Kai Moku-Jones

Carmen’s Family

I love Carmen. She was one of those nine-year-olds who reminded me of my adolescent girlfriends Stevie-Beth-Mary when I, too, was nine. The only difference between her and us was that, being more perceptive, Carmen knew what she would be missing should her time on Earth expire prematurely. At age nine, Stevie-Beth-Mary and I were oblivious to such thoughts. We were naïvely invincible. Death was never an option.

My friends and I grew up in an era when it was okay to play as dress-up adults with make-believe doll children. Carmen could have easily been one of us. 

As I entered her hospital room that day, a chill hung in the air, and I found Carmen nestled in bed, tiny tremors running through her. The room smelled of sterile sheets, and the soft hum of medical equipment provided an unsettling backdrop to our conversation. She was shivering. I wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and forced a smile. “How are you doing, Sweetie?” I asked. 

“Not so good,” she said.

Of course, I knew this. That’s why I was there. To cheer her up. “Wanna play cards?” I pursued.

“No,” she said. “I’m sad right now.”

I understood. I knew death was always on her mind, but I refused to acknowledge it and tried shifting the conversation. “Have you decided yet? You know, a wish. Something you’ve always wanted to do or see,” I pressed, refusing to use the word “last” as part of the question.

“No,” she responded, turning away from me and casting her eyes at her wall clock. It was one of those weathered Felix-the-Cat clocks muted in drab colors. The battery-powered toy’s ticking echoed through the room, each movement of Felix’s eyes and tail feeling like a metronome counting down the precious seconds of Carmen’s life. The repetitive sound became a constant companion, a melancholic symphony in the background of our conversation. One second, Felix’s eyes would dart left, and his black tail would sweep right. Then, Felix’s eyes would dart right, and his tail left. Over and over. Back and forth. Repetitive. Tick-tock-tick-tock.

Carmen knew her life was like that clock. She worried about the batteries.

“How about a story? You like my stories, right? My cat stories?”

Carmen finally turned to look at me. She was grinning. “Sure. Tell me about when your Siamese cat, Bobby, ran out of the house at midnight. When you chased it down the street in a nightgown and cowgirl boots.”

I had told Carmen that story at least five times before, and she never tired of it. Oh, the literary patience of a nine-year-old. And so I told her the tale once again, and like clockwork, she laughed at the same lame moments when her adult friend made a fool of herself half-naked in darkness.

That day, I left Carmen wearing a never-ending smile. She was no longer sad.

I returned a week later and strolled into Carmen’s seventh floor room, but Carmen was nowhere to be found. A nurse was stripping her bed of sheets. I could still make out a body impression outlined on the foam mattress pad. “Where’s Carmen?” I asked.

“She’s gone,” she said.

“Gone? What do you mean she’s gone? I never got to say goodbye. I don’t even know where she lives to get in contact with her.”

The nurse’s lips pinched a sad smile. “You’re new to the Santa Rosa Hospital family, aren’t you? When our chemo children have only twenty-four hours left, we know. And we tell them and their parents the truth. So, the tradition here is that they circle the seventh floor one last time and say their goodbyes to the staff and doctor friends. They say their last goodbyes.”

“But I didn’t get to say my last goodbye,” I moaned.

My hands clenched, knuckles turning white with an overpowering urge to bolt out of the hospital and run to the park across the street. I longed to scream to heaven, questioning the torment inflicted on humanity, especially innocent children. Why are they taken so soon? And just Who does God think He is, robbing mortals of a child’s immortality? Carmen, sweet as any kid could be, slipped away like the others, like my buddies Stevie-Beth-Mary years before. The loss echoed, and the memory of feeling nine again had slipped serendipitously through my grasp.

I made an about-face and sulked down the hallway, ready to return home. Don’t cry, I told myself. Not here. Not on the seventh floor. Be brave for the children.

A few seconds later, the same nurse came running after me. “Wait,” she shouted. “Are you Carmen’s cat friend?”


“Oh, my. I’m glad I asked. Here,” she said, thrusting Felix into my hands. “Carmen wanted you to have this. It was her last wish. She said that you told her cat stories. That you made her laugh. That you deserved her cat.”

“On the good days, I did make her laugh,” I said, agreeing with the nurse’s conjecture. I paused to stare at my friend’s prized possession and exhaled a long overdue breath. “God, I loved that kid. I’ll miss her,” I added.

I glanced again at the clock. Felix’s eyes darted left, his tail right. Felix’s eyes darted right, his tail left. Seemingly ceaseless. Tick-tock-tick-tock….

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Kai Moku-Jones is an indigenous Hawaiian, an ethnic Pacific Islander, and an emerging author. A product of the University of Montana, Kai recently relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she works part-time for the local newspaper and teaches creative writing classes. Kai is currently working on a first short story collection.