Palomar by Jennifer Anthony
Esmeralda walked them to the gate, still exuberant and chattering after hours of ministering to the child’s every whim. “You’re welcome back any time, Sweetie,” she called out.
Paloma trudged back to the house with the child in tow. She waited until the girl had dried off and changed into street clothes. “Must be sort of tired, after all that swimming.”
“Not really,” the child said. “I don’t sleep a lot.”
Paloma bumbled to the stove to prepare dinner, as she was sure it was once again Feeding Time. The kitchen window looked out over the backyard, where the pigeons rustled around in the coop, beaks open, wings held out from their bodies, waiting for the heat to abate. Paloma would normally be out there by now. Earlier and earlier, with each passing day and new ache.
“Too bad Esmeralda doesn’t have grandkids,” Heather said.
“Not everyone wants them,” Paloma said. She poured water into the pot, wondering how much rice it would take to satiate the kid.
“But Esmeralda does,” Heather said. She leaned against the far wall, her chlorinated hair dripping onto the linoleum. “And even if you don’t, it’s nice to have some friends. You know, people to help you out and stuff.”
Paloma chortled. “Is that what you were doing over there at the pool –as Esmeralda fetched you food, towels, band-aids? ‘Helping her out?’”
“She likes to do it,” Heather said. “It makes her happy.”
Paloma harrumphed. She stole a glance out the window at a bare branch of the oak tree, then down at her swollen feet, which spilled over the tops of her tennis shoes like muffins.
“I know how to cook rice,” Heather said. “You can go out there, and I can cook my own dinner.”
The water was boiling now, and a scalding drop flew out from the pot and onto Paloma’s arm. “No, no, I can’t leave you alone,” she mumbled, aware after the fact that she had fallen into the child’s sleuthing trap.
“Your dad did it, too, huh? Changed into a bird sometimes?” the child asked, creeping closer. “And maybe you watched out for him when he did it.”
Paloma poured the rice into the pot, stirred frantically. “Huh? What?” she said.
“If you teach me how, I could do it, too,” the girl said. “And then I could watch out for you.”
“Child, I think some of that pool water seeped into your brain,” Paloma said. She clicked the burner temperature to low and started to turn, when a dizzying jab of pain shot from her foot, up her right leg, and into her hip. She stumbled.
Heather scurried over and put one cool hand under Paloma’s elbow to support her. Paloma started; it had been months since anyone had touched her. Six months, to be precise. She remembered how Papí’s fingers would curl over her shoulder when she led him outside.
“If you teach me, I could watch out for you,” the girl repeated.
“Not just anyone can Change,” Paloma grumbled. “You have to have the gift. You can help me out right now by letting me finish the dinner.”
“But I have the gift!” Heather cried. “I know I do!”
“Hush!” Paloma said, turning away quickly when she saw the girl’s face crumble. “Let’s just concentrate on making dinner.”
After dinner, Paloma waited three hours before the light in the bedroom clicked off and all was still. It had been a sullen meal, filled with pouting and sour looks and a rather refreshing lack of conversation. After the girl had cleared her plate – eaten every teeny grain – she had stomped off to her room to read and pout some more.
Night had fallen, and with it, the cool had descended. Paloma gazed out the screen door and listened to the bustle of the pigeons, excited by the fresh air. In his final years, she had let her father stay out outside all day and night, coaxing him indoors only when visitors came to call. She had spared him his human physical pain when she could, looked out for him.
Per Contra Summer 2007