Blighted by Court Merrigan

Carla and I stood on the deck watching the port burn. She kept asking if I’d really, truly forgiven her. She held my hand. Of course, my love, I told her. Then we went to hoping we’d made it out in time.

Nope. The blight appeared aboard the second day. Two people went down with the hacking and blue skin and I was intensely afraid Carla would start coughing too and then she did. You got the blight, you were sick three days, then you lived or died. No one knew how you caught it, or why some did and some didn’t. No known cure existed. I cursed how Carla’s fate was no longer in my hands.

Most everyone on the ship wanted to throw them overboard and I had to stand over Carla swinging a wrench to keep them away.

The captain was a humanist. He steered a course for an island he knew. The blighted ones would be left there. We peeled over the top of a wave and got a clear view. The island was not much more than rock and sand and a few palm trees.

The captain said the island used to have an outpost. I asked who’d come back for survivors.

“There’s supposed to be a week’s supplies in the outpost,” he said. “Someone may go by in time. But I wouldn’t count on it.”

I went down to Carla in the hold. She was cold-skinned and shivering, eyes glazed thick with mucous. In a few more days she’d either drown in her own black bile or live.

I stroked Carla’s cheeks and gave her water out of my allotment. She’d already burned through hers. I did it secretly so the other two blighted ones down in the hold wouldn’t see. She slurped down everything I could give her, thrashing against me. Her hands were tied so she couldn’t touch her eyes. Some of the blighted had been known to scratch their eyes out.

“You forgive me?” said Carla.

“My love,” I said. “My love.”

“You won’t ever leave me, will you?”

“How could I?”

My water allotment was gone by the time the engine idled down and the anchor chain rattled against the hull. I went topside. We were just beyond the breakers off the island. The crew had the raft inflated and over the side.

“Bring them up,” said the captain.

Crewmen brought up the other two blighted ones. Crewmen loosed their bonds and threw them in the raft. The passengers crowded away in the stern. I held Carla up as she stumbled forward.

The captain looked at me. “The surf will carry the raft in. Get her in.”

The hemming and hawing toppled Carla against me and we fell to the deck, her head bouncing on my chest. I dragged her back up.

“You got the blight, too?” asked the captain, eyeing me over.

“Not yet,” I said.

“Get her over then,” said the captain.

I put Carla over. She held out her hands, eyes crusted, waiting for me.

“My love,” she said.

I just stood there.

“Shove it off!” said the captain.

“My love!” Carla said.

The crew shoved off. Carla shrieked. I forgave nothing.

The raft bucked in the waves. Everyone but me looked away.

ST. Teresa Of Avila’s Day by Court Merrigan

At the penny carnival for St. Teresa of Avila’s Day, Elena is volunteering at the dart toss booth when she sees Jack The Coyote.  He is carrying a baby who’s nearly a decade younger than Elena’s dead daughter Camila should have been.

Jack The Coyote saunters out the gym doors.  Elena abandons the booth and watches him hand the baby to Maria Hermosa while he rummages in an old Chevy for a diaper.  Elena stays hidden though surely he cannot remember her.  Jack The Coyote must have trucked thousands across the border in his time.

Ten years ago Elena handed him a wad of crinkled currency in Nogales and he tickled six month-old Camila’s cheek and said to call him “Jack.”  Jack The Coyote.  He led them one day into the desert and abandoned them at nightfall.  Spotlights came playing over the desert rocks with shouts in English, and when she stopped running, Elena was hopelessly lost.

Then came four staggering days in the trackless desert wastes, plodding alone with Camila in her arms, no water, no, none anywhere. She wrenched spittle from her mouth onto Camila’s tiny tongue by day and she curled all her warmth into the shivering form at night.

By the fourth day, Camila was gone.  Elena could not cry.  Her body refused to part with even those few salty drops.  And now Jack The Coyote, casual cigarette in hand, crosses the playground of St. Teresa of Avila’s School, where Camila should have played.

Elena finds fat old Lupe Vilar sitting on a folding chair eating a deep-fried burrito.  Jack The Coyote is at the Dunk Tank not thirty feet away.

“Him?” says Lupe Vilar.  “That’s my niece Maria Hermosa’s fiancé.  He just came up north.”

“Come to stay?”

Lupe Vilar looks at her out of fat cheeks.  “Yes,” she says.  “They’ve got a pretty baby, you know.”

 —§—

Elena arrives at Jack The Coyote’s single-wide trailer.  The dusty sun sinks over the Chevy.  Elena has shadowed Jack The Coyote for days.  She knows he will be inside, Maria Hermosa will be at work, and the baby will be with aunty Lupe Vilar.

Tumbleweeds are imprisoned under the wobbly plastic steps which Elena mounts to knock on the door.  She grips the stiletto in her pocket.  When the door opens she has to free her hand to keep her balance.  Jack The Coyote looks down at her.

“I’ve come from St. Teresa of Avila’s,” Elena says, returning hand to pocket.

“Saint what?” says Jack The Coyote.

No, no sign of recognition on his face, only one of habitual appraisal.

“St. Teresa of Avila,” she says.  “May I come in?”

Jack The Coyote nods.  Elena steps into a waft of dirty diapers and cooked grease and stale beer.  The door slams behind her.  A long throaty wail comes from in back.  The baby is not with aunty Lupe Vilar.  The baby is here.

A white hot flash rockets up Elena’s gut.  She doubles over as Jack the Coyote next cuffs her on the side of the head, open-handed, careful to draw no blood.  Elena drops to her knees as Jack The Coyote extracts the stiletto.

“You came for this?” he says.

He drags her by the hair into the bathroom.  Yanks her head over the bathtub rim and in one smooth motion runs the knife across Elena’s smooth exposed neck.  He holds her head in place so no blood runs on the tile with one hand and with the other rips the shower curtain down.  He spreads it on the floor and then lowers Elena onto the plastic gently as a lover.

 —§—

As the baby wails, Jack The Coyote washes the blood from the knife above a mound of dirty dishes.  He sets the wet and clean knife on the counter and goes to the baby.  The girl conceived in a promise to Maria Hermosa that he will never return to the border.  Now the border has come to him.

Jack The Coyote rocks the baby in his arms and she quiets.  Jack The Coyote curses kindly and with infinite care kisses the child’s forehead.

“You will be found,” he says.  “You will always be found.”