Adinah Cortes stared at the wide beige tiles in the lobby in one of many Project buildings as she waited for the elevator to take her up to where her family gathered. A chill ran through her. Her first instinct was to wave down a cab and avoid this little reunion, but it would just prolong the inevitable.
She thought about how she left them and her tumultuous relationship with her mother, Sadie several years ago to go to school. Once she got to the door, she knew she wouldn’t be coming back. She had to come back to see her Madrina, her godmother one last time.
They had kept in touch through the years of college then Med school to become a doctor in Obstetrics. It was Madrina who talked her through the loss of a patient and was the first to know that she was in love with a handsome lawyer.
Madrina had been diagnosed with cancer several months ago and was doing well until recently. She battled fiercely with the disease and did everything they told her to do, but it was too late. She had ignored the symptoms for too long.
When the doctor said that she might not last the weekend, Adinah immediately reached for the phone and pulled in capable doctors to take over while she ran to her side.
She stepped into the creaking elevator and was assaulted by the smell of urine. She stood in the middle, careful not to get too close to the questionable walls and quickly pressed the number five. The scent stabbed through her nose and threatened to trigger a serious migraine. She should have taken this an as ominous sign, but concentrated on finding a clear view in the semi clean chrome to check herself. She made sure that her sun kissed waves were pulled back to show her heart shaped face that wore very little makeup. She wore a pair of trousers and a blue striped shirt under her navy pea coat. Thick heeled shoes steadied her as the elevator jolted to a stop. She took a deep breath and went in search of the apartment. She paused at the door and was instantly in the strong grip of a vibration radiating from it. She knocked and the buzzing inside stopped.
Her aunt, BeBe greeted her with wide open mouth and eyes. Her skin stretched with it and managed a smile.
“Adinah! It’s so good to see you. Come in.” she told her as she embraced her through the door. Adinah could see the other family members in the living room, seated and staring at her.
“We were just leaving to the hospital.” she said walking her to the living room.
Her grandmother, Mona was the matriarch of the family and was sitting in her large recliner, which took up most of the space in the room. Her stern face was exactly what Adinah remembered most from her childhood memories. She knew better than to greet anyone before her and she obeyed the unwritten law.
“Mama, how are you?” Adinah asked and kissed her lightly on her heavy cheek. Mona gave her a crooked smile and a nod of the head.
“I am fine and you away for a long time.” She told Adinah, carefully pronouncing her English words that were still affected by her Spanish accent. Since coming from Dominican Republic with her husband, Esteban, they bought a small storefront and opened a Bontanica. They managed it together until he passed away suddenly in his sleep when Adinah was in her third year of college. It became her mission to learn English after she was mugged and couldn’t explain to the police officers what happened. She had a plain face with waves of jet black hair that she had BeBe dye every two weeks. Anyone could tell by her mannerisms that she didn’t especially like people. They were merely extensions of her to use however she saw fit. What she probably didn’t know or cared about was that people picked up on these things.
“I went away to school to be a doctor, but then I decided to live there. It’s good to see you, Mama.” Adinah said and the old woman nodded her understanding.
Adinah neglected to tell her that she had transferred to New York City when Madrina was hospitalized the first time months ago.
“That is good. A doctor.” Mona said looking impressed. She motioned to a nearby chair, which Adinah took and surveyed the room. Her grandfather, Raul was tucked away in the corner with Kevin, Bebe’s husband talking in hushed voices with serious faces. He nodded his greeting and returned to his conversation.
To the right of Mona was her mother, Sadie and she could see
by her bloodshot eyes and the slight sway of her head that she was drunk. She probably has been since the morning and here it was nearly 5:30 in the afternoon. Adinah could never understand how Sadie’s mind worked and she had given up trying years ago. Still, it had hurt that Sadie didn’t welcome her and made it that much more awkward. She knew that Sadie expected to be kissed and said hello to, not the other way around. She could not help resisting and so nothing was said.
She did run her eyes over the sloppily way she was dressed, in a pair of sweats and shirt with sneakers.
She smiled at the group that insisted on being rude and still called themselves a family.
Adinah went down the hall to put down her coat. She spied a telephone in the corner and had the incredible urge to call a cab for the second time since she’s arrived. Before she could wrestle with it, she saw BeBe headed for her.
“Adinah, we’re so glad that you came today. Family should be together at a time like this.” she said sadly. She felt badly for her aunt. She was closest to Madrina and it must be very hard to make any arrangements in such a state of grief. It made her wonder why no one else showed any compassion.
“BeBe, I haven’t seen them in years and this is the reception I get?”
“They’re just preoccupied with Madrina and your mother, with the way she is.” she explained hoping to ease the tension that seemed to hover since Adinah arrived. She had been running errands for Mona all day and her worries over her daughter, Carmella didn’t make it any better. A weariness hung on her like an oversized coat.
Adinah looked at her watch and groaned inwardly. An hour until visiting hours starts. Great! She regretted coming and immediately felt guilty for feeling it.
BeBe put her hand on Adinah’s shoulder gently.
“This is hard on all of us, Adinah. Please try to understand.” BeBe said softly, as if afraid of being heard.
“When have they understood anyone else? When have they been anything, but overbearing and meddling people who are miserable and want others to be miserable too?” Adinah told her defiantly and returned to the living room to confront her dread.
She chose a space on the far side of the sofa. Suddenly, her cousin, Carmella was at her side. She was the mirror image of her dark haired slender mother, but was blessed with her father’s tall height. Her hair was single ringlets of ebony that coexisted and swarm together in a wave around her head. She wore a pair of silky pants and a white fuzzy cropped sweater was wrapped nicely around her frame. Her brown eyes glittered at her.
“Hi Adinah, I remember you. You were always making sure I wasn’t bored when mom would leave me here and go to school. Remember that?” she said, flushed with the memory. Adinah nodded and gave her a hug.
“I remember getting in trouble because Mama would catch us trying to break into the refrigerator for snacks.” They giggled together, but were interrupted by the towering figure that stood before them. Raul looked down on Carmella with a hard look of disgust.
“Do you laugh loudly purposely embarrass your parents and gain some attention? Have you no shame?” he asked full of contempt. She felt Carmella shrink back and that licked at her anger.
“I don’t see anything wrong with what she’s doing.” she said, hoping to defuse anything that was secretly brewing.
Raul looked at her, surprised that she had even opened her mouth.
“You don’t know what she’s been like, or how hard it’s been for us.”
Adinah nodded in mock sympathy.
“Maybe not as hard as it’s been for her.” she told him and stood up to leave. She went to retrieve her coat.
“I’ll be downstairs when you’re ready.” she said and walked to the door. Carmella skipped after her with her jacket in hand.
“I’ll ride with you.”
BeBe was coming down the hall as they were out the door.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
Carmella hurried into her jacket.
“We’ll wait for you downstairs and I’m riding with Adinah to the hospital.” she said and slammed the door behind her.
The wind had a bite to it as they sought shelter in her car. The silver Infinity muffled out all the noise into a low murmur.
“Thank you for sticking up for me back there. He usually waits until after he’s eaten to bite my head off for something.” She joked.
Adinah chuckled. “It’s great that you can laugh about it.”
“Well, I have little choice, but I’m working on making a clear decision about my future.” she told her while she strapped herself in.
“Working on it?”
She turned to her fully then.
“Here’s my dilemma. Mom wants me to follow in her footsteps and go into design, but Dad wants me to take Architecture. It’s driving me nuts.”
Adinah took her cousin’s hand and gave it a squeeze.
“I think you’re old enough to decide what you want. They have already made their choices, you have so many in front of you and that’s got to be confusing enough.”
Carmella smiled brightly.
“I knew you of all people would understand and give me good advice.” She said and hugged her tight over the gear shift.
Sadie turned her raw eyes to Mona and swallowed over the huge lump in her throat. The liquor was starting to wear off and the emotions were kicking in. It would impossible to get through this without being numb.
Mona looked at her with distain.
“Stop moping, Sadie. That all you been doing, what good are you if you drunk all the time?”
“I came to help, Mama.” she said trying to control the slurring.
“You can’t sit up right, forget helping. Idiota!” Mona sneered at her and Sadie hung her head in shame.
“The least you could’ve done was to keep her in the family, but you failed at even that.” Raul told her. Through a moment of clarity, she lifted her head up to him and tried to control her burning anger.
“What would YOU know about raising kids? You were never there for your own.” This was the ancient history that crated a paradox because as much as that had put a wedge between them, she would always find her way back to them. For sure that they were oblivious to this, but she needed them.
“It you weren’t so busy with your self and your needs, you have at least been sober today. Instead you looked like a sloppy lush in front of your daughter. Have you no shame?” Raul asked her, feeling the adrenaline of superiority.
“Enough! There’s nothing we can do about that now, so arguing about it is a waste of time.” BeBe spoke up at least from Mona’s side. She prided herself on being the voice of reason.
“Bebe’s right. Now is the time to plan and prepare.” Later, they were in the cafeteria waiting for the other family members to visit with Madrina.
“I hate hospitals.” Carmella said as she sipped her coffee.
“I used to say the say thing until I spent most of my time in one, then I saw that they’re not so bad.” Adinah said.
“Tell me. How did you feel seeing the family again?”
“I admit I was nervous and I feel bad that I had left before. I made a promise that I would not get involved, which doesn’t make any sense because my mother and I have this relationship. I know you and your parents don’t always agree, but try to remember that they only want the best for you and its okay to make your own decisions. Even if you fall, they’re there for you. If that makes any sense.”
Carmella nodded. “It does and I promise to work on it.” she said and smiled. They chatted for a bit longer before they went to the waiting area. As they were exiting the elevator, Mona, BeBe, Raul and Sadie were leaving Madrina’s room. Adinah’s heart started to pound when she saw her mother walking slowly and carefully behind them.
BeBe and Raul were each holding Mona’s arms and she looked very sad, the grief seemed to weigh her down.
She went to them and greeted them.
“If you need any help with the arrangements, Mama, I would be glad to help in any way can.” she offered.
Sadie turned to her slowly. If she didn’t, she would’ve embarrassed herself by vomiting all over the floor and herself.
“Oh yeah. Big shot doctor now wants to swoop in and save the day.” Sadie snarled from nearby. Adinah didn’t want to look at the disappointment that once again her mother was drunk and she managed to make a hard situation that much harder.
Everyone was silent for a moment.
“Thank you, nena. Anything you do will be welcome.” Mona said and hugged Adinah close to her with her strong arm. She couldn’t remember when was the last time she was this close to her grandmother.
“It would be welcomed?! She hasn’t seen anybody in years, no calls, nothing and now, anything she can do is welcome. What a bunch of hypocrites you are!” Sadie yelled. It didn’t make any difference that people stared; she was angry and sick of being treated like an idiot and a drunk.
Mona stepped up quick and slapped her face, it made Sadie take two steps back in surprise.
“Have some respect, Sadie. I will not baby-sit you right now. Go home.” she ordered through gritted teeth.
It was the first time Adinah saw tears form in her mother eyes. She always thought that if she saw them, she would be glad for the pain of swallowing the sour medicine she had been dishing out for years. Instead, she felt pity as she watched her stagger down the corridor.
She excused herself and went into visit with Madina. This woman who was seen as unstoppable was now small and thin in her bed.
Her gray hair was just months old and her colorless skin was stretched over her bones. The sight made Adinah want to cry, but she knew she would hate that her last visit with Madrina was ruined.
Her weary eyes brightened when she saw her.
“Hello, precious.” She asked with a horse gruff voice.
“Hello Madrina. I’ve missed you so much.”
She told her and hugged her carefully. She dragged a chair over to the bed and took her fragile hand. Madrina looked drained from the battle, but smiled at her as best as she could.
“I’ve missed you, too and it’s good to see you and tell you that I’m very proud of you, nena.”
The tears that hovered flowed down and she couldn’t stop them.
She pressed her face against the softness of Madrina’s hand.
She felt a hand stroke her hair gently and knew she would miss it more than she ever imagined.
“Nena, I have something for you. Open the drawer and take out the black box.” she told her. Adinah obeyed and gasped when she saw the stunning gold pocket watch that rested inside. The family monogram was engraved on the ivory face.
“This is beautiful. This is for me?” she stared at the exquisite shining item. She nodded her small head suddenly looking gray and tired. She squeezed Adinah’s hand with a surprising strength that she had to look at her. When she saw her godmother looking worse than when she came in, alarm darted through her heart.
“Madrina, are you okay? Do you want the nurse?” she asked quickly and was about to pull away, but Madrina held on.
“No, stay with me. Listen. I have a red notebook in my room at the house. Find it, it will explain everything. I’m giving you the watch so that you can keep it in the family, for your own daughter. Promise me that you will keep it and only give it to her. Make sure she does the same. Keep it in YOUR family, Adinah Tell no one in the family that you have it. Promise.”
She said with an urgency that frightened Adinah to her core.
“I promise, Madrina.”
Madrina then let go of her hand and she rushed to get a nurse. She grabbed one and they ran inside. The nurse took Madrina’s thin wrist to find her pulse, but she was gone. Resting in her palm was the pocket watch, facing up and silent. With a glimpse of compassion on her face, the middle aged nurse turned to her.
“I’m sorry, she’s gone.”
Adinah closed her eyes and allowed the grief to overtake her.
She went to Madrina and kissed her still warm cheek. She took the watch and slipped it into her pocket. The nurse put her arm around her shoulders and led her out of the room.
She guided her to some seats and set her down.
“Would you like me to call your family?” she asked, but Adinah shook her head.
“No, I’ll tell them. Thank you.” she said and watched the nurse hurry off.
She leaned back on the chair and exhaled.
She’s gone. God, did I forget to tell her that I loved her? Did I thank her for all of things she taught me and did for me? Well, at least I was there at the end. May God light your way, Madrina.
She saw a figure at the door of the room, it was Madrina. She looked healthy and well. Adinah’s hand flew to her mouth to keep her from screaming and Madrina glided over to place her hand on her shoulder.
“Remember that everything is not what it seems, she heard Madrina say in her mind. Then she hugged her and Adinah felt a heat more hot and calming. She closed her eyes and drifted into the feeling, she even smelled Madrina’s scent that overpowered every other thought. She opened her eyes just in time to see her beautiful Madrina fade away with a smile on her lips.
She felt thrilled that she saw Madrina once more and had no intention of telling anyone about it. Ever.
Adinah was emotionally exhausted. She had stopped on the way home to pick up something quick to eat and then intended on sleeping late.
She walked up the sidewalk feeling the lingering peace that stayed with her after Madrina had long gone. She longed for her sanctuary. Her small apartment and the home coziness called out to her when New York City had infected her with its lights and action. She still felt the thrill of being in the center of its thumping heart among its inhabitants.
“Hello there, gorgeous.” a voice greeted and her steps became lighter when she realized it was Mark. She smiled widely at him and enjoyed watching him walk toward her. He was a brilliant lawyer and an even better boyfriend. He was romantic, smart, funny, good looking without question. When he flashes those baby blues at the jury, they all melt.
He immediately took her bags and kissed her tenderly. It left her arms free to embrace his warmth to her. Her longing woke up with a ferocious appetite and they walked to the apartment in clear anticipation.
“I can’t believe you were able get out of your tight schedule, but God, I’m so happy you did. I missed you, honey.” She said and took out her keys to get them inside.
“I thought you might need some support. Your godmother?” he asked quietly. She shook her head and felt the grief charging in again. He dropped the bags and took her in his arms and held her tightly. She was able to feel his love with every beat of their hearts and it soothed her pain.
Julia Manuel on Poem #4 ingridfalconi on Poem #4 Julia Manuel on Poem #4