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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 …

two

E is organizing her schoolbag. Rulers, pencil sharpeners and erasers all find their place. We search for a missing shoe and somehow it was under her bed the whole time. There is only one hairband in the entire house, and I place it on the corner of my desk. The outfit is decided, now resting on the sofa. 

We get dressed to go to dinner, just the two of us. She stands in front of me, lifting the back of her hair so I can zip her dress up. We travel through the metro, her asking me the names of the stops now, studying the map on the wall her face screwed up into various expressions until she has that little "aha" moment and understands where we are going.

The streets unfold, and we are a few minutes early.
"Will they let us in?" She asks me.
I laugh a little, squeeze her hand once. 
We sit in a booth, and she already knows what she wants.

The conversation runs to a look back at this summer, her predictions for the school year. I sip my manhattan and step outside of myself, watching us chatter back and forth, forks turning into porchetta and mushroom mousse, into olives and small chunks of cheese. There is something so effortless about tonight.

My belly is full. She cannot eat another bite, half of a shrimp and a collection of greens strewn across her plate. 
I ask for the check. 

We walk slowly now, making our way back. People are letting balloons go, for some reason. We look up at two that are climbing towards the clouds.
"Look Pop." She tells me, seeing I already know they are there.
I nod.
"Who knows where this year will take us." She says, half to herself.



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