Christina Ortega

Manos Delicadas  

My head bobbed backward in place as my mom weaved her fingers through my brown hair and pulled it into two thick, French braids. The soles of my feet grew numb from sitting on them too long, but the sound of her voice trying to match lyrics from the song that relied on organ riffs distracted me enough to ignore the static that gathered in my heels. The summer smell of wet pavement drifted in from the screen door and made my skin sticky.

“All right, bedtime. Gotta be up early,” she said with a firm, double pat on my butt.

I got up from my knees and dragged my body through the living room, past the hollow bedroom door. A blue tint washed back and forth inside our bedroom like a calm ocean; I assumed it rocked my two younger brothers to sleep as they lay in the twin bed they shared.

I crept across the rough, carpeted floor with a million questions wrestling me against my path.

Why do I have to sleep already? There’s no school tomorrow.

The questions were too weak, as I quietly took the opposite bed and lied there anyway, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars that barely held to the ceiling.

It felt cold with the windows shut, as I snuggled under the thick blankets. I lay in bed and listened to her sing for what felt like hours. Something in my curious toes was awake. I slipped out of the covers and opened the door, letting the light spill into the room along with a soft organ riff, together washing out the blue tint. Stepping outside the bedroom, my bare feet grew numb once more against the cold floor.

I couldn’t see very well as my eyes adjusted to the light, but I was led by her voice that sailed on the sound waves of her favorite song.

She wasn’t anywhere in sight.

Where could she possibly be? Our place isn’t big enough to lose someone in.

I seized the opportunity to rummage through the fridge and tiptoed over to the kitchen, entertaining the thought that I could sneak something sweet.

A messy stack of papers on the kitchen counter drew me away from the fridge.

30-Day Notice to Vacate.

The sugary thoughts melted away and fell into my eyes. They blurred the letters on the page and moved down into my throat, gathering at the middle.

“What are you doing up, baby?” I heard from behind me.

A rush of fear shot up from the pit of my belly as I turned to face my mom. I was scared I’d seen something I shouldn’t have. I was scared I’d be in trouble for being out of bed.

My nervous eyes washed the words from my sight to greet the piles of folded clothes and empty plastic buckets that crowded the living room floor.

I said, “I can’t sleep…what are you doing with our stuff?”

“Just packing it up, mama. We have to be outta here by tomorrow morning,” she said.

Outta here? Where to?

The frigid floor that once embraced my feet felt daunting. A wave of exhaustion enveloped me, but I still felt wide awake.

Why did we have to go?

My thoughts were interrupted by her gentle steps toward me. She pulled my skinny arms up by my wrists and moved her feet to the sound that still escaped from the crackling speakers.

“It seems like a mighty long tiiime,” she sang, with the effort to get me to mirror her movements.

How could she be singing and dancing? Why wasn’t she tired like me? Tired of starting over. Tired of adjusting.

I couldn’t see how much she hid from me. The pipe blackened by a flame that burned all her worries in the same bowl as her meth.

I danced with her as she matched her words against Barbara Lewis’. My eyelids felt heavy again–heavier than the buckets became. Everything she carried, and I couldn’t even hold the weight of my own eyelids. They were lampshades that protected me from our reality.

I glanced out the window as we danced. I saw the glow of the moon hit the pavement of the driveway the same way I would when I fell from my bike. I looked into her eyes and saw the moonglow. I realized my hands were no longer just for catching my body from hitting the ground. I saw my own gravel-sprinkled palms throb with a new tenderness. For the first time, I’d imagined she was the one who sat between my legs and allowed her hair to be braided.



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