One-Page Narrative 1

January 4, 2008
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.”
At the time, over a perfectly grilled Chilean sea bass with a side salad of avocado and beets, my stomach dropped. Was I going to have no place to live for the next four months? My Mom had come to travel with me before I began working in the biology laboratory in Santiago, and she was leaving the next day. So she decided to take Roberto and Maria, his wife, out to dinner with us before they took me into their home.
“Don’t worry, Cloe is very good with kids. I am sure it will be fine. And if it really becomes a problem, then we can talk about other options for her,” my Mom had replied coolly.
“That’s good… but for Dante, it doesn’t really matter who it is,” Maria had said. “For Dante, any visitor is an intruder. You know, my mother offered to host Cloe for some time. I mean, she lives outside of Santiago, and Cloe would have to take two buses and one train to get to the lab every morning. But she has a nice big house and she lives alone and said she’d be happy to have Cloe there.”
It was then that I realized maybe they didn’t want me to stay with them at all, regardless of their crazy little boy. But I did not want to stay in a creaky old house with a grandmother I did not know, far away from the city center and my job.
I climbed the last step. I’m okay, I said to myself. If they don’t want you, you’ll figure something out.
Roberto helped me carry my mass of belongings into his house. I had never been there before. Maria was boiling some humitas in a pot in the kitchen, and glanced quickly to see who I was. It was as if she did not see me. I greeted her, curious about the way she would respond to me. She said, “Oh hi,” as if I had always lived there, as if I was returning from a trip to the supermarket. I wanted to say, “Yeah, they had the bread you forgot to pick up earlier. Here it is. Should I set the table?”I didn’t say that. I knew problems lay ahead because I had not always lived there. I knew I would be ceaselessly waiting, subconsciously, for the last straw of something. I did not yet know what.I instead took in my surroundings with wide eyes, waiting to see where I could unload and claim a little space. “You will be sleeping in here,” Roberto said, leading me into a room. “This is usually our office. But we can clear out the desk and all of these boxes. But this is your bed. It might be a little bit short for you because it was mine when I was a small boy.”

“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.


One response to “One-Page Narrative 1

  1. I changed this story after our small-group workshops on Thursday, January 10th, 2008.

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