The Minstrel

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Emmanuel Jackson was sleeping.

Casper Williams still watched him.

For days, things had been exactly the same.

Except for one time, which was when Emmanuel woke up for just the briefest time.

The Puerto Rican nurse had been on duty, the one that Williams didn’t like. She gave him the creeps with all the statues of Mary by her desk with the rosary beads around them. She reminded Williams of a voodoo practitioner that Williams tried to convert but failed. Williams tried to steer as far as possible from her. She seemed to now she made him uncomfortable, and went out of her way to annoy him. He tried to pay the blood of Jesus on all things in the room to offset her evil spirit. Yet, every time, he was beset by the instinct that told him they’d met before. He couldn’t figure out from where.

He’d been thinking of this as he watch her take his protÉgÉ’s vitals when it happened. At first, he thought he was imagining things, until he saw the nurse’s face drop. Then he knew what he was seeing was real.

He jumped and grabbed Emmanuel’s hand, hoping the younger man would see and recognize him. The nurse came and had a closer look, too. Emmanuel made the same noise over and over, more in terror than monotone mantra. He struggled, eyes open, as though he was trying to break free from unseen force. Williams put his ear closer so he could better understand what he was saying.

Williams looked at her then back to his surrogate son. So much pain. He wished he could take Jackson’s pain upon himself. Now he had a glimpse at how much the Lord really loved his Bride to take her pain of sin upon him on the cross, for he would feel better to suffer himself than to watch this writhing agony.

“Little girl, I’m sorry,” Jackson said, shaking his head back and forth in a frenzy. “Little girl, please forgive me”

Williams did not notice the slam of the door as the nurse suddenly stormed out.

He was watching despairingly as his son slipped from him, even as he was calling and begging him to stay, back into the state of oblivion from which he came from.

He sat by his son the rest of the night and wept.

Carmen was angry. For days, it had been this way. Every day she went to work, she would see the figure of Emmanuel Jackson, and she would feel hatred. Ever since the day he had awakened to speak, she wished to pull the plugs which kept him alive. Every time she saw the sketch the implicated the one she had come to love as her own cousin, she wished to take from Jackson what had been taken from him.

It was like she was right back to the night of horror she had lived through, when she saw the lifeless body of her best friend and the small child who had once been so young, innocent, and once so full of life. There were times when she saw Jackson and Raul clinging to life with the tubes that his would be-killer wore. She had nightmares where she saw Raul, Lupe and Raulita walking toward her when suddenly the three where shot in the head, only Raul kept walking word her, blood all around then suddenly staining a handher hand. And she would wake up in a sweat, nearly having to say an entire mystery of rosary before her nerves calmed down enough for her to go back to sleep again.

Tony Velda had begun working as a security guard in the hospital. One day, out of nowhere, he’d appeared there. Carmen suspected that the Reverend Casper Williams had something to do with this move. She wondered who in the high place was so stupid as to employ a man as security guard in an area where lay a man he’d been once suspected of brutally attacking. And she wondered what kind of love Williams had for his surrogate son if he was so willing to put him in danger just to prove what a gracious man he was to the acquitted.

Hector came over once a week. Prior to Emmanuel’s attack, Carmen would be lucky if she saw him once a month, the Reverend Jackson had never been too fond of their Catholic ways. She was glad to see him, nonetheless. She bore no resentment at his weakness for the will of his employer. Too much had happened in her life for her to bear grudges over things that could be easily forgiven. She was too busy for grievances.

He had spoken to the DA. Carmen didn’t quite like the idea, especially when she realized that the lawyer would soon be knocking on her door. But Hector had meant well; he had seen the reporter on TV, had been old enough to understand that his aunt and cousin had been killed when it happened. He loved Raul. Raul had been the only one who could keep up with the energetic, athletic Hector. They’d spent hours together. He knew that even after the years of absence and life on the street, Raul was incapable of murder. He’d only wanted to help. And Carmen was glad for that. She wondered what he would think if she shared her suspicion of his beloved preacher to him. She was afraid that more blood would be shed.

There were still news bulletins about Raul almost every night. No one but the religious societies were in a panic, unlike other times when serial killers randomly struck at large. There were actually a few people ready to cheer the killer on. Most people thought the religious life to be outside them, and some opposed them outright. One medical transcriptionist joked that he hoped he took out Jerry Falwell next.

Still, a young boy had died the same way as the preachers had. Though vile, perhaps he could have changed his life around. So many turned their life around once the immorality of youth was gone.

Sometimes, watching a scowling Velda, she couldn’t help but wonder if he’d gotten away with murder.

Whoever it was, was looking for some kind of revenge against Raul, directly or indirectly. Carmen couldn’t imagine who would want to do that, especially since Raul had been out of the world for so long. Someone had either single him out randomly, or was bearing an old, old grudge.

Tony Velda and Casper Williams were talking; actually, Williams was talking, Velda listening and seeming none to happy for it. He caught Carmen’s glance, and looked away. A cop and a woman in a suit walked into the lobby, and Carmen felt her heart beating harder. She had told Linda Schumacher to call and meet her at home. Here was too dangerous. She became more aware of Tony’s gaze as the lawmen approached.

They were looking for a young woman who’d been admitted the previous evening for numerous contusions and lacerations to her entire body, looking to press charges against her boyfriend. The two lawmen commented on how proud they were of this young woman to have the courage to do what many women wouldn’t. Such courage, they remarked, was something too rare nowadays.

Courage. Carmen thought about that. If whoever that girl was with Raul would have enough courage to come forward, maybe this whole charade with the cops would end for Raul. The longer she waited, the more suspicious Carmen became of her. Maybe she was the murderer, using Raul as a smokescreen. She was either the only witness or the murderer herself. It was hard to prove cases without witnesses. The DA needed her, one way or another.

The pictures of her looked so familiar. Carmen would watch the captions and wonder, maybe Raulita was alive? But she knew it was just that this girl looked like her. Could have been Raulita’s twin. Carmen wondered what the girl’s grammar school pictures looked like. She wondered if they were doublessometimes that happened, there was someone who looked exactly like you somewhere else in the globe. She wondered what they would think of if they ran into each other on the streets. No chance of that now.

Raulita would have been twenty-nine years old now. Carmen wondered what she would have been doing; would she have had a husband now? Children? She had just started thinking that boys were cute. She had been so tiny, so unlike both her parents. Like a little china doll, she was. Somehow, you’d think that if you touched her, she’d break. But, she’d been out there, running and playing softball, skating with the energy of a long-ago Lupe far from Carmen’s reaches. Carmen would watch her and have hope for Lupe, somehow, maybe, the energy that had been so contagious in Raulita would come back to her mother. But it would never be.

She was crying. There was a tear on her cheek that had been born unawares to her, slowly trickling down its ill-fated path, a young woman holding a child watching it reach its demise on worn-out paper. She had been shouting; now she was silent, staring at Carmen with the look that told it didn’t know what words to say. She turned and left with the child, shushing her every time she made a sound. Carmen watched them go. She didn’t know what to say either.

Looked at Cindy Diesposito Hughes’ picture.

Hope for courage.

The minstrel was singing to Raulita. She was not there, but he knew, in spirit, she was. He knew she heard him.

He told her about how David slew Goliath. Raulita loved that story. She was always small, and though they were innocent of sin, sometimes children could be cruel, and they would tease her. She would come home and cry, because she was afraid of the bigger kids. So he wrote a song for her, telling the story of David and Goliath, how young, small David killed a huge, evil giant. He told her in the long how, in the end, no matter how great and strong evil seemed or how small and weak good was, good would always prevail. God always would protect the weak. He would never fail them.

But he, a mere human, he would fail. Did. His young wife had done more to save their daughter, than him, a huge man. She had kicked, thrown pans in their face, yet he had done nothing , his arms restrained by the two of them. They had laughed at Lupe, laughed at her bravery. Then they killed her for it. He would not watch, but he could hear. A long time of pain. So much pain she had to suffer, while he had none.

Evil he did not understand. Why had it been done? Lupe had already lost Pablo. Too much on a poor soul. So many years, suffering

Memories came back of her. She used to play ball a lot. She taught Raulita how to play baseball. Before Pablo died, Lupe used to watch boxing with Raulita. The minstrel had never approved of his wife and daughter enjoying violence, but they always did anyway, and it made them happy. Raulita would bounce up and down with glee whenever a predator came in for his kill— one, two, slamdown! Ten, nine, eightone! And Raulita jumping so hard the floor shook. Lupe would take her in her arms, laughing.

Not much laughter later on.

There was a friend that Lupe had. They’d been friends for many years. Carmen, he thought. Her name was Carmen. She came and fixed meals sometimes, would sit with Lupe on the fire escape. Raulita used to stare with fear at her mother. Carmen would come and tell her jokes. Happy memories, like the time she and Lupe led a march in the Puerto Rican day parade. The minstrel and the man she’d been going with cheered them on. Then Lupe tripped over her untied saddle shoelace, and presto, like dominoes, the whole parade landed in one big heap. Raulita laughed when she’d first hear this story, wanting Carmen to tell it again and again almost every time she came over. Each time Carmen told it, Raulita laughed. It was good to see joy in her face.

Then they were gone. He woke up from the hospital, they weren’t to be found anywhere. He’d had a vague memory of them coming with him,. When he was taken away, so were they.

No one had news. He had gone to the desk, to every doctor he could find. No one would tell him where they were. He remembered tearing through every room on the floor, trying to see if, by any hope, they were there, waiting for him. He did not know if they were dead, or if they were alive. He could not put them to rest.

She had left again, the way it was meant to be, he supposed. Going her road, to make her own path. She didn’t need him anymore. Didn’t want him. He was saddened as the last speck of her disappeared.

He hoped that one day she would want him back.

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