It was hard not to keep reliving the nightmare that had become his reality. When Ana Maria hadn't immediately answered his greeting, he assumed she was out somewhere, perhaps at one of the neighbors. She had been bartering her sewing skills with many of them in exchange for fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, eggs, and other items. Señora Guevara did their laundry while Ana Maria was making dresses for the woman's six granddaughters.
Because of her thrifty bargaining, they had barely touched the money Don Alejandro had deposited in the Santa Paula bank for them to draw upon. Felipe didn't like using it anymore than they had to anyway. He already felt so beholden to Diego and Don Alejandro.
He went into the kitchen to get something to drink. As he reached for a glass from the cupboard, he noticed a dark stain on the floor. Instantly he became concerned. Ana Maria was such a tidy homemaker, she never would have left such a mess uncleaned.
He knelt down beside it and touched his hand to it. Oh Dios, it was blood. Felipe panicked for a few moments before taking a deep breath. Was she hurt? What had happened?
"Ana Maria!" he called out anxiously. "Querida, are you. . ." His voice trailed off as he saw more drops of the crimson liquid leading to their bedroom.
His head was a blur as he rushed through the tiny house. "Ana Maria!" He came to an abrupt halt in the doorway of the room they shared. She was lying on the floor, her hands cradling her abdomen. She wasn't moving though, and her skin was deathly white.
NO! Oh Dios, por favor! No! He fell on both knees by her side. Frantically searching for a pulse, he felt it beating, although very weakly. He glanced down at her stomach and saw just below it a bright red stain on her dress. Why was she bleeding? Had she been injured? How long had she been like this, he wondered frantically.
A doctor, his terrified brain told him, get a doctor. But he didn't want to leave her. Making up his mind suddenly, he ran out of the house and to the Guevaras'. The señora was always home, doing laundry for just about everyone in the pueblo to make extra money.
"Señora!" he shouted as he charged into the backyard where she did her work. "We need a doctor. Ana Maria is. . . She's. . ."
The older woman promptly stopped what she was doing. "What's wrong?" she asked as she came towards him.
"Need the doctor," Felipe gasped out. "There's blood. I don't know what's wrong." He shut his eyes against the tears that were threatening to fall.
Señora Guevara was grim faced. "I'll go fetch him. You go back to Ana Maria." She didn't want to tell the distraught young man before her the truth. It was probably already too late for a physician to help his wife. She felt very sad for the young couple. They had been so happy about the coming child. Ana Maria had just confided in her last week that she was expecting.
It was an hour later before the doctor emerged from the bedroom followed by the stoic neighbor woman. "Is she all right?" Felipe asked worriedly. "Can I see her? Is the baby. . .?"
The physician, Doctor Gomez, put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "Son," he said in a tone that Felipe dreaded. "The baby is gone. Your wife, she'll be fi. . ."
"No!" Felipe lashed out, shrinking from the man's touch. "It's not true. We felt it, we felt it kicking."
"How far along was she?" questioned Gomez curiously. He, like everyone else, knew the couple had married only two months ago. They shouldn't have been able to feel movement yet if she were only a few weeks pregnant. He had suspected she had been more than that though after his examination.
"Four months," Felipe revealed in anguish. He held his head in his hands as he collapsed to a crouching position. "No, no," he kept repeating as he rocked back and forth.
He remained that way for several minutes before he shot up to his feet again and pushed his way past the doctor and the señora. He opened the bedroom door and hurried to the sleeping woman lying so still on the bed. Reaching for her hand, he brought it to his lips, then stroked her face.
"Querida," he whispered gently. "Oh, Ana."
Her eyelids fluttered open as he buried his face into the quilt beside her. She placed her hand on his dark hair. This drew his attention and he raised up his head to gaze at her.
"Felipe, what. . .?" she queried, the confusion obvious in her eyes. It became even more so when she noticed the two other people standing just beyond her teary-eyed husband.
Then she remembered. The cramping pains this morning as she had been making herself some breakfast. The warm sticky feeling between her legs that had turned out to be blood. She had been so scared. Deciding to go lie down, she had only made it through the bedroom door when a sharp pain brought her to her knees. It had been followed by several more until she finally passed out.
She could tell by everyone's expression what she had feared was true. She had lost the baby. "Oh Felipe, I'm so sorry," she whispered.
"Shh. . . It's not your fault, querida," he tried to comfort her. He gathered her into his arms, trying to transfer some of his strength to her. She looked so fragile, so pale.
The doctor touched his hand to Felipe's shoulder again. "She'll be fine," he commented. "She needs to stay in bed for a week. Then light activity for about a month." He paused as Felipe looked up at him. "No marital relations for two months," he prescribed. Seeing the stunned dismay on the young man's face, he added, "She's young and strong. But she does need time to heal. Give her that time."
Felipe nodded. Making love to her was the last thing on his mind right now anyway. He did want to do something, however, to erase that haunted look from her eyes. He just didn't know what it would be.
Señora Guevara fixed them some supper before she had to go home to take care of her own family. Ana Maria just stared at the bowl of soup, tears silently sliding down her face.
"Please, Ana," Felipe urged gently. "You need to eat."
"I can't," she murmured. "I'm so sorry."
He took her tray away and then held her close. "It's not your fault," he reiterated. "Please. . ."
She pulled back from his embrace. "I'm sorry." Ana Maria turned her face away and closed her eyes. "I'm tired. I want to sleep now."
"All right, querida." Felipe bent down to kiss her goodnight but she moved so he only grazed her cheek. He stayed by her side, holding her hand and stroking her black curls as she fell asleep.
It occurred to Felipe about an hour later
he should write to Diego and Victoria and also to Leonora. He carried
the untouched food into the kitchen before heading to the little desk in
the corner of the sitting room.
Z Z Z
Ana Maria didn't seem to get any better, even after spending a week in bed. She wouldn't eat, not much anyway, and that made Felipe worry. She was slender to begin with, now she was almost skin and bones. When she wasn't sleeping, she would just lie there, tears silently rolling down her face. She refused to do any sewing, reading or anything else to pass the time.
Don Ernesto had given Felipe the week off so he could care for Ana Maria. The young man had been loath to ask for more time away from his apprenticeship but there wasn't really anyone else to stay with his wife. Their neighbors were all busy people, with their own families to tend. The young couple's relatives were all in Los Angeles. Victoria had just had a baby and Señora Ortega had her business to run, which she depended on for her livelihood.
Several of the neighbor women brought them food. That was one area where Felipe was at a loss. Maria had been a veritable dragon in the de la Vega kitchen and the young man had learned early on to stay out of her way there.
Felipe was still apprehensive about returning to work after that first week. Ana Maria insisted that he do so. "Please, Felipe, I'll be all right," she had promised him. "You shouldn't miss any more of your training on my account." She touched his face briefly. "I'll be fine."
Felipe knew she was lying. She obviously was not well at all. Her weight loss and the dark circles under her eyes attested to that. But he did not know what else to do. "Very well, querida," he acquiesced reluctantly.
He arranged for either Señora Guevara or Señora Romero to check on her twice a day. He himself would come home for lunch everyday.
Ana Maria would be lying in bed when he left in the morning, would still be there when he came home at noon and in the evening. Her face would be wet with the tears she had spent all day crying.
It was breaking his heart. He was hurting too over the loss of the niño. He recalled the look on Don Alejandro's face when he had spoken of his wife's miscarriages and knew he wore the same grim expression on his. And Ana Maria was keeping all her pain to herself. The few times he had tried to discuss it with her, she had burst into tears and turned away from him.
He wished she would share her misery with
him. Then maybe they could get through this together.
Z Z Z
A month had passed since the miscarriage. Felipe finally managed to write to his parents and Ana Maria's mother informing them of the news. He never did show their replies to his wife, just reading her the parts where they prayed she was well and that they loved her.
He could hardly bring himself to read the letters. He didn't know which one was worse, Diego's missive expressing his and Victoria's regrets that was also filled with Alfonso's latest antics, or the one from Leonora. ‘Perhaps it was for the best', she had written.
How could the loss of their child be a good occurrence, he wondered incredulously. They had both loved the baby, had been eagerly looking forward to its birth. Dios, they had even picked out names. And now his Ana had sunk into a deep depression and he feared for her health. He would never understand how this could possibly ‘be for the best'.
Gone was the happy, loving young woman Ana Maria had once been. Felipe missed that girl, the one he had fallen in love with. The one who had been so passionate in his arms. He knew what they had was special. But now it had seemed to have disappeared.
She had finally arisen from their bed. She had even picked up her needle again, catching up with all the garments and things she had promised to others. But there was no joy in her work like before. She gradually resumed doing the cooking and cleaning but again with no enthusiasm.
Felipe did notice she was gaining some of the weight back she had lost. But he still was worried. Her eyes were so desolate. She cringed away from his touch. His twenty-second birthday had come and gone with no mention of it from her. He recalled the party she had thrown for him last year when he had been in jail, accused of murder. The contrast was hard to understand.
He spent more time at work, trying to make up for all the training he had missed. Several nights a week, he and Juan would go to the tavern to play chess and smoke cigars. Most of the time, he would come home late to find she didn't even realize he had been out.
He had returned home from one such evening to a dark house. Madre de Dios, where had she gone, he thought in a panic. Then he heard a noise in the spare bedroom. Cautiously opening its door, he saw Ana Maria sitting on the floor next to a trunk. Scattered all around her were the little baby clothes she had so lovingly stitched. He stared in alarm as he noticed they were all shredded into pieces.
She was slashing at a tiny nightdress with a pair of gold scissors. Felipe reached out and grabbed the shears from her hand. "Querida, why?" he asked pleadingly. He couldn't understand why she would destroy all her hard work like this.
Ana Maria gazed up at him, but he could tell she wasn't really seeing him. The sorrow in her eyes pierced his heart like a knife. She blinked, then the tears began to flow.
"Oh, Felipe, I'm so sorry," she said as she collapsed into his arms. "I'm so, so sorry."
He held her close and stroked her back. This was the first time she had let him touch her in over a month. "Shh. . . It's all right," he tried to comfort her. "It's not your fault, Ana Maria".
"But it is," she murmured quietly. Then she abruptly pushed him away. "No, don't touch me." Getting to her feet, she ran to their bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Felipe arrived just in time to hear the lock turn.
He tapped urgently on the door. "Ana, please," he begged. "Let me in." He shut his eyes as he realized he meant more than just her allowing him into the room. He wanted her to let him back into her heart She was retreating from him, to a dark place that frightened him tremendously.
Sighing, Felipe walked back into the other
bedroom. He picked up all the damaged clothing strewn on the floor.
Staring at the tiny garments in his hands, he sank down to the floor and
buried his face in them as tears of pain began streaming from his eyes.
Z Z Z
The next day was a Saturday. Felipe had spent the night in the spare room since she never unlocked the door until she came out to make breakfast. She barely said two words to him all morning. So he was quite surprised when she approached him after lunch.
"I want to go to Confession," she announced. Felipe was even more stunned. She hadn't left the house since they had lost the baby. What had brought on this decision, he wondered.
"All right, querida," he agreed. He set aside the book he had been reading and stood. Maybe she would feel better if she could unburden some of the guilt he knew she was feeling. Unnecessary guilt, as she was not to blame for what happened. But no matter how many times he told her that, she shook her head in disagreement.
They made their way to the church and waited with the other parishioners for their turn in the confessional. Padre Flores was not nearly as benevolent as Padre Benitez. His homilies were full of references to hell and damnation, quite a contrast from Padre Benitez' ones of love and peace. The good priest of Los Angeles had been very understanding both times Felipe had confessed to making love with Ana Maria before they were married. ‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak', he had quoted before administering the young man a hefty penance.
Felipe wondered if he should write to Padre Benitez to ask for his wise counsel to help him with the situation he was now in with Ana Maria. It was becoming more and more obvious she was balancing on the edge of sanity. He didn't want to confide in Diego, not wishing to spoil his happiness. Don Alejandro, perhaps, would understand. But there too, Felipe didn't want to inflict more pain by making the elder de la Vega dredge up sorrowful memories. Her mother, of course, was out of the question as a source of guidance.
It was finally Ana Maria's turn and she entered the small booth. She was in there about five minutes when suddenly her voice shouted, "Oh Dios mio!" The curtain was ripped open and she ran out, her hand covering her mouth. Felipe immediately jumped up and followed after her.
He found her in front of the church steps, retching and crying. "Querida, what happened?" he asked as he knelt down beside her and held her shoulders.
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand as she stared at him. Then she realized he had his hands on her. "No!" she exclaimed. "Don't touch me!" She wrenched herself from his grasp and took off again, this time heading toward their home.
Felipe just watched as she disappeared around a corner. What was wrong? What had happened to cause her to react so violently? He closed his eyes as he faced the terrible truth.
His beloved Ana Maria was descending into
Z Z Z
"SUEÑOS ROTOS" - CHAPTER SIX