When Marquita comes back from the chapel she finds her parents waiting quietly in her room. A stranger might mistake their silence for being somber, but Marquita recognizes it as the silence that has masked the simmering tension her family has struggled with for years. When Marquita comes in the room her mother, Hilma, instantly looks up with bright, but red lined eyes. For the past week Hilma frequently excused herself from rooms to cry in secret. She had always struggled to cope with Marquita’s delicate health, but the most recent diagnosis made her emotions especially erratic. For Hilma, today is a miracle. Someone had taken pity on her family and donated the money that her and her husband could never dream of raising on their own. Yet at the same time, her face has developed deep lines from the anxiety she now always carries with her. As usual Marquita’s father looks uncomfortable as he sits in the chair farthest from Marquita’s hospital bed. He doesn’t look at his daughter when she enters; instead he keeps his eyes fixed on the ground.
Marquita’s mother pulls her daughter in for a deep hug. As Marquita’s surgery has grown closer Marquita has noticed the hugs have become deeper and more intense.
“Did you go and pray, baby?”
Marquita feels it was always important to smile and reassure her mother. She knows that her father no longer fills the role of his wife’s emotional rock. As always Marquita looks at her mother with a soft smile and bright eyes as she says, “Yeah Mama, just like the priest taught me.”
Marquita’s mother hugs her again, this one slightly harder than the first. “You are so brave Marquita. I know God will protect you today.”
Marquita can feel the shame building up again in her stomach. She doesn’t want God to protect her; she wants him to free her.
For the last six years Marquita and her father have never been in the same room for more than twenty minutes. He used to be a happier man, but in recent years he has grown quiet and increasingly cold. He had changed after returning home from visiting family in Santo Domingo with Marquita. After that visit Miguel had abruptly decided to take a job driving a truck for a friend’s moving company. He’s now often away for days and sometimes even weeks at a time. He rarely speaks to Marquita. Instead he prefers to get updates about her from his wife.
Hilma knows her husband loves Marquita, but she cannot explain his intense aversion to his only child. Miguel always evades her questions about Marquita and the trip they took together and his secrecy and aloof behavior has become a great strain on their relationship.
In a sharp voice she asks, “Miguel, do you have anything to say to Marquita? There’s not much time now.”
Miguel doesn’t look at Marquita when he flatly says, “Good luck.”
Hilma loosens her arms around her daughter, but still holds Marquita to her body. Her eyes narrow as she stares at her husband. She had to beg him to be here today and now she can’t believe he is acting so apathetic during this important moment.
“Is that it? Nothing else?”
Marquita tries to calm her mother and softly says, “It’s okay Mama. He’s just scared.”
Her father pushes up from his chair and goes to window. He braces his hands against the windowpane and through clenched teeth says, “Don’t tell me how I feel Marquita!”
Hilma now completely breaks away from her daughter and steps towards her husband. The edge her voice had before now quivers as she tries to hold back her frustration. “Miguel, please don’t do this today.”
He turns away from his wife and walks to the door. His voice is once more flat as he says, “I need to get some fresh air.”
Hilma’s knees teeter between buckling and sprinting. She stands stiffly with her lips trembling and her hands balled into fists. She loudly sobs, “Where are you going? They’re coming any minute now to get her ready for surgery.”
Miguel pauses as he reaches the door, “I’ll be back.”
Hilma’s knees give out and she wavers, but Marquita quickly steadies her. She lets herself cry as she stares at the back of her husband’s head.
“Miguel she isn’t getting her tonsils taken out. This is serious. Be here. Be here for this. We need you.”
Miguel doesn’t look back.
“I said, ‘I’ll be back’.”
“Don’t leave this room without saying something to Marquita!”
Miguel faces Marquita, his body no longer in the room. He looks at his daughter in the eye for a moment but quickly looks away. He then turns and waves his hand,
“I’ll be back in five minutes.”
With Nurse Lopez taken care of, Mechteld changes into scrubs and a medical mask and goes to the anesthesia storage room. She quickly pulls on a surgical gown, gloves, and nurse’s cap. She makes sure as little skin as possible is showing. She begins prepping the anesthesia machine needed for surgery as well as stocking the anesthesia cart with the necessary vials, IVs and syringes.
Mechteld continues to busy herself as Dr. Batra comes in the room. She sees Mechteld and is confused.
“Who are you? Where is Nurse Lopez?”
Mechteld continues to prepare, trying to look as professional as possible. “Nurse Lopez went home sick. I’m Nurse Lazarus.”
Dr. Batra watches Mechteld for a moment. Her eyes follow her as she moves knowing to cabinets and drawers. “I’ve never worked with you before. Are you one of Dr. Shelby’s people?”
Mechteld looks at Dr. Batra examining her expression. “Yes. I was called last minute. It seems everyone is very busy today. Denise and Roger are both at Elmhurst today and Meili just began her maternity leave.”
Dr. Batra raises an eyebrow. “Have you been informed on the procedure we’re doing today?”
Mechteld confidently says, “Yes, I’ve prepared everything and started the checklist. Would you like me to start prepping the patient now?”
Dr. Batra smiles. “You’re on top of things.”
She looks over the supplies Mechteld has prepared and nods her head. She is impressed by Mechteld’s professionalism. “Looks like you have everything in order. Let’s go meet the patient.”
Together Mechteld and Dr. Batra enter Marquita’s room with Mechteld pushing the anesthesia cart. Marquita and her mother sit alone on the bed. Hilma’s arms are once again wrapped tightly around Marquita; holding her intensely close.
“Good Morning Miss Moreno” Dr. Batra says brightly. “Today’s the big day.”
Usually Marquita would greet the doctor back, using the same enthusiasm, but instead she’s distracted. Marquita looks past the doctor, finding her gaze drawn to Mechteld. She looks at the woman whose body is completely covered by light blue surgical attire. The only part of her visible is the slit made for her eyes. She knows that she is different too. Perhaps even different in the same way Marquita is.
“Miss Moreno, I’m Dr. Batra. I’ll be administrating the anesthesia for your procedure. I’ll also be responsible for waking you after the surgeons complete the first phase of the procedure.” Dr. Batra gestures to Mechteld,“This is Nurse Lazarus. She will be assisting me.”
Marquita looks into Mechteld deep blue eyes and Mechteld looks into Marquita’s bright hazel one’s. They stare, sharing an unspoken connection.
“How are you feeling Marquita? Are you scared?” Mechteld asks.
Marquita never breaks contact with Mechteld’s eyes, as she assuredly says, “No, I feel ready.”
Dr. Batra breaks the focus between Marquita and Mechteld as she interjects,
“That’s the spirit! There’s nothing to worry about. You have the best doctors in New York doing this surgery.”
Dr. Batra turns to Hilma, “I’m sorry Mrs. Moreno. You’ll have to say your last goodbyes now.”
Hilma looks at the doctor and then to her daughter, unsure what to do.
Marquita gives her a reassuring smile and holds her mother’s hand. “It’s time to go Mama.”
Hilma hesitates and glances out the door and into the hall. “But your father? He’s not back.”
Marquita gives her mother another smile while squeezing her hand. “It’s okay Mama. It’ll be over soon.“
Hilma goes to her daughter’s side and embraces her deeply. She kisses Marquita’s head and whispers in her ear. “I love you baby. Be strong and believe that God is watching over you.” She holds her daughter for a few more seconds while Dr. Batra and Mechteld look on.
Marquita pulls back and says, “I love you Mama. Everything is going to be okay.” Hilma kisses her daughter again. Dr. Batra motions Hilma out of the room and walks her out into the hallway.
Mechteld takes the cart of the prepared vials and syringes and goes to Marquita’s IV drip. She tries to not look directly at Marquita, but she can feel Marquita’s eyes fixed on. She injects a syringe with a clear fluid into the IV.
“Will it fix me?” Marquita asks, her voice tainted with desperation.
Mechteld takes a syringe with a dark red liquid and attaches it to the IV and says, “Try to rest. This will sedate you before we administer the anesthesia. Count backwards to one starting from one hundred. We’ll wake you after the incisions are made. “
She pushes down the plunger of the syringe and looks down at Marquita. She locks eyes with her again and peacefully says, “Soon, you’ll be restored to soundness of health and learn to live in more perfect harmony with yourself and with those around you.”
Marquita quickly starts to drift from consciousness while the words of the priest’s prayer fill her mind. She has prayed to God; has God finally answered? Did God send Nurse Lazarus to finally free her?