“Where’s Father Sepúlveda?”
“He had to cancel. Something came up,” Father Rojas responded. I adjusted my purse strap.
“You look disappointed. Do you not wish to proceed?”
“No. I mean yes. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been five years since my last confession.”
“What is troubling you?”
“I didn’t want to be pregnant. I know a child is a blessing from God. And I know I’m going to be a good mom, but will I be happy?”
“You are human, Kiara. Though a baby is a blessing, it brings changes, and it is a significant responsibility which you seem to have accepted. You are here to make amends and change your thinking. That is a good sign. A confession is not complete if there is no change of heart, if there is no resolution. Have you reflected on the reasons you are afraid of motherhood?”
“Yes, Father. And I’m embarrassed,” I cried. “This child doesn’t belong to my husband Carlos. The father is a married man. He wears a uniform.”
“Does Carlos know this?”
“Yes, he married me to help cover it up. It was Augustín’s idea. Augustín is the father of my baby. He pays Carlos monthly for his troubles.”
“Is Carlos going to take full responsibility for the upbringing of the child?”
“I’m not sure what the future holds. For now, he’s still with me, but there’s nothing between us.”
“You must not tell another soul.”
“Some truths should remain in the darkness. If Carlos decides to rescind his word in the agreement, he, too, must leave quietly.”
“But how can I obtain forgiveness and find peace without fixing my sin? You said there’s no resolution without coming clean.”
“You must do as I say. Do not tell another soul. Sometimes in life, one is called to be as wise as a serpent. And you, Kiara, must walk with prudence.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Make sure someone is with you when you go into labor. Stay vigilant and only spend time with those closest to you.”
“You’re scaring me, Father.”
“Kiara, before the serpent takes action, it observes and devises a plan. It doesn’t execute the plan until it is confident of two things: survival and success. The faith in the plan and all that is at stake replaces fear with endurance and boldness. I have given you a plan. And if you follow it and forget your idealized, impossible love affair, you will have a greater possibility of enjoying a new life– not one you expected, but one that may offer contentment.”
“What’s my penance?”
“Your contrite heart is enough. Continue volunteering for the church and be a devoted mother and wife to your husband Carlos.”
My marriage with Carlos didn’t change much during the last three months of my pregnancy. He was there for me as far as making sure the baby and I were safe. We slept in the same bed whenever he didn’t stay out and also talked about each other’s day. I remember his excitement when the restaurant chose to include his signature ceviche dish on the menu. I did a celebratory dance that made us both chuckle.
“So, you dance without music?” he asked.
“There’s music around us. And your triumph is melody.” Carlos put on the radio. An upbeat song was playing, which was followed by a romantic bolero.
“We never got to enjoy a dance at our wedding.” He extended his hand. This moment was a pocket, a rare instance of butterflies expressing a lovely feeling not so easily distinguished or traceable for that matter. Who knows when it was born or how it was formed? But it was there, resisting or waiting for the pertinent moment to fully bloom.
I envied Carlos’ passion. I never felt particularly driven about anything nor did I ever think I was good at anything. The last time was probably when my father and I created picture books out of paper, pencil, and color pencils. I’d write the story; he’d draw the illustrations. Oh, how I wished I still had those picture books! They, too, were confiscated and destroyed by government officials.
As my father was being taken away, a part of me knew it would be the last time I saw him. And now, my child would not know his or her father’s identity. That truth, which became more palpable each day, along with Carlos’ refusal to be in the delivery room, made my last trimester difficult. “Please make arrangements with your mother,” he said to me. “I can get you to the hospital and help you pack what you’ll need beforehand,” he added.
Carlos kept his word about bringing me to the hospital. It was the middle of the night. I had severe contractions and intense pain, but the labor didn’t last long. “You’re here,” I said to him.
“Breathe, Kiara, and listen to the doctor’s instructions.” He rubbed my forehead and held my hand. Within a few hours, my son was born. He was beautiful with big, brown angelic eyes and a smile that gave hope during a time when I was overwhelmed by my silence and the silence of the disappeared in the country.
“Would you like to hold him?” I asked.
“I don’t think I can.”
“Oh, young man, I’ll help you. Don’t be afraid,” the nurse interjected. Carlos was a natural. Watching him smile and his face light up was a constellation of fond memories and what I pictured having a family would be like. And although I don’t possess any power of prediction or mind reading, I could tell holding the baby meant a lot to him. Both of them together bonding for the very first time was like an illustration for a picture book with blank pages waiting to narrate the journey of new parents and their newborn.
We decided to name him Nicolás. Mother was right when she told me not to worry about not having picked a name yet. She said it would come to me. Nicolás was the name of my father’s mentor and favorite teacher. “I like it,” Carlos agreed.
“We have to take the baby now, but we promise you shall hold him again soon,” said the nurse.
Moments later, the doctor spoke with Carlos and my mother. He told them to go home so that I, as well as they, could get some rest. I had become anemic and needed to be treated. Nicolás was not in danger but needed treatment as well. “Come back in a few days,” the doctor told Mother and Carlos.
Though disappointed, they agreed and made sure Nicolás’ room was ready for when we returned. During those few days, I received injections, every six hours. I didn’t eat much even for someone with a small appetite: crackers, cheese, fruit, and soup. I remember wanting to hold my baby and go home to see Carlos and Mother. When I woke up on the last day of my stay, the morning nurse was there with a tray of buttered bread, eggs, fruit, and tea. “You must be hungry.”
I took a bite of the buttered toast. “Where’s my son? I’d like to hold him.”
“Excuse me, ma’am?” She adjusted her long ponytail and smiled. “We can’t do that. You don’t remember?”
“You signed the form, Kiara. You gave parental rights. Your son is no longer yours.”
“I signed nothing! You don’t know what you’re talking about! Let me see my son right now!”
“Please calm down, ma’am.”
“Where’s the doctor? I want to speak with him.”
“Yes, I understand. I’ll get him as soon as he’s available.”
“No, I want to see him now!”
“We can’t do that. He’s with a patient. He can speak with you afterwards, but I assure you, he’ll confirm what I just told you. You signed the form, and there’s nothing we can do. Your baby is not here.”
“Where is he? He belongs with me,” I cried. I felt lightheaded and weak.
“Here, let me give you a sedative.”
“I don’t want anything. Let me see the papers. I want to see the papers I signed.” It was impossible. It looked like my signature, but I would’ve never signed those papers. It was the first time I had seen those documents. “Who was here when I signed?”
“The doctor, a social worker, the director of Rumbo CCC adoption agency, and his attorney.” I left the hospital without being discharged and took a cab. The ride was a blur with the exception of a couple signs celebrating the economic growth of our country. It had been twelve years since our ruler overthrew the government. I felt poor in every sense of the word—lacking a father, true love, and my son. The cab driver perhaps noticed my low spirits. He talked about things I cannot remember. I asked him to drop me off about a mile from Mother’s house, and once I got there, I waited outside. The bright sun provoked an itchiness in my right arm, still bruised and somewhat sore from the injections.
“My baby!” I cried, as I covered my face with my hands. I then heard a voice.
“What’s the matter?” It was my mother’s neighbor. “Why don’t you come with me?”
We went to her house.
“I’m sorry for the mess,” she said– though her house looked tidy and free from any clutter. “Now, Corazón, what’s bothering you? How can I help?”
My throat closed in, and my chest tightened. “He’s gone.”
“They took away my baby. I never signed those papers. I swear I didn’t.”
Mother’s neighbor suggested I give up the idea of ever finding my child. “Who’s going to help you find him?” she asked.
“The cops. They can help.”
“Do you not understand how things work here? There are papers with your signature. And I don’t want to upset you more than you already are, but it would be wrong of me to give you false hope.”
“I have to try.”
“The world is big, Kiara. Our sky here is big and beautiful at night. It’s quite breathtaking to see it filled with stars.”
“What are you trying to say?” I interrupted her.
“What I’m trying to say is: Do you have any idea how many people in this country wish on our starry sky to find their loved ones? I hope you find your baby. I swear, I do. I hope one day you catch a spark of magic from the sky.”
“I don’t want to hear this!” I ran out of the house and saw Mother and Carlos. We went straight to the police station and implored them to help us find Nicolás.
“We can’t do anything for you,” the police officer said.
“Let me speak to someone else– to your chief,” I continued.
“You are wasting your time here. This is not our problem,” the chief added.
“¡Puta Mierda! ¡Desgraciados!” Carlos shouted. I’d never seen him that angry.
“Watch your language here, Gentleman. We wouldn’t want to apprehend you,” said the police officer.
“We suggest that you apologize,” added the chief. He then made a signal to another police officer. Carlos didn’t utter a word. The two police officers pushed him to the ground and held him there while the chief watched with satisfaction.
“Apologize!” shouted one of the officers.
“Please stop! He’s sorry. He’s very sorry. Say you’re sorry, Carlos. I lost my baby. I can’t lose you too. Please say you’re sorry.”
“I’m sorry!” Carlos yelled in humiliation, desperation, and rage. The police officers released him. Carlos struggled to get up and wiped his mouth.
“I’m glad you’ve got some clarity, sir. It’s best for you to go home and enjoy the company of your family,” said the chief. “Vicente and Alonso will escort you three out of the building.” I held Carlos’ hand. It felt cold. My mother’s eyes were lifeless, spiritless. Once we got to my house, she fell asleep in my bed. Carlos turned on the radio and grabbed a cigarette. I only saw him smoke once before.
“I know I say this to you often, but I’m sorry I got you involved in all of this. You can leave. There’s no baby. You don’t need to be here anymore.” Carlos continued smoking. “Say something. Please say something. I told you, you’re free. You can go. There’s no baby.”
“I’m not leaving, Kiara. I’m staying here, and I’m going to help you find Nicolás.”
A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net-nominee, Elaine Nadal is the author of two poetry chapbooks: When and Sweat, Dance, Sing, Cut, published by Finishing Line Press. Her work has appeared in several journals, including Beyond Words Literary Magazine, Haunted Waters Press, Hoot Review, Grasslimb, and Latino Book Review Magazine.