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Luciana- Chapter 1
I mopped his brow that was drenched with sweat. He was almost done, even I could see that. He couldn’t fight any longer. I held back tears while rinsing out the wash cloth once more.
“Lucie -” He murmured, barely audible.
“Oui, Pere?” I whispered, using French only for his benefit. Father only knew enough English to get by. I was the only one who could speak English well enough to be considered bilingual. My mother had been the same way.
“Ma fille chérie….I love you….”
I forced a smile. “I love you, too, Father.”
He grazed my cheek with a frail finger. Then he smiled ever so slightly, just a small curve of the corners of his mouth. “Au revoir….” It was the French word for farewell that had come from his lips, and it was also the last. After that the light left his eyes completely.
The wash cloth fell from my hands and made a wet plop, as it landed on the wooden floor. I grasped his hand as silent tears began to escape my eyes.
“Papa, Papa, s’il vous plait!” Please. “Doctor Garrot!” I wailed to him across the hall, I’m sure, disturbing the other patients.
He came hurrying in immediately. “Luciana, what is it?” He demanded eyes wide.
I took a deep breath, not bothering to wipe away my tears. “My Father –” I managed to choke out.
Doctor Garrot walked swiftly to my side. I stood up from the wooden stool that I had been sitting on, and moved to the other side of my father’s bed.
Doctor Garrot tore open Father’s nightshirt to reveal his pale, translucent flesh. He leaned in towards his chest and pressed his fingers on the side of his neck, near his Adam’s apple.
After a minute he stood erect and glanced at me briefly, before pulling the thin hospital sheet over my Father’s head, signifying his death.
That was it. He was really gone. I had no one now. My mother was dead, and now, so was Father. I was an orphan.
I sank shakily down to the floor and pulled my knees up to my chin. I felt more tears wash my face. I buried my face inside my knees out of shame.
I shouldn’t cry. My parents wouldn’t have wanted me to cry over them. Besides, my father always told me that crying never helped any situation.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see Doctor Garrot standing over me.
“I’m sorry.” He said.
I shrugged nonchalantly. “It was bound to happen. He was all ready too ill to recover. I could see that.”
Doctor Garrot nodded slowly, obviously surprised that I could stay this rational, and be able to converse with him so calmly.
“Shall I write to someone for you?”
“I have no other family.”
Doctor Garrot seemed to hesitate. He seemed uncertain. I didn’t blame him. All of a sudden he’s in the presence of a seventeen-year old orphan, who has nowhere to go.
I knew what I had to do.
“If you permit, I will stay here tonight, and in the morning I’ll leave and look for work.”
I waited a silent moment, watching his expression turn from uncertainty, to pity, and back again. Then I stood up and headed to my temporary room down the hall. It was an isolation room, so it was vacant. My parents weren’t the only ones who had been infected by the yellow fever. Almost every person in this hospital is ill with it; so there was really no reason to put anyone in isolation.
I walked into the tiny room. You could only maybe take six steps before you either bumped into the wall or the bed. Sometimes I felt claustrophobic just standing here. It felt like the gray walls would cave in and swallow me up whole.
I went to the bed and crawled on to it, so that I was in a kneeling position. There was a tiny window that I liked to look out of.
The sky was a mix of pink and purple. Dusk had been my mother’s favorite time of day, as was mine. It felt so peaceful. Just looking at the sky cleared my head a bit. It reminded me of a happier time, when everything was better.
Across the street from the hospital was the shabby apartment building that my family used to live in. We had to move out when it became impossible to pay the rent. Our situation had been unusual; firstly, because my mother and I were the ones who worked, not my father. We had worked at a sweatshop on the outskirts of town.
When my family had emigrated from France to Louisiana, in the states, my father could not get a job. He had a long term injury that he’d sustained in the military. He’d lost most of the use of his left leg, and had to use a cane. All of the employers that he’d interviewed with told him that he was too slow and frail. So that was that, he was unemployed, so the only option left was for me and my mother.
Thankfully, we did not have to look for very long. We got hired almost instantly. Mother and I had been so proud of ourselves, and we were pleased to have Father proud of us. But the sweatshop was not what we thought it was going to be like, at all. The temperature was constantly boiling and we always came home filthy and with aching limbs. The pay was horribly low. We just got by with the rent, but that changed very fast.
Our employer fired my mother once she became ill. My father couldn’t take care of her because of his leg, so I had no choice but to quit. When it was clear that Mother’s illness was something serious we took her to Doctor Garrot. He took her in right away and diagnosed her with the yellow fever.
“But, she will recover?” Father had demanded, in halting English.
Doctor Garrot had averted his gaze from us before uttering the words that tore our lives apart: “Most people don’t.”
It wasn’t long before we were kicked out of the apartment building, that Father became ill as well.
Doctor Garrot had been so kind when I took my father to him and explained our situation. He offered me to stay here with my parents.
I could be their nurse, Doctor Garrot had said. I told him that I knew nothing about nursing. He said that didn’t matter, I was just to keep watch over them and get them whatever they needed - blankets, water, cool cloths.
Doctor Garrot consoled me, like he was a relative, when Mother died. He let me cry into his shoulder and relieved me of the task of telling my father. I think that the news had made Father sicker. He wouldn’t eat or drink. So I knew he was going to die soon.
Even with that knowledge, when he left me today, there was nothing that could cushion the blow of my pain.