Icons Margaret Stohl

PROLOGUE

THE DAY

One tiny gray dot, no bigger than a freckle, marks the inside of the baby’s chubby arm. It slips in and out of view as she cries, waving her yellow rubber duck back and forth.

Her mother holds her over the old ceramic bathtub. The little feet kick harder, twisting above the water. “You can complain all you want, Doloria, but you’re still taking a bath. It will make you feel better.”

She slides her daughter into the warm tub. The baby kicks again, splashing the blue patterned wallpaper above the tiles. The water surprises her, and she quiets.

“That’s it. You can’t feel sad in the water. There is no sadness there.” She kisses Doloria’s cheek. “I love you, mi corazón. I love you and your brothers today and tomorrow and every day until the day after heaven.”

The baby stops crying. She does not cry as she is scrubbed and sung to, pink and clean. She does not cry as she is kissed and swaddled in blankets. She does not cry as she is tickled and tucked into her crib.

The mother smiles, wiping a damp strand of hair from her child’s warm forehead. “Dream well, Doloria. Que sueñes con los angelitos.” She reaches for the light, but the room floods with darkness before she can touch the switch. Across the hall, the radio is silenced midsentence, as if on cue. Over in the kitchen, the television fades to sudden black, to a dot the size of a pinprick, then to nothing.

The mother calls up the stairs. “The power’s gone off again, querido! Check the fuse box.” She turns back, tucking the blanket corner snugly beneath Doloria. “Don’t worry. It’s nothing your papi can’t fix.”

The baby sucks on her fist, five small fingers the size of tiny wriggling earthworms, as the walls start to shake and bits of plaster swirl in the air like fireworks, like confetti.

She blinks as the windows shatter and the ceiling fan hits the carpet and the shouting begins.

She yawns as her father rolls down the staircase like a funny rag doll that never stands up.

She closes her eyes as the falling birds patter against the roof like rain.

She starts to dream as her mother’s heart stops beating.

I start to dream as my mother’s heart stops beating.

1

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

“Dol? Are you okay?”

The memory fades at the sound of his voice.

Ro.

I feel him somewhere in my mind, the nameless place where I see everything, feel everyone. The spark that is Ro. I hold on to it, warm and close, like a mug of steamed milk or a lit candle.

And then I open my eyes and come back to him.

Always.

Ro’s here with me. He’s fine, and I’m fine.

I’m fine.

I think it, over and over, until I believe it. Until I remember what is real and what is not.

Slowly the physical world comes into focus. I’m standing on a dirt trail halfway up the side of a mountain—staring down at the Mission, where the goats and pigs in the field below are small as ants.

“All right?” Ro reaches toward me and touches my arm.

I nod. But I’m lying.

I’ve let the feelings—and the memories—overtake me again. I can’t do that. Everyone at the Mission knows I have a gift for feeling things—strangers, friends, even Ramona Jamona the pig, when she’s hungry—but it doesn’t mean I have to let the feelings control me.

At least that’s what the Padre keeps telling me.

I try to control myself, and usually I can. But I wish I didn’t feel anything, sometimes. Especially not when everything is so overwhelming, so unbearably sad.

“Don’t disappear on me, Dol. Not now.”