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. Just a mother and her two kids – a girl and a boy 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. She couldn’t keep her temper and she couldn’t work enough hours at the car wash down the street to come up with $975 every month. I told them they could come inside where it was warm and safe until they found someplace else to go, but she said no.
It’s hard to be a single mother, mom says.
But she still has pop sleeping on the couch so I don’t know how she knows that.
I imagine 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. 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 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. “Who says I want to go?” She asks. “That’s so manly of you. Who says I need to be protected? Need 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 me is a wolf with long and yellow 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 sweets and 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 still like it if you were in here with me.”
“You’d like to take care of me?”
“If you would let me.”
Gogo looks at me. “But 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 notice no matter what time of day it is. The lights are always changing in the city. Streetlights, stoplights, bedroom lights, store lights, bars and restaurants. The lights at school that are white and bright and hurt if you stare at them too long. And, someday, in the hospital, where the white lights above us will shine even brighter.
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 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 do except for the ones downtown who are drunk or holding their hands out for change.
Gogo sticks her tongue out. “You wouldn’t like it in my fortress anyway,” she says.
“Your glass pyramid?”
“Surrounded by wolves and their long, pink tongues.”
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 no longer white. They’re still my favorite shoes. “I would,” I say. “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. The lights shift as a 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 of the pavement.
“We’re supposed to become a part of each other’s lives,” she says again. “That’s what being in love is all about.”
“Me and you?”
“Me and you.” Gogo smiles at me then. “So – maybe we could 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 holding hands. 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 food 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 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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