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Sunday, June 30, 2013

(“The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all…”) Proverbs 21:2

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspirtion

"The Migrant"

Chapter Four

Firebaugh, California, December 1966

Maria Lopez stood at the counter in her small kitchen, transforming little balls of dough into thin tortillas. As she finished rolling and stretching each one, she flipped them onto the hot iron griddle radiating on top of the brand new ‘Kitchenaire’ stove to her right. The appliance had been an early Christmas gift from her husband Victor. It was something she had been secretly hoping for, ever since they arrived here two years ago. That was when Victor had taken a new job as the harvest foreman on Senor Donnelly’s citrus ranch. Arthur Donnelly II was a bearish, gruff old man, but generous and fair to a fault if you asked anyone who had spent more than five minutes around him. And in 1964 while Maria was pregnant with her second child, he changed their lives with the offer of this job.

It provided them a new start in life, one with luxuries she never dreamed she would have. Things like a yard for the children to play in, a room for them to share, and running water in the house, praise God no more carrying water from a smelly old well! So in the light of their windfall, getting up early to start a fire in the wood-burning stove was a small burden, not worthy of audible complaint, especially for a good Christian woman. But still, to have heat at the turn of a knob, now that would be living! And so, since she believed in her heart that all prayers are answered sooner or later, here it was! Right after the spring harvest ended and work became scarce, Victor received a phone call from his brother Raymond in Fresno offering him a spot on his loading team for the summer. Of course they jumped at the chance to earn some extra money for the kids and themselves.

And earn he did, making a tidy sum ‘boosting’ on the lettuce and melon circuit from Fresno to Yuma. Keeping in character, he saved every dime for his family, sleeping in his truck and spending only what he needed for gas and food. ‘Boosting’ was a term for a day laborer who substituted for actual employees who might be sick or who wanted some time off without losing their jobs. The “boosting” laborers would then receive daily payouts in cash, no questions asked. In these situations, the Feds tended to look the other way to keep commerce moving. This hard working band of nomads would follow the freight trains as they stopped at each of the packinghouses on all the major farms from Central California to the Arizona border.

Sure, it was harder work than cutting, raking, and bailing hay or Sudan grass, which is what he would normally do between harvests, but the pay was much better, and their family was still growing. The days were long and hard, usually sixteen hours of back breaking lifting and stacking; all of it in and around an endless procession of superheated railroad cars. These were the kind of conditions that quickly weeded out the arrogant and unprepared. You know the types, the guys that dressed as if they were cutting Daddy’s lawn on the weekend. The mensas would show up wearing shorts and tank tops, and you just knew that these guys wouldn’t last a week. Hell, most wouldn’t finish the day.

Only the experienced and motivated lasted the whole summer, but the work could make a young man old way before his time. On top of all that, this kind of work took him away from home for three months at a time. And that was hard on the children, and on her as well, she missed keeping her cold feet warm next to him at night. But this was their world, and these opportunities were a Godsend. There were no eight to five, shirt and tie type jobs for those lacking a SSN or the right colored papers. Victor would say, “The Lord does his part and we do ours,” removing his hat and folding his hands in prayer fashion, just a hint of sarcasm in his voice, rolling his big brown eyes to the heavens.

“He provides the work, we bring the sweat,” he would finish, winking at whoever was nearby, taking a long drink from an ever-present can of beer. And, while he would have loved to give his wife something extravagant and sparkly, he knew how hard she labored, so he brought to her something that would make life a little easier. Now, every time she looked at the beautiful white stove and oven she would smile to herself. Her husband may be a man of few words, but his actions could fill a library, she thought to herself, smiling and humming ‘Monday, Monday’ by the ‘Mamma’s and the Papa’s’

“AIYE!” she yelped, burning her finger while turning a tortilla.

“That man had better eat a dozen of these before he rushes off to work,” she muttered while she sucked on her reddening thumb.

“Tina, breakfast is ready, go get your father, he’s outside by the truck,” Maria said to her daughter who had just walked into the kitchen.

“Si Mama,” she answered sleepily, going out the screen door, still rushing the tangles out of her hair.

She hopped down the wooden steps to the soft dirt and turned toward the garage. She could see her Father’s legs jutting out from under the pick-up where he was busy giving the truck a quick lube job with a grease gun. Caring for the equipment was just one of the endless lists of chores on a working ranch or farm. Tina walked over to where he was working and sat down on his boots.

“What the...OUCH!” Victor hollered, bumping his head on the driveshaft, startled by the sudden appearance of his daughter.

“Hora de comer papá, OK,” Tina said, cheerfully telling him it was time to eat, totally nonplussed by his little accident.

She stood up, her head down, her long hair hanging in her face while she combed out the tangles from underneath.

“PAPA, come ON!”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be right there mija,” he replied still rubbing the sting off his forehead. She swatted his boot with her brush, stamped her foot for effect then placed both hands on her tiny hips, and shot him the ‘look’ as she ran back towards the house.

It was shaping up to be the usual California Christmas weather wise, not a cloud in the sky, seventy-two degrees and just a whisper of a breeze. Tina could hear her little brother fussing as she got to the backdoor. Her mother was sitting at the kitchen table trying to feed Gilbert some scrambled egg and frijoles, but he wasn’t exactly cooperating. He kept turning his head as the spoon came close and had more food in his hair and his ears than he did in his mouth.

“Hold still gordito, do you want Papa to see you fussing and crying?” Maria said with a sigh, puffing her cheeks and blowing her hair away from her face.

Gilbert just squirmed all the more in his highchair, and started to put some real feeling into his wailing. The door swung open forcefully, slamming into the side of the house with a loud BANG!

“WHO IS MURDERING MY SON?” Victor said with a gasp, clutching his chest and winking at his wife.

“Madre Dios, my son, your mother has scared the beans right out of you!”

“And what is this yellow stuff, brains maybe?” Victor picked a clump of scrambled egg off Gilbert’s head and popped it into his mouth.

“Hey, these brains are good, maybe I should try some chicken too, no?” He quickly dropped to his knees grabbing his son’s chubby little arm and started gnawing on it, grunting like a feeding sow. Gilbert started to squeal with laughter, as he was familiar with this little game that his Father liked to play. Maria walked over to the two of them and snapped a wet dishtowel at her husband.

“Honey please! This child’s a mess, and all my hard work is getting cold!”

“Eat your breakfast while I clean him up,” Maria said giggling, wiping the beans from her son’s face.

“OK, OK, we surrender General,” her husband said, bowing deeply, waiving his hat in a mock salute.

He playfully slapped his wife on her bottom as he passed her, making his way to the kitchen table. Maria yelped, “Behave, there was time for that this morning, remember?” she smiled and then blushed when she noticed her daughter was watching them. Tina just grinned at her, showing off her missing front teeth, waiving at her Father as he came near her chair. He sat beside her and helped himself to some eggs, beans, and a couple of the warm tortillas from under the covered plate. The steam rose from under the towel and the aroma of fresh tortillas filled the room. Victor tore off a section of a folded tortilla and scooped up a healthy bit of the tasty dish, eating sumptuously.

“Victor, slow down, and use your fork!” she pleaded.

“Por favor, can you at least try to help me teach these children some manners!”

Her husband picked up a napkin, wiped his fingers clean and capitulated. Picking up his fork, he held it daintily in his right-hand, pinky finger extended, and continued feeding himself. Maria shook her head in frustration and returned to cleaning up her son. Just another everyday at the Lopez casa, she was happy, the children were happy, and he was loco!

By 9am, the morning rush had ended and a rare silence hung over the household. Victor had driven off to start the ‘wets’ on opening the turnouts in the orange groves. They would be getting water from the County share wells later this morning for irrigation, so the family would not be seeing him again until late in the day. Maria was busy bathing and dressing Gilbert, looking forward to a little time to herself, once she handed him off to his sister to baby-sit of course. And, Tina was taking advantage of the lull in the daily routine, lying quietly on her bed watching the sunlight streak through the window curtains. The patterns on the white lace produced beams of light in various shapes, going every which way. You could see the dust particles hang on each beam, giving the illusion that they were in motion. She lay on her side, her knees pulled to her waist, dangling a foot over the edge of the bed. She twirled her foot around and around until her sandal dropped, making her smile for some reason. A game she must have been playing perhaps, who knows what a child is really thinking anyway?

Tina’s peace and quiet was abruptly interrupted when her mother walked into the room carrying her brother. It’s funny how all women have that natural instinct about toting children around. Men just don’t get it, they all look like they are carrying a football or taking out the trash. But women, all women, even little girls, pick up children the same way. In one smooth motion they scoop them up swinging out their hip and settling the child in that “sweet spot” where the kids weight is totally supported and the stress on the woman’s back is minimal. And the kids love it, sorta like riding a hobbyhorse really.

“Mija, look after your brother while I start the laundry. You can help me hang the clothes on the line later, and then we can make a nice lunch together.

“OK Mama, OK”

Her mother set Gilbert on the floor and then left the room. Tina watched him sit there for a minute, looking around the room for something to pounce on. Fixing his eyes on her bookcase, he tipped himself over in the general direction of his target, and started crawling to beat all get out. He was really able to walk now, but he was a lazy child and preferred to crawl than to exert the extra effort to stand. Tina jumped up from her bed to head him off before he reached her books. A six-year-old typically doesn’t have too many treasures, but her books, especially the Dr. Seuss books, were her gems. She loved when her father read to her whenever he had some free time. ‘Hop on Pop’ was her favorite, Papa’s too. He sometimes asked to borrow it after he finished the story.

“I think your mother needs to hear this story again,” he would say as he turned out the light. Then Tina would hear her mother laughing heartily in the kitchen.

“Aiye Victor, you’re impossible!”

“If you want to please me so much pick up a towel and start drying,” she would say just before the giggling started. Frustrated but not angry, her brother diverted his attention to the stuffed tiger in the corner, and settled on wrestling with that for the moment. Tina picked up an old deck of cards and sat on the floor next to him. She flashed the cards to him one at a time trying to coax him into repeating her words.

“Jack, say Jack gordito”

Gilbert just sat there, the tiger’s tail in his mouth. The most she could get him to do was grunt, it would do for now, he was smiling at least. The telephone rang loudly in the hall. It was mounted high on the wall to keep it out of the reach of curious rug racers. Maria picked it up on the third ring, running in from the service porch off the kitchen.

“Bueno” she said into the handset.

Curious, Tina walked towards the hall stopping to lean against the doorjamb. She reached up and fiddled with the long black cord, swinging it back and forth between the wall and her mother’s leg. Gilbert appeared at her feet and pulled himself up by her pant leg, standing next to her. She leaned over to pick him up, but he was too heavy to hold for very long. So she sat down on the floor with him in her lap. She listened as he mumbled something unrecognizable into her right ear while trying to hear her mother’s conversation with the left one.

“Si, I know, I know” Her mother’s tone was sympathetic and she was nodding her head in agreement with whatever the caller was saying. Tina wondered what they were talking about, but she knew it wasn’t good by the look on Mama’s face.

“Si, bueno, we will be here, see you when you get here, I’ll make coffee,” she said and then replaced the handset to the phone cradle. Maria chewed on her thumbnail, a habit from childhood, one she exercised every time she was uneasy about something. She looked down at her children and then knelt beside her daughter.

“Little one, you know your friend Hector from school?” Tina nodded and smiled, “yes,” she said cheerfully.

“That was his sister Rosa on the telephone, you remember her don’t you?”

“Yes,” she said still smiling.

“Honey, Hector’s sister is going to have a baby soon,” Maria said, searching her daughter’s face for a sign that she understood.

“Si mama, I know” she replied, watching their tabby, El Guapo jump onto the windowsill.

“Mija can you help her, the way you helped the others?” she asked, pausing for a reply.

Maria was not comfortable dealing with these things. She prayed to God each day to take back this gift he had given to her little girl. She did not want this for her, for any of them. In her heart, she knew it was a call to serve, but in the same heart, she knew that it was too much to ask of one so small. It seemed too much to ask of anyone, and she was terrified of the potential consequences. Given their illegal residence status, Maria always worried about deportation, forced to leave behind what they had worked so hard for. To be sent back into abject poverty, to the country she was born to. Those in their situation knew better than to call too much attention to themselves lest the wrong people took notice.

Ever since that day in the field, when Tina laid her hands on the dead baby, their lives ceased to be normal. Each day someone new appeared at the door, searching for a miracle. They came at all hours, each with a need more pitiful or heartbreaking than the one before. After a couple of months of constant appeals, the strain on her family became too much to bear. Victor quit his job and moved them all to Fresno to stay with his brother and his family. They all shared a home in town, eleven people in four rooms and no bath. What work he could find was hard and seasonal, and he earned what he could as a laborer at various construction sites. Living in the city brought new hazards. In particular, the constant threat of INS raids and the stigma of being necessary but unaccepted, unwanted. But, even with the hardships, at least there was peace again in their lives.

They were far enough away from the past that they could live freely, without intrusion, left blissfully alone. Now the new job, the newfound success had brought them back into contact with the past. She had hoped that enough time had passed, that people would have forgotten about them, and that they could return to hide in plain sight. However, it was not to be, and days after they arrived in their new home, the pilgrims came with their sad stories. Unable to deny her daughter’s destiny any longer, Maria made a pact with God. If he would protect Tina from the wolves, she would turn no one away, they would give of themselves, joyfully and completely.

“Nina, did you hear me?”

“LaTina, answer your mother” she said sternly, lifting Tina’s chin with her index finger.

“Yes Mama, I heard you. Can I have some Kool-Aid?” she asked, moving her brother from her lap to the floor, he was falling asleep anyway.

“If your father left any you can, go into the kitchen while I put your brother in his bed”

They got up simultaneously and went in opposite directions. Tina went right to the fridge and pulled out the plastic container of ‘Goofy’ Grape’ Kool-Aid. Setting it on the kitchen table, she dragged a chair over to the counter and climbed up to reach the cabinet where the glasses were stored. She picked out her favorite jelly jar glass, the one with Barney and Betty Rubble on it. While she was carefully pouring her drink, there was a loud knock at the screen door. Startled she spilled a little on the Formica tabletop.

“OOPSY,” she said, looking over her shoulder to see if anyone had seen. Tina grabbed a handful of napkins from the holder on the table and mopped up the spill while she leaned forward and slurped her drink reducing the volume to a manageable level. She heard the screen door rattle again with another loud rap.

“Maria, ola Maria,” a woman said from the back porch.

“Una momento por favor, I’ll be right there Rosa,” Tina’s mother called from the back bedroom. The door opened and Hector’s sister walked into the kitchen.

“Ola nina, you are my brother’s little friend, no?” Rosa asked as she approached the table cautiously.

“Yes,” Tina replied her Kool-Aid in one hand and holding onto the back of a chair with the other.

She was standing on one foot while she kicked the other back and forth nervously like she needed to tinkle or something. She watched the woman waddle slowly to the table and pull out a chair. Rosa looked at the chair with a sad face and sighed, “Oh my goodness, these things seem lower and lower the fatter I get,” she said to herself. Taking in and letting out a deep breath, she tugged on the chair again to allow herself maximum clearance. She steadied herself, one hand on the table, one hand on the chair as she sat down. It was more of a controlled crash really, but by the look of relief on her face, you could tell she was pleased with the landing.

“So little one, you’re the angel everyone whispers about,” she said reaching behind her and rubbing her sore back.

Tina did not reply she just stood there swinging her foot and holding her glass up to her mouth, not really drinking, just standing by. The woman made her uneasy, and she could see that she was anxious about something. Likewise, Rosa did not like the way the little girl stared at her, but she was afraid to say anything, to upset her in any way. If what they said about her was true, she needed her more than anything right now. Rosa Hernandez very was young, but she instinctively knew something was wrong, her baby had not moved in days, and then there was the spotting during the past few days as well. But there was no money for visits to the doctor, or time to visit the clinic, not that she wanted to go there again anyway.

It was an earlier visit to that place that put her in this condition after all. That baby-faced, gringo doctor, pretending to be so helpful, so pious, she thought. He was just helping himself to what he really wanted from all the pretty young women and girls. His victims were the most vulnerable. Those who could not hope for protection from the authorities, or from a community that refused to recognize or even acknowledge their existence. She wished she had the courage to tell her mother and father the truth, but she needed to protect her family. Who would the police believe anyway, a couple of ‘wetback’ pickers or a respected member of the Anglo community, there could be no justice, not for them. It was just as easy to make up a story about a pretend boyfriend to appease her angry family, than to risk their very livelihood on the truth. Now this, what could she do, she was more frightened of disappointing her parents than she was of meeting this little girl, angel or devil, she wasn’t sure which it would be yet.

“Rosa, Rosa, are you comfortable mija?” asked Maria as she jogged into the room carrying Gilbert on her hip. She glanced quickly in Tina’s direction and then set her son down on the kitchen floor, handing him a cookie from the jar on the counter and then taking a seat between her daughter and her visitor.

“I am OK Senora Lopez, I mean I think I’m OK?” she replied not very convincingly. She fidgeted in her seat a little trying to get comfortable. That was when Maria noticed the small dark stain on the young woman’s sweatpants. She had been hoping that this would just be a false alarm. The poor girl was only upset and wanted to talk to someone older. to say things to her that perhaps she was unable to say to her own mother. That wasn’t going to be the case, she realized that now, as the bloodstain darkened and grew larger. She wished Victor were here right now, to take charge, he was so much better under pressure, especially when it would involve their child and the power.

“OH MY GOD!” Rosa shrieked as she became aware of her worsening situation.

She tried to stand but she was sitting awkwardly, and there was blood on the linoleum floor now. Each time she tried to stand her sneakers would squeak as she lost traction in the warm sticky spill spreading on the floor. Maria ran behind her and lifted Rosa from under her arms, kicking the chair across the room as she did so. Together they got to the floor and Maria laid the terrified girl onto her back.

“Quiet Rosa, be quiet and very still mijita!” she snapped at her out of fright, not anger.

She went to the sink and splashed her face with cold water then soaked a washcloth. She dabbed her face dry and then went to Rosa and placed the cool towel on her forehead. The frightened girl was instinctively taking small quick breaths trying to calm herself. Her eyes showed that she was responding to Maria’s calm handling of the situation. This was good news because Maria was really on the brink of hysteria herself, but when she saw the weak smile on Rosa’s face silently saying to her ‘I trust you,’ she found herself back in control.

“Be still little mother, I think that your baby wants to be born now, one way or the other,” (meaning live or dead). Rosa was sweating even with the cold washcloth on her head. She continued to smile weakly and to breathe in quick little gasps.

“Please Senora, please, this kid feels like a stone, my belly is cold like a tomb, feel it, TOUCH IT!”

Maria placed her hand under the young girl’s blouse and felt her stretched skin. She pressed slightly and thought she could feel a foot or something, but the girl was right, her skin was cold to the touch, even with all of that warm blood running through her, she was freezing. Uncharacteristically, she formulated a plan quickly. The baby needed to be delivered soon, or the young mother might die as well. She got up, quickly, rummaging through the utensil drawer and found the sharpest knife she owned. Running back to Rosa she dropped to her knees and lifted the front of her sweatpants, then swung the sharp knife in a short downward arc, and sliced them open to the crotch, exposing her. She was surprised that Rosa’s water had not broken yet, and that her vagina was not the slightest bit swollen or discolored in preparation for giving birth. She wasn't a practicing mid-wife, but she'd delivered two children of her own and felt as though she knew what was normal, and what to expect. At that exact moment there was a loud scream and the sound of breaking glass just behind her.

“WHAT ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH IS GOING ON HERE!” screeched the woman who had just entered the house. Senora Donnelly was standing just inside the kitchen having come in through the open front door. She must have witnessed Maria hacking open the bleeding young woman’s pants and then dropped the cake she had brought over for the family. Lord knows what was running through her mind just then, but Alma Donnelly was no shrinking violet, and it didn’t take Maria many words to explain the situation.

“All right dear, it’s all right, I’ll call for help, you stay with the girl,” she said calmly. Alma knelt beside Rosa and pushed her wet hair away from her face. She smiled at her reassuringly.

“You’re going to be fine baby girl, you’re going to be just fine, I promise.”

She was so convincing, that Maria even believed it herself for a second, but she couldn’t wait for help, the nearest hospital was twenty miles away. She leaned forward and whispered to Rosa that she was going to have to touch her and see if she was close to delivering. Rosa nodded and continued breathing in short quick breaths. Maria went to the sink and washed her hands as clean as she could and then returned to Rosa, her hands still dripping from the scrubbing. She smiled weakly at Rosa and then reached down to inspect her body to see if her cervix was dilating. Maria was trying to remember everything that the doctors had done to her when she was giving birth, so that she could repeat the process as best she could. Rosa’s voice squeaked slightly as Maria entered her, and she stared at the ceiling wincing occasionally until Maria finished her amateur exam.

“Oh my goodness Rosa, I don’t know, I don’t know, you don’t feel ready, you’re still too tight, the opening is too small," Maria said quietly, a worried look on her face.

Where was all this blood coming from if not the placenta in the preamble to birth? Suddenly she got it, the baby, the baby was bleeding out somehow, it was why Rosa’s body was so cold, there wasn't any need for her heart to pump blood to a dead child. She looked to Rosa, her eyes glistening, a weak smile turning to a trembling chin. Before she could get the words out, a hand appeared suddenly on her shoulder startling her. It was Tina, Maria had forgotten that she was there. She had been standing by watching the whole thing, never saying a word, never making a sound. Maria reached for her and Tina eased into her mother’s arms. Her daughter whispered into her ear, “I can help now mama.” Tina's rested her head on her mother’s shoulder, twirling her hair with her tiny fingers.

“How is our patient?” asked Alma walking back into the room.

“There's an ambulance is on the way, it won’t be long now,” she added.

Maria didn’t answer right away. She just hugged her daughter tightly and then let her go to do what only she could. It would all be out in the open now she thought to herself. Senora Donnelly was about to witness something that she would not believe much less understand. Nobody outside of this close-knit community would be able to keep this a secret, not for long anyway. Many more pilgrims would come, then the curious, and finally the police, they always came in the end. But now was not the time to be selfish, she had made her pact with God, she had done her part, she would have faith, and she would trust that He would to do his part as well.

“It’s dead,” Rosa said sobbing quietly. “My baby’s dead,” she recited to herself over and over. Maria reached down and stroked the girl’s hair wiping the tears from her cheek.

“Please little one, por favor, bring her back, bring my baby back,” Rosa said weakly to Tina who was peering at her from her mother’s side.

“What is she talking about Maria?” Alma asked as Tina knelt beside Rosa, taking her hand.

“Maria, what's going on?” Alma demanded. Maria rose to her feet and walked over to Senora Donnelly. She cupped her face in her hands and looked deeply into her eyes. Alma Donnelly raised her hands and placed them over Maria’s, holding her gaze and then asked again, in a hushed voice, “What’s happening?”

“God’s work Senora, God’s work,” Maria answered without looking back at Tina and Rosa.

Alma Donnelly leaned to her right, her face still in Maria’s hands, and watched as the little girl lay down beside Rosa, her knees bent and her body still exposed stretched out on the cold kitchen floor. Tina put her arm onto Rosa’s swollen stomach and scootched as close to her as she could. Her little face was near Rosa’s breast and she began to hum to herself a tune that she had made up, nothing that anyone would recognize really. She rubbed her little hand back and forth across Rosa’s belly as if she was scratching an itch. Senora Donnelly watched intently, unable to speak, not even trying to pull away from Maria’s grasp. Tina rubbed and rubbed, still humming her tune, when all of a sudden she began to tremble as if chilled to the bone. She clutched at Rosa’s blouse and buried her face in the space between Rosa’s arm and chest. The young mother gasped as a ripple of movement made its way across her belly. THE BABY had rolled, and she felt a familiar kicking. She had convinced herself only moments ago, that she never feel that again. Mrs. Donnelly pushed away from Maria’s hold and shrieked.

“Jesus H. Christ, this girl is giving birth, RIGHT NOW!”

She ran to Rosa and knelt between her legs, arriving just as her water broke. The warm liquid spread quickly across the floor, mixing with the blood, making an eerie pink mosaic on the speckled linoleum. Rosa began to scream as the contractions came, one after the other, she was already in transition. Maria snapped out of her trance and rushed to help with the birth, grabbing a towel from the laundry basket near the back door. A moment after she knelt beside Senora Donnelly the baby came, cold and blue. Alma, held the tiny girl in her hands, she was so small and definitely not breathing. The women looked at one another and then yelped as the afterbirth immediately followed the baby.

Maria picked up the knife she had used to cut open Rosa’s sweatpants and cut the umbilical cord. Alma reached her pinky finger into the newborn’s mouth and fished out a wad of mucus. Then placing her mouth over the baby’s mouth she blew in a quick, hard puff of air causing the baby's cheeks to swell and mucus to shoot out of its nostrils. A split second later Rosa’s newborn daughter let out a loud cry, wailing long and hard. Maria wrapped the child tightly in the warm towel as the two women began to laugh uncontrollably, hugging one another while the baby cried and cried between them. Looking over to Rosa, they were alarmed to see that she was unconscious, but then were relieved when they saw that she was still breathing, her chest rising and falling rhythmically. She was OK, just exhausted, too weak to enjoy the moment.

Outside the long singsong siren of an approaching ambulance could be heard, growing louder as it drew nearer to the house. Alma Donnelly got up, ran to the bedroom, and fetched a blanket off of Maria’s bed. She modestly covered Rosa’s exposed little body and stared down at Tina sleeping peacefully at her side. Senora Donnelly tucked the blanket under the chin of Rosa, making sure Tina was covered as well. She leaned down and kissed each of them and then joined Maria at the sink where she was cleaning the newborn with a warm washcloth. Alma put her arm around Maria and lay her head on her shoulder.

“So, it's true, all the stories that they tell around the valley, are true,” she said in a whisper.

“Yes Alma, si Senora, its all true, all of it.”

Mrs. Donnelly turned and looked back at the pair of girls sleeping peacefully on the floor, the one not all that much older than the other. She wiped a tear as it fell from her eye and turned back to see Maria leaning against the counter, the newborn quiet in her arms, the two women smiled at one another from across the room. Tina's little brother, Gilbert, interrupted the brief moment of silence as he toddled into the kitchen, a binky in one hand and a jelly stained teddy bear in the other. Senora Donnelly scooped him up, and swung him into that ‘sweet spot’ on her hip and flashed a smile at Maria.

“Everyone else seems to have a child to hold, I don’t want to feel left out,” she said smiling.

Maria laughed and nodded her head approvingly.

“We did OK, didn’t we Alma,” she said with a sigh. Alma nodded back and set Gilbert on the counter handing him a cookie from the jar. She looked out the kitchen window, the ambulance had just pulled up to the house, a cloud of dirt swirling all around it as it came to a stop.

“Maria, this stays between us, you can count on me,” she said still looking out the window.

“Gracias Senora, thank you.”

The ambulance attendants rushed in through the back door and went straight to work. Maria thought about what she might say to Victor when he asked how her day was. She smiled to herself and kissed the newborn. I hope your mother names you Elena, I’ve always liked that name, beautiful and strong, it suits you little one, it suits you. She handed the baby to one attendant and took her own daughter from the other. Tina was fast asleep, her long hair hanging over Maria’s arm as she held her.

“Do you know how special you are?” she whispered, kissing her daughter softly.

“But what will become of you mija, what’s to become of you now?”

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