I see her through the window coming up the sidewalk and I know it’s mija. It’s my daughter.
I never knew what her mother told her in the beginning, whether she told her I died or wasn’t her papá at all, just some stranger who visited once. An old friend of her mother’s who brought her a puppy.
I heard from the secretary at the mine that Ana took off with her. Shit way for a father to find out. Up and moved to the United States without leaving a phone number or an address where I could write. She was like that, Ana; rash, you could say, and in the beginning I liked that. She was all emotion, fire and ice, and a respite from my wife’s illness. You’ll judge me, I know, for having taken a lover while Elsa was in and out of chemo. I’m not proud of it. I was weak. Everything was falling apart como mierda. And Ana was a salve for a while, a hit that numbed the pain, until she asked for things.
Cabrona, she wanted me to live with her. She wanted me to raise the baby with her and leave Elsa behind like Elsa was the disease in her blood, when it wasn’t. It was Ana’s head — it was her brain. Nowadays I think Ana needed that medication that they prescribe to bipolar people, mood stabilizers, or whatever they are. But in the eighties, no one knew what that was. People could be made crazy by praying to the saints or not praying, or being cursed, as my mother would say. If she’d met Ana she would have said Ana was cursed.
But I stayed with Elsa and my two sons. Nursed Elsa when I had to. Disciplined my sons when I had to. They didn’t know. I never told them. But who knows. People feel things sometimes, like currents. Ana was so enraged I chose them that she refused to let me see my little girl, cut me off like a gangrene limb, and only let me in the time I brought the dog. Mija was six then, and I only caught her attention for a moment when I placed the spaniel in her arms, after which she ran off, chasing it, giggling. I remember the tinkle of that giggle.
Now she’s twenty. She has my forehead and nose and thin eyebrows but high cheeks. She’s tall. Taller than I expected. She wears nicer clothes than I could have ever given her and
her steps are steady. Her boots click.
She knocks on the door and when I open it wide, shaking, I stand back and my eyes are blurring. Hers are too. She says, in a voice accented with a faraway gringa lisp, “Gracias por el Spaniel.”
I reach out and take her offered hand and shake it.
I did one thing right. I did one goddamn thing right and with that, I can face anything.
Amayah Soliz nearly missed the action; she was turning away to put her key in the lock when Alan stepped onto her landing. Alan, lanky and balding and short. Alan, who received mailings from RBC Ministries and Christianity Today, who stamped up the stairs at nine pm like clockwork, and who never ever spoke to her, not once, not even to be polite, so that Amayah sometimes wondered if he was mute. Alan Cheng from 201B.
He swung his leg back and punted her spaniel; Lula screeched a sound Amayah had never heard before, something high-pitched and pitiful and avian, and Lula thudded against the door bill and hid behind her legs, and Alan said nothing — continued tumbling down the stairs as though he’d kicked aside a pebble, and Amayah froze, dropped her keys from the lanyard, which jangled against her thigh, and he had almost reached the lobby when her voice returned to her and she found that she was screaming.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? You kicked my dog! Are you fucking crazy?!”
She half-expected Alan to keep walking until he went out the four-panel front door, but the did something stranger. He faced her and stared with narrowed eyes; he said something unintelligible to her in a language she didn’t recognize and spit in the direction of Lula before continuing.
Amayah dropped Lula’s leash and bounded after Alan, repeating, “What the fuck is wrong with you??” and she was so hurt, she was angry. She felt beet-red and swollen, but Alan didn’t slow down as he turned the knob on the building door.
Amayah made a last effort, though at what, she wasn’t sure. “If you ever touch my dog again I’ll kick your fucking face in! Do you hear me?! Huh?? Fucking freak!”
The door clanged and Alan’s frame vanished. Lula shivered by their apartment door, ears back and quivering, and the moment Amayah caught sight of her, Amayah quaked to her fingertips. The quaking began somewhere in her rib cage, tugged like a fishing line, and continued through her throat until she was breaking with sobs. They were part of the same fault line, the spaniel and herself, and Alan’s kick had triggered a 7.5 on the Richter scale, and even though Amayah picked up the terrified Lula and cuddled her, dove them both into a corner of her closet and settled between the spare boots, Amayah did not cease quaking until the streetlights had come on outside her window, glowing orange and buzzing with moths.
She did not call the police because her mami would have shamed her, and the following day, the vet said nothing had broken, though Lula was bruised. When Lula died four years later, it was of a kidney infection, and Amayah adopted a new dog. He was tall and broad-chested, weighed seventy pounds and barked at hooded men.
On a September morning, Amayah opened the lobby door to let Samson spill out on the sidewalk when she spotted Alan frozen against the brick wall some eight feet away. His eyes flickered to her before sealing on Samson, and he shivered backwards mutely on the concrete and waited for her to cross the street. When she had crossed, placed half a block between Alan and Samson, Alan peeled himself from the wall, opened the lobby door, and disappeared inside.
Jael Montellano is an immigrant writer from Mexico City based in Chicago, IL with a BA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. Her short fiction, essays, and interviews have appeared on The Rumpus, Camera Obscura Journal, Red Lemonade, Red Wedge Magazine, and Newcity magazine.