Read The White Horse Online

Authors: Cynthia D. Grant

The White Horse (6 page)

BOOK: The White Horse
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Don't be sad, Granny said later when I couldn't stop crying; God wanted Bobby for his very own. Bobby's with Him in heaven now. And God is always with us
.

If He's always with us, why'd He have to take Bobby? Couldn't He drop by the apartment and visit?

It's kind of hard to explain, Granny said. He's in heaven, but He's with us too. He's invisible
.

Then how do you know He's here?

You just do
.

So you mean He just sat there and watched Bobby die?

My mother slapped me; she thought I was being smart
.

I hope there's a heaven and I'll get to see Bobby. But will I be a kid or an old lady? If God's as powerful as everybody says, why doesn't He protect the little Children? They didn't do nothing wrong, they didn't hurt anybody
.

I've asked lots of people, but no one can tell me
.

When someone dies people say, That's too bad, then they hurry away and the world goes on; as if nothing's changed, as if the person didn't matter; as if he were just a dream they'd had and as soon as they woke up, they forgot him
.

How can people be alive, then gone so fast? Just gone and you can't see them, you can't touch them or feel them. You keep looking at all the people in the street, like it's all a mistake and any second he'll be there. I thought you were dead. What? You musta been dreaming. Gone, completely gone. You can't believe it. One minute you're walking along together, then suddenly they disappear. They're not beside you anymore. They're not anywhere. A day ago, a minute ago, things were fine and you keep trying to turn back the clock in your mind, but now a door's closed and they're on the other side and you knock and knock but nobody answers
.

When people die are they just dead or do their spirits surround us? Do they disappear or go to heaven? I try to believe, but it seems like heaven's something people made up because death's so scary
.

I don't want to be alone in the ground somewhere, or sitting on a cloud by myself. I want to BE with someone. I go see Bobby; he's buried in this section for kids. Lost Lambs. My mother bought him a big marble angel, with fancy writing on the stone, Bobby's name and the dates, and the words
IN GOD'S HANDS
. She never goes there. Granny visits sometimes; last year she planted plastic flowers
.

I sit there and talk to him and try not to think about all the bones beneath the grass. Acres of grass, like a big green blanket. I picture Bobby as he was, his cheeks soft and pink, his eyes closed, taking a nap. Just sleeping. I shut my eyes and pretend we're little kids again, crowded into bed or curled up on the floor. But it's not like our house: it's real quiet and peaceful. No yelling or screaming, no cops at the door
.

Maybe heaven's like that, a big, quiet room where you sleep beside the people you love. You can't see them or feel them but you can hear them breathing, and there's blankets and everybody's warm
.

Chapter Eleven

Thank God it's almost Christmas vacation. If I don't get out of here soon I'll be taking hostages in the District Office. Those people are driving me
CRAZY
. I say we're leaking, and they give me trash cans. I ask for software and get computer paper. If I said I wanted a language lab, they'd send me a foreign exchange student.

It's not just them. I took the car in to be fixed. The guy comes out with this sad look on his face and tells me I should put the car to sleep. I know it's old and tired, will you please just fix it? He says it'll be done the next day. It takes a week. But does he tell me why? Can I get him on the phone?

Sorry, he says when I finally catch him; I've been real busy.

If we're all so busy, why are things so screwed up?

The kids are antsy. They always get like this before Christmas, hoping that for once it will turn out perfect; the whole family hugging. A Hallmark commercial. Meanwhile, in real life, it's Holiday on Ice Cubes; people drinking and eating
WAY
too much, fighting tears and each other—

But enough about me.

Brenda's run away again. Nobody's seen her.

Luis came to class wearing gang colors. I sent him home. He hasn't been back.

Janessa's going with a guy too old for me. The other day he picked her up in a brand-new Porsche. I didn't know what it was, of course; the kids told me. I said, That's not her dad, is it? They looked at each other like: Is she for real?

None of this was covered in my Ed. classes.

It was wonderful having Wendy here. We talked and talked then I felt so guilty because the whole time I'm listening to her, I'm thinking: How come
SHE
gets a husband and children, and students who think she's a fabulous teacher?

I'd file a complaint if I knew where to go. Think how long the line would be.

Last week my doctor asked if I'd considered hormones.

Yes, for my mother! I wanted to shout. What are you saying to me?

Well, she said, when you reach a certain age—

What's certain about it? The other day I burst into tears again, at the supermarket, in the frozen foods section. An old lady said, Are you all right, dear? I said: Everything is so expensive.

I'm just depressed, I told the doctor. Isn't everyone?

No. Had I considered counseling? Or medication?

I've considered everything but a head transplant. I can imagine what she's written on my chart.
Patient is so self-absorbed, she is digesting her brain
.

Mom called last night. Sandy and Rob and the kids will be there Saturday and stay through New Year's. What about me?

Well, I said, I can't stay too long this time.

Why not, Peggy?

Because you'll drive me crazy, asking when I'm going to get married again.

I said: I've made other plans.

Plans? I could practically hear her smiling. Does this involve a man?

Yes! My psychiatrist! I almost shouted.

I said: I've got a lot of work to catch up with over vacation.

Oh, she said. Oh. But that was plenty.

I shouldn't complain. My family loves me. Compared to most of my kids, I've got it made. Scott told me his dad chopped down the Christmas tree. That's nice, I said. In the living room, he added.

There's nothing wrong with my life. I just expected something different. The prince on a white horse. A husband and children.

Wendy asked if I'd considered adoption. Yes, but who'd adopt me? I'm too old, ha-ha. I went to a few meetings for the Fost-Adopt program. Sometimes the children live with you for years while the parents are trying to pull their lives together. If the kids can't be reunited with their families, you can adopt them. But sometimes you have to give the children back. It's okay, the parents say; We're not drug addicts anymore. We promise we won't burn Susie with cigarettes, or let her nearly drown in the bathtub.

I couldn't handle that.

Some people say that all children are wanted. They're talking Gerber babies. We're talking kids with problems: drug babies, AIDS babies, teenagers filled with rage—

Let's face it: I don't have what it takes. By the end of the school day, I'm all used up and it's not enough to save any of them.

I'd better not write my Christmas cards tonight.

Raina came in this morning. Maybe that's why I feel so bleak. I hadn't seen her in weeks. She looked awful.

I said, “You missed the SATs.”

She handed me some pages. I was alarmed by what she'd written.

“You sound kind of down,” I said. Doy. Suicidal. But I didn't want to put words in her mouth. “Is everything okay?”

She shrugged.

“Where are you staying these days?”

“Around.”

“You know you're not supposed to smoke in here.”

She ignored me.

“Toby says you're hanging out with some bikers.”

“Ain't none of his business what I do.”

“Raina, why do you talk like that? Why don't you talk the way you talk on paper?”

She didn't answer.

“It sounds like you're depressed. Have you thought about seeing a counselor?”

“What for?”

“So you can talk about your feelings.”

“That'll help.”

“It might. Will you be seeing your family over the holidays?”

“Yeah, on
America's Most Wanted
.”

“Do you have any plans for vacation?”

“I'm going skiing at Tahoe. Or maybe to Hawaii. I haven't decided.”

“You're welcome to stay at my house, if you'd like. I'll be gone for a few days, but you could make yourself at home.” Invite your biker friends over. Hock the furniture for drugs. “When I get back we could spend some time together. Do a little shopping. Rent movies, make popcorn.”

“Maybe we could sing some Christmas carols.”

“Raina, you're too smart to act like this.”

“Like what?”

“You know exactly what I'm talking about. You need to stay on track if you want to go to college.”

“College?”

“Have you given any thought to what you'd like to do?”

“Yeah, I'm gonna be a supermodel.”

I snapped. I'd had it.

“You don't want me to care? That's fine. That's great. Then quit telling me you're having a hard time.”

“Okay.” She shoved the pages in her pocket.

“What do you want from me, Raina?”

“Nothing.”

“Then why do you keep coming here?”

“It's warm.”

“Well, I'm trying to teach. This isn't the Laundromat.”

She shrugged. “So teach. Don't let me stop you.” She sprawled in her chair, her eyes almost friendly.

“All right, then,” I said. “Let's get down to business. The first thing you need to do is put out that cigarette.”

She walked to the door, ground it out, and kept going.

I refuse to believe that any child is doomed. But what if her hope is gone?

Chapter Twelve

It seemed like the rain had always been falling, roaring like the traffic outside the Laundromat. She watched through the steamed-up windows, Bert talking. She couldn't hear what he was saying, but it didn't matter; he liked to talk, wouldn't stop if she left.

One morning, she guessed it was Christmas, less traffic, he brought her some clothes and cigarettes. They shared a bottle of his favorite wine and ate Chinese takeout for breakfast.

Then she went to the Plaza and hung around with some friends; she knew their faces not their names, and everybody got real high on downers and drank a lot. She shrieked with laughter.

Drifted in and out of people's apartments. Slept in the Laundromat some nights. Fell down, got up, got loaded, passed out, never sure where she was when she opened her eyes.

For a while she stayed with some Hell's Angels, but they acted too corny, like TV bikers, trashing the place and having stupid fights. The fattest one hit on her all the time, so she told him she had something vague; not AIDS, he would've beaten her up.

Money was tight; Christmas had tapped out the tourists, so she went to the block where the girls hung out, freezing in their miniskirts and short shorts, thighs flashing purple in the neon lights. A few of the girls didn't want her around. One cranky blonde said, I'll keep you in mind the next time someone's looking for a toddler.

But the others were nice, especially the drags, in their sky-high heels and flapping wigs. They treated her kind, like their own child; drove away the pimps and told her who to avoid. It worked out okay except one guy wouldn't pay; he laughed in her face and walked out. And one night she got too stoned and made a big mistake; knew it as soon as he locked the door. She thought: This is it. I'm gonna die. Her mind ran away and hid but came back the next morning and he'd beat her up so bad she had to go to the free clinic.

The doctor scowled when he saw the bruises.

“How old are you?” he asked, examining her face.

“Forty.”

“You won't see twenty at this rate.”

He stitched her cuts and took X rays and blood. She wanted to leave, but they'd taken her clothes, so she had to wait on the examining table. The paper crinkled when she moved. There was nothing to read and nothing in the cupboards worth taking. The doctor came back with the lab work, sighing.

“You know what I'm going to say, don't you,” he said.

She shrugged.

“Why'd you wait so long to come in?”

“I been busy.”

He rubbed his face. “We could've done something. Now it's too late.”

“I don't want you to do nothing.”

“I'll need to examine you and run some tests.”

He said a bunch more stuff, but she'd stopped listening. They couldn't make her stay, so she got dressed and left, but once she got outside she didn't know where to go. She could call up Granny but that wouldn't help; all she did was cry and talk about herself, as if she were the star of every show.

She was hungry. No money and she looked like hell. The soup kitchen reeked of all the freaks hunched over bowls. But at least she got to eat, and when they tried to save her soul she pretended she couldn't hear them.

Her toes were frozen. She had to get warm. She could call the teacher, maybe stay in her house, but she'd probably steal something, then school would be over and there'd be nothing. There had to be something.

She bummed some change—the bruises helped—and took the bus to the roller rink. It was warm and dark inside. No one stared at her face and the place was so loud, she didn't have to think; the roaring skates and blades filled up her head, and the music played and the lights were twinkling.

She watched families swoop by, children with their parents and groups of teenagers playing crack the whip. The deejay said, “Couples only this time,” and a parade of old people circled the rink, turning this way and that like square dancers. Young couples glided by, holding hands. She and Sonny had pretended they were in the Olympics, his arm around her waist. They never lost their balance, even when the strobe lights made their faces dance. He was always so graceful until things went bad and he lost track of what to do with his arms and legs.

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