My mom is talking to a stranger, a bald man with lukewarm brown eyes, wearing a silver jacket, his legs stretching out of his shorts, gnarled like tree roots, a gadget on his wrist, changing colors, hissing. He claims to be from Galaxy X, and my mom laughs it off. She introduces me as her little sister. I ask her if we can go home. “Hush now,” she says, our friend is taking us to dinner. And the man’s eyes turn to red dots like lasers. “Sure,” he says.
The sky is a shade of stormy gray: the color of an old wound. There is the usual chatter around us, people talking on their devices, indifferent. There’s something unsaintly about the man, the way he’s watching us when he’s speaking, and when he isn’t. Why is he here? Why is he talking to us, taking us to dinner?
We enter a Chinese restaurant and order dumplings. My mom puts tiny pieces of food in her mouth as if she is a bird. I look at the last piece in the plate and when the man offers it, I grab it. We have been living on cereal and cheese sandwiches for over a week. My mom unzips her hoodie, runs her fingers through her hair, bends to pick up something that doesn’t exist, trying hard to be likeable. Her voice is bright, joyful, hers. They talk about the weather, their favorite actors, and movies, striving to be romantic. He seems to know a lot about us, the earth, the way we are consumed with pride and shame.
There is an Asian couple in a corner, three rows of empty furniture between us. The waitress is staring at the main door, turning her face towards us at every little sound we make. The man yawns and there’s a sparkling cloud around us. My mom gets up and sits next to him. They start whispering to each other, slowly moving to the rhythm of a faint music. For years, finding a man has been an obstacle course my mom has not been able to complete. Right now, in this light, she looks desirable, threads of fog in her hair, slowly disintegrating, a cosmic event. And I can see the man’s hunger, the way he is pressing his arm against hers, shutting his eyes as if charging them up, as if to handle the heat between them.
We gulp the noodles slick with chili oil. “My throat is on fire,” the man laughs, the sharp noise scratching my ears. He asks me about school. I say I’m in high school and I have a lot of friends, even a boyfriend. He nods his head and glances at my mother. She starts describing an off-shoulder velvet dress she says she’d seen in an upscale shop a few days ago. I close my eyes and imagine the texture of the dress from my mother’s description. For a moment, she is a princess, in drapes of red satin flowing all over her body. Abundance and joy, my mom’s face emerges like an evening sky, satellites circling around her. She looks like she’s been waiting. And she may have a chance this time, even though I think he’s weird, no matter which corner of the universe he’s from.
I’d only believe if he’s able to show us a moon or a sun different than ours. In the background, I hear him asking her to make a list of things she likes, the stuff she’d like to take with her on a journey with him. Want translated to calligraphy, my mom, an earthly, starving, converted to a potential, delicate slave. Or an experiment. I open my eyes: the man and my mom are kissing, their illuminated bodies lifted, stars falling all around them. I want to stop her but it’s the most beautiful thing in the world, first distance, then distant, and then memory. Stopping her would mean slowing down her ecstatic heart, turning her cold, alone and safe, once again.
I call out her name, and the letters chafe before bursting into a million specks.
Tara Isabel Zambrano works as a semiconductor chip designer. Her work has been published in Tin House Online, The Southampton Review, Slice, Triquarterly, Yemassee, Passages North and others. Her full-length flash collection, Death, Desire And Other Destinations, is upcoming in Sept. 2020 with OKAY Donkey Mag/Press. She lives in Texas.