Chapter Twelve--Sun Roof

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A scary lady with a mask on her face takes my hand in her own, engulfing it with something stretched over her skin that's powder blue and isn't like skin.  I can feel the tears threatening to spill out onto my reddened cheeks as I whip around to get one last look at my mother.  She's standing there with a pretty white scarf and her waist-length hair whipping around her face in the wind.  From other moms I see, mom's that come in for other kids, mine's dress is too short and she's too dirty.

She doesn't look sad to say goodbye.  I don't know why she's leaving me with this scary lady with a mask on her face.  I want to go back to our home and lay on the floor with the blanket that has trains on it, what my mom said my dad sent us. I've never seen my dad, but she says he's nice.

  The lady pats my itchy hair with her stinky hand and I start bawling.  I don't like it here at all, with the air that smells like death and aliens everywhere. 

"Johnny.  Quit."  My mommy stoops down low and takes my sticky face in her calloused ones.  Her breath hits me like a spank--it smells like the powders and juices she hides under the sink and tells me to leave alone.

I open my mouth but I can't make anything come out.  It's hard for sound to get into my ears and impossible for it to leave me.  "John.  Stop!"  My bare feet kick at her because I want to go home.  I don't want to be here!  "You're so stupid!  Even if you had a freaking brain, you never use it!"  She doesn't know that I try.  I'm not stupid.  I'm not.  I'm not stupid.  I don't need to leave the room when other kids take tests, I don't need some dumb lady to read me the questions slowly.

"They're going to realize that you're blank and retarded, they're going to kill you, and then send me the bill.  Whatever."  Her words are low and sharp, too quiet for the scary lady with the mask to hear.  There are words on my mommy's skin that I have gotten into big trouble by writing.  That was before she decided that I was too stupid to go to school and my teachers called her to say I needed more help. I don't need more help.

Black smudges coat the skin underneath her eyes and bright red lipstick is smeared across her mean mouth but I love her.  I love her more than anything.  When she leaves for the night, I'm always safe.  She says that love doesn't exist because it's not true; it never truly happens.  But I know that it does.

"Mommy," I mouth slowly, dying for her to hear me.   I would give anything for her to hear me.  Her voice is beautiful--when she's talking to men.  High and lilty, teasing, advancing.  Not craggy, like when she's smoking fire sticks on the toilet.  The brown stain above it has been painted over so many times by her, perched on the dirty porcelain with my dirty toothbrush.  Dirty, dirty, dirty. 

"Oh, quit it!"  Her eyes squint shut because she says she doesn't like to look at me.  The grubby back of my hand reaches up to swipe the snot running over my mouth. 

"Miss Montgomery."  The scary lady says to my mommy, who turns her cold, beautiful, icy gray eyes on me. 

"Johnny.  Be good."  She stands up; the crisscrossed black tights across her cold legs are torn and ripped.  Her red skirt is not long enough for the winter.  I watch her leave, a flash of matted hair the last glimpse before she disappears around the corner from me.

I whip around and start beating the scary lady as hard as I can and crying for my mom.  I don't know why she left me here.  I want home.  But the scary lady just scoops me up and holds me tight to her chest.  I am so tired that my head slumps against her shoulder and the only thing that keeps me awake is her soft whispering.  "John, here we will love you.  We know how to take care of you.  We'll give you baths, good food, we'll teach you how to communicate.  You'll be safe and warm and loved.  I promise." 

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