She carved her name into the frame of the doorframe, made sure to put her age down. 14 years old. She’s 14 years old, and lost one of the centerpieces of her entire world and she’s forced to watch some corporate pig take her home from her. The home that housed not just her tia, her cousins, but people in her family that she’s only seen in photographs. Family members that have long gone, but gave the generations that made her life possible. So she carved her name, the date, and her age in the frame of that door and forced herself to walk out with dignity. That, they couldn’t take away from her, no matter how cruel they were. But she was going to miss it. The bamboo cluster in the front of the yard that for some reason only grew in one area. Her brother and cousins, well they used to run around through that bamboo bush ’till the sun went down and the wind grew cold.
Then there was the back side of the house with the short concrete wall, built in steps, going along the edge of the yard, connecting to the fence that let you see the city and the walls separating you from Mexico and the state, you could even see the grasses of the other side of the rickety, broken fence that somehow managed to do its job. Looking behind her, there was the small Virgen statue and next to it, Ruff’s grave. He was such a loving dog, lived to be at least a hundred years old in his own time. And on it there was his chain collar with a cross to mark his spot. The clothesline hid the time capsule that she buried with her brother and her cousin. She only had two years left before they had to dig it up. Her brother buried a rim, and she could tell when they made the pact that he thought her whole idea was stupid. Her cousin buried a doll with some bubble gum wrappers, but she had no idea what it was that she buried.
A book maybe or a journal, her brother and her cousin weren’t here so it wouldn’t feel right digging it all up without them. Instead she’ll just stand over it. Maybe someone will dig it up one day and think of how trivial those things are. But they seem so important now…she walked into the house just one last time. Smelt the laundry room with the roof damn near caving in, the kitchen, the dining table in front of the fireplace, the bathroom where she dyed her hair for the first time because, as her tia put it, the way her mom did it made her look like “one of those damn gang kids.” They were supposed to be highlights, but she didn’t want them and her mom was impatient while doing them. She took the dye, spread it on her two fingers. Grabbed a grip of hair and ran her fingers down the whole strand. She even had a circle in the back of her head. Her tia helped her dye her hair back to her regular “dark mahogany brown” color.
She looked at her cousin’s room and remembered the time when she was younger and Brandon and Lucas made a haunted house and really scared her. She started crying and Roxy came in and yelled at them for making it so scary. Then there was her tia’s room. It was so empty now. The bed that they shared was gone, she couldn’t fall asleep next to her anymore or hug her to sleep. She couldn’t write anymore stories. Maria, that was her tia’s name. Maria was the only one who’d read the stories and help her figure things out. She didn’t have the story that she started writing, it was going to be a book and the main character’s name was Odette, like in the movie about the princess forced to be turned into a swan. She couldn’t even remember the story, but she wished she had it now. There was one morning where she heard a bunch of banging outside. Maria told her it was the ghost of the soldiers still fighting.
That very same morning there was a white stallion standing in the yard chomping down on the bamboo and roaming in her yard. She loved horses and there in front of her window was a white stallion roaming in the mist and eating from her yard. There was no brand on it, the mane mangled in the neatest form of wild you would ever see. The horse was truly wild and it chose her yard to rest in, that’s when she started her story about Odette. But now the only thing in that room was a dresser and the metal pole like frame of the bed that would have left an imprint if carpet existed in the house. She couldn’t compose herself. She saw her mother putting Maria’s things into a trash bag and felt helpless. She couldn’t have much, Maria was much larger than she was, so she took the only thing that could fit her, a white worn in pair of new balance shoes. Her mom went from that to shuffling through the dresser, trying to find important papers concerning the house.
Nobody knew how far in debt Maria was in the payments, it didn’t make sense to Ashley, this was her tia’s home, it’d been in the family since anywhere in the late 1800s to the 1920s. Somewhere in that time frame this land and this home became theirs, how could she be indebted to it? But that was the reality. She tried holding onto everything she could. The clothes that Maria gave her that she didn’t really like but now it was all she had. She clutched on to them and cried her way into the living room. There was the table that she lined all the cars on and made a traffic jam with during the summer, and the space for the Christmas tree, with its blue lights and metal ornaments. Joseph and Lucas were trying to figure out what to do with the book shelve and gabbed a picture frame. It was an image of a 17-year-old Maria “Looks like that one” said Joe as he pointed to Ashley, she found comfort in that, and then it was decided that the books would belong to her.
It was time to go, so she went out the front one last time, stared at her carving and sat in the car. She hoped it was a bad dream but it wasn’t. They were in Tucson now, the rooms seemed empty the walls were distant and nobody talked to anybody. It was like that for weeks. Then it rained and Maria’s books started to get wet. “There’s Maria’s way of telling us to put her shit inside” joked her mom. Its 10 years now, another family lives in what used to be her home and Ashley still has Maria’s books, and her pictures, she tries her hardest to remember her voice, and her face. But the voice is slipping and the face is fading. She can’t find the strength to go see Maria, but one day will.
Because even in death mothers need to know your face, not just hear you speak.