A layer of dust covered the brown paisley box, tucked into the top shelf of the storage closet beneath the stairs. The boy dragged the stool from the kitchen and hoisted himself up, pulled out of the box, heavy with memories saved for a lonesome day. He waddled to his room and dropped the box to the floor with a thud, closing the door behind him even though the house was empty. Turning on the lamp on his desk, he plopped on the ground and removed the lid, tossing it to the side. He pulled out a picture at random. His baby brother, mouth wide open in delight, eyes squinted looking at the camera, head tilted slightly to the left, small body raised in the air, safely held by his dad , the boy’s mom’s boyfriend. He placed the picture to the side, picking out another one. The boy and his brother, sitting a blue blanket at the park, looking away from the camera, he couldn’t remember at what. Another: a close-up picture of his brother, hazel-green eyes looking through the picture straight at him, mouth and cheeks smeared with tomato sauce, a small piece of noodle hanging out his dimpled chin.
He could hear his grandma in his mind, “À quien se parece, mihija?” Who does he look like?
His mom and grandma would do an inventory of his features: ears, eyes, nose, mouth, moles and designate whom he inherited it from. The baby’s dad would stand by and smile, hearing the women speak; he was always at the ready with the camera, taking pictures that the boy didn’t think were particularly good ones like the baby bawling, red and puffy and angry. The boy did not care for those conversations and would generally leave the room. Why did his brother have to have someone else’s nose or eyes? Couldn’t they just be his own? They never spoke about the boy’s features in that way. His father was never spoken about, as if the boy was born out of air and sadness. It made his little head hurt and he’d dig his fingernails into his tan palms as he clenched his fists to focus on something else. If he looked through every picture, he wouldn’t find a single one of him as baby, he did not have a father hovering and ready to capture every smile, every trip and every step.
The front door squeaked open, keys jingled and clattered on the table, clicking and clacking of high heels on the wooden floor and a squeal of a happy baby.
His bedroom door swung open and his mom looked down at him, at the box, at the picture in his hand, back to him.
“Que haces, honey? What are you doing with pictures?”
“Ma, who do I look like?”
She straightened and pulled her head back, not expecting this question. The boy looked at her and then back at the picture. His mom knelt beside him then, putting her hand beneath his soft chin and turning his face towards hers.
“You are not like anyone else. You are a unique young man, special. Different.”
She smiled and kissed his forehead. The boy looked at her, serious. She smoothed his hair back.
“Te quiero, I hope you know that. Ven.”
He tucked the picture back in the box, pushing it beneath his bed and she took his hand. They went for a walk in the park and he played on the swings and forgot about eyes and ears and who looked like whom and he smiled, his front teeth gapped like his mom’s. The box remained in the darkness beneath his bed, gathering dust until the memories call again.