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A Monolouge in a Fever Ward

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Spotlight up on a dark stage. A young girl of perhaps 13 or 14 is lying on a cot or hospital bed parallel to the downstage, looking sideways at the audience. She is dressed in white, a dirty nightgown that looks as if she has worn it for weeks.

Emilia:(speaking with a little dreamy, thoughtful sadness in her voice) 1821. Today is my birthday, August 30th. My fourteenth birthday. I looked forward to this all year-the one day when I wouldn't have to work so hard. Mama would have made a cake with the last of everything so that it tasted like a hundred different flavors-honey and sugar and coffee and dried apples and molasses. Papa and Carlos would have sung, Feliz cumpleaños a Emi, Feliz cumpleaños a ti, and customers in Papa's shop would have doffed their hats to the newly minted lady of the house and called me Señorita Emilia. (She tilts her head back, sighs, looks at the audience again.)
But not now. Now I lie on a bed in an epidemic hospital, on a street whose name I don't know, in a corner of town I've never seen. I'm weak and sick and I can barely lift my head. I'm alone with ghosts and bodies; alone with memories of blood and heat and stillness. (Her voice is rising, speaking faster now.) I hate it. There are not words to say how much I hate it here, how often the walls smother me with their sameness. I tell myself this story, day after day, hour on hour. I need someone to talk to. (She breathes in, laughs a little.)That's what I pray for, not grace or hope or strength, just an extra body with a working ear. Someone who will listen to me, who will know and share the hurt that fills me. I can't stand this much longer-(she coughs, sudden and sharp, struggling to catch her breath. She breathes in ragged and deep for several seconds, then continues.) I need to tell it out. To keep myself from going mad.
My name is Emilia Alvarez, and this is my story.

My father is a trader, a seller of goods to the sailors and fishermen who dock in the wharves, coming in past our little shop on Anastasia Island. We've always lived on the water. Carlos-my brother, who's almost thirteen now-is an apprentice to the captain of the Graciela, a little ship that runs the delicate cargo up on the coquina shoals. Mama cooks, I clean, we both stitch clothes that are salt-stiff and waterlogged so as to be like briny armor. Our lives were never worried much by the summer fevers- we live on the water where the air is clean, farther from the close and dirty docks than most in town. So when we heard the news of fever from across the river, we had little cause for alarm. But then-(her breath hitches, and she looks as if she's struggling not to cry)-Carlos caught sick. Mama had never approved of him working on the wharves- too hot and close, and too many rats. But he so loved sailing, and he was so strong. When he was first ill, we thought it was only too much sun and salt-he was flushed and winded, that was all, and he seemed good-humored enough. But then he grew restless, couldn't sleep, coughed blood all the time. I woke one morning to the sound of him crying, and his eyes were yellow. (She pauses, breathes hard. She is weakened by talking so much, but she has to go on, in spite of herself.) He died on a still July morning-I don't remember the day. (A dreaminess in her voice now, as if she is in shock.) I remember how hard Mama and Papa cried, and how scared I was because they never cry. I remember sobbing for the light in his eyes that had gone away, and I remember turning hollow on the inside, but I don't remember what day it was. (Laughs) Isn't that funny? But I don't suppose it mattered much, because after Carlos, Mama and Papa...deteriorated. I think it sucked the strength out of their bodies to withstand it, the marrow from their bones. It couldn't have been more than a few days before they were both abed, sleeping all the time, crying and sweating, their foreheads so hot I could have used them as stoves. I carried water-so much water. I doused their foreheads with it, their wrists, bathed them with it. I made broth from chicken and saltwater. That was all they could keep down-they threw up anything else-and it was just as well, because there was no food in the house. No one came in or out past us. I suppose they were busy with the people in the town. I would stay awake nights with my stomach threatening to swallow me, and then Mama would scream Carlos's name and I'd have to pull myself out of bed, crying because I dreamed about him too. (She rubs her eyes with the back of her hand-she looks bone-deep exhausted.) One day, I was carrying water and I fell. I don't know how-my vision faded and my legs disappeared, and when I came to, I was burning. I tried to get to Mama and Papa, but I could barely walk, and when I made it to Mama's bedside, she was barely breathing. I started to cry, and I put my head on the edge of the bed, and she woke up. She held my head in her arms, like when I was small, and said, "Mi hija, don't cry. Everything's going to be all right." And then...she stopped breathing. (A pause. She puts a hand on her stomach, breathing deep, to steady herself. Her voice is soft but steady as she continues.)
I fell asleep again after that, and when I woke, I was here. The nurse put me in a room by myself. I don't know why. Maybe she thinks a young girl is entitled to privacy when it's likely she'll die. She told me a man fleeing town on his boat brought me and Papa in, but Papa is- (a beat. She chokes on the word) dead. I'm alone. No one has come to see me or told me anything. It is very clear that they expect me to die. And sometimes I want to....(She is very quiet for several seconds, but then her voice comes loud and strong.)
But then I see Carlos smiling, and Papa humming as he opens his shop, and Mama holding me and telling me everything will be all right, and I know I can't die. It won't happen. My family would never let me do anything but move past this and feel their love in my heart as I see the fever end and fear go out of the city. Beyond that...well, I don't know what I'll do, but I know I will do it with them smiling down on me.



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This article has 4 comments. Post your own now!

LoveQueenDI said...
Oct. 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm
What a fantastic piece! I feel like I can really get into character in this piece! Your writing style in fantastic, and I am doing a Dramatic Interpretation piece for my acting class and I was wondering if I could have your full name so that I could perform this and share it with the world. I would appreciate it so much! Have a fantastic day and thanks! (P.S. I'm not a stalker. :) )
 
hadiamalik99 said...
Sept. 26, 2013 at 7:28 am
Hi readerwriter85! I am a novice forensicator and I really like this piece! I was hoping I could preform this but I wanted to ask before doing so. If I do preform this, I will be giving credit to you whether it be you full name or even your username. Please get back to me as soon as possible. Thanks! hadiamalik99
 
Brockili123 said...
Jan. 24, 2013 at 11:58 pm
Nice! Keep working on fluency of thoughts and more vivid but clear imagery:)
 
. said...
Jan. 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm
This is nice. I personally believe you should've placed with this material. But a little constructive criticism : maybe this would've been better as a short story written in the first person. But i still like it.
 
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