December 30, 1295
My fingers twisted nervously in the folds of my apron. I stood outside the study, listening closely to the soft murmur of Faustino’s voice. He always spoke to himself when pouring over the accounts. It was one of the things Mathlida found so endearing of him. Mathlida…..
No matter how I tried, I just couldn’t find the tears. How could I tell him when I was just so blank, so….empty?
Everything was such a blur in my mind. It happened so fast. We all joked that Mathlida would sneeze and the baby would pop out. We hadn’t even had time to summon the men, only to send a pitiful messenger. Once it was all done, I fled as fast as I could go on my shaky legs. I fled, like a coward. I still smelled the blood. Fuck, I could taste it.
Because I fled, I tasked myself with telling Faustino. Which was arguably worse than being in the blood room, but that was my punishment.
I knocked on the door.
“Enter,” he called.
I slid in and shut the door behind me. I stood there awkwardly before Faustino looked up at me, a broad smile on his face. It was just like him to be toiling over the accounts at such a time. I stared blankly ahead, hardly believing what I was about to say.
He put his quill down on the desk and frowned. “Maddie, what is it?”
Mathlida’s dead. She’s dead. I licked my lips and cleared my throat. But the words wouldn’t come.
The chair scraping on the floor made me cringe. Still I stared at the wall. I heard his boots slowly make their way towards me and still I stared at the wall ahead. Finally, he blocked my view and grabbed me by the shoulders. I winced and recoiled, but he held fast.
I shook my head. “A boy. He’s….fine.”
Faustino let his arms drop to his sides. I stepped back, preparing for the slap I surely deserved. Instead he too backed away, moaning. I simply watched him, as if he were in a puppet show and I the audience. Only I had less reaction than the audience. Poor Mathlida, and poor Faustino They deserved so much better. They deserved emotion, sadness and grief. Instead all they got was an empty, voidless pit of nothing.
“No. No. No. No.” Faustino panted.
I shrank away. “I’m so sorry, I--”
Faustino tore at his hair. The look on his face was maniacal so unlike the grave mein he usually wore. A guttural moan escaped from his throat and he advanced forward. I stumbled over my feet as I backed away.
I jumped when he kicked a nearby chair into the wall. He threw things into the fire, shoved papers from the desk, kicked over baskets. And there I was, frozen to the floor, while Faustino tore apart the room. I couldn’t even stop him.
Finally he collapsed on the floor. His face crumpled and he sobbed.
He reached out for me. “Mathlida….”
I whirled around and yanked the door open. Once again, I was too much a coward to stay. Too much a coward to comfort him. Up the stairs I went, past the blood room, past my bedroom and up the other flight of stairs. Thus I found myself in the nursery. I collapsed in a chair panting and gasping. Just cry and be done with it.. But I couldn’t. The tears wouldn’t come. There was just nothing. I felt nothing over Mathlida’s death anymore. I felt an awful, terrible nothing.
In one of the cradles Isa was grunting and snorting. I could see her swaddled legs pumping up and down. I pushed myself up and walked over to the cradle to check on her. She had kicked off her blankets and was squirming in her swaddling, like a little larvae. Poor thing was probably freezing, so I picked her up and held her to my chest. Brennan would never know his mothers arms. Neither would Isa. At that moment, I wished Burga had died and not Mathlida. It was a blasphemous, horrible thought, but I was hurting.
It made me so angry. There was Burga, perfectly healthy, perfectly fine and yet she banished her daughter to the nursery. She never saw Isa, never talked about her. I was the only one now who would be there to cuddle and comfort her, to let her know she was loved. Well, there was Felipe of course, but mostly he tended to Burga.
Isa pecked at my neck, rooting for milk. I sighed and gave her my finger.
“I don’t have any milk for you, lovey. Not yet, but Nursie will be here soon,” I promised. “She’s off feeding your….feeding your friend Brennan.”
I kissed the top of her head and hummed. It was just so much easier to not think. To not think about the feelings I couldn’t have.
I turned when the door opened behind me. Alfonso slipped in.
“Vanna sent me to look for you. What happened?”
I couldn’t face him, so I busied myself with cuddling and bouncing Isa. She whined, and I patted her tummy. She never even cried, only whimpered. Almost like she knew crying would do her no good. I wish I had known earlier. My poor Isa. I stroked her face.
Alfonso placed a hand on my shoulder and I jumped.
“Maddie….what happened? Vanna didn’t tell….”
“Mathlida is dead,” I said dully.
Alfonso said nothing and I pulled away from him. I couldn’t let him see the nothing I felt.
I spoke to the wall over Alfonso’s shoulder. “I told Faustino….It was...awful. I...couldn’t...You should go to him. He needs you.”
Alfonso shook his head. “You need me.”
“I’m fine. I feel fine. I promise. Go to him.”
“If you’re so fine, why won’t you look at me?”
I half-assed lifted one shoulder. I was too ashamed. Here he was fraught with pain over a woman he knew for a year. And where was I? Here, feeling nothing for the woman that had been like--no who had been my mother.
Alfonso pulled me down on the couch and took my hand. I slid it out of his, looking away from his inquisitive gaze. But he said nothing to me.We sat in an awkward silence. When the nursery door opened we both jumped. The wetnurse swept into the room with little baby Brennan.
“Alfonso, take Br--the baby. Here, feed her, she’s hungry and has been rooting all evening.”
I handed Isa over to the wetnurse and watched her settle near the fire to feed her. At least Isa would be taken care of. I turned back to Alfonso and motioned him over to the light. I held Brennan up for inspection.
Alfonso tilted his head to the side. “He looks good.”
I nodded. “He’s so big. So much bigger than Isa.”
He stroked the baby’s head. “All that red, red hair.”
“Yeah...he looks a little like Mathlida’s eldest son, Edwin. You remember him?”
“Not really….but I think he looks like Faustino.”
I pinched one of the baby’s cheeks. “He’s so chunky.”
Brennan merely grunted and shifted himself in Alfonso’s arms.
Alfonso looked up at me. “Maddie, I am so sorry about Mathlida….”
I nodded and swiped my sleeve over my face. “She was my second mother….She was more my mother than….well...my mother.”
“Nursies usually are,” he said wryly. “I got shitfaced when mine died.”
I smiled slightly, kissing Brennan’s fat fat cheeks.“I heard you got shitfaced on all occasions before we married.”
It felt good to be teasing Alfonso again, almost normal. Would we ever get back to where we were a year ago?
“You’ve been speaking to Faustino.”
I stroked the baby's chin absentmindedly. He stared up at us with all of the gravity of Faustino.
“So serious,” I teased softly and cupped his head with my hand. Carefully I avoided Alfonso’s gaze and kissed the crown of Brennan’s head.
Alfonso sighed, “I didn’t expect to have three kids in our second year of marriage. Maybe one and a half….”
I looked up at him. “Neither did I, but….they need us.”
Alfonso pressed his lips in a thin, grim line. “No, they need their parents. But we’ll have to do.”
In the quiet I heard Isa sucking furiously. Poor baby. Poor babies….
He fixated his intense gaze on me. “I have been a fool, Maddie.”
“I don’t want to lose you. And I almost have...several times in the last year. And then I stopped speaking with you…”
“I don’t even know,” he said miserably.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what I could say to him.
He pressed his forehead to mine. “Without you...my life...isn’t worth living….I don’t want to live a life where you’re not….”
“Me either,” I whispered.
After placing the Brennan in the cradle next to Isa’s, he slid his arms around me. “Don’t die.”
“Not in my plan,” I murmured into his ear..