The Things Not Found
By Lisette Alonso
“Mamma always goes antiquing on Saturdays.”
This is what Daddy tells me Friday night when I offer to bring Miguel and the kids by for lunch the next day. He says Mamma has always loved antiquing, stressing the “always” to make it ring true. He takes me through a detailed account of Mamma’s daylong itinerary: visits to yard sales, flea markets, and thrift shops, lunch alone at Piccadilly’s, home near dark exhaustion so complete she collapses on the sofa to sleep like the dead for fourteen hours.
I nod politely into the phone, the gesture lost on my father 50 miles away.
“It wouldn’t make sense for you to drive all the way over here if she’s not even going to be home. I’ve got yard work to do anyway. You know how it is, Helen.”
I comb my mind for a hint of Mamma’s infatuation with discarded objects, but come up empty. Instead there’s a memory of her insisting on opening my toys at Christmas, her nose buried inside a box. Another of her packing away Grandma’s old lamps to make room for a pair of steel torchiers she discovered at Pier 1.
“Maybe she could postpone it, go scavenging on Sunday instead.”
I imagine Daddy shaking his head in reply.
“Sweetie, now you know your mother, she’s inflexible about her plans. She puts a lot of thought in to them. We’ll have to do it some other time, OK?”
From across the family room, Miguel is looking at me with his eyebrows raised. Carmen and Anna are buried in the crooks of his arms, staring saucer-eyed at the TV.
“What kind of stuff does she buy, Daddy? Why is it so important?”
My father sighs, a sound so common it’s almost comforting.
“I don’t know, Helen, pretty much whatever catches her eye. I don’t go with her. It’s not important to me.”
Even at 35, I feel the impotence rise in my chest.
“Can I speak to her myself, Daddy? I’m sure I can talk her into it. I mean, we haven’t even seen you guys since Christmas.”
I switch the cordless phone to my other ear and walk out of Miguel’s range of scrutiny. In the darkened living room, I sit on the sofa’s armrest and listen to my father put his hand over the mouthpiece. My mother’s forced whispers still penetrate the folds of his palm.
He comes back to the phone clearing his throat, “Sorry, Peach, your Mamma’s in the shower. How about I tell her to call you back when she’s through? You gals can figure it all out.”
For months I’ve been defending my parents against Miguel’s accusations, dreading the looks he casts across the table when I tell him they’ve turned me down for another visit. When he swears it’s an ethnic thing, my ears go red. “How can you say that? They’re not like that.” I tell myself my parents’ distance has nothing to do with Miguel being Puerto Rican, but inside my heart there’s a smooth, dark seed that twitches to life.
“I know she’s there, Dad. Can you please tell her we have some news? Miguel and I, we have something we want to tell you. It’s good news.”
The silence from my father’s end amplifies the last sentence so that it echoes in my head. I’m braced for an excuse when Mamma’s voice comes on the line.
“Are you pregnant, Hel?” The question has a clinical quality to it, something the doctor asks before dousing you with radioactive light.
“No, Mamma, I’m not, but I am going to be a mother.” I don’t want to reveal too much, but the news has been fermenting inside me so long it rises joyous to the surface despite my mother’s detachment.
“What are you talking about, Helen?”
“Aw, Mamma, Miguel wanted us to tell you in person, together.”
“Just spit it out, Helen, for God’s sake.”
When Mamma takes the Lord’s name in vain, it smothers my giddiness as quick as a sneeze. I give her our news in a rush, as if I’ve been struggling to hold my breath.
“Miguel and I are finally getting married this summer and I’m legally adopting Carmen and Anna isn’t that great?”
“See,” Mamma says dryly, “now you don’t have to drive all the way over here.”
Her response is typical Mamma. I will myself to stay composed. If I cry it’ll be for hours, Miguel drawing the details from me word by word while the girls sleep peacefully in the next room.
From across the house I hear them erupt in squeals. Their father, in TRex persona, roars after them as he herds them to bed.
“You’re not going antique-hunting tomorrow, are you?”
Mamma’s quiet, but I can hear her fumbling and the sly hiss of her lighter.
“What are you accusing me of?” she asks after a prolonged exhale. “Of course I’m going.”
“I just thought you’d be happier, gaining a son and instant grandkids and all.”
Mamma takes a slow drag and I imagine the tip of her cigarette flaring up, consuming the tobacco all the way to the filter in a single breath.
“They’re not really my grandkids though, are they?”
I think of Carmen and Anna’s dark stares. I remember the weight of their sticky hands in mine.
“They could be, Mamma, if you'd give them a chance.”
I’m angry, but mostly I’m sad for her and for us.
“I’m not saying I won’t give them a chance. I’m just stating a fact, Helen. They’ll never be my flesh and blood grandchildren. They won’t ever be mine.”
“They might be the only grandkids you ever get, Mamma.”
“That’s a cruel thing to say.”
With my eyes closed, I try to conjure an image of Mamma embracing the girls, pulling Miguel in for a kiss, her latent maternal instincts finally revealed. Instead I see her, arms wrapped around an armoire, dragging it up the front lawn toward her house, its clawed feet leaving ragged valleys of dirt in its wake.
“Good luck tomorrow. Get something good,” I tell her, and I hang up softly before she has a chance to reply.
Lisette Alonso currently is a bleary eyed stay-at-home mother-of-three. Most recently she was a courtroom clerk for the Miami-Dade County criminal court system. Her work has appeared at susurrusmagazine.com.
Photo "Sad Christmas in PA" courtesy of Jaime Krayger.
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