OPEN WOUNDS Lily died at two and a half. She was his first daughter.
Uncle had married quite late. When I was a child he was single, and he used to tell me he would become a pope. Of course I believed him.
Then he abruptly introduced me to his mystery fiancée. Beatrix had auburn pigtails like Pippi Longstocking, she taught English (for us an exotic language) and she wasn’t born in the island we came from. She was from the main land, from the opposite shore (Uncle told me she had cast a spell across waters, looking out of her window. I believed him). I liked her on the spot. Forget about papacy. She did things Mother didn’t—swimming, sunbathing, playing ball on the beach, bike riding.
Beatrix marked a step into modernity, a bridge through generations, freshening our slightly stale family flavor. Uncle rejuvenated by marrying her, even more with the birth of their daughters.
They had five girls and Lily was first. She fell ill during her third summer, desperately seeking sugar and water. She had diabetes in a little known, lethal form. But they didn’t lose hope. It all lasted less than six months. In an expensive clinic, abroad, the child suddenly died.
With my parents I met Uncle and Aunt at the airport, to give them a ride home. Beatrix cried very quietly. Uncle turned towards me, pulling something out of his pocket. A doll. Pretty, pretty, pretty little nurse—a red cross on her apron.
Lily sent it to you, he said. He wasn’t crying. But how softly he spoke—he barely whispered. And that crack in his voice, as if each word scorched his mouth.
Lily sent it, he said. I believed him.