By the time Maria Esperanza realized she was killing her unborn child it was already far too late. She used to take comfort in the fact that it was not a fully developed child that grew inside of her but now the minute ripples of a new life was replaced by a tidal wave of grief.
In the delirium of her anesthesia the operating room floated above her and people in surgical mask shouted back and fourth. Pain and nausea coursed through her abdomen and there was a great ache in her vagina.
Maybe I'm dying, Maria thought dreamily. Maybe I'm dying before the eyes of my accomplices, these masked and murderous white people and I would absolutely deserve it.
Beads of sweat erupted across her body and with it a pitiful moan. She could feel the hollowness swelling inside of her, a vacuum, cold and empty and her pain eventually gave way to an over powering exhaustion.
It was all over now.
Maria closed her eyes and plummeted down into a vast, dreamless nothingness.
Far away voices beckoned Maria from her slumber. There was an odor of Pall Mall cigarettes and a certain, spicy aftershave. Diego, Maria's boyfriend, stood over her, concern etched onto his dark, roguish features. He slipped her small hand into his own and smiled down at her.
She smiled back at him. "Hey." It was a relief to be able to see his face again, to hold his hand, to not be dead.
"How you feeling?"
Maria tried to sit up but dull pain throbbed through her pelvic region. "My body hurts."
"The doctors say you lost a lot of blood but the operation was a success. It's over now."
Yes. It's all over now.
Although her earlier hysteria had subsided Maria still felt currents of regret lapping at her heart.
"Diego, did we make the right choice?"
"Oh baby, we made the only choice we could've. We just weren't ready."
Maria closed her eyes, said nothing. No, she thought. You weren't ready.
She felt the hand across her cheek, felt the pillow soft graze of lips across her forehead. "When the time is right we're gonna make great parents, you'll see, but until then what's done is done. Let's just enjoy our lives together yeah?"
Maria opened her eyes and stared into the smiling face of the man she had fell in love with. She could not fight back the tears that stung at her lashes and in their moment of embrace Maria hoped for a new beginning, that this day was the first of the rest of their lives.
Maria was released from the clinic that day. It was a bright Summer afternoon. Their car glided along wide, sun drenched parkways. A warm wind carried the jubilant cries of children. Diego asked her questions about her condition, puffed at his cigarette, asked her more questions. Maria answered him sparsely, relaxing as they made their way home. They eventually fell into a comfortable silence, the road whispering underneath.
Maria stared as they drove past a young mother pushing a baby cart, a little boy in tow.
"What would've been a good baby name?" she asked suddenly.
Diego stiffened at the wheel. "Ah c'mon baby not this bull again! You're only making it harder on yourself thinking about it!"
"I didn't mean anything by it I was just wondering and it's a good idea to think ahead if we're really serious that's all." Her words ran together in a blabber. She was nervous, and she didn't want to witness another one of his outburst. Not after today.
But as he drove the tension seemed to melt from his muscles. He ashed his cigarette out the window, took another drag. Exhaled.
"I don't know," he grumbled. "I always liked the name Edgar, after my granddad. Old man raised me more than my piece of shit dad, that's for sure."
Maria smiled. "Edgar is a lovely name, but we're gonna have a little girl first."
"Is that right?"
"Yep, a beautiful little girl named Liliana." She said the name in a sing-song, the syllables rolling off her tongue like silk.
"Liliana? That's a pretty name, but I would go with Rosita."
"No way, you dated a Rosita in high school!"
Diego shrugged. "We did more than just date."
Maria punched him playfully in the arm and they both laughed, pleasant music like the sound of life and freedom.
"Enough of this baby talk," Diego said. "We're gonna make this work, starting tonight. How 'bout we check out that new Mexican restaurant down the street from the apartment? My treat."
Maria was at him in an instant, soft lips pressing into the scruff of his cheek. "Thank you thank you oh baby thank you! I think that's just what we need, a nice evening out together!"
He flicked his cigarette butt out the window. "Everything's gonna be ok yeah? We just gotta take it slow, one day at a time."
They sped down tree lined avenues towards an empty home and the rest of their lives.
That evening Maria and Diego wore their best out to Sabrosos Family Restaurant. From the moment they walked through the doors Maria knew the food was going to be excellent. The air swam with the aromas of chili powder, hot charizo, the sweet fragrance of tortillas made with masa harina, cilantro, bell peppers, and the fiery tang of jalapeno.
The restaurant was filled to capacity with families and couples both young and old enjoying meals. A young hostess led Maria and Diego to booth seats along the side walls and took their orders. While they waited Maria sipped at a glass of ice water.
Diego chugged at two Lime Coronas.
The food was in fact excellent. Not quite as good as her mothers homemade recipes but better than she had a right to expect in the south suburbs of Chicago. The corn chips were crispy, the salsa thick and chunky, the chiliqutes rich and spicy enough to bring a numbness to her tongue. By the time they received their desserts maria was sufficiently stuffed but she couldn't help but make room for churros and avocado cheesecake. She bit into the moist cake and savored the delectable taste on her tongue as it cooled her sweltering mouth. She then took a forkful of cake, dipped it in the leftover salsa, and relished in the queer combination of flavors. Next up was a plump enchilada which she delicately unwrapped like a mother unveiling a newborn and spread its chicken innards across her sugary churros. Maria placed the churros before herself and stopped. She glanced at the other diners who were busy enjoying themselves and then at Diego as he forked a piece of flan into his mouth.
She brought the chicken churro to her mouth and devoured it in two bites. The other churros met the same fate and she chomped away so industriously flecks of crust sprinkled her chin and blouse. Even Maria didn't understand her irrational cravings but the more she ate the more her desires intensified. Diego placed another piece in his mouth and in her minds eye she chewed it for him, wondering how his pie would taste with guacamole -
"-Slow down girl you're eating like a damn gluton."
Maria blinked. He had been watching her shovel the churros in her mouth with a scowl. She finally took a moment to breathe and wiped the crumbs from herself. "I'm sorry, but the food here is just so good."
"Well at least eat like you have some sense, you're acting like a chola."
But Maria didn't hear him, she was already back at her dessert, mixing an empty tortilla shell with another slice of cheesecake. She bit into the misshapen sandwich with so much force that the cream cheese exploded over her fingers.
She dipped her fingers in the guacamole sauce and greedily licked at the digits, basking in the tangy sweetness -
"-MARIA!" The slap of his palm against the table made her blood freeze. "What the hell is wrong with you!"
Maria felt her cheeks burn coal red. There was a hush in the air, a few snickers, muted grumblings. She wiped at her sticky fingers with a napkin, her eyes downcast.
"Lo siento." she whispered.
"Pendeja,": he chided. "Get your purse, we're leaving."
Maria stared at the slop that had been her food, that looked like a child's finger painting project now and squeezed her eyes shut.
Suddenly she was wasn't hungry anymore.
Diego didn't say a word to her the entire way home, nor did he speak when they got ready for bed later that night. After brushing her teeth and peeing Maria stared at herself in the mirror. She was naked, hands on her wide hips, hips that were good for giving birth. She followed the curvaceous contours of her upper body up to her breasts, which had already began to sag but still carried dark, ripe nipples good for suckling. Her hands glided over the folds of her stomach, only a hollow echo inside of her now.
Maria sighed and slipped into her pajamas. She walked to the bed and gently laid on the other side. She stared at Diego's brown back, wishing he would speak to her and she to him so she would not spend her last waking hours in silence but as one thousand ticks pounded away the first day of the rest of their lives together the night seemed to become even longer.
If only there was one word, just one word.
Maria let her hand graze the cool space between them and for a moment she wanted to reach out and touch him, to caress him, but she snapped her hand back, hoping that her movement hadn't disturbed him. She consoled herself with the thought of peaceful days to come and the memory of days long past, of the golden innocence of her childhood and somewhere on the perpetual merry-go-round of remembrance Maria withered into sleep like a piece of burning paper.
In the dream darkness surrounded her on all sides. There was the sensation of weightlessness as she floated inside of a vast sea of nothing, entombed but not imprisoned, her own personal abyss.
This must be what death feels like, but if this is death then why can I feel the soft hues of shapes and sounds, how can I feel the snaky tendril of flesh coiling itself across my body and creeping around my neck, like a noose?
Maria awoke to an empty bed and a nauseous fatigue so powerful it felt like she was in the grasp of a particularly brutal hangover. She could hear Diego in the kitchen getting ready for work and talking on the phone. She could hear his laughter, hear the merriment in his voice.
She violently yanked the covers over her head in an attempt to drown him out but she could not drown out the quickening hysteria of her heart. Her stomach roiled with an oily sickness and Maria clamped a hand to her mouth as a cold sweat encased her body. From what seemed like a great distance the front door opened and closed with a bang.
Maria peeked from under the covers and breathed in the sepulcher like silence of the apartment.
Nothing. Not even a goodbye.
Maria crawled out of bed and felt her stomach roll with her. At first she lurched then she almost stumbled over herself to make it to the toilet in time where she violently threw up last nights dinner. When she was sure nothing else would come up she flushed the toilet and slumped against the seat, her breathing as labored as a dogs.
While the currents of nausea had waned in intensity, Maria could still feel a tightening cramp gnawing at her stomach, as if her insides had become a fist slowly clinching and unclinching. When the nauseous spell finally subsided she took a hasty shower and threw on a pair of jeans and sweatshirt.
Since her uncooperative stomach hadn't left her much of an appetite and there was nothing to watch on TV besides daytime dramas Maria decided to do some reading. She gathered magazine after magazine, ones that were just laying around and ones she had bought and looked at on other days and soon she was surrounded by piles of publications. She stared at the copy of Venidades in her lap and her hands opened and closed like tiny mouths. She would go through them page by page, word by word. Not an ad would go unnoticed, not a period unread because she was on a mission of discovery, for what she wasn't entirely sure.
She opened to the first page.
Her eyes raced over the text and pictures and before she knew it her fingers flickered to the next page and time passed and she sat there turning pages, her eyes as voracious as her stomach had been last night and she threw down the first magazine and seized the second, the third, hungrily taking in the people and the names in her minds eye.
Adriana, Alma, Arianna, Beatrice, Bernadina, Consuela, Clemencia, Liliana, Lola, Leanor...
The pages flew under her hands, the lines blurring together.
Jasmine, Josefina, Jessinda, Liliana, Leticia, Liliana, Lela, Liliana, Liliana, Liliana...
Maria blinked. From the bathroom she could hear a strange but unmistakable sound: the sound of a baby crying.
"Liliana?" She called, all pretenses of reading now lost. The cries became a wail of unholy indignation as she made her way to the bathroom and nestled inside of the sink was a beautiful fetus, its tiny appendages flailing madly for its mother.
"Oh baby mommas here now! It's ok!" Maria scooped up the bundle of pink flesh into her arms and cradled her baby, her Liliana, and she knew that everything was going to be ok. She would nurse her baby to full health and she and Diego would raise her with all the love and affection in the world because she deserved to be happy, they all deserved to be a happy family full of hope.
She rubbed at the rubbery little belly and coo'ed sweet nothings to her bundle of joy. The baby's wails seemed to become even louder, her eyes as black and shriveled as raisins.
"Hush now Liliana, everything's gonna be ok. What a beautiful little baby you are, yes you are! Are you hungry? Does baby -
-The sound of the bathroom door banging open was like a gunshot. The sponge flew from Maria's hands as she whirled around to face Diego who must have been standing in the doorway for some time because without a word he barged into the bathroom and slapped Maria right across the face.
"Estas loca!" He screamed at her. "You want a baby so fucking bad go open your legs to some other vato, I'm done with your bullshit!"
He stormed out of the bathroom, the scent of another woman's perfume in his wake. Maria stared at the sponge and she began to tremble, her breasts rising and falling, faster and faster, the air going in and out, a trickle of blood flowing down her chin from her busted lip. Her eyes were wide but unseeing.
"What's the matter bitch?" he continued from the kitchen. "No more baby talk?"
Nothing from her.
"You don't have a job, you can't do shit right, you would've made a horrible mom! You're not even a woman, just damaged goods!"
Not a word.
"Now Rosita Perez, there's a real woman! I know you remember her."
She didn't answer.
"I'm putting your things out tomorrow, see if you wanna be a fucking mute then."
Maria stood there, eyes wide, breasts moving up and down, nothing inside of her now. She thought she could hear the sound of a baby crying but it was just the telephone.