. How could he leave when Carmen was having so many complications she had asked. He had assured them the doctor was on his way and he had promised he would be back before the ink dried.


While on his way to the office Pasquela had called him non-stop. He hadn't wanted to hear her screeching before the biggest meeting of his life, so rather than answer, he had turned off his phone.


It wasn’t until after he, Grace and Mr. Watanabe had signed the paperwork that he had turned his phone back on. When saw all the missed calls — he knew something was truly and terribly wrong. His heart collapsed in on itself when Pasquela told him what had happened.


Carmen had delivered Delilah but their baby girl had had complications. Arturo drove back to the hospital in a daze and the sense of dread, which he had managed to escape for a short while, came back and enveloped him in a cocoon of foreboding.


Inside the room it was as quiet as a morgue. Carmen’s hand was incredibly cold and small. Arturo sat on his knees and tried to rationalize everything. This isn’t real, it can’t be. He groped for answers but found only questions. Time passed until finally, as if possessed by an invisible force, Pasquela gave voice to the question that had tormented him all day.

“Was it worth it?”


“What?” he said.


“The money? Was it worth it?”


Arturo gaped at her. The check was in his back pocket. He had imagined he would take a selfie while holding it, Delilah and his wife — everything he had worked for — finally come together.


“Ahhh, so it wasn’t,” Pasquela said and clucked her teeth. “Something told me it wouldn’t be.”


Her earlier venomous words echoed in his head and their poison flowed through his body anew. A father is there when it matters most. Broken, Arturo began to sob uncontrollably without shame or restraint.

Pasquela said, “You told us the Doctor was on his way, but he never showed up. I tried to tell the nurses that Carmen was in pain but they didn’t listen. By the time someone did show up — it was too late.”

Pasquela stared at him for a few moments before continuing. “Delilah,” she said, "was a beautiful girl. Carmen got to hold her while she was alive. She had dark hair like her mother. But she never opened her eyes, so we didn’t get to see their color — but maybe it was better that they stayed closed.”


Time passed and the check in his pocket grew teeth. It began eating into his flesh and once past that, it began nibbling at his soul.

Was it worth it?


Arturo finally knew the answer. It would haunt him for the rest of his life. He began to pray. He wanted to do it all over again. To go back to the beginning. He wished he had never left, he wished he had yelled at the nurses and doctors, he wished he had told Grace he couldn’t go, but most of all he wished he had held his daughter while she was alive, just to let her know that he was there — her father was there — but by then it was too late.

November 20, 2020 21:45

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