Mary Morris is the author of fifteen books – seven novels, including The Jazz Palace (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), three collections of short stories and four travel memoirs, including the travel classic, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone. Her short stories, articles and essays have appeared in such places as The Atlantic, Narrative, The Paris Review and The New York Times. Morris is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rome Prize in Literature. In 2016 The Jazz Palace was awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Award for fiction – recognizing a literary work that addresses racism and cultural diversity. Her new novel, Gateway to the Moon, will be published in April 2018 by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday.
Tommy Gun and I stare at our plates. We haven’t eaten the peas and carrots and can’t leave the table until we do. Auntie Ro says we have to eat them so we grow big and strong. It’s what grown-ups are paid to say but Tommy Gun is already strong and anyway I don’t believe her. Who cares about carrots? We’re bandits. We steal candy and pencils from dime stores. We’ve robbed a bank. A piggy bank anyway – the one Auntie Ro keeps on the window sill for loose change. We play poker for matchsticks. We have a hideout in the woods where Tommy Gun’s teaching me how to fight like a boy and ward off our enemies.
None of which Auntie Ro knows.
Her real name is Rosalie. “Call me Aunt Rosalie,” she said the first time I saw her. I wasn’t used to calling an older person by their first name let alone calling someone Aunt who wasn’t related to me. Not that I know many people who are so for a while I didn’t call her anything. Then I shortened it to Auntie Ro. She’s got her arms folded, staring us down. “You eat them or I’m calling you-know-who.”
Tommy Gun gives me a look of pretend fear. “Go ahead.” He calls her bluff. He’s only been here seven weeks but he’s figured out the drill. His real name is some long Russian thing. When he pronounces it, it sounds like he’s going to spit except he doesn’t. Back in Russia he had a pet bear that walked on its hind legs. His father led it around by a ring in its nose and the bear danced. Tommy Gun collected rubles in his hat. Then the bear died, and his father sent Tommy Gun away to a place with another name nobody can pronounce. That’s where his so-called forever family found him, and he lived with them until they dropped him off at a Nebraska hospital with a note pinned to his shirt that read, “We tried.”
“Pow,” Tommy Gun said the first time I saw him. He held a pretend gun in his hand and aimed at
“Pow.” I shot him back in the chest. That’s why I call him Tommy Gun.
Auntie Ro’s standing at the sink, rinsing dishes. “Nobody’s going anywhere until those plates are clean.” It’s a battle of the wills. How long can we stay here like this? Apparently quite a while. Auntie Ro throws her hands over her head, wondering what to do with us. This is the latest home to which I have been assigned. (That’s what they call them. Assignments. Like it’s homework from school). Well, six months ago anyway. It’s hard to keep track of where I’ve been or for how long, but I know I’ve been here since the spring and now it’s almost fall. I came after that April blizzard when the snow reached my knees and the first thing I did was help shovel. Auntie Ro liked me for that.
I present well. I try to get off on the right foot. Even if it doesn’t last.
"Sally," she says in her almost harsh voice, "what is wrong with you?"
I shake my head. "Nothing," I reply. I’m not going to tell her about Jello. She’ll think it’s my fault. I always wind up being “the problem child.” I’ve heard those whispers behind the closed doors of other guardians. I decipher their codes. I’ll be sent away, and I don’t want to leave. I have gone through three family members, including one set of grandparents, two potential adoptions (one with my real aunt – my mother’s sister who changed her mind.) Once I lived for five months with a Christian family in a town called Hope. There was this sign on the highway, “No Exit to Hope,” that made me laugh. They wanted to adopt me until I set their couch on fire. This is my fourth foster home. Everyone thinks they can do better with me. When I first got here, Auntie Ro told my social worker, “Don’t worry. I can handle her.”
My social worker just shook his head.
With Tommy Gun she knew what she was getting, but I came as a surprise. As I’ve said, I present well. I have yellow hair and blue eyes. I’m a cornfield on a clear day. One family called me Angel. I shaved off their cat’s hair and put glue on its paws. No one wants to believe that I’m the demon child. My real name isn’t Sally though I answer to it in school or when the social worker comes. I’m Tornado Baby.
It’s a miracle, people said. No one had ever seen such a thing. When people pass me on the street, they used to ask, “Is that the tornado baby?” A newspaper headline called me that. Tornado Baby Lives! The name stuck – with me anyhow. Sally is nothing, but Tornado Baby has kicked ass. I cast spells. Bad things happen when I’m around. Sharp knives stick up in drawers. Grease spots appear on floors. If I could, I’d live on air. I eat Styrofoam. I curl strips of paint off the walls and eat these as well. I’ve been known to swallow shakers of salt.
Everyone says it’s because of “the event.” That’s how they refer to what happened to me. It’s the excuse for everything. They’ll whisper, “She’s this way because of the event.” I survived mostly intact except for the scar that cuts my left eyebrow in two. Tommy Gun says it makes me look as if I’m questioning everything I see.
Auntie Ro’s scrubbing the pots. “I’m not putting up with this.” She’s pulling out the heavy artillery. The last resort. We know what’s coming next. She picks up the phone and starts to dial. “I’m calling Mr. Osmond.” This works every time. Tommy Gun’s eyes widen and he starts shoveling his peas. I do as well. I’m not afraid of much, but I’m afraid of Mr. Osmond. “That’s good,” Auntie Ro says. We clean our plates and bring them to the sink.
The school bus picks us up at seven on the dot. That’s how Auntie Ro says it. On the dot. We have to be on time with our lunches and our book bags ready because the bus won’t wait. Twice it left without us, and Auntie Ro had to drive us, but she wouldn’t talk the whole way. I’m up early, but I have to wake Tommy Gun. It’s a huge chore. This morning I pound on his door four or five times before he’s awake. He doesn’t like school, and it’s only our second week. He hops in the shower, but has to run so his hair is still wet as we stand at the stop. Auntie Ro waits with us until the swirl of dust that rises as the bus climbs the hill. When the doors swing open, she thrusts egg sandwiches into our fists.
We’re half asleep as we get on, munching our sandwiches. The front is full so we have to go the back which means we have to walk past Jello with his spiky red hair and ugly freckles all over his face that looks like one big freckle. I’ve heard he’s got them all over his body too. He carries a green rabbit’s foot that he’s always fingering for luck. We don’t call him Jello to his face. He’s big though not as big as Tommy Gun but he’s blubbery. His body shakes so Tommy Gun named him Jello, but his real name is Jerry.
When I walk by, he makes a raspberry sound. Tommy Gun gives him the scary look because he has that eye that wanders in his head, but everyone knows that Tommy Gun can’t touch him. “Three strikes and you’re out,” is what Mr. Osmond said. So Tommy Gun just hisses under his breath. “Leave her alone.”
“Hey what’re you doing to your sister?” Jello sneers and his gang of thugs laughs. Eleven year olds granted, but they run in a pack. They throw ice balls at kids they don’t like. During recess they call Miss Partlow on to the fire escape so they can look up at her panties. I heard that they set a cat on fire.
Tommy Gun grips his jaw hard like he’s cracking a nut. “She’s not my sister and leave her alone.” We are the same age, but not in the same class. That is because English isn’t Tommy Gun’s first language and he was home schooled by the family that left him in the hospital in Nebraska and it seems they never really taught him much of anything except how to stand in a corner all day or eat a hot dog in one gulp before someone takes it away.
As we sink into the last row of the bus, I squeeze Tommy Gun’s hand. “Pretend they aren’t there.”
“They aren’t,” he says, looking away.
In Miss Partlow’s class I sit beneath the mobiles of the world. When we had to choose a country, I picked Greece. I liked the story we read about the man who took twenty years to get home. I made its islands out of those separate pieces of cardboard that float overhead. I painted them blue and white. This morning Crete’s tangled with Rhodes so I stand on my desk and untangle them, but they just get messed up again. Jello is two rows behind me and one across. I can feel his weasel eyes, burrowing into my head. I turn and am gazing at his giant freckled face that’s red as a cherry pie. His stubby fingers are fondling his rabbit's foot.
He’s always fiddling with that dead green foot. And looking at me.
I wish Tommy Gun wasn’t held back. He’d tell Jello where to go. Tommy Gun’s the biggest kid in fifth grade. And the sixth and seventh for that matter. He’s a giant. He says that one night he went to bed little and woke up huge. Though we take the same bus and are in the same building, I’m in middle school and he’s in the grammar. People treat him like he’s dumb. But he’s not. He does my math problems in his head. I can ask him anything in algebra or long division and he knows the answer just like that. He says he sees the answers in his head. Nothing gets past his gaze. Sometimes it seems as if he can see inside. He can see past the muscles and flesh. He sees what flows through people’s veins.
Jello’s eyes burn like lasers in my skull. I turn and catch him again. His lips curl into a doggy sneer. He mouths a big smacky kiss. I point my fingers down my throat and make like I’m going to throw up. He flicks his tongue like a lizard and looks away.
Tommy Gun is waiting for me after school, and we head to the hideout. I never know which way we’re going. There’s no trail blazed and we never go the same way twice. This is to confuse the enemy. If anyone follows us, they’ll get lost. But not Tommy Gun. He has an inner compass. Navigational redial, he calls it. It’s in his belly button. He just has to push it and we’ll find our way. When we get into the woods, I follow him. It’s Indian summer and warm out. There’s a heavy stillness to the air so it’s like we’re in a jungle and not southern Ohio.
On the way to the hideout Tommy Gun throws fake punches. He believes it is important that I develop my skills in the martial arts. He’s a brown belt, he says. “Do as I do.” Tommy Gun plants a kick into an nearby elm, “Give them this. Right between the legs.” We kick and punch our way through the woods. “Say Jello,” Tommy says.
“Jello.” I slam my foot against a stump.
The hideout is some branches piled up into a lean-to and some old blankets we borrowed from the house that Auntie Ro’ll never miss. We keep emergency rations in case of nuclear holocaust or zombie apocalypse. We’ve got graham crackers, some candy bars and snacks, mostly stolen. Plus a supply of fresh water and a first-aid kit. Sometimes animals get in too and we find the graham crackers scattered on the ground so now we keep them in a plastic paint tub we took from the barn.
I’m snacking on a graham cracker, but Tommy Gun tells me to hurry up. We have a lot to do before Auntie Ro rings the cowbell that calls us home. We’re preparing to launch an attack. Maybe even start a war though I’m not completely sure who the enemy is. Of course there’s Jello and his gang. And probably Mr. Osmond. But there may be more. Some you wouldn’t suspect. Some you can’t even see. Even Auntie Ro isn’t immune. It’s hard to know who we can trust and who we can’t. Some might be double agents. Better not to trust anyone, Tommy Gun says, except ourselves. And even then you can’t be sure.
We make up sides. In practice drills he’s the Enforcer. Or Batman. The superhero who’s avenging someone for an unspeakable crime. A heinous deed. I’m almost always the monster, the bad guy, the villain. I’ve been a mummy, Dracula and Darth Vader, but I refuse to be a ghost. Ghosts glide through rooms, peer in from outside. I see them all the time. I have my fears and my phobias. I can’t be out after dark because I’m afraid the stars will fall on my head. I allow myself thirteen phobias at a time and right now that includes Orange Fanta, garden spiders, and stars falling out of the sky.
If I acquire a new one, I have to take one away.
Of course, it’s because of the “event.”
People tell me I can’t possibly remember, but I do. They say I only know it from being told so many times, but I don’t care what they say. My mother crushed my face between her breasts. Her scream is locked inside my head. Her eyes are opened wide and blue like a scary doll. I am in her arms as the cloud comes, and it’s tug-of-war until she loses. I am being ripped into the black cloud that carries me.
As I travel, corn stalks, barn doors, barking dogs swirl by. A cow stares at me with startled eyes. I want to pause but the blackness won’t let me out. It picks up new things along the way. An oak tree with a nest of robins, peeping on a bough. A clothes line of clean sheets. If I gaze up, I see a blue sky. But inside it’s a tilt-a-whirl. A man screams from inside his pick-up truck. A baby carriage is flung into a nearby tree.
I am traveling as I will never travel again. This is my first and only journey. I feel as if I can stay inside this swirl forever until it decides to plunk me down in a field where I am discovered by a farmer who had come out to survey the damage that the tornado did to his crops where he found me, wearing nothing but a diaper, my arms reaching up as if my mother was going to bend down and take me with her into the sky.
It’s almost dusk. We’re heading back when Auntie Ro rings the old cow bell – though I don’t think she ever had a cow. The bell has a deep, somber clang, but I like it. It’s the sound of someone waiting for us to come home. We eat macaroni with ground beef for dinner – my favorite meal – and we even eat the broccoli without a fuss. Upstairs we take turns in the bathroom. I shower longer and use up most of the hot water, but Tommy Gun who never complains waits until I’m done.
There are lots of extra beds upstairs where Tommy Gun and I dump our things. We sleep wherever we want though never in the same room. That’s a big no no. I wish we could but Auntie Ro won’t hear of it. In a heartbeat Mr. Osmond would take us away. Like wolves we drop down where we’re tired. We're the only children Auntie Ro has now. She used to have eight. And she'd never get another if we wound up in the same bed though I don’t see the harm.
Still we don't want to be taken away. We've been in too many places. We've washed in too many tubs and slept on too many old mattresses. We’ve itched too many bedbugs and lice and dodged slaps across the head. We’ve learned too many faces and names. We've come to stay. Tommy Gun and I make a pact one night. We stick our thumbs on the hawthorn bush out back and share our blood. Still it worries me. Auntie Ro is old. What if something happens to her? She has white hair and she's almost fat. She smells like oily soup. She comes into my room to say good night. When she hugs me, I get lost in the folds of her flesh. I don't like to be held. Arms mean being torn away. But she hugs me anyway. “Roses on your pillow,” is what she says.
On Saturday morning Mr. Osmond shows up. Just doing his rounds as he likes to say. He’s got a drooping belly and hiked up pants. He wears dark glasses and always has this small case file folder under his arms. I’ve wanted to take a peek in my folder. I wonder what the others have said about me. My mother’s sister, Priscilla Jane, and my grandparents on my father’s side. First they fought over me. Then they couldn’t wait to get rid of me. It is true I scraped my fingers into the walls and the floor. I sucked plaster and plucked at the upholstery in chairs. I lit matches behind the sofa. I liked to see how long I could hold the flame. More than once I was rushed to the E.R. She never listens, is what they said.
I listened, but I didn’t hear. Nobody knows about the whirl in my head. The propeller that beats between my ears. But once Tommy Gun stopped and stared at me. He heard it too. “What’s that sound?” Mr. Osmond tells us we’d better watch it. We’d better behave. He doesn’t even threaten us with the group home anymore even though that’s his usual threat. “Forget about it, kids. You mess up here, it’s the end of the line. Next time we send you to the zoo.”
Auntie Ro offers him a cup of stale morning coffee and asks if he’d like a slice of her zucchini bread, but he says he can’t stay. “Just doing the rounds,” he tells her. Then he gets in his car and he drives away.
Once he’s gone, we sneak away. We head to the hideout where we play the remember game. My father smelled of sweat and grease. His hands were harsh. I had a brother who was tall and skinny as a sapling. And a black dog named Buster who liked to play dead. “Play dead, Buster,” my brother would say and he would. I don’t remember my brother’s name. My mother was almost fat. I liked her flesh. Some days she smelled good and some days she didn’t. When I smell potatoes, right out of the earth, I think of her.
Tommy Gun had a mother but only for a few hours. No one ever told him where she went. He traveled with his father and the bear. He slept beside the bear, but I don’t believe him. But if I ask him he growls. He dances on his hind legs, turning. His father had a beard and watery eyes. Tommy Gun wasn’t sorry to see him go.
Both Tommy Gun and I have boxes where we keep our secret things. In mine I have a small clock with no hands from the mantel of my parents’ house and a ceramic dog that didn’t break. I have a wedding ring that isn’t gold and a lock of my mother’s hair that somebody cut off and stuck with my things. Tommy Gun has a deck of cards, an old picture of two people he says were his parents, and a brass ring that he claims came from the bear’s nose. But I’m not sure he knows where he got any of those things.
At recess I sit by the swings. Tommy Gun gets out as well because the whole school has recess at the same time. As he’s walking up to me to say hi, Jello says some trash under his breath. Tommy Gun rises up, his wandering eye way back in his head, and he gives Jello a shove. Jello laughs and taunts him again. Tommy Gun looks my way as I mouth the word, “Don’t.” Shaking his head, Tommy Gun walks away.
After school in the early evening, we go to the hideout. It’s a stormy sky and I’m looking for weather. I can spend hours, staring at the sky, watching the darkness to descend upon the land. But there’s light on the horizon. I imagine that out of the swirl the past will reassemble itself and life will go on as it did before. But I am luckless in this regard.
People say I can’t remember my mother, but I do. They say you can’t remember anything until you can talk. Only words make memories. But it’s not so. I don’t only remember her because my grandparents showed me pictures of her when she was a girl in a canoe and when she married my daddy and my aunts and uncles told me stories. There are other things too. Flashes like lightning erupt in my head. The smell of Tide, the slant of her back when she ironed. The porch where we sipped sweetened tea and the back of a pick-up truck. The dog who smelled like rainy days. At night when my eyes are closed, but before I drift off, little pieces come back, floating like the shape of clouds.
Tommy Gun says he doesn’t remember his mother. He’s not sure he ever saw her. Maybe she died when he was born. Or maybe she died with her next birth and they buried her with the baby between her legs. He heard that’s what they did when it was a mother and child. Maybe his father stole him, then joined a troupe of gypsies with the dancing bear. Tommy Gun doesn’t know the difference between a story and what’s true. He tells lies like they happened. But I’ve got a memory like a vault and it’s been locked up since I was two.
The next day Jello’s sitting at his desk, fondling that rabbit’s foot. When recess is called, he’s the first to leave. He dashes out the door into the cloak room, then out into the playground. I’m writing a story about a snowflake that I want to put some finishing touches on so I head out a little late. I’m in the cloakroom, putting on my coat, when my eyes catch sight of something green. A shamrock? An oak leaf? Stooping down, I pick it up. Jello must have dropped it in his rush to get out the door. It's softer than I’d imagined. And I like the way its toes have little nails. Still I'm not sure why someone wants to hold on to the foot of a dead thing, let alone paint it green, but it’s nice to touch it with my fingers.
I slip it into my pocket, then I go outside.
There's a dodge ball game and I join in. I kick the ball for a while as Jello is patting his pockets. Next he’s scouring the playground on his hands and knees. “Hey,” he calls out to no one in particular, “Anyone seen my rabbit’s foot?” The bell rings and we go back into the classroom. Jello drags himself in and slumps into his seat. He's sitting there for a minute or two before I see him raise the lid of his desk and slip his hand in. He's feeling around and pretty soon he starts asking, "You seen my rabbit's foot? Hey did you take my rabbit's foot?"
Everyone shakes their head, raises palms to the sky. He's desperate. He's got that burning look in his eyes. In my pocket I run my fingers over its sharp little claws.
After school Tommy Gun’s waiting for me on the playground. I think about showing him the rabbit’s foot but then decide against it. Who knows what Tommy Gun might do? Besides I’m going to give it back to Jello. First I’m going to make him beg. He’ll come to recognize my power. The days are getting shorter so we’ve got less time. We go right to work on my kick. Tommy Gun holds up objects and I’m supposed to smash them with my feet. He holds up two pine cones. “Pretend these are Jello’s cajones,” he says. And I kick them to kingdom come.
When we’re done with the kick practice, he takes out a cigarette from the pack he stole last week from the deli. Tommy Gun always smokes one when we’re at the hideout. Never anywhere else. When he smokes, he looks at me with those clear blue eyes as if he’s going to sleep. I take a drag as well. We settle down on to the ground where I lean against his hips. I cuddle beside him, shivering even though it’s warm. He runs his finger across the jagged edge of my scar. Long after he’s forgotten my face, he’ll remember the scar.
I let my hand rest on his thigh. My button breasts ache, but he moves as if he has to shift his legs and my hand slips away. How can I explain it to him? I long for arms. I can’t find the food I like.
All day I watch the sky. When the wind comes, I believe it will carry me away. Meanwhile Tommy is searching for a dancing bear. We lost children know what the rest of the world can not. We are all just a heart beat away from alone.
The next day Jello’s staring at the floor. On the bus, at school. Out on the playground he’s walking in circles with his eyes to the ground, thinking maybe somehow he dropped it. He looks shrunken like the air’s come out of a balloon. “I helps if you think backwards,” I say.
He looks at me and glares. “Mind your business, Sally,” he snaps. He looks under the swings and the slide. Under the benches that line the playground. He’s like a hound with a scent. He can’t let go. I decide that now is the time to give it back. I’m standing under the old sugar maple in the schoolyard when I stoop down, pretending I’ve just discovered something. Like a magician I let the rabbit’s foot slip down my sleeve. “Hey,” I say, holding it up. Jello stares at me, then at the puke-green rabbit's foot.
"It was right here. On the ground.”
At first he's grateful, then his face twists. I can see him thinking. “I already looked there.” He snatches the foot out of my hand. "You took it, you liar."
"I did not..."
"Yes, you did, and you're a liar." he says. His cherry pie face is turning a brighter shade of red.
"I found it."
But Jello is wilier than I’d thought. He knows I’ve had it for a while. "You're a dirty girl," he says. "And you're going to get it. You're going to get the dirty girl treatment."
"I found it," I say. "Aren't you going to say thank you?" But Jello is walking away.
The next day I don't want to go to school. I have no idea what the dirty girl treatment is and I don’t want to know. I spent the previous night imagining all sort of things that you never really want to think about. I can’t tell Auntie Ro, but I really don't want to go. "I'm sick," I say and she puts her hand to my brow.
"Get dressed," she tells me. "If you're still sick at lunch time, call me and I'll get you," and she leaves me alone.
It is a cool, gray day of fall as we get on the bus. I hide behind Tommy Gun who finds us seats near the front. In class Jello scowls at me. He's fingering his rabbit's foot now. Running his finger over it, caressing its dead little claws. He rubs it against his cheek and smiles at me, but it is not a nice smile. When the recess bell rings, I ask Miss Partlow if I can stay inside. I've suddenly developed an interest in Egypt. The pyramids, the Sphinx. But Miss Partlow tells me to run along. "Little girls shouldn't stay inside."
I put on my coat. There's a vestibule between the inside door and the outside door. I huddle here and start to cry because I'm scared. I don’t know what they’re going to do to me. Rub filthy things in my hair? Touch me in places that Auntie Ro says are only mine. I'm never going to go outside again. I don't go the next day and the day after that. When Tommy Gun asks why he doesn’t see me, I tell him I’m working on a new mobile – for China this time. I tell him about the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. I feel badly. It’s the only time to Tommy Gun that I’ll lie. But on the third day Miss Partlow finds me, hiding in a corner, and she says, "Sally, you can't stay here. If something's wrong you should tell me, but you need to go outside and play."
It's dodge ball again and I join in. I give the ball a few whacks. My kick has improved since I’ve been training in the martial arts. I’m feeling pretty sure of myself, not watching my back, and suddenly Jello and his thugs get the ball. The boys, the three of them, surround me, and before I can do anything, before I can stop them or shout or cry out for help, they’re grabbing my skirt and lifting it into the air. They pull it high above my head and they hold it there. It is a breezy day and the wind takes care of the rest. A cold breeze blows between my naked legs. Only a pair of white cotton panties covers my shame. I hear laughter as they run off. It's drizzling out and there’s moisture on my legs. Cold is all around me. My skirt like a parachute floats down. In the distance the bell rings. It seems very far away. It rings over and over like a church bell as I shiver in the rain.
Then I hear a grizzly bear roar and Tommy Gun is on Jello, fists flying. There’s all kinds of screaming and commotion like a dog fight and I jump in too. I lay a kick somewhere and hear a groan. More and more kids are piling on until the teachers come rushing, pulling us away. As quickly as it began the fighting stops and one by one the kids peel away until at the bottom all that’s left is Tommy Gun who’s still pounding Jello in the face. Jello's on the ground, blood running down his nose, sniveling and shaking like the big fat baby we knew he was. Tommy Gun leaps up, turns, and before anyone can catch him, disappears into the woods.
I know where Tommy Gun’s going and I follow. No one tries to stop me. They’re all fussing over the cry baby. I can hear his wailing as I race through the woods. Behind me Miss Partlow and Mr. Anderson, the principal, are yelling something, but I’m moving farther into the forest and before anyone bothers to come after me, I’m gone. I’m not sure which way he went, but I’m an Indian scout, and I’ll follow. I look for footprints, broken twigs, anything to indicate that he’s blazed a trail. Instead I’m getting lost in the maze of bushes and trees. I’m sure he’s heading to the hideout, but I’m turned around. After a while I don’t know where I am. I’m going in circles, calling his name, but the woods don’t make much sense and I could lose myself for a very long time.
It’s getting late. In an hour or so I’ll be under a sky of darkness and stars will fall on my head. I’m huddled in some bushes when Tommy Gun finds me, crying in the woods. He crouches down and looks in my face. With his thumb he wipes away a tear. “Come on, little girl. I’ll take you home.”
He leads me by the hand out of the woods to a back road. Once we’re on the road, I know where I am. As we come up the drive to Auntie Ro’s, we see Mr. Osmond’s car parked out front. We sneak onto the porch. They’re hunched over the kitchen table, whispering. I’ve heard those whispers before. We head to the barn and hide in a stall until Mr. Osmond drives away.
It’s almost dark, but I don’t care. We make a dash for the hideout. Sitting on the ground, we don’t want to play the superhero game and we don’t want to play remember. We crouch against a tree and I nestle in his arms. I whisper that he is my first great love but I say it in a made-up language that even Tommy Gun can’t understand.
In the morning the house is still in a way it hasn’t been before. It’s not the quiet of sleep. It’s more like someone got old overnight. I check the bedrooms where there’s nothing to find, then go downstairs. Before Auntie Ro has time to stop me, I race to the hideout. I thought he’d leave a note. Even in code. Some hint to where he’s going next. He wouldn’t write it on paper. He’d put it in leaves or carve it into a tree.
But I don’t find a thing. I like to think he didn’t have time. I hope he finds his bear. Auntie Ro will say it’s better this way. Tommy Gun needs special care. I go back to the house where she’s watching me through the screen door. I don’t say anything. I sit on the porch and wait for the storm.