“Literally?” I ask. “You want to know if I literally put my groceries, and my shit, in this bag?”
His teeth slide over his lower lip as he studies me. I can tell it’s a habit by the narrowing of his eyes, the side-to-side bobbing of his head.
Finally, he says, “I was testing you. I don’t like people who misuse the word ‘literally.’ Now we can be friends.”
He sets his joint in a little ashtray at his feet and holds out his hand.
“I’m Judah,” he says. “And you’re Margo.”
“How do you know my name?” His hand holds on to mine a beat longer than what is considered normal. If I weren’t so ugly, I’d think he was into me.
“This is Wessex Street; we’re all parasites on the same vein in Washington.” He reaches his arms back and cradles his head in his hands while he waits for my reaction. Look at him, sitting in his wheelchair all cool.
“I’m not a parasite,” I say calmly. “I’m not on welfare. I have a job.” I feel bad right away. That might not even be what he meant. You don’t always have to be so defensive, I tell myself.
“Don’t look so guilty,” he says. “I wasn’t accusing you of mooching off the government. I have a job.”
“I’m not guilty. You don’t know what I’m thinking,” I say defensively. Oops.
Judah picks up his joint. “Yeah, I do. You’ve got the kind of face that speaks.” He makes jazz hands when he says the last part. I don’t smile. I want to though.
I scrunch my whole, entire face together because I don’t know what he means. Then I know.
“Oh,” I say.
I look down at him. What kind of job could he have? Maybe something at his school.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he says. “What kind of job could I possibly have?”
“Ew! Stop reading my mind … and my face!”
We both laugh.
“So what do you do?”
He takes a hit of his joint. “Are you kidding?” he says. “I’m in a wheelchair. I don’t have a job.”
“Oh my God.” I shake my head at him and look up at the sky. It’s about to rain. “You can’t just steal my shit like that.” I need to get her cigarettes before it pours. “Gotta go,” I say. I head back down the path, my Groceries & Shit bag swinging on my arm.
“Bye Margo. Come see me again, you hear?” he calls after me.
When I get home an hour later, it’s already dark. I can hear voices from my mother’s room. I wonder if I have enough time to use the bathroom before he comes out. Whoever he is. I have to be back at the Rag first thing tomorrow, and I need a bath. I wish we had a shower like normal people, but the eating house was built before people washed themselves standing up. I grab a towel from my room and fill the bath. I’m halfway through washing myself when there’s pounding on the door.
“Margo,” my mother’s sharp voice calls out. “What are you doing in there?”
I know better than to answer her. What she wants is for me to vacate the bathroom. I do a quick rinse and jump out, being careful not to get water on the floor. She hates that. The next twenty seconds is me frantically pulling on my clothes. It’s not fast enough. I know that. I was stupid to think I had enough time, and now there will be consequences.
When I open the door she’s standing there in her red, silk robe with a cigarette dangling between her fingers. It makes a trail of smoke toward the gray ceiling. She glares at me, making silent promises for later. There’s a man standing behind her, looking as pleased as a newly fed baby. He leers at me as I squeeze past my mother and run barefoot to my bedroom. I didn’t even get to wash my hair. You can’t be ugly in this life and have dirty hair. For some reason I think of Judah Grant—the opposite of ugly, and the reason I wanted to wash my hair.
Judah Grant isn’t sitting in his yard when I walk to the bus stop the next morning. Delaney is digging around in her garden with a big straw hat on her head. She looks like one of those women you see on the cover of a gardening magazine. She waves at me when I walk by. Sometimes she gives me money and tells me to bring her things from the Rag. “I need a new pair of shorts,” she’ll say. “Size two.” Delaney’s whole entire body is the size of my thigh. I get things for her in the teen section of the Rag. “Hey Margo,” she calls. I stop. “Judah needs some shirts. Fancy ones. Something a man should wear to work.”
The liar! I’m tempted to ask where he works, but she’s busy pulling money from her bra, and I’m distracted.
She hands me a ten and a twenty. They’re both damp. I hold them between my thumb and my forefinger.
“What size is he?” I ask dumbly. I wonder why Delaney can’t go to the Rag herself and choose his shirts. I wonder why Judah is such an effing liar.
“Get him a couple nice ones with collars,” she says. I want to ask her where he’s working, but we’ve never talked other than me taking her clothes orders.
“All right,” I say. “Something nice.”
I’m going to get him some really ugly shit just for lying to me. Besides, a person who looks like him doesn’t need to be well-dressed, working legs or not. You have to leave some room in the world for the rest of us.
I buy Judah four shirts: pink paisley, purple with tiny white hearts, and a white shirt with red stripes so he can look like a candy cane. Christmas is all about lies anyway. The fourth shirt is nicer because I found a little mercy in my heart. It’s just plain blue. Delaney acts like I’m America’s Next Top Model when I hand them to her.
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