Even on her wedding day, Lucia was cloaked in black lace, a thick veil covering her pasty skin,
making the joyous celebration appear to be more of a mournful end to her life than a fresh beginning. Of course, in some aspect, I understood her statement.
She was not being rude or disrespectful- that was my position in our friendship- but rather she was simply being honest, as always.
"Lucia," I beckoned days earlier, hanging partially from the rafters of our cottage.
I had always been much taller than the rest so I had found some comfort reaching the beams rather than walking straight into them. "Why won't you wear white?"
She remained silent for quite some time, finishing the stitching of her corset with such precision. I always wished she could make my dress too one day.
Once she added the last spiral, she looked up with her distinct grimace and said, "I've never quite looked good in white."
Lucia, I suppose I should clarify, was not my friend by choice.
We were both scullery maids for the Dwight family, the richest family in all of Klipston,
and resided with the other immigrants not too far down the road in a cheap cottage that could easily be covered when we pooled all our earnings together.
There were six of us total: Ramona was the oldest at thirty-nine; I was the youngest at eighteen. Lucia was somewhere in the middle at twenty-three.
In one way or another, we were all one in the same, but distinctly different. Ramona and Fabiana were already married, working to bring their families here too.
They were much more responsible than Antonia, who spent her nights earning money in bed. Constanza was very rarely home, and, when she was, she only slept.
Lucia was stern, quiet, and secluded, but she kept me, el diablo, straight.
But we all worked hard, coming home with small bills and bloody hands, exhaustion creeping up our spines, and we wept with joy come Sunday mornings, the day when we could call home.
Lucia only called home once a month, and even then her conversations were very curt. She never talked about her family and usually became long and withdrawn thereafter.
I tried my best to respect her privacy but it was hard.
The day of her wedding was the hardest.
I very much wanted to ask her about her family, if her father would be here to walk her down the aisle, or her mother to weep, arms open wide, as Lucia became a taken woman at last.
But I could not. Rather I sat on the edge of my cot smiling like an idiot.
"Lucia, you look so beautiful," the other girls cooed but their compliments were empty; they could not understand why she wore black, and, with it, cursed her name beneath their breaths.
I was still smiling like an idiot.
Of course I knew the story behind her black dress, but it was not my place to tell the others. Lucia had not told me, and I had not asked. In a sense, I somehow just knew.
"Make use of yourself, diablo," Lucia eventually muttered, tangled in the veil like a fly freshly caught by a spider. Slowly but surely, I unwound the webbing, releasing her pale hands.
The blue veins rose just above her skin and spread out in tiny lines of purple until they reached the other side, invisible to my naked eye. She was cold.
"Lucia," I whispered, switching back to my native tongue, one I had not used since last Sunday, nearly a week now. "Why are you so cold?"
"It is cold here."
We both knew that to be a lie. The cottage was well beyond sweltering and beads of sweat covered my brow. How she was cold, I could not fathom.
"I am always cold, you should know that."
I did. She kept my ragged burlap blanket ten months of the year. But I had never seen her so frigid.
Naive, I said, "I never thought the term cold feet was so literal."
Lucia glared and adjusted her veil; she was done speaking. I bowed my head and continued with my chores.
The wedding was at the first sign of the setting sun, only hours before we would need to wake and begin another week of endless work for the Dwights.
We were all exhausted come that time and it took much convincing for us to rise from our siestas to get ready.
Lucia was sitting by her sewing table overlooking the dress in which she were to wear in just a short matter of time.
"Lucia?" I whispered, careful not to disturb her from her thoughts.
"What am I doing, diablo?"
"You are getting married to a very lucky man."
She shook her head. "He cannot even provide the arras."
"But if you love him..."
"You're too young to understand love, diablo!"
I did not need to understand love nor did I need to understand Lucia, and yet I did both. I drew her close and smiled.
"Lucia," I whispered. "Why are you marrying a man you do not love? Why must you sacrifice your life for a man whom you hate?"
She fell silent.
"You can stop talking all you want, Lucia, but I know...I know."
She shook her head. "Please let me be, I have a headache."
Lucia always had a headache. At times, I was not sure if it were real or if that was her excuse to back out of conversation.
Either way, I let her rest as I readied myself in the ragged sundress I had worn each special day that had come before.
The hem was coming undone and it tickled my knee as I walked to the place of the ceremony.
It was not a long walk from our living quarters; it was just past the brick driveway a few houses down the road.
The altar was set before the river where we all would swim during hot summer nights.
The flowers that lined the bank were so fragrant and overbearing that I realized few people would notice Lucia's black dress.
Not that there were a lot of attendees to notice her dress anyways. It was mainly just us maids and a few members of Felipe's family. Felipe was a nice man, strapping yet sweet.
He worked for another family down the road as their head stable worker.
He was in charge of some of the wildest horses in Klipston, and if he could tame them, he could take care of mellow Lucia without a doubt.
Felipe and I arrived to the Klipston around the same time. He and I had been smooshed together in the back of the same van. Of course then I had been but a child and he was only a teen.
He was one of the few people I trusted. I did not trust him enough to reveal Lucia's secret.
As soon as the sun began to descend into a bed of feathery clouds,
the guests took their seats and Felipe stood anxiously beside the altar; he had picked a flower from the bank and tucked it beside the dusty tie he wore. A crooked grin was plastered on his face.
For what seemed like eternity, Lucia did not walk down the aisle. Just as I was to check up on her, the guests began to stand. She had arrived.
The black dress hung on her thin frame and she kept the dark veil over her pale and uneasy face. She walked slowly and she walked alone. Her family did not come.
As she passed by my row I noticed the quivering of her blue hands and I reassured her with a smile. Whether it helped or not, I could not tell but the ceremony continued on until the end.
I watched with teary eyes from my seat. Lucia was perhaps one of the strongest women the world would ever know and yet the world would never know.
Lucia's secret was far deeper and far more painful than anyone, even myself, could ever imagine. That night she got married to a man she never loved in a black dress.
She gave birth to all seven of her children in a black dress. When each of her children had grown and married, she attended their ceremonies in black.
The only day I never saw Lucia in black was her last.
It had been years since we both left our jobs as maids. I was out hanging laundry while the boys were teasing a stray cat with leftover rib bones from dinner the night before.
Something beckoned me to raise my head and look at the small hill over our back gate and there she stood. Lucia was wearing a flowing white dress in her final hours.
The fabric whipped through the wind as it were a flag of surrender and not a dress. Noticing my attention, she bowed her fragile head.
I smiled and called out, "I guess you were right, you don't quite look good in white."
Lucia chuckled silently, her chest bobbing up and down. Then she waved, her hands wrinkled and bluer than ever.