The Paper Swan
Author:Leylah Attar


He laughed. “Well, I had just graduated from college, not a penny to my name, but I wanted to see the world and found myself in Caboras with a few of my buddies. On our last night, we crashed a wedding and there she was: Adriana Nina Torres, the most beautiful girl in the world. I told her I was a successful entrepreneur, a friend of the groom’s. She called security on me and had me thrown in the lock up for impersonating a guest at her brother’s wedding. I knew it was love at first sight when she came to bail me out the next day.”

“I wish I knew her.” I never got tired of hearing their story, of how he had to prove himself to win her family over.

“You were the most precious thing in her life, Skye. I couldn’t protect her, but I promise it will be different for you. I’m almost there. Just a little longer and we’ll be free.”

I didn’t know what he meant, but I knew he missed my mother, and he loved me even though he was always away.

“Se?or Sedgewick,” Victor Madera interrupted from the door. “Gideon St. John’s parents are downstairs. They are demanding something be done about Esteban.”

“Dad.” I tugged my father’s hand. “Please don’t tell MaMaLu about . . .” I gestured towards the paper giraffe. I didn’t want to give Victor any more ammunition than he had. He seemed to enjoy tormenting Esteban. “She said she’ll send him away.”

“I want the book returned right away.” My father shot me a warning look. “And no more ‘borrowing’.” He took my hand and we went downstairs to face Gidiot and his parents. They were seated stiffly on the sofa while MaMaLu and Esteban stood behind them.

For all of MaMaLu’s threats, she protected Esteban fiercely when it came down to it, but she also knew her place and she knew her limits. “I will agree to whatever punishment Se?or Sedgewick sees fit for my son.” She held her head high.

Mr. and Mrs. St. John turned to my father while Gidiot smirked at Esteban and me.

“I’m sorry,” said my father as his phone rang. “I have to take this.” He talked for a few moments and hung up. “I’m afraid something urgent has come up, but I can assure you the matter will be dealt with properly.” He left the St. John’s little room to protest as he saw them out. “Look after it, Victor.” He motioned to Esteban after they’d gone.

Victor smiled at MaMaLu, but she didn’t smile back. I don’t think she liked Victor picking Esteban’s punishment.

“And one more thing.” My father returned before she could say anything. “Tell Miss Edmonds she can expect a new student starting next week. I want Esteban to join the class.”

MaMaLu’s jaw dropped. “Thank you, Se?or Sedgewick. Thank you so much.”

“I believe you have a book to return, young man,” my father said to Esteban. “I expect you to be in class and to stay out of trouble.” I knew he was doing it to keep MaMaLu from sending him away.

“Yes, sir. I will.” Esteban was smiling so big, I thought his face would crack.

“Happy Birthday, Skye.” My father winked at me before he headed back out. In that moment, my world was complete. I was so happy, I didn’t even care when Victor told Esteban to follow him out for his punishment.

MaMaLu stayed with me. We opened the rest of the presents and she ooh’d and aah’d over the extravagant gifts. We put Esteban’s giraffe away last, with all of his other creations, because she knew I liked it best.

It was almost dark when MaMaLu opened the window and gasped. I flew to her side and saw Esteban on his hands and knees in the garden, cutting the grass . . . with a pair of scissors. It was the garden in the back, with prickly poppies and spiny weeds. Esteban winced with every step. His palms and knees were raw and his t-shirt clung to him from sweat and exertion.

I knew MaMaLu wanted to cuss Victor out, but she bit her tongue. She brushed my hair and tucked me into bed.

“Are you going to tell me a story tonight, MaMaLu?” I asked.

She got into bed with me and put her arm around me.

When Esteban finished, he climbed through the window and listened. It was a tale we hadn’t heard before, about a magic swan that graced the grounds of Casa Paloma. If you caught a glimpse of it, you would be blessed with a rare treasure. MaMaLu told us that the swan hid in the garden, but once in a while, on a new moon, it liked to swim in the lily pond, by the tree with the yellow flowers.

Esteban smiled at me. He flexed his fingers because they were numb from holding the scissors for so long. I smiled back. Casa Paloma meant House of Doves. Trust MaMaLu to throw in a swan. We both knew there were no magic swans, but we liked the sound of MaMaLu’s voice.

“Sing us the lullaby,” I said, when she finished the story.

Esteban scooted over and knelt by the bed. MaMaLu turned her face away from him. She was still mad at him for punching Gidiot, but she let him put his head in her lap.

De la Sierra Morena,

Cielito lindo, vienen bajando . . .

It was Esteban’s lullaby, from when he was a baby, but I was their cielito lindo—their little piece of sky. I snuggled closer as she sang about birds that leave nests, and arrows, and wounds. Esteban and I lay with MaMaLu between us. We didn’t move when it was done because it was soft and quiet, and we wanted to stay there forever.

“Come, Esteban,” said MaMaLu. “It’s time we said goodnight.”

“Wait.” I wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet. It had been the best birthday ever, in spite of Esteban’s punishment. Tomorrow, he would go to class with me and not have to hide in the hutch anymore. “I haven’t said my prayer.”

We closed our eyes and held hands in a circle.

“Dear Lord, bless my soul. And watch over Dad. And MaMaLu and Esteban.” My voice quivered with laughter because Esteban peeked and caught me peeking, and MaMaLu opened her eyes and rapped her knuckles on our heads.