The Last Moment

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When the high-pitched buzz of the heart monitor sounded the death knell, Estella stopped saying her prayers. The rosary dropped from her shaking hands and clattered on the tile floor. She moved her lips to wail, but her throat closed and would not let any sound through. Instead, she picked up the rosary with numb fingers.
Estella’s son, a grown man of forty-four, sighed and said, “I’ll go get the priest.” He ran his hand along the dead boy’s arm then quickly left the room. Estella knew he was going somewhere private to cry, maybe the bathroom. He was never able to cry in front of other people. Estella’s daughter-in-law, however, had no such reservations and began to sob anew, her eyes already red and puffy. The dead boy’s little brother continued to hold his limp hand, as if letting go would mean releasing his soul to the afterlife.
Estella wanted to run away, so she did. The dead boy’s little brother called out “Abuela!” as she opened the door to leave, but she didn’t hear him. She left the hospital room and followed the directory to the cafeteria three floors below. She thought of nothing except walking forward. In the elevator, she watched the numerical display count down to the ground floor as she descended. The rosary hung from her hand for the entire journey, swaying gently to the rhythm of her steps.
In the hospital cafeteria, Estella ordered a tea and sat down at the table in the farthest corner. As she sipped the tea in silence, she wondered if she should feel bad. Had she abandoned her family just now? Estella felt guilt pinch at her heart. She was the matriarch. She was supposed to provide strength when everyone else had fallen to despair. But she was so tired of being strong, so she tucked the guilt away behind the mental dam along with the resurging memories of her grandson.
When she finished her tea, Estella stood up and dropped the paper cup into the trash basket. After a moment’s consideration, she dropped the rosary in as well before heading back to the elevator.

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