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By Tina Brooks McKinney
Urban Books, LLCCopyright © 2009 Tina Brooks McKinney
All rights reserved.
"Ten more minutes and I'm out of here." I was not in the mood for this shit today. I was still fussing when my younger brother, Ramón, walked into the room.
"Look who the cat drug in."
"Oh, you've got jokes." I shot him an angry look because I was pissed at the world. Rummaging through boxes in my old room for discarded baby clothes was not on my list of things that I wanted to do.
"What are you doing over here?"
"I promised Madre Sita that I would come by today to look through these old clothes to see if I could use them for my baby."
"She don't know your uppity ass ain't gonna allow that?" If he wasn't telling the truth I would have popped him.
"Guess not." I chuckled. There was no way in hell I'm going to put a child of mine through that torture. Been there and done that.
"You're right, but I promised Madre I would look. Where is she?"
"Where else, she's writing at her desk. Do me a favor and take all that crap with you when you leave," Ramón said as he left the room.
"Like hell. The only thing I'm taking home with me is my fat ass. Besides, I thought I'd save them for your children."
"Over my dead body," Ramón yelled back. I sur-pressed a smile as I listened to him going down the stairs.
I gained a reprieve from my search when the phone rang.
"Whew, I needed that," I said aloud as I braced my back to stand up. I had been bending over boxes for the last half hour and my lower back had begun to vibrate. I wobbled to the hallway and grabbed the phone, thankful for the temporary reprieve. Although it had stopped ringing by the time I got to it, I still picked it up and heard a strange voice. For a split second, I heard Madre Sita mutter something but it was so garbled I couldn't understand it.
"Canary, prepare your nest," the voice said with a heavy Spanish accent.
I was about to hang up the phone. I thought they had the wrong number, but the call piqued my curiosity. "Hello?" My voice was met with silence. An eerie feeling came over me. I wasn't sure why. I wanted to hang up but I could not get my fingers to release the phone. I played the waiting game.
Another few seconds passed and the caller repeated the alien words: "Canary, prepare your nest." His voice was low and guttural. It sounded like the voice of a man who'd been chain-smoking for years. He struggled with his English. Irritation won over curiosity. I had little patience for people living in the United States who barely managed to speak the language.
"I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number." The voice spoke again as I attempted to return the phone to the cradle.
"Nest or grave? Prepare," he said as if he didn't hear me telling him he had made a mistake.
"Excuse me?" Did he say grave? What the hell was he talking about?
A distinctive thud followed by the sound of our downstairs phone hitting the floor startled me. I snatched the phone from my ear, straining to hear what was going on downstairs.
"What the hell?" I muttered aloud for the caller to hear, even though I wasn't speaking to him. That's when his next words stunned me.
"Verónica," he barked my name like a command. "Prepare," he hissed as he elongated the word, using his native Spanish language. His voice, no longer coarse, irritated me with its familiarity. Who was this person? Before I could ask who he was and — more important — what he wanted, I was summoned downstairs.
"Verónica!" My brother's voice jolted me.
"Oh shit! Verónica, hurry ... it's Mother."
I slammed down the receiver, all thought of the mysterious call dismissed from my mind. I navigated the rickety stairs as quickly as my girth allowed. Fear the likes of which I'd never known gripped me. I wrapped my free hand around my stomach as I clutched the handrail to keep my balance. My petite body struggled to handle the heaviness of my unborn child. By the time I had reached the bottom of the stairs, I was winded.
Madre Sita was lying on her back on the kitchen floor. Laying next to her was the cordless phone that she had apparently dropped.
"What happened to her?" I gasped as my mind fought to understand what my eyes were seeing. My feet refused to move.
"I don't know. I was in the living room when I heard a noise. I came in and she was lying on the floor." Tears were streaming down my brother's face. Too stunned to cry, I pried my stubborn feet from the floor. I had to do something.
"Madre," I yelled as I attempted to lower myself to the floor. With the exception of a small knot growing on her left temple, she looked to be sleeping. Her face held a terrible grimace as if she were in dire pain even as she slept.
"She must have struck her head against something, look at that knot on her head." I smoothed my hands across her face as I noticed the gray that had streaked through her hair, especially around the temples. Her flesh was chilly and hard. I was attempting to pick her up and position her on the nearby sofa but Ramón stopped me.
"What are you doing?"
"We can't just leave her on the damn floor."
"But ... the baby ..."
He was right. I wasn't in any condition to lift her up, even though she couldn't have weighed more than ninety-eight pounds soaking wet. Ramón weighed less than Mother so he couldn't do it either.
I grabbed her shoulders and began to shake her but immediately stopped. If she suffered from internal injuries, I wanted to make sure I didn't complicate the situation.
"Is she breathing?"
I pressed my nose close to her face but couldn't be sure. My heart was beating so loudly I couldn't hear anything else.
"Hell, I don't know!" I wasn't sure if the breath I felt was my own or that of my mother. I pounded on her chest, hoping it would help and not hurt. I did not do the breathing 'cause I was unsure of how that worked. I once took a CPR class but I could not remember a damn thing I was taught.
Tears burned the backs of my eyes as I looked on helplessly. "Dial nine-one-one," I demanded. As the oldest child, I knew I would have to be the strong one in this situation. Grabbing Madre's hand, I started to massage it, hoping she would open her eyes. I willed away the panic that wanted to overtake me.
"Now, dammit!" I yelled when I realized Ramón was still fixed in place and had made no effort to pick up the phone, which was still laying on the floor. The harshness of my voice seemed to break his trance as he scrambled to pick up the phone.
"Hello ... hello? There's something wrong with the phone," Ramón whined.
The sound grated on my nerves. In his haste to dial, he had forgotten to clear the line. Getting up from the floor, I snatched the phone from his hand and pressed the button to clear the line and made the call myself. Once connected, I gave the emergency operator our address. She advised me that help would be on the way. I handed the phone back to Ramón, then I continued to massage Madre's hand.
"Do you know CPR?"
"No, do you?" Ramón cried.
"They will be here soon." I spoke to assure Ramón, but I prayed Madre Sita heard me as well. I looked over at Ramón to see if he was going to be all right.
He was seventeen years old but didn't run the streets like most boys his age; instead, he preferred to stay at home alone playing video games.
"What if she dies?" I slapped Ramón's face before I could stop myself.
"Don't talk like that." Ramón walked over to the couch and sat down. I regretted hitting him but it was done. "What's wrong with her?" Ramón asked. If he was angry with me for hitting him, he didn't allow it to show.
"She'll be fine. She's breathing, so that's a good sign. Call your sister and tell her she is needed at home as soon as possible. Don't tell her what happened, just tell her to get here." I tried to keep my voice confident and calm despite how terrified I was on the inside.
"Can't you call her? She's going to yell at me if I do it."
I didn't have time for this shit. I fought the urge to slap him again, but the look in his eyes tore through my heart. Thankfully, I heard the ambulance in the distance and realized it was too late to call my other sibling, Victória. "Never mind, they're here now. We'll call her from the hospital." I was in control once again now that help had arrived.
Ramón appeared to have breathed a sigh of relief. He raced to open the door and allowed the paramedics inside our small living room. They questioned me as they tended to our mother.
"Is she allergic to anything?" one of them demanded.
I didn't like the impersonal tone of his voice. I started to let his ass have it, but I held my temper. "I don't know."
"Is she taking any medications?" He was checking her vital signs.
"No, not that I am aware of."
"Does she have a history of fainting spells?"
"Uh ... no, I don't think so." I hadn't realized how little I knew about Madre until I had to answer all those questions.
"What was she doing before she lost consciousness?" he said as they wheeled the stretcher out the door.
"I was upstairs. I assume she was on the phone because it was laying next to her when I came downstairs." I recalled the four words I'd heard — canary, prepare your nest — before she fell, but they made no sense to me. I wondered whether they held meaning to Madre. I made a mental note to give it more consideration when things got back to normal.CHAPTER 2
There wasn't enough room in the ambulance for me and Ramón so I decided to drive my car and follow the ambulance. I was afraid I might lose them because they traveled quickly with their sirens blaring, but I tried to keep them in sight without getting into an accident. I had no idea where they would take her, so it was imperative that I remain behind them if it were at all possible. I prayed the entire time that they'd take her to the closest hospital near our home, DeKalb Medical.
We drove through the Atlanta lunch-hour traffic in relative silence, each of us lost in our own confusion. Chasing behind an ambulance reminded me of my childhood, and that trip down memory lane depressed and frightened me. My thoughts wandered as I weaved through the traffic. Fortunately, most drivers pulled over to clear a path for the ambulance, which enabled me to fall right behind it. "Had Madre been sick?"
"Not that I know of. She was fine before you got there."
I looked at him to see if there was any accusation in his tone, but there wasn't. Ramón wasn't thrilled to be the only child left living at home with Mother, and sometimes he was very vocal about that when we were alone. Tears continued to roll down his tiny cheeks.
"What about medicine? Did she take any that you know of?"
"If she did, I never saw her."
I nodded my head to indicate that I had heard him. If he noticed, he didn't say anything. Since I no longer lived in the house, I assumed Ramón would know something even if I didn't.
"Remind me to ask Victória when she gets there."
"Wipe your face. You don't want anybody to see you cry, do you?"
"I don't care," he mumbled but wiped his face with the bottom of his T-shirt just the same.
I had some nerve talking about the way he looked when I knew that I looked a hot mess as well. My makeup had run all down my face and my eyes stung from mascara. Up ahead I noticed the ambulance took a right turn, going away from DeKalb Medical. I turned on my blinker and got into the right lane to make the same turn.
"I guess they are taking her to Emory instead of DeKalb Medical." I could've kept that comment to myself since Ramón knew Atlanta better than I did, but I felt compelled to say something. Once I realized that we were almost there, I felt better.
I turned into the emergency-room parking lot. We managed to get to the ambulance before the paramedics lifted Madre out of it. I looked back at my car, knowing I could not leave it there for long. I decided to come back out and move it once we knew what was going on. We were unable to follow the gurney through the double doors of the emergency room.
"Are you with the patient who was just transported?" a nurse asked as I struggled to hide my irritation at being stopped.
"Yes, we are," I answered for myself and my brother.
"And are you over the age of eighteen?"
"Of course, I'm twenty-two." I could not understand what that had to do with anything, but I continued to answer her questions.
"What is your relationship to the patient?"
"I'm her daughter and this is her son," I said, pointing to Ramón.
She looked around the room as if she was looking for someone else. I started to get an attitude.
"Follow me." She walked in the opposite direction of the double doors that I so desperately wanted to go through.
I wanted to tell the bitch she was going the wrong way. If I could at least find out if Madre had awakened, I felt I would be more cooperative. Torn, I decided to follow her anyway. "Wait over there," I instructed Ramón and pointed to the crowded waiting room.
He looked as if I'd asked him to stand in a puddle of pissy water, but he eventually did as he was told.
"What is the patient's name?" the nurse asked, getting into her seat.
"Uh, can you spell that? No, better yet, write it down for me?"
I was not surprised by her request, so I took the pad she had handed me and wrote down Madre's name in English. She stared at the paper and I waited for her to repeat what I had written. I hoped that she wasn't about to clown Madre's name, because I was sure to go off on her.
"Thanks. And her date of birth?"
"Year?" She looked up at me. My attention, however, was being diverted by a new patient that was raising all kinds of hell in the waiting room. A large black man had entered the waiting room and from the looks of it, he had been either shot or stabbed. He talked as if he was more intent on getting back on the street so he could retaliate on his attacker than getting medical treatment.
"Miss, I need the year."
"Huh?" I didn't know what she had asked me.
"The year your mother was born," she calmly said.
"Oh ... uh ... I'm not sure. I think she's forty-three; she does not talk about the year." Once again I felt like I didn't know enough about Madre Sita.
"I understand. I don't tell my age, either." The nurse attempted to make light of my ignorance.
Feeling like I dodged a bullet, I exhaled. I answered the next few questions about Madre's address, place of birth, height, and weight fine. I started to get nervous, though, when she asked about insurance. If I had thought about insurance before we had gotten there, instead of giving Madre's name, I would have given my own. That way I would have had an insurance card to give her. Tears started up again as I tried to think of something to say that would prevent the nurse from denying Madre medical attention. Madre was self-employed, and, to my knowledge, she had never applied for insurance. Perhaps she was covered under a plan with Padre, but I had no way of knowing about that since he still lived in Colombia. "I left her purse at the house. Can we fill that part out later?"
She gave me a stern look, but I believed she was moved by my tears because she proceeded to ask me the rest of the questions on the forms. I said a silent prayer of thanks. I knew I wasn't out of the woods yet, but I would cross the insurance bridge when I got to it.
She finished the paperwork and instructed me to sign them. She then asked for my driver's license and told me to wait while she made copies of it. I was glad that I didn't lie about Madre's name, because I would've been busted the second she took a look at the license. She returned my license and instructed me to have a seat in the waiting room. I breathed a sigh of relief as I hurried back to my brother before she changed her mind.
"Do you know if Madre has insurance?" I whispered to Ramón.
He shrugged his shoulders. He was trying real hard to be a man and I felt proud of him. I pulled out my cell and called Victória to inform her of what had happened.
I spoke into the phone in Spanish. "Victória, please don't get alarmed, but Madre passed out. We are at Emory Hospital right now."
Immediately, she started shrieking. I pushed the phone away from my ear. My younger sister was very high-strung and easily excited. We were as different as night and day. She was the loud and boisterous one, while I was more quiet and timid — unless you pissed me off; then it was a whole different story.
"Will you calm down for a second."
"Where are you?"
"I just told you." I held the phone away from my face to get a breather.
"Well, tell me again!" She switched to English.
Excerpted from Deep Deception by Tina Brooks McKinney. Copyright © 2009 Tina Brooks McKinney. Excerpted by permission of Urban Books, LLC.
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