-Nico Montano, New York

The light blue behind bare branches was obstructed in view by a giant gate of fall stone and New York shapes.  A gate, I imagined, was something one found in Middle Earth, to guard from the orcs of Mordor, not in the Valley of New York’s Hudson.

I was with my Madre, recounting my adventures from afar in the hills of Ireland or the sands of Morocco. Sweet scents of accents and Latino car sounds filled our smiles and laughs. We were going to work, or better said, I was going to work with my Madre, to clean houses, as I had done since I was a younger body. But as I saw the grand gate, I pulled back and hollered at the monstrosity and ridiculousness of it. A gate!? For what, protection? But in our laughter, the monstrosity became welcoming, warm even in the winter chill. We passed it, and into another world we went.

My Madre described the houses here and there, the gossip she knew of who lived in which mansion, what was new money and what was old. My wonder was as fresh as when I was born, amazed by the sheer size of it all. It was as if I was in Sintra again, the Portuguese city of castles built by colonial money in the era of Kings and Queens. Not much different, I suppose, here in the Valley.

Amongst what seemed like medieval castles, American flags, and naked winter evergreens, through winding roads, we came to the house my Madre cleaned. As all the others, it was enormous. Parts of our deep brown eyes glistened at what life could be, but only for a fraction of a fraction of a second, because no one has real time to dream those dreams.

We entered the big house, and proceeded to tour it, my Madre excited to show me around. Rooms upon rooms upon rooms, each heavily cluttered with everything, from the obviously gringo couches, to an assortments of magazines that had no logical sequence of collection. As we walked through, I was frightened by the slain bear on the floor, its head frozen mid-roar, deer heads, and Ive-league paraphernalia, the most absurd of which was the Oak Chair with an Ivy league Emblem with a small cute Ivy league pillow. Strange is not the word.

We marveled at it all, to say we didn’t would be to lie, it was all beautiful. But equally, if not more, there was an emptiness in the house. My Madre told me of the man who lived there, alone. Rich, obviously, but alone. My Madre said it without judgement, however, something I could not do, a symptom of my age perhaps. Such a big house, I thought, and no one to share it with. Such a big house, I thought, that I could fit my entire family in twice over and then have friends live with me. Such a big house for one soul.

As we cleaned, my ears searched for the sound of spirit winds or the foot steps of a ghost. Nothing. The spirits and ghosts of the dead only dwell where the living walk, talk, laugh, and cry. But my ears heard nothing in the big house, only the choked howls of the half broken vacuum. Dust settled on creaseless carpets and footless floors. I had grown up cleaning houses with my Madre, but none this big, and none so silent. Every house I knew was loud, filled with memory, pain, happiness. This house had none of those things, not even the whisper of it.

I looked at her, mi Madre, the God that raised me, that could build mountains and birth rivers. I smiled, not knowing why.

Did I ever want this? No, I didn’t. The American Dream had long been a defeated idea in my mind, one that many in my generation rejected as a fading memory reserved for the privileged. But that did not inspire envy, or a hatred of any kind. Instead, it a sweeping confidence overcame me. I was happy in the shoes I walked, the jacket I wore, the love I gave.

And at that moment, as I glimpsed down the hall my Madre, spraying windex on a fine glass table, I grasped on to a sense of beautiful pride. An older me, one that now only exists in the grey mists of my memory, would have one day resented the vacuum in my hand, the dust I was sweeping, the work I was doing, the work my Madre was doing. An older, less mature, idiotic, insipid me would have thought myself above cleaning the homes of the rich, would have thought myself too good for this, too educated, to intelligent. But that was a me that was asleep, drifting on waves that drowned me in false gods.

I looked at her, mi Madre, the God that raised me, that could build mountains and birth rivers. I smiled, not knowing why.

We finished cleaning the big house, got in the car, and drove off, laughing, talking chisme, and deciding wether we should get some pizza. As we passed the monstrous gate, the old me gave a weak cough, asking me to look back. But behind us, in the New York Sintra, there was nothing I wanted to look at. Because a castle is no match to the sight of mi Madre, the God who raised me.

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