Note: This piece of fiction was my submission to the “America Is” July Show-Off Contest at The Write Practice. Even though it didn’t win, it was a fun-challenge to write and I got a lot of good feedback for it. If you’re a writer and you’ve not investigated The Write Practice, stop reading this piece and go there now. Tell Joe I sent you. <>< Katie
“Mamá, digame de los Estados Unidos, por fav.”
I can’t help but smile at his big, curious brown eyes as he asked me the same question he did every night—Tell me about the United States, please. I brush his curly brown hair from his face as I usher him towards his bed, a wooden plank covered with a single blanket. I am happy to oblige my little Pepe’s request. Even though I have never been there, I know enough about the United States of America to fill his little mind with hope and wonder as he drifts off to sleep. I tell him about the Golden Arches, how you just drive your own car up to the window and they hand you food. Yesterday he was fascinated with the idea of having one’s own car rather than riding the bus or a moto. Today he asks about the windows that open and close and the food that comes out of them just ready for the taking. I don’t tell him that in the States people eat three times a day. I don’t want to remind him about how I wasn’t able to make beans to go with our rice today. I don’t tell him that in the States children go to school every day whether they have a uniform or not. I tell him that in the States there are big white pots everywhere to relieve yourself in even throw paper down it. The idea of indoor plumbing fascinates me more than it does for my little Pepe. As always, he ends our conversation asking if we can go there.
“Pronto, mijo, pronto.” Soon, my son, soon.
I hope I am not telling a lie. America is a dream.
Sleep doesn’t come easily these days. Dar lies awake starting that the ceiling fan hearing the ghost-breathing of the man not beside her. He’s not here. Even after all this time, she rolls over in their king-size bed to double-check. Their marriage bed is lonely when occupied by only her. Her and the baby in her tummy. She hasn’t yet told him he’s going to be a father. She’s not sure she wants to. She’s positive it cannot wait another second. She hasn’t had the opportunity. She hasn’t had the courage. Courage. Everyone told him he was courageous, brave for risking his life to fight for his country. At first, she believed it. She even decorated their home with American flags and bald eagles. She was a military wife who hated to sleep alone.
They should be together. After all, her husband is stateside. Yet he has chosen otherwise. She tries not to blame him. His tour of duty ended when his plane crashed. Most of the crew died but he escaped close to unscathed. Physically. Emotionally he was a wreck. The few weeks he was home with her, she hardly recognized him. Then he left. He abandoned his pregnant wife for a girlfriend as part of the healing process.
“He’ll come around.” Others’ words ring through her head. She used to believe them but they’re empty talk now. She’s not even sure she wants him back. She definitely wants back the man she dated, the man she married in a rush before he left to be brave. But he’d changed emotionally and she’d changed physically. At least he had the courage to tell her. To tell her it was over, her dreams were gone.
America is broken dreams.
Pepe and I stare as he speaks to us in a foreign tongue I do not understand. Pepe tries to translate for me using the English I urged him to learn in school, but it is not working. A woman with a little girl in her arms comes to his side. Between his English, Pepe’s broken English, her broken Spanish, and my Spanish, we somehow manage to communicate. He leaves in frustration but she stays.
“Me llamo Dar.” She says with an outstretched hand.
In my culture, we would kiss on the cheek but this is the not my culture. This is not my world. This is her world. I must play by her games. I shake like an obedient dog.
“Mucho gusto.” I do not repeat her name. Unlike everything else here, it does not need practice. I know her name: Dar. To give. She gives us communication. She gives us acceptance. Most of all, she gives us hope.
America is a dream.
Dar smiles at the woman and her son realizing they haven’t been in American long. It’s not their lack of English that gives them away. No, that’s normal. It’s the hope-filled look in their eyes. They’ve come for a better life. Dar’s seen the scene many times before. Yet for this family, as for so many before them, it will not end the way they dream. There are no jobs, no opportunities, and no hope. Like most immigrants, this family finds themselves here at the food pantry hungry and unable to communicate.
Dar is always amazed at how far her two years of high school Spanish will go. Even though she’s not yet three, Carrie has picked up more Spanish than Dar ever will. Dar wants her child to understand the culture of the food pantry. She wants the little one to know that America is not what some believe it is. If it were, Carrie would have a father.
America is broken dreams.
What are you looking for?