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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

just come home fast



We pack some school clothes and all of her books in a shopping bag. I show her the laptop charger and the European adapter before coiling them into her new purse. She nods once, lips tight together.

I make butterfly pasta, dressed in olive oil with pecorino on top.
“Maybe some black pepper on it?” I call to her from the kitchen.
“No-o-o-o.” she answers, in her singsong home voice.
I split the pasta between her lunchbox and the dinner bowl. She will have this for tomorrow too, when I am already on the plane above the Moscow fog.

She eats with her feet curled under her, leaning across her bed and the big purple blanket, stabbing the fork into three or four pieces at a time.
I save files, make plastic envelopes of important papers I have printed and organized in piles on the table.
She goes quiet.
I see her chin trembling, and then tears. Red cheeks, sputtering breath, forehead tight, nose dripping. Sitting next to her, she buries her face in my t-shirt.  I just hold her in silence.
"So which Monster High doll do you want?” I ask, trying to shift the mood.
She sputters something.
I run a hand along her hair, smooth it from her face.
“You are going to be fine.” I tell her. “I will not be gone so long.”
She nods, her eyes as big as soup spoons.
“And when I have a job like this, I really have to go – it isn’t an option.” I continue.
“OK.” She whispers.

I hold her for some time, as my shirt grows wet. Handing her a tissue from my pocket, she blows her nose.
“So what do you want me to get you?” I ask.
“Nothing.” She says. “Just come home fast.”




The car to the airport drifts along the wet road. No music plays. It smells of cinnamon and berries. The leather seat squeaks under me as I try to get comfortable.

All at once there is traffic, even though it is the middle of the night. A string of red taillights dangles beyond the windshield wipers. I think of E crying in traffic once, when she was just a baby and we lived in Connecticut. I-95 was frozen for more than an hour, and she was teething. I remember the frustration, the thin hot anger under my skin thinking it was construction that was keeping us from home

At one point the traffic eases and the delay becomes invisible. I will be at the airport soon.

On that day in Connecticut, it was a family car spread in burning pieces across three lanes. I saw stuffed animals and a stroller flapping in the wind, teetering back and forth on the side of the highway. There were ambulances. There were long faces. I remember squeezing E’s hand in the back seat of the car and looking at her for some time and how she stopped crying.



Comments

liv said…
That gave me chills.

It's a heartbreaker, the way children can go from seeming ok one moment to erupting in tears of anguish the next.

I hope the trip was successful. You seemed within walking distance, less than a thousand miles, ha!

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