Since the local news picked up Nevaeh’s story, there is a bigger turnout than I expected. There is a large crowd gathered outside the squat, blue house she shared with her mother and eight other people. I see her grandmother standing in the swamp of humans, crying into her hands. People have stuck letters and pictures into the chain link fence around the house. Nevaeh’s school picture is there in the middle of the chaos. I stare at it long and hard so I won’t ever forget her face. There are piles of teddy bears, and bouquets, and toys that her classmates have left for her—some with letters scrawled in little kid handwriting. I push Judah’s wheelchair to the front of the crowd so he can give her his flowers. He lays them down gently, in front of a note that says, We love you, Nevaeh. You’re safe in God’s arms now.
It’s my turn next. I kneel in front of the fence and bow my head so no one can see my tears. It’s just a stupid unicorn from Wal-Mart, but I want Nevaeh to see it and know that I love her. Loved her. Love her still.
“This isn’t right,” I say. Judah looks at me earnestly.
“No,” he says. “It’s not. So what are you going to do about it?”
“Me?” I shake my head. “What can I do? I’m no one. The police—”
“No,” he says. “You know how the police handle things. We’re nobodies. A little girl dying in this neighborhood isn’t anything new.”
“The way she died is,” I say. “And somebody has to pay attention.”
His jaw tightens, and he looks away. “If only I weren’t in this goddamn chair.”
That makes me feel hot. I get a tingling in my fingertips, and I want to shake him.
“I hate to break it to you, Judah, but everyone in the Bone has a wheelchair. One way or the other, we are all fucked.”
He glares at me, I glare at him. I wish I could glare at someone and look as if my cheekbones were carved out of marble. I look away first.
The tension between us is broken by Neveah’s mother, who at that moment walks out of the blue house carrying a candle. There wasn’t enough money to hand out candles to everyone, so people take lighters and hold them toward Nevaeh’s picture. Judah lets me hold his lighter. It’s a pink Zippo.
“My mom’s,” he says.
He chews on the inside of his cheek; I’ve seen him do it a few times now. I sort of like it.
We all huddle around Nevaeh’s school picture with our lighters and tears. Someone starts to sing “Amazing Grace,” but no one knows the words to the third verse, so we just keep singing the chorus over and over. When the Grace runs its course, one of the local pastors steps up in front of the crowd. He hugs Nevaeh’s mom and says a prayer.
“She isn’t crying,” I whisper to Judah.
“Shock,” he says.
I look over at Nevaeh’s grandmother. She has people on either side of her, holding her up. She can barely breathe, she’s sobbing so hard. In the dim light of the streetlamp, I can see the tears smudged all over her cheeks and chin, the blue bandana on her head pushed crooked so the knot stands out above her ear. A grieving woman, her pain clear and sharp like the vodka I once tried at Destiny’s house. I reach for Judah’s hand. At first he looks surprised, his gaze passing over my face and then our clasped fingers. I don’t look at him. I fix my gaze straight ahead. He squeezes my hand and looks back at Nevaeh’s picture.
He does not ask me to push him home. He never does. Sometimes he needs help past the dents and ruts in the sidewalk, which I do without comment. Our relationship is seamless so that no one need feel guilty. I help him up the ramp to his front door, and he asks me to wait outside. I stand on the porch looking out over Delaney’s yard, her pretty flowers and bushes a shock of beauty down an ugly street. When Judah comes back, he’s holding a bottle of something brown.
“I’m too young to drink,” I tell him.
“You’re too young to have seen such ugly things, too.”
I take the bottle from him, my only memory of alcohol being that one sip of vodka Destiny and I took from her father’s bottle when no one was home. I lift it to my lips. The rum is spicy and sweet. I prefer it to the vodka. There is a pirate on the label. He reminds me of the Indian chief on my mother’s healthy cigarettes. Indians and pirates—societal derelicts representing American addiction. I’d much prefer their company to the rest. We pass the bottle back and forth until I am too dizzy to stand up, then we sit quietly and look at the stars.
THE EATING HOUSE IS OPPRESSIVELY HOT. I carry my book outside and sit on the step. Mo is pushing Little Mo up and down the street in a hot pink stroller. He has his phone between his shoulder and his ear, and he’s punctuating every sentence with the F-bomb. F-bomb this, F-bomb that. The stroller has a wonky wheel, so every time he hits a crack in the sidewalk, it veers to the right, and Little Mo is thrown sideways, a startled look on his face. I watch him circle the block, past the bad people house, past Mother Mary’s house, right until he reaches Delaney and Judah’s house, where he turns the stroller around and heads back. When he approaches the eating house for the third time, I jump up and block his path.
I mouth: I’ll take him. Mo walks away without a word and leaves me with the baby and the stroller. I hear him F-bombing his way back to the crack house. I unbuckle the baby. He barely looks at me. I know there’s something wrong with him, but they don’t, and you can’t very well tell people that their baby has a disability. His diaper is soaked through. I find a spare and some bottles in the basket at the bottom, and carry him inside. My mother is in the kitchen, leaning against the counter, smoking a cigarette, and looking out the window. Look at you, wanting to see shit outside, I think, as I kick the door shut.
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