In the coming weeks, pay more attention in Ms. Campbell’s class. Come to understand that Emily Dickinson was not simply crazy; this is not the whole story. Sometimes, hide a flashlight at the foot of your bed, and after Ms. Jenkins has made the rounds for lights off, take it out, pressing the book into the wall. A poem reminds you of telling a story, the way your grandma used to tell it, confusing as hell, but more and more familiar the more times you hear it. It comes to remind you of itself, of something else, of yourself.
The ladies she works with told her this: Don’t move north of Beverly because you’ll be among strangers. Don’t move east of Vermont because the apartments are ugly and dirty. Don’t move south of Olympic because it’s dangerous. Don’t move west of Wilton because the rent is expensive. This is the mantra Mrs. Nam is marching to as the sunlight begins to slide down the right side of her face. She heads south on Western with Jino holding onto her hand. She pushes onward but feels his weight on her thin wrist.
My scalp is blistering. I remember standing at the edge with Ketchup, holding her up so she could see down, but she started squirming in my arms. I was afraid that I’d drop her, and she bit my arm. I fell. I don’t think she did. When I woke up, the hat was gone. It was dark then, but when the sun rose, it wasn’t there. Maybe the wind took it or maybe it was an animal. Maybe there’s a coyote wearing a Dodger’s cap somewhere.
When we spun out on the way to Nashville, the track marks that my father’s truck made in the highway had perfect radial symmetry. His ways were unexplainable to anyone who hadn’t seen him carve peach pits into slender brown cats. He once told me that a trout was alive against the startling evidence of its gills pricking the surface of the Green River. He said it craved the atmosphere, that it could smell the lemongrass.
Alroy was only on the periphery of my consciousness as I raced up the escalators through Tower City and made my way to Prospect Ave., where I boarded the bus. Once the Rapid had lurched to a stop in the steaming bowels of Tower City, I just sprinted off the train without looking back. I have no idea how he got on the bus. He just kind of appeared next to me, with his fingers actively digging into his hair, gouging and picking at those impossibly tight coils so close to the skin, looking at me and nodding, like we were in on a secret together.
After a few minutes, two girls walked up. One was beautiful. They both hugged him, the pretty one first, and he gave her the same smile he had given me. Eyebrows knit, like a wink. Teeth all crooked. I began to be worried I was dreaming him. He introduced the girls to me, and I suddenly realized that the situation was different than I could have ever really anticipated. One was beautiful, and they were both about my age, and they were both lidding their eyes suggestively at me. And I think I knew right then what was going on.
She was my sister, and I wanted to keep her in my elbow crook. I didn’t want her dug out like a splinter, like she didn’t share my DNA. If we wouldn’t have to get monogrammed necklaces so our friends could tell us apart, then I at least wanted to keep her around as a talisman. A traveling Buddha, or a new potato. She was part of me, a smaller me, covered in skin as thick as a heel. I wore my sleeves rolled up because I liked her.
I must have been staring. I was staring—at her collarbone, the way it jutted out, defined. Her long, diluted strawberry-blonde hair, uneven bangs hanging down over her face. Her gray thermal shirt with lace trim. I was designing the final letters for my alphabet that day, a typography project: w, x, y, z. Class was nearly over and I’d barely formed the tail of my y with my Staedtler marker when Paul came over and shoved my shoulder. I didn’t lift the tip of my marker in time and a giant swooping black slash flew up through my alphabet.