The Calm Before The Storm

Rosita shimmied her way through the kitchen like a dancer, her onyx black hair flowing around her like a veil as she took a sip of her steaming hot coffee and at the same time stirred the large pot of chicken noodle soup she was heating for when everyone came back. It was exciting to her, to have more people coming to the hotel. They were young girls. It was a good time to become a matronly figure again. It had been such a long time...

Amelie sat near the refriderator on a chair she had dragged in from the dining room and held her cup in her frail hands, using them to warm them.

"Being here," She said, "Makes me really miss being in France. Riding my bicycle through the busy streets, whizzing past confused tourists and goregous women in their finely made, expensive clothes. I never had the money to have clothes like that. No, never. My mama, she was a clothes washer and my father a laborer in a factory. We didn't have the money to spare for such things so I wore skirts that I had made for myself and the cheapest hand-me down blouses from my older sister Oxana. I wore her hand me down shoes too. I can remember putting old newspaper in them for there were so many holes."

Rosita was intoxicated with the elderly woman's stories and her lightly accented voice. For a moment, it helped her forget that the people she had grown so dearly close with for the past few weeks could be in possible danger. Or maybe something could have even went terribly wrong and they could even be - No. Don't think that. Rosita settled the large stirring spoon she was using down next to the bubbling pot and she leaned down to turn the large stove to a lower setting.

She leaned against the shiny countertop and grabbed onto her hot mug and held it in her hands as Amelie did.

"Oh, it was so beautiful there, in Paris. The looming shadow of the Effiel Tower at sundown, the brilliant lights of the city during the nightime. So lovely...," Amelie continued. She paused to take a sip of rich coffee to sooth her parched throat. Her watery blue eyes sparkled brilliantly with a light in them that Rosita had never seen before.

She didn't seem to look as old as she did. It seemed the talk of France, of her homeland, had brought youth to her. She seemed 10 years younger and the deep set wrinkles in her skin seemed to smooth out and fade and the silver of her hair seemed to be replaced with what Rosita could see as a deep, buttery blonde.

"And what about you, dear?" The elderly but youthful woman asked Rosita, "What about your childhood? Your life before this? Do you think about it much right now?"

Rosita crossed her feet at the ankles and she began to contemplate the questions slowly, watching the brown milky liquid settle in her cermaic mug.

"I grew up here, in California, almost on the border. I grew up in a very small home with my mom, my dad, my grandma, my grandpa, and my little sister Adella. It was very cramped and uncomfortable, but we made it through. I didn't have many friends growing up but I always was able to go home and play with Adella after she came home from Kindergarden and always I had Grandma to bake cookies and make tamales with and Grandpa to help plant tomatoes and carrots in the garden behind our house," Rosita said, knowing she was babbling but the look on the old Frenchwoman's face was that of happiness and peacefullness.

Rosita could tell that Amelie was trying to imagine her little dusty home on the border of California and Nevada, with their one car (a beat up rusted machine with torn up seats and a funny smell to it). The small Spanish neighboorhood that she lived in and the block parties that they had almost every week in summer full of Sangria, Tamales, baked rice, and old chipper music sung in their native language, played on a beat up record player.

"And then I met Jimmy when I went to college," Rosita said, looking up from her coffee and smiling at Amelie who was simply glowing.

"It was a community college, of course, but none the less it was perfect. I was the only one to go to college in my family. The only one to graduate as well. Jimmy and I lived in the same dorm and we ended up meeting and well... You see how it ended. Married and soon with two children."

And that is when she cut herself off. Amber and Ashley. Rosita would rather not talk about them. Her brain was like a newspaper and on that certain section, instead of picking through it and dissecting it throughly, she would rather flip the page and scan through the funny pages.

"And, dear?" Amelie asked, her snow colored brows raising just a bit. Amelie knew that there was something holding her back and Rosita wasn't going to cross that line. No. She wouldn't. Amelie sighed, so light that Rosita could barely hear it and the elderly woman set her mug down on the countertop and stood up, streching her old limbs.

"I always wished I had more children than the one I had. I always imagined having five children for some reason. I grew up with nothing and hand me downs and still, I wanted many children. With sticky hands and smiling faces and cuts and bruises that only kisses could cure. But I couldn't have children, I just could not. I had two still borns. There was something wrong with me that no doctor could cure but somehow I was still able to concieve one baby"

"And Rosita, find yourself lucky that you created two beautiful children, girls. They would want you to be happy, no matter where they are now or what they are doing and even, dare I say it, alive," Amelie continued, her speech getting more rapid. Rosita grew rigid, her body tensing up as the Frenchwoman talked of these children that she barely knew. Amelie was crossing into uncharted territory.

"I think maybe it would be best for you to try for more," Amelie said, folding her hands in her lap as she sat back down after streching. Rosita could tell her eyes were wide so she closed them and took a deep breath and turned back to the soup and began to stir it. She was angry, deeply angry. The blood boiled in her veins. How dare she say that Amber and Ashley could be dead. Rosita sometimes believed it too, when she felt the most hopeless and was at her lowest but then, deep at night, when she could sleep and tossed and turned, she could see their faces the brighest, the best. And she could tell that they were alive, deep in her heart.

"No. Children don't have a place in this new world, Amelie. There is no room for the happiness that they bring," Rosita said, not so sure of her words as she gripped the cross that hung around her neck on a gold chain.

Alex knows, somewhere deep within his conciousness, that he is dreaming. He knows this because he is running down the stairs leading to the subway to catch the L Train going to down town Los Angeles with a pink baby carrier strapped to his chest and a baby screaming and crying in his ears. Everyone on the damp way to the subway is looking at him as though hs is an escaped mental patient with his backpack flailing around his shoulders and the baby strapped to his chest is dressed head to toe in pink down to the light pink beanie on her head to the matching pink booties on her tiny feet.

He raced to the subway, which was closing its doors and was slowly building speed to leave. As fast as he could run, he tried to make it but couldn't and he knew he would be late to work and Irina's babysitter would be worried sick about them but he had been up early that morning because the baby wouldn't stop crying and wouldn't take a bottle.

The subway was racing into a big, bright, burning light and Alex began to notice darkness creeping towards him and then, suddenly, Irina stops crying. Maybe the whoosh of the subway has calmed her, he hoped and that would slightly ease his troubles. It was easier to wait for the next train to come and worry about being late at the factory without his 2 month old sister screaming bloody murder.

He reached down to run his rough, worn fingers against her soft, silky cheek and all he could feel was tough, cold plastic. Terrified, he looked down to see a plastic white doll sitting in the carrier instead of Irina. He pulled the doll out of the carrier and looked into the fake, blinking blue eyes and looked over the short cropped black hair and he dropped it as he flinched as he heard a distinct sound behind him.

The hungry moan of a zombie, the gut wrenching sound of shuffling feet. Alex spun around and he could hear the sound of the Plastic Irina rushing across the pavement of the ground and being sucked into the deep black abyss before him. Standing in front of it was the decaying, blackened form of Irina in her white nightgown.

She would have been perfect if her skin wasn't sagged and wrinkled, black and frosted with ash and blood. Her usually jet black, shining hair was greasy, inky, and nappy and slowly her hands reached from her side. And she lunged at him, wrapping her hands around his neck, gripping it tightly enough to bruise and she sunk her blackened teeth into his warm flesh.

Alex slowly stirred against the window he was leaning on, his breath fogging up the window, making the landscape a blur of grey from the buildings and blue from the promising sky. He sat up slowly form his position, his shoulders and neck sore from an hour an a half of awkward position. He rubbed his hand down his face, warming it up with his pleasantly warm fingertips. Alex pulled his sweatshirt tighter around his body, a chill running up and down it and it wasn't all from the chill of the clear morning air filtering into the SUV from the windows.

He wanted to put his nightmare far behind him. The pallid skin tone of Irina, her zombified form, everything. Just forget it. And if he could, with all of his strength, he wished he could put his entire ordeal behind him. He looked out the window and watched as the blue sky and faint, whisps of clouds hung over the buildings and cars. How much more fucked up could things get? Knowing his luck lately, it was defiantely going to get worse.