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|by Tess Almendárez Lojacono
Buy your copy of Milagros for $14.00.
Claudio stood in the doorway watching his daughter, oblivious now to the worn, bunched carpet, low windows, paint peeling from their sills, the chipped bureau his wife had rescued from someone else’s garbage. Mercedes was kneeling by her bed, intent upon a project.
“Hey.” His voice, a golden thread, drifted into the room. “What are you doing?”
She didn’t turn. “Drawing,” came the grave reply.
He moved closer and looked over her shoulder. A piece of cardboard was balanced on the bed’s flowered comforter. She was using markers. Her mother didn’t allow markers upstairs, in the bedroom, but he wouldn’ t say anything. The cardboard was divided into three parts.
He perched on the edge of the bed, careful not to jostle the artist or her work. “What is it?”
Mercedes stopped for a moment, tilted her head. “I’m studying on heaven – on getting to heaven.” She resumed drawing.
“You mean, like what you have to do?”
“You mean like, a map of how to get there?”
They were quiet for a while. Claudio studied the cardboard. In the first section was a picture of blue bird eggs, resting in their nest, a baby bottle like the one Mercedes had clung to for years, a pink blanket and what looked like a drawing of a mother holding a little girl; Mercedes and her mom, no doubt. In the middle section was a picture of a foal, cut from a magazine, a pizza, a purple house, and the photo of Mercedes’ mother she kept in her backpack to look at when she was feeling sad at school. The last section showed a prayer book and a rosary draped over a golden chalice and a cross, surrounded by a field of orange flowers. Mercedes finished coloring in a crown, just above the cross. She sat back on her heels.
“See,” she pointed to the blue eggs. “This is the beginning. On earth. Next, comes life. Regular stuff, you know? Stuff you love like houses and pets and toys – ooh! Toys!” She grabbed a green marker and began adding a teddy bear. While she drew she hummed. Finished, she rocked back up on her knees and murmured, “And then there’s heaven.” She added a little more yellow to the crown. “It’s like a chart.”
“It’s a great chart.” Her father’s eyes filled.
“Daddy, is heaven the same for everyone?”
“I don’t know.”
She blinked, surprised. “Oh.”
“I don’t know if it’s even what we think it is. You remember what your mother always said, ‘God knows best.’” Mercedes nodded. He gathered her onto his lap. She was taller than he realized. Her feet almost touched the floor.
“Put your heaven on the chart, Daddy.”
Claudio leaned over her and lifted the photo of his wife. He kissed it once and laid it in the section that was heaven.