Page 5

There is only one house I like on Wessex Street. It’s the very first house on the block, and it belongs to Delaney Grant. Delaney grows pot in her garage. She doesn’t even sell it. She just smokes it all herself. Everyone calls her greedy. Sometimes, when there’s a pot shortage at the crack house, you can see people knocking on Delaney’s door. But she chases them away with a shotgun she calls Horace.

The reason I like Delaney’s house is because her son, Judah, lives there. Part of the time. The times he’s not with Delaney, he’s with his dad. We’ve never actually spoken, but he sits out in the yard a lot, and he always waves when I walk by. When you look at him you forget that he’s in a wheelchair. He’s handsome, and he’d be tall if he stood up. Six feet at least. He never went to school with the rest of us. A bus came to pick him up every morning. It could fit his wheelchair, and it drove all the way from the city. Delaney pissed her own life to shit, but when it came to Judah, she made sure the world saw him. You had to kind of like her for that. Especially when you had a mother like mine.

The bus is late. I tap my foot impatiently and crane my neck to peer down the street. If the 712 gets here in the next five minutes, I can still make it to the Rag O Rama in time for my shift.

“Good times,” I whisper as I see it bouncing around the corner. There are three of us who climb onto the 712: myself, Cuoco, one of the neighborhood heroin addicts, and little Nevaeh Anthony who catches the bus to her grandmother’s house every afternoon while her mother works.

“Hi Margo,” she says.

“Hi, little girl. You going to Granny’s house?”

She nods.

“Good. Walk fast once you get off the bus. You know how it is after dark.” Nevaeh nods. She knows. We all know. Splintered in between the normal things like school, grocery shopping, and work are the things that belong to the Bone. A fear that wanders like a mist through the streets. We live with it chained to our ankles. It’s so tangible that there are rarely visitors, and when they come, whether to visit a family member or to pass through, they hurry out, usually cutting their trips short.

“Let me fix your hair,” I say, and Nevaeh scoots closer to me on the bench. “Have to look pretty for Granny,” I tell her. She nods in agreement. My fingers work deftly as rain pounds against the windows. I finish her braids as the bus stops and right as she finishes telling me about her good report card, counting out the ten dollars her granny gave her as a reward. I watch her pull out a marker and draw a heart on each one. We climb off together, pulling our hoods up over our hair. She waves to me as we head in opposite directions, her fingers spread like starfish. I watch for a minute as she bounces down the street, her Hello Kitty backpack slung over her shoulder, bright colors cast against a gloomy day. I look at Destiny’s old house as I walk by. It’s green now, with white flower boxes on the windows. Her family moved to Oregon a few years ago. After she moved, she wrote me a letter, and then I never heard from her again. I wrote twenty before they started to come back with RETURN TO SENDER stamped on the envelope. Oh well. Letter writing is a luxury anyway.

The Rag O Rama smells like shit. Literally. The sewage plant is right across the river. Sandy, the manager, has those room deodorizers all over the shop, stuck in corners and up on shelves, but all it does is make the Rag smell like shit covered in apple blossom.

Because I’m thirty minutes late, Sandy makes me sort through inventory in the back room. I eye the black garbage bags lined against the wall, stuffed so full that half of them have split open, pant legs and shirtsleeves spilling out like intestines. There are only seven to sort through today. Sandy makes us save the bags that aren’t damaged. “Money don’t grow on no trees,” she says. “This is a thrift shop. We reuse everything.” Which leaves me plucking at the knots, swearing under my breath as sweat runs down my back and between my breasts. I untie the first one and spread the bag open. The musty smell has become familiar to me; it is the smell of un-wash, of people’s homes, mothballs, and occasionally—if we get a bag from an Indian family—tumeric and cumin. I separate the things inside: clothes in one pile, toys in another, household items in the third. It’s funny how one person’s crap can be so valuable to someone else. Employees get half off anything on the sale rack. It’s the things people don’t want times two. I finish off a bag and start to fold it when I feel something I missed at the bottom. I pull out a large canvas bag—the kind rich people take to the store to avoid using plastic. “Groceries & Shit” is stenciled on the front. I laugh. Its last owner drew stars around the words in purple sharpie.

“Groceries and shit,” I say out loud. Sandy walks in carrying an armful of hangers. “You can keep that,” she says. “It’s your summer bonus.”

I roll my eyes, but I am secretly pleased. It’s not often you get something for free in this life. I fold my new bag into a square and tuck it into the back of my pants so one of the other girls doesn’t take it.

Sandy’s boyfriend, Luis, hits her. She tries to hide the bruises, but there are a lot of them, and she wears makeup that’s about three shades too light for her skin. On the days he doesn’t hit her, she brings us stale doughnuts from the place where he works. I saw the empty box in the trash when I got to work. It’s a good day for her.

When Sandy feels like I’ve been punished enough, she sends me up front to work the register. It’s mostly a boring day until a woman tries to steal a pair of shoes. Sandy catches her before she can walk out with them stuffed under her jacket. The woman can barely stand she’s so drunk. Sandy grabs her by the forearm and shoves her into a chair in the office. She tells me to call the police.

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