— Great! Another present!
A few days ago, Oscar celebrated his birthday with his parents.
Today he got a parcel from his godfather who lived a long way away. Very excited, he rushed to open it and ... [+]
Abuela responded from the kitchen, "Ven aqui."
The smell of fresh dough flooded her nose. She was making condoches, her hands wet from working with the batter. Loida put the groceries on the counter and Abuela leaned over to give her a kiss. "Gracias for the groceries, Dulcita. How was school?"
"Bien." Loida jumped onto a stool at the counter and swayed her legs.
"Sí y Inglés."
"Cena en dos horas."
"Está bien." Loida hopped off the stool and skipped to her bedroom. Her cat, Topacio, was sleeping soundly on her bed. She picked him up and gave him a big squeeze. Topacio purred. Topacio was more than twice as old as Loida. When he'd been younger, he had followed Loida around the house like a shadow. Now he slept the day away.
She placed Topacio back on the bed and scratched him between the ears. She sat down at her desk and started working with fractions, improper or otherwise. After finishing her math homework, she settled into bed next to Topacio to read her next assignment. Once finished, she left Topacio in the bed to sleep as she joined Abuela and Papá, who embraced her with a big hug before dinner. He was still dusty from work, leaving Loida dirty. He worked in construction, building the next interdimensional train expansion.
They shared queso and fried chorizo condoches. After dinner, Loida and Abuela shared some arroz con leche. After dessert, Loida went to watch television with Topacio.
Loida did a dance as she went to her bedroom to pick Topacio up and take him to the family room, but instead of the familiar purr, Topacio didn't respond. Loida held Topacio tighter and the world froze. She breathed shallowly, her lungs working overtime for each gasp of air.
The next day, Papá buried Topacio in the backyard, and Loida couldn't stop crying.
"Dulcita, you need to eat something." Abuela brought a tray of pan dulce for her. There were all sorts of flavors, including one topped with guava and stuffed with cream, Loida's favorite. Loida obliged and had a few bites.
"¿Por que?" The question was burned onto Loida's tongue and she needed to ask it.
"Así es la vida. Topacio loved you very much, and so did Mamá. If they aren't here, it isn't because they didn't want to be. It was simply their time."
That answer didn't feel very satisfying to Loida, at least not as satisfying as the concha she just ate. Loida feigned a smile as Abuela gave her a kiss goodnight.
Loida woke up Saturday morning. She would normally have softball, but her team was off this weekend. And Loida knew Abuela easily forgot the schedule. She got dressed in her uniform and headed out toward the softball park.
Once she was a few blocks away, instead of continuing to the park, she kept going to the San Leandro Interdimensional Train Station. She needed to go to another dimension and get her cat back.
She scanned her Clipper Card that Papá gave her to get around the Universe. She got onto the next train; the doors closed behind her, and she was off. First past Coliseum, then downtown Oakland. After Richmond, everything went dark as they began hopping from dimension to dimension.
Loida exited at the next San Leandro station and started walking to where her house would be. If this dimension was like her own, that is. When she arrived, everything seemed right, except the plants outside her house looked even healthier and better taken care of.
Loida snuck into the backyard. The lock was in the same place. She put her hand around the fence and, with a swift tug on the cord, opened the gate.
As she walked through the otherwise familiar backyard, she noticed a few more toys. Little trucks and tricycles sat idle on the pavement. She decided she chose the right dimension to begin her search.
She peered inside and saw Topacio. Her heart melted. Abuela was in the middle of making condoches. In any dimension, it seemed, Abuela would always be there to make dinner. Loida beamed.
Loida made a kissing noise that drew Topacio's attention. With a few snaps of her fingers, she coaxed him out the ajar screen door.
As she held him in her arms, she felt complete. He purred just like her Topacio would. She kissed him and whispered into his tiny cat ears, "Te amo." He meowed back.
She heard the front door of the house open and hid with Topacio under the kitchen window, peering up only slightly to see. The alternate version of herself entered the kitchen, followed by a little boy who had to be her brother. He looked too much like her, Mamá, and Papá.
"Topacio!" her alternate version called out.
He stretched and yawned in Loida's arms.
Alternate dimension Loida hopped up on to the stools and said with a sigh, "He must be asleep."
"I saw him a minute ago. He must be chasing a mouse." Abuela spoke as she continued to mix the batter with her hands. "¿Loida, Obet, mucha tarea?"
"Sí," her alternate version and her brother said in unison as they left the kitchen.
What would life be like if she had a brother? She was used to being an only child. The existence of the boy, Obet, was the most foreign part of this universe so far.
Topacio continued to sleep in Loida's arms. This Loida had a brother to keep her company. She only wanted Topacio. It would be unfair for the Loida here to have everything.
She started heading out of the backyard with Topacio, when she heard another voice call from the kitchen. "Lo siento." A woman walked into the kitchen carrying bags of groceries. It was Mamá. She was a little older than the photos Loida had burned to memory. She couldn't believe her eyes as they blurred with tears. Hearing her have the most basic conversation was too much for Loida. Her voice didn't sound like the voice Loida had played in her head over the years she had been gone.
"¿Cómo estás?" Mamá called out as she left the kitchen.
Somehow Mamá still being alive hadn't even crossed her mind. Her determination cracked into a thousand pieces.
She couldn't take Topacio, no matter how much she wanted. It would be cruel. Mamá being there reminded Loida how heartlessly she'd been ripped from her life when she was barely two. She couldn't do something like that to someone else. She held Topacio tight and put him gently on the ground. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
Loida left the backyard and returned to the train station, her head hung in guilt and shame. Loida wanted to be home. Her stomach felt queasy as she walked.
When she got home, Abuela asked about the softball game and Loida said she forgot her team was off, so she walked around instead. Abuela said she hoped Loida had time to clear her cabeza. Loida couldn't bring herself to tell Abuela the truth, that Mamá and Topacio were out there alive, that Obet existed just on the other side of an interdimensional train ride.
She sunk into her bed, still wearing her softball uniform and remorse.
Papá came home and walked into her bedroom with a new kitty. Loida bolted up and hugged the new kitty as it tried to bite her. It didn't hurt, nor did the playful swing of his paw he made at her.
Loida smiled, and her heart sang with joy.
Her dimension might not be the best one, but it was her version, and she had a lot to be thankful for.
Loida kissed the cat and named him Obet. She promised herself that she would value him for as long as they were in each other's lives.