Palomar by Jennifer Anthony
“I sometimes need to Change, Marisol. Just like Papí. And you know that, so why did you ask me, of all people?” Paloma eyeballed the couch, wishing above wish she could lie down on it to ease the jabs of pain shooting up her legs. Or that she could slip outside, close her eyes, flap a little, and propel herself into the air.
“No one else was available,” Marisol said, with a sigh. “Trust me – we asked everyone. Promise me you won’t – well, you won’t disappear.”
“Transmogrify,” Paloma corrected. “The word is transmogrify.”
“Hush!” Marisol said. “That’s a bunch of mierda.”
“You have seen me Change, Marisol,” Paloma said, gently. If she gave her sister heart failure, she would have to drive the damn kid home. “You’re pretty good at it yourself, you know. In your own way. You change your whole persona to suit what’s popular. And the transmogrification is hereditary! Maybe Feather –”
“It’s Heather!” Marisol said. “And I have no idea what you’re talking about, Paloma. Oh look, here she is!”
A pair of glowing eyes peeped out from the hall. It was July now, and yet the child was still white as parchment paper. Paloma supposed she could dump her off at her neighbor Esmeralda’s pool next door, for starters – pump a little Vitamin D into her system. Esmeralda loved kids – might even scare up a batch or twelve of cookies for the occasion – and then everyone would win. Esmeralda had just made chocolate chip cookies the night before and the crumbs she had scattered across the porch for the birds had been delicious.
“I’d like to see the pigeons,” Heather announced.
“Oh, not those filthy things,” Marisol said, shaking her head. “Why don’t you ask Palomita to rent a movie? And tomorrow she can take you to the mall – or the neighbor’s pool?”
“I want to see the pigeons,” Heather repeated.
“Oh my gods!” Marisol said, pushing her sleeve up her arm to expose a Rolex. “It’s late. I better go. Behave yourself, Heather. Keep an eye on Paloma. And don’t touch those filthy birds!”
Heather and the birds stared at one another through the mesh wire of the enormous bird coop, immobile except for their eyes, blinking steadily.
After three minutes or more, Nacho, the youngest pigeon, shifted his weight, rustled his feathers behind him, and broke eye contact.
“I’m impressed,” Paloma said, standing behind the girl. “You won the staring contest. That means they’ll respect you.”
“How do you know?” the girl asked, without shifting her eyes from the birds.
“I know some things, despite what your grandmother might tell you,” Paloma explained.
“She doesn’t say much about you,” Heather said. Translucent eyes glowing, she turned to regard Paloma. Her arms hung like limp noodles at her sides, as if she had forgotten they belonged to her. “Sometimes she even talks about you in the past tense, like you’re dead or something.”
Paloma nodded, flabbergasted by how kids could get away with being so blunt. Those were the days. “Dessert?” she asked, scratching through her mental archives for something in the house that might qualify as such a thing.
“Nope,” the girl said. “If it’s okay, I’m going to my room to read.”
Paloma swallowed a peep of exultation. This was going to be easier than she had thought. Perhaps the kid would stay in the room the entire weekend.
“Fine by me,” Paloma said. “See you in the morning?”
Arms flopping at her sides, the girl delivered a curt nod of affirmation as she walked away.
And Paloma waited, putzing around the house to fill up the time, agonizing over the aches that seemed to intensify with each passing minute. Standing up meant the sharp pains, rocketing through her legs. And sitting down meant the scary ordeal of standing back up.
Per Contra Summer 2007