THREE BLACK BIRDS
By Jose L. Recio
At dawn, Ana, Carolina, and I set to hike on steep trails from the foot of the Pico de las Espadas onward to the top of that Aragon Mountain.
Recently graduated from med school, I started to work at the emergency room of the county hospital. Ana worked there too, and the Department Director determined I should join her shift. Soon, I realized that Ana displayed much endurance at work, which I admired. When she shared with me her fondness for mountaineering, I thought that perhaps her physical strength came from her practicing that sport.
“Are you interested in mountaineering? She asked.
I had no experience with the sport. Ana passed me a small book about it she had published, which I found interesting.
“I’ll give it a trial,” I said.
That’s how I met Carolina. When Ana introduced me to her, an Art student, I immediately sensed she had a sweet nature.
I started dating Carolina. She suggested that we join Ana in her Pyrenean excursions. I couldn’t fancy Carolina—a small girl with a pale complexion— climbing on steep trails, but the idea of exercising outdoor appealed to me.
The three of us often ventured out together. Ana’s ability to show how to battle weather and terrain adversities became apparent. I admired Ana and loved Carolina. Also, I became aware of a strong bond that existed between these two women.
So today, at dawn, the three of us set off to hike on uphill trails, committed to reaching the summit—Ana leading, marking the pace, Carolina in the middle, and then me—not quite as tall as Ann was but physically in good shape. A little after two hours of marching, I began to feel my backpack heavier on my shoulders and wondered about Carolina’s.
“Do you feel tired?” I asked.
She nodded but uttered no complaints. I realized Ana had taught her how to develop stamina. During the excursion, Ana was pending of our safety; she appeared self-confident and aware of her leadership role. Carolina, on the other hand, needed reassurance now and then.
Halfway up, we stopped to rest. We sat on a flat rock off the trail, ate a snack from our backpacks, and drank a sip of water from our canteens. Ana noticed the presence of clouds where before the sky had been clear.
“It smells like rain,” she said. “We should hurry a little,” she added.
We resumed the walking. A cooler breeze had made its presence, and a smell of ozone floated in the air as if a thunderstorm was forthcoming. I trusted Ana’s guidance. She pulled us faster over the last stretch until, at the edge of noon, perspiring but happy, we crown the apex. The sun appeared blurred out among thick clouds, and the atmosphere gray and oppressive. I felt difficulty in breathing, and Carolina claimed she felt dizzy.
“Listen to a rumbling noise in the distance. It’s the wind,” Ana warned. “We got to be strong!” she added.
The howling wind seemed to gallop toward us, whirling among the rocks. Moments later, dense clouds broke, thunder resounded, and a long serpent of fire tore through space. Three big black birds in flight just above us were shaken violently; they lost their way, and before the lifeless remnants from one of them had fallen to our feet, another flash of fire intertwined with Ana’s body, and she collapsed onto the rocky ground. Immediately, I walked to her side and checked her pulse.
“Very feeble,” I murmured to Carolina.
She had crouched down five or six feet away. Trembling, she gazed at us as if contemplating an apparition, as if Ana and I were the inhabitants in a different world, a world unknown to her. I proceeded to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, checking and rechecking for Ana’s heartbeat, until I realized that her heart had stopped functioning forever.
I moved away from Ana’s dead body and went to Carolina. She looked as if in a trance: her teeth gnashed, her hands shook, and her eyes opened widely. The windstorm was whirling very strongly around us. Carefully, I pulled her toward me first and then, down to the ground. She let herself do. We lay immobile, in shock, until a torrential rain woke us up from our lethargy. Darkness had taken over. The Pico de las Espadas had blackened; the sun had gone out of our lives.
“Ana is dead,” I said. “We must notify the police.” I could hardly stand. I grabbed my cellular to make the call, but it showed no sign of reception. I asked Carolina to let me use hers. With shaking hands, she passed it to me. No sign of reception either.
“Let’s go back to the valley,” I said. “We need help,” I added.
With a great effort, Carolina took a thin blanket out of her backpack, passed it to me, and pointed toward Ana. I grabbed the blanket, walked back to Ana’s dead body, and covered it. I didn’t touch anything else.
We tried to retrace the way we had at dawn climbed; now trackless trails, for the wind and the rain had erased all markings. With Carolina sobbing by my side, I being afraid of losing our route, and overcoming obstacles, we walked down to the valley and back to the small house the three of us had rented the day before. Filled with apprehension, I stepped in first; Carolina followed me. At that moment, reality hit me hard: We had been three in the house; now, we were only two. I felt bewildered, uncertain of what to do, what to think, what to say to Carolina.
“I love you,” I said, but my words sounded as if pronounced at the wrong time.
“Ana is not longer with us,” she replied in a distant, ghostly voice, and her words sounded like the announcement of the end of a trip, a terminal station.
Drained out, I sat down on the couch in the living room. Carolina retired to rest in the bedroom. I called the police. As I tried to describe what had happened, I had a flashback about a county employee who was taken to the ER the night before. He was almost dead due to an electric shock he had received while he was working on a public installation. Ana took charge of the case. She applied the defibrillator to the patient’s chest and saved him. “Why couldn’t I save her today?” I automatically asked the officer on the phone. For an answer, he assured me a rescue helicopter would be dispatched to the area right away. He also requested that Carolina and I remained where we were until the police came to meet with us.
After the phone conversation, I lay down and tried to relax, but images of the awful event crept into my mind. Would the two black birds that lost their friend while on flight survive? Had we lost Ana forever? I fell asleep.
I have woken up a short while ago—two o’clock in the morning. For a few moments, I was unsure of what had happened until I remembered Caroline was resting in the bedroom. We had not talked to each other since we came back to the house. I went to check on her. She was awake.
“Yesterday, we lost Ana, our loved one,” she said with a distant, ghostly voice.
I left her resting and returned to the living room, where I’m now, sitting on the couch, waiting for the police to arrive, and wondering whether, without Ana, Carolina and I will be capable of loving each.
About the Author:
Jose L Recio was born and raised in Spain. He studied medicine in Spain and later left for California on a Scholarship. He currently lives with his wife, Deborah, in Los Angeles. While in practice, he published several papers in specialized journals. Over the last few years, interest in creative writing keeps him busy. Having grown to become bicultural, he writes both in Spanish and English, and sometimes he translates his texts.