The baby’s funeral is at two. I come to breakfast in my best dress, but my dad tells me I can’t go. It doesn’t matter what I say. His decision is final. After we eat, I hang around the kitchen, hoping my mother comes down. Finally, Theresa tells me to go outside. She says I should ride my bike for a while and come back for lunch. “I’ll give you a blessing when they’ve gone,” she says, moving her big body from the fridge to the sink.
“With oil?” I ask. I’ve never had a blessing before.
“Yes, special oil from Mexico,” she says. “Now go.” She flaps a dishtowel at me.
Out behind the garage, I climb on my new bike. Pink tassels hang from the handles.
Mom braided them for me in the hospital, but she still isn’t ready to see me.
I peddle around the cul-de-sac for a while. There isn’t a puff of wind to take the heat out of the day. My bike wobbles over the cracked sidewalk. I want to go back inside. I want to lie on the couch near the A/C and watch TV, eat fudgesicles and feel my mother run her cool lips across my forehead.
Theresa says no. She says let the poor woman have some peace. I can see her now at the kitchen window, waving her dishtowel and scowling at me.
I ride down the block to Rachel’s, standing on my pedals and letting my hair blow back and tangle behind me. Rachel is outside with her brothers, Zack and that other one whose name I forget. They’re playing sled dogs. Zack’s on the ground on all fours.
“I’m getting a blessing today,” I say right away, standing on the ground and balancing the bike between my legs.
I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me about my brother.
“What kind of blessing?” Rachel asks.
“A Catholic blessing, from La Santa Meurte,” I say. “The Saint of Death.”
Rachel raises her eyebrows. “Your dad’s gonna kill you when he finds out.”
They play sled dogs, and I sit on the curb and let dirt run from one hand to the other. The curtains stay drawn at my house. I wonder how tiny the coffin will be.
When my stomach rumbles, I stand tall on the pedals push up the hill toward home.
There’s a fine layer of dust on my legs and the hem of my dress, and my teeth and lips feel rough with grit.Theresa scolds me for getting so dirty and wipes my face with a rough cloth. She feeds me tomato soup and toast, and then pushes two chocolate bars into my hands. “Hide these for later,” she says. While she’s washing the dishes my parents leave for the service. I see my father with his arm around my mother. She’s wearing a black dress, and her blond hair hangs like a flat snake down her back.
When they’re gone, Theresa takes me into her room and locks the door.
I stand quietly while she lowers the blinds and places a veil over my hair. There are colorful lit candles everywhere. She goes to the corner and lifts a cloth that’s draped over something bulky that looks, for a moment, like a coat rack.
It’s a skeleton. Almost as tall as Theresa, pale green in the flickering candlelight, and dressed in a wig and robe.
“Wow,” I say. I look over at Theresa, who is opening her bible with the gold along the sides of the pages, but she places a finger to her lips.
We light more candles and Theresa chants and reads from her bible. Then she bows and says, “Lady of Death, save this child.”
I thought she would pray for the baby, but she’s talking about me.
When she nods to me I lay the chocolate bars on the floor. Theresa kneels and drops Mexican coins on the chocolate, and kisses the skeleton’s feet. Bending down, I too reach for the feet. My hand is trembling. The bones are not smooth, as I’d thought. They’re rough in spots, and heavy on my palm.
I remember what my father said about chance. How the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s throat by accident. The delay in getting to the hospital that was nobody’s fault. But I know that’s a lie. That night, I wouldn’t come inside, though Dad called me and called me. When he finally hunted me down to drive me to Grandma’s, my mom was screaming with pain.
When Theresa dips her fingers in oil, I feel it run down my forehead in a cold drip. I know why my mom won’t look at me. Why I was excluded from the funeral. I don’t need to ask anyone. In Saint Death’s hollow black eyes, I see all the answers.
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