Hell or High Water
When I was in middle school I had a journal. The first thing I did was write a list of rules to live by. These are the ones I remember:
Never play with fire.
Smoking and drinking will melt your brain.
Treat mother with respect. She birthed you.
Stars are a lot more dangerous than Ms. Venson says.
I know. They weren’t really rules, more of thoughts. And either way, I broke them. But rules are meant to be broken, anyway.
I sat on the edge of the roof in silence until Eric stuck his face over the roof.
“Hey, could you help us down here? Moriah is in worse shape.”
I stood up eagerly and made my way over to him. I slid down the brick wall and through the window. We maneuvered around the soft floor and over to Moriah. She was leaning over a the metal trash can, breathing heavily.
“What’s going on?” I asked. Moriah vomited into the can. Flustered, I sat down next to her. “Holy…”, I rubbed her shoulder.
Eric sat in front of her, examining the empty water bottles. “So now you’re sick and in pain. Delightful.”
She sneered. “I bet it was your disgusting water. It could poison someone just from looking at it.”
“I’m sorry, it was all we could find. I’ll… throw it out I guess.” He lifted the remaining full bottles and made his way to the window. He propped himself onto the stack of debris, now named The Goblin. The chunky water pumped out of the bottles into the courtyard below, spraying onto the plants and furniture. The ivy may as well have turned yellow and brown. Moriah leaned her head back, her shirt staining with sweat. Eric walked back in. “We should do something about the trash can.”
Moriah furrowed her eyebrows and nodded. Her hands were still swollen. Sir sat next to her nervously.
“Aaron, we could clean it out in the fire hydrant. No one came to close it yet.”
“Yeah, definitely.” I lifted the trash can with difficulty. Eric helped me to the window. We placed it on the edge of the fire escape and looked down.
“There is no way we are getting this down there.”, he said.
I thought. “We could fill the bottles and bring them up here?”
“Sure.”, he responded. We spent the next half an hour cleaning out the trash can with dirtier water. When we finished we rolled it back into the room. Moriah was lying down, and breathing unsteadily.
“This is scaring me. If something bad was in that water then this could be a serious issue.”, I said.
“Mhmm. Thank you for noticing.” Moriah said, then pausing. “Also sorry if I’ve been angry. Just, everything hurts.”
I smile. “Okay, but I still want to google your symptoms from the water.” Marcel turned to me from across the room.
“What?” She said intensely.
I raised my eyebrows. “Hm?”
“What did you just say. Just now.”
“I said… I was going to search her symp-”
“On what? What are you planning to search on?” She interrupted, almost angry.
I paused. “My phone?” Huffing, she threw off the covers.
“Where is it.” She towered over me. Her eyes were piercing mine. Orion growled quietly from her place on Marcel’s mattress.
“I can get it if you want.”, I said quietly. She nodded. I walked over to the cabinet and pulled it out.
“Do any of you have phones, besides Aaron?”, She asked, looking at the rest of us. Moriah and Sir shook their heads.
“I do.”, Eric said nervously. Marcel massaged her forehead in frustration, passing back and forth. She crossed the room and leaned out the window. Pulling out a rock from The Goblin, she looked at Eric.
“Go.” She gestured with her head.
He paused. “Where?”
“Get your phone.” He slowly obliged, walking over to me. We both brought our phones to her. “Put them on the floor.”, She sat down next to the phones. “Important lesson: Never keep a phone while on the run. Your parents will track you.”
Eric protested. “But we don’t have any locations shared or anything ,and it’s an old phone. I don’t think they will be able to. Please.”
She shook her head. “Too dangerous. Sorry.” Before he could protest, she brought the rock down hard on our screens. She kept smashing them until my eyes and ears hurt. I moved back to stay out of the splash zone. Bits of glass shattered onto the floor. I pulled Eric back with me and we watched her demolish our property.
When she was finished she brushed together the scraps into her hands. Leaning out of the window, she thrusted the remaining pieces into the sky. Wiping of her hands, she turned around. “Well. Now that that is done, who wants to go get food? Moriah, if you want you can stay back. I can save some of my food for you.”
“I can stay back too.” Sir said.
Marcel shook her head. “No. If you stay back then we have to share more than needed. We’ll all get less food. Either way, she’ll have Orion to keep her company. ” They nodded, waved by to Moriah, and followed us out of the room.
During lunch, Eric spotted my tattoo. He lifted my sleeve, examining my arm.
“Aaron what is this?” He asked. I looked down at my arm and laughed. I had completely forgotten about my half finished star tattoo.
“It’s a long story. But yeah, it is a tattoo.” I smiled.
He raised his eyebrows and leaned back. “Okay. I like it.” He cracked a grin. “Also, what is it supposed to be?”
I shifted my arm to inspect the tattoo. “It’s supposed to be a star, but I chickened out in the middle,” I paused, “Maybe I should make up stories about it next time someone asks.”
Marcel smiled. “I knew someone who did that. You should tell people… it’s a lightning bolt. Just a really badly done one.”
“And that you survived a strike.” Eric added.
“I’m a really bad liar though.” I finished off my lunch. Sir was shoving squished tangerine into their jacket pocket for Moriah.
Microphone static buzzed from across the room. The crowd turned to the makeshift stage. A woman stood holding the long tangled chord. “Hello, I hope you are all enjoying your food. I’d first like to thank our volunteers for today,” She paused as people clapped, “Some of you know me, some of you don’t, so I may as well introduce myself. Hi, I’m Alexandra, and I work with the Bottomless Bowls Organization for Change. I help direct this program to bring you all food everyday. But, now it’s my pleasure to introduce a dear friend of mine, who will be performing for us on the piano. Please welcome Diane Lachester.” Alexandra shuffled off stage, and another woman walked on. People turned back to their food as Diane began playing the piano. I looked at back to everyone.
“Do y’all want to dance?”
“Only if you can keep up.” Marcel challenged. The four of froliced across the floor, bumping into others as we went. Not a single person acknowledged us, so we decided to bring Moriah food.
When we got back to our apartment, she was lying across the mattress. “Did you guys bring drinkable water?”
“Here, drink.” Sir sat next to her and handed her bottled water. She held the bottle in her palm and poured it down her throat. The bottle crushed as she set in onto the damp wood. Sir began peeling her oranges as she sat up. Orion was in the bed, asleep. As each people gathered around Moriah to make sure she was comfortable, I made my way into the other room. Easing onto the now slightly moldy couch, I felt something lumpy under the cushion. Pulling away the fabric, it revealed a notebook. The pages were dogeared and crinkled. I flipped open to the first page.
Property of Sir González
I stared at the words for a minute. Lifting the fabric of the couch I put the notebook back. I didn’t move. My feet were cemented to the wood. Pausing, I pulled it back out and flipped to the first page. Sir’s handwriting was scribbled across the first page.
My favorite animal has always been the dragonfly. I always felt like they looked like a fun time. Like they could whisper songs to each other while kissing each flower that bobbed out of the grass. They were dependable, predictable. Though they were a bit mad, you could always count on that. These dragonflies, they lived inside of me. I could always feel them in my lungs, batting and giggling out of my windpipe. This is why I seldom talked once I reached 8 years old. I was always afraid my friends would escape if I opened my mouth. Mother would come home each night from cooking other peoples dinner, but never any of her own. She would hoist me up on a stool and ask me if I would talk to her today. I would slap my hand over my mouth, shake my head and giggle through my fingers. I would only agree to eat if she turned around and faced the wall.
She always said I would grow up to be a painter. When I was young I would draw dragonflies everywhere. She would find them etched in the plaster wall, the kitchen table, and sometimes even on the shower wall. The truth was, I had never really seen a dragonfly in real life. I had only seen them on the pages of picture books at the local library. I had never seen a real flower either, only the plants that rose from the cracks in the sidewalk. But I drew them anyway because Mother said she liked them. Of course, she made me scrub them off of the linoleum floor each time, but not before complimenting my imagination.
Mom always says there were two types of people: Thinkers and Doers. She says she wanted me to be a doer because thoughts don’t travel far in the real world. I think she wants that for me because, in the end, she’s never been a doer. She speaks of becoming a pilot or jumping hurdles in marathons, but not once have I see her cross a finish line. I always wonder if that was where her envy of others comes from. When we walk down the street she always eyes other people; tattoos she is too afraid to get, clothing she can’t afford to wear, leaps she doesn’t have the guts to take. She hates it. All of it.
But she loves me. And that I’ve always known. Even when I ruined her favorite sweater with a pen dragonfly, she didn’t care. She has other sweaters, but only one me. I know that sounds slightly narcissistic, but it’s true. Her family was always small, always shrinking. But I’m a constant, something dependable she can come home to each day. I am her dragonfly.
Life moves forward.
I closed the book and sat still. I felt slightly guilty, but not enough. Not enough for me to tell Sir I had invaded their privacy. Placing the book back in the cushions, I left the room.
That night it rained violently. The water pounding the roof was louder than my thoughts. When Sir complained about the sound giving them a headache Marcel insisted we should sing in the rain. She then began belting Come on Eileen louder than the storm. Soon the ceiling began dripping onto our heads. We all hid in one corner as the water poured through our ceiling. Soon it was raining inside, and pieces of the roof lay next to us. Sir was holding a piece of sheet metal over the rest of us, but we had been soak to the bone anyway.
“There’s no point in being under this.” Moriah called from next to me. We could barely fit, and my shoes had already soaked more water than I could drink in a month. Standing, Moriah spun in the rain. “Free shower.” I stood up too, raising my arms to the rain.
A scream. I ran to Marcel in a panic. “What happened?,” I asked. She pointed across the opposite room. My eyes follow her finger to a huge hole in the floor. The couch had finally fell through. The rest of the floor bent down dramatically. What was left was a large hole that spread across a large part of the room. Marcel looked at me with wide eyes, her mouth hanging open. I looked back at Moriah, Sir and Eric. They wore similar expressions. Moriah began laughing.
Marcel crossed her arms. “No. Not sick. Dangerous.”
Moriah raised her eyebrows. “Whatever you like,” She shouted over the still pounding rain.
“No one crossed this point, we don’t need anyone hurt.” Before she could finish her sentence, Moriah was sliding down the broken floor. Stumbling onto the floor below, she beckoned us to follow. The other and I slid after her, leaving Marcel alone in the rain. Sir searched the couch for their journal. When they found it, they tossed the notebook back to the still-intact room. We searched the new area of the house that was available to us. It was mostly flat ground that was littered in plastic bags, and a large staircase leading nowhere.
That night I decided to scratch myself a new set of rules.
1. When I first met life, she filled me with so many butterflies I was afraid they’d escape if I opened my mouth.
2. Growing up and growing old are two very different things.
3. Play with fire. She likes to be set free.
4. Smoking and drinking, though unhealthy, can be fun.
5. I didn’t ask to be born.
6. Stars are inside of you.