Grace Campbell

The day after I get kicked out, Camille and I go back to test the legitimacy meter since our mom comes through on threats like cheesecloth holds water. Through the glass of the side door my mother agitates the thin curtain until her face appears along the edge of the frame. Get off my property. You girls don’t live here any more. She says this with a glazed-eye rage that tips the meter toward Not Looking Promising.

Camille and I retreat to the end of the driveway and log some scattershot plan-making time under the chalkdust January sky. She’s like this, we both say to one another using only slightly different words. She’ll probably change her mind, we add, though we’re not sure she will and we’re not sure that would be the best outcome. Still, being homeless is not really part of my Wednesday plan. I just want to get in there and get my shit, I say. The dry gravel of bullshit laughter sifts the words out through a smile that makes Camille’s forehead crease with sympathy. She knows. She’s been out of the house for at least a year.

Through the half-drawn living room curtain we can see our mother inside, pressing her cheek into the cream-colored plastic earpiece of the phone. In less than ten minutes, a squad car pulls up. The siren is silent but the blue wheel of the telltale light is spinning to give off an official flare. The legitimacy meter moves toward Superfucked. Camille and I roll our eyes because, really, what else. The officer parks in front of the entrance to the driveway, unconcerned with whether or not he blocks it, because the police log a lot of plan-making time at the address which is no longer mine.

My mother emerges from the side door doing her fairly convincing Zero Fucks Left walk but I’m already brandishing my well-trained affect which goes by the same name.

These girls don’t live here, my mother says, administering the words through the lancet of her tipped chin. She leaves out any more. Because I am well trained at more affects than one, I speed read the officer’s silent shuffle through consternation then awkwardness and hear him mentioning he’s new on the job and I furnish an apology aloud. I’m sure the last thing you guys want to do is go on domestic calls. I wonder if that’s what they’re called. I hold the weight of Camille’s sympathy and the officer’s discomfort and my mother’s bold-print rage and the reflex-like urge to run in and fill up a paper sack with whatever belongings I can grab in the time it might take for my mother to catch up with me in an uneasy, silent juggle. No one says anything.

We’re stilled for a moment, inside this midnineties tableau: the wood-boarded front window panel of the place I have just learned I don’t live and whose gape of missing glass trails back to the leaking realization that I probably shouldn’t. The redswirl of my sister’s face, a reprisal of the one that saturated her features that day her thumb got slammed into the back of the truck when she was small and my mother still found the inclination to run toward the sound of distress. The austere nothingcolor of the Catholic school facade across the street, authoritatively flat like the prayers my aunts and uncles have foisted into each uninvited hand-grasp, in place of wanting to know what knocked the front window out or why Camille left on her own at age twelve with nothing but a few candy bars and a grocery bag. The slowbleed of the exfoliated maple branches, distinct across an otherwise midwinter-mulled sky.

My mother tells the officer we’re trespassing on her property, looking only at her children while she points a slender, slightly bent finger once toward my sister and once toward me. Once is all it takes. The officer muddles his glance once toward my sister and once toward me, lingering with the affect of a troubled shrug. He asks if we have anywhere we can spend the night, his voice low, as if my mother might not hear it. He thumbs his belt loops as his hands struggle to find hold in the rapidly saturating unease. His eyes trail off toward the ground which is no longer our front yard. I work the speed-reading act and let myself wonder about what he did before he became a cop and what he’ll do after this and how I might make this moment work better for him the way I practiced turning a Bic pen into a tiny baton between my fingers a few years back, while the frilly brickstorm of my parent’s divorce threaded the house that is no longer mine with thick whorls of disaster. What I learned was: You can get really good at making a pen do a tiny bit of acrobatics around the slender lengths of your fingers, dizzy as they are on the need to be useful.

I say yes, I have somewhere I can go without knowing if it is wholly true in order to dilute the roux of discomfort between my mother wondering when it will be over and the officer wondering when it will be over and my sister wondering when it will be over and me wondering why it is never over.

There are no perforated lines satisfactory enough to tear ourselves away from the flat truth of the moment so Camille and I shuffle a few words of oddly-shaped gratitude from the rapidly numbing folds of our mouths and turn away from the house where the locks are both new and the first working features we have known the house that was formerly ours to boast in many years, possibly forever.

We walk up Harding Street toward my aunt and uncle’s house, where my sister has made a bedroom out of the basement laundry corner and whose occupancy will now tick up to two until I can figure ou whateverthefuckelse. Camille makes some joke about how badly we’re being fucked up right now because calling things by their plain names is how she swivels the Bic and we both laugh and loop our arms around one another even though it makes walking difficult and even though she’s right. I make to joke that our mother was, apparently, not bluffing after all. I make to joke that the legitimacy meter has held like the rubbermaid containers with that one crumb of cookie that the mom feels she needs to save in the back of the fridge that is no longer mine until Jesus comes back. Then I see that Camille is crying while she’s trying to laugh. Then I stop bluffing and we’re both collapsed like that, two girls gone wrong in ways we can’t speed read without any chocolate bar or grocery sack, the bullshit laughter gone like gravel through the ripped sides of a sandal the mom would not replace because why did we insist on wearing them every day and what were we doing that made them fall apart like that.

One of us says we should stop at the corner store and grab a soda and some candy. One of us agrees. One of us realizes we have no money. One of us says we should lift it and both of us agree though we don’t. We’ve seen the way the owner of the drug store watches us when we come in. We remember how he once cornered us in the cosmetics section and searched our jacket pockets and found nothing and how his face boiled with the discomfort of his proximity to our bodies much like the officer we have left ten blocks behind and how both of them wanted to cut clean lines around the memory of us because there was nothing else to be done. We avoid the corner store now because eyerolls will only travel a limited distance. We don’t need reminders that we are marked girls. Once is all it takes.

I look up toward the crewelwork of bare-limbed trees in that familiar shape I have followed a thousand times back, at all hours, toward the place I no longer live. I make to inhale both their severe beauty and the triage of indifference but it goes wrong, comes out in some sloppy tuft that makes me want to apologize for crying, for scaring Camille. Before I can mark out the perforations toward the happy immediacy of the next moment, Camille is there with the sharp of her tenderness and her sweet tooth saying Goddamnit a candy bar sounds so good right now and in that moment I realize she was right to leave the place with brand-new locks a few years back and she is right that candy sounds good and she is right in not pretending and she is right to leave her arm slung around mine, no matter how difficult it makes the simple act of walking. The point is to keep moving toward any place, at any pace.

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