Mothers have many secrets. It’s no secret how much I love Sadie, my daughter. She lives in the north country now and I miss her every day. This is a story written in her voice around the time when she was still missing her two front teeth.
Vallvidrera, Barcelona, 1990
I have this marble collection. It’s nothing like Carolina’s, but I have tutti fruttis, toohpastes, cat’s eyes, devil’s eyes, bumblebees, beachballs, green ghosts, mirrors, swirlies, opals, glimmers, bloods, deep blue seas, rubies, tigers and galaxies and Pau always wants to trade, he doesn’t know what he’s trading though. I mean he traded me – oh – I forgot to mention one of the best kind for trading, steelies – that’s what Pau traded me for one normal toothpaste. The thing about these marbles isn’t that I don’t really play with them or anything, it’s just that at Pedralbes, they’re in style, and that’s what we do, we trade. Trade. That was the word I couldn’t think of that night when my mother took me up to her friend Celia’s house. I never said that word in English and so I didn’t know what to say when I took out my big brand new bumblebee. I speak English, Spanish, French and a little Catalan but that night I was spacing out. My mother said I was talking like I had marbles in my mouth, but the truth was, I was scared in that house, so I went and stood outside on the kitchen balcony. I’m sure my mother was afraid I would fall off the mountain but I was just looking at all the lights out there and I wasn’t even cold and I was wearing short sleeves. I had just gotten home from volleyball and we were supposed to go shopping, my mother wanted to get some boots, I told her okay but please let me rest for a little while first because I was tired and she really walks a lot, especially after volleyball when I’m the tiredest. But everything got changed around when Celia called. My mother asked me if I wanted to go to Celia’s house, I was looking at Pablo’s water marble (which my mother says is not really a marble because it’s plastic, but she doesn’t know that at Pedralbes a water marble is worth a lot because it rolls good), and I said I wanted to know where Celia’s house was and she told me in Vallvidrera, which sounded far away with a lot of walking, but Celia likes me, she gives me cuddles and screams a lot when she sees me, so I said okay. When we were walking in the street and my mother was telling me that Vallvidrera was a mountain overlooking the city, I started to get worried, I thought, uh-oh, I’m gonna be really tired now, so I asked her if we had to walk up there to Celia’s, but she laughed and told me we were just walking to the parking lot to get the car. Okay.
What a ride. My mother is driving up the mountain road and she can’t find the lights and her seat won’t go up all the way so her feet don’t reach what they’re supposed to reach. She’s driving so slow and the road is very curvy, and I’m getting a little car sick, but when she asks me, I tell her I feel fine because she looks like she’s sliding backwards in her seat while trying to hold the car down so it won’t go off the road. She drives this way, pressing on the steering wheel, pressing on all of us, her, me and the car, like she’s pressing us up the hill. It’s pretty scary. When we were going back down the hill I looked out of the window and I wondered if we could just fall over the edge. It looked so easy. My mother told me not to even say things like that, not to mention those horrible thoughts, not to even think them. Okay. But I wasn’t scared, I was just messing around. When we finally got up there, Celia made me a pretty yukky sandwich, I mean it didn’t taste bad but the bread was like wood. And I saw my mother dump a bunch of olives into Celia’s green soup when she wasn’t looking. Celia made me close the kitchen door when she was cooking because she said she hated cooking smells in her house. The plants in there are like trees and you can go up the steps and look at things with lights hanging in the dark and in the room where Celia has her typewriter there are crabs in the drawer. She asked me if I wanted one. No thaaaaaaaanks. She took us into the room where she was building the boat and that’s where I saw the blue marble. It was hanging from one of Celia’s weird light things that she makes. It was the biggest opal I ever saw, it looked like a blue moon, but I couldn’t tell from so far away. I didn’t care if it was a blue moon or not, I wanted to trade my new bumblebee for it. But I couldn’t figure out how to say all that. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say because I couldn’t remember the word trade, not in Spanish or English or French or Catalan. I finally said cambiar but Celia didn’t understand me, my mother understood because she knows about how I like to trade marbles and to get me to agree to go up there she told me that at Celia’s house I would see some great marbles, but she didn’t help me explain anything, I didn’t know what she was thinking, she was a zombie until she finally said trade. Then Celia understood. She asked what I wanted in that room and I pointed to that blue marble popping out of that helmet thing or whatever it was. My mother laughed. I didn’t think it was very funny, but no problem. Anyway, I wasn’t so sure if Celia wanted to trade and then I sort of figured out what was wrong. Celia wanted that blue marble for herself, she wanted to keep it just where it was, hanging from that suit of armor statue, so she got a box down off of one of her shelves and we all sat down on the floor and looked inside. It was full of glass things. It was fun looking in that box, my mother liked it too, she likes my marble collection. But I didn’t see anything that looked like a marble in there, she had glass points, door knobs, eggs, see-through balls, light bulbs, and then I couldn’t believe it but she dug out another big blue marble, almost exactly like the one that I wanted and we held it up to the light and I knew then that it was mine and that it was a blue moon. That was when I took out my bumblebee and put it in her box. I traded fast. Well, the blue marble wasn’t perfect, it had a bump on it with a tiny hole through the bump and it wouldn’t roll good and the kids would know that it wasn’t a real marble but I didn’t care and it had some wire through the hole which Celia wanted to take out for me so she could put a different thing, some string or something, but I didn’t let her. I took the wire out of the hole by myself, and it wasn’t easy but like my mother always tells everyone, I have very good fingers, so I did it. Then I had to give the marble back to Celia for a minute, she wanted to put that string through it, I guess she thought it would look better. Now my mother said I looked very tired and that we should go home and she looked at her watch and we went downstairs and listened to some strange singing music and Celia stood up and closed her eyes and leaned to one side with a finger pointing in the air. When we got in the car, I took the string out right away, first thing and as we were driving down the hill I kept telling my mother that Pau Cuervo was going to try and trade me all kinds of marbles for this blue moon, he was such a loco trader, ni un churro, ni un churro, Pau, I kept saying that in the car, ni un churro, ni un churro, finally my mother told me I was saying ni un churro Pau a hundred times but I just couldn’t stop saying it, I couldn’t wait to show my blue moon to Pau Cuervo and I knew he was going to try and trade his best steelies and beachballs and he has a blue pearl galaxy, but ni un churro Pau, ni un churro.