By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It was 5:45 in the morning, and Mack, still in his bedclothes, had given me a cup of coffee and told me to turn on the tape recorder.
“Instead of doing that, they fought me,” he said, “they kicked me, they tried every way in the world to get me out of their building . . . They told the parents that they needed to get rid of me, they needed to pull away from me, that I was talking to the press, it was interfering with their daughter’s medical care, which was a lie.”
He said Magdalena pleaded with him not to say anything to the press. “She said we needed to trust the doctors; that they had her daughter’s life in their hands and she did not want anything I said to upset them and affect how they were caring for Jesica.”
I had a flash of Magdalena in the hospital hallway, begging Mack, please; he was riling the people who quite literally could decide whether her daughter lived or died. I bit my lips.
“But it didn’t matter,” said Mack. “I would’ve still been doing what I was doing, even if Magdalena said no, because I’d already decided this needed to be done.”
Melecio came in, ready for work.
“You need to marry Magdalena,” Mack told him.
Melecio shrugged. “She don’t want to marry me.”
“Where is she?” asked Mack. “Is she home?”
Mack, Nita and I drove down a shady street lined with weathered wooden houses, one of which Mack rents for the Santillan family. Magdalena’s car was not there.
“Where could she be?” asked Mack. We took a short drive through Louisburg, past the college where Magdalena had worked as a cleaner, past a statue that honored the Confederacy, and back to the house.
“Look, Mack,” said Nita, pointing. “Her car’s pulling in.”
Magdalena saw Mack’s truck and froze, her hand on her car door. She was wearing a silky white blouse with a pattern of black flowers, and looked as though she’d been crying.
“She’s probably snuck out to the cemetery,” Nita whispered to me, as Magdalena and Mack went in the house. I stayed on the porch.
“You can go in,” said Nita.
I opened the screen door. The house, which the family had moved into in December 2002, had little furniture and felt unlived in. I walked down the hall, and stood on the threshold of Jesica’s room: a small bed, a desk, an unplugged computer . . .
“Nancy, come in here,” said Mack. He was at the kitchen table with Magdalena, speaking to her in Spanish about me, about marrying Melecio, about needing to sign the insurance papers Nita was waving before her. Magdalena sat facing a big window, not looking at Mack as he told her she needed to speak to me, tears forming but not falling as she murmured, “Mmm hmm.”
I watched Magdalena pick an envelope off the table and rub its edge, over and over. This is exactly what I do when I am trying not to cry. As she rubbed, and rubbed, I began to feel increasingly horrible. I wanted to tell she did not need to speak with me, and told Mack to translate this, but instead he said, “She loves your daughter.” He was trying to make me look worthy, but this was the last thing I felt; I felt like one more person ripping the scab off her anguish. I looked at her hand, three inches from mine, and wanted to hold it but did not have the courage. There were three photos of Jesica on the wall, looking down on us. Mack kept talking, Magdalena kept rubbing and saying, “Mmm hmm,” and finally, not knowing what to do, I took two photos of my daughter from my wallet.
“Mi hija,” I said.
Magdalena looked at them. “Muy bonita, sÃ?”
“SÃ, como Jesica.”
She rubbed my daughter’s school photo between her fingers. “Only one?” she asked. I nodded. “Maybe, uno mÃ¡s?” she asked, her dark eyes impish.
“SÃ,” I said, “maybe uno mÃ¡s.”
“Me, uno mÃ¡s, para Yesica,” she said, and then she told Mack her cousin in Mexico was pregnant, and if it was a girl, she would name her after Jesica. This moment was like a sparkler, and then it went out. Again, Mack hammered her with demands, to speak with me, to sign the papers, to get married, and again she was saying, “Mmm hmm,” and rubbing the envelope, and crying. And I started to cry; I shielded my eyes, and then wiped them with a shred of paper towel. It became wet and stained with mascara, and I stuck it in with the photos in my wallet, where it is to this day.
Magdalena signed the papers, and as we left, I touched the arm of her blouse, and told her it was pretty. She smiled.
In the morning, I took flowers to the cemetery on the hill. I stood alone before Jesica’s yet-to-be-engraved crypt and told her how sorry I was. I did not cry. It struck me that, distilled to its simplest form, I’d done what I came to do, which was place roses on a young girl’s grave and tell her mother how sorry I was.
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