“Sorry, Mamá,” Ximena said, lowering her eyes.

“No, no, baby, I love hearing you sing again. Just maybe another song?”

So, as Ximena set out the two plates, she launched into Rihanna’s, “Don’t Stop the Music.” It was a little weird singing it without any back-up music, but once her mother started clapping her hands, keeping the beat, it felt less awkward. Ximena motioned for her to sing along, and to her delight she did. Mamá even danced, despite the fact her feet were swollen and tired.

The final notes hovered over the table as the two women sat. Mamá smiled softly, before bowing her head to pray. Shocking Ximena further, her mother did not speak her prayer, but sang a popular Spanish hymn of thanksgiving.When her mother concluded, Ximena was beaming.

“Mamá, that was beautiful.”

“Thank you,” her mother said, as she picked up the fork.

After that, the two ate in silence. There was often little to say. Her mother’s routine hardly varied. Until today, Ximena’s hardly did too. Nor was there any point in alarming her mother with news that she’d ventured near The House. That vine, it was spooky. The way it had latched to her scalp, all the way through her hair. Her head still felt raw, as if a horde of mosquitos had feasted on her flesh.

“Something wrong, baby?” Mamá asked, as Ximena cleared the dishes.

“No, Mamá, I’m fine. Get some rest.”

“You are a good girl, my daughter,” Mamá said. She pressed a kiss against Ximena’s forehead.

Maybe not so good, Ximena did not say.

Ximena silently readied their home for bed. As she worked, a breeze threaded through the night like a hum. But as she lay herself down to sleep next to her mother, the wind picked up. On its back came her own voice, softly singing “The House of the Rising Sun.”

Ximena’s lips, however, were not moving. Her throat carried no tune. Her voice was blowing towards her from the direction of The House.

***

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