“She got rid of her kid. Wasn’t no stranger that took her.”
The pothead gas attendant is the first one to voice my thoughts. I glance over my shoulder to see if anyone else is in the store.
“Why do you think that?” I hiss, tucking the cigarettes into my back pocket.
“My cousin works with her at the car wash,” he says. “My cousin has a little girl, you know. About the same age as Lyndee’s kid. My cousin was saying that she couldn’t go to this party her friend was having because she didn’t have anyone to watch her daughter. Lyndee told her to slip the kid half a sleeping pill. Said it’s what she did when she wanted to go out.”
I stare at Knick Knack, sour dread curling in my stomach.
“I gotta go,” I say. I am halfway to the door when he calls out to me. “Hey, Maggie!”
“Margo,” I say.
“You look good, girl! I’d hit that.”
I roll my eyes, but there is something so deeply satisfying about that, You look good girl, I have to smile.
I am walking down Wessex when I realize I bought cigarettes, and my mother is in a jar in the corner of her old bedroom.
The Bone has one grocery store, two gas stations, and a peppering of small businesses like Fat Joe’s Burgers and the FUN! FUN! ARCADE. You’re bound to run into the same face more than once a week; at least, that’s what I tell myself as I follow Lyndee up and down the streets of Bone Harbor.
It’s not until I follow her from the bus stop to Wal-Mart one night that I realize the extent of my obsession. I trail her through the brightly lit aisles with a blue basket looped on my arm, as she piles things into her cart in a hurry: a package of bologna, two liter bottles of Pepsi, a giant jar of pickles, and a bag of green apples.
Every day she eats her apple as she sits at the bus stop, thin slices in a plastic baggie that she pulls out of her purse. I walk past her on my way home from the Rag, studying the bag of apples beside her on the bench. Watching as she sits hunched over her cell phone, her thumbs darting across the screen.
Lyndee was with her boyfriend, Steve, the night Nevaeh went missing. They made dinner and stayed home to watch a DVD: macaroni and cheese—the Kraft kind—and Transformers.
The more I see Lyndee Anthony, the stranger I feel. I see her on her porch some nights when I walk home, drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade with Steve, music pounding from the overly juiced stereo inside. I watch carefully for her grief, but it never comes. At least not for my eyes. But I can’t tell anyone, not even Judah. My mother had the same look about her—the deer in the headlights vulnerability. I buy a box of Gushers, like the ones Nevaeh used to eat on the bus, and take them to Judah’s house. We eat them on his porch as we watch the rain.
“I’ve never seen her cry,” I say about Lyndee.
“Everybody deals with their pain differently,” Judah says.
I suppose he’s right.
“But shouldn’t you cry? Just a little. Or at least look sad?”
He sucks the candy off his teeth and looks at me seriously.
“They found my tumor when I was five. I had to have surgery to remove it. The doctor did a shitty ass job and there was nerve damage.”
He runs his hand over his face, and suddenly the cocky joker is gone, and I can see all of his shadows. “God, the therapy … no little kid should ever have to be that sick. My mom was there all the time. Every day. They had to make her leave to sleep and shower. But, not once did I ever see her cry. That didn’t mean she wasn’t suffering.”
That’s the most Judah’s ever said about what put him in the wheelchair. It wasn’t a car accident like the kids at school had guessed. I remember him as a little boy. He used to run around the front yard naked, shrieking until Delaney would catch him from behind, and tickle him into a fit of laughter. Sometimes I used to see him working in the dirt with her, planting things.
Then one day he just stopped being in the yard. I never thought much about it until school started. He would have been in the same kindergarten class as me, except he never showed up on the first day of school, or the second, or the third. Then a few months later, when I was walking home from school, I saw the chair. It was on the porch, empty, but spoke volumes. Something had happened. Something. But what?
When I asked my mother, she said that he’d been sick. He had to go away for a while, and now he was crippled. I didn’t know what cripple was until I went to school the next day and asked my teacher, Mrs. Garret. Then the wheelchair made sense. Judah couldn’t use his legs anymore. I tried to imagine what it would be like. His house didn’t have stairs like mine, but how did he get in the bath? Get out? Who put his pants on in the morning if he couldn’t stand up to do it himself?
I imagine his mother does it for him, my mom said when I asked. I watched him really carefully from then on, not because I thought he was a freak like the other kids. Because I didn’t know how he could be so different and still always be smiling.
I finish my bag of Gushers and crumple the wrapper in my fist. How did I even end up here, on Judah’s porch? We’d never spoken a word to each other, and now, here I was every day.
“Hey,” he says.
“You look different lately.”
I laugh a little. “Lately? As in the two months you’ve known me?”
“Awe, come on. We’ve lived on the same block since we were little. We might not have known each other’s names, but…”
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