A Short Story
By Daniel Olivas
All I want is to remember her smell. That’s all. It’s her smell that I miss most. I can’t forget anything else, though. The labor pains, the nurse wiping my forehead with a damp cloth and calling me sweetie and reminding me to breathe. And then the doctor saying she saw her head peeking out. And then almost like magic, the sight of her wet, squirming, new body. But I can’t remember her smell. That smell from the next day. After her first bath. She had trouble feeding. Didn’t want to take my milk. They’d give it a while before giving up. The nurse said, sweetie, that happens some times. But she knew it didn’t matter. So I tried to coax her. I directed her little mouth to my nipple, cooing to her: drink baby girl. You gotta drink to get strong and meet the world. And I’d put my lips on her hair and breathe in her freshly-washed smell. Baby smell. My baby’s smell. But it’s been too long since that time. And all I want is to remember her smell.
My old man said it was for the best. She’d have a better chance with a family that could feed her, give her a good home, a proper upbringing. My old man said that when he and mom got married, they were out of high school. And he had a good job. That’s the way you’re supposed to do it, said my old man. Finish school. Then get married. To a man with a good job. Why couldn’t you wait, mija? I never could answer my old man. I was in love, though. That’s something. Right? That’s something, all right. No one can tell me different.
Little Green. That’s what Richard called me. Because when he first saw me sitting in Mr. Bruno’s biology class, I was wearing this green T-shirt and a green skirt. All green. And it wasn’t even St. Patrick’s Day. So I was Little Green to Richard from then on.
Carey. That’s what I would have named her. There’s no Careys in my family. One of the reasons I like the name. And it’s a strong name, too. Because a girl needs to be strong. Right? Stronger than a guy. That’s what I think. I wonder what they called her? Wouldn’t it be amazing like a movie if they named her Carey? And I used to think that one day we’d meet and I’d tell her I would’ve called her Carey, too. And she’d know that we always had a connection, like magic, like we always were together. But I don’t think that anymore. No reason to.
Blue is what they call people who get sad. It’s weird, though. Blue makes me happy. And there are all kinds of blue. The sky in the morning. The sky in the afternoon. Richard’s eyes. How he got blue eyes no one ever figured out. Those eyes made me fall for him. A blue so clear they made you blink and wonder if they were contacts or something. But no. They were real. Blue like you’ve never seen. Blue that can’t be described. Blue that isn’t sad at all.
California became home for my family. In San Diego, L.A., Bakersfield, even Sacramento. Up and down the state. Mom’s family came from Mexico and settled in L.A. about forty years ago. But Pop’s family. When they crossed the border, they scattered. They’re the ones in those other cities. Pop jokes that the Moreno blood must be in my veins because I’m not afraid to wander. Nine cities in seven years. But I always call home. They always know where I am. I’m not running away. I’m just seeing California. That’s all.
This flight tonight to Vegas wasn’t too expensive. Mom and Pop helped me with it, anyway. I just couldn’t drive. Too tired. But I had to go. Wouldn’t you? I got the call last week. They had tried my parents first. And then Pop called me where I’m living now. Oakland. He was gentle. With the news. I don’t know why they wanted me to know. Maybe they knew that I’ve been trying to remember what she smelled like. Maybe they knew I always thought of her. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. At least they called.
River? That’s a river? That’s what I said to Pop when he first pointed out the L.A. River to me. I guess I was fourteen. A year before the baby. We were on the freeway driving to tía Rachel’s house in Canoga Park and he pointed and said that’s the L.A. River. But it looked like a big V of cement with bushes and some trees growing in it. Not too much water, too. Nothing like the rivers I’ve seen in my geography books. You know, like the Amazon. River? I said. That’s a river?
A case of you is like a case of the flu. That’s what Mom liked to say. But she hasn’t said it a lot recently. Now she just says how much she wished I’d stay put. Near home. I look down from the plane and see only clouds. Mom is down there someplace. And soon I’ll be near my baby. But she’s not a baby anymore. She’s a girl. Or was. But at least I’ll be able to see her. And her parents. And I’ll thank them for giving her a good home. That’s what I’ll say. Because it’s true. I’m sure.
The last time I saw Richard was at high school graduation. He didn’t come to my house for the party. But he came up to me right after the ceremony while I was trying to find my parents in the crowd. It was so hot and all I wanted to do was get out of the robe and stupid cap and drink something cold. But he came up to me and said, happy graduation, Little Green. And I said, happy graduation. He touched my arm and gave me his blue eyes. Said he was leaving the next day. For Tulsa. I said, there’s no Mexicans in Tulsa. He laughed and his eyes got bluer. But I guess he’s a wanderer, too. Don’t know if he’s still in Tulsa. I wish I could tell him, though. About my trip to Vegas. To see my girl. Our girl. They told Pop about it. About the pool gate opening when it shouldn’t. How it happened during the party and no one noticed until hours later when people were beginning to leave. But it was a night party so it was kind of dark. And they told Pop about how they tried to make her breathe again. But I know she had a good home. With lots of love. Lots of toys. Thank you, I’ll say. Thank you for taking care of my baby.
["Blue" first appeared in, Crate, the literary journal sponsored by UC Riverside's creative writing department, which is currently accepting submissions for its next issue. Author's note: This story was inspired by Joni Michell's album, Blue.]