The first words out of my mouth when I return Perla to her mother after our seashell expeditions are “Lo siento.” I’m sorry. I’m sorry for this bag of pelican and gull feathers (what the hell is she going to do with those?). I’m sorry your daughter’s pretty white patent leather shoes look like tiny adobe bricks. I’m sorry her fancy church-going dress is soaked.
A couple weeks ago Perla found a to-go container on the beach so we fixed lunch for her mother. We gathered up tiny dead crabs, used-up limes we call conchas de limones, tossed in some clamshells and seaweed. We even found one of those little cough medicine cups, like the ones that come with NyQuil, and filled it with salt water. Perla dropped in a tiny shell as garnish.
When we got back to the park Perla’s mom just smiled. She placed her seafood lunch on the counter. Stripped off Perla’s dress and hung it to dry. Wiped off the shoes. “Lo siento,” I said.
Of course Paloma goes with us on our beach walks. She attracts all the attention. Mexicans love her. Everyone asks if they can touch her, does she bite? People gingerly pat her head, her back. One little boy said “she’s beautiful” with such awe it was as though he’d seen an angel. Sexy bikini-clad women rise from their beach towels to admire her.
Perla calls her Palomita – little dove – which always makes me laugh because Paloma more resembles a fat pigeon. Then Perla started calling her “palomitas de maize.” I asked Manny what that meant and he said “popcorn.” If Paloma would ever get near water, or let someone brush her, I guess she’d resemble a fluffy white piece of popped corn but not in her current state which can only be called disgusting because she lies in the dirt all day and is covered with ticks and fleas.
This week I asked Perla’s mom if Perla had shorts or a swimsuit so I wouldn’t have to worry about her shoes and dress. When Perla knocked on my trailer door she had on lime green shorts and flowered sandals, her shell bag hung from her wrist.
The three of us walked past the pier, stopping for the usual Paloma admirations. The sea was rough but that didn’t stop kids from romping and screaming in the surf so I let Perla join in, worrying the whole time about stingrays and broken glass. I guess Paloma worried too because she ventured further into the sea than she normally would, keeping a watchful eye on Perla.
One of the fishermen made me nervous. He was an older dark-skinned man with very few teeth. He walked over to where I was watching Perla and started asking me about Paloma in pretty good English. Things like what kind of dog is she? I made it very clear that she is my guarda espalda (body guard) and a Mexican dog, not a gringo dog and, therefore, holds less value. Not that I could picture anyone managing to steal her but that does happen here – dogs being held for ransom or sold. (If Paloma were sold by the kilo she’d bring in a pretty peso.) So we headed back to the park.
When Perla and I started these joint ventures she was shy but that is certainly no longer true. She talks non-stop. I nod and say “si” a lot. She dances. She sings. She poses. She pretends she’s a puppy, a kitten. This time when I returned her to her mother she was drenched from head to toe. No need for “lo siento”; we just waved and hollered “adios.”