Wonder 54


Tanner is one smart kid. When he plays Arithmetic Attack, he actually knows the sums and rattles them off before the screen even finishes loading. I remember when I was kid trying to master basic math functions. “Feel the numbers!” Tia Berry told me.

I think I ended up doing some sort of fancy visualization of clusters of dots. Memorizing would’ve been a lot quicker, in the long run.


I still heard Tanner calling out the sums while I was in the kitchen. It was my birthday, and I was going to bake a cake!


Luna, living in the big house just across the meadow, was the first to arrive.

“That looks like it’s sugar-free, Chaz,” she said, looking at the cake batter.

“It’s date-sweetened,” I told her, “so it’s got both fructose and sucrose. But it’s still healthier than processed sugar cane!”


“Are you expecting a lot of people?” Tanner asked.

“Oh, not so many!” I told him. I started rattling off the guest list. When I reached eighteen names, I realized that, for a little kid who’d just moved here, maybe that was a lot. “But seus avós will be coming, and you know them already!”

“That makes only sixteen strangers then,” he said.


I thought for a moment that maybe I should have consulted with Tanner–or included him in the planning. I’m still not accustomed to thinking as a family.

I confessed my worries to the caterer, who’s someone I know from the diner.

“I wouldn’t worry,” she said. “Look around! Everybody’s having a great time! Besides, you’re the dad. You get to make the big decisions, like when to have parties and who to invite.”


A little later, I found Pai in the living room, sitting alone and laughing over a movie.

“You OK, Pai?” I asked. I was surprised he wasn’t with everyone else.

“You ever see this movie?” he asked. “This one about the ghosts that need busting! It about to make me bust a gut! It’s Gut-Busters, that’s for sure, Carlito!”


I watched the last few minutes of the movie with him, then we walked together back into the kitchen, where all my friends and neighbors were gathered.

“Where are os velhos? It is all the youth! I want to see the more the gray hair!” he said.


I looked around, and sure enough, Pai and Mãe were the only old folks there. That felt odd to me. It’s the first party I’ve had or been to that Tia Berry wasn’t at, the first one without other friends in my parents’ generation.

I watched Tanner, and I thought about how, for him, he’s in a party with a bunch of old people. Grown-ups. But heck. We were just kids yesterday, and our parents were not even as old as we are now.


I worried about Mãe. Pai kept a smile on her face, but she’s still looked strained and worn.


“You feeling all right, Mãe?” I asked.

“Oh, yes, son,” she said. She’d never called me “son” before. “I’ve got a million feelings inside of me, and a million and one echoes. And every single one is telling me that everything is all right.”

Pai wrapped me in a big hug.

“I am so proud of you, Carlos,” he said. “You always do me proud.”


It was a great birthday. I felt surrounded with all the good feelings of my friends, my parents, and my son.

I didn’t know it at the time–though maybe, on some level, I sensed it–but that was the last time I’d see Mãe and Pai. We found out a few days later that Mãe passed. And the day after that was Pai‘s last. I try to feel thankful that Tanner got to meet seus avós and to remember on top of that that our last day together was full of laughter and hugs.

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