Mama reads me the Bible, a few chapters at a time, skipping none. I thought I would die of boredom during Numbers, all those inventory lists of cattle and sheep. By now we’re up to the book of Judges, a story I don’t remember ever hearing before. It’s about a general named Jephthah, who promised God that if he won his battle, he would sacrifice the first creature to come out and greet him when he got home. Of course, instead of an animal, it turned out to be his only daughter. But when he told her about his vow, she told him to go ahead and sacrifice her. All she asked was two months to go off with her friends and mourn. I thought: two months would be enough time to get very far away. But no, she came back and he “did unto her according to his vow,” as Mama put it.
Mama sets down the Bible. “I guess it means God sometimes takes everything we love, and we just have to trust that it’s all in his plan. What do you think, Cecelia?”
She always asks as if she’s expecting an answer. Even waits to see if I’ll give her one. If I could, I’d have a lot to say. This Jephthah doesn’t sound like much of a father to me. My own Papa, when he was alive, he’d never have made such a foolish vow. And if he did, he would have broken it just as easily, trusting God would understand that killing his own child was a whole lot worse than breaking some silly promise, even a promise to God. Especially when God pulled such a dirty trick in the first place. After all, God could have sent a goat out from the house first, or sent an angel like he did with Abraham and Isaac.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about such things, since the accident. Mama tries to keep my mind occupied, talking or reading to me. But somewhere during the day, the laundry has to get done, the dishes, the garden. Before Carlos left for college, he would read me books about los Estados Unidos, so I’d know where he was going. He promised to bring me back some real snow, so I’d know what it looked like, and he would hold it against my face. It would feel like ice, he said, only softer. I miss Carlos a lot.
After the accident, the first thing I remember is Carlos talking to me, telling me over and over that he was sorry. I started to focus on something dark and thin, which turned out to be my arm. Suddenly he yelled, “Mama! Her eyes are open!”
I heard footsteps flying up the stairs. “Madre de Dios!” she cried. “They were wrong! The doctors were wrong! She’s awake!”
Mama’s face floated in and out of my line of sight. I tried to turn my head, but my neck wouldn’t cooperate. What was happening? I couldn’t open my mouth to ask. And what was this tube stuck into my arm?
“Cecelia, querida, speak to me,” Mama begged. “Do you remember what happened? The car crashed.”
“Celia, can you hear us?” Carlos asked. “Can you speak? Or something? Blink?”
I put all my strength, all my will, into my eyelids, trying to control them for the tiniest little twitch.
“I don’t think she’s really awake, Mama,” Carlos said, dropping his voice so I had to strain to hear him.
“I’ll call Dr. Nuñez,” Mama said, and Carlos followed her out of the room. A moment later my eyes blinked, twice, without any effort from me. I couldn’t even call out to tell them.