Write Before Thinking

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The Carnival


Manny overheard the two woman talking about the weather.

“Just enough of a breeze to keep the mosquitos away,” said the woman on the left.

“And not too cool,” said the woman on the right.

“A perfect night,” replied the woman on the left.

“A perfect night.”

They were speaking loudly, struggling to converse above the din of rusty carnival rides, laughing children, screaming teenage girls and grungy men shouting things like, “three throws for a dollar,” and “winner!”

Manny and his wife Carmen were behind the two women. Manny was pushing a stroller, inside a little baby struggled to sit up, black eyes wide with amazement at the colorful flashing lights. Resting on top of the stroller were two over-stuffed animals – a tiger and a monkey – that Manny won for his two oldest children, Francisco and Marlena.

He thought the women walked too slow and hoped they would stop for more funnel cake and get out of his way. Carmen sensed his impatience and grabbed his hand.

“A perfect night,” Carmen said softly.

“There are no perfect nights,” he replied.

“A good night then.”

Manny didn’t reply.

There had been few good nights that summer. Certainly there had been no perfect ones.

It had not been a good summer for Manny. In fact, it had not been a good year. But Abuela would be gone soon, he thought. The illness was taking more and more of her away every day.

They walked past a small roller-coaster and the two children pleaded with their parents to let them ride it. Carmen looked at Manny and he nodded, a smile on his face – more for the children than because he was happy.

At first he did not tell Francisco and Marlena that their Abuela was sick. But as she grew weaker they became upset with her for not playing with them.

“All she does is sleep,” said Francisco.

“Abuela is not well,” he told them.

The children looked at the old woman in the bed.

“Does she have a cold,” asked Francisco.

“No,” Manny replied.

“Chicken Pox,” asked his younger sister.

Manny tousled the girl’s hair. “No. Not Chicken Pox.”

The children looked back to their father. He recognized the confusion on their faces. His face was much the same when he heard the news for the first time.

Doctors always made Manny nervous. He didn’t like that they knew more than him about his own body. He didn’t like how they, in an instant, could ruin his day with bad news. But mostly, he didn’t like that they wouldn’t tell him what was wrong with his mother.

He and Abuela took a seat in a pair of dated, drab peach colored chairs that matched the dated, drab peach paint that covered the walls in the waiting room of the community clinic. He looked around and noticed that everyone in the room, except for an older man and a mom and her young daughter, was Hispanic. Despite that minor difference, they all shared one thing in common- they were uninsured.

Manny was surprised when a male nurse came out and called their name. He thought nurses were women. The nurse led them into a room where he proceeded to administer the obligatory measurements and blood pressure tests. He didn’t even bother speaking English. Nor did he introduce himself. He pointed to a gown and told Abuela to change into it. Manny and the nurse walked out of the room to give Abuela some privacy. Manny turned to ask the nurse a question, but when he looked up, noticed the nurse was halfway down the hall.

After a few minutes, Manny knocked on the door and let himself into the room. Abuela sat nervously on the examination bed. She had a forced smile on her face and was humming broken, cracked bars of her favorite song. There was a soft knock on the door and a smiling woman walked in and, in Spanish, introduced herself.

“Hola, Soy Mary.”

Manny stood and shook her hand, “Nice to meet you Doctor Mary,” He said in English.

“No need to be formal.” She smiled and added, “Mary will do.” She turned to Abuela and shook her hand then took a seat.

“So,” she said as she thumbed through Abuela’s chart, “looks like you’ve been in here a few times in the last couple months.” She looked at Manny, “she’s not feeling any better?”

“No. She’s always very tired. She seems to be in pain.”

Mary looked back to her chart and then over to Abuela, “How much pain are you in?”

Abuela glanced nervously at Manny. He nodded his head. “It’s the headaches,” she said.

“Have they been getting worse?” Mary asked.

Abuela nodded.

“Have there been other problems? Have you been forgetting things?”

Abuela shook her head.

“Dizziness?”

“Si.”

“Numbness?”

Abuela touched her face and nodded.

Mary wrote a few things in her chart and abruptly stood up. “I want to get her in for a few tests as soon as possible. Can you bring her in to the hospital tomorrow?”

“I have to work,” Manny said.

Mary walked over to him, “it’s very important that you get her in tomorrow.”

He looked over to Abuela then back to Mary, “More tests?” He asked.

She nodded.

“Will they tell us something?”

“More than likely.”

“Will it be bad?”

“Maybe not.” She tried to sound reassuring.

“But you think so.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

“Will these tests…” Manny cast a quick look over to Abuela, “…be expensive?”

“The receptionist will answer your questions when you set up the appointment.” She smiled and shook his hand. “I’ll call you with the results and we’ll go from there,” she said, then left the room.

Later the next day, after the CAT scan and MRI, Manny and Carmen sat nervously in the living room, watching, but not really paying attention to, the TV while they waited for the Doctor’s phone call. Abuela was in her room sleeping. Manny was sure the news would be bad. The tests did not go well; at least that’s what he thought. At first the technicians were very polite and talkative, but as the scan wore on, their faces became drawn and they avoided conversation. Thankfully, Abuela couldn’t see them.

Carmen patted his hand. “Maybe it will be nothing.”

Manny didn’t say anything.

“Not all tests go bad,” she said.

“Maybe.” He kept his focus on the TV. It wasn’t much of a distraction, but it helped.

Manny looked at his watch. The doctor said they should get a follow-up phone call soon after the tests, but it’d been four hours. It must be bad, he thought, otherwise they’d have called sooner. He got up, walked to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. He stood staring out the window as he drank it, momentarily ridding himself of the cottonmouth that had been with him all day.

His cell phone stared ringing. And as much as he wanted to run and pick it up, he composed himself and walked calmly over to the coffee table and answered.

“Yes,” he said to the voice on the other side of the phone.

He felt his energy drain from his body as the doctor gave him the results.

He wasn’t expecting good news, but he wasn’t prepared for bad news.

“Tomorrow morning, 9 o’clock.” He nodded gravely and looked at Carmen, tears welling in his eyes. “Okay, see you then.” He hung up and softly set his phone on the table. Carmen looked at him, her face full of fear.

“How bad is it?” She asked.

Manny didn’t answer. Instead he leaned into her open arms and wept.

He wondered if he’d remember her smile.

The high pitch laughter of children brought him back and he realized that Carmen had put her arm around him. Manny picked up the baby and, standing side by side, they watched Francisco and Marlena roar with delight as they rode the small roller-coaster.

A gentle breeze blew down the midway.

He kissed the baby on the top of the head and smiled.

Just enough to keep the mosquitoes away, he thought.

2 Responses

  1. Marlena says:

    Very poignant short…however, I thought the character of Marlena was sorely underused and could have been developed further. Perhaps she could have super powers?

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