by Zoë Miller
On the plane to Los Angeles, I flip through the pages of my sketchbook but don’t feel like drawing. If I did feel like drawing, I’d sketch the man sitting next to me. He’s a large man. Out of the corner of my eye I watch his belly rise and fall. He has the window seat and spends most of the trip staring out of it, snapping photos of the clouds below. He’s wearing a straw fedora with a blue band wrapped around it. After he’s tired of snapping photos, he takes the fedora off his head and places it upside down on his lap, exposing a few pieces of broken straw sticking up on the inside. I wonder if he feels the pieces prick his head when he wears it.
When the captain makes the announcement that we’re getting ready to land, the man puts his hat back on and our eyes meet. He asks me if I’m heading home and I tell him that LA used to be home. That now I’m living in Brooklyn. I want to tell him my mom’s got me out here to help get my sister into rehab, just to see what he’ll say. Of course I don’t. But he’s almost like a mind reader, because he takes a deep breath, his belly jiggling a little, and says that going back home is always a real trip. It feels like he wants to get chatty, the way people do when they get excited to land, and all of a sudden I’m not feeling in the mood, so I don’t say anything else. I’m not even polite enough to ask him if he’s just visiting, like I’m sure he wants me to do. He seems like the kind of person who has a lot to say, and if it were another day, another place, I’d probably listen.
My mother picks me up at the terminal. Her Toyota grumbling, still fighting to hold on. I throw my luggage into the trunk and hop into the passenger seat. She kisses me quickly.
“Thanks for coming,” she says. “It’s so good to see you. It feels like forever.”
“Jesus, Mom, it hasn’t been that long,” I say.
Ezra, my brother, is sitting in the back seat. He winks and then rolls his eyes, so only I can see when Mom pulls away from the curb. I know he does this because there isn’t anything else for us to do or say, and I know he’s feeling awkward with his long, bug-bitten basketball legs pushed up against the seat behind Mom. The wink and eye roll is our way of reconnecting. It’s like how when we were younger and we didn’t have any lunch meat in the house after school—wasn’t much of anything, except some white bread if we were lucky, and I’d be scraping underneath the couch or in the pockets of Mom’s jeans lying on her bedroom floor looking for change, feeling responsible for at least getting something for Ezra to eat, and he would try to make me laugh, telling me not to worry, because we always had wish sandwiches—two pieces of white bread smooshed together, and before you took a bite, he said, you wished for something in between those pieces of bread.
It’s almost been a year since I left for New York and I’ve barely called home. When my mother calls, I always keep it quick, tell her I’m busy or else she’ll talk on and on about my sister Bee. It feels strange sitting in her car again. It still smells the same—smoke, vanilla hand lotion, and pine tree air freshener.
My mother doesn’t know that I’m not taking art classes like I said I was going to do when I left. That I never even applied to art school, like I said I had. Just took the savings from working at Aaron Brothers, found a roommate and a nanny job on Craigslist for a French family living on the Upper West Side. I’d stopped painting after the first few months of being in New York. Well, I was still sketching, even using my watercolors, but what I guess I mean when I say I stopped painting is that I stopped trying, stopped believing that anything could or would happen for me besides waking up to get on a crowded C train every day to change diapers, do laundry, and cut and drop organic vegetables into a baby food processor for five-month-old Maxance.
As cheesy as it sounds, in the beginning I could hear Frank Sinatra singing as I walked the streets. I had one black dress from Goodwill, and I wore it out when I wasn’t working, with these black stockings I’d found at the Salvation Army. Sometimes wearing it, I felt Audreyish, like I was in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And when it rained, I used to think it poured down like the kind of silver glitter you’d shake on to your art projects in kindergarten. I’d spend hours at St. Mark’s Bookshop looking at books on painting. I even used to go to the White Horse Tavern and sit at the bar pretending I was waiting for someone. Sometimes men would offer to buy me drinks, and I’d always say no, I was waiting for someone. I liked getting the offers though, and I liked staring at the painting of Dylan Thomas, and so I’d sit there for a few moments before taking out my cell phone so I could pretend that I was fed up waiting for my someone and leave.
I knew it wasn’t going to be all Sex in the City for me when I moved to New York. But even a crowded subway used to feel magical as it coughed its way down the track. When the old man with the feathers hanging off his dreads jingles his paper cup, walking up and down the car singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” I used to always drop a little something into it, placing my groceries and bottle of wine between my feet to dig through my purse for change. The wine I’d share later in the evening, sitting on the fire escape with my roommate, Rita. We took turns buying the wine for the night. She’d bought me a pair of dark green wine glasses from the Housing Works near her office as a welcome present when I first moved in.
Drinking that wine, I’d think, fuck yeah, this is where I’m supposed to be, this is where I’m supposed to live. But seeing all those eighteen-year-old School of Visual Arts girls sitting on the subway the next morning with their big black leather art portfolios pressed between the knees of their two-hundred-dollar skinny jeans started getting to me. I’d never be able to work an unpaid internship at one of the Chelsea galleries, or even go to SVA without a loan. The woman I spoke with at the financial aid office said I’d have to be twenty-five if I wanted to take one out on my own. She asked if I had a parent who would be able to cosign. I said I did and hung up, knowing full well my mother would never be able to sign for me. She didn’t have the credit.
“Forget those fucking girls. It’s called mommy and daddy’s credit card,” Rita said when I told her how I’d been feeling one night out on our fire escape. “Besides, you only have to wait two more years. They say it’s better to go to college when you’re older anyways. You know, life experience and all that?”
“I feel like I’ve earned that already,” I said.
The sky had turned the color of a candlelit room. Three kids were playing monkey in the middle in the street, moving the game back onto the sidewalk when angry cars slowed to honk. An ice cream truck came singing up behind them and more kids started running into the street, a few of them tracing steps back to their apartments, searching for coins that slipped out of their excited hands on the hurried run to meet the truck.
“It just takes time,” Rita said, taking another sip of wine. “Look at me. I started answering phones at Dr. Bern’s office. A year later, I’m office manager, also going to nursing school, with no one’s help but my own. I mean, do you think Janis would have played the way she did—that that kind of sound would have come out of her mouth if she’d been like all those other girls she grew up with in Port Arthur? We both are just going to have to help each other hit this shit extra hard,” she said, pumping her fist into the air, smiling.
The ice cream truck drove away and the kids went back inside, but we sat there for almost an hour in complete silence as the sky got darker, our fingers wrapped around our empty glasses. We’d managed to drink two bottles of wine that evening, and as we sat there, I noticed we both still had a tiny bead of wine left. Way down, at the bottom of our glasses. I stuck my finger into my red droplet and licked it up.
“I want you to consider this a gift,” my mother says at the red light. We are slowly making our way down Sepulveda, heading to the freeway. A woman in a sweatshirt glittering with rhinestones that spell out Venice Beach is pushing a grocery cart. Her two kids sitting in the back, grocery bags circled around them. The little boy is holding an open jar of peanut butter with one hand while he licks the fingers of his other. The sky is wide and soft, as blue as cotton candy.
“What gift?” I ask.
“The ticket. The trip. I’m gonna pay you back. I know you have tons going on, and I appreciate you coming all this way in the middle of your semester to help with Bee. And I know I just called you a couple of days ago. That you didn’t have much notice. But things are not good. They’ve gotten really bad, this time. Like hitting the deep end bad.”
She waves with her right hand towards the pack of cigarettes on the dash. And then POOF! It’s as if I’ve never even left. As if I’m still living at home. I pull a cigarette out of the pack for her, even light it up for her, pop it in between her lips, just like old times. And it sort of is like old times, Bee’s still pulling her same old shit. Except Ezra and I aren’t scrounging around looking for noodles to boil, helping each other with our homework while Mom’s out cutting hair and running the streets looking for Bee. As I watch her take her first inhale, the wrinkles on her lips get more crinkly as she sucks in. It makes me wonder what things are like for Ezra now that he’s living alone with her. After another inhale, I take the cigarette out of her mouth, so I can ash it out the window.
“This place I found is gonna really help Bee,” she says. “Like I told you over the phone, she doesn’t know about it yet, thinks I’m gonna let her live back at home, go to meetings. But this place is in San Bernardino, and it’s almost free. The cheapest I could find, and they’ll do a payment plan. This is it, Sarah. I can feel it. We’ve got to get her there, is all. I can’t stand her living in that hotel with that loser Keith. And this isn’t any hotel. Oh no, it’s a real killer. It’s the pits. Ezra, tell her. It’s the pits.”
“It’s the pits,” Ezra says. I notice his voice has gotten deeper. Two more years and he’ll be on his own. I wonder if he knows where he wants to go. If he’ll stay living with Mom for a while. I wonder if he’s sleeping over at friends’ houses a lot, the way I used to. Mornings with orange juice and Pop-Tarts, a paper bag lunch, and a drive to school.
My mother turns on to the crowded freeway, flicks her cigarette out the window. “Do you both think we could just stop at the hotel now?” she asks. “I want to do it now, before she changes her mind about wanting to come home.” She takes one hand off the wheel and looks at her wrist, as if she’s wearing a watch. “Time’s ticking, you know. We’ll stop and get some gas near the hotel, and I can add more coolant to the radiator. It’s been leaking again. And then we’ll head right on to San Bernardino, once we get her to agree.”
“Yeah. Sure. Whatever,” I say. I’m hungry and tired from the five-hour flight, but I know her mind is already made up. Even though she told me over the phone we were going to organize a plan, the three of us, take a few days to think about the best way to handle things before we went pounding into Bee’s hotel room demanding change.
Mom stays in the slow lane on the freeway, and I’m betting that Ezra must sense the way I’m feeling because when I turn around to look at him, he mutters under his breath, quiet enough so only I can hear, “Bee’s not gonna go. Probably doesn’t even remember telling you she would. This shit’s gonna be bunk as hell.”
He’s got an iPod he’s pulled out of his hoodie pocket and is sticking the headphones into his ears.
“Where’d you get that?” I ask him.
“I have my ways,” he says.
Rita and I were at the Whitney Museum when I told her I’d be going home for a week and that I’d leave her with my rent check a little early.
“Well, la dee da,” she’d said.
I knew she hadn’t seen her family in almost three years. She was always mailing packages back home to Mumbai for her mother. We were standing in front of an Alfred Stieglitz photograph—one of the nude pictures he’d taken of Georgia O’Keeffe in her late twenties. We’d come for this exhibit. In black and white Georgia’s skin looked like the color of a calla lily. Her pubic hair was a thick triangle. She wasn’t ashamed of it. Her arms were up over her head. Even though her head was cut off in the photograph, a tiny bit of her neck still remained and you could see the soft hair underneath her arms. Lace billowed behind her, and shafts of light made their way in strips across her stomach.
“Rita, this isn’t a vacation I’m going on. My sister’s on drugs,” I said. “I’m going because my mom’s begged me. I had to pay for it with the money I’m saving for school.”
An older woman in a very expensive looking red pantsuit with a gold carnation flower pinned to the lapel turned around. She’d been looking at another nude photograph Stieglitz had taken of Georgia. She’d obviously heard me.
Rita put her hand on my shoulder and we both kept staring at the photograph. People walked by, some even walked around us. The pantsuit lady was trying not to look, but was still looking. Fourteen bucks had been a lot for us to pay for the Whitney admission, and we spent the rest of the day making sure we got to see every exhibit. I don’t think we missed one single piece. We made it to the gift shop before it closed so we could play a game we’d recently invented when we went places together: If you were rich, what would you buy?
“What’s Mom been doing for work?” I ask Ezra. I keep an eye on the side mirror, watching as my mother walks into the gas station.
“Same old—cutting hair.”
“Yeah. But, she’s got her own chair now at this salon called Betty’s near the house, so we don’t use the car much anymore. It’s finally breaking down pretty bad, as I’m sure you can already tell,” he says, looking down at his knees. A few iridescent globs of gel shimmer between the strands of his hair.
My mother had always wanted her own chair at a salon to cut hair in. She was tired of cutting hair at customer’s houses. Some of them had yippy little dogs that nipped at her ankles as she tried to work, and some felt too comfortable and tried to talk her ear off afterwards, inviting her for lunch or a cup of coffee, when every second mattered, she said, since she’d have to drive across town to make another appointment.
“Have you heard from Dad?” I ask.
“Nope. Mom throws his mail away now. She’s even stopped opening it.”
“You know, I’m not really going to school,” I say.
“Wow,” he says. “I thought that was the whole reason you moved there. Holy fuck. Mom brags about you, but you’re still a fuck up, just like the rest of us,” he says, laughing.
“I have a job there. A friend named Rita I live with. Things are okay. It’s just not what I thought it was going to be. It’s a lot harder than I thought.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I’m sure it is.” He picks open one of his bug bites. It’s the color of a ruby. “I’m kidding about the whole fuck up thing,” he says. “You really must have some crazy-ass skills if you’ve made it out there this long.”
I look out the side mirror again and see Mom walking out of the gas station. Her shoulders slumped carrying the coolant, curly hair spilling out of her ponytail.
“Don’t tell her anything,” I say, hopping out of the car to help her pump the gas.
When Bee and I were in high school, Ezra just starting junior high, right after Dad moved away to Oakland, we had weeks when we didn’t know where Bee was. Bee had gotten kicked out of school, and so she was running around with her friends doing who knows what. I worked at Aaron Brothers after school until the evening, and then would have to pick Ezra up at the park where he played basketball with his friends. My backpack was always stuffed with pieces of wrapping paper my manager let me take home and make art out of. Remnants that were left from gift wrapping things for customers.
I remember one evening around Christmas time. Bee was at home that week and doing better, and my mother was cutting enough hair, so she made dinner for us. And after dinner, after I washed the dishes, I emptied my backpack on the table, which had been stuffed with shimmering holiday gift wrap, and we all sat around the rest of the evening making one long chain decoration together to hang up in the living room. Bee liked the silver glittery paper, and Mom liked the traditional Christmas colors, and Ezra found basketball wrapping paper with Christmas stockings on it. But then Mom said, “Oh this is so nice. Isn’t this nice, Bee?” And Bee told her to shut the fuck up, packed up her backpack and went storming out into the night, with a piece of silver wrapping paper stuck to the bottom of her combat boot, waving goodbye behind her.
Bee’s hotel is smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood. She sure stays close to home for someone who swears she doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. The hotel looks like any old apartment building around here. Tag wars sprawled across faded peach stucco, a clay colored roof with missing tiles. Box fans spinning in the windows. People leaning over balconies smoking cigarettes, looking down like they’ve lost something. The only real noticeable difference is this building’s got a big flashing red sign out front—$29.95 per night.
Mom has parked the car down the street. So while we all walk towards the place, I’m making sure I get a good look at the way its entire body just stands there. The way its peeling skin soaks up the sun. If I were to paint it, I’d make sure to include the birds on the roof. I’d make sure that’s where the viewer’s eye went first. Birds all lined up in different sizes, bored and waiting for someone to drop a half-eaten something onto the concrete parking lot out front. I’d make sure to get the tangled telephone wires above the roof, too. The way they sway back and forth banging into the cotton-ball clouds, like jump ropes for the birds. And of course, I’d get the woman sitting out front right now, next to the bulletproof glass office. She’s got the tightest denim shorts on, the longest, tannest legs. A duffle bag with clothes popping out of it sits beside her. Her hair is bleached so blonde, you could mistake it for white. She’s got her head between her knees. Doesn’t even move it an inch when we walk past her and up the stairs.
Bee opens the door, braless, in a stained white beater. She takes the plastic bag that Mom had gotten out of the trunk especially for her. I realize I could have squashed it when I threw my suitcase in. We follow her inside, and she sits down on the bed and opens up the bag. The rest of us stand against the door, watching, right next to the window, the blinds slapping against each other from the vibrations of the air conditioner below.
The bedspread Bee’s sitting on is covered in blue and pink flowers. I squint and imagine them growing out of that bedspread, winding and creeping all over her legs and arms as she digs into the plastic bag as if we’re not there, and takes out an individually wrapped piece of cheese. She tears the wrapper open and stuffs the cheese into her face and starts chewing, like she’s got a big ball of yellow sun in her mouth, and it’s warming her core, bringing light back into her face. We can hear the people in the next room. A cell phone going off. The ring tone—Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.” A voice answering, “Who’s this?”
“Aren’t you gonna say hello to Sarah?” Mom says. “We came here straight from the airport.”
Ezra just stands there, leaning his back against the door like a regular.
Bee takes a granola bar out of the bag. “Of course,” she says. “Sit next to me, Sarah.” She pats the bed a few times with the granola bar. She looks different. She’s gained weight and the hair on her head’s three different colors—her roots are her natural brown, the middle section an orangey red, and the tips as black as ink.
I sit down next to her. There’s a painting above the bed—an empty ocean with a postcard sunset, all 1980s, dentist office style. Mom and Ezra are watching like it’s some kind of TV show. I want to tell Mom she should take a picture. I mean, why not? This is a special moment. Bee and I are never together. Even before I moved, she never had time for me, unless I had money to give her. She’d wait for me to get off work at Aaron Brothers, far away enough where my manager would never see her, but close enough for me to run into her on my way to the bus stop. The pathetic thing is I’d give her whatever I had on me, since she was always so happy after I gave it to her, jumping up and down, even hugging on me. And I liked the way she felt pressed against my chest like that, the smell of her skin, even if she smelled bad, all sweaty and unwashed.
Bee drops the granola bar on the bed. “I hope they’re not telling you I’m all drugged up or something. I’m only on Klonopins. They’re for my anxiety. I have a prescription for my anxiety disorder. So they’re full of crap, if that’s what you heard.”
“Hey, I’m not here to judge,” I say. Even though I want to grab her, push her down on the bed and tie her up with the blanket, and carry her out of this place.
“And I hope they told you that I’m working.” She picks up the granola bar again, waving it around like it’s her magic wand and continues, “Working at Radio Shack. The one near here. I’m just not getting enough hours, and so if you’re here for some specific reason, I’m not going anywhere. Keith’s coming back soon. Just left to bring his kids something in Long Beach. So, if that’s why you brought her here, you can all forget it,” she says, pointing her granola bar wand directly at me.
“You heard the lady,” I say to Mom, nodding towards Bee, who’s now struggling to pull off the granola bar wrapper. She pulls and pulls with both hands, but still can’t seem to get it open. And then she rips the wrapper with her teeth. Oats and nuts fly into my lap.
Ezra laughs. At first it sounds like a tiny cough, but then it really gets going. He’s laughing so hard, he starts bouncing up and down, the way he does before he makes a basket.
Mom looks at me, and I start laughing. I can’t stop. Bee’s staring at the both of us, and then Mom slaps Ezra across the face.
“Hey, fuck. Ouch. Why am I the one getting slapped? Sarah’s the one who’s not even going to college like she said she was,” he says, pointing at me. “I mean Bee’s at least being honest here. When she says she’s not going anywhere, she really means she’s not going anywhere. And we keep on doing this. We keep on coming here.”
Ezra’s cheek starts glowing red from the slap. “Tell her, Bee,” he says, pointing at Mom. “Tell her you don’t fucking want it. Tell her, so we can just get away from this nasty-ass place—so we can move on. Tell Mom now, or else get your shit packed up and get ready to leave with us.”
Bee looks at me for a moment, all wide-eyed. I barely recognize her. “Give me a few weeks,” she says. “I really want to. I just gotta straighten stuff out. I told Mom before that I gotta feel ready. I’m just not good at this now or never stuff.”
Mom tries grabbing at the bag on Bee’s lap, but Bee gets her hand on top of it, and the two of them are pulling on it, in opposite directions. A package of bologna hits the floor, more granola bars, an apple. Soon it’s just the two of them tugging on a broken plastic bag. Mom’s hair clip falls out of her hair. She drops her side of the bag and stoops down to pick it up.
“I’m so tired of doing this,” she says, putting her ponytail back together. “Look at us.”
The cell phone in the next room goes off again. “I told you in around fifteen minutes or so, Dawg. Seriously, I’ll be there. I swear it,” the voice answers.
Ezra has his iPod speakers in his ears, even though the drive is only four blocks and won’t even take up an entire song.
“What are you doing out there, then?” Mom asks me, keeping her eyes straight ahead. “If you’re not in school.”
“I’m a nanny. For a family. A baby. He’s five months. His name’s Maxance.” It feels weird saying the baby’s name after being in that hotel room. His bathroom looks better than any of the apartment buildings we’re driving by.
“Is that going okay? How long do you plan on doing that?”
“Yeah. It’s okay, for now. Long hours, but they pay my metro card. It makes the rent and bills, and a little extra.”
“I thought the whole point was for you to do your art out there? We threw that going away party for you and everything. You even showed me the catalog for school when you said you’d gotten in. Why am I saving all your art supplies to mail out to you if you’re not doing that?” she says.
I want to say to her, do you know how much school costs? Want to tell her I can’t take out a personal loan, and all the things the financial aid lady said, want to tell her about the girls whose parents actually spend two hundred dollars on just one pair of jeans, but instead I say, “I’m accumulating life experience.”
“Bullshit,” she says, pulling into the driveway, managing to maneuver the car into her parking spot next to the dumpster in just one swing. “And you know that.” She doesn’t take her seat belt off, grab for her purse, or anything—just sits there, all exhausted looking. Ezra gets out, slams the door, and runs up the back steps of the apartment building.
“He’s got every right to be pissed,” Mom says, watching him. “I shouldn’t have slapped him.”
“He’s tired, too,” I say. “We all are.”
I tug at a cigarette from her pack on the dash, light it up, and pop it into her mouth, then roll my window down since Mom doesn’t seem to be rolling her window down, and I need air. I stick my hand out of it, as if we’re still driving, as if I can still feel the air moving on my fingertips.
Mom looks at herself in the rearview mirror, pulls a loose curl hanging on her forehead and tucks it behind her ear. “Do you remember when you, and Bee, and Ezra all walked to the park and picked those flowers? You came back with all those morning glories, jasmine, and hibiscus flowers,” she says. “Do you remember?”
“I think I do,” I say.
“Bee and Ezra ended up giving you their flowers. They’d gotten bored. But you stayed at the kitchen table arranging them into patterns. I showed you how to carefully pull off the petals and make designs with them on wax paper, and then we put another piece of wax paper over the design, and I ironed them for you. You taped them up on your bedroom window and when the sun came through, the designs you made were so pretty, the way they caught the light.”
My cell phone buzzes inside my purse that I’ve got a text message. But I don’t check it. I put my hand on Mom’s knee. Her skin is softer than I remember.
I carry my luggage upstairs and put it on the couch, where I’ll be sleeping for the next week. Ezra’s locked up inside his bedroom, the one we all used to share. It used to be bunk beds for Bee and me, and a twin mattress for Ezra. Bee and I used to pretend our bunk bed was the Titanic, and Ezra’s mattress was the pirate ship and he’d end up holding us captive.
Mom says she needs to take a rest for a few moments, and then we can figure out what we want to make for dinner. So I grab a box of Saltines from out of the kitchen cabinet and my cell phone, and head downstairs to the courtyard to sit next to the pool on the plastic furniture nobody uses. You can barely make out the pool’s blue bottom. It’s like the color of an amber gem, with the bugs floating around in it and everything. I check my text message. Rita:
Hey, hope things r going ok. Just found cuter wine glasses @ housing works. They’ll b filled up & ready for us when u get home. ϑ
A couple walks out of their apartment. They’re holding hands and wearing identical Dodgers T-shirts. They walk past me laughing, as if I’m not even there. A piece of palm tree leaf falls into the pool, like a big green bird feather. It makes a light splash, breaking apart the dusty film of water.
I look up and see Ezra walking down the steps. He’s got his iPod in his ears, bouncing his basketball.
He stands in front of me, blocking out the sun, and keeps bouncing his ball. I know he thinks he’s real slick, dribbling it all zig-zaggy looking. He can bounce that ball so well, he’s not even worried about it landing in the pool.
“I didn’t steal it,” he shouts, dribbling with one hand, and pointing to the tiny speaker in his ear with the other.
“I wouldn’t care if you did,” I say, watching him as he kneels down in front of me, tucking the basketball between his big sneakered feet. I can feel the sun cut across my shoulders.
He unclips the iPod from the elastic band of his shorts and turns the volume down. “Of course you would,” he says. “I’m still your little brother.” He smiles big and wide. “My friend Drew’s parents bought him a newer one, and so he gave me this one. Thing is, I don’t have a computer, so I can’t upload any new music on it, unless I upload music at Drew’s, which is Drew’s music, and I don’t like most of the stuff he listens to.”
“Well, that sure sucks for you,” I say.
“That’s why I’m giving it to you,” he says.
“No, you keep your precious little toy. My friend Rita’s got a computer. She’s got a lot of great music on it. We just listen to her computer. She’s got good speakers, too.”
Ezra drops the iPod into my lap. “I’m sorry for telling Mom. That’s why you’re gonna take this back with you to the Big Apple and hook this baby up with your friend’s computer. Walk those streets listening to what you want to listen to. Own that city.” He stands back up and dribbles the ball a few more times in-between his legs.
I smile up at him. “Thanks,” I say, examining it. “By the way, you’re getting pretty good at that dribbling crap.”
“Yeah, you think?” he dribbles the ball some more, this time super fast, so fast I can hear the whooshing sounds it makes before it hits the ground. It sounds like he’s slashing through air, the ball as sharp as a knife. “You know what else I’m gonna get really good at? Throwing you into that dirty-ass pool,” he says. He sets the ball down on the plastic chair next to me. “Don’t think I won’t, Sarah. I’ll throw you and your new little iPod right in that motherfucker. One, two, three… ”
He stands there counting to ten, giving me my head start, and then he’s chasing me and we’re running circles around the pool. Around and around, and we’re both screaming shit at each other, but we can’t hear the shit we’re screaming because a plane’s flying overhead. “In a week, I’ll be inside that bird,” I shout up towards it.
When Ezra’s tired of pretending he can’t catch me, I know that he’ll end up dangling me above the water, close enough so I can smell the rotten chlorine and make out the vein patterns on the floating leaves, but far away enough where I’ll still feel safe and secure, knowing he’s not really going to throw me in, not anymore. We’re not little anymore.