Fiction Fiction 2011

L’amour, CA

Isa couldn’t wait to leave the Philippines. But when we pull into an American town of foggy streets and gray, concrete houses, she looks confused, then panicked.

I start toward home, counting off houses. I walk up someone’s driveway, and though the garage is padlocked shut, I tug at the handle anyway, as though it might open. Then I run a zigzag line from house to house, breathing hard so my breath floats in the air again, and no one ever sees me. I’ve never been outside by myself like this, so late at night in Lemoore. I’m so brave that I even walk in the middle of the street and shout, just once, “Hello!”

I stop at the bottom of our driveway. The living-room window glows blue and I move toward it slowly, staying low. I peek through. Darwin is on the floor in front of the TV, wrapped in a blanket, my father dozes on his recliner, my mother leans against the doorway of the kitchen. Even as I move to the center of the window, they still think I’m gone.

My breath fogs the glass. It’s cold. I leave my family and hurry over to the side of the garage, find the key and flashlight we hid behind the trash cans, and let myself in, make my way quietly and slowly to my box. I crawl inside. In the corner is a pack of crayons and two foil-wrapped corn dogs from Lanes, a thermos of juice, and the roll of Life Savers that fell for free. Next to it is Isa’s watch. She’ll be home by 2 a.m., when she’ll come into the garage, get me from the box, and together we will enter the house, as if we were never apart. I look at the watch. I see the 2, but I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait. I don’t even know the time now.

I stand the flashlight on its end. The whole box glows. I take a red crayon to draw a picture of Isa’s night out, but I don’t know what’s beyond Lemoore, maybe lit-up cities with high-rising buildings, strangers who wave and say Welcome, and tell you their names. So, instead of Isa’s story, I start drawing ours instead: with blue crayon I make a circle for our cul-de-sac, and inside it I draw five people in a row, tallest to shortest. Then I surround the circle with stars, and I decide our cul-de-sac is the whole world itself, our bodies so big we fill it, as if we are everywhere at once.

There is a line of morning light beneath the garage door when I open my eyes, just enough to help me find my way into the house.

Isa didn’t wake me. Maybe she forgot. I go to her bedroom door. I whisper her name and wait for her to whisper mine, so we both know we’re here. But there’s only silence, no matter how many times I say her name, so I open her door slowly and peek inside. Her bed is still made.

She’s not hiding in the closet or under the bed. She’s not in the living room, or the kitchen, or the bathroom, and now I’m thinking that I’ve messed up, that she’s on her way home, and I came back too soon. Everyone still sleeps, and I don’t know what to do. I climb on top of her bed, wait for her all over again.

I wake the second time to shouting and panic, to my father’s face in mine. My mother is behind him, and Darwin is in the hallway, shivering with fever. “What happened last night? What have you done?” My father is shaking me, harder and harder. “Where is your sister?” But I have nothing to tell. All I prepared for was Isa’s return, so I wait for it, refusing to speak, even if he hits me.

The answers come, later that night, when Isa calls from a pay phone in a place she won’t name, to tell us she’s not coming back, that she’s sorry but happier this way, that she is with Malcolm and she is in love. I’m listening to this on the telephone in my parents’ room, my hand cupped over the receiver so they won’t know I’m here.

Isa is gone, and now the house feels too small. No matter where I go, I can hear my parents fight, shouting things I shouldn’t know—that my mother never wanted to leave, that my father wishes he was alone in America, free of the worries we cause. “Our plan,” she says one night. “Is this what we planned for?” My father doesn’t answer. He just stands there, jangling his car keys in his pocket, as if he could leave at any moment. Darwin never mentions Isa, but once I catch him bouncing his basketball outside Isa’s window, staring in. When he sees me, he pops me with the ball so hard that I fall backward to the ground. He walks off, and when I breathe, I hurt.

Isa doesn’t call again. We go for help, but the Navy can do nothing. Neither can the police. She’s gone, not missing, is what they tell us. I don’t know the difference.

We do what we can. One morning, my mother and I go door-to-door through the neighborhood looking for her, but she makes me do the talking. “Did you see my sister?” I’ll ask a neighbor, then hold up a picture of Isa on her sixteenth birthday. Sometimes I catch my mother peering into their living rooms, her head turning slowly from side to side, like she is trying to learn how other people live. No one has seen Isa, but we go house-to-house with her picture the next day and the day after, and people start to know who we are.

Presented by

Lysley A. Tenorio

Lysley Tenorio’s stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Zoetrope: All-Story, Ploughshares, and Manoa. His first book, Monstress, will be published in early 2012 by Ecco/HarperCollins.

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