Silhouettes of Palm

Anna Denniston - Ecuador


May 30, 2019

I love my bed in Iowa City. It’s small, but that’s okay, because it only needs to fit me, which it does perfectly. I’ve got it positioned so I can pull my curtains back and look out through the screen into my backyard, and the outline of the pine tree branches in the back. In the summer, I can unlatch my screen and slide out and sit on the roof, listening to the bugs, surveying the dark, shadowed yard, watching the man in the moon make his way across the sky. And then, sleepy and content, I climb back into my room, and snuggle down into my bed.

I liked my bed in Cambridge too. It was up against the wall on the far side, and every morning I made sure to make it nice and neat, with a soft white comforter with stitched purple flowers climbing up from the bottom. I remember lying in that bed listening to Pat Hughes call a Cubs game, and Rizzo being up to bat, and me lying there, rooting for him. Some nights I pulled back the curtains and the moonlight would stream into my room, angling just right so that it fell onto my white comforter, and I would pull it up to my chin and snuggle down into my bed.

One of the first things my mom taught me here was how to make my bed. Just like a child, she showed me how to pull the bottom sheet just so so there were no wrinkles. Then put the sheet on the wrong way so that when you eventually folded it over the comforter at the top, it was the right way, displaying the bright pink and yellow flowers on the sheets she’d bought when she was pregnant with Danny. They’ve been in her bottom dresser drawers ever since, waiting till she had a girl in the house she could use them for.

My mom taught me how to fold shirts so they look pretty, how to hard boil eggs just right, how to eyeball recipes, how to match earrings with outfits, how to make little kids feel better. One morning I came down in a red dress and she took me up to her room and clasped her red necklace around me, dabbing my lips with a red lipstick and telling me now it was perfect. Some mornings I’ll put my hair up in a messy bun and she’ll take it out and brush her nails through my tangles and wrap it up again neatly with twists and pins. One night we sat on the side of my bed, made that morning like always, with no wrinkles, the sheet folded over at the top, and she showed me step by step how to dutch braid my hair down my back. Then she took it out and I did it again, her guiding my fingers through the poof and knots.

Sometimes, my mom will walk by my room and see me making my bed, smoothing out the wrinkles, pulling the sheet up over the top.

“Que bonita, esta cama!” she says, and she tells me that when I’m a mom, my children will always have a beautiful bed to sleep in at night. I tell her it’s thanks to her, and she laughs, wrapping her arms around me and squeezing extra tight.

One of the few non-XXXtentation songs Danny likes is called Mi Hermanito (my little brother). The music video shows the heartwarming scenes of brothers playing together countered with images of the older one crying over his younger brother’s dead body. Danny knows I think it’s a terribly sad song, which is why he likes to play it as often as he does, giggling when I make a face and tell him it hurts my heart.

“Why?” he asks.

“Because you are MY little brother,” I say. He smiles, and changes the song.

My six year old neighbor Maria Jose, who spends more time at our house than her own, likes to refer to me as her Queen. She strokes my hair with her sweaty hands, kisses my face, sticks her hands up my shirt and feels my stomach and tells me my body is beautiful. I step off the bus from a day in the city and she runs out from her house waving a drawing of me she made, with flowers and hearts and my name written in my favorite colors. She brings me water when I’m working out, and tissue when I need to blow my nose, and she refuses to change the color in Uno to a color I don’t have.

Some afternoons, after a long day of teaching kids a language they don’t want to learn in a language I cannot speak, I’ll text Avry Richter in the neighboring town of Carpuela and ask to meet up with her in Juncal for baditos. There’s a restaurant right on the edge of town that gives us large glasses of sweet milky mango baditos for a buck each. We go there, and the waiter knows us and shakes our hands, and we go to the second floor, to the table next to the large windows that look out over the E35 highway, venting about this and the other thing, and counting the days till we go back to the States, back to the homes we’ve spent our lives in, back to the beds we’ve grown to fill.

Every night when we say la bendición, the blessing, to our grandparents before going to sleep, my grandma hugs me and tells me to sleep with the angels tonight, and to not have any bad thoughts. She always sits in the same plastic chair, next to her husband, who holds his hand, rough and tan from the years of working on his Ovo farm, in hers as they watch Dulce Venganza. Danny always squeezes our great-grandpa extra tight when we say la bendición, and my great-grandpa laughs and smiles and pats him on the back. He is 97 years old, and he spends his days in a chair by the storage shed out back, under the sprawling Guava tree. One morning I heard him calling for Mateo, beckoning the small, matted dog over to him, smiling. He came, and there they stayed, the old man on the small wooden chair, his legs crossed, a black bowler hat on his head, and the dog, curled up in the dirt at his feet. Both completely content in each other’s quiet presence.

Sometimes I sit in the park in Ibarra – the one with all the pigeons, the one across from the ice cream place on the corner – and I call my mom and tell her I want to go home. I tell her I miss the cornfields, and the late night waffles at Village Inn, and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from Fuel. Other times, I text a friend in England and tell him I miss Cambridge, and the beautiful buildings, and the yellow flowers in the meadow behind the house we used to live, and Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

Then I get up, passing the palm trees in the park, passing the various shops selling TVs and mirrors and fruit salads, to the bus terminal. It’s the way I’ve walked so many times before, past the woman selling mangoes on the street, and I consider, just like so many times before, buying one.

I pay my ten cents to get out to where all the buses wait and I find mine, the green one, at the end. I get on and watch out the window as it takes me through Ibarra, past the billboards displaying burgers and lipsticks, past the line of palm trees in the middle of the streets, and the little bakery with Winnie the Pooh on the front, and then we are winding along the mountain alongside the sugar cane, back to the white house at the top of the hill. I don’t even have to tell the bus driver it’s mine anymore, they just know when to stop.

Last night, I sat with my legs dangling outside my window, listening to the bugs, the guinea pigs scuttling in their cages, the occasional dog bark. I looked out over the silhouettes of the palm trees and our sprawling Guava tree. The moon was there, a bight gleaming white circle, floating right above the outline of the mountains, and I sat and stared at it, looking for those deep crevices of the eyes and knowing smile of the man. But it wasn’t until I tilted my head to the left that I could see him, looking sideways across the mountain tops instead of down them. A different perspective, but still, he was there, as he always is.

Different things make different places home – late night waffles or mid afternoon baditos, Survivor or Dulce Venganza, silhouettes of pine or palm trees. I have homes in different houses, different towns, different continents across the world, some with fields of corn, or fields of bright yellow flowers, or of sugar cane. But as I look out over these fields, whatever may be filling them, the feeling is the same, and that’s how I know I’m home.

I sat on my window ledge for a bit longer that night, looking out at my backyard, and listening to the sounds, until, sleepy and content, I climbed back into my room and snuggled down in my bed.


Anna Denniston