A dirty alley in New York City. Pulling an apple out of the can, the lid crashing
to the ground. Emma is six but once she was three. She is a big girl. Big girls can
find their own food. The apple, mushy on the bottom. She rakes her grimy nails into
the brown spot, digs it out. Unceremoniously drops it onto the ground already littered
with someone else's lunch leftovers. Her mama, locked in the room. A man there. His
name is John. She wonders how it is that every man her mama brings home is John. But
right now, it’s none of her concern. John always gives her mama money. They will leave soon. Michigan, a funny word. Her mama showed her on the map
at the library what it looked like. A mitten. Moving to the mitten state. Why would
anyone want to live in a state like a mitten but it had to be better than here. Than
this alleyway. Mama said they would go to school there. Maybe even own a house. And
a dog. She couldn't wait to get her own dog. She takes a bite from the apple. It's mealy, but it tastes right. Walking back
to the sidewalk, she thinks of her dog. What would be a good name for the dog? How
would she feed it? Dogs gotta eat too. She feeds the strays sometimes. They back
away from her. But not when she has found old meat. She holds her hand out, the meat
already starting to rot, sticky. But the meat makes the dog inch closer. She tried
to pet one once. It reached out for the meat, straining its long neck. All the neck
bones standing out. She just wanted to pet its head, scratch its ears. She reached
her hand out as the dog reached to grab the meat. And it turned, drew blood, ran away.
She was a big girl by then, didn't cry. She had to take care of herself. And her sister.
But the dog bit when her sister was with Mama. Too much of a baby to come out, still
sucking off Mama. The blood dripped off her fingers. She learned not to reach for
the dogs. Even with those couple of scars, she still fed them. They took the meat,
sticky and sweet, from her small hand. Took it and ran not even eating it until it
was safe from her. Down the alley, down the street, out of her sight. She’s at the sidewalk now. Her sister. Where'd she go? She was going to wait.
She told her sister to wait. She had half the apple left, it was for her sister. Her
sister was four. Not a big girl. Couldn't reach into the cans yet. Soon she would
have to. But not yet. A wailing siren. Suddenly, she doesn't want to go down that
way. Not down by the light. But her feet keep going, trapping her into walking where
the lights splash like blood onto the building, where the crowd moans in waves, moves
back and back. Her little feet are going too fast now. And she is crying. She is not
a big girl. She is a baby, a pouty little baby and John will smack her bottom for
those tears. Or pull her hair. But she can't stop. And as the crowd breaks, she knows
what her feet already knew. Her tears knew. Now her brain and heart know. Her sister,
lying in a heap. Blood and brains. The smell of lightning and shit. Mama's gonna be
mad she had an accident in her pants. Even little girls know better. Her sister knew
better. But she did it anyway. And there is so much blood. She knows the clothes.
But where is her face? She is on her stomach, her sister is on her stomach, her hair
a red mat. Blood. She grabs her sister's hand, gonna pull her home. It was time to go home. But
a policeman grabs her. Tells her not to touch and she is yelling my sister! my sister! and the policeman picks Emma up and she is kicking even as he is trying to shush her.
She doesn't want to shush. She wants her mama and her sister. He says he will take
her to her mama. But she needs to be a big girl. Needs to stop kicking, stop yelling,
he is a policeman and he will help her. She tries to swallow, hiccups and tastes apple.
Where is the apple? It was for her sister. She tells the man it was for her sister.
He says he doesn't know what happened to it but he'll get her another one. Now the
man is asking where she lives and she can't remember. That big building. What's it
called he asks and she doesn't know. Says she can take him there. Asks his name and
he says Roy. She asks for her sister to come and he says someone else will bring her.
Promises. She calms. He sets her on her feet and she takes his hand. Takes him the
two blocks to the big building and to Mama and John.