Would he allow his heart to break just this once?
He stood at the door of her darkened room. She was asleep. The moonlight wavered as a slight breeze rustled the window curtains. The cathedral tower bell tolled three times followed by three echoes. A strain of mariachi music found its way through the empty streets. He felt heaviness in his chest as he looked down at his sister’s face, which had recovered in sleep its childlike innocence. He wanted to approach and sit beside her bed. He wanted to hold her protectively like he had done so many times when they were children. And he ached to hear the words she always found to sustain him.
He almost said her name, Marcela, but then recalled the signs that he had seen in Carmelo’s men—the false affability and the shamefaced avoidance. Earlier that day, Alberto had failed to show for the rendezvous. The roads out of the town were now blocked. He had no doubt what this meant. Odds were that tomorrow he would die. Die because of her.
And if he got beyond the wall of death separating tomorrow from the rest of his days, he would have to live for them.
Two years ago, she had asked him to take her to the Indians in the mountains, the Puman people of their maternal grandmother. He agreed, and there it had begun. Marcela had been happy and excited about their little adventure, forgetting her natural shyness and reserve for a few days.
He remembered the villagers surrounding them in a small field near where the massacre had taken place—thirty or so, wearing bright colored blouses and serapes over their white tunics. Most held machetes or atlatls—sticks that slung feathered darts—a few brandished ancient rifles.
He remembered the bodies lying on the grass in front of the poor adobe huts. He heard the question in their dialect and then repeated haltingly in Spanish: “Are you like the others?”
Marcela was kneeling over a little boy, her hands underneath his head and legs as if she wanted to cradle him, but she didn’t because the child was beyond any comfort she could give.
“Are you like the others who did this?” They demanded of him.
“No, I’m not like those who did this,” he replied to the question in their dialect. “Cowards kill women and children. I’m not a coward.” He turned slowly, making eye contact with each of them and added, “Fools leave those alive who will take vengeance. I’m not a fool.”
Marcela stood, oblivious of the threat to her life. She asked: “Raul, how can this happen?”
“We must go,” he had urged her. “They will take care of their own.”
“We can’t just go. We must call the police.” She spread her arms, the gesture encompassing the site of the massacre.
“I will talk to Carmelo when we get back.” He would have said anything, truth or lie, to convince her to leave.
“Raul, how can this happen?” Her words now sounded more like a plea than a question. When he struggled for a reply, she asked softly, “Can Carmelo do something?”
“Trust me, I will see justice done.” He walked up to her and took her hand.
For a moment, her face showed disbelief and despair.
“Trust me to do the right thing,” he reassured her and taking her other hand held both to his chest.
She nodded indicating she would.
Since then, Marcela smiled less, going deeper into herself, guarding her feelings carefully as if she were afraid of them.
A month later he returned to the village to see justice done as he had promised her.
Raul walked to the bed and leaned over and whispered, “Marcela.” Years ago, he would have touched her shoulder to wake her, and she would have opened her eyes unafraid because she knew his touch and would sit up to listen to his dreams or what was troubling him.
Her chest heaved with an unconscious sigh.
“Sweet Marcela, did you trust me in the end or did you betray me?”
Fearful of the answer, he straightened and walked out of the room, his heart not quite broken.