Papá took our Spanish with him. This was the only sign of mourning we wore when he left. No black veils over drawn faces, only black words from drawn mouths. Our grief was too great to be expressed through tears. Instead we began a new language that became his epitaph. With every word of English, I felt the beautiful hands and beautiful words that had always been his. Everything I could never have. Because Papá did not die, he just left—quickly and quietly, a thief in the night.
Spanish took Mamá with it. When it left us, she lost most of herself. Her face had been shaped by curves that rose and fell like mountains. And English became the tide which stripped away flesh, leaving angled bone in its wake. When Mamá could no longer speak as herself, she learned to speak as someone else. She became her own vocabulary, a woman made up of those few words she could pronounce without a trace of accent. Even at home she did not let down her guard.
“The walls are thin,” she told me. “The neighbors could hear.”
Mamá took me with her. Apartment to apartment to motel until I could not remember where we had lived the year before. And sometimes we left things behind.
“Mary,” Mamá told me. “It is a much better name than María.” I began to cry then, because I was very young. Mamá held me and kissed me, but she never said my real name again. The only thing we always brought with us was a battered tape of The Wizard of Oz. Not for watching, but for practice.
“See how Dorothy smiles when she says the letter ‘e’?” Mamá observed. “Make your mouth like she does.” I smiled and forced the sound through gritted teeth.
“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,” I repeated over and over, until sleep took me. In my dreams, I ran along hills, following the sound of water. When I reached the river, it was not full of liquid, but Spanish, smooth and crystal clear. I jumped in, opened my mouth, let the beautiful words come inside. I drank and drank, felt my body swell with language. On the opposite shore there was a man, with hair and skin as dark as my own. I swam over, and pulled him in. When I left the dream, I took Papá with me.
Liz Levy is a college student living in Wisconsin. Though she has been writing for many years, she is just now attempting to tackle the publishing world.