Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Laurel Aiona
At eight my world was a new and uncertain place punctuated with foreign sounds—a world where books were read from back to front and pomegranates were as common as apples.
I remember one dusty afternoon coming home from school. My mother was standing uneasy in the great tiled hall talking staccato-voiced into the telephone. A cab waited on the empty street, its rumbling engine impatient. Inside our borrowed home, the air was laced with a quiet panic.
I dropped my leather school bag, and stood in the doorway, small under the high graceful Arabic arch, when all of a sudden a great rush of water spilled out from under my mother's skirt and washed over the old mosaic floor. I was incredulous. My mother let go the receiver and gave a cry. She did not see me, and not wanting to add to her shame, I pressed myself against the cool wall moving my toes to avoid touching the dark advancing stream.
It was then I noticed Esther standing quietly on the opposite side of the room. She was a back- fence neighbor who had only been inside our house a few times, but whose own rough and ramshackle doorstep I traversed freely. I watched as she, too, side-stepped the mysterious spreading pool and came to my mother's aid. They spoke to each other in two languages, neither understanding the words of the other. But some quiet assurance must have passed between them because my mother took Esther's arm and without a backward glance at me, or word of explanation, let herself be led down the porch steps and into the taxi. I heard the door shut, the rev of diesel, and then the grating of gravel and flying rock as the car took her away.
Inside, afraid to move, I was mesmerized by the water my mother's body had spilled. I mused, confused, alone, and witness to something gone terribly wrong, I was sure.
Esther emerged from the echoing hallway, her dark mustached smile coming round the corner with shepherding arms I was at a loss to resist. I didn't yet know the words to ask the questions already forming, and I couldn't have understood the answer anyway.
Laurel Aiona lives and teaches in Sonoma County, California.
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