Palomar by Jennifer Anthony
She waited until she heard the telltale click of the bedside lamp, until the light no longer shot out from the space underneath the closed door. And only then did she push open the screen door and wince her way down the five porch steps. She chirped a hello to Nacho and the others who watched with expectation. Like her, they were great fans of routine.
Eyes closed, she flapped her arms, slowly at first, then faster and faster. As she lifted from the ground and shed the weight and the human appendages, the pain began to ebb. She was weightless, and free, and young again. She shot into the sky, circled up and around the oak trees, whizzed through the cooling night air, and dipped down past the coop. Nacho scooted out through the open door and joined her.
Paloma managed to scare up some stale cereal the next morning and watched over her coffee mug as the child brought it, spoonful by spoonful, to her mouth.
One and a half days, she told herself. Nine a.m., and the temperature had crept up to seventy-five degrees already. Sweat was trickling down the backs of her knees and her neck felt as if someone had jammed a steel rod into it. Her clothes felt tight all over – too much snacking on the fruit trees the night before.
“You eat like a bird,” Paloma said.
“My mother says I eat a lot,” the girl countered.
“That’s what I meant,” Paloma said. “Birds eat their weight every day.”
The girl shrugged and continued to eat. When the last stale flake was gone, she looked up for the first time and said, “One of your pigeons sleeps really well.”
Paloma raised her eyebrows. She would endure a few more minutes of idle chitchat, then steer the kid to the pool.
“I know because I couldn’t sleep last night,” Heather said. “I went to ask you for something to drink, but you weren’t in your bed. It was still made.”
Paloma took a long swallow of her coffee. “I slept on the couch.”
“No, you didn’t,” Heather said. She set the spoon down on the table. “I looked everywhere, even the couch. Abuela says you sometimes disappear.”
Sweat was now collecting under Paloma’s armpits, threatening to shiver its way down her sides. “What has this got to do with the sleeping pigeon?”
“Well,” Heather said, pushing the cereal bowl away from her as if she needed more room for her story. “When I couldn’t find you, I went outside to see the pigeons. There was one more pigeon there than when you showed me them yesterday. Fifty birds yesterday. Forty gray; ten white. Fifty-one birds late last night. Forty-one gray; ten white.”
“They are homing pigeons. They come, and they go,” Paloma said. She set the mug down on the counter and added, with a clap of her hands, “So. Pool today? I think you’ll need SPF-150.”
“The sleeping pigeon looked older than the others. She didn’t even wake up when I went outside,” Heather said.
“Probably faking it,” Paloma said. “Didn’t want to be bothered. Pool?”
“I’ll go grab my suit,” the girl said. She rose from the table, started to shuffle away, and then added over her shoulder, “You got some feathers stuck in your hair.”
Hours of swimming. Handfuls of cookies, chased down with milk. An enormous ham sandwich, followed by lemonade. A band-aid applied to an elbow chafed on the concrete bottom of the pool. Esmeralda tended to it all with a smile, while Paloma glowered and sweated from her plastic chair in the shade. Esmeralda cheered on the girl’s every paddle, kick, and splash, while Paloma watched two robins flit around the oak trees shading the pool, waiting for the child to leave.
“Time to go,” Paloma said, when she was sure the child was sufficiently worn out.
Per Contra Summer 2007