I watched the landlord kick the family out of the apartment upstairs. I saw them with their things on the side of the street. A mother and her two kids – a girl and a boy probably who are 8 and 9 years old. I could hear her yelling almost every night and she hit them more than once. Though that isn’t the reason they were kicked out – she couldn’t pay the rent either. She couldn’t keep her temper and she couldn’t work enough hours at the car wash down the street to come up with $750 every month. I told them they could come inside where it was warm and safe until they found someplace else to go.
It’s hard to be a single mother, mom says.
But she still has pop so I don’t know how she knows that.
Everyone around me is made of vanilla, fudge, and butterscotch: all white and beige and nondescript. I’m in a glass box in the middle where they can’t get in. They press against the glass, always pushing and trying to break through. Except it’s not really a cage. It’s a fortress – or like a glass pyramid. I can see the world around me, but I’m not a part of it. I’m safe in here, separated from all the landlords and businessmen of the world.
I tell Gogo, “I keep trying to bring you in here with me, but those vanilla hands keep pulling you back out. They come in through the door when I try to bring you inside. I want to bring you in with me so you can be safe here with me.”
Gogo laughs and pushes the hair out of her eyes. “That’s so chauvinist of you.” She says. “That’s so manly. Who says I want to be safe inside your glass fortress? Who says I don’t have one of my own?”
“Of course I do.” Gogo nods her head. “Except everyone around it is a wolf with long and yellow teeth. They lick the glass with their tongues and claw at it. They scratch sometimes and leave long marks in the glass. Sometimes I can hear them howling at night. This is where I stay inside. This is where I’m safe.”
She shakes her head now. Her long and dark hair dancing just a little bit in the wind. “The people outside my fortress could never be made out of sweets and candy,” she says. “Only for a man could that ever be true in this world. Nondescript or neon, it doesn’t matter.”
“I’d still like to bring you in,” I say and shrug my shoulders. “I’d still like it if you were here.”
“You’d like to take care of me?”
“I would take care of you.”
Gogo looks at me. “We’re supposed to become a part of each other’s lives,” she says. “Not take them over.”
She has green eyes that shine when the lights change. Something I always notice no matter what time of day it is. The lights are always changing. Streetlights outside, the lights in my bedroom, the school lights that are white and bright and hurt after a while. And, someday, in the hospital, it will be even worse.
A car passes on the street. We’re sitting on the front steps of Mr. Ryan’s house. Mr. Ryan is a teacher from school that always tells us kids we can come over whenever we want if we need to. But it’s dark now and the streetlights are on and he’s sleeping like all old people in this city do except for the ones downtown holding their hands out for change.
Gogo sticks her tongue out. “And I don’t know if you would like it in my fortress anyway.”
“Your glass pyramid?”
“Surrounded by wolves and their long, pink tongues.”
“I would,” I say and I mean it.
“I like animals,” I say. “I don’t like vanilla or fudge or butterscotch very much.”
I rub my toe into the dirt. I’m wearing the shoes that pop bought for me last year and they’re all scuffed up and not white anymore. But they’re still my favorite shoes.
I say, “I like things that are alive.”
“Well,” Gogo thinks. She puts her hands on her hips. She closes her eyes. The lights shift as another car passes on the street, pushing across her face and her hair. But with her eyes closed the lights can’t find anywhere to rest and they move on and disappear into the black tar on the street where they’ll stay until next time. “We’re supposed to become a part of each other’s lives. Right? That’s what being in love is all about.”
“Me and you.”
“So – maybe we could bring our fortresses together.” Gogo smiles at me then. “Extra strong,” she says. “No need for sweets or saliva. No one but us. A place where we would both be safe. And we would never have to leave.”
We walk back to my house holding hands. Pop is sleeping on the couch and mom is out – I don’t know where. The stairs don’t creak because I know where to step. My room smells like incense. And like bagels. I eat bagels and cream cheese in the morning because no one is around to make breakfast.
Gogo smiles at me and breathes in my ear. The mirror has a crack in it from when I fell and hit my head. But we stand together and look at each other side-by-side, and even with a crack running through us we still look beautiful and strong.
Gogo smiles. The lights flicker from the light on my ceiling. The fan is spinning in slow circles. I can hear pop snoring on the couch downstairs. It’s quiet upstairs now that the neighbors live on the street and they aren’t coming back. Mom gave them $5 before they left – because it’s almost Christmas and they don’t have anywhere to go. But $5 isn’t going to do much for a family standing outside in the cold.
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