Lourdes did not pray to die. She could surely not ask God, in a basilica, to grant a death wish. She lit a small red candle and placed it in a tin cup on the foyer table. Her snow-packed boots squeaked as she heaved the wooden doors open and waddled down the aisle. Except for the stained-glass saints who stared down at her from the clerestory windows, she was alone in the chapel. The sun was setting, and the light filtered in dimly.
She carefully lowered her heavy body onto the cold pew. Every movement produced a hollow echo throughout the building. Despite the extra weight she had put on, her bones sank to the bottom of the flesh and seemed to make contact with the hard wood. Her tailbone ached. It was a week from her due date, when she would give birth to a baby girl—a girl with a fighting spirit, it appeared. On more than one occasion, it looked as though she would lose the baby, but the little girl grabbed the walls of Lourdes’ uterus and held on.
The baby's father and Lourdes were still together, in a sense, but Antonio, like a modern-day nomad, traveled where there was work—roofing, electrical, sheetrock, all types of construction. He had been to Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, the Dakotas, more states than she could remember. He had just been sent all the way to the west coast, and Lourdes thought it very possible that he might never come back. She did not move to be with him because there was no guarantee that he would stay in a location for any length of time, which meant that he roomed with dozens of other men—no place for a girlfriend to tag along. Besides, it was better not to be constantly on the move, and she had a steady job cleaning rooms at the Hilton downtown.
Still, Antonio was too handsome. Hard labor had given him the build of an ancient Greek statue, and his wavy shoulder-length hair made him look like he had just come back from riding the surf, though there was clearly no surf in Minneapolis. He spoke English, too, which Lourdes did not. Not well, anyway. This had made not only the immigrant women with whom she associated a threat, but any woman.
In fact, at that very moment, he could be working in the warm sun of California. A blonde manicured housewife might see him and suddenly feel a burning desire to make him some lemonade, even though she has never felt so hospitable toward the other workers who keep her mansion impeccable.
Lourdes ran her hand across her belly and felt a sharp kick. Sometimes she felt sorry for her baby. Why would any girl want to be born at all, much less to a woman who scrubbed vomit out of carpets and sanitized toilets? The baby kicked again, as if chastising Lourdes. No, she thought, and quickly shook her head. My daughter will not clean toilets or change filthy sheets for strangers.
“Dios, bendícemela,” she prayed aloud, like a reflex.
When Lourdes was four months pregnant, she lifted a heavy California king to tuck the sheets underneath and felt a trickle of liquid run down her leg. She ran to the bathroom that she had just cleaned, breaking the seal on the toilet. She sat down to inspect her panties and discovered she was bleeding. A rush of exhilaration came, coupled with guilt. She would not be a mother after all, and she would not be tethered to a beautiful man who might not love her.
She pulled up her pants, washed her hands, and finished her shift, which took two more hours. Then she met up with Yuri, a friend who often worked her same shift. It was only a 15-minute walk to the hospital, but Yuri had been planning on driving Lourdes home anyway, so they would just make a detour.
“¿Estás loca, mujer? ¿Qué haces trabajando?” Yuri couldn’t understand why Lourdes had not left work as soon as the bleeding had started. In just a few blocks, Yuri cut off two cars and ran a red light. The Toyota Tercel smelled like old Chinese takeout. Lourdes turned the crank to roll down the window, trying to get some air to keep from throwing up. Now that she was finally sitting down, her abdomen felt crampy, and her lower back was sore.
Lourdes mumbled something to Yuri about not being able to get off early because of her crazy boss, but really, she hadn’t wanted to leave. She stared at the empty water bottles rolling around at her feet, not daring to look Yuri in the eye. She would know.
After leaving the car at the parking ramp, Yuri and Lourdes walked hurriedly under the bright-red sign that read “EMERGENCY.” Automatic sliding glass doors opened, and Lourdes hurried to get through the door a bit faster. Her quick jog released another gush of blood, and she regretted not stopping somewhere to pick up some pads first. She looked down at her navy blue scrubs. “Uy.” She scrunched her nose and frowned.
“Ten,” Yuri said, handing Lourdes a thin black cardigan to tie around her waist. Lourdes secured it, covering up the bloodstains. She adjusted it, pulling one way and then another. She jumped a little when the admissions clerk repeated, just a couple of decibels under a yell, “I can help you over HEEERE!” Lourdes stepped forward.
Yuri’s phone began playing an Aventura song, and she dug it out of her purse.
She pulled the phone away from her ear and turned to the clerk. “It’s my daughter,” she explained. “I have to take this. Lo siento,” she mouthed to Lourdes and then ran to the entryway so as not to disturb the other patients with her call.
Yuri never came back. From what Lourdes saw of the wild gesturing through the double sliding glass doors, it seemed that the daughter was in the middle of some sort of crisis. Lourdes was on her own.
The hospital’s translation service was backlogged, so she found herself trying to explain her situation to a young doctor from Pakistan, or India, maybe? Lourdes couldn’t place the accent. She only knew that it was making it even harder to understand a language she was already uncomfortable with. His name was Dr. Sangha, according to the laminated I.D. on his lanyard.
She asked that he clean her, meaning a dilation and curettage, but the doctor kept shaking his head.
"It was like...” Lourdes thought, struggling for the word. “Like... a shrimp," she explained, holding her thumb and forefinger about two inches apart, describing the lump of tissue she had passed earlier. The pregnancy was over; she was sure.
“You have what is called a placental lake, too close to the cervix.” The doctor tapped on a black bubble on the ultrasound.
“A lake?” Lourdes asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Yes, yes. A little lake of blood. Bluhhd.” Dr. Sangha repeated the word, and his voice got louder as he drew the vowel out. “It will most likely go away as it moves further from the cervix as the pregnancy advances. In the meantime, no heavy lifting.” He pantomimed lifting a barbell. “Nothing over 10 pounds. Pelvic rest.” He patted his stomach.
“But…” Lourdes said, struggling to form a sentence. “Lots of...blood.” She was raising her voice, willing the doctor to understand her. It was a protest or a question; she hadn’t decided which.
“Right, right. Lots of blood,” the doctor agreed, but Lourdes couldn’t understand why he seemed so cheerful. He didn’t seem at all concerned by the fact that she was losing a baby.
“Alright then.” Dr. Sangha stood up from the stool and backed toward the door. “No lifting!” he said again, smiling brightly with a flash of white teeth. He disappeared before Lourdes knew what had happened.
She sat in silence, feet dangling off the blue vinyl table, watching the second hand tick around a basic black and white clock. She wondered if the doctor was going to come back or if she was supposed to leave. Then a nurse appeared with discharge paperwork.
“You’re going home,” she said, pointing to the papers.
Lourdes stared blankly.
“Rest,” the nurse almost shouted, pointing at the papers again. Then she handed Lourdes a pen.
“Medicine?” Lourdes asked.
“No,” the nurse waved her index finger. “You don’t need it. Just take it easy.”
Lourdes was confused, but she signed the paper anyway. After the nurse left, she used the hospital gown to wipe the remaining gel off of her stomach and dressed. In a daze, she stumbled outside toward the bus stop. As she handed her fare to the driver, she fumed at the doctor—for not taking her seriously, for not listening to her. No one ever listened to her.
So she was to go home and wait for it all to be over. What a waste of time and money. The bus made stop after stop, and she slid over to make room for a frail-looking older woman. Her thoughts turned to resignation, then hope. Maybe she would bleed out or die of fever, she wished—hopefully before the bill came for the ER.
But she did not die. After about a week, the bleeding stopped, so Lourdes assumed she had lost the baby. She was surprised at how sad she felt, and it took multiple cell phone alarms and inordinate amounts of Nescafé to get her out of bed each morning. No mascara, the same scrubs for days at a time—it was unlike her. She was silly, she knew, to be sad about losing something she never wanted. But miserable or not, she had to go to work. Because that is what people do—work to have the money to stay alive another day.
Only—what if she didn’t have to stay alive anymore? She had begun to think about suicide again. The thought had been there all along, for years since coming to the U.S. and finding it was not the resolution she had hoped for. The idea resurfaced, and it would not let her be.
She stared herself down in the mirrors she Windexed, trying to look through her giant black eyes into an alternate universe. The daily white noise of the vacuum cleaner couldn’t quell the thought of her ending it for good.
Should she drown herself in a bucket of mop water at work? Maybe. Walk off the balcony? Perhaps. She smiled at the thought of hanging herself with an Egyptian cotton bedsheet. Then she scooped up a pile of soggy towels from the tub and switched off the light.
Occasionally she worried about hell, worried that the pain could possibly be worse on the other side. But she doubted it. After years of catechism and Catholic school, she was still unable to cross the bridge between the theory and knowing that it would really happen. She thought she might actually do it this time—most likely the drowning, seemed simple enough—when she realized that her period hadn’t returned and she still felt nauseated. How odd.
She went again to the doctor and this time was lucky enough to find an interpreter. The tech poured uncomfortably warm blue gel onto her skin and slid the ultrasound wand over her stomach in a circular motion.
The doctor was a jovial fat man with a handlebar mustache. He reminded Lourdes of Santa. “Five months!” he announced, leaning over to peer at the screen.
How could it be so? She had lost the baby. Nearly hemorrhaged. But there was the little creature, moving like a big-headed alien squirming inside a constrictive black sphere.
“Congratulations!” The technician gave her several printouts, one of which had the words "It's a girl!" typed across the top.
She sighed. Her plans had to be suspended. She had no problem wiping out her own existence, but she could not stop two beating hearts.
Later that evening, she called Antonio when she got back to the apartment. He sounded enthusiastic, or at least could feign it well. She supposed he could pretend excitement just as he had pretended to be devastated a month earlier at the supposed loss.
“That’s wonderful, babe!” His voice was hoarse. “A girl, huh? Well, I’m glad everything worked out okay.”
“¿Y qué nombre le ponemos? Hay Camila, Eva, Valeria...” Lourdes started listing baby names in an effort to engage him in a conversation.
"I've got to go," Antonio cut her off. “Marciano needs the phone.”
Lourdes had assumed she had woken Antonio from a nap but suddenly realized he had been slurring his words. She could hear a game of fútbol blaring loudly in the background. Someone was yelling expletives and somebody else was drunkenly crying or fighting.
She hit the end button without saying goodbye, tossing her phone on the counter. Then she turned on the coil burner and threw a disgusting, mahogany-colored beef liver in the pan. Lourdes was anemic, the doctor had said, so she had gone to the carnicería to get a pound of the horrible gelatinous things. She sliced onions and fried them alongside the liver, but it didn't help. The stench made her gag.
Finally, she cut the pieces small, held her nose, and swallowed the little chunks without chewing. It was not hard to do if she didn't think about how it looked, smelled, or felt.
Miranda Divett González grew up in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. She is an English teacher on hiatus while she pursues her MFA through the University of Texas at El Paso. Her work has appeared in GNU Journal, Creative Nonfiction and the Listen to Your Mother performance series. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas, where she and her husband are raising three bilingual children.