A woman and a girl sat on the porch of a white house. The girl stared at her old shoes while the woman watched the cars pass Madison Street before disappearing at the curve. They were quiet and sad, and so they were speechless.
Outside it was still wet from the morning rain. Chipmunks and squirrels were buried in logs; birds hid within the black leaves of the trees and sang to each other; even the mosquitoes were avoiding the rest of the world. A pond on the other side of the street rippled from the sudden leap of a fish. The air was taken by the smell of pine needles and lily pads and petrichor.
A train broke the silence. As the whistle faded the woman checked her watch and then checked it again as if the time had cheated her.
“It’s five o’clock now,” she said. There was no reply and after a few minutes she spoke again. “You must be fifteen now, right?”
“Why have you come?”
The girl parted her gaze from her shoes and looked the other woman in the eye. “I needed to see you, the way you are now.”
“Do you remember me well?”
“No, Ms. Alves.”
“You don’t need to call me that.”
“I prefer it.”
Maria Alves looked down silently and tapped her nails on the glass table between the seats. “Julia, why don’t we go inside? I’m getting a little cold out here. Besides, I think it will rain again soon.”
The two stood and moved to the dining table by the glass doors in a space integrated to the kitchen. The house was bright and white and Julia sat down as Maria went into the kitchen. She offered her daughter something to drink and although Julia said no, Maria served her a glass of lemonade which she guzzled in seconds. Meanwhile, she drank an iced tea and examined the girl, searching for herself: the chocolaty hair, the small nose and ears, the long eyelashes, the way her lips cracked open when she had nothing to say.
“How did you come?”
“I took the ferry to Hoboken. Could I have some more?”
“Sure,” Maria said, and slid the chair back to get up again. “And how is your father?” She walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
“You should ask him yourself someday.”
Maria, who was pouring lemonade into the cup, set the pitcher down on the marble counter harder than she must have intended, and frowned. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that if you need to speak to him, you should.”
“Why have you come?”
Maria strolled back with the refilled glass, placing it on the dining table, but did not sit. Julia drank the lemonade quickly and Maria watched her for a few seconds, biting her nails. Then she grabbed an old soda can from the counter between the dining area and kitchen, and began watering her plants.
Julia put the glass on the table. “I remember you.”
“A long time ago. Daddy told me you died when I was too little to remember anything so I thought I made it up in a dream but when he told me you weren’t dead, just that you left us, I realized. It never was a dream. You had just come from work, you were in the uniform still, and he was already home. You came to say hello to me first and Daddy was watching a show and I was playing with the Polly Pockets on the floor. You smelled like fish. I remember because I didn’t like fish. I do now but I didn’t back then, and you wouldn’t know that.” Julia tried to get the rest of the lemonade in her cup but all that was left was some melting ice cubes; she tilted her head back to get one, then let it melt in her mouth while her mother scratched the back of her neck, still holding the can on the other hand.
“I’m sorry,” she said. Her voice broke a little. She removed her black-rimmed glasses, setting them down on the table as she sat in the chair, and tried to hide her face in her shoulder. “I could never explain to you. Your father and I…”
“I’m not asking you to. I don’t care what you’ll say to me and I don’t want to hear it. I just remember and I used to love that dream and now I don’t know if I do.” For a few minutes they sat quietly. Julia turned her eyes back to her shoes, and Maria brushed some tears away.
“And he knows you are here?”
“He came with me to the bus station but I told him I was going to see a friend.”
Maria sighed as her head went somewhere else. “I would have liked to see him.”
“I’m sure he’s been saying something similar since you left.”
The woman smiled and felt her hands while Julia glanced around the living room. There were no crayon stains on the floor, no shoes scattered by the door, no picture books or toys or family photographs. Even Maria herself could forget she ever had a daughter. After a few seconds, she stood abruptly and continued to water the plants around the kitchen and living room, brushing the green leaves softly.
“You have a lot of plants.”
“I like them. They make the house nice.”
“How often do you water them?”
“I don’t know. They talk to me. The malanga I usually water once a week and the ferns three times a week. The succulents need an ice every fifteen days. Those plants on the porch need to be watered every day, especially when it’s hot.”
“You like taking care of them.”
Maria disappeared for a few seconds as she watered the plants behind the living room wall.
“I got a tattoo,” Julia said after a while. By then Maria had gone back into the kitchen and had begun chopping onions for dinner.
“A tattoo?” She laughed.
“Daddy doesn’t know about it.”
“It sounds like he never finds out about anything,” she said. “He would be furious. I always wanted to get a tattoo but he never liked the idea.” She smiled again and kicked the onions into a pan with carrots and syrup. Then she stood there and stirred the ingredients too much.
“You wouldn’t remember.”
A few minutes later it began to rain again, and the two turned their heads to look out the window and watch as it came down.