Friday, February 3, 2012

Still Here

Sim Haven Monthly Challenge, February 2012
Write a short story involving a conflicted love

Title:
"Still Here"
Author: Van (Dinuriel)
Rated: PG-13
Word count: Approx. 1126
Warnings: Exposition, death, familial tension, racism, domestic abuse, mention of rape

Author's Note: This falls into the canon of my on-going story The Kingdom of Naroni, but you do NOT need to have read that in order to understand the piece. This piece takes place almost ten years after the start of the story, about thirteen years before the current point. It centers around a character who was introduced rather recently as a young adult and is therefore part of another "branch" of this fictional universe.


*

September 18, 1164
Lugo, Galicia

Little siblings never lived long.

Nicolao had lasted the longest. He'd been five and a half when that mad dog had done him in. He and Felipa and Lisandro had all died within the same year; Lisandro hadn't been around a week before they'd put him in the ground.

Rubén had died first. He'd been dead for so long that only Isidro and Nicolao had known him at all and Isidro barely remembered him now. He wasn't even sure how Rubén had died. He just knew that he had.

He remembered Adelita, though. Adelita had been the last to die, not even a year ago now--a little three-month-old baby who had one day decided never to take from their mother's breast again. A few times during her last couple days, Isidro had tried to sustain her with goat's milk--he recalled one of the old nannies saying that he'd survived on that when his mother had refused to feed him--but Adelita wouldn't take that either. The crypt at Sir Domingo's manor housed one more tiny grave.

It wouldn't be the last.

Isidro knew better than to ask his mother if Sarita was going to die. He'd asked her with Lisandro, but that only made her cry. His mother cried a lot, even though his father hit her when she did. Isidro got hit when he cried too... at least, he used to. He didn't cry anymore.

In her crib, Sarita stirred, a weak cooing sound breaking through her dry lips. Her toy rabbit had been flung to the floor some time in the night; Isidro picked it up and laid it beside her. "Here, Sari." Her eyelids fluttered in some basic form of appreciation. It was nice of her, but she needn't have bothered. She had to save her strength. Granted, even that wouldn't do much.

Behind him, their mother choked back a sob. Isidro turned away from Sarita and looked back at her seat on the bench. "Mama?"

His mother was so pretty--even in her nightgown, even with her hair unwashed and tangled, even with that ugly bruise around her eye. Even in her grief. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen her smile but he suspected there had never been a first. "Mama?"

"Oh, Sari." His mother's elbow slipped further down her leg, the rest of her slumping in accordance. He recalled the string puppet he'd been using to entertain Felipa hours before her death. He'd dropped it when she started seizing. It had fallen and folded into itself just like his mother had now. "She... she's the last of them. All my babies are dead."

She let out another wail as Isidro glanced down at the toes of his boots. They were a little tight and there was a hole growing on the inner side of the left, but no one had said anything. No one had noticed. "I'm still here, Mama."

She only sniffled, not even looking up, and his stomach-bound heart sank a little further. He'd been feeling a little sick himself the past few days. His older half-brother had been busy picking up their father's slack, but his cousin Augustin had called, so Isidro had asked him if anyone would take care of his mother if he died too.

Cousin Augustin had laughed in his face. "Don't you get it, kid? She'd be happy if you died."

"Nuh-uh!" he'd insisted. "She was sad for all the others!" All the others, and everything else.

His cousin just rolled his eyes and gave him a patronizing pat on the head. "She won't be sad for you because you're her rape baby. Do you know what rape is?" He hadn't, so he'd shaken his head. "Well, you know what sex is, right?" He'd nodded. "Rape is when a woman doesn't want to have sex, but a man makes her do it anyway. That's how you were made, and that's why your parents don't like you."

"My mother likes me." He'd known his father didn't, but his father liked almost nobody. But his mother liked him... didn't she?

Augustin had shrugged. "Whatever helps you sleep at night. But if she'd never had you, her father never would have found out and he never would have made her marry your father, and she'd be down south making dark-skinned babies with someone of her own kind. And your father would've married a good Christian woman instead of some Muslim slut. And they never would have lost all those kids because they never would have had them in the first place."

Isidro hadn't told anyone about that conversation. Why would he? He didn't want to talk about it, and even if he did there wasn't anyone who'd listen. And even if there was... what if they didn't gasp and hug him and tell him it wasn't true? What if they agreed with Augustin? What if Augustin was right?

"Mama? Mama, I'm still here."

"What?" She looked up at him and blinked, wincing beneath the sting of her swollen eyelids. "Oh, yes. Yes, of course."

Her voice was low and rushed, like she barely knew what she was saying. He'd give it to her, though. She probably hadn't slept since Sarita had fallen ill.

He stepped to the side and joined her on the bench. Sarita seemed to have steadied for the moment, her breath still raspy but at least consistent. Still, their mother wouldn't look away and he couldn't bring himself to blame her. He'd still be here, after all.

"Oh, my sweet little Sari." His mother wiped another tear from her puffy eye. "Just a baby, really. Why do they keep dying on me? None of them lived past five."

Isidro's fingers curled around the edge of the bench. "I'm eight, Mama."

He wished he was bigger so he could protect her, so he could have done more for his siblings. He wished he was smaller so he could have told himself she hadn't forgotten him. Augustin's voice in his ear again, he wished he'd never existed at all.

"Did you hurt yourself?"

Isidro froze as his mother pushed back a lock of his hair to examine his brow. He swallowed. He wasn't usually so careless when it came to hiding bruises. "I..."

What was the point? She knew what had happened and she had enough to worry about. He didn't need to explain so much as he needed to distract her, if only for a minute; he shuffled toward her, snuggled up against her and snickered. "You should see the other man."

He thought he heard a ghost of a chuckle, but when he let himself look up he saw no trace of a smile. Somehow, he knew he never would.