The wind was sharper this close to the water. Hands trembling, Astrid hurried to zip her jacket before the ride operator checked her seatbelt. She wished her tremors had more to do with the chill in ... [+]
But there it was, that clover, green and sure of itself. It had come from that small patch Esteban had found behind the hay barn. That's where I had first found him a month ago. He came back every day to sit in the shade and smell the animal and dry grassy barn smells. His English didn't exist, and in the whole month I'd only gotten a few whispered words out of him, glad one of them was his name. I couldn't have stood this little boy going into the system and never coming out. My Spanish was thirty-year-old high school Spanish, but I had loved this poet Neruda, some guy from Chile in South America, so I got pretty good for a while. It came back a little. Esteban always smiled a wan smile at my attempts.
That day I found Esteban behind the barn plucking out the green clover, shrieking with each tug. It scared the hell out of me, his voice razor-cutting through the sides of my head. I came to sit beside him, and I plucked and shrieked, too. Plucked and shrieked, plucked and shrieked. We plucked faster and faster and shrieked louder and louder, seeing who could be the fastest and loudest, and I let him win so we could roll back with a giggle. First time in a month. That little giggle was music to my ears. I wanted to hug him. Maybe he wouldn't freeze. I started to.
His mouth was still open, but instead of another laugh, a howl came out. Never heard anything like it. His eyes filled with water that wouldn't stop flowing. The howl didn't stop, hardly, not even for breath. How his seven-year-old body stood it I don't know, but it had lasted through that hundred-mile journey north from the border, so I imagine it could do just about anything. I reached towards him. He didn't flinch away, but he didn't come toward. He just screamed as though all his insides needed to come out all together, all now. His beautiful brown eyes didn't blink. They just stared through the water they made, stared through me, stared right through the world behind me and into something only he could see.
The scream ran out like an avalanche ending. His mouth was still open and he panted shallowly. I scooted slow so I could put my arms around him. He shuddered when I touched him, and we sat there for a long while. Swallows banked and cheeped above us, darting swiftly through the air. The white sky pulsed beyond the dark shadow of the barn. There were shreds of green over the both of us.
Esteban suddenly collapsed onto my lap, his skinny arms wrapping around my thigh and his face buried between my knees. I stroked his back and smoothed his hair. I hummed a lullaby I could remember. And that's when I found the four-leaf clover, stuck in his black hair. I couldn't believe it and held it up close to my eyes because I didn't have my glasses, but sure enough, the genuine article. Kind of magical.
I lifted him up to carry him into the house. He was so light it made me afraid I hadn't really gotten him. But he snuggled into my chest, reaching his arms around my neck. It was a beginning, at least. It was how he finally came to me.
The clover went with the photo of his mother in the album, the only thing he'd had with him besides his clothes and an empty plastic water bottle.
I sometimes wonder where she is.