A Different Blue Page 11

One day I arrived home to find my social worker waiting for me outside. She told me they had found my father. She and Cheryl both turned toward me when I approached the apartment. Cheryl was blowing huge smoke rings, and I remember marveling at her “talent” before I saw the expression on her face, the tight look around her eyes and the down-turned mouth of the social worker. And I knew. A hiker had been climbing around in a crevice, and had seen something below, wedged deep into the bottom of the crevice, and somewhat protected from the elements and the animals who would surely have scattered his remains. The rock climber thought it looked like human remains. He had called the authorities who sent in a team. Jimmy's remains were brought up a few days later. He had fallen from a significant height. Had the fall killed him, or had he been unable to climb up out of the crevice? His wallet was in the pocket of his pants, which was how they had known it was him. Mystery solved. Hope dashed.

After the social worker left, I went into my room and laid on my bed. I looked around the room that I always kept tidy and impersonal. I had never considered it my room. It was Cheryl's place, and I was staying with Cheryl. I still had the snake I'd been working on the day Jimmy disappeared. I had kept the pieces that he hadn't yet sold or completed and they were pushed in the corner, collecting dust. The tools were shoved under my bed. And that was all that remained of Jimmy Echohawk's life, and all that remained of my life . . . before. Dark descended on the apartment and still I lay, staring at the ceiling and the brown water-mark that faintly resembled a lumbering elephant. I had named the water-mark Dolores and even talked to her periodically. As I stared, Dolores started to blur and grow, like one of those spongey things that expand when you put them in water. It took me a moment to realize that I was crying, that it was not Dolores who was floating away, it was me. Floating, floating, away.

Something slid down my cheek and splattered on my arm, and I shook myself, looking down in surprise where my arms framed the page Wilson had positioned in front of me. I ducked my head and grabbed my purse, surreptitiously blotting the moisture from my face. I grabbed my compact, checking my eye makeup for tell-tale streaks. What in the hell had gotten into me?! Crying in history class? I threw my purse down and gripped my pencil, determined to be done with the assignment.

“Once upon a time there was a little blackbird, pushed from the nest, unwanted. Discarded. Then a Hawk found her and swooped her up and carried her away, giving her a home in his nest, teaching her to fly. But one day the Hawk didn't come home, and the little bird was alone again, unwanted. She wanted to fly away.”

I stopped writing, remembering. I waited until Cheryl left for work and then I went into the bathroom and filled the tub. I stripped off my clothes and sunk beneath the surface refusing to think about Cheryl finding me, seeing me naked. My body had started to change and show signs of maturity, and the thought of anyone seeing my privates was almost enough to make me change my mind about what I was determined to do. I forced my mind up and beyond the dumpy bathroom with the peeling paint and the dirty linoleum. I willed myself to fly away like the hawk I had seen the day Jimmy disappeared. It had come into the camp and sat on a branch of the scrubby pine just above my head. I had held my breath, watching him as he watched me. I hadn't dared move. Jimmy had told me hawks were special messengers. I had wondered what message he was bringing me. Now I knew. He was telling me Jimmy was gone. My lungs screamed, demanding that I lift my face from the bath water, but I ignored the pain. I was going to float away like the star maiden in my favorite story. I was going to drift up into the sky world and dance with the other star maidens. Maybe I would see Jimmy again.

Suddenly, I was being pulled from the water by my hair and flopped on the bathroom floor. My back was being slapped repeatedly. I coughed and sputtered, plummeting back to the earth.

“What the hell, kid!? You scared the shit outta me!! What are you tryin' to do? Did you fall asleep in there? Holy hell! I thought you were dead!” Cheryl's boyfriend Donnie was crouched beside me. Suddenly his eyes were everywhere, and he ceased his babbling. I drew my legs up, covering myself as I scooted to the narrow space between the toilet and the cheap vanity. He watched me go.

“You okay?” he eased closer.

“Get out, Donnie,” I ordered, but the coughing that wracked me weakened my demand.

“Just tryin' to help you, kid.” Donnie was peering at the length of my wet legs, which was all he could see at the moment. But he had seen it all when he pulled me from the bath water. I made myself as small as possible, my long black hair sticking to me in stringy clumps, providing little cover.

“Come on, little girl,” Donnie cajoled. “You think I'm interested in your skinny legs? Sheee-it! You look like a little drowned bird.” He stood up and grabbed a towel and handed it to me, walking out of the bathroom with a heavy sigh, an indication of how ridiculous he thought I was. I wrapped myself in the towel but stayed pressed into the corner. I was suddenly too tired to move. I was too tired to even be afraid of Donnie.

I thought I heard him talking to someone. Maybe he had called Cheryl. She wouldn't be pleased. They would have had to call her off the casino floor. I was forbidden to call her at work. I leaned my head against the cabinet and closed my eyes. I would just sleep here. I would wait for Donnie to leave, and then I would get back in the tub where it was warm and I could float away once more.

The bell rang. I threw my pencil down gratefully and grabbed my purse, abandoning the assignment as if it were burning me.

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