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“When will you be able to bring her out of the sedation?” Brian asked.
The doctor hesitated, for the first time it seemed.
“Mr. Jacobs, like anything else, there are risks. We can’t be sure that there won’t be any…detrimental effects, on her brain, for example. It’s possible there may be damage.”
For the first time, this doctor, this woman, looked at Pablo. It was as though she hoped that his age and experience might help her manage the younger man’s hopeful expectations.
“Her kidneys are showing signs of failure…that’s why there is all this inflammation in her limbs and in her face. We also have to do tests on her other vital organs. But I do recommend this treatment, at this point. If the seizures stop, we might be able to pull her out. But you need to be prepared that she may be very different. What I’m saying is, we need your consent.”
“Let’s do it, then.” Brian said. “Bring her back… I don’t care…I need…” he trailed off and turned to Pablo. It was a small acknowledgement.
Pablo exhaled. What if Margie came back some kind of vegetable…a child who no longer knew who she was or worse, who anyone else was. He let his eyes meet Brian’s.
“All right.” Pablo heard himself say. “Please, do what you can.”
“I will call you back as soon as I know more. Or you can leave now and come back later in the afternoon?” The woman told them to go home, to get something to eat.
It seemed to Pablo a stupid thing to say. He did not want to leave to get something to eat. But Brian said they might as well. It would pass the time.
In the car, Brian whirred the windows open, so fresh air blew on their faces as they drove through the campus. He said he would take Pablo to a diner, their favorite place for brunch, his and Marge’s. He pointed out a few sights, something he had never done before. These were places that they went to—the steps of the university art museum, the movie theatre where they had seen six movies now, usually a midnight revival of something one of them had already seen, the ice cream parlor on main street, where according to Brian, the line for an ice cream cone wound all the way around the block.
“She always gets the same flavor, mint chocolate, but she always takes a spoonful of mine…unless it has nuts.”
“She dislikes nuts.” Pablo murmured.
“Sir, I know this must be hard for you,” the white man said slowly, not looking at Pablo but keeping his eyes on the road. “Margie never did have the chance to write. It was sudden for her, I guess…even though it wasn’t for me. This is not the way I wanted to meet you.”
Brian cleared his throat, uncertain what to say. For a split second, Pablo thought Brian was no different from the awkward boys in the sofa in his living room, anxiously waiting for some kind of approval.
“I love her very much. We were going to drive to the West Coast. I was going to take her to Disneyland. Once she gets well, that’s the first thing we’re doing.” Pablo envied and admired Brian for saying “when” instead of “if.”
The diner was a small greasy spoon place with a glass door with a bell attached so it rang when you pushed it open. Outside, the glass windows were plastered with white paint spelling out the words: Hamburgers, Pancakes, Omelette, Crepes.
They slid into a booth with ripped and faded red leather seats, and the waitress in pink gingham waited by the counter, allowing them time to see the menu.
“What will you have…sir?” Brian asked.
“Anything.” Pablo replied, feeling his stomach turn. “It doesn’t matter.”
“You need to eat, sir. We both do.”
The air was heavy with the smell of butter, sugar and bacon that somehow felt nauseating. He did not want American food. Had never cared for it. This was why he never wanted to go to America. Margie had always been the same. Every morning for breakfast, it was dried fish or cured pork with garlic fried rice for both father and daughter. Pablo doubted very much that this place was a favorite of Margie’s. When had she changed? And did she really love this American? Pablo’s heart ached at the thought that he might never know the answers.
The two men sat in silence, not even trying to make conversation. Just days ago, they would at least try—talk sports or politics. Today, their little shared space of quiet was odd, and Pablo suddenly knew what it was he wanted to hear.
“Can you just please tell me what happened that night?” Pablo tried to keep his voice neutral, clear of blame or resentment, but he knew that every word was weighted with both all the same, like too much sugar and milk in a cup of coffee.
Brian took another gulp of his coffee before he finally spoke. Pablo winced at the sound of his swallow. Brian’s words were slow as though he was having difficulty finding the right words, like English was for him, all of a sudden, a foreign language.
“She had had the flu. It was going around for a week. Nothing major…”
Pablo stifled a sigh.
“I mean, it was a low-grade fever. She was complaining she was tired. Also, it was finals week, and she wanted to take all of them. She wouldn’t talk to any of the professors to schedule make-up exams. But when the tests were all over, she said to me, ‘Now I can be really sick.’”
Pablo felt tears smart behind his eyes. It was such a Margie thing to say.
“You didn’t take her to see a doctor?”
“No. No I didn’t.” Brian’s voice started to get hoarse. “I am so sorry.”
The waitress came with a single plate of waffles and bacon that she laid on the table in front of them. Pablo stared at the food, the squares on the waffles, the heat that still sizzled on the bacon. If it was anyone’s fault, it was his fault. Pablo thought so. Dulce would think so.
“It’s not your fault,” Pablo told him. “You could not have known.”
“She said, ‘go home.’ I stayed with her. Made her soup. She was laughing. I thought she was coming out of it.”
Pablo willed the man to talk faster. Talk faster, damn it. There was no more time.
“I waited till she fell asleep, and sat with her. I felt her forehead and it was burning hot— the Tylenol didn’t do a thing. That’s when I started to worry. I thought, I’ll wake her and take her to the emergency room. So I did. Then she opened her eyes, but she didn’t see me. Then all of sudden, she sat up. Her eyes were rolling, and she was moaning, and her tongue was out. I called 911. It was a seizure, the doctors told me later on. But the scariest thing…”
Brian stopped, and Pablo saw he was gripping his mug so hard, the coffee moved in the cup.
“Marge looked at me but she had no idea who I was.”
Pablo no longer knew what to say or do, and finally, had nowhere else to look but Brian’s eyes. The man met his gaze. Brian’s eyes were not blue or brown like Pablo assumed they would be. They were clear and dark.
What would it be like, Pablo wondered, not to be 68 with an ulcer and hypertension, not to be a father with his daughter in a coma in the hospital? What would it be like to be 24 and to fall in love and then have it violently wrenched away from you? And what would it be like not to know whether you would ever have it back again? It must be a different, desperate kind of pain.
Brian spoke, “It’s only a matter of time now. I just know she’s going to get out of this. This new treatment…” The certainty in the man’s voice made Pablo close his eyes in compassion. It was close to four o’clock now, and they were the only ones left at the diner.
“Can I get you something else?” the waitress asked him. All of a sudden, Pablo was starving.
“Another plate of this, please,” Pablo pointed at the waffles.
Pablo had always felt he had a good life, and he was grateful for it. If the line faltered a little — his business went through a bad patch; he had succumbed to the temptations in his marriage- it always went quickly, quickly back on track. That was all he could ask for. But now Pablo was very much afraid that it was, in fact, too much to ask.
When they returned to Margie’s room in the hospital ICU, Dr. Goldberg was there waiting for them. “All we can do now is wait,” she said.
It must have taken hours, but the hours felt like days. Waiting with Brian for Margie to return was a whole life, it seemed to Pablo. And the life he had had, he and Dulce, raising Margie…that was just minutes.
Brian sat in the corner chair in Margie’s suite, holding his head in his hands. Pablo paced.
“Are you all right?” he asked the young man.
Brian looked up, his face wet. He shook his head. “She may not know me. She may not remember anything.”
“If you weren’t here now, where would you be?” Pablo asked.
Brian took a deep breath.
“We would be driving to California.”
“You and Margie?”
“That was our plan. She wanted to see America, and driving is the best way. Then from LA, she was going to fly home. She already bought the ticket.”
“Wait, Margie was planning to come home?”
“Of course, sir. She missed you all terribly.”
Pablo let himself be pleased by this. It was such a small thing. He tucked it away to tell Dulce later. Margie wanted to come home.
“And you? Your plan?”
“I had…I have a summer internship in San Francisco. We were going to write, and then, see each other back at school in September. And then…” Brian stopped. “I just hope—” The man stopped again and nervously ran his fingers through his hair just like the boys back in the sala in his house in Manila. Pablo joined him in whatever silent hope the man had.
And that’s when it happened. It was Margie’s voice. Such a small sound. Like the word “Oh” with two syllables. Or it might have been a giggle or a whimper like something had gotten caught, stuck in her throat.
“Marge? Marge?” Brian was at her side within seconds. Her eyes began to move rapidly, blinking fast.
Brian shouted for the doctor, and Dr. Goldberg was there instantly. She started reading the monitor while taking Margie’s pulse. Pablo kept his eyes on Margie.
Something was happening. The monitor began to beep rapidly and then even more rapidly. Margie’s eyes struggled to open.
“Margie? Anak?” Pablo couldn’t keep the words from escaping.
And then Margie’s eyes were still— just closed shut.
“It’s another seizure, I’m afraid, a big one. We were unsuccessful.”
“No!” Brian’s voice was stuck in his throat.
“The kidneys have failed. I’m afraid the heart is under severe stress.”
The words echoed in Pablo’s mind. The kidneys. The heart. And then Dr. Goldberg said the only thing she could say.
“Please, stay with her until she’s gone. I’m so very sorry.” And then she left the room.
“No…no…no” Brian kept saying, his voice becoming fainter and fainter. He sat beside the bed, holding one of Margie’s hands, burying his face into her side. Pablo just stood there, overcome — he unclenched his fists. He knew Margie was gone. He had known this from the beginning, so it was not a surprise. Pictures flashed in his mind of the girl that she was, the woman she had become. Slowly he walked to the other side of Margie’s bed. Then he looked at her. She looked like she was asleep now, like she might even wake up if you touched her. So Pablo did, and felt her hand, still warm. He just stood there and held his daughter’s hand. Then he watched as Brian bent his head close to hers. His words were clear and distinct.
“Mahal kita, Marge, Mahal na mahal kita.”
The man told his daughter he loved her. Margie had taught him this. It was like a surprise, almost like a sign. Still his daughter did not stir.
The man bent to kiss Margie’s lips, and then he lay his head by hers and wept anew like a little boy. He could not stop, and Pablo let him. Later on, Pablo placed his hands on Brian’s shoulders, pulling him gently away.
“Enough na, Brian,” he said. It was the first time Pablo had called him by name. It was the right thing to do. The rest of it would all just have to wait.