I believed you were an angel. Do you remember?
The glow of the lanterns formed a halo around your white gown but their light was dim next to the copper glinting in your hair. When you leaned over my casket, the long curls brushed my skin and left behind the smell of roses. The fragrance was strong, as if petals were crushed into each strand.
God created your face in the shape of a heart, an obvious choice for an angel. It floated inches above mine, green eyes searching my brown ones until I lost the strength to hold mine open.
Your tears confused me. The nuns in my catechism class promised there would be no crying in Heaven. And during funerals, the priest would open his the Bible and recite from Revelation, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
So why would an angel look at me and cry? The drops weren’t salty. Your tears ran into my mouth and I held them on my tongue. Angels must have tears made of spring water, that’s what I decided. And maybe you were crying because my pain didn’t pass away.
My pain lived.
It assaulted me, most often with an open hand that burned where it slapped. But sometimes, when my eyes were closed and my belly exposed, pain would lash out with a clenched fist. I’d moan and double over, vomiting the near nothingness inside me. And you’d weep for me because I was too weak to make tears of my own.
My dreams were more vivid than reality, perhaps a side effect of the drugs, and sometimes I heard voices. How many months did you feed me through a straw and clean me when I struggled to control even one bodily function? I’m sure you kept meticulous records of each diaper change.
When the head angel visited, she never cried. Her candescent skin was darker than mine. Her brown eyes were lighter, with blazing flecks of topaz the same color as her wings. She wore a crown of black braids with daisies tucked into the twisted coils.
I craved her gentle touch. She’d push the needle into my skin and I’d float above the pain, outside the reach of its blows. My sleep would be dreamless for a time, the way death should be.
Did other angels stare down at me? So many faces were nothing more than fuzzy shadows. I have a memory, sharper than the rest, of a man with a dark beard leaning over the casket and touching the side of my neck, just below my ear. His shoulders sagged, exhausted and very human.
“Come back to me, Aina. You are all I have left.” His whispered words tickled my ear. I shivered. Blinked. And when I opened my eyes again, he was gone.
The tomb where I was buried changed after his visit. You made the lanterns burn brighter and my awake moments grew longer. I wish I’d been asleep when you tucked more pillows under my head. But as you lifted my shoulders, the dull ache behind my eyes became a stab, sharpened by the cave I saw around me.
“Mustang Pride - Class of 1963” was spray painted on the back wall. The ornate funeral casket was nothing more than a drab, army green cot covered in my mother’s quilt. And even though your satin dress remained white, the halo of light was gone. I couldn’t guess what sort of creature you were but I no longer believed you were an angel.
In the early days of my “coming around,” I expected you to give up and walk away. It would have been easier to let me die, or to be more accurate, let me die again. I won’t ask if I was the worst morphine addict you’ve ever treated. I’m positive I was the angriest.
When I wasn’t shaking, sweating or pissing in my hospital gown, I fantasized about murdering you. Your throat seemed fragile; the skin so pale it was almost translucent. My fingers couldn’t even hold a cup of water but I vowed I would strangle you as soon as my hands had the strength.
And to be fair, I didn’t keep my savage plans a secret. If I wasn’t begging you to kill me, I was threatening to murder you with colorful details like “choke you so hard, your eyes will pop out and roll in the dirt like two, green grapes.”
My ability to speak and your ability to understand should have been an improvement. Instead, I used my words to torment you, even as you spooned food into my mouth. The longer you held your tongue, the more determined I was to make you as miserable as me.
“Who are you? What are you? Why are you here?” I sang my questions like an alcoholic serenading 99 bottles of beer on the wall, chanting them over and over again.
“I do not have permission to tell you,” you said.
I watched your face and anticipated the emotions you couldn’t hide, the glory of your meltdown. “You’re a demon, aren’t you? And this is Hell.”
“I do not have permission to tell you who I am.”
“I want the other demon back - the one who is in charge. Go get her. Tell her to bring my medicine.”
“I do not have permission to give Daisy orders.” You caught the mistake when it left your mouth and anguish filled your eyes. “I did not have permission to give you her name.”
“Her name is Daisy. See, that wasn’t so hard to say. With all those damn flowers in her hair, I should’ve guessed. So, let’s talk about you, friend of Daisy. What’s your name?”
“I do not have permission to give you my name.”
“What is your name?”
“I do not have permission–,” you said, your voice getting louder. I expected you to take a deep breath. I watched your chest and it never moved, never sucked in big gulps of air even as I pushed you from frustration into anger. “I do not have permission to tell you my name.”
“Tell. Me. Your. Name!” My scream echoed off the hard rock walls.
“That is enough child. Be still now,” said the head angel, or the head whatever she was. The low, feminine voice didn’t lessen the strength of her command - it was a steel hammer wrapped in silk. The morning light threw the shadow of her silhouette onto the cave floor like a carpet unrolling at her feet.
I shook off the cool hand she put on my forehead.
“The way you were ranting, I thought you had a fever,” she said. “But your temperature is normal even if your temper is hot.”
“Hello, Daisy,” I waited for a reaction, some indication I’d surprised her by knowing her name. She remained serene, her face almost bored.
“Hello, Aina. The fluid in your lungs must be improving. All that shouting would have triggered a coughing fit 30 days ago.”
“Tell me her name,” I said, pointing to where you stood. “Please.”
“Her name is Rose. Did not your nose tell you that?”
I grimaced. “So, what’s with all the flower names around here? Is her last name Garden?”
“I am known only as Rose,” you said. “I have no last name. Shall I tell Aina the rest?”
Your question wasn’t mine to answer but I answered it anyway. “Yes, you should tell Aina the rest,” I said. Daisy inclined her head in agreement.
You knelt in front of me, your white skirt fanning out around you. “As you know, I am Rose and this is Daisy. Martinez Motion also manufactures an Iris, sweet natured but more of an entry level model. Simplistic programing. She requires eight hours to fully charge after 12 hours of use. Daisy and I have a next generation lithium-air cell battery and can charge in four hours after 20 hours of use.”
“How do you recharge in a cave? Did Papa add wiring to this place?”
“We have a solar pod, a mobile charging station parked outside,” Daisy said. “We alternate so you are never left alone. I charge in the afternoon and Rose charges in the middle of the night.”
“There is a new feminal, the Violet, with 36 hours of continuous power. The men in the lab are quite impressed with her.” Your eyes narrowed and your mouth turned down on one side as you described the Violet. On anyone else, it would’ve been called a frown.
“She has standard weapons,” you said. “Guns and knives, in addition to martial arts skills. ‘The only difference between Violet and Violent is one extra letter.’ They put that slogan in all the ads. Her programing is certainly not simplistic. She fatally injured a man in the lab during testing. Now they have safe words to stop her attacks.”
“You have given Aina enough information about the other models, at least for now,” Daisy said. She sat down on the edge of the cot and held my hand. My fingers were shaking. “Let us start with some pain reliever before we answer any more questions. I am sure your head is hurting. Rose, please refill Aina’s cup.”
I held my mouth open like a baby bird as Daisy put two capsules in my mouth, one at a time between hard swallows of water. Maybe I should’ve waited for the medicine to kick in but I had to know what sort of creatures you were. If I was lying helpless in a cave with two evil robots, my headache wasn’t even interesting anymore.
“Did you kill my Papa? Is that why he isn’t here?”
Daisy raised one eyebrow, an expression I later learned was as much shock as her face could show. “Dr. Vega is very much alive. I belong to him. In fact, he sent me here with a message for you.”
“You belong to him? You mean, he owns you?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“So, like Star Wars. Papa is Luke Skywalker and you’re what? C-3PO?”
“Rose and I are feminals. We are engineered to be attractive to men, to please our masters,” Daisy said. “Companionship is our primary function. We also provide domestic services such as cooking and cleaning. Some feminals have after-market enhancements with additional skills.”
“I met an Iris who was programmed to grow vegetables,” you said. “And Daisy has the ability to alter core functions.“
Daisy clicked her tongue and your mouth snapped shut.
“That will be a conversation for another day,” Daisy said. “Would you like to read your father’s message? I could have recorded his words but he wanted you to see his handwriting - a conformation of sorts that he is alive and anxious to see you again.”
“I’ll try,” I said. “If my eyes can stay focused.”
“Rose, please bring a lantern closer to the Aina.”
Daisy reached into the pocket of her gown and withdrew a thick, folded piece of creamy paper. I opened it, tracing the embossed, monogrammed V at the top of the page with one trembling finger. Papa’s handwriting hadn’t changed. I recognized the way he added loops to his printed letters, his own style of cursive.
Your ability to read this letter is a victory beyond anything I could have imagined. When I promised to reanimate you, I didn’t comprehend the difficultly of that oath. I believed you’d be back with me in a year or perhaps two at the most.
The human body is beautiful but its complexities continue to be a mystery to me. But before I wax philosophical about the creation of the universe, let’s begin with the facts and what you’ll need to know as you recover.
You were cryopreserved for 12 years. And while you slept at -312 Fahrenheit, the virus raged.
I won’t lie. There were days, too many dark days, when I doubted you’d ever breathe again. Removing the cryopreservation chemicals and reintroducing 1.25 gallons of blood into your veins was an arduous process. Your liver wouldn’t filter the new blood properly. I gave you three transfusions. I was hours away from performing a transplant, though Lord help me, I didn’t know how with no medical team or surgical unit at my disposal.
You are in pain right now but please understand what a miracle you are. Your liver is functioning. Rose tells me you are able to sit up and keep food down. Excellent progress!
Be patient with yourself and be patient with me. Right now, I must stay away from the cave for your own protection. The reasons are too complicated to put in this letter but I will explain everything when we are face-to-face. Keep getting stronger and we will be reunited very soon.
With all my love,
I put the letter down on my lap, picked it up, and read my father’s words again. Twelve years. I’d been gone for twelve, damn years. I was 30 years old.
“Quick. I need, um, I need a mirror,” I touched my face, like my fingertips could tell me what I wanted to know. “And turn up the lanterns.”
“Rose, do you have a mirror in your gear?” Daisy asked.
“There are three in the charging vehicle,” you said. “I believe the smallest one will be best.”
I expected a hand mirror or maybe a compact mirror from a make-up bag. When you presented me with a rearview mirror, torn cloth and metal still clinging to the back, I blinked in confusion. “Holy crap, Rose. Did you rip this off the vehicle with your bare hands?”
“My apologies. Will it not meet your needs?” Your eyes were glistening, just seconds away from tears.
“Uh, no. I mean, yes. This mirror will work great.”
“Before you look at your reflection, let me fix your hair,” Daisy said. “Those braids need to come down.” She snapped the yarn securing the ends and ran her fingers through the tangled strands, setting my wild hair free. “Rose, please bring me a brush.”
Daisy started at the bottom, finding the knots and coaxing them away with gentle tugs. Between the pain reliever and the slow strokes of her hand, my headache lost some of its punch. The smell of lavender filled the cave as she opened a clear bottle, poured a puddle into her hands, and worked the oil through each of my corkscrew curls.
She stood back to examine the finished product. “Now you may look,” Daisy said.
I lifted the mirror. It wasn’t heavy but I struggled to hold the mangled thing steady. I’d half expected my hair to turn white after so many years in freezing temperatures but each strand was dark, shiny with oil, and no longer or shorter than it had been 12 years ago. My face and neck weren’t wrinkled but my brown skin looked unhealthy. The freckles across my nose had a hint of yellow. I wasn’t sure if the warm lantern light or my liver was to blame.
The big story in the mirror was my eyes. They were bloodshot with bruised, dark circles under each one. I thought my pupils were dilated but the eyelids around them were so swollen, I couldn’t tell.
“We’ll need more than just a hairbrush to fix this.” I touched the puffy skin. “I look like I’ve been in a fight.”
“Dr. Vega believes your eyes will improve as we wean you off the morphine,” Daisy said. “That drug was necessary when you first regained consciousness but–“
“But nothing,” I said. “I still need it. Everything hurts.”
“I just gave you acetaminophen and we will alternate that with ibuprofen. Morphine can cause breathing problems, sweating, and vomiting. It can also affect fertility. Your father’s directions were clear. No more morphine.”
“My fertility? Who gives a shit about my fertility? If he’s been dreaming about a grandchild the entire time I’ve been in cold storage, that’s his problem.”
“Your body is 18 years old and quite capable of conceiving a child. Daisy has been charting your menstrual cycles,” you said. “The first one was on June 23rd. Dr. Vega was excited to hear they have been quite regular.”
“God, that is so gross.” Heat flooded my face. What other personal details did these girlie drones share with my Papa? “No more period reports for Dr. Vega. Period. Do you understand me? I don’t care if he is your boss or Jedi master or whatever.”
“I am not owned by Dr. Vega.” Your smile was relaxed, as if you had no idea you were pulling the pin out of a live grenade. “Your father purchased me as a gift for you. Aina, you are my master.”
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A very interesting read! Your story kept raising questions and not all were answered but maybe that's just me being dumb! Look forward to reading more from you.
So many layers here, L.A.! The beginning, her experiencing the "angels" from within her coffin was really beautifully written. Absolutely loved this line - "My pain lived. It assaulted me, most often with an open hand that burned where it slapped." I still have so many questions, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed you might answer some in a sequel story! Well done!
Thank you Hannah! I appreciate your comments. It was a lot of fun to write. And yes, more in the story to come!