Golden Cage

by Carolyn Merino

The sun rubs its warm light on my face, the only way I’ve come to wake up. I’ve lost track of  the time and the day. I don’t care about the weather anymore. The closest I get to the outside is through a four-inch window built with steel bars that make the apartment feel like a cage. I get up to feel the air run through my hand and reminisce about the times I would bike so fast that the coolness of the breeze turned my ears red, ran through my shirt: how nicely my hair flapped in the wind. A moment that felt so close to flying. How much I’d give to have wings so I could fly on top of skyscrapers, through waves, grazing the water with one arm, or over a mountain, perhaps past a cloud; but for now, I’ll make my way to the kitchen. 

My mother sits at the end of the kitchen table, slouched as she scrolls through her Facebook feed, unable to sense I’m just a few feet away. As I pass by, she shakes her head in disbelief. “These people don’t know how to stay home, walking around the streets infecting innocent people, they can’t seem to sit their asses down and read a book.” For what feels like the first time our routines have been in sync. Wake up, eat, look at the news, ignoring one another for most of the day, eat again, and sleep. Silence usually fills the room; we separate ourselves by bedroom doors. We have an unspoken agreement to keep out of one another’s way. If any assistance is needed, we scream each other’s name.

Some days when I pass by her room, I can hear her sniffle while she prays. My reluctance to ask what’s wrong comes from her unwillingness to even touch my shoulder in sympathy. When I was twelve years old, my piano fell off its stand and broke. I cried for days because along with my piano being destroyed was a little girl’s dream of ever becoming a pianist. Her reaction — to get angry — frustrated me. No, it isn’t my dream anymore but that’s not what mattered at all. All I wanted was for mother to scoop me into her arms and promise to buy me a new one, even though we both knew she couldn’t afford it. 

Every afternoon I see mother slouched on the living room couch with a TV remote on one side and a hot coffee on another. The television screen is the only noise heard through our small apartment. The only guests during our time in quarantine were portraits of Christ, hung at the corners of our living room. Our only view is a painting of an aqua blue beach with clear skies, and two empty beach chairs facing one another on smooth sand. Mother had promised we’d go to France one day. We’ll eat chocolate croissants while we lay on their finest beach. Every now and then I’ll ask, “When?” She’d just shrug and say, “Someday.” At times she complained of how small our place is, the way our walls are too close together. The blue paint peeling from the walls revealed the white paint underneath. Being home for so long has made me notice new damages: like the kitchen chairs that are breaking apart, the lightbulb that doesn’t stop flickering, and cabinet doors that fall off when you open them. 

At some time, yesterday, perhaps the day before yesterday, I finished reading all my books. The news gets sadder each day, making it unbearable to watch. My head hurt from smelling so much detergent and fixing things throughout the house. I would fall asleep much later than I usually did, dragging myself to bed, to wake up to another day of solitude. 

While I lay in my bed, tears stream down my face, as if they were waiting for the right moment to pour down to my cheeks. My legs and arms shake from the insufferable chill I feel. I cover myself with a blanket too heavy to bear. I make my way to the bathroom to clean up my face. I look in the mirror to spot that my cheeks are pink, and my eyes red. I splash water on my face to rid myself of my salty tears. More than that, I want to rid myself of isolation.

I wonder if mother feels the same way too. 

I creep towards her bedroom. A sniff can be heard clearly through the door. I knock hoping she is asleep. But instead she calls me in. I stand by the door and ask, “May I sleep with you tonight?” Mother lightly taps the side of her bed and closes her eyes. Her room is a stranger to me, a forbidden place. The carpet is green and feels warm under my toes. The bed is pleasantly soft but squeaks as you climb on. Mother throws a blanket over my body. It has orchids all over, the most comfortable one I’ve been in. As I close my eyes, mother’s hand gently grazes my cheek. When I was a little girl, she’d pinch my cheeks delicately, just to see them turn rosy pink: an act so playful, but done out of tenderness. A mere seconds later, mother’s hand stops and I feel her roll to her side. I do the same and drift off to sleep. 

That night I dream the best dream; mother and I fly hand in hand, over tall buildings, splashing water on each other’s faces, enjoying the chilly breeze, flying for an eternity. 


Carolyn Merino is a Mexican America writer born and raised in Queens, NY, where she lives with her three brothers and parents. She has a love for literature, art and music. She is studying Writing and Literature at LaGuardia Community College, where she will graduate from in the Summer 2020. She started off as an engineering major until she found a love for writing. Now she’s attempting to find her own voice in the world of storytelling and furthering her academic career in English literature at NYU, where she will be transferring in Fall 2020.