I go to her classroom at lunchtime.
We both work in the same elementary school.
Her lights are off today. I knock at the door.
Mrs. Medina, Second Grade. The sign reads.
She opens the door. Come in, she says.
We sit in the students’ chairs, as we always do.
I brought fruit for lunch, grapes.
Would you like some? I ask.
I am not hungry, she says. Her lunchbox is unopen.
This is my present for Amaranta, I say.
Your daughter must be very excited,
her first communion is Sunday.
Yes, Sunday. She says. Everything is happening so fast.
Mass is at noon. I hope you can make it.
I say, I will be there. She says, Thank you for the present.
You shouldn’t have bother.
I leave the small box on her desk.
I didn’t know what to buy so I ended up getting
a small pendant—a silver four leaf clove,
for good luck.
I met Amaranta when she was a baby. She was named
after Amaranta Buendía, the character in A Hundred Years of Solitude.
I got the test results yesterday. She says. Cannot be worse.
Are you sure? Did you get a second opinion? I ask.
This was the second opinion. She says.
There are some many advances now, so many treatments. I say.
There is no treatment, really. She says. Just palliative.
My mother also died young. She removes her glasses.
Do you mind helping me with this? She asks.
I don’t want to stay after school, I have no energy.
She passes me her students’ artwork
and I put it in a bulletin board with clear pushpins.
These are beautiful pictures, I say. Put this one up there, she says.
I told my students to draw their favorite season.
What do they know about seasons these kids? I say.
There are no seasons in Los Angeles.
That’s true, she says. There is always spring here.
Or that’s what we want to believe.
Put this one in the center, please.
This one with the double rainbow.
Orchids and Other Animals
I sleep here now, he says.
The house has become too big.
I don’t dare enter the bedroom.
He is in the middle of the greenhouse—
an old shed extending through the garden
with tall metal frames and glass panels.
There are ferns hanging from the ceiling,
empty pots on the floor,
Each orchid with a cardboard label.
On each label, in pencil, a name,
a number, sometimes a symbol, a date.
Would you like some coffee? he asks.
He cleans a mug with the watering hose,
pours the coffee from an electric coffee maker.
There is no milk, he says.
How long have you been sleeping here? I ask.
After the funeral, he says. It’s going to be a year
next month, you know.
From the greenhouse you can see
the empty pool, the main house
with slanted tiled roofs,
the kitchen windows.
Your TV is on, I tell him.
It’s always on, he says.
It seems like somebody is there.
He is much thinner than the last time I saw him.
I want to tell him, but I don’t.
What happened to the orchids
that smelled like chocolate? I ask.
The Oncidium Sharry Baby, he says.
I had hundreds of them.
They all died last winter.
Could not save them.
I brought you this, I say.
I give him a set of small watercolor brushes.
Thank you, he says.
He leaves the brushes on top of a table
with all the other tools for pollination—
toothpicks, pointy tweezers, Q-tips.
Next to the table, a lamp, blankets,
the couch where he sleeps.
Do you want me to stay tonight? I ask.
He pretends he doesn’t hear me.
I grow these orchids now, he says.
Habeneria Radiata, the White Egret Orchid.
They look like birds, you see?
Birds in mid-flight, I say.
Yes, but they don’t go anywhere, he says.
We hug before I leave.
His shoulder blades are sharp.
He combs my eyebrows with his thumbs,
as he used to do.
Pollination, he says.
On a Silver Platter
The world has become heavy, I tell my doctor.
A door’s handle, a page in a book,
an empty glass.
I want you to see this, she says.
She points at the black and white image
on her computer screen.
She wears a wedding band, but I don’t want to know
anything about her. I don’t want her to have a husband,
children, parents, siblings.
This is your spine, she says. From C-1 to L-5. Do you see these spots?
Yes, I say. What are they?
Sadness, she says.
Are you sure? I ask.
It’s a clear case, she says. The location,
the shape, the density.
Same patients present transparent sadness. We call it
Type Zero. Very difficult to diagnose, even using a dye for contrast.
Yours is translucent. Type 1.
And, it’s shaped like pellets. You see? Very common in Type 1.
Type 2, the opaque sadness, is shaped like filaments that run
alongside the muscle fibers.
Type 1 stays close to the spine. May cause weakness,
trembling, paresthesia, night sweats,
There is also Type 3. It’s web-shaped, settles around the neck.
Patients describe it as having a bridle around the throat.
Produces speech impediments, sometimes muteness.
The last identified sadness is called Inner Type, she says.
It generates in the amygdala. It looks like a rain
of electrical spores that can reach any part of the body.
Does the Type 1 explain my symptoms? I ask.
We can’t be sure, she says. We are still in the early stages
of research. But sadness explains many things.
What should I do? I ask.
Some patients try to rest more and calm down.
But sometimes they fall into hypersomnia, she says.
Balance is everything, she adds.
Some patients cry. Some play sports because of
dopamine release. Some listen to music. Bach, most of all.
I don’t like sports, I say. But I like Bach.
What do you do with your own sadness, I ask.
I just keep plowing, she says.
Will I improve? I ask.
You will, she says. But there is no cure for sadness.
It stays with you, always.
What about the future sadness? I ask.
We will cross that bridge when we get there.
Do you pray, meditate? she asks.
Not really, I say.
How can the body function with all this sadness? I ask.
Nobody knows, she says.
But some scientists theorize that the body wouldn´t
be able to function without sadness.
Just a hypothesis.
Do you think we could survive
a lifelong load of sadness delivered in a single day? I ask.
She plays with her wedding band.
Imagine all your sadness, at once, on a silver tray, I say.
All at once, on a silver platter, she says,
like the head of John the Baptist.