I watched from the window as the landlord kicked the family out of the apartment downstairs. I saw them with their things on the side of the street. A mother and her two kids – a girl and boy, eight and nine years old. I heard her yelling almost every night through the wall and she hit them more than once. But that isn’t the reason the landlord kicked them out. She couldn’t pay the rent. She couldn’t couldn’t work enough hours at the car wash down the street to come up with $950 every month for a one-bedroom apartment. She slept on the couch and the two kids shared the bedroom.
My mother told them they could come inside where it was warm and safe and wait until they found someplace else to go, but she said no.
It’s hard to be a single mother, mom says.
Pop is asleep on the couch as he always is.
I imagine everyone in the world outside is made of vanilla, fudge, 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. A glass pyramid. I can see the world outside but I’m not a part of it. I’m safe here, separated from all the landlords and businessmen and abusers of the world.
I tell Gogo, “I keep trying to bring you in here with me, but those vanilla hands keep pulling you back. They come in through the door when I try to bring you inside. I want to bring you in so you can be safe here with me.”
Gogo laughs and pushes the hair out of her eyes. “Who says I want to go?” She asks.
We’re sitting on the front steps of Mr. Ryan’s house. Mr. Ryan is a teacher from school who tells us we can come over if we need to. But it’s dark now and the streetlights are on and he’s sleeping like all old people do except for the ones downtown who are drunk or holding their hands out for change on the side of the street.
“That’s so manly of you,” she says. “Who says I need to be protected? Who says I need to be safe inside your fortress?”
“And,” she says, “who says I don’t have one of my own?”
“Of course I do.” Gogo nods her head. “Except everyone around me is a wolf with long teeth. They lick the glass with their tongues and claw at the walls. 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. Her long and dark hair dancing in in the wind. “The things outside my fortress could never be made of candy,” she says. “Only for a man could that ever be true in this world. Nondescript or neon, it doesn’t matter in the end.”
“I’d still like to bring you in,” I say and shrug my shoulders. “I’d be happy if you were here with me.”
“You’d like to take care of me?”
“If you let me.”
Gogo looks at me. “We’re supposed to become a part of each other’s lives,” she says. “Not take them over.”
She has blue eyes that shine when the lights change. Something I notice no matter what time of day it is. The lights are always changing in the city. Streetlights, stoplights, bedroom lights, store lights, the signs over restaurants and bars. The lights at school that are white and bright and hurt if you stare at them too long. And, someday, in the hospital, the white lights above us will shine even brighter.
She sticks her tongue out and says, “You wouldn’t like it in my fortress anyway.”
“Your glass pyramid?”
“Surrounded by wolves and their long tongues.”
“I would,” I say. I rub my toe into the dirt. My shoes are scuffed and no longer white but they’re still my favorite shoes. “I like animals. I don’t like vanilla or fudge or butterscotch. I like things that are alive.”
“Well,” Gogo says. She puts her hands on her hips. She closes her eyes. A car passes on the street, headlights shine bright 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 of the pavement. “We’re supposed to become part of each other’s lives,” she says again. “That’s what being in love is all about.”
“Me and you?”
“Yes,” Gogo smiles at me then. “Me and you. So – maybe we can bring our fortresses together.”
“No one but us,” she says. “No need for candy or spit. A place where we would both be safe. And we would never have to leave.”
We walk back to my house. Cars on the street. Tires squealing and then gone again. We walk back to my house holding hands. Pop is sleeping on the couch and mom is gone at work. The stairs don’t creak because I know where to step. My room smells like breakfast because I make breakfast for myself and eat it there every morning. Gogo smiles at me and breathes in my ear. The mirror has a crack in it from when I slipped and fell and hit my head. We stand together and look at each other side-by-side. 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 now that the neighbors from downstairs are gone and they aren’t coming back. Mom gave them five dollars before they left because it’s almost Christmas and they don’t have anywhere to go. But five dollars isn’t going to do much for a family standing outside in the cold.
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