Angels Wear White

by Samuel Burton

Some of the houses have picket fences. Others have hedges. Some have low stone walls. Ana likes their house though because it just has flowerbeds around the edges. They’re just dirt right now, but they’ll plant new flowers soon. Ana hopes they plant roses. The yards are all so big here! Their old house didn’t have a yard, just some flower boxes—but no roses in them. Big green yards, big green trees, pretty houses, pretty people—Papá says he doesn’t like the suburbia feel, but Mamá would always tell him the old house did not “even have a spot for a dog to take a leak, much less for the kids to play.”

Ana runs up to Papá and holds her arms out straight in front of her. “Where do these go?”

She stands by gleefully as Papá and Roberto strain under the weight of the sofa. She is holding a stack of neatly framed family photos and beaming more brightly than she ever would for the camera. Papá seems preoccupied.

“Where do these go?” she repeats patiently.

“Grab that back leg there and twist towards me,” Papá says to Roberto. Roberto is big, so he gets to lift the heavy things with Papá. They move like tortoises with heavy furniture shells on their backs. Ana is small, so she gets to run back and forth between the house and the van with the little things. She likes that she gets to move so much faster—that means she works harder.

She is about to inquire again, but becomes distracted by a man standing across the street who is staring at her. She stares back. He quickly diverts his attention to the van, then to the house next door, then to the woman who is standing in the doorway of the house behind him.

A light ache in Ana’s arms draws her attention back to the task at hand. “Where do these go?” she asks again.

“And pull, pull, pull!” Papá says. The sofa creaks as it slides through the door frame.

“There. Now give me a minute before we take it to the living room.” Papá bends over the arm of the sofa and breathes heavily.

“Where do these go?” Ana says, still as patient as ever.

“Weren’t those boxed?” Papa asks.

“The box was too heavy, so I took them out.”

Papá groans.

“What?”

“Nothing, mi conejita. Just put them back in the box for now, and find the smaller boxes.”

“I already found them all.”

Papá crouches down, his eyes level with Ana’s.

“Speedy—and that is why you are la conejita.”

“And you are the tortugo.”

Papá laughs. “I suppose so. Go get Mamá’s dresses out of the car then. Just don’t let them brush against the ground and get dirty.”

Ana runs off towards the old Honda Civic parked in the driveway. She climbs in the back where Mamá’s dresses are—the ones too nice to pack in boxes. She looks at each of them one by one, spreading the skirts out across the seat. Wanting to take the prettiest ones in first, she decides on a flowing red one with little black roses embroidered around the edges—the one that was once Abuelita’s. Mamá rarely wore it because it’s too “different-looking,” but Ana thinks it made her look like an angel—if angels were colorful, of course. Angels are supposed to wear white, but Ana likes the idea of an angel in the flowing red dress.

She thinks about that image for a moment, then becomes distracted once again by the man across the street. He is staring at Papá and Roberto, who have started to pull the armoire out of the van. The woman standing in the doorway then emerges and dashes up to the man. Her high heels make her wiggle when she walks on the grass. She has the most beautiful blonde hair and red lips. She should wear Mamá’s dress, Ana thinks, She would look like an angel too. The woman says something to the man and gestures towards the van. The man responds by staring at his feet and walking across the street towards Papá. Ana runs over and pretends to be looking through some boxes as the man talks to Papá.

“So who’s moving in?” the man asks.

Papá puts his end of the armoire down. “We are,” he says, waving his finger in a circle.

“Oh, well isn’t that something.”

“You live across the street there?”

“Um, yes.”

“Well then I guess we’re neighbors now.” Papá extends a hand towards the man.

The neighbor also extends a hand, but hesitates.

“Oh,” Papá says, “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Grimy hands.”

The man laughs nervously. “Yes, well, no worries. Formalities are unnecessary.”

“Papá,” Roberto sighs.

“Right,” Papá responds as he picks up his end of the armoire again. He groans as he lifts. The neighbor man watches as they carry it into the house, pausing for a rest in the doorway. a moment later they emerge again and drag a mattress out of the van. The neighbor man watches with a tight smile that stays strictly south of his nose as they try to figure out how to grip the awkward item to carry it across the lawn.

“Where are you coming from?” the neighbor asks.

“California. The Bay Area.”

“Oh, lovely… and before that?”

“Dallas.”

The neighbor looks at his feet for a moment. “Anywhere before that?”

“My parents are from Chihuahua, Mexico. I was raised in Texas.”

“Oh, that’s lovely.”

“Not as lovely as here. I love these mountains! You have great mountains.”

“Yes, we do. So what led you to this neighborhood?”

“Best schools in the valley. My wife loved the huge old trees and beautiful houses. Plus, it’s only a few minutes drive from where I work.”

“Oh, lovely. And where is that?”

“Downtown. I work for a homebuilding company.”

“So you’re in construction?”

“Not really. I do their appraisals.”

“Oh, that’s something.”

Papá furrows his eyebrows, but smiles. “Yeah, it is.” He notices Ana dawdling nearby. “Conejita, dresses, remember?”

Ana runs back to the car. She grabs the red dress with the black roses. She has to drape it over her shoulders and wrap it around her arms to keep it off the ground. She runs towards the door, but then stops. She turns and runs towards Papá again.

“Papá, where do they go?”

Papá is still talking to the neighbor man. “We’ll have to have your family over for dinner once we get settled in.”

“Oh, lovely. Though my stomach doesn’t do well with—”

“My wife—well, I make a heavenly creamy alfredo. How’s Italian?”

“Oh. Sounds lovely.”

Ana is impatient now. Something about the neighbor man makes her uncomfortable and she wants to go inside. “Where do they go?” she demands.

The neighbor man looks at the dress wrapped around Ana’s arms and his eyebrows raise. Ana feels even more uncomfortable.

Papá laughs at her. “You look like a boa constrictor got you!”

“It’s an angel dress, not a boa ‘strictor,” she says.

“Angel dress?” the neighbor says.

Ana nods. “Except colorful.”

The neighbor seems antsy. “Lovely,” he says. “very traditional.”

“No,” Ana says. “Angels wear white.”

“I meant…” The neighbor grows even more uneasy. He ends up just nodding and shuffling back across the street to his wife, who is waiting with folded arms. He shrugs at her and walks inside. She stays and watches the new neighbors a moment longer.

Papá rolls his eyes at Roberto, who shrugs in response.

“Change of scenery, huh?” Roberto says. “Maybe she would’ve just wanted us to stay.”

“Papá! Where do they go?” Ana begs.

Papá looks at her with gentle eyes. “On an angel, right?”

Ana scowls at him.

He shakes his head at the ground and sighs. “The attic.”

 

 

 

 

 

Samuel Burton grew up in Holladay, Utah, served and LDS Mission in New York City, and now is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University.