She’d been clamping down on tears from the moment Charles moved away from her, but now that she was free to cry, it seemed the tears had frozen into a hard lump inside her.
She sat trembling, until she could once again rely on her self-control, then she returned to her apartment, where Cora was reading to Marisol while Carlito played on the floor.
“Lu lu lu,” Carlito crooned. She picked him up and buried her face in his neck, tickling him until he giggled in delight.
From the look Cora gave her, Luz knew she wasn’t fooling the elderly woman one bit. Cora knew she was upset. Nothing was said, however, until after Marisol and Carlito went to bed. When Luz came back to the living room after reading Marisol her bedtime story, Cora was sitting on the sofa, working a crossword puzzle.
“Do you know who the sixteenth president was, Luz?”
“Wasn’t it Lincoln?” Luz sat next to Cora and picked up a book.
“Yes, of course it was.” Cora finished writing then closed the puzzle book and pushed her reading glasses up on her head. “There’s a story I’ve been wanting to tell you, dear. I’ve been waiting for just the right moment, but it never seems to come. Would you mind if I told you now?”
“Sure. Okay.” Letting the book fall closed, Luz curled her feet beneath her and turned to face Cora.
“I told you a little white lie. Habit, I suppose. Although nobody’s left alive it would matter to in the least.” Cora fiddled with the puzzle book. “You see, David was more than my fiancé. We fell in love, and I took him home so he could ask my father for my hand in marriage. My parents were...well, I suppose they didn’t want me to be hurt, but the things they said did hurt. We got married, secretly, right before David was sent to San Diego to complete his flight training. I joined him there to be with him as long as possible.”
Cora’s voice took on a dreamy quality, and her eyes appeared unfocused. “I went by train. It was summer, and the trains were packed. It took five days to get there although it seemed a lot longer. While I was there, David and I spent every minute together we could, but it was no time at all before he shipped out. I came back to Denver, and shortly after that, I realized I was pregnant.”
But Cora had told them she had no children. Luz hugged a pillow, wondering what happened to the baby and what the story had to do with anything, but willing to listen anyway.
“Right before our baby was due, I received notification that David’s plane was missing. He flew a cargo route over what they called the Hump. The Himalayas. If a plane went down...well, there wasn’t much chance of anybody surviving. But a person always hopes, don’t they, if they don’t know for sure.”
Cora’s hands stilled, and her voice slowed. “Not long after that our baby was stillborn. A little girl. They wouldn’t let me see her. In those days, they thought it was better. That it made it easier. It didn’t though.”
Luz sat barely breathing.
“It was probably a week later that Margaret, the friend I lived with, woke me to tell me she’d had the most amazing dream. In her dream we were all in David’s church. He was a Christian Scientist, you see. Margaret described the church and the service, and all of it was exactly as I remembered from the times I’d gone with David. But Margaret had never been in that church, had never attended a service there. Still, her description was exactly right.
“In her dream, when the service ended and we got up to leave, David asked her to stay a moment. He was holding an infant, and he leaned toward Margaret and moved the blanket off the baby’s face and said, ‘Isn’t she beautiful.’ He was smiling, Margaret said. David had the most wonderful smile. Then he told Margaret to tell me he wouldn’t be with me for a while, but he loved me and was proud of me, and he and Clarissa would be waiting for me.”
Cora pulled out her handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “That’s what I named her. Clarissa. But I hadn’t told Margaret that.”
In the silence that followed, Luz thought about the story, still uncertain why Cora had told it and feeling confused as well.
“If David wanted you to know he and the baby were together and they were all right, why didn’t he appear in your dream instead of Margaret’s?”
The old woman nodded. “Yes, I wondered that, too. But then I decided if I’d had the dream, it might have comforted me for a short time, but I would have eventually convinced myself I’d made it all up, and it wasn’t real. But by showing Margaret a place she’d never seen, a place she was able to describe in perfect detail in order to convince me she’d seen both it and David...and her knowing Clarissa’s name. Well, it made me believe, without any doubts. I still missed David and Clarissa, but I no longer felt such despair.”
“It’s a wonderful story.” Luz wished Mami and Papi would find a way to let her know they were okay.
“It changed my life.” Cora spoke simply. “It proved to me we are being watched over with love and caring, even when things look their darkest.”
“That’s hard to believe sometimes.”
“I know it is, dear.” Cora patted her on the arm. “That’s why I wanted to tell you about it.”
Luz thought of the dark times she’d come through. Right now was harder somehow. Death brought a finality one had to begin at some point to accept. But Charles was alive, closed off from her by his own choice. The pain of that was specific and particular, and it wasn’t eased by Cora’s story.
Later though, she found the story did help with her grief for her parents, grief the imminent return to Scottsbluff had intensified.
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