ROBERT JOE STOUT
For weeks, María Cristi rehearsed what she was going to say. Rehearsed and procrastinated, bitten by doubts. She didn’t want to cause anguish—or anger. But after each procrastination her determination returned. “I have a right to know, I have a right to know,” she repeated with teenaged determination. Finally, she forced herself to confront her mother.
María del Refugio slid away from the painting she’d been daubing with a bit of cloth, her smile accommodating, serene.
“I have a rig—l” María Cristi bit back the demand. “Chinga!” she muttered and banged her fists together and, voice breaking slightly, “I want to know my father.”
María del Refugio nodded, the tips of her thin wide lips turning downward. “I’ve told you—”
“Pues sí, he abandoned you before I was born. I want to know his name. I want to meet him.”
In response María del Refugio closed her eyes. Then nodded, her smile seeming to age her compact, oval face as she focused on wiping her fingertips on the cloth she was holding. Without looking at her daughter, “I can give you his name—”
“And where he is.”
“I haven’t—” Carefully she placed the paint-splattered cloth on the edge of the easel beside her. “Mi amor, sit down here beside me. What you want may be very hurtful. Not to me, to you. If you’re sure—?”
María del Refugio nodded and folded her small hands together.
“I was stupid. Not much older than you. Emotional. We’d just moved here, to the city. He was, well, charm-, no, it felt good to be with him, we didn’t begin, that is, we began slowly, sort of off and on then more, I don’t know, more intimate. I should have been more resistant—girls always say that—but I didn’t want to lose him—no, that’s not true, that’s not why. I felt like I wanted to be his lov-, no, I wanted to make love to him.”
María del Refugio leaned forward, her small fingers groping for something invisible between her and her daughter.
“We tried to be careful but, as almost always happens, not careful enough. I didn’t tell him at first—perhaps I should have—but, well, finally I had to. He didn’t seem too, I mean, shocked but then…”
María Cristi tried to read what was on her mother’s face. Sadness but also something else as though the memories both hurt and pleased her.
“He left. ‘What about me?’ I asked. ‘Así es la vida, nena’—That’s the way life is. That’s what he said.” A shiver agitated María del Refugio’s shoulders. “I haven’t seen or heard from him since.”
“But you know where he is.”
“Ah mi hija, such confessions. Yes. Stupidly, I suppose. Facebook. Not too long ago, I don’t remember why, I came across a name like his. No, actually his name. But it wasn’t him—someone by the same name, someone much older. I should have shrugged, let it go at that, but I, for some reason my fingers brought up all the others by that name. One was…”
“Right age, right birthplace. A little dimple of a scar above his right eyebrow.”
“Claro que no. I closed the page. I’ve never looked again.”
“Give me his name. His age. His birthplace.”
“Ah mi amor! Better that you—” For a moment María del Refugio examined her small hands, then sighed. “You have the right…” she bit her thin lips, then smiled, “you have the right to know.”
The weeks passed slowly as María Cristi absorbed the information she needed. Through the telephone company where the sketchy Facebook bio indicated that her father was employed she obtained his work address in a suburb of Mexico City. As she’d done before confronting her mother she rehearsed what she was going to say and how she was going to respond to whatever her father answered. She purchased a round-trip bus ticket with money she saved from her after-school job and without telling her mother left the house before dawn, quelling her anxiety on the long bus ride by sketching mountains, houses, birds in a school notebook and recalling things from her childhood. Finally, after confusing bus rides to the suburb where her father worked, she stood outside the telephone company complex, notebook in hand, mochila over her shoulder. She waited, and waited, examining the faces of those who left the building, then a man who resembled the Facebook photograph approached.
It had to be him. She’d memorized the photo. The little dimple of a scar was over his right eyebrow. Despite a sudden desire to flee she stepped in front of him.
“Leonardo López Dominguez?”
He stopped, a wary grimace contorting his face. A face pitted with little grains of acne. Eyes slightly recessed, little veins of red showing beneath the pupils. A mustache that curled around the corners of a mouth showing bits of gold fillings.
“Sí?” The voice surprisingly nasal. “sí pues, qué—qué quieres?” What do you want?
“Nada,” she replied softly. “You’re not the Leonardo López I was looking for.”
She turned, head high, and walked away.
Robert Joe Stout is a freelance journalist in Oaxaca, Mexico. He publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.