|DEVICES Home Page | Contents | Authors||Wordrunner eChapbooks | March 2016 | echapbook.com|
Faith rolled over, her arm shooting out to snatch Rodolfo from the night stand and turn off his alarm. From her hand he sent a warm tingle, his screen lighting up.
Fe mi amor
Are you awake?
Wiping the sleep from her eyes, Faith pushed herself upright. She’d been dreaming, and the man with the blue baseball cap was still lurking somewhere at the edge of her thoughts.
I need to tell you something
She rubbed her eyes again, squinting into the brightness of Rodolfo’s face.
I have to go away
We cannot talk anymore
Her thumbs perched tentatively over his surface, she stopped. What was he saying?
It will be OK
I am sorry
“Fe?” The door creaked open and she could see Mama’s face, a streak of white trailing through her thick black hair. Faith slid her finger up the side of Rodolfo’s body, powering him down as she gathered her backpack from the floor. Without another glance, she slipped him deep into his special pocket and secured the zipper.
“You ready for breakfast? The bus will be here soon!”
Faith held her breath, feigning sleep. Near her head, her window curtains rustled in a cool breeze as across their tattered cloth, the pictures of calico kittens romped in a garden of catnip. The curtains were among the few things they’d snatched from their last apartment. She and Mama were always moving, always moving. After so much moving, Mama said, it was nice to have something that stayed the same.
“Chiquita?” The door opened further. “Are you okay? I texted…” The light from Mama’s mobile illuminated the foot of the bed. “Where’s your phone?”
Pulling her backpack close beside her, Faith burrowed deeper under the tent of her bedcovers.
“Did you lose it?” Mama’s voice was higher now, louder than usual. The overhead light clicked on. “Dios mío,” Mama mumbled. “We’ll find it. We have to.”
Under the covers, Faith’s hand drifted toward Rodolfo’s pocket. But she stopped herself. He’d been bad. He’d have to pay.
“Ay ay ay…” Mama sat down heavily on the side of the bed, her hand finding Faith’s shoulder through the blankets. “I don’t have time to drive you to school today. Come on, at least have some breakfast. We can look for it later.”
Faith listened for Mama’s footsteps in the hallway, the clatter of dishes in the kitchen. She pulled the wadded bedclothes from over her head and carefully set one bare foot on the cold linoleum. On tiptoe she made her way to the bathroom, where she climbed up on the plastic step stool to look into the mirror. She stared at the strange little face that stared back at her. It looked familiar, but not like her mother’s. She looked like someone else.
She watched as the girl in the mirror brushed her teeth, then ran a comb through dark, knotted hair, pulling it back into a cock-eyed ponytail. She climbed down to pull on an old pair of jeans and a rumpled shirt, both resurrected from the dirty tile floor. Then she padded to the kitchen to face inspection.
Sitting hunched at the gray Formica table, Mama looked tired. She always looked tired, but today she looked even more tired than usual, her skin the color of clay in the dim light from the kitchen window. “Fe… Chiquita… You look like a mess,” Mama said. “Where are your socks and shoes?”
Turning on her naked heel, Faith navigated back down the hall, her hand running along the bare wall. There were no pictures here, not even Mama’s faded picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It was just her and Mama now. In her tiny room, she found her shoes in the corner, her socks and jacket under the bed. She scooped her pack from between the blankets and slung it over her shoulder. As she re-entered the kitchen, her mother smiled a half smile. With her thick fingers, Mama felt Rodolfo’s worn outline, etched on the outside of the pack. “There it is, right where it’s supposed to be. Is it charged up?”
“Good. Then I’ll text you to let you know when I can pick you up after school. Remember — wait for my message. And don’t go to the curb until it’s time.” Mama plopped a plate on the table, a spoonful of frijoles wrapped in a warm tortilla. “Eat up. It’s all we have until I get my paycheck.”
A honk sounded from the street, and Faith wrapped her breakfast in a paper napkin. Mama did nothing, only watched as she ran out the door.
As the bus rattled down the street, Faith placed her hand over the spot where Rodolfo was sleeping. It felt warm against her palm. She unzipped his pocket and peeked inside, but there was nothing — only darkness. A boy sat down next to her, his eyes drifting toward her lap. “Whatcha got there?” he asked. But Faith didn’t answer. She didn’t talk.
She’d had a voice, once. Long ago, when she was very little, she’d talked all the time just to hear the sound. But then something had happened, and she could only cry, her throat swelling and choking with a torrent of words that even she didn’t want to hear. When Rodolfo had come, the torrent had thinned to a trickle. Eventually she’d done what he told her to do — she’d stopped talking altogether. And it had worked. With Rodolfo, she’d discovered a new power.
The school had recommended a therapist. “Your daughter is on the spectrum,” Dr. Goldberg told Mama, though where on the spectrum Faith fell, the doctor couldn’t say. Was she red and hot, like the sun — or was she the cool, calm blue of the ocean? No one knew for certain. “It’s odd,” Dr. Goldberg said. “Faith is eight years old. A child usually exhibits these sorts of symptoms much earlier in life. And except for her lack of speech, she tests normal by every other criterion. Are you sure she hasn’t suffered some sort of trauma?”
“No,” Mama said, her eyes secretly seeking Faith’s. “No, she has not.”
Faith didn’t like Dr. Goldberg, with her paper white skin and her probing eyes. But after her diagnosis, things had gotten better. Faith was a special child. The bus, a shiny yellow one that came right to the curb in front of their apartment, was just one of the things that Faith got for not talking. She got to go to a new school, where no one knew her — where everyone was different and no one seemed to notice. In her new classroom, no one talked. No one taunted. From far away, Miss Carey’s soft voice droned unheeded over a sea of inattentive heads as Faith cradled the warmth of her phone in her hands, its faint glow illuminating her face.
The phone had been a present from her mother — a gift, Mama said, that someone had left behind just for her. And though she could barely afford it, Mama had kept up the service payments. “I like it when I text you and I see that little word there. ‘Delivered.’ At least then I know you got it,” Mama said. “And when you answer. At least then I know you’re in there.”
But there were things her mother didn’t know. She didn’t know that the phone had a name — Rodolfo. And that Rodolfo had his own voice — one that only Faith could hear. “Te amo,” Rodolfo said. “I love you. And if you promise to keep quiet, we can talk to each other for as long as you like.”
Rodolfo told her stories about a brave girl who lived in a beautiful house with lace curtains and a wide front porch. About a girl who could tell the most amazing stories of her own, but who chose to keep them, like treasures, for herself. Other people were not to be trusted. Even Mama couldn’t know about their friendship. “What matters,” he said, “is that we can be together.”
But now he was leaving her.
Clasping her hands together to keep them still, she stared out the window at the boarded-up shops and trash-littered alleyways of her neighborhood. Just across the viaduct, the bus stopped near the walk leading up to the school’s wide front entrance, and Faith tailed the ragged line of students out onto the pavement. Through the doors, she turned left and followed the long hall to Miss Carey’s room. Her sneakers barely making a sound on the old floorboards, she imagined herself invisible, a no one, a ghost — for without Rodolfo, how could she still be special?
Today was art day. “Just draw whatever you’re thinking of,” Miss Carey said. Faith clutched a brown crayon in her fist, working over a large sheet of blank paper as she thought of the kittens on her curtains. She drew a small cat with whiskers that stood out straight. Beside this little cat she drew a bigger, rounder one — Mama. She surrounded them with green grass and floppy red flowers, and drew a yellow sun to keep them warm. And there beside them, nestled in the grass, glowed a little rectangle. As her blue crayon fashioned its glassy surface, she heard a sound. It was a buzzing sound that filled her ears, calling and calling, luring her, making her dizzy… As she laid her head down on the desk, crayons fell to the floor.
“Uh?” She sat up straight, staring into Miss Carey’s kind blue eyes.
“Faith, it’s time for lunch. Are you okay?”
Faith could feel her face growing hot, her teacher’s face swimming much too close. As she pulled back, her stomach grumbled. But she wasn’t hungry.
“Come along,” Miss Carey urged. “I know you love chocolate pudding. If you don’t hurry, it will all be gone!” Instinctively, Faith snatched up her pack. “You don’t have to take your things,” Miss Carey assured her. “I’ll be locking the classroom.” But determined as she was not to let him speak, Faith could never leave Rodolfo behind. She slipped out the door, the pack firmly installed on her shoulders.
In the brightly lit lunchroom, she sat alone near the window, her spoon tracing circles on the dark surface of her pudding. She didn’t dare look up. Even at this school, there were people who stared, people who tried to guess your secrets. And unlike her quiet classroom, the lunchroom was noisy, chaotic. All around her were girls, their high voices squealing, and boys, their fists beating the tables in mock battle.
At last the bell sounded and it was time to go back to class. Fortified by the few spoonfuls of chocolate, Faith followed the stragglers out into the hall. But halfway to her classroom, she felt her legs go numb. Near the door, someone was talking with Miss Carey — a man in a dark suit and cap, his thick neck bent under the low ceiling. He wore a holster, and a strange voice croaked from a radio at his hip.
Faith fell back against the wall, trying her best to disappear. She remembered flashing lights, piercing her bedroom curtains. The sound of a voice, barking unintelligible words. She remembered peering into the night outside her window, a tall, dark form silhouetted against the lit cabin of a black and white sedan. The door near her window flew open, the wall shaking as another tall man came out into the yard, pushing someone in front of him. Then the door of the black and white car slammed shut, and the car sped off. She remembered Mama’s eyes, wet and frightened. “Fe. It’s nothing. Go back to bed.”
Regaining her senses, Faith ducked into the girls’ washroom. Huddled in a stall, she gathered her pack close against her racing heart. She could hear toilets flushing, the older girls coming and going, their feet shuffling on the tile. Then, silence. Slowly, she crept toward the door and peeked down the hall. The classroom door was still open, but Miss Carey and the man were gone.
Faith ran. Down the hall, past the classroom, out the emergency door at the far end of the building. As the door closed behind her, she blinked in the light of day. Then she took off again, this time to the right, heading for the woods behind the school. The trees swayed in the wind, low clouds just beginning to spit rain as she ran, her shoes kicking up thick clots of mud. Soon the forest was closing in behind her. In the dark, mossy cold, she climbed the little bridge that spanned the creek. She leaned over the railing, heaving gulps of air. She waited, listening as raindrops pattered against the canopy high above.
Then slowly, she reached into Rodolfo’s pocket, withdrawing his body from its depths, pressing his power button. In her hand he shuddered and shuddered. And soon his face was filled with words.
I am sorry
I meant what I told you
You will grow up to be beautiful and strong
You will live in a beautiful house
You were born in the US
You are legal
I am not
I don’t belong
I only hurt you and your mother
Please forgive me
I just wanted to be close
Are you there?
Her index finger dancing across the words, Faith remembered a warm man with thick brown arms, hugging tight. She remembered his sweet, musky smell, the blue cap he wore pushed back on his wide forehead. His smile, full of white teeth. His voice. She grasped the phone, her thumbs punching the letters.
Sí mi amor Soy yo
Where are you
Almost to Mexico
This is not my home
I cannot keep hiding
Why did you tell me not to talk
I am sorry
It isn’t right for a little girl to be silent
Can I talk now is it OK
You must talk
Or you might lose your voice
Just don’t talk about me
Behind her, Faith could see the leaf-strewn path leading back to the school. She could hear voices, someone calling her name. Soon they would find her.
Cocking her arm back, then forward, she let Rodolfo go.
He sailed high, his silver form soaring like a bird before he dropped out of sight. Looking up through the trees, she imagined him going back, almost to Mexico. She let go a sigh, a breath she’d been holding for so long.
“Goodbye Papa,” she said. “Te amo.”
|© 2016, Carole Stivers|| Go to top