A Memory Involving Several People
Almost there. As I walked up the final flight of stairs with my enormous suitcase, I remembered the words of Roberto. “We just want you to know that Dante is having problems with visitors… he is going through a hard time right now. He’s been biting his cousins and yelling at people and throwing things at them. So maybe… you should find Cloe somewhere else to stay.”
“That’s okay!” I said. “Thank you so much, thank you.” I sat down on the wool blanket. He shut the door behind him. I looked around. Roberto was the head of the biology lab that I would see the following morning to begin my four month job. In under twelve hours, actually. Books about agriculture, genomics, and biochemistry filled the shelves. A few DVDs in Spanish and poetry books lay in a corner. Photographs of Maria‘s large Chilean family and yoga spandex were in a box under my bed. I wonder where Dante is.
I changed my clothes and walked into the living room to talk to them. I wanted them to like me. Roberto began to ask me about my travels. I started to tell him when suddenly a four-year old, naked and wet from the bathtub, yelled “ARGGGGH!” at my feet, attempting to make me jump.
“Hi Dante!” I said.
He was adorable. I didn’t give him the frightful response he expected. He gave me a big grin. His smooth mahogany hair was cut in a perfect bowl. “How does she know my name, Papa?” he asked.
“Because I told her. Cloe is going to be staying with us for a while. She will be our guest, and she is very nice.” Roberto smiled at me. I stiffened.
Dante first squinted his eyes at me and examined my face. He moved his gaze down to my hair and then to the bracelets on my wrists, and finally to my boots. He moved a little closer to me, and rested his elbows on my lap. Maria emerged from the kitchen with dinner and three plates. Again, her eyes told me I was invisible to her. Three plates? That meant one of us was not eating, either Dante or I. At this point I couldn’t be sure which. “Cariño, get back in the tub,” Maria said.
“Do you want help setting the table?” I asked. When I spoke, Dante looked right at my face. His eyes grew to the size of walnuts. I held his gaze and reciprocated his curiosity and wonderment. I began to smile. He smiled. I then furrowed my eyebrows. He furrowed his eyebrows in return, and scrunched his little mouth into attempted ferocity. I loosened my face. He relaxed. I placed my hand on his shoulder.
“No we’re fine,” Maria replied. Fine.
“Dante,” I whispered, “do you have any dinosaurs?”
“No,” he whispered back. “Only dragons.”
“Can I see?” I asked. “I like dragons better than dinosaurs anyway. Dinosaurs can’t breathe fire.”
Dante’s face gleamed with delight. He clasped my hand and tugged me into his room. For the first time, Maria whipped her head around and fixed her enormous beautiful eyes on me. I stood up and followed him, holding her gaze for a moment, communicating all of the friendly energy I could muster under the circumstances. Roberto watched us with his jaw dropped as we ran away hand in hand. We returned to the living room with a bucket of plastic toys. For the next hour, his carefree imagination reminded me of my little brother at home, and I felt okay.