Authors: Mary Elizabeth
For the bad guys.
I WAS SEVE
years old when my cigarette-smoking mom, stirring instant pancake mix, told me Santa Claus wasn’t real. Ash fell into my breakfast; she didn’t care.
“Do you really believe an overweight man magically slithers down the chimney while you’re asleep, and we don’t hear a thing? For God’s sake, Poesy, we don’t even have a fireplace. Daddy eats the cookies, that fat ass.”
I haven’t trusted her since.
As payback, I told my entire second grade class that Jolly St. Nick was a hoax during recess the next day. When my mother was called into the principal’s office, she denied breaking my holiday spirit. The woman who served me tobacco sprinkled flapjacks accused me of
stretching the truth
defiant since birth
“Poe’s a bit selfish. Only child syndrome, or something.”
“It’s attention seeking behavior, ma’am,”
the school leader said.
“You don’t say?”
She never trusted me.
Our relationship wasn’t much to brag about before she stole the magic from my childhood, but if I had to choose a definite turning point, it was that day. Eleven years later, I’ve come to terms with the fact that some women don’t have the mother gene, despite being capable of childbirth. Georgie Ashby’s fucked up in the head, not the uterus. Too bad she didn’t figure it out for herself before she procreated, subjecting me to this bleak life.
Mom was emotionally foul.
Dad was just emotionless.
He resents his wife for getting pregnant after a few drunken L.A. weekends, and he resents me for being born.
I grew up provided for, but I was far from nurtured. There was always a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in. My dad earned a paycheck, and my mom made sure dinner was on the table every evening. We all went through the hoops, back-to-school nights and birthday parties, swimming lessons and drivers’ licenses. Family photos were taken every May, hung in inexpensive frames around the house four weeks later. There are grins on our faces, because who can help but smile when the photographer says “cheese”?
We got a dog once, but he couldn’t handle the meaninglessness and ran away.
But I’m stronger than the Golden Retriever none of us wanted. My keepers probably thought they were going to be free of me once I turned eighteen. Unfortunately for them, I still have three months of high school left. They needn’t worry their uncaring little minds, though. This girl doesn’t want to be here any more than they want me to be, and I’ve spent the last four years making damn sure I’ll receive a diploma from Culver City High School, and, at the very least, a first class ticket to community college.
Which is why I really need Jenna Ward—basic white girl—to shut the fuck up. Finals are approaching, and Mr. Weech, my English teacher, already suspects I plagiarized my
I didn’t …
He’s scratching on the dusty green chalkboard, looking over his shoulder at me every few seconds. I need to concentrate on today’s lesson to make up for my indiscretions. Mr. W’s covering the
reading schedule, but did he just say we need to read five chapters or five pages this weekend? I’d know if Jenna would practice self-control and wait to discuss different shades of pink with her neighbor after class.
“Shh,” I shush, staring at the back of her blonde-haired head. She smells like knock-off Juicy Couture and bulimia.
“Just watch the movie, Poesy. That’s what we do.” Jenna turns toward me and smiles in vain. She and her friends nod concurrently. “And chill, we’re talking prom. It’s next weekend.”
They pick up their conversation at seashell pink and bashful, disregarding my eagerness to soak today’s lesson into my long-term memory. Hopefully,
is on Netflix, because at this point, Mr. Weech sounds like the teacher from Charlie Brown.
I tear off small pieces of paper from my blank notebook and launch spitballs into Jenna’s perfect curls. Dipshit isn’t bright enough to realize I’ve sprinkled her tresses in college-ruled paper, even after the emo kid beside me snickers and murmurs, “Idiots.”
I’m bored with their mindlessness.
Then I see blondie’s backpack is open, and her wallet is within reach.
“Yeah, well, my dress is Cupid pink, and the tuxedo place only has magenta. Eric and I won’t match. It’s total bullshit,” Jenna womp, womp, womps.
Excitement sizzles from the tips of my fingers, up my arms, and across my shoulders as I look around the classroom. Delicious nervousness trickles down my spine, filling my stomach with fluttering butterflies, pushing heavy pressure into my chest. No one’s paying attention to me, and I’m already reaching into Jenna’s backpack.
I lift a mint-colored wallet from her book bag between my thumb and pointer finger and hide it under my binder. For the next thirty minutes, I ride a wave of adrenaline flooding my veins, surfing the electric-like ripple with a sly smirk on my lips.
My heart drums in my ears, drowning out all other noises when class ends, and Jenna zips her Jansport and hitches it over her shoulder. Spit wads fall from her hair, but she still doesn’t notice.
“Have you bought a prom dress yet, Poe?” she asks, smiling forcefully. Her blue eyes squint, and she twirls the hookah shell necklace around her neck between her long fingers. “Are you going?”
“Nope, I’ll be busy trying to figure out what the fuck Mr. W was teaching today.” I close my folder and return her smile. The three-ring binder teeter-totters above the stolen wallet.
Jenna drops the act and spins away from me, sling-shooting wet paper balls across the next aisle of desks. I wait until she’s exited the classroom before I stand, gathering my folder and her wallet against my chest and following the crowd into the hallways.
After dumping my things into my locker, I flip through Jenna’s wallet, pocketing the twenty-something dollars in cash and tossing the rest into the lost and found bin outside the main office. Mid-afternoon sunlight shines blindingly from the top of the sky, distorting my vision and warming my freckled skin. I skip down the flight of stairs leading toward a broken sidewalk in front of the high school, ditching class for the rest of the day.
The city crackles with life. Public transport coughs black clouds out of a hot exhaust pipe, and oil sprinkles from a cracked pan or leaky whatever-part-of-the-bus motor oil flows through from the undercarriage. A short Mexican lady in socks and sandals sells tamales in front of the ninety-nine cent store, and a lanky white guy with meth mouth asks for my signature on some sketchy petition.
“Sorry, man,” I mumble as I walk by. “I’m only seventeen. Not old enough to vote.”
“Help me out. Sign with your mom’s name,” he calls as I pass.
I keep forward toward the center of town, past a homeless man pushing a wobbly shopping cart, and a woman dressed in a shabby Lady Liberty costume, twirling a Tax Depot sign. Sweat pools above my lip and drips from the back of my neck. By the time I reach my favorite sandwich shop for a turkey on rye and a fizzing cherry cola, my hair and skin smell like hustle and flow.
“See ya later, P,” the girl behind the counter says, handing me a brown paper bag with my food inside.
I eat half of my sandwich and give the other half and Jenna’s change to some kid, who should be in school, with missing teeth and holes in his sneakers. He’s posted on a bus bench by himself, kicking his little legs back and forth.
“Get yourself home, squirt,” I say, running my finger through his overgrown and underwashed head of curly brown hair.
Roaming the streets, soaking in Southern California diversity and richness, one mile has bail bondsmen and laundry mats on every corner, and the next is cluttered with fancy coffee chains and boutiques. As downtown tapers off to uptown, sidewalks go from being bordered by scummy gutters to being edged with palm trees and lanes without potholes.
Like there’s an invisible line in the road, bums and playas don’t pass “Go” and collect two hundred dollars when things get fancy, and the uppity avoid the mark leading to the dark side like they’ll catch “poor” by breathing the same air as the less fortunate.
Both parts of town feel like home.
Both welcome me with open arms.
I bump elbows with men in cropped jeans and slip-on shoes, and I admire storefront windows showcasing alligator skin handbags and expensive distressed jeans. My image reflects back at me off the surfaces of my aviator sunglasses and limo-black window tint. City buses are hybrid, and the air smells of espresso and spray tanner.
My heart triple beats as I contemplate lifting a set of gold bangles I absolutely
, but I use my dad’s credit card, because the small shop has cameras and the owner complimented my eyes.
“They’re hazel,” I say, signing my old man’s name on the CC slip.
I swipe my John Ashby’s plastic a few times before I head home, mentally hammering myself for missing a half-day of school and not returning in time to get my things before the weekend. If
isn’t streaming anywhere, I may have to resort to online cheat notes, and those are as reliable as my mom on my birthday.
So, not at all.
Under a new pair of sunnies, with bracelets singing around my wrists and large hoops swinging in my ears, I step foot on my street as the day begins to dim and the late April temperature cools a few degrees. I hum the melody of a song, content in my head—my own best friend. Not belonging on either side of the tracks is a tricky place to be. It’s left me friendless, loveless, and uncaring but daring.