by Patricia Patterson
Mother doesn’t speak in public. In grocery stores, she nudges me in the ribs and mouths, “Explain.” I tell them she is deaf. Occasionally, one comes around who claims to know American Sign Language. I shake my head. I tell them she never learned.
“Not that kind of deaf,” I say.
Sometimes I just say “hard of hearing” and wait for them to walk away or look at me for further assistance. I order the pizza, a large, glutinous pie with pepperoni and no mushrooms. I ask for breadsticks when Mother explicitly informs me not to. She shakes her head vigorously, horrified by my defiance. I tell them it’s Parkinson’s. They give me sympathetic looks and shove extra breadsticks into the to-go box and place it all in a plastic bag. Sometimes, I find freshly baked cookies at the bottom of the bag.
I schedule all the doctor’s appointments and make a point to schedule mine during fourth period science class. I know the bank tellers’ names by heart and can recite Mother’s routing number like the pledge of allegiance. I pay for the gas, too. “Twenty on pump three,” I say. They give me back my change, and I pocket it until Mother asks about it later.
At home, Mother speaks. She tells me stories about Guadalajara and Sierra de Tepotzotlan. She describes the taste of a mango after it is plucked from a tree and how it feels—sticky on the chin. Mother speaks, but never in public. They breed unkind ears outside our pleasant home. Mother says they hate a foreign tongue. They want to tame it into their own form of monstrous creature, one just like them.
Mother has a Green Card. I know this. The kids at school know this. They say she must have a Green Card because she’s one of them. They say she hops fences. I don’t know what they mean. Mother is terrible at sports. Her back would give out before she ever jumped a fence. Maybe it has something to do with Mother being Mexican. However, no Mexican I have ever met has ever jumped a fence, so perhaps it means something else.
I ask Mother if I can see her Green Card. She shows it to me. It isn’t green or, even, that impressive. It looks like a driver’s license, but you can’t use it for driving. Mother explains that it’s an identification card. I think it’s bizarre that Mother needs an identification card, like she’s a lost child or something. I tell her this. Mother says that everyone needs one in the United States, but some are different than others. Her card is special, but it’s not green.
“How do you know if it’s a legal Green Card or an illegal one?” I ask.
Mother says that is a stupid question, and I cry because she has never said anything so mean to me before. She asks me where I heard that shit. I tell her about Tommy Loren from grade five who talks about illegal aliens. I ask Mother if she has ever met aliens before. She cries and doesn’t tuck me into bed that night. She doesn’t even kiss my forehead.
The next morning, I ask her about her Green Card again. Can she use it to make purchases? groceries? a television set? a new house?
“Ay, mija linda,” she says. “Your classes teach you, but don’t really teach you, do they?”
I still wonder if Mother can use her Green Card to purchase bananas and raisin bran cereal at Super K, but I don’t dare ask her again.
Mother asks me to say this to her, to call her Mother. She tells me never to utter “Mamá” in public. She says it’s a word used only at home. It’s our little secret. So, I say, “Mother, that’s a nice blouse you’re wearing.” She smiles at me in public. “Mother, did you hear that man?” She nods. “Mother, I don’t want to go to school,” I say. “Don’t make me.”
Patricia Patterson lives just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina in a town where there are more cows than people. Sometimes she likes to read to the cows who are surprisingly good listeners. Her work is featured in Atlantis Magazine and BorderSenses, among others.