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At first I didn’t notice it. It wasn’t until a teacher said my name at school, calling me to the front of the class to solve an equation, that I realized I hadn’t heard it in some time. My mother still delivered commands, but at some point skimmed my name from the top of them. Margo. It took me a minute to recognize that it was me Mrs. Lerson was calling. The other students laughed as I made my way through the line of desks to stand in front of the blackboard. Margo, I thought. That’s me. And then, as I walked home from the bus, I tried to remember the last time I heard her say it, and I couldn’t.

My mother, a Perry Mason fan, named me after Margo Albert, an actress she once saw on his show, The Case of the Sad Sicilian. In Margo’s final role, before she died of brain cancer, she played a murderess named Serafina. My mother, stricken by her doleful eyes, vowed to name her first daughter Margo. It feels like a cruel joke to be named after a woman who was cast in tragic roles, and even more so to have the meaning of one’s name be something so beautiful and delicate when you yourself are anything but.

In the eating house, I remain nameless. White blonde hair, forgettable eyes, ugly, tattered clothes.

“Hey Margo!”

I spin around. The school bus is retracting its STOP sign, doors closing. Destiny comes barreling down the sidewalk toward me, slinging her backpack over her shoulder. I eye the cut of her jeans, and the way her shirt hangs fashionably off her shoulder. She’s even wearing the type of shoes the other girls are wearing: sparkly flats. She stopped speaking to me sometime around seventh grade, after the kids at school started calling me “the whore’s daughter.” I don’t know if it was by her parents’ command or self-preservation, but she just left me.

“You forgot this on the bus,” she says, handing me the paperback novel I’d been reading. I take it from her without meeting her eyes.

“Thank you.”

Her house is in the opposite direction, but she hesitates before leaving like she wants to say something. In the end, though, she just shrugs and walks away. I don’t watch her go. I know if I do, I will cry.

The eating house is still when I get home. It naps during the day while I am at school: a night house. I go straight to my room, because that’s what she likes me to do. It’s later in the afternoon that she emerges from her bedroom to begin her ritual for her night: the washing and applying of creams and makeup. In recent years, she hasn’t wanted me around, not even for her bath. And I don’t care. I hated watching her wrinkle in the chipped, rose-colored bath, pieces of paint peeling off and floating in the water around her. I pull out my box, choosing a candy bar and a warm can of Mountain Dew, and begin my homework as the eating house wakes up and creaks around me.

When the first of her visitors come, I pack up my notebooks and pencils and crawl to the wall that separates my bedroom from hers. This is the way I know her. She has not gone completely silent. I hear her speaking to them. I am so desperate for the sound of her voice; I spend nights pressing my ear between our walls. They tell her things—things about their lives, and their wives, and their jobs. They punch up their sentences with words like fiscal year, college tuition, and parole violations. She only speaks when they need her to. She’s perfected the art of the pause and response. A word here, a word there. Her voice never changes from an agreeable purr. They find it sexy, her willingness to listen and her reluctance to speak. A beautiful woman who does, and does not disagree. I am learning so much about men, the way they want and what they want. They pace her bedroom, their heavy steps a dull thud on the chipped and marred wood of the eating house. Once I hear her give advice: Sell the house, downgrade. You don’t need all of that space now that the kids are gone.

Where is my advice? I wonder. Where are my words? Whose kid am I?

WESSEX, a street cobbled with crack, crack whores, dealers, drunks, girls who had barely dried the milk from their own chins before giving suckle to their little undernourished babies. It is pitiful, this thing we call life. I know that, but I’m not sure they do. One grows accustomed to suffering, especially in a place like Bone Harbor. You take your first steps, everyone claps, and then you cease to be remarkable. Nearly surrounded by water, it used to be a harbor before they moved it farther south to be closer to Seattle. But that was before my grandmother was born. The people around here call the area the Bone. A kind of joke that developed after all the business dried up. I kind of like that they call it that. No use calling yellow, blue. And that’s what we are, rubbed down to the bone.

Six days a week I take the bus to work. To get to the bus, I have to walk up Wessex and down Carnation. Carnation is only slightly better than Wessex. The windows aren’t broken, and a couple people mow their grass. The people who live on Carnation Street call us trash. I suppose in a world such as this, unbroken windows and mowed grass make all the difference.

God is not in the houses that stand side-by-side down Wessex. I wonder if God lifted Himself from this place and put us behind a veil to suffer alone. It’s a nightmare street. The people in the outside world don’t know we exist. They don’t want to know. But our houses stand, almost collapsing under the weight of the sin they contain. Before the eating house comes the crack house. Before the crack house comes Mother Mary’s house. Mother Mary can see the future, but not any future. She can only tell you how you’ll die, and she’ll charge you forty dollars to do it. Which brings us to the bad people house. I only call it that because it’s where the ex-cons hole up after they’re released from prison. I don’t know what they get up to in there, but once a week there’s an ambulance outside and someone is hauled out on a stretcher.

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