I don’t have many nice memories.
They all seem to fade away.
And the people I love go with them.
I remember being happy, unusual for me. I only just remember my Momia, but only little things and they are clouded with confusion and despair, it is like a veil of dullness has been cast over them, I do not remember feeling truly happy.
I remember eating ice-cream with her, going to the seaside with her, driving her rambling old car and laughing with her, singing songs in Latin at the cathedral.
I wish I remembered more.
I only have one vivid memory of her, when she was playing the piano.
Reuben tells me she was an excellent pianist.
My memory goes like this; I am sitting next to her while she plays, we are singing along to the music. It is a soft sweeping kind of music, like a lullaby but different.
Her fingers caress the keys softly, like she is stroking them, they purr back an exquisite tune. She puts an arm around me, and we rock gently to the music. I close my eyes and let it all wash over me.
But that’s all I remember.
Then I remember her lying on a hard bed, with everyone I knew and plenty I didn’t, crying and saying goodbye. I remember wondering why Momia wasn’t replying. I remember Reuben hold my hand tightly with red swollen eyes. I remember Padre showing no emotion. I remember asking Reuben why Momia wasn’t waking up, “Why isn’t Momia waking up?” I asked him, “They are playing her favourite hymns.” He just looked at me with pity in his eyes, saying;
“Momia will never wake up Echo, she will never wake up again.”
“But that only happens when people die Reuben.”
I remember the truth dawning.
“Why would you say that?” I screamed, “That’s bad luck to say that! What are you talking about?!” I started to cry people looking at me slightly confused. Padre was making his way over to us, a stern look in his eyes. I pushed past my brother, running out the door and onto the crowded city streets. Somebody grabbed onto my arm and pulled me into a tight hug.
It was Reuben. Why was his nose bleeding? “Don’t ever go Echo, never leave me,” he whispered fiercely, “I will never leave you, I promise.” I murmured back. Looking back I feel angry at him for making a promise he could never keep himself.
I soon knew how Reuben had a bloody nose that day of Momia’s funeral.
Our Padre had hit him.
Now whenever Reuben did something wrong Padre would hit him.
Padre never hit me.
The day after the funeral, a cold, dark, shroud had been placed over our home; the laughter which Momia brought with her everywhere was gone.
I felt so sad and alone. Reuben was in his room. Padre was in his study. I was in Momia’s favourite room, the drawing room.
The grand piano was in this room.
It reminded me of Momia. I gingerly lifted my hand and ran my fingers over its smooth surface, recalling how beneath this cold exterior there is something wonderfully unexplainable.
Momia’s box of happiness.
I gently slid myself onto the long piano stool and lifted the heavy cover.
I tenderly pushed one key; the noise was so beautiful I pushed another, and another.
The song was forming, the noise delicate but beautiful.
A smile spread across my features.
I never thought I would smile again. But time is always changing.
“Piano lessons?” my father asked when I told him my request. He stared very hard at his paperwork, I couldn’t see his eyes, his reading glasses had caught the sunlight, I blinked.
“They are too expensive.” He concluded, turning back to his papers, while pouring himself a brandy out of a crystal decanter. I turned and walked out of the room, passing the gold gild mirror and the luxurious furniture.
My family immigrated to America from Bolivia when I was two years old and my brother Reuben was ten. We always spoke Spanish at home.
We were apparently of Jewish origin, but we have always been Catholics. We go to the big cathedral every Sunday and we know the mass in Latin.
At least, we used to go.
We never went after Momia’s funeral.
I only have one picture of her. It is faded and old, it’s all I have.
The picture shows her playing the piano, her shoulder length black curly hair framing her olive coloured face soft and warm.
A smile brings her whole face to life, dark pink lips slightly parted to reveal two rows of white pearly teeth her bright brown eyes alive and dancing.
I keep that picture under my pillow. Reuben and I look at it every day before we go down stairs and greet Padre.
Reuben says Padre doesn’t hit me because I remind him too much of Momia. He said that Padre and Momia had been friends as children, that Padre was naturally shy and reclusive.
He said that Momia was the only one who understood Padre.
Reuben said that before Padre seized all the photos of Momia and hid them he saw Momia as a little girl; he said that he thought that it was me in the picture not Momia. He said that sometimes when Padre ignores me he is just sad that Momia is not here anymore.
Reuben and I love our Padre, but he makes it so difficult. It makes it easier when Reuben tells me these things; it makes him human; otherwise Padre would just be a monster to me.
I remember my school days, I tried to make friends but nobody seemed to understand me. I found myself liking the teachers better than the students. One teacher in particular.
Mrs Jacobson was a lovely woman that all the children loved. I liked her but I was secretly jealous of her seemingly normal life. She was married, no children. Her father had gone to fight in the war in Vietnam.
One day I was early, I walked into the classroom but there were no other students, just Mrs Jacobson.
But she was sitting at her desk, head in her hands, weeping.
I put my books down at my desk, aware that more students would arrive soon; I walked over to her.
I put my hand softly on her shoulder and her head jerked up. I did not flinch away from her mascara streaked face, her puffy eyes. My bad memories come in handy sometimes.
I gently put my arms around her, pulling her into a hug. That’s what I do for Reuben if our padre hits him so hard he bleeds. She cried into my shoulder for a minute or two. I pulled my arms away tugging her to her feet; I slowly guided her to the office, avoiding the busy areas, so that no-one saw us.
At the office I whispered to the school secretary, “Mrs. Jacobson will need somebody to drive her home.” The secretary took one look at her and opened the office door, taking Mrs. Jacobson in and sitting her in a chair, handing her a tissue.
“Is she your teacher?” she asked, I nodded.
“I’ll send a substitute; write a message on the board.”
I ran back to my classroom which was by now half full. I stood on a chair and wrote on the blackboard: Mrs. Jacobson is ill, a substitute is being sent. If anyone misbehaves they will be kept after school.
I sat down at my desk trying to block out the murmurs.
Years went by, I was ten years old and my brother was eighteen.
He graduated with high scores, Padre wanted him to become a psychologist, but once Reuben had told me he wanted to become a police officer, so he could stop Padres’ hitting their sons.
I remember lying in bed listening to the rain fall on our roof.
It was a wintry night. My flannelette nightie could only do so much. I was very cold.
I heard a shuffling down our hallway, a creaking on our stairs. It scared me. I wanted my Momia but I would have to settle for Reuben. I sat up quickly, tiptoeing to his room so I would not wake Padre.
But it was empty.
The bed was there, the wardrobe was there, the desk was there, the bookshelf was there.
But his photographs, his favourite novels, his treasured possessions, they were all gone.
This room was empty of Reuben.
I threw open the closet doors. They were empty.
But he promised.
I sprinted down the stairs.
A cold breeze touched my face and I shivered.
He left the door open.
But he promised.
I gripped the door frame, I felt like I was going to fall over, he was gone.
I screamed into the nothingness
I cried for hours and hours and hours. Standing in the doorframe. Staring out at the cold dark night. I wanted Reuben to come back. What had I done wrong? I didn’t understand, Reuben always said I was the only thing that kept him here, was it something I did that drove him away? Did I remind him, like I reminded our Padre, of our Momia? I had so many questions that I didn’t understand.
But I knew one thing: Padre would not be pleased when he found Reuben gone.
I slowly picked myself up, perhaps other ten year old girls would have woken their Padre the moment they realised their brother was missing. Not me, I had learned a long time ago that grown-ups only complicated things.
I crawled back into bed and told my tears to go away; I pushed down my feelings all the way to my fingers where I played my imaginary piano on my lap.