My mother has left me a note to get cigarettes. I sit at the kitchen table and tap it with my forefinger as I stare out the window and watch a jay until it takes to the sky. Cigarettes, it says. No smiley face to soften the command hidden in those neat, curlicue letters; no lopsided heart. Just Cigarettes.
She is floating around the kitchen in her red gown—right in front of my face—but she left me a note rather than tell me herself. I’ve long stopped asking why? Why, as it turns out, is the most self-indulgent waste of time. There is no real reason for her to be in the kitchen. We are out of the crackers she likes, and I stopped buying coffee to piss her off. I’m comatose, watching the linoleum like it’s Fargo. I saw that movie once at Destiny’s house. We were supposed to watch When Harry Met Sally, but someone had already checked it out at the video store. So we watched Fargo instead. All that snow and those weird accents. It was just a different kind of ghetto from the one where I live—full of hopeless, worried humans. I’ve never met anyone from Minnesota, and I don’t want to. That’s what I’m thinking as my mother floats around the kitchen demanding cigarettes. I think about Jean Lundegaard. Running around the house covered in the shower curtain until she falls down the stairs. She was stupid, and she wore ugly sweaters, but she didn’t deserve that.
She wants her cigarettes, and I just want to sit here and think about Fargo. I wish I had a better movie to think about. All that snow…
If she asked, I would tell her about Nevaeh. How I’m grieving for a little girl I saw around the neighborhood. Children shouldn’t have to suffer. To be alone. To feel unloved.
I get up and walk out of the kitchen. Out the front door. I’ll go get the cigarettes.
When I walk past Judah’s house, he’s sitting outside in his chair, slapping at the bugs landing on his arms.
“Hey Margo!” he calls. “Where you going?”
“To say goodbye to Nevaeh.” And also to buy cigarettes.
“Take me with you.” I don’t question him. I just walk up the pathway to his house and push his chair toward the street. He’s wearing one of the shirts I bought for him from the Rag—the one with the little hearts. It looks good on him, which makes me sour. I can’t even take him down when I try. He’s quiet as the wheels of his chair squeak across the pavement. One of his hands is up and under his chin as he looks off to the side. His eyelashes are black and thick. They remind me of broom bristles, and then I feel ashamed that I’m comparing a man’s eyelashes to broom bristles. He must have gotten those from his dad since Delaney is as fair as I am.
“Do you have your groceries and shit bag?” he asks me suddenly.
“Yeah.” I move my body so he can see it hanging at my waist.
“Good,” he says. “There is a memorial for Nevaeh, over at her mom’s house.”
I’m quiet for a moment. I wonder if he wants to go. I walk past the corner store where I usually buy my mother’s cigarettes and turn toward the main road. “Let’s go get her some flowers,” Judah says. There’s a Wal-Mart a few blocks up. I tell him that’s where I’m going. He points out a secondary pathway that’s not quite as bumpy as the one we’re on, and I wheel him over. As we walk, people call out to him.
“What’s up, Judah.”
“What’s up, man. You look good.”
“Wanna come hang out tonight? We gonna play poker, and Billy is bringing over his shit.”
Judah declines multiple invitations to “hang out” and tells them he’s going to Nevaeh’s memorial.
“Who?” they ask.
“The little girl they found by the harbor. Man, where the hell is your head?”
Their eyes darken at that point. Yeah man, that’s some shit, they say. Fucked up, that’s what it is. That shit happening to a little kid.
Judah tells them to come to the memorial. He tells them she was one of us, and we have to go remember her.
Everyone knows him. They give me strange looks, like I’m the one in the wheelchair. It’s because they don’t see his chair. Judah is Judah. How large does a person’s humanity have to be to look past their big, clunky wheelchair? I wonder how large I can make myself so that no one will see my fat, or my mother, or my ugly face? Then they’ll call out.
“What’s up, Margo.”
“Looking good, Margo.”
I give the back of Judah’s head a dirty look.
We go straight to the toy aisle in Wal-Mart. I choose a stuffed unicorn, because I’d like to believe Nevaeh is somewhere better—magical. Judah wants to get flowers. He asks me to grab a bunch of rainbow carnations that he can’t reach. I hand them to him, and for a little moment our hands are wrapped around the same bunch of flowers. He squeezes my fingers like he knows I’m hurting.
“Can you hand me the roses too?” he asks.
He holds the flowers and the unicorn while I wheel his chair to checkout lane. After we pay, he hands me the roses.
“These are for you,” he says. A woman walks by, her arms loaded with blue and white bags, and looks at us strangely.
I must look dumbfounded, because he presses them into my hands and says, “I’m sorry about Nevaeh.”
I clutch the roses, my eyes brimming with tears. No one has ever bought me flowers. I try to be normal as I wheel him out the door and back into the street. I won’t let go of the roses even when he offers to hold them for me. I don’t let my tears spill, or my heart spill. Tonight is about Nevaeh, and I won’t be selfish.
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