Del Rio, Texas
The young boy watched his mother’s chest barely rise and then fall quickly, like a deflated balloon. Even from across the room, with the day’s laundry casting a protective shadow over him, he could hear her lungs struggle for air. Their family room – one of two rooms in the place they called home – was small, damp and almost dark except for the pale light sneaking in through the room’s lone window. It was nighttime, but the moonlight cast an eerie glow upon the scene in front of him. He almost could not make out the color of the gringo’s skin – almost.
Guerro’s father and cousin stood to the side as the white man leaned over his mother and held something to her chest. He appeared to be listening. Guerro saw no emotion in his eyes as he looked up at an invisible object in the opposite corner of the room. The man – el médico – had come to see his mother only after his father agreed to give him free gardening services for one year. The family had nothing to offer except for their labor. The war in Europe and the drought had made it difficult that year, though. They had been at the edge of starvation for months on end, so his mother began working, cooking and cleaning for the whites in order to keep their own bellies full.
At first, they thought she caught a bad cold, and so his mother, being the stubborn mule she was, refused to rest. She continued working right up until she collapsed in the river, a pair of soaking wet trousers still gripped tightly in her scarred and calloused fingers.
Guerro’s father had banished him from the living room. His father told him a seven-year-old boy is not old enough to see such things. If he caught Guerro watching he would become very upset, but Guerro could not help himself. He had to see his mother one more time before the demon took her forever.
Of course, the white man did not believe in demons. The white man did not have time to listen to them nor to hear what his mother endured over the past two days. They tried to tell him about her wild outbursts and crazy words. They wanted him to hear what their priest said about the demon inside of her.
But the white man would not listen. He interrupted. He said he did not want to hear about a failed exorcism, and he most definitely did not want to hear that he was their last hope.
The white man saw only what he wanted to see – a condition; not a wife or a mother, and definitely not a demon. The only thing the white man saw when he looked at her was an easy diagnosis.
“It’s Alzheimer’s,” he said in a cold, objective tone to no one in particular as he removed the thing from his mother’s chest and placed it in his black bag.
Guerro’s father furrowed his brow. His father, in his late thirties, had been aged beyond his years by the sun and stress. If Guerro hadn’t known better, his father’s desperation would have been easily masked by the deep creases in his brown skin.
Francisco Cassiano turned to his nephew, Robert, the only family member fluent in English and Spanish. “¿La enfermedad de Alzheimer?” his father asked, obviously confused.
Robert nodded. “Sí, es la demencia.” Robert’s young face appeared confused as well. He turned his shaking head to the white man, who seemed unimpressed by him. “Sir, what do you mean? She is not elderly, she is only thirty-seven.”
Robert had picked up English from the woman who hired his mother as a nanny, and then had the good fortune of attending school for a few years before quitting to work full time on his father’s farm. Guerro had never attended school and barely understood English. He struggled to follow their conversation.
Behind them, Guerro’s mother stirred slightly. They all glanced at her as the now-familiar gibberish spewed from her lips.
“Quid tibi dat sensum?” his mother asked of no one. Her tone dripped with the sadistic sarcasm of an angry soul. She paused and her mood changed drastically, as it had frequently done in the past few hours. Her eyes moved wildly across the room. It was obvious that she was afraid of something – something only she could see.
Instinctively, Guerro stepped forward to go to her but then halted when he remembered his father’s orders. He watched as his father knelt down next to his mother and took her hand in his own.
“Te quiero, te quiero,” he said gently in her ear.
Guerro’s mother did not acknowledge his father. Her gaze was transfixed on the opposite wall. Suddenly, she shrieked loudly, causing them all to jump.
“Deus solus me iudicabit! Deus solus me iudicabit!” she screamed in a language no one understood.
Guerro’s father did not reply with words. Instead, he pressed her hand to his face.
The white man appeared unnerved by her outburst. He looked down at the floor without speaking as he packed up his bag. After he closed the snap, he then turned to the other English-speaking man.
The white man’s tone softened, but it was readily apparent he wanted out of there as soon as possible. “Look, she is in the final stages of the disease. There is nothing I can do for her. Bringing her to the hospital will only create more problems for the family that she will…leave behind.”
He took a step away from the sick woman and Robert stuck out his arm, blocking the white man’s hasty exit.
“No, you are wrong. She has a very high fever! You must give her some medicine.” He pointed at the man’s bag. “Just open your bag and give her some medicine!” Robert grabbed at the man’s black medical bag with his free hand.
The white man shook his bald head and shoved Robert’s arm out of his way. He clutched his bag to his chest and raced to the edge of the room and out of Robert’s reach. As he walked through the open door, he paused and his shoulders slumped forward.
Without turning to look them in the eyes, he said, “I’m very sorry. Tell Mr. Cassiano that I no longer need his services.”
And then he was gone. Four hours later, so was Guerro’s mother.
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