MATRUSHKA AND MARTIAN
I follow his crayon arrows with my finger.
“This is Mars and those are your parents who threw you off and there’s us, the Shapiro family. There’s me and Becky and Mommy and Daddy in his box. We found you and gave you an Earthling name and now you’re my brother, right?”
“Right.” Daniel is messing with something at the other end of his bed.
I’m looking at his wall. “The crayon mural,” my mother calls it and always rolls her eyes. The red circle is Mars. At the bottom of the planet, stuck up-side-down by gravity, are his real mother and father with silver antennas in their heads and silver clothes.
“Could you float when you were on Mars?” I ask him.
“Yes, but only young children can. Grown-ups weigh too much.”
“I was just testing you,” I tell him. “I learned that at the science museum last week.
Maybe they didn’t throw you off, Daniel. Maybe you just floated away.”
“No,” he says, “I remember.”
“Can I try on your antennas?” I ask. I’m rocking the bed so he’ll look at me.
“No. Stop bouncing the bed.”
His antennas are hanging from a picture hook on the wall. They’re just TV antennas stuck into a strip of cardboard which he wrapped in foil.
“They won’t burn me,” I say. “I touched them the other day and I didn’t get burned.”
Daniel stares. His face is turning the color of Mars. “You could have gotten electrocuted!”
“Mommy says that your antennas are from the bunny ears of the old TV and they don’t have electric current.”
“She has to say that. She’ll get arrested if anyone finds out I’m not an Earthling.”
“You’re stupid! Why would she lie to me?”
“You’re stupider if you can’t figure that out!”
Sticking out of a nail hole near his antennas is a little paper flag on a toothpick. Daniel got it from one of our mom’s dates but he tells people he brought it from Mars…that it’s the Martian flag. I saw the same one in the “J” World Book. It’s really the flag of Japan.
“Well, I’m from Russia,” I tell him. “So big deal that you’re from Mars!”
“You’re not from Russia. You’re American.”
“I am not! I was in Mommy’s stomach and she was in Grandma’s stomach when Grandma lived in Russia.”
“That doesn’t matter. It’s where you come out of her stomach that matters.”
“I could hear in there Daniel. I heard when she escaped under water and then the sound of the big boat engine. I remember, Daniel! So don’t tell me!”
“Why don’t you go away!” he says.
“I don’t want to,” I tell him.
“Get out!” Daniel is getting Mars-faced again.
“Make me,” I say.
“Ma!” he yells. “Sary won’t leave me alone.”
I stick out my tongue when I leave Daniels’ room. He isn’t looking.
The radio is on in the kitchen. My mother is cutting cabbage into chunks and dropping them into her big stew pot. I carry the step-stool over from the fridge to the stove to watch the red corned beef boil.
She hates to say “What?”
“How come it doesn’t turn brown?”
“If you boiled a pickle and a cucumber, what colors would they turn?”
“I don’t know,” she says.
“Can I try it?” I ask.
“No. It’s a waste of food.”
“I’ll eat them,” I say but she doesn’t answer me.
“I said no and that’s that!”
“I bet the pickle stays green and the cucumber turns black.”
“Black?” she asks.
“Because brown is darker red and black is darker green, right?”
“Well, what do you bet, Mom?”
“I bet everything would turn to mush.”
“Ma?...Ma?...How come Daniel gets to draw on his wall and I don’t?”
“He needs to and you don’t.”
“Why does he need to?”
“Because he holds things in.”
“Sarah, watch! You’ll get burned.”
“Like what Ma? What does he hold in?”
“Like about your father passing away.”
I can feel a lump in my throat and my teeth are biting each other. I know that “passing away” is the polite way to say dead.
“Why does he hold it in?” I ask.
“I don’t know. People just react to things differently.”
“React,” I say the word and squint my eyes.
“Respond…Some people hold things in and some people don’t.”
“I don’t hold things in, right?”
“Right. You’re my expressive one.” She kisses my head and then scrapes more cabbage chunks into the pot.
“Aren’t I from Russia?” I ask.
“You’re of Russian descent.”
“Then I’m Russian, right?”
“No. Your ancestors were Russian. You’re an American.”
I stick out my bottom lip at her. “Granma said that I was in your stomach and you were in her stomach when …”
“Grandmom was just making up stories,” she says.
“Was Daddy from Russia?”
“Borrring!” I jump down off the step-stool. The lump is still in my throat.
I sit out on the front steps, swallowing. Some of the bigger boys on our block are playing football in the street.
When I look up at the sky, I can make tears pour back into my head.