Copyright 2014, Winifred Morris, all rights reserved
by Winifred Morris
I didn’t think Grandma would ever get the curtains just right. “I know the room is small,” she said.
“It’s fine,” I said, and I was telling the truth.
Not that the truth had ever done me any good. People make a big deal about it, but it’s the liars who win.
Still, with her fussing around like that, I figured I might as well tell her I really did like the room. It was tucked up under the eaves in the attic of the old farmhouse with the ceiling angled down. Yeah, I liked it. And I remembered it. It was one of the reasons I’d asked Ms. Lloyd if, maybe, I could come here.
Grandma straightened a rug I must’ve kicked. “I know Linda always liked this room.”
Right. If my mom had liked this place so much, why hadn’t she ever come back here? Why had I been here only once? Six years ago, when I was eight, I’d spent the summer here. But even then my mom hadn’t come with me. She’d just put me on a bus with a name tag tacked to my shirt.
No wonder Grandma was nervous. She barely knew me. I barely knew her.
But this had to work.
I lifted my suitcase onto the bed and reached in my pocket for my knife. I needed to cut the duct tape that was holding the old suitcase together. I couldn’t remember how many times I’d stuffed it full of my things—and before I was old enough to do my own packing, had my mom stuffed it full. So that morning it hadn’t been up to closing, with Driscoll standing there watching me.
Now I flipped open the knife. And Grandma jumped.
Guess you couldn’t blame her.
I cut the tape, the suitcase fell open, T-shirts and jeans and paperback books spewed out onto the bed, and Grandma let out her breath. She said, “I guess I’ll leave you alone to unpack. Supper’ll be ready pretty soon.”
Then, just as she was going out the door, she turned and added, “Alex, I want you to know how glad we are to have you here. We’re both glad to have you here. I know your grandfather seems gruff, but...”
“It’s fine,” I said again. Grandpa hadn’t said two words to me all the way here from the bus station, the three of us wedged in the cab of the pickup truck, but that was just fine with me.
“I wanted you to know. That’s just the way he is. Please don’t think you’re imposing on us in any way. We were both glad to have you come here. We both want you to be happy here.”
Then, finally, she was gone.
And it felt good to be left alone. Not locked up alone in a puke green cell with a stainless steel john. Just alone for a minute, to think.
How had the stakes gotten so high? Sure, the cops liked to threaten you. But the juvenile court, all they ever did was talk to you. Then send you home.
I reached into the pile of clothes and pulled out the dog-eared books. For a moment I just looked at them—these books I’d been hauling around for years—and felt how much I wished I could be like the guys you saw on the covers, their hats pulled down to shade their eyes, their rifles lying easy across their saddles. You could tell they’d never get themselves in a mess like this.
I stacked the books on top of the dresser, and I let myself slip into the dream. Which was easy to do, standing there, ’cause the window above the dresser looked out on a world just like the covers of those books. It was easy to imagine myself riding up the valley I saw, up toward the mountain I saw whitish blue in the distance.
You couldn’t see another house out that window. On the drive from the bus station, I’d been surprised at how few people lived out here. We’d pass a house, then there wouldn’t be another until a mile or more down the road.
I’d been surprised by it, but I’d also remembered it. This place so much like the dream. No wonder I’d thought of it when Driscoll, my probation officer, Ms. Lloyd, the social worker, and Judge Robbins were all coming up with their ideas of what to do with me. After all, you were supposed to be able to ask your grandparents for things.
But the men in my books, they never asked anything of anyone. I wanted to be like that too.
Then Grandma was calling up the stairs. “Supper.”
“Okay,” I called back, and I started stuffing my clothes into the drawers of the dresser, which were empty. Grandma must’ve cleaned them out for me.
So why hadn’t she cleaned out the whole room?
All I could see now were my mom’s old stuffed animals. Some mice in frilly dresses, a huge pink giraffe, and cats and bears and monkeys and stuff, all lined up across the headboard of the bed. As if she still lived here. The comfort of the dream was gone. I could smell her in the room.
I sank down onto the bed. I took down the pink giraffe and leaned back against the headboard holding that giraffe tight against me, just like a little kid. I could feel it soft against my cheek, but the wood of the headboard was hard. It hurt where it pressed against my shoulders and my head. I felt that too. But I couldn’t move.
I was glad no one could see me like that, hugging a dumb stuffed animal. I was thinking that as if one half of my brain was seeing things from somewhere else—somewhere rational.
But with some other part of my mind, the part that is always screwing up, I pulled my knife from my pocket. I pressed the point into and through the pink fur, right into the long pink neck. “You’ve got to learn to manage your anger.” I could almost hear Ms. Lloyd saying that to me as I watched the white stuffing swell out behind the blade.
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