When the kitchen was suspiciously lacking the sounds of popping oil and humming, we silently ventured down the stairs. Our mother caught the rising sun over Lake Isabel, leaning on the porch railing. We caught the end of a mumbling prayer to Maria, a chain of pearls wrapped around her palms. A ritual repeated with more frequency ever since our father left.
The rosary beads were slapped against the wood. We jumped at the harsh noise, bumping against the screen door. The sun warmed our faces as we prepared to accept our punishment for eavesdropping. We had received a bar full of soap the last time we had been caught spying. Our mother swiveled around to face us. Instead of a lecture, she spoke softly.
“We are leaving this house.”
She walked back inside and strode up to her bedroom, ignoring all our questions. When? Why? Where would we go? The door was shut for the rest of the day. We ate cold sandwiches that night.
When dawn peered into our rooms, we found crates that used to house mangos by each of our beds. It was understood that we would pack our lives, whatever could fit, into these 3 by 3 containers. We bartered what we would take. Well, we all listen to these Beatles records and you don’t fit in those dresses anymore. Why do you need to take three pairs of chanclas? If we arrange the books like this, we can fit more stuff.
A crashing noise from downstairs caused the negotiations to freeze. The shattered plates and glasses were an orchestra to this dysfunction. Our mother let out a stream of curses, words that would cause us to end the night with a bar of soap in our mouths. “I should burn this house,” she screamed.
We knew the right thing to do was stop the destruction. We knew what she was destroying: the wedding china, the mugs that held coffee spiked with vodka, the ornamental plates gifted by strangers that were supposed to be family. If we didn’t stop her, everything we had left would be gone. But who can stop a force of nature?
She cooked dinner this time, arroz con pollo with the red sauce that we loved. It sat in our stomachs as we eyed each other, daring to speak first. Finally our mother did. “I know you want to say something.” She waved the wooden serving spoon. “So say it.”
One of us whispered, we don’t remember who, asking where we were headed.
“Puerto Osul. You never got to see where I was from and I want to go back. There’s nothing here for us anyways.” We clutched the hems of our school skirts, feeling each crease our mother burned into the fabric in order to show off their perfection.
Our mother had told us stories about Puerto Osul. About the men with skinny legs and wide torsos diving off cliffs, the way the air carried salt that always clung to skin and hair, our abuelo climbing trees and ripping off coconuts with a machete. Our abuelos were a legend. They took a bus to Lake Isabel after our mother gave birth for the first time. They never saw any of their grandchildren. A crash in the mountains, she told us. There was nothing in the papers about it.
And now we would be returning to the shores our mother came from. We wondering if it was the same paradise that our mother gushed about when the sun was the highest and the cicadas were the loudest. Things were so different from Lake Isabel, she told us. The water was blue without the layer of mud that always clung to our feet when we returned to land. The sand was white and didn’t have rocks that pierce chanclas and feet. Palm trees with fruit covered the coastline, things that we could only get at the mercado were ample on the shore. It was easy to picture the same summers on the lake, only infinite.
We carried our lives into the back of the white, dented pickup truck that our mother had bought using the money she raised from pawning off old belongings and furniture. We each had a few pieces of clothing that fit our bodies into shapes we wanted. Some records and books didn’t make the cut, despite the tears. A small stuffed bear missing one eye and a patch of green cloth over its belly made it out of the house.
The pickup came alive and we all recited a prayer before we leave. We held onto each others hands. The night before, we made a promise to not look back at the house. The pain had to leave our hearts. There was no room for tears.
Instead, our eyes wandered to the landscape we were leaving behind. The tiendita that we frequented every winter, beating the sun with ice cream sandwiches and the sweet of hibiscus lingering on our tongues. The trees we dared each other to climb, not stopping until we could clearly see the other side of the lake. We called to each lizard, each cicada, each bird. They were our sisters. We waved goodbye.
Soon the lake faded in the trees. It was the circular piece of jade from my mother’s forbidden jewelry box. We saw it one last time as the pickup crawled up the mountain. The heat seeped into our bodies and we fell into a slumber. We dreamed of our new home. Dreamt that it would fix whatever had broken in our mother.