Chapter 1 of Hello, Universe – Erin Entrada Kelly | Audiobook

Chapter 1 of Hello, Universe – Erin Entrada Kelly | Audiobook


Chapter one, grand failure. 11-year-old Virgil Salinas already
regretted the rest of middle school, and he’d only just finished sixth grade. He imagined all those years stretching
ahead of him like a long line of hurdles, each off them getting taller,
thicker, and heavier. And him standing in front of them
on his weak and skinny legs, he was no good at hurdles. He’d found this out
the hard way in gym class, where he was the smallest,
most forgettable and always picked last. All things considered he should’ve
been happy on the last day of school. The year was over, he should’ve been skipping home ready
to tackle the bright summer ahead. Instead, he walked through the front
door like a defeated athlete head low, shoulders hunched. A sack of disappointment sitting
on his chest like an anvil, because today it was official,
he was a grand failure. Oy, Virgilio, said his grandmother,
his Lola, when he came in. She didn’t look up,
she was in the kitchen slicing a mango. Come take one of these,
your mother bought too many again. They were on sale, so she buys ten,
and what do we need ten mangoes for? They’re not even from the Philippines,
they’re from Venezuela. Your mother bought ten Venezuelan mangoes,
and for what? That woman would buy kisses from
Judas if they were on sale. She shook her head,
Virgil straightened his posture so Lola wouldn’t suspect anything was wrong. He took a mango from the fruit bowl. Lola’s eyebrows immediately
scrunched together. Only they weren’t really eyebrows
because she’d pluck them clean. What’s wrong? While you have that, look, she said. What look?, Virgil said. You know,
Lola didn’t like to explain herself. Is that pug-faced boy at school
being mean to you again? No, Lola. For once,
that was the least of his worries. Everything’s fine. Hm, said Lola. She knew everything wasn’t fine. She noticed everything about him. They had a secret kinship. It had been that way ever since the first
day she’d come from the Philippines to live with them. On the morning she arrived,
Virgil’s parents and identical twin brothers immediately
rushed her in a flood of hugs and hellos with the exception of Virgil,
that’s how the Salinas family was. Big personalities that bubbled
over like pots of soup. Virgil felt like unbuttered
toast standing next to them. Ay sus, so my first moments in
America will be filled with a pulsing headache, Lola said. She pressed her fingertips to her temples
and waved toward Virgil’s older brothers, who were tall and lean and
muscled, even then. Joselito, Julios, fetch my bags I want
to say hello to my youngest grandson. After Joselito and Julius scurried off,
ever the helpful brothers, Virgil’s parents presented him like a rare
exhibit they didn’t quite understand. This is turtle, his mother said,
that was their name for him. Turtle, because he wouldn’t
come out of his shell. Every time they said it,
a piece of him broke. Lola had squatted in front of him and
whispered, you are my favorite Virgilio. Then she put her fingers to her lips and
said, don’t tell your brothers, that was six years ago, and
he knew he was still her favorite. Even though she’d never said so again. He could trust Lola, and maybe one day
he would confess his secret to her. The one that made him a grand failure, but not now, not today. Lola took the mango from him,
let me slice that for you, she said. Virgil stood next to her and watched. Lola was old and
her fingers felt like paper, but she sliced mangoes like an artist. She started slowly, biding her time. You know, she began, I had a dream
about the stone boy again last night. She’d been dreaming about
the stone boy for days now. The dream was always the same, a shy boy,
not unlike Virgil gets terribly lonely. Takes a walk in the forest and
begs a rock to eat him. The biggest stone opens
its gravelly mouth and the boy jumps inside
never to be seen again. When his parents find the stone,
there was nothing they can do. Virgil wasn’t sure how hard his parents
would try to get him out anyway. But he knew Lola would hand chisel
that rock to pieces if she had to. I promise not to jump into any rocks,
Virgil said. I know there’s something
going on with you, anak. You have the face of
Federico the Sorrowful. Who is Federico the Sorrowful? He was a boy king who
was sad all the time. But he didn’t want anyone
to know he was sad, because he wanted people to
think he was a strong king. But one day,
he couldn’t hold in his sorrows anymore. It all came out just like a fountain. She lifted her hands in the air
to mimic splashing water, still holding the paring
knife in one of them. He wept and
wept until the whole land flooded and all the islands drifted
away from each other. He wound up trapped on an island all
alone until a crocodile came and eat him. She handed a beautiful
slice of mango to Virgil. Here, Virgil took it. Lola, can I ask you a question? If you ever have a question, ask it. How come so many of your stories
have boys getting eaten by stuff, like rocks or crocodiles? Not all of them are about boys
getting eaten, sometimes it’s girls. Lola tossed the knife into the sink and
raised her non-eyebrows. If you decide to talk,
you come find your Lola. Don’t burst like a fountain and
float away. Okay, Virgil said, I’m going into my room
to check on Gulliver, make sure he’s okay. Gulliver, his pet guinea pig
was always happy to see him. He would chirp as soon
as Virgil open the door. He knew it, maybe he wouldn’t
feel like such a failure then. Why wouldn’t he be okay? Lola called out as virtual
walk toward his room. Guinea pigs can get in much trouble, anak. Virgil could hear her laughing as he
placed the mango between his teeth.

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