Flash Fiction Friday -- Karmen

I’m reworking the beginning of another project. This will be either the prologue, or chapter one. I don’t think the ending is strong enough. Suggestions and comments welcome.

Karmen
© 2008 Suzanne Lazear

“Moira?” Her voice had lost its honeyed texture, tiredness replaced the joy. Once the epitome of joie de vive, my Karmen had given up.

Putting down the medical journal I’d been reading while she slept, I cupped her thin and wan face with my hand. The past year and a half had been tough on us. Our life together was all planned out. And now…

Now I wasn’t sure how long she had left. We were counting moments now. This was why we were home, in our painted lady near Alamo Square, instead of the hospital she’d been in and out of since she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“Yes, Karmen? Are you in pain?” I hadn’t been ready to give up. I wanted to keep trying – a new treatment, experimental drugs, anything. Not that we hadn’t tried every conventional and unconventional treatment I could come up with. And then some.

But she was tired. Tired of being poked and prodded. Tired of being in and out of the hospital. The drugs kept her comfortable, but that was it.

But I wasn’t ready for her to go. I needed her. She made my life worth living.

“I’m fine, mija.” She was hooked up to an IV and had a button to push to deliver more when she needed it, but sometimes it was too much for her to push it herself. “Promise me again that you won’t quit.”

This was a discussion we’d had before. “I don’t think I can do it without you.” Fifteen years ago, when I was a freshman at Berkley, I never imagined that I could be a doctor. A nurse. A midwife. But never a doctor.

“You only have a few months left. You’ve worked so hard and I don’t want you to give up. You do such amazing things.”

She was right. I was already a doctor. But I was in the last months of my fellowship. Once I finished and passed my boards, I would be Dr. Moira Dempsey, double-board certified pediatric surgeon. Every day in my work at UCSG Children’s Hospital I performed miracles. But I still couldn’t save the one I loved most.

That hurt.

“I...” I wasn’t very studious. Hard working, but not studious. I never would have even thought of medical school without her prodding. It had been difficult to care for her, and work the hours I did, but my chief of surgery understood. He even let me know of advances and studies he heard about.

“Promise. Really promise.” Large amber eyes stared back at me. She’d lost her beautiful corkscrew curls, which were the color of ice coffee when sun streamed though the glass. She’d lost her luscious curves. But she hadn’t lost her ability to guilt me into something with a single glance.

Mindful of the tubes, I pulled her into my arms. It was as if I could feel her slipping away as I held her. She probably knew it too. My Karmen was always so intuitive. Which was why we were having this conversation one last time.

“I promise, Karmen.” Then I added a soft stream of words that I hadn’t spoken in a long time.

She looked at me quizzically. “What language is that, mija.” Karmen was Mexican-Italian and spoke both. We often spoke them together. But that was not the limit of my linguistic abilities by any stretch of the imagination.

“Welsh.” Sort of. “It’s what Glyn and I speak at home.” Again, that was a small lie. I hated lying to her, but my life was built on a web of careful lies. Karmen thought Glyn was my father. He was, in many ways.

I relished the sensation of holding her in my arms again, as I curled my legs around her.

She tipped her head up. This conversation of ours was costing her. But I could tell it was important to her. “I also want you to promise me that you won’t jump off a bridge.”

Ow. The first time I met Karmen she literally talked me out of jumping off the golden gate bridge. I smiled, stroking her face. Dôn bless, I loved this woman. This woman who took a risk on a stranger because she saw herself in her. This woman who taught elementary school and loved to salsa dance. This woman who volunteered and gave to charity. This woman who dreamed of owning a horse, and raising a daughter. With me.

“No more jumping. I promise.” It didn’t work anyway.

That got me a smile. I loved that smile. It could light up the world. For a moment, we just laid there, in our bed, in our room. Home. It had been a long time since I had a real home. She was what made it a home -- painting the walls a silvery charcoal. Covering the walls of the room -- and the house -- in photos, posters, and other memories. Filling it with friends, music, and happiness.

“One more promise.” Her words, her breath were labored.

Please don’t let her die. But nothing worked. Not even magic. The fact that I had failed hurt almost as much as the thought that soon she’d be gone forever. And I’ll still be here.

“Promise me you’ll love again, mi corazon. You’re so young. I want you to continue living life.” She was the young one. Thirty-five. Me, well...my driver’s license said I was thirty-three.

Those words were like a dagger in the heart. “I love you, Karmen.” I loved her with my heart and soul. My very being. She made life worth living.

“I love you too, my Moira, but you have to promise me.” Even on her deathbed she was stubborn.

Tears streamed down my face. I didn’t want to love again. Actually, the thought of living without this amazing, vivacious woman made me want to curl up and die.

But, I knew that eventually I would love again. I always did. That was my fatal flaw. I loved too deeply, forgave too quickly, trusted too easily. It had led to heartbreak over and over again, for nearly four thousand years.

“I promise.” It would take a long time to get over her. Years. Decades. Centuries.

“Good.” Curling into me, she closed her eyes, spent. I sat up, still holding her, putting pillows behind my back. But I didn’t pick my journal back up. Instead, I spent those last hours holding her, loving her, memorizing her. I memorized her face. Her laugh. Her spirit. I hadn’t loved this deeply in over three centuries. That had ended badly.

It always did. Especially when I loved a mortal. Their lives were so fleeting.

But why now? I was months away from finishing my long and arduous education. We were going to go on a long vacation. Buy a horse. Start a family.

My thoughts went to the box in her nightstand. The one she didn’t think I knew about. The one she hadn’t given to me because she wanted me to move on and love again. And a secret. Never had I told any of my mortal lovers my secret.

But Karmen...

I regretted not telling her.

“Karmen?”

“Mmmm?” Her eyes fluttered open. I could hear her heart grow weaker. I cut it down to the wire. I should have told her days ago when I brought her home to die. I should have told her a year and a half ago when she was diagnosed. I should have told her a decade ago when I knew we were in this for the long haul.

“I love you.”

She smiled. “I love you too, mija.”

Taking a deep breath, I moved so my back was no longer against the pillows, still holding her.
“Karmen, I need to tell you something.” I moved her so she could see me. Then, I closed my eyes and shifted. As in shapeshifted. Returning to my true form. I form I hadn’t worn for fifteen years.

Those amber eyes widened. “You look like an angel.” The words were barely audible.

“I’m a fairy, Karmen.” I could barely choke out the words. “I’m sorry I kept it from you. I’m so sorry.”

Her eyes were on my lavender wings, which sparkled softly in the lamplight. She wasn’t listening to me. “You’ve come to take me to heaven?”

Her voice, her face, were so full of hope. My Karmen was good and kind, pure of heart. She would go to her mortal heaven. A place I could never go, being Fae.

“No, Karmen, I’m a fairy.”

But she was too far gone. “Please take me to heaven. I’m ready to go now.” She closed her eyes. “And watch over my Moira for me. It’s not time for her to go yet.”

I started to cry again. It would never be my time. Once again, I told a lie. “I’ll hold you until it’s time to go. Then I’ll take you to heaven.”

Nodding, I saw her reach out and try to push the button. I pushed it for her. Holding her tight, I covered her bald head, her face, with soft kisses. Then, I started to sing. She loved me to sing and play the harp for her. I sang, tears streaming down my face, until she breathed her last breath.

Then I cried some more. I cried for all the adventures we’d never have. The trips we wouldn’t take. The time we wouldn’t have together.

Why? It was not fair. She was so young.

Biting my lip, I reached for the phone on my nightstand to call her doctor. I tried my all. Granted her dying wishes. Held her in my arms until she passed into the next world.

But she had been safe, loved. Her expression was peaceful.

Next, I called our best friends, Jeff and Sam, who lived next door. Shifting back to my mortal form, I held her until I hear the downstairs door open.

I pressed my lips to her cooling forehead. “I love you, Karmen.”

Jeff and Sam came into the bedroom, silently they sat on each side of me, their arms around me and Karmen. “We’re so sorry, Mo.” Tears sparkled in Sam’s eyes. Jeff was crying. The four of us had been friends since our Berkley days.
Karmen had touched so many lives. Especially mine.

She made a bad century worth living. I had promised her that I’d go on, that I’d love again. But I wasn’t sure I could. She was my world, my everything, the glue that had held me together.

What was I going to do without her?

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