Isabelle dusted her ceramic village every day, whether it was her turn to clean or not. She kept it on a shelf in the living room, and had to be careful with the duster in case she knocked something off. Concentration was also a good excuse for ignoring Nesrin when she came out the hallway.
Nesrin, not realizing that conversation wasn’t wanted, said “Again? You’re going to dust the paint off sooner or later.”
Isabelle shrugged. “If I do I’ll just repaint it. I painted a few to begin with anyway.”
“Really? Which ones did you paint?”
Isabelle was tempted to give a curt answer and move on. Instead she motioned for Nesrin to come over and pointed to the post office. “That was the first one I painted, then the doctor’s office, this house, and the train station. The rest came already painted.”
“Wow. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference.”
“You’re welcome. Did the collection start with the the post office?”
“Actually it started with the yellow house in the middle. I got it when Jason and me were still in the orphanage and pretended it was the house my parents in Mexico lived in. After we got adopted our new parents got me more for birthdays and Christmas so I had a sense of heritage. Sort of represents the other way my life could have gone, you know?”
Isabelle looked at Nesrin, then shook her head and went back to dusting. She only made two more swipes before she stopped again. “Hey, do hidden ones know things about people?”
“Depends what you mean.”
“I mean about people you haven’t met. Like telling fortunes, I guess?”
“Some of us can, but there is some disagreement on whether or not we should use it.”
“What do you think?”
Nesrin pursed her lips. “Where’s this going?”
“I… Forget it.”
“You wanted me to tell you about your birth parents.”
“I more wanted you to show them to me, maybe show me where they live. Jason sees his once in a while, but I’ve never seen mine. I just want to finally know the real answers to some of my questions.”
Nesrin shook her head. “You’ve developed a perception you can live with. If I do this you may find the story was preferable to the truth.”
“I’d rather have an unpleasant truth than something fake. Por favor, Nesrin. I need to know where my blood comes from.”
Nesrin studied her eyes, which was a mistake. “Alright, I’ll take a night off and we can go now, but remember I warned you. Grab my hand.”
Isabelle did so, and felt the sensation of being dragged through the air.
Nesrin let go and stopped to text her boss so Isabelle could get her bearings. They were on the outskirts of a town at the edge of a dry, flat stretch of land. “Unless I’m wrong this should be roughly the spot. We’re in Arizona, specif…”
Isabelle wasn’t listening. Her eyes were glued to a long, dark line in the distance. The border.
Nesrin put a hand on her shoulder. “That’s where they’re actually from, this is where they are now. Which do you want to see?”
Isabelle’s hand rose up to her hair. “Show me them now.”
“Then there’s a restaurant in town we need to go to. We can walk from here.”
The town took on a somewhat old-fashioned atmosphere from the antiquated architectural style of the buildings; sort of a mix of western and retro. The restaurant Nesrin mentioned was small and simple, with a neon light that wasn’t turned on.
Nesrin said “Your mother’s a waitress here. We’ll sit down and I’ll point her out. You can decide what to do from there.” She held the door for Isabelle and followed her in.
Isabelle looked at all the waitresses. There were one or two she thought were possibles, but at this point it could have been anyone. By the time they sat down she could barely walk. She didn’t dare rush Nesrin for confirmation, but when their waitress came she saw Nesrin’s eyes bulge and didn’t need to.
“Hiiiii. My name is Celia, I’ll be taking care of you this evening. How are we doing today?”
Isabelle stammered out a few syllables. In the split second that she could look at Celia she noticed short, greying brown hair.
Nesrin leaned forward. “We’re doing great, thanks.”
“Great. What can I get you to drink?”
Isabelle tried to speak again and got nothing. The woman wasn’t as tall as she was expecting, or as thick around the waist.
“We’ll both just have waters.”
Celia walked away and Isabelle’s forehead dropped to the table. Slowly she lifted it up. “Es mi madre.”
“Did you see if she was wearing a wedding ring?”
“No you didn’t see or no she wasn’t?”
Nesrin motioned with her eyes as the woman returned with their drinks. Isabelle barely heard what Celia said. She managed a smile, though. She also saw there was no wedding ring. She heard Nesrin say “I’ll have a chicken quesadilla, she’ll have a cheese quesadilla.” A few seconds later she heard her mother say “Are you alright? You seem a little out of sorts.”
Isabelle imagined her eyes dilating. “I’m okay, thank you.”
Her mother walked away and she let herself breathe. “Okay, so, the ring. Do I wanna know?”
“You tell me.”
“Oh qué va, sabes quiero saber!”
Nesrin shook her head.“Are you thinking of telling her?”
Isabelle started to call her out on changing the subject, then she stopped to consider the question. “No sé. I’m not sure I can find the right words, or force them out.”
They sat in silence until their food arrived.
“Here we go. Everything look alright?”
Nesrin waited for Isabelle, who said “Yep, it all looks fantastic. Thank you.”
Nesrin quietly clapped.
“Good, then let me know if you need anything else. Enjoy.”
Isabelle said a silent prayer, then cut into her quesadilla. “I saw a scar on her face. It starts behind her ear and goes to her chin.”
“Yes. It was a rough crossing.”
“Did you see her eyebrows? When she smiles they don’t move to match. It’s like they’re set in a permanent sad face.”
Isabelle pushed the quesadilla pieces around. “I want to tell her, and ask her things, and tell her more things. I want a lot of things.” She looked at Nesrin. “You’ve said before that your father was human. I guess that means he’s…”
“For thousands of years. I still have Mother, though.”
“Did you know him?”
“He was there for the first forty years or so. He taught me writing, pottery, haggling, and whatever else he knew. Of course for our people I was still a mere child.”
Isabelle didn’t pry further.
Her mother stopped on her way to another table. “Can I get you anything else? Some desert, maybe?”
They both shook their heads.
“Okay, then I’ll bring your check. One check or separate?”
Nesrin put up a hand. “One.”
Isabelle felt her throat dry up. It felt like playing an arcade game when her token was running out. She zoned out through the check coming and Nesrin paying; she needed to script and rehearse her lines for when her mother brought Nesrin’s change.
“Here you go. Thanks for coming in. You two have a nice night.”
It had caught her off guard. She didn’t call out or put out a hand, just turned to watch her mother walk away. She stood slowly. “Okay, I’m ready to go home.”
“Whatever you want.”
They walked past a few tables until Isabelle noticed Celia cleaning a table. Isabelle watched her for a few moments, then started walking again.
After Nesrin took them home they sat out on the balcony. Nesrin watched the clouds while Isabelle wrote in her journal by the light from a streetlamp. Isabelle had written down her mother’s name and the name of the restaurant. She’d get the name of the town from Nesrin later. Now she was making a sketch of her mother’s face.
“If you want go back I can take you anytime.”
“Thanks. We’ll see if I can get over my nerves.” She drew a question mark next to sketch, representing her father. “On the other hand, maybe you’re right; maybe I have enough to go on now and it’s better to fantasize.”
They went in about midnight. They had to pass Isabelle’s village going in. Nesrin went right past, but Isabelle stopped to move the restaurant to the front of the shelf before going to bed.