There was a mean old lady that lived in the apartment downstairs. The farthest she would ever go from her home was her porch where she would sit and smoke long cigarettes that looked like her fingers. She acted nice, said hi to me and my sister whenever we walked by, but it was easy to tell how she really was.
Almost every week Walt, our landlord, would knock on our door and say “Marianne called and said she heard screaming. I don’t care, just wanted to let you guys know.” I liked Walt.
He never made a problem when my parents were late on the rent. He wasn’t like Marianne, he understood my family; like my dad always said, Walt was a good guy
Not many people were like him. If others knew how we did things, changes would be forced onto us. Both of my parents said that was bad, but I didn’t need them to tell me that; I liked the way things were.
My parents never hid anything from me or my sister. They always treated us like equals, we were allowed to watch or say anything we wanted as long as it wasn’t an attack on them. And only at home, too, because being in public meant a different set of rules. “You have to be presentable,” they said, “how we do things here isn’t for anyone but ourselves.”
They were right. My dad even taught me how to hold in my stomach cause it poked out like I was fat. That wasn’t the case, I never ate all that much so he blamed it on genetics. The act turned normal after a while and now it’s hard to breathe if I don’t do what he taught me.
That was only one of the tricks my parents gave me. They made a really good team whenever they would work together. They fought often but it was usually only by yelling. The fire house next door to us had a siren that went off every day a million times louder than my parents ever got.
That’s why it didn’t make sense to me when Marianne complained. No matter what went on in our apartment, it was never anything when compared to that. Sometimes things got out of control and needed to be handled, but my sister and I could and would take care of it. We always did.
The only reason we were prepared was because of the way my parents had always treated us. As equals, never children. The only shelter we got from them was the one over our heads. We were always thankful for that.
It isn’t like it ever got too bad. Our water, heat, and electric never got shut off and there was always food in the fridge, even if it was just a jar of pickles or something. We knew we didn’t have a right to complain because they didn’t do it themselves. The only part I really hated was whenever my mom would leave.
She was always in and out of jail, a few months home followed by a few years in the County. My sister said it used to be different, but it never was for me, so when she was around I liked to spend as much time with her as I could.
I knew the feelings weren’t one-sided either. She loved everyone in the house, even though the only time she left by choice was after fighting with my dad.
It was another one of those nights after the yelling had finally stopped. She had just gotten ready and was standing in the hallway on her phone. I was crying, latched on to her leg, and begging her to stay.
Her hand covered the bottom part of the phone as she glared down at me. “Quit being such a little faggot.” She said as she shook her leg free.
I continued to cry while crawling away. She was right, I was being ridiculous and I knew that. “Stop that fucking whining she isn’t even going far you cunt.” My dad yelled from his permanent spot on the living room couch.
This was all true. Every time she left she came back, so my outburst didn’t really make sense. My mind didn’t care though, it had already made itself up; I simply did not want her to go.
It wasn’t like she had ignored me all day. We didn’t have cable, so we would either watch movies or listen to the radio to pass the time. Just a few hours earlier we were dancing to Led Zeppelin then 50 Cent.
We loved all the music, sang the words, one of the songs had been a rapper talking about how his daughter piled cardboard in front of the door to stop him from leaving. I remembered, she would too. Maybe it would change her mind.
I bolted upstairs and came down with as many boxes as I could fit in my arms. She was back on the phone now, too busy to notice me, so I dropped them in front of the door and set to building a wall. Construction was done by the time she hung up. She paused for a moment.
Then she left. Right out of the door, ignoring and knocking over my creation in the process. I fell among the rubble and began to cry.
Large feet pounded towards me and I jumped to mine. “What the fuck are you doing? Clean this shit up right now or I swear to fucking God-“ I knew exactly at what point his hand would raise so I made sure to be in action well before that; in a matter of ten seconds the boxes were picked and stashed upstairs, never to be seen again.
When I came back down he was on the couch and I had nothing to do but wait.
A few hours later I watched the door click open from my guard position in the hallway. She kicked off her shoes and gave me a smile before going to talk to my dad. Their conversation was quiet and quick.
She walked back past me into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. “Shoelace.” The demand made it through the wood loud and clear. I rushed to the door and scooped up one of her white Converse.
It was the left shoe, already untied. My fingers did what they knew best as they worked under the string, making it come free hole by hole by hole.
I dropped the shoe and opened the door. My mom was sitting on top of the closed toilet seat rolling her right sleeve up. She stopped at her shoulder then asked, “You have it?” I nodded. “Well come on, bring it to me then.”
I entered the room and gained vision of a needle on the sink made safe by its orange cap, the worst possible example of my favorite color. She dug in her pockets for a small paper square and a lighter before taking the shoelace. There was a spoon on the toilet’s tank, sitting where one always did.
“Shut the door behind you.” I did. I put my back against the wall next to the door and slid to the ground. The firehouse started its siren. This wasn’t that bad. Everything would be back to normal tomorrow.