Lake Effect, Spring 2014, Volume 18: from "The Night Miguel Torres Died"

Alberto Álvaro Ríos, from "The Night Miguel Torres Died"

Curiously, the night Miguel Torres died, all the lights around town went on.  It was as if the stars had come down and lit up this place, lit all the streets and the houses and the stores, all these lights one by one but by the hundreds and thousands.  Or it seemed like that much light, anyway, to his young wife Clotilde, who was looking out the window of their house at the very moment Miguel Torres screamed.  The lights may have only been a few lights, but with tears in her eyes, they multiplied into so many, and all of them at that moment. 

When he screamed, so did she, which made even more lights come on, real or imagined she could not say, even as she thought about it later.  The scream he made in that instant as a man old before his time was, she imagined, not unlike the scream he made as a newborn child.  And those two screams made a set of bookends for his life, which otherwise had been a quiet one.

Clotilde did what she could, but she was young, and didn’t know much in the way of caring for other people.  It was of no consequence to Miguel, this bothering of whether she could or could not take care of him, not any longer.  She had been a joy in his life, caring for him more than he could have imagined or hoped, and that was enough.  It made anything else bearable, anything.

It was not enough for Clotilde, however, who took to heart the charge she now had in these last weeks.  She did and was doing everything possible, everything that could be garnered from the doctor and from Sra. Castañeda, who knew about other ways to cure people, and Clotilde’s own common sense.  And praying, too, through it all, praying when it was the one medicine left.  What a curiosity, she thought, that this sequence of difficult events should draw her even closer to Miguel, that illness made for a kind of love. This was not Paris, but it was what Paris meant.

She sang to him, she rubbed his head, she brought him soup and red rice with peas and lemon.  She brought him watermelon, or what she could find as it was not in season.  Everyone knew about watermelon and the dying.  The curious thing with all this screaming and all the lights coming on is that her scream was very loud, and it made sense that someone would be curious and turn on their house lights.  But his scream was very soft, almost inaudible, a simple sigh.  And that was it.  It may have been a word, but so many of his words were sighs at their best, thought Clotilde.

But if the sound he made was quietude itself, she nevertheless heard it as a scream, that loud, that much, a sound that filled the room and filled her as well.  This is all how she remembered that night, but it was not the only way to remember it.  The sigh, the lights coming on, the neighbors coming over, the ambulance, the long night, the next day.  These were all Clotilde’s ways to remember, but Miguel Torres had a mind of his own, and wanted this night to be remembered in a very different way.