A Storyby Kirstin Valdez Quade
My name is my grandmother’s: Ofelia Alma Zamora. I am eleven years old and too young to die, but I am dying nonetheless. I have been dying since the day my mother went away. I’ve been to doctors—to the clinic in Estancia, and all the way to Albuquerque—but they take my temperature, knead my stomach, check my throat, and tell my grandfather the same thing: perhaps it is a minor infection or virus, one of the usual brief illnesses of childhood, and they see nothing seriously wrong. They don’t know about the ojo, the evil eye.
There is no one left in this town who can cure me, so for now I sit at the edge of the yard, my feet in the road, turning a piece of broken asphalt in my hands, in case a stranger passes. Are you a healer? I’ll ask her. I think of how it will be when I find her, how when she lays her hands on my head I’ll close my eyes and feel the blessing pass through me like fire.
I imagine this, knowing I can’t be cured, knowing I couldn’t bear to be.
I’m waiting for my grandfather, relieved because today, finally, he’s gotten up and dressed for the city: plaid shirt buttoned all the way up his thin tortoise neck, bolo tie with the silver dollar set in a ring of turquoise. Face scrubbed, white hair combed in lines over the brown crown of his head. He is in the house rinsing our coffee cups and wiping toast crumbs from the oilcloth.
I am ready too, wearing my blue dress (though the sleeves no longer cover my wrists), white tights (dingy and loose at the knees), and my sneakers. In my pocket is the address for the VA clinic, which I have copied from some papers in my grandfather’s desk. This morning my grandfather braided my hair and fastened the ends with rubber bands from the newspaper. Because I’m tall I sat on the kitchen chair and he leaned over me, his trembling fingers slowly working the braid into shape. When I was younger he would tease me as he combed out the knots, pretend to find things in the tangled mass. “A jackrabbit!” he’d cry. “My pliers!” I’d laugh as the yank of the comb brought tears to my eyes.