It was late in February, still cold and grey, the buildings whitewashed in a milky light. Patches of snow covered the backyard, and as she looked out a cardinal quickly flew away from the feeding house, its piercing red color an exclamation mark in the silence. She gazed back at the two kids, her daughter and her little friend, speaking in a language known only to them, punctuated by giggles and screams. She was tired, bored, or both, and tried to regain back the conversation that had faltered with the babysitter she was having a play date with. She had known Edith for about six months now, a Caribbean woman from Trinidad who had surprised her in their first interview by her slimness. She had pictured her like one of the other babysitters she had known in the building, rounder and louder, one of those women who snuggle the kids close to their bosoms in tight embraces of abundant flesh. She had quickly liked her though, and had been able to allow this stranger to take care of her daughter, in spite of all her fears and guilt, for a few hours a week. Since Edith also cared for another child in the building they end up getting together often, both of them grateful for some adult conversation while the kids kept busy with each other. Much of their talk revolved about feedings and diapers, but occasionally glimpses of each other where shared. She talked about the failed marriage of her dad, now single at 62 after 30 years of marriage, and Edith spoke of her grievances with an apparently psychotic roommate that had finally moved out from her apartment.
I needed time for my prayers, you know. I am a private person, she should have been happy to have the kitchen to herself, but she wanted me to keep her company and mocked me when I played my spiritual songs.
She listened and nodded. She had known her share of unsuccessful roommates and was now content to share her life with her husband and daughter. She wondered what these prayers looked liked, herself agnostic by chance or destiny, she envied at times the solace religion provided to people. The easiness of knowing a pattern in things, of accepting life as it came because God had a plan. She was often overwhelmed by the burden of making choices, of creating a life for herself whose meaning she could not quite decipher at times. So far away from the country in which she had been born, finally comfortable in a language that had betrayed her for so long, making her sound unnuanced and flat. She had been in school for years and still felt like a kid, the prospect of a completed PhD and becoming an adult kept slipping from her. She thought becoming a mother would immediately make her a resounding adult but it wasn’t the case.
My young son is getting married you know. July 26, so I told him I would try to send him some money for the wedding. I like his girlfriend, she cool, they have lived together for a while now.
Edith could not attend the ceremony herself since leaving the country would mean she would not be able to come back again. She felt sorry for her, it would be a pity to miss the event, and she made a mental note to give her a bit more money when the date got closer, a little extra for her son’s present. She looked at her daughter now and tried to picture what that day would be like in her life, maybe by then she would finally feel like a grown up, or not. Edith offered her the wallet with the pictures of her two sons, at age 8 or 10, and she noticed the family resemblance. The long nose and olive skin, Edith said they were Indian, and herself the only one of her sisters with curly hair. Both were handsome boys, stern looking and unsmiling, apparently distrustful of the camera. The younger one had been denied recently the visa to visit, and was waiting to reapply again in a few months. It was five years since Edith had been back home, even though she almost had to move back a few months ago, after her previous employer had let her go without notice.
Imagine, after four and half years I had been taking care of that boy. I won’t lie to you, I had surgery in my eye, and missed six working days. I arrived on Friday and she told me I had been replaced, just like that. You don’t do that to people, you know.
No you don’t, but it seems so easy here she thought, one day you have a job and the next you are trying to figure out how to pay your rent. She was no longer in that position though, now she was safely mortgaged in an apartment too expensive for their income that somehow they managed to pay. The kids chased the cat out of the room and they went to stop them, to no avail, it’s remarkable how much a toddler can undo in a few moments. A litter of toys, crayons, and papers streamed the room, a sure symptom of unrestrained joy.
I don’t like to lie to you, you know. I have known you for some time now and I don’t like to lie. She looked at Edith and waited, noticing how she always wore a ponytail with a little pearled clip on her side. How would she look with her hair loose she wondered? A few months ago a “young boy” the age of her sons had been courting her, and she had laughed telling her about it.
Oh my god, imagine, him so young. I would be embarrassed to show him to my sons, I am an old woman you know.
Edith did not seem like an old woman to her, she had lovely skin and pretty eyes. Her slight frame made her looked youthful and she was not surprised that a “young boy” thought she was attractive.
My son is dead. My older son. I don’t like to lie. He was twenty six. She imagined the little boy in the picture as an adult, crashing in a car accident probably, how else would you die at that age? She looked at Edith again and listened.
He hanged himself, two years ago. I still cannot make peace with that death. He called me the day it happened, but I was busy taking care of that boy I told you and did not pick up the phone. I think he needed to talk to someone, he must have been unhappy and I did not pick up. He was unhappy about a girl or something…
The tea kettle hissed and she moved to turn the fire off. She poured the two cups slowly, imagining the grief stricken face of Edith answering the phone call that delivered the death of her son. She did not attend the funeral, her life as an immigrant keeping her at bay from burying her flesh and blood.
I watch the tape of the funeral at home, they have pictures of him as a kid, things like that, but I don’t recognize him. His face so swollen…
She wiped the kitchen counter and threw away the tea bags. She listened to her daughter and her friend, fighting for the baby stroller, pulling at each one, forceful and determined to hold their ground. She heard the slow drip of water from the kitchen faucet, and wondered when her husband would fix it. She looked again outside and noticed for the first time how some resilient tulips were trying to break through the ground, unaware of the winter forecast for the end of the week. Tomorrow she would cover them with a little plastic bag, like her grandmother used to do with her geraniums, and maybe they would survive the winter, live to see the spring.
Noelia Diaz grew up in Madrid but has lived in New York for the last 17 years. She is currently working towards her PhD in Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center of CUNY. Her areas of concentration are contemporary Irish and Argentine theater. Previously she was a Writing Fellow for two years at Kingsborough Community College and in the fall she will be teaching in the Communications & Theatre Arts Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.