Tara Isabel Zambrano ~ Galaxy X

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.