He pats her soft, white body dry, starts robbing lavender lotion. Soma likes lavender, he knows. She stays still. He is sure she can smell. Mornings in the mountains of Alajuela is cool and quiet.
This body has everything. Head, bodice, arms, legs. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth. Fingers, toes. Nails. Hair. None missed. Woven in her mother’s womb for nine months. Her sister Dana couldn’t stay that long, she came in the world at seven months. A three-pound flesh. A little girl. Thin and Pale. Passed at two months.
“The first one is difficult. I lost my first one.” His mother comforted them. Ever since they betrayed her wish and got married, her watchful eyes assuaged.
They had great hope in this second pregnancy. When it reached seven months, they held their breath, eight months, nine months. They rejoiced.
A gene. What is a gene? A cell? A tiny molecule? Something so small affects the entire body. Because the mother and the father are cousins. A faulty pair of genes. A lump of flesh that grows. Propped up, tied down, on an oversized stroller with head support to be fed. Mushy food. A full-time maid. He cannot feed her; he cannot even watch. It takes hours. It pains him. She holds the mush in her mouth. Not coordinated to chew. It melts into her throat, some dripped from the corners of her mouth. Sisyphean efforts.
But he bathes her himself. She loves the water. No sounds, serene, calm limbs. Closes her eyes when submerged in warm water from the neck down. Motionless as the stream trickles down the crown of her head. She is heavy now, couldn’t be handled with one arm anymore. The maid helps him. He wonders what is in her mind when he bathes her. Does she know he is her father?
“I told you.” His mother didn’t say that. He wished she’d say that. His mother’s gray-haired head quivered, and her oyster eyes downcast. He wished she’d howl and scream. Silence. The silence slices his heart.
The family didn’t agree with them. They separated them. Sent him to study in England, and she Spain.
“Meet other people, get jobs, and get married. Don’t come back here.” They told them.
But he returned when his study was completed, so did she.
At that time, she was sixteen, he seventeen. They were innocent. It was a family picnic trip to Tamarindo beach. Hot air in the afternoon. The adults went inside to play majun in the air conditioning, little ones napped. Quiet. Under a Yellow Elder tree with large fan leaves, a bee. They hide. He saw her vaguely inside her white peasant shirt. Staring.
She lifted his chin with her soft fragranced hands, her large eyes held his gaze. Didn’t look away, her gentle brown eyes, long black lashes. A longing look. Her white teeth, mouth wide open, laugh. A minty moist laugh. He kissed her mouth, the minty gum. She kissed him. He was kissed. Sand and gum in his mouth. Caressed. Sand on his bare chest and shorts, on her blouse. In the warm breeze.
It’s not the same now. After Dana, after Soma. Just couldn’t hold it together, like trying to hold water in your hands. She spends all day, every day in the family general store downtown where she has a shrine of Mother Mary. The business is booming. Guilt. Trying to forget. He works from home, an architect, renowned now. Contracted to build celebrities houses on the beach of Langosta in Costa Rica. Inspired by his gnawing sorrow.
She, Soma, the lump of flesh, makes sounds, unrecognizable guttural sounds, or short shrieks. Waves her arms awkwardly. Her legs shivers.
“It’s the reflexes, she has no control over it. This medicine should help.” She also has seizures, more medicine. Physical therapists, speech pathologists. It gets expensive, he learns to do the physical therapy, and drop the speech practice. According to the hearing tests, she is deaf. He dropped utensils near her, no response. But he plays waves sounds in the house all day, to sooth her and himself. Does she live in total stillness? A blankness? What does she need? A whisper of the mountain wind? He asks the maid to stroll her in the yard looking out to the mountains after meals.
His wife prays fervently every day, if not every hour, every minute. A ruthless businesswoman, she was not pious. Now, with Soma, she believes. She believes Jesus cures the paralytic. She believes in gods and spirits, in the seen and the unseen. She researches stem cell transplants, gene therapy. Anything that can ignite a glimmer of hope.
With her generous donations to their church, the high priest comes to their house to bless Soma whose hands and feet trembles when the priest anoints her forehead; makes a deep throated sound when the priest prays for her.
He books three first-class seats abreast, from San Jose, Costa Rica to Boston, Massachusetts. This is the second time they travel to Boston. This time Boston Children’s Hospital has an experimental cure. Soma, the human ginny pig. Risky, but his wife agrees.
Determined to go.
“This is the answer to my prayers.” She says.
Twelve years. Time flies by in between my work, doctor’s visits, therapists’ treatments, and insurance paperwork.
Twelve years ago, bliss of a normal pregnancy and a healthy birth. Problems started at three months; Soma couldn’t lift her head. Then six months, she couldn’t sit up. At one year old, they took Soma to Boston Children’s Hospital.
Somna’s mother cuddled her that first time. No one noticed her disability. This time, she is the size of a six-year-old mass, in an airline seat, croaking random rasping noises and jerking her bony limbs with the neuron’s spontaneous effects.
People will notice her infirmity.
Children will stare and point at her.
Soma would be out of the privacy of her home in the lush mountains of Alajuela.
Is it a mistake? It would have been a different life if he had stayed in England. But he couldn’t. He kept a picture of her in his wallet and looked at it daily.
Did he ruin their lives? She should have stayed in Spain. Then he would have been single, lived with his mother. Traveled to New York City for operas. Yes, she was his only choice. He never even looked at another girl.
She names their daughter Soma, a drink for the gods.
He wants Soma to eat on her own, to learn to read, to stand up and walk and run and ride a bike. He wants Soma to put her small hands in his and tell him her dreams. Like any twelve-year-old girl. They are going to Boston from Alajuela.
Catherine C. Con, English Literature (BA) Fu-Jen Catholic University, Taiwan. System Science (MS) Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge; a Computer Science instructor, University of South Carolina, Upstate. Published in Emrys Journal, Tint Journal, The Bare Life Review, The Petigru Review, HerStry, Shards (Shards.glassmountainmag.com), Dunes Review, Emrys Journal Online (Medium.com), National Women's History Museum, Catfish Stew, Change Seven, Longridge Review; Limit Experience Journal. Nominated for 2020 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers; selected for "2020 Local Authors" by Greenville County Library, South Carolina. Finalist for the Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction. Serve on the Board of Director of South Carolina Writers Association 2022-2023.
ZephyrZ is a computer programmer from Kearns, Utah, and a self-taught artist who uses code and a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) to create modern art. Since artificial intelligence is already used to generate faces, music, and even poetry, his artistic endeavors continuously explore how machine intuition and program splicing can not only emulate human-created art, but push the boundaries into something original, too. The end result is an ever-evolving process of creation and destruction. Each workpiece is unique, with its own story and personality. You can commission original pieces on his website: https://www.zephyrzart.com.