by Suphala N
Art by Christy Yu
Issue: Nostos (Winter 2019)
When the sun blushed and sank behind the hills, the wolf would tread over the damp grass and enter the doghouse. The little girl who watched it rocked herself on the porch swing and kept her eyes trained where the mass of grey fur lay, weary from the society of other wolves. The little girl observed for two years as little birds made nests on the roof, unafraid of the wolf. She told her mother about the wolf, and she hummed in acknowledgment.
* * *
Lupe had always been in motion. Always running, always driving, always going. She felt it was an unfortunate habit, one she knew that she had inherited from her father. When she was a child, every two months brought an eviction notice or a job offer, and there they would go, whirling out of one town, into another, three migratory birds never landing. Lupe kept a map in her pocket, tattered from overuse, and drew big, red gashes all over it, tracking each place they had resided.
Lupe, as a kid, thought adventure was fun. Her father, of course, was delighted that Lupe was, indeed, his child. Her mother would only sigh, rubbing her hand across her face, and wax on about white picket fences and suburban neighborhoods. And soon it was just Lupe and her father skipping from city to city.
But every move brought a new school, where teachers would commission projects about family, and she would have to string together countless city names to explain where she was from. Lupe didn’t have those answers, and neither did her father. Lupe pestered her father for grandparents. He never acknowledged her pleas, just rubbed her hands to soothe her. She started to dream of a home that was rooted in the ground, made of brick instead of wood.
At 19, Lupe moved without her father, proving that, indeed, she had truly been her mother’s child. Her map, like a withered, bloody flower, was pressed into a book, hidden away on some shelf. In a giant, bursting city, she found a real, genuine cousin, Elena. A relative. Lupe had to acknowledge that the two together were more peanut butter and bread than peanut butter and jelly. But Lupe pestered her enough until Elena finally caved in and became friends.
Lupe liked the big city, with its loud people and good friends and an apartment that she didn’t have to keep moving out of. She clung to Elena like a burr on her coat and made sure she knew everything about this new life, to make it her home.
“A reunion,” Lupe breathed reverently, staring at the Evite on Elena’s computer that she took from her without asking. Come back to the true home of the Santiagos. Family, food, and fun! The words swirled in Lupe’s head for weeks. home. family. This is what she’d been missing for 25 years.
Poor Elena never stood a chance against Lupe’s pleas.
* * *
The little girl had taken to sitting on the swing after dinner. Her mother would clang dishes in the sink as she squawked over the phone with her sister or her cousin or her brother. The little girl smiled at the wolf. She liked it here, how the cold night and screams from inside disappeared as she swung and stared at her companion.
She wanted to touch it. She wanted to put her head on its shoulder and rub her hands on its fur. But the wolf looked tired and mean. So she left it alone.
* * *
After staring at the steering wheel, creased and crumpled under its Elena’s hands, Lupe contented herself with a blurred view of the suburbs through the smudged window, noting the green lawns and the rusty black tiles that covered every unfamiliar house. Her leg bounced up and down.
“Okay, I know for sure this isn’t where the place is.” Lupe flicked open the map again, shaking it for emphasis.
“I’m taking us to the right place, okay, you have to trust me.”
“Didn’t your Google say that Aunt Luisa’s is supposed to be only forty-nine minutes away?”
“That’s not–you’re the one using that stupid paper map. You have to choose one, Google or map. You can’t have them both, Lulu.”
“This is how I work, Ele–Hey! Give it!” With two new tears, the map was flung into the backseat “You suck Elena.” Elena kept her eyes on the road, and her hands quivered atop the steering wheel.
By now, their car had left behind the suburbs, and fumbled along the sharp bends of the dirt road. The trees here bowed over, dangling their golden leaves onto the path, letting them brush the car. The sunlight fell through the overhead of leaves and lay on the ground a sprawl of orange glow. Lupe wondered where they were going.
* * *
The little girl waited for a week. A month. Her wolf had vanished. The little girl took to falling asleep inside the doghouse, waiting for it to come back. The little birds still nested on the roof of the doghouse to keep her company. Her mother, inside the chilly house, continued to scream at the phone.
* * *
The neighborhood kids had witnessed many strange things in their short lives. So two grown-ups squashed inside the confines of a rotting, abandoned dog house didn’t interest them much. They spared them a glance and a couple of scrunched up foreheads before scrambling away to their destination.
Lupe tried to dash outside the doghouse but Elena held firm to her arm. “Leggo!” Lupe hissed. “What the hell are we doing here? Let’s go inside! Our family is there!”
“Oh, no one is home right now. I do this pretty often. He’s not home on Sundays.”
Lupe blinked. “Um, where is the reunion, exactly?”
“A few minutes from here? We were supposed to turn right on Barley. Do you want some food? I brought trail mix.”
Lupe breathed out slowly, tapping her heel against the ground. “You brought me to someone else’s house to sit in a doghouse.”
“I was really impressed that you didn’t say anything for, like, twenty minutes.”
“We’re going to be arrested.” Lupe inhaled, as her knee jogged against the ground. “We will have driven forty-nine minutes to get arrested. Forty-nine freaking minutes.”
“Well, it can be a bonding thing. Don’t you like bonding…things?” Elena leaned out and looked at the autumnal glow. “Look, just for a little bit longer. Just a bit.”
“For what?! What are we even doing here?!” Lupe smacked her head as she attempted to get up. “Come onnn Elena. I want to go meet your mom. Let’s go.”
In the darkness, it was imperceptible, but Elena flinched. “I’m sure my mom would love to meet you.”
Lupe beamed. “Would she? Really? I always wanted, like, one of those cool aunts, y’know?”
“So you came to find an aunt? That’s why you dragged me here?” Elena picked at the splintering wood. She hunched away from Lupe and the door.
Lupe sensed she’d misspoken and tried to backpedal. “I mean, a little yeah. She’s my family, isn’t she? There’s a whole family back there. And if we go, I can go and meet them and–”
“And what Lupe! Find a peace and comfort that you’ve never felt before around a group of absolute strangers?” She flung some trail mix at the wall. “You can’t just bother yourself into making them your family! Cause they’re not! They’re not your family!”
“What do you mean? I’m related to them! My dad lived there! That’s my family!”
“No it’s not! Stop that! Stop making that house and those people the only thing you care about anymore! I hate it! You’re being so obsessive! The only reason you’re my friend is because we’re related and you pestered me like a child!” Elena whipped back to face Lupe. “And now you’re bringing your dad into this? You left him because you wanted a ‘normal’ life, with a normal house and a normal family. But you left your only family behind!” Elena clutched her mouth. “How could you give up someone who cares for you like that? How-how do you people do it?”
Lupe watched Elena’s trembling hands, then took Elena’s hand and rubbed her palm. “Wait…” Elena shook her head and dropped it on Lupe’s shoulder.
Lupe thought of the house and the people inside. Were they thinking of Elena? Were they missing her? Were they thinking of Lupe?
Did they ever think about her dad?
Should Lupe give him a call?
The two remained inside the doghouse until the sun had lowered enough so that the inside was flush with warm light. The air murmured with the song of crickets. Elena had fallen asleep, unfortunately. She snored.
Lupe yelped and smacked Elena awake. A short balding man was fuming on the driveway. Her cousin crawled out of the doghouse and yelled “Oh, Harold! I didn’t think you were coming until seven!” She snatched Lupe’s arm and yanked her out of the doghouse.
“You can’t keep doing this! I will call the cops you–hey, get back here!” Harold screeched. “Do you hear me? I will find out where you live and I’ll destroy you! Stop!” He watched in defeat as the two burst out of the gate and hightailed for their car.
* * *
There was one time that the little girl touched the wolf.
Her mother had learned that dinner plates make great projectiles that accentuated her colorful conversations with her family. The little girl escaped into the biting night air. The wolf raised its head. The girl threw herself on her wolf’s back, trying her hardest to hold back her sobs. The wolf watched his companion and waited for the little girl to fall asleep.