On the train ride home tia Nastácia asked me questions about my day while the train clawed against the rails. I wouldn’t answer them. I closed my eyes to hush the noise. Sometimes, it seems, we hear with our eyes. The last thing my tia said on the train was, “Your haircut looks lovely, Roberta. You look older somehow.” At the sound of those words my neck turned cold. It was a cold that buzzed beneath the skin slowly, draining my throat dry. My neck, no longer covered with hair, was a naked and exposed thing that dipped forward like a small bird.
When we returned home, the house was quiet and still. I made my way to the kitchen and grabbed a whole carrot from the vegetable drawer. I didn’t bother to peel it or wash it and sat on the counter eating my carrot whole. I hadn’t done this since I was a child. My tia’s kitchen had no doors and was connected to the living room, where tia Nastácia sat reading, barely moving aside from her hands that fingered the pages. She grabbed the pages as she usually did: far before needing to turn the page, sliding it between her thumb and index finger until it sounded like rubber. There is something unsettling, but also amusing, about biting loudly into a carrot in a quiet room that has company. It’s the guttural sound that breaks through the silence, and reminds you of the silence. You know the other can hear it and could say something about it, but no one does, and no one did.
I took a very hot shower that night. I stood under the water, motionless, my arms hanging down my sides, letting the water to pour carelessly over my face and down my body. That day I hated America and I hated myself for it. I liked to cry after my showers when I was living with tia Nastácia. I would sit on the cold tiles, feeling my body turn hot to cold, watching the steam that had fogged up the bathroom clear. My head would balance heavily on my neck as my body pressure rose. My mouth coiled rose-like, rippling with quick breaths, and I’d start to cry.