Carolina wondered why none of the adults had noticed how uncomfortable it was to stand around on this shadeless lawn. The sun poured down everywhere but under the big oak tree, where Carolina’s little brother, Daniel, was playing. She left the adults talking and squatted next to him.
“Look, Carolina,” Daniel said. “It’s like silver.” He skimmed his hand over the grass, scattering water droplets.
The grass was smooth and silky, and robed in a glistening layer of dew. “Liquid silver,” Carolina said. She liked the grass here in upstate New York; how it was thin and slippery, not hard like the grass at home. But even at the thought, Carolina felt a twinge in her heart. Guiltily, she spread her fingers and patted the top of the grass, letting the stalks tickle her lightly, willing herself to remember: short grass, wide stalks, and scratchy.
“I’m going to make a silver braid,” Daniel said, but his ripping and twisting wiped away the dew, and the blades of grass turned green and shiny in his hands.
Carolina found a twig and broke it into small pieces. “If you make another braid, we can build a bridge.” Gently, she pushed the little sticks into the ground, and balanced Daniel’s tiny braid on top of two of them.
“It’ll be for fairies,” Daniel said excitedly, ripping out three fresh pieces of grass, “with teeny-tiny feet.”
“We have to make boards for the bridge, otherwise it’ll be like a tightrope.” Carolina hunted for loose scraps of bark, sifting through the rocks and dirt at the foot of the tree for something that could be a board. She found a dry, rough chip of tree bark and wriggled onto her stomach to add it to the tiny bridge. As she grabbed for more grass to use as decoration, she felt a familiar rush, like all her blood was speeding to her fingers, to steady her hands and focus her mind. It was how she always felt when she started a new art project. Señora Rivón said that Carolina needed to relax, not to force her artwork so much, but Señora Rivón wasn’t here now, and anyway, Carolina wasn’t painting. It was wonderful, to be imagining with Daniel, to have her fingers moving again, twisting grass and making something tiny and magical. As soon as she got a minute alone, Carolina would draw a fairy on a bridge. Daniel would like that. Carolina rubbed the bark, trying to memorize the texture so she could draw it later.
She was so lost in their project that for a while she forgot everything. She forgot about the Realtor sign, and her boarded-up house in Puerto Rico, and her special spot that would now belong to someone else. Then a car door slammed shut, and Mami appeared, casting a long shadow over the lawn. She was carrying a suitcase in one hand.
“Can you two help Papi with the bags? He’s carrying a lot.”
Daniel ran ahead toward the car while Carolina scrambled to her feet. Mami put an arm around her. “What were you doing with Dani?” Mami asked as they walked to the car.
“Oh, you know,” Carolina said. “I was helping him make something with the grass. When I have time I’m going to draw him a fairy bridge.” She pulled the last suitcase from the trunk of the car and walked with Mami toward Tía Cuca and Uncle Porter’s house. “If we were at home I could paint it for him, at Señora Rivón’s.”
Mami sighed. “Mi amor, I know you miss Señora Rivón, but aren’t you a little old for this stuff? All these fairies and painting--it’s okay for Dani, but now that you’re eleven you need to keep your feet on the ground and help Mami and Papi, okay?”
It was one thing about the fairies, Carolina thought, but painting--Mami was the one who had noticed Carolina drawing and taken her to Señora Rivón four years ago. She’d sat with Carolina in Señora Rivón’s studio and sipped a soft drink while Señora Rivón told Carolina about learning to paint. Carolina remembered condensation gathering on the red soda can and dripping onto Mami’s red-painted fingernails. Mami complained later that she would melt in that sunny studio, but every Tuesday since then, she had driven Carolina to her lessons, and never once waited in the car. Mami was the one who always came inside to see Carolina’s progress.
“Okay, Caro?” Mami said, calling her by her nickname.
Carolina nodded but said nothing. She and Mami were the last ones in the house, and Uncle Porter shut the door behind them. The door had rubber strips around it, so when you opened it there was a sound like a plunger, and when you closed it, a whoosh. Carolina waited for Uncle Porter to turn the lock, but he didn’t. She frowned. Their house in Puerto Rico had a locking iron gate in front of a door that also locked. They had kept the windows open for the breeze, but the door they locked. Then again, locked or unlocked, once Uncle Porter pulled the door shut, this house seemed completely sealed.
Tía Cuca put down Daniel’s bag next to the staircase. “Do you want the tour now?”
“Oooh! Yes!” Mami gushed.
Carolina shivered and rubbed her arms. Goose bumps prickled her skin.
Uncle Porter must have seen Carolina shivering, because he stopped and cocked his head to the side. “Are you cold?” He glanced at the thermostat on the wall, and Carolina could see his bald spot. “It’s probably silly for us to keep it this cool. But it’s our first house with central air. Once the summer really gets going, you’ll be happy for it, trust me.”
Carolina nodded, trying to smile. She hadn’t seen Uncle Porter in three years, and she had been only eight then. She didn’t remember talking to him on that trip--he had just seemed like another piece of Tía Cuca.
Mami put a hand on Carolina’s shoulder. “She’s fine, Porter. Aren’t you, Carolina?” There was a tightness to Mami’s grip on her shoulder that made Carolina smile even wider, that made her clear her throat and find her voice.
Mami went ahead into the kitchen, but Papi hung behind. “Why don’t you go get a sweater from your suitcase?” he suggested quietly.
Carolina nodded gratefully and slipped back to the entry. She laid her suitcase flat and unzipped it. A smell of home, of fresh linens, of violets layered over dampness, rose from inside. Afraid the scent would escape into this scentless house, Carolina grabbed a sweater and quickly shut the suitcase and rolled it into a corner. The suitcases seemed all wrong in this sparse entry. Carolina loved for things to be neat and orderly, but there was something unnatural about the cleanness of this house. On the drive from the airport, Uncle Porter had told her the house had just been built and even the street was new. A year ago, this area had been a tangle of dirt back roads. Still, Carolina wondered whether the air-conditioning sucked away dust and clutter, leaving behind a house that would forever feel vast and hollow.
Copyright © 2019 by Emma Otheguy. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.