A Spanish speaking voice cuts through the drone of lawnmowers. Unmistakably Argentinian. Years ago, I might have rung the doorbell, introduced myself, asked her which city she was from, tried to somehow fill the yawning gaps in my past. But now I walk by the house with mild curiosity, looking casually into a room closest to the sidewalk. On first glance, what seems like a little girl sitting on a wicker chair is in fact a life-size doll. Struck by its familiarity, I take a few more steps toward the open window, the doll’s blue eyes seem to light up with recognition. Anabel? For a moment I’m no longer peering into the room but watching two girls play with a doll under the canopy of a massive ombu tree, the grass littered with greenish white flowers and crimson berries. As this scene fades, I see a woman in a beige sweater sitting on the bed, her hand resting possessively on the arm of the wicker chair. Where did she come from? Snapping back to reality and feeling terribly embarrassed, I stammer an apology. I used to play with a doll like that, I say, and stumble backwards, thankful for my golden retriever pulling me at the end of the leash. In a daze, I exchange good mornings with the other dog walkers while sounds, smells and images of a lost childhood push their way into the present. Somewhere, I hear a woman cry out, Rosana, and my mouth falls open in a hollow scream as I watch my mama being dragged away by her long golden hair, the sound of boots kicking and then blood and blinding bright lights. Like a Seeing Eye dog, Bailey leads me home, a street away at the corner of 29th and West Avenue in Austin. To the old couple waiting on the porch, I say in a shaky voice, Rosana…I think that’s my real name. They pat the space between them on the wooden bench. Childless, and well into their fifties, the little girl wandering near their home in Mendoza was a gift from God, their Graciela, a name that had, in the beginning, hung on me like ill fitting clothes, but now feels as comfortable as my skin. I sit down and grasp their hands in mine, weep softly.
On 30th street in Austin, that same morning, Lucia twirls a pencil through her hair as she proofreads the printed papers of her autobiographical novel, set in Argentina during the Dirty War years. She thinks of Rosana. People used to ask if they were twins, because they dressed in similar outfits and wore their hair short with bangs sweeping to one side of the forehead and, incredibly, their birthdays fell on the same day. If she thought a thought, Rosana would know it, they were so close. Lucia remembers that night very well, it was exactly twenty years to the day, they had heard shouts and screams in the neighbor’s house and then the eerie stillness, run to the ombu tree now, her parents had said, kissing her, and eight-year old Lucia had grabbed her doll, Anabel, and raced into the backyard and climbed inside the ombu tree whose many trunks formed a natural hideout, the spongy bark muffling the noises from outside. Even when the whole street was shrouded in silence, she stayed huddled inside the big tree with Anabel, sipping rainwater from the ombu leaves. Lucia had waited and waited for Rosana to come too. Even now she has nightmares of those days, Anabel had been her only companion until someone in the family came looking for her in the ombu tree. Later, she reunited with her parents who were thrown out of a moving car, naked and nearly dead, in a pre-arranged place, their release powered by people in high places in the military. Now, Lucia tilts her head and listens good-humouredly to her widowed mother talking loudly on the phone in the next room. On hearing footsteps, Lucia goes to the window to see a woman and a dog approach her house. She has seen them many times walking in the neighborhood. Lucia sits on the bed, one hand resting possessively on the arm of the wicker chair, both outraged and puzzled by the woman’s interest in Anabel, her doll. From where she’s seated, Lucia can see scarred skin all the way from the woman’s wrist to her elbow and up her forearm. Similar to what her parents had on other parts of the body. The woman backs away, stammering an apology. Did she imagine it or did the woman say Anabel? Lucia goes back to her desk and picks up her manuscript, but after a minute, or so, sets it down. What if she were Rosana? She thinks of the many strange coincidences that had brought together other families in America. A smile lifts the sag from her mouth and softens her face glistening with tears.
Note: Inspired by a portrait of Doris by the Argentinian photographer Marcos Lopez, I wrote Anabel for Vislumbres, an Iberoamerican magazine. To view the picture go to www.marcoslopez.com/marcosblackandwhite.htm and then click on the arrow to the right till you see a woman seated on a bed and a life-size doll in an armchair (I think it’s the 5th picture). I would have liked to have posted the picture here, but I'm not sure if that would be OK.