Every Good Deed
by Lou-Ellen Barkan
Walking to work on a steaming July morning, I caught a whiff of Myrna sitting in her beach chair on the corner of Madison and 75th.
“Lookin’ good, baby,” she called out. She was wearing a blue ski jacket and matching hat with a yellow pompom. “Lost a few pounds?”
“Good eye,” I said. Myrna put her hand out, and I handed her a five.
“Thanks, sweetheart.” She blew me a kiss. “Have a good one.”
Mission accomplished; I called my grandmother and announced my good deed for the day. When I was six, she planted the idea that good deeds make good things happen. Once I knew there was something in it for me, I was all in.
This explains why I missed Hamilton’s opening curtain after helping a homeless guy cross Broadway against the light. And why I waited for an ambulance with a kid who slipped on black ice. I once wrote a check to a woman whose holiday presents were stolen from the local toy store. I wasn’t exactly rolling in cash at that time, so I gave myself extra points.
My husband, Michael, thought I would be better off minding my own business, but I thought my adventures made life interesting. Something my son, Tony, learned in 1984.
That summer, Tony was nineteen and working on a construction crew to get into shape for college football. Each evening after work, we met for a run in the park. One warm evening, I stopped mid-run to catch my breath and noticed a crowd gathered around two police officers examining a man lying still on a park bench. A short, slim woman in dark blue shorts and a white tee was kneeling next to the bench holding the man’s hand. Beside her, a small boy, about seven or eight, was standing quietly. His shorts and shirt were just slightly too big for him. One sneaker was unlaced.
A growing crowd was quiet as emergency techs arrived and set a wheeled stretcher in front of the bench. They spoke briefly to one of the officers before bending down to examine the man. One of the officers turned to the crowd.
“Folks,” he called out. “Anyone speak French?”
No one responded.
“French,” he repeated. “If you speak French, please raise your hand.”
I raised my hand. Actually, I don’t speak French or any foreign language, which I consider to be a major gap in my education. To make up for this deficit, I resolved that my children would speak a second language and enrolled them in a French school. Michael was amused, but not resistant. Twenty years later, he was impressed. The children were fluent, and Michael had improved his French, although mine remained hopeless.
As the officer walked over to join me, the techs loaded the patient onto the stretcher.
“My son speaks French,” I said.
“Is he here, Ma’am?”
“I see him coming,” I said, just as Tony walked over.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Son,” the officer said, “Your mom says you speak French.”
The officer pointed to the man on the stretcher. “We’re taking that guy to the hospital. His wife needs to come with us. She’s the boy’s stepmother.”
“How can we help?” I asked.
“Social Services is on the way to pick up the boy,” the officer continued. "Once they take over, we'll take the wife to the hospital. Problem is, the boy doesn’t speak English, and the stepmom doesn’t speak French. We need someone to explain all this to the kid.”
“Really?” I asked. “Social Services?”
“Until she can pick him up.”
“He'll be terrified.”
“Can’t be helped, Ma’am.” He turned to Tony. “You can translate?”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Can I talk to the stepmother?”
“Make it quick.” The officer waved her over as the techs wheeled the loaded stretcher down the stairs. The woman and boy walked toward us holding hands.
“So sorry about your husband,” I said.
“I’m Robert’s stepmother, Sophie Dubois.” She pulled a tissue from her pocket and wiped the boy’s eyes. “He arrived last night from Brussels. First trip to the states.”
“We live just a few blocks away," I said. "And my son speaks French. We could take him to our place until you can pick him up.” While I’m talking, I'm thinking that no one is letting us take this perfectly strange kid home, so I’m surprised when Sophie nods.
“That would be so helpful.” I saw relief on her face. “Robert’s only eight.”
A few minutes later, we had exchanged business cards, phone numbers, and addresses and looked to the officer for approval to leave.
“Stay in touch," he said, handing us his card. “Call me if there are problems. I'll let social services know where the boy is staying.” He walked to the top of the steps and waited for Sophie to join him.
Sophie knelt and took Robert’s hands in hers. “I need to get to the hospital.” She pulled a tissue from her pocket, wiped Robert’s face and kissed his cheek. “Tony and his mom will take good care of you. I’ll pick you up as soon as I can.”
She looked up at Tony. “Can you translate?”
Tony nodded, got down on his knees and placed one hand on Robert’s shoulder. He spoke slowly and Robert nodded, tears rolling down his cheeks. Sophie hugged him and followed the officer down the stairs. The crowd began to disperse.
Tony put his Yankee cap on Robert and we each took one of his hands. We walked out of the park to find an ice cream truck and bought extra-large soft cones, a guarantee that at least half our treat would end up on our shirts. The upside was the smile we got from Robert when Tony drew chocolate moustaches on our faces. By the time we got home, Robert’s tears had dried.
As we approached our front door, I remembered I had forgotten my keys. I rang the bell and waited a couple of minutes before I heard Michael’s footsteps. Robert was holding the Yankee cap in his hand.
Michael opened the door, looked down and his eyes widened. “Have we met?” he asked and reached out to shake Robert’s hand.
Robert extended his hand. “Robert,” he said, rolling his r’s. “Je m'appelle Robert Dubois.”
“Bonsoir, Robert. Ravi de vous rencontrer,” Michael said, testing the limits of his French. “Lovely to meet you.”
Michael held the door open and followed us into the front hall.
“Why don’t you take Robert to the den?” I said. “I’ll order a pizza and call you when it shows up.”
We heard the TV go on and the familiar voices of Yankee announcers.
“So.” Michael raised his eyebrows. “Even for you, this is a new one. You left with one son and returned with two. I’m assuming there’s a story here.”
By the time I finished explaining, Michael was wearing his prosecutor hat.
“Can I see the stepmother’s card?”
I took Sophie's card out of my pocket and handed it to him. He examined it, front and back, and passed it back.
“Hope this is for real.”
“She’ll be back.” I sat down on the hall chair and took off my running shoes. “I need a shower. Would you call for pizza? And listen for the phone?”
“You understand if she doesn’t come back, we turn him over to social services.”
“Go shower,” Michael said. “I’ll call you if anything happens.”
An hour later, we were eating pizza and watching Tony teach Robert how to play baseball. Robert, still wearing the Yankee cap, had eaten two pieces of pizza, his napkin tucked neatly into one of Tony’s Yankee shirts.
After dinner, the boys went back to the game. I joined Michael in the living room where he went to work on his brief. I tried to focus on notes for my morning meeting, checking my watch every few minutes. One hour passed. Then two. By eleven o'clock, I was starting to worry. Maybe Sophie wouldn't return. After all, she wasn’t Robert’s mother. What if something happened to his father? What if he had, God forbid, died? Why hadn’t I bothered to get his name? Was it Dubois? Would Robert know how to contact his mother? In Brussels? What was her name? What was I thinking? I poured myself a glass of wine.
At eleven fifteen, Michael stood up to stretch, checked his watch and frowned. “I’ll go shower. Let me know if she calls.”
The phone rang at midnight.
“It's Sophie," she said. "So sorry I didn’t call earlier, but there was paperwork and I had to make sure Andre was settled.”
“How is he?”
“They think it was some form of epilepsy. He'll be home tomorrow. More tests next week.”
“Great news.” I said as Michael walked into the room. I gave him a thumbs up. “No rush to get here. Robert's a great kid. He had pizza and watched a Yankee game.”
Twenty minutes later, Sophie and I walked into the den. Robert and Tony were sitting on the floor playing poker. Robert was wearing the Yankee cap and shirt and holding a baseball in a small leather catcher’s mitt. Colored poker chips were spread out on the floor along with an empty package of M&Ms and two coke cans.
“Robert,” Sophie said. “Papa is okay. He’ll be home tomorrow.” She looked at Tony.
“Papa va bien,” Tony gave Robert a high five. “Il rentre demain.”
Holding the glove tightly, Robert stood up.
“Time to go,” Sophie motioned to Robert to join her. He took off the Yankee cap and baseball glove, walked back and handed them to Tony.
When he reached out to shake Tony’s hand, Tony smiled and put the cap back on Robert’s head and the glove on his hand. He handed him the baseball, book, deck of cards, and a handful of poker chips.
“Maintenant, tu es un vrai Yankee,” Tony smiled. "Now, you are a real Yankee.”
As he started to stand, Robert put both arms around Tony. “Merci,” he said. “Merci beaucoup.”
We walked to the front door and Robert waved goodbye. I turned to see Michael holding the door for us.
“Well done," he said and closed the door. “All those years of French paid off.”
Tony laughed. “Are you kidding? That was hard."
“Why? Your French was great. You were chatting all night.”
“Sure,” Tony said. “About baseball.”
We followed Tony into the kitchen. He poured a glass of water and took a long sip. “You want to talk about Sartre, or the French revolution. In French, I can discuss Dumas. Camus. You name it. I can talk about it.”
“So, what’s the problem?” Michael asked.
“You hear any baseball players' names on that list? Any idea how to describe a shortstop, a steal, rules of the game? In French.”
We started to laugh. “Oh, my God,” I said. “I never thought of that.”
“Three outs. Baseball statistics. Player’s positions.”
“Grandma would be proud,” I kissed Tony on the cheek.
“Thank you.” Tony smiled. “I’m wiped. I’m going to bed.’
“Bonne nuit,” Michael said.
The following afternoon, a bouquet of flowers arrived with a note.
"Dear Friends, Thank you for your kindness to Robert. He announced that he is a real New Yorker and plans to play baseball for the Yankees. He is teaching Andre the players’ positions and rules of the game. He will never forget his first visit to the United States. We are forever grateful. With much affection, Robert, Sophie, and Andre."
The rest of the summer passed quickly. We never heard from the Dubois family again and, within a week, we had stopped talking about it. Michael’s case had become all consuming. I got a promotion, which meant longer hours at the office. And Tony. He had his best season.
I Love My Son Wildly
by Barbara Rady Kazdan
Jake’s about to exchange wedding vows with Anna. He’s happy. I’m thrilled. And wondering . . . how will this affect our relationship, the bond we share?
An invitation’s exuberant “A Votre Santé, Anna and Jake!” prompted me to RSVP an enthusiastic “Yes” for an engagement party in Anna’s hometown. Then Jake emailed, “We’ll be sharing an Airbnb with Anna’s sister and her husband. There’s a third bedroom. Want to join?”
Yes again! More than welcome—I’m included. Flight plans made, while wondering how I’d get from the airport to the small town destination, Jake texted, “We’ll pick you up at the airport Friday and drop you off Sunday.” On my travel day he came to the airport alone so we’d have time together before the festivities.
What’s the definition of visceral? Because each time we walked together that weekend, he reached out and took my hand. And each time a jolt of love struck my heart.
Surprise! At midlife, the news that our family of four was about to become five evoked my whole-hearted delight but my husband Dan’s reservations. A CPA, Dan had carefully calculated our financial future, including college expenses for our nine and ten-year-old daughters. A third child? He hesitated. But a new life was growing inside me, rousing my instant love and fierce protection. Our daughters? Over the moon! Dan caught the wave of our excitement. He welcomed our new baby, fathered him enthusiastically, and expanded his parenting role when Jake entered school and I re-entered the workforce. But by Jake’s 10th birthday his father had retreated from the working world and from fulsome engagement in Jake’s life.
As we left the parents’ meeting about our eldest daughter’s approaching commencement proceedings, I said, “Can you believe we have a child graduating from high school?”
He said, “What I can’t believe is we’ll be attending these parents’ meetings for another 10 years.”
With our daughters away at college, this man, whose bright destiny had flamed out at 40, gave up on his career and on fathering his son. So it was mom, not dad, cheering from the stands at Jake’s softball games, buying his first jockstrap, taking him and a friend fishing, and more.
“Catch!” Jake would appear in the doorway to my room, tossing a football to me. Or he would ask, “Want to watch a movie?” In our house I was his go-to playmate—his sisters were in college, his dad unavailable. I never said no. And I loved it.
During school vacations, the two of us began taking our version of family trips, without his stuck-in-a-Barcalounger Dad. We traveled by car from Houston to the Rocky Mountains and to a dude ranch in Texas, by plane to our nation’s capital, then by train to visit his sister at UPenn and take in Philadelphia’s historic sites—banking memories for withdrawal throughout our lives. “I can see him casting a line into the sky-reflecting water in Dillon, Colorado, the mountains surrounding us, holding up his silvery catch while I snapped pictures. The best French Toast ever? “Raton, New Mexico!”
In his senior year of high school, over dinner I mentioned, “A colleague offered me his time-share in Kauai the last week in December.”
“We’re going!” Jake exclaimed. Weeks later he was plunging into the surf on a pristine Hawaiian beach and tasting sushi for the first time. Wherever we were Jake lightened each day with his humor and heightened my experiences with his exuberance. “C’mon,” he said, taking my hand as I warily negotiated each scary step on a narrow staircase of slimy, skinny logs with steep drops on each side, winding down to a secluded beach. Only Jake could get his risk-averse, 50-plus, city-bred, suburban-coddled mom to follow his lead. It was worth it. A private little paradise: white sand, gorgeous fruit-laden foliage, exotic birds swooping overhead, Jake yelling “Look!” as he jumped the waves in glistening aquamarine waters. These moments, and so many others, would fill a treasure chest of incalculable value that we carry in our shared memory.
Those trips continued from Jake’s early adolescence through his twenties, thirties, and beyond—driving the Old Natchez Trace from Mississippi to Nashville; traveling by train from Vancouver to Banff, and taking side trips to San Francisco, Big Sur while he worked in northern California. More recently we met in Manhattan and then in Maine, discovering these distinctly different, equally delightful destinations.
Why would a young, now middle-aged man want to travel with his mom? Were there equal shares of sustaining the bond between us, enjoying each other’s company, brightening my life, and filling in for her husband who wouldn’t, then couldn’t, share her wanderlust? Then, widowed, suddenly I was single, like Jake. With his sisters now busy moms, Jake stepped up to travel with me, always asking, “Where should we go next?”
While engaged and enthralled with his bride-to-be, we snatched times together in quick bursts: a mother-son getaway to the Santa Ynez mountains after an L.A. visit; breakfast through lunch during a “meet-her-family” visit; and that long ride from the airport before the engagement party. On every visit I know Jake and I will carve out some “us time,” and the three of us will travel together as well. After meeting Anna’s relatives in France, he said, “Her mom showed us places that were important to her—her school, the house she grew up in . . . We’d like to do a trip like that with you in Chicago.”
A lifetime ago I held his hand when he was gaining his footing in the world. Since coming into his own he’s held mine, gently steadying me, signaling, “I’m here for you,” always coaxing me, “C’mon, try it, it’ll be fun!” We laugh together, challenge each other at Scrabble, find pleasure in whatever we’re doing and wherever we go.
I stand at the precipice of old age. At 37, he’s crossing the threshold to married life. Taking my hand now? A promise of enduring connection and devotion.
by Maggie Iribarne
“It’s not what it looks like,” Ingrid said to Jeremy as the two eighth-graders stood outside Ingrid’s small brick house after their usual walk from school. They made their customary trade of her completed social studies homework for his completed math. All the while, Jeremy kept looking back at her house and yard.
Slightly taller than the teens, an army of blow-up hearts formed a defensive line across the front edge of the lawn, waving in the breeze. Inside the fortress, dead center of the lawn, eye-level inflatable Mickey and Minnie Mouses linked their puffy hands. To the right of the mice, another blow up, an electrified light-up snow globe bursting with pink hearts. To the left, Betty Boop held an oversized heart-shaped box of chocolates. The house itself was strewn with cut-out heart bunting, every window covered with different Valentine images—Cupids and bouquets of roses and silhouettes of couples kissing and Snoopy's hugging hearts. Speechless, Jeremy wandered away without as much as a goodbye.
Ingrid waited next to Jeremy’s locker. As he approached, her eye caught his and she smiled, to which he forced a similar expression. He knew people liked it when you smiled at them, or so his mother said. Jeremy noted that Ingrid wore a red turtleneck and her nubby fingernails gripping her English binder were painted a rather garish pink.
“Oh!” Ingrid said, noticing Jeremy noticing the nails. “I borrowed the nail polish.” Her face turned about as red as her nails.
“It’s really pink,” he said—all he could think of.
“Yes.” Ingrid looked down at her dirty white sneakers and then thrust her hand into her homework folder, pulling out a small red envelope which she pushed on top of Jeremy’s book pile. “Here,” she said, turning and walking away.
“Seems Ingrid Patterson gave you a Valentine,” his mother said, placing the rumpled envelope beside Jeremy’s cereal bowl. He removed the card which read Please Bee Mine! Ingrid. A bee flew around a heart-shaped flower.
Jeremy smiled a small smile. Then, feeling his mother’s eyes on him, an unexpected heat rose to his cheeks.
“Are you good friends with Ingrid?” his mother asked. Jeremy never told his mother about any friends, because he didn’t have any, and she never asked.
Was Ingrid his friend?
“I help her with her homework,” he said.
“Ah, I see. That’s nice,” his mother said, moving away from the table, calling back, “Those Pattersons are pretty strange.” With that sentence, Jeremy snapped into focus, conjuring Ingrid’s tangled hair, dirty sneakers, and the heaps of Valentine decorations on her house and in her yard.
“Strange how?” Jeremy asked his mother.
“Strange like not someone to be friends with strange,” his mother said, smiling her stiff, controlling smile, an expression Jeremy knew well.
His mother gave him her looser, ecstatic, my-son-might-go-to-MIT smile the next morning when Jeremy lied, telling her he joined the robotics club that met before school.
“Well, that’s wonderful, honey,” she said. “ I’ll get your breakfast.”
As he walked to the market, Jeremy thought about the place Ingrid held in his life. Without her, there would be no one at his locker when he left homeroom. Without her, he would eat alone. Without her, he’d have to spend countless hours filling in questions for social studies. Without her, he’d leave school alone. And now, without her, he would not have received one, single Valentine.
They usually didn’t see each other until after homeroom. She would not be expecting him. Jeremy grasped the knocker, pulling it up and down to bang bang bang on the door. Finally, he heard footsteps and someone yell Shut up! He jumped when the door opened and a haggard looking woman with pink lipstick and a stained robe opened up.
“Who’re you?” She burped.
Jeremy noted the wall of stacked newspapers and boxes piled up behind the woman, taking up all the space in what would normally be a front hall. “I’m, uh, is Ingrid—”
“Huh? Ah!” the woman held a cigarette up to her lips and took a long drag. Before the smoke was entirely exhaled, Ingrid appeared, pushing past with all her might, not acknowledging the woman Jeremy assumed was her mother.
“There’s my Miss Priss,” the woman said, laughing.
Ingrid’s face turned red. The door slammed behind her.
Jeremy, a little out of breath, held the plant with both hands, feeling the weight of his backpack. Ingrid’s eyes were watery, her eyebrows furrowed.
“That’s what I meant,” she said.
“The decorations, all the hearts and flowers. Love. La La.” She rolled her eyes. “That’s,” she nodded at her house, “not what it looks like.”
“Oh,” Jeremy said. “This is for you.” He handed her the plant, a violet.
“Wow. I love it. I absolutely love it,” Ingrid said, sniffling.
Jeremy turned toward school, prompting her to follow.
Later, after he went home to his neat as a pin house, after he let himself in through the side door, after finding his usual tomato sandwich on whole wheat his mother left in a Tupperware box in the fridge, after he watched his allotted episode of The Mandalorian, and after he went upstairs to his room to do his homework and read his PCs For Dummies book, he thought about the cold exterior, the emptiness of his own house, and how it really was how it looked.
Jeremy sighed. He thought of Ingrid’s messy house, how she sprouted from that mess a beautiful flower. He hoped she could find a nice place to keep the violet he gave her, some small place where the sun shone through.
by Lucy Zhang
When you hit puberty, you’re supposed to turn into a human. Because I am the older sibling, I have to take care of Bao’s litter box and change out his feed of gochujang-glazed salmon. Mom gave birth to Bao six years after me, and Bao seems to be a late bloomer because even though I turned human at twelve, he’s still his tabby cat at fourteen. Mom worries Bao will never turn, but she always thinks the worst when things deviate from her expectations. It was because I ate too much crab guts, she despairs. She’s referring to the yellow creamy part of the crab, the hepatopancreas which supposedly contains mercury and PCBs and other cancerous toxins. And because I nearly drowned in the ocean after your dad brought us to the beach. He doesn’t understand that we don't like being submerged in water. But there’s not much we can do about Bao being a cat, and Bao is already ashamed and we don’t want to make him feel worse. We try to treat him the same as we treat each other so he isn’t left out, but it’s hard because we have to keep him indoors so he isn’t struck by the crazy Toyota Camry we see streaking down the road every few weeks. The neighbor’s ragdoll kitty was mowed over last year, and we avoided that road for two months until we were sure the body had been removed and fur washed away. But Bao can still eat most of what we eat, although mom worries he doesn’t get the right macronutrient ratios and prefers cat food that has been through feeding trials and stamped with the approval of some official-sounding pet feed association. Mom works at a pharmaceutical company and knows the whole process of getting a drug FDA approved. She’s a stickler for clinical testing, strict evaluation of protocols, and evidence-based assessments. Which is why every day that Bao remains a cat, mom panics a bit more.
I’m not too worried, though. Bao and I get along, and I figure if Bao never becomes human, I’ll just take care of him. House cats only live for twelve to fifteen years, so I’m more than capable of providing for him for the rest of his life. Bao mostly stays in my room and likes to rub his face against my feet while I’m running simulations for cars handling pedestrians who think it’s ok to cross when the light flashes red. I work on ensuring statistical realism by creating realistic conditions for the self-driving cars, which is to say, I recreate raindrops and solar glares and wind and missing cats, and even though it’s a simulation, I indulge in the power trip of building a world where cats never get run over. Most of the time, Bao lies under my desk near my feet and the heating vent. He’s not too active. Most of us weren’t when we were cats. I like to secretly feed him cold chunks of cantaloupe when I can sneak fruit to my room. Bao loves them, although mom freaks out when Bao has fructose or anything high carb.
Dad is in denial. I can’t blame him. I’m impressed he didn’t run away after I popped out of mom’s vagina as a slimy kitten. Fortunately, he likes animals and pinned his trust on mom’s reassurances that I’d become human eventually. He ended up switching to a job in Taiwan claiming the money was too good to resist. Mom can see his payroll deposits in their shared bank account, so she knows he isn’t funneling money away in plans to disappear, and he comes home twice a year, but he can’t bear to look at Bao. Dad never says it, but he always wanted a son to play badminton with, build AM FM radios, teach to mow the lawn and add tire pressure. I rarely had time growing up—mom had signed me up for dance and singing and Chinese knotting classes, and even after I graduated, she decided it was her duty to ensure I learn to cook and clean properly. Dad avoids Bao, which is easy enough during the two weeks he’s back home from Taiwan, and Bao avoids dad too. Bao can tell when someone doesn’t want him around. Their encounters make the whole atmosphere awkward. I remember dad opening the door to my room to ask for the bag of dried jujube which I had hoarded in my desk, and he discovered Bao at my feet and froze. I tried to diffuse the situation by handing dad the jujubes, but his hand wouldn’t tighten around the bag as I attempted to place it in his arms. He’d become a statue. Bao had stood watching us, not knowing whether he should hide under the bed or stay with me to confront the situation. I had to lightly push dad until he stumbled out of my room.
It’s on a Wednesday that Bao goes missing. I am distracted by coworkers who don’t know how to compute dot products, so I don’t notice immediately. Mom says I get myopic when I’m angry, although I never admit I’m angry. After I send a code snippet which is really the entire algorithm I’ve implemented for them, I realize there’s no heavy mass of fluff warming my feet. I look under the bed first, because sometimes Bao prefers the dark during the day. Then I search in my closet which he rarely frequents, although occasionally if my heavy wool coat falls off the coathanger, he’ll form a bed to snuggle in. I search through the whole house. Mom asks me what I’m doing and I say I can’t find my credit card. I am beginning to think Bao escaped outside.
The last time Bao went outside was when I was fifteen and forgot to close the back door. Bao snuck out and into the yard where mom’s precious garden grew. She was growing bamboo, tomatoes, silk squash and garlic chives, and would tend to them every evening after dinner until late. I was often asleep before she returned to the house, but she didn’t spend the entire time caring for the vegetables. My room overlooked the backyard, and once when I stayed up late finishing calculus homework, I saw her sitting on the steel swivel chair facing the plants, eyes closed and head tilted to the sky. When Bao escaped to the backyard, mom discovered his disappearance first. She yelled at me for not noticing and told me I’ll never be a good wife and mother if I behaved like this. She ordered me to search the entire neighborhood for Bao, clutching a chunk of smoked salmon to lure him out. It was eight at night when I went outside to go searching. I returned at eleven, empty-handed and lightly scratched by tree branches and brambles from hidden corners that made good hiding spots, discovering Bao in mom’s lap as she sat facing the squashes and soaked up the orange glow of the moon.
Our neighborhood is fairly safe because mom and dad care more about the school district than the size of the house. And the places with good school districts tend to attract the richer families who set strict curfews for their children and only allowed their children to eat apple slices for a snack. We live in the smallest house on the street and can’t afford most of the embellishments on the other houses—fancier door trimmings, paneled walls, new shiny vinyl windows, grand entryways with neat porches decorated with cacti and flowers, paved driveways that I have never once seen cracked. Mom is under the delusion that Bao and I will become Nobel Prize winners or national leaders or CEOs of mega-corporations, which is why she tried to put me in the best schools and counted Bao’s macronutrients by the microgram. She thinks that hanging out with powerful people (and their children) will rub off on us and make up for our late start at being human. We rarely see our neighbors: they have the most high-tech security systems installed and plant ginormous trees at the border between lots for privacy. I’ve never seen their kids play outside. I’m also certain Bao could not have snuck into their yards or porches without an alarm going off, which means he must be roaming the streets.
I reach the edge of the neighborhood before I spot Bao playing with two kids, a boy and girl. The kids don’t look like they’re from around here. One of them wears overalls and the other an oversized t-shirt that reaches her knees. The girl dangles a piece of lemongrass and Bao pounces. Normally, Bao doesn’t participate in stupid games. He’s a smart cat who refuses to waste energy on tasks with no self benefits. I watch for several minutes as Bao jumps and pounces as the children laugh and take turns holding the strand of lemongrass. Then I near the kids and as they pause, I pick Bao up. Sorry, I say. This cat is mine. He’s a house cat. He’s not supposed to be outdoors. Bao is motionless in my arms and I feel his heart beating from all the running around. We’re not normally so active before puberty.
On the way back to the house, I hug Bao and nestle my face into his fur. I tell him I’ll sneak him a few pieces of cantaloupe tonight. I whisper sorry.