Marcelina was an almost spectral shade of white. The color was more than ever disturbing to Dolça, her lady’s maid, who had, after three hours of aiding the Marquesa, begun to perspire as dangerously as her patient. But in her pool of sweat, tinged with blood, Marcelina was growing alarmingly cold, and with this sickened chill came an intense and unrelenting pain throughout her body. The wrenching spasms that had begun this episode had long since passed, having drained her of much blood. The miscarriage was over. The bleeding, however, was not stopping as it had done naturally in the past. Marcelina did not need to see Dolça’s terrified look to know that she was bleeding dangerously. The lady’s maid dreaded realizing that she had not made any progress with her mistress. She labored all the more intensely to resolve the helpless situation.
Veronica had sat on a chair near the bed, out of Dolça’s way. She was trembling with the weight of the whole day. Her mind had ceased to attempt any sort of useful comprehension. She simply let a series of benign facts rotate before her: Dídac does not love me. Dídac slept with me in my bed. Dídac never wants to see me again. Aunt Marcelina had a miscarriage, yes, a miscarriage, that is what it was! Marcelina had been pregnant without allowing me to know she had taken on a new lover. Marcelina is growing gravely ill with the hemorrhage in her womb. Marcelina might die and I will have no one. No one. I have a list of family members somewhere to whom I am only slightly acquainted with, and that is to say I know their names and locations. I do not even have a fiancé with family to turn to. And the chances that I will not somehow fall into dishonor as a result of this is impossible.
A whisper sounded in the storm, drawing the girl back from those thoughts.
It was Marcelina who called to her.
Veronica rose to stand by the bed, unable to respond in any other manner. Dolça moved opposite of the girl, defeated and numb. The sound of the Marquesa’s voice was bringing tears to the nurse’s eyes, and with a horrible gush, they washed her round face, releasing a tortured sob. Her breaths came like the pain of a wounded animal.
“Veronica,” her aunt whispered again, opening her eyes to see that the girl was beside her. “Veronica, it’s over. Dolça won’t tell me so, but her eyes can’t hide the truth, and so she covers them.”
The girl could feel the structure of her own detachment disintegrating. In a surge, the indescribable pain of it all rushed up to overtake her. Her eyes, she thought, her aunt’s eyes had such a resigned despair. This would not resolve itself with anything short of the woman’s death. The nurse knew it and so did Marcelina. Somehow Veronica had known it too, she had known for hours now, known it without consciousness or words. It was a scent in the room, this death that she prepared herself for, having crept in through the window and swirled about the floor at her aunt’s feet, waiting for just one chance to rise up her legs and strike the final blow.
“Veronica, listen. You are a woman, more of a woman than I could’ve dreamed for you. I have taught you everything that can be learned without living a lifetime, and you are prepared to have a life that you want. My words will be with you, but you will be alone now, and I must release you to live your life. What has happened between you and Dídac has been my mistake, my own downfall. But it does not matter, any of it. You, dear, you are all that matters now. You must live your life, you must not hear any words but these I say. You must live your life as you would have it. There is no one who can stop you. No one who can turn you away from your heart. Oh, they will all try to stop you, but they are powerless.”
The Marquesa looked again at the older woman who had kept her confidence for more than fifteen years. The pain in the woman’s face was too much for her to reveal and she covered it with both hands as she wept.
“You must promise me that you will care for Dolça. No one has ever been more loyal in this world, and you must see to it to take her with you wherever you go. Care for her and comfort her, for none of this is her fault, and she suffers nevertheless.”
The Marquesa’s breathing was shallow and her eyes closed in fits as she tried to remain conscious for the girl.
“You must resolve yourself on the truths I’ve told you and follow the course it leads you on. Do this not for me and do this for yourself. You can have anything, Veronica, anything.”
Marcelina’s breaths came painfully now, as she suffered in her inability to say all that she wanted. The words could not come. Something more she must say, but her mind was losing its bearing and flying until she forgot who she was.
“I can’t remember anything else...it doesn’t matter. I love you.”
Veronica looked to her aunt in agony. Even the haze from her teared vision could not blur what she saw.
Marcelina was dead.
The late morning sun flooded the room with a painful light and a terrible silence that rang in Veronica’s ears.
Veronica had sat by the bed for hours and it was near dark now. She had held her aunt’s hand for a long time, stroking the delicate white skin of her wrist as the day drew out.
Her thoughts were not as they had been, distant and unthreatening. Instead, she felt now the sharp point of every emotion. The feelings had mixed and magnified until they were one single sword that lanced her body in ceaseless little slashes.
She believed that she was lost, utterly blind and without a shred of hope. This was a catastrophe that should never have occurred. All of it seemed like a dream, some vicious flight of dream that would not allow her to move within it but kept her chained in a horrifying state of sensory deprivation.
Veronica had been left alone in her aunt’s bedroom with the body. No one had come yet to take her away, no one had come to tell her that she must let them take the body away. She did not know what she would have done if they had. She was grateful beyond reason not to have had the body taken from her. She would not have let go of it, had they come. She could not think of a worse fate than releasing her aunt’s hand before the answer had come to her. Veronica had resigned herself to simply sit and wait for hope to return to her; the answer must come soon.
At last, a knock at the door sought her out of the darkness. Veronica could hear the shuffling of skirts and shoes in the exterior apartment. They must not come yet, she thought, I haven’t been given the answer yet.
She held to the strength of the silence. Her silence alone might have the power in it to stop them from entering. But this was folly, for in but a moment of hesitation, someone had entered the room behind her.