by Todd Wieland
I play the violin. I’m really good. Well, pretty good. I sit second chair. Mr. Bixby says if I practice, I’ve got a good shot at first when Shanie Purkinson graduates. That’s next year.
I can’t practice right now, though. I live outside.
Step Daddy thinks I’m his play toy, so I’m outside. My sister and me, we call him “Step Daddy” because we can hear him on the steps when he comes up to “tuck us in.”
Momma, I guess she can’t bear the thought of losing another husband, so she pretends Step Daddy’s just coming up to tell his little girls goodnight.
Step Daddy tells us if we scream or fight or turn our face away or kick our legs or tell anybody he’ll take it out on Momma. So we just lay still.
I’m the lucky one. I can live outside. The school don’t come looking for me. They stop that when you turn 16. They couldn’t care less if I show up.
My sister has to stay home. If she don’t show up at school, they come looking for her. I tell her they can’t find her outside. But she’s scared I guess.
Hell yes, it’s tough out here. But at least people are straight with you.
Out here, if somebody’s gonna kick your ass or rape you, at least they don’t tell you they love you first.
I get along fine. I got a pretty good place. You know that big Presbyterian church over on 13th? The great big front entrance and pretty steeple? The one where they caught the pastor lookin’ at kiddie porn?
I found out they don’t patrol after dark. Way at the back of the parking lot, there’s a little clump of trees where the light don’t shine too bright. I sleep there. Nobody bothers me.
The mat keeps me warm enough. It ain’t winter yet. The rain don’t really bother me. I just run up under the shelter over the back entrance.
I’m starting to make some new friends. Lots of people who live outside hang out in the park over by Webster Middle school.
Rollie hangs out there. Tells me he’ll protect me. Says he’s got friends who’d like to meet me.
Kevin’s hardcore. Heroin, I think. You can see the tracks through his tattoos. But he’s really nice. Says I remind him of his baby sister.
Joelee lives at the woman’s shelter. They’re really strict. She has to be in by 7:30 or they lock the doors on her. But at least she gets to take a shower.
Sometimes I miss the old group. My friend Janie says her mum’s worried about me. Just not worried enough to let me sleep on the couch for more than three nights, I guess.
But I don’t miss home. And I feel bad about it, but I don’t miss Momma.
Thinkin’ about my sister makes me sick, so I don’t. I walk over by school sometimes and hang out across from the bus line. About every two, three days I see her.
She’s always so happy to see me. Always looks so scared. Always asks how I get enough to eat.
Don’t tell anybody, but one of the school cafeteria ladies makes me lunch every day. You know Caroline? The short, squatty black lady with two gold teeth?
She walks right by the church in the morning on her way to work. One morning I run into her on the sidewalk out front. She’s not too surprised to see me living outside.
Tells me she’s got three daughters younger than me. Wants to make sure I get something to eat.
She says the school throws away lots of food every day. So it’s no sin for her to make me a Styrofoam tray and drop it off when she walks home at two-thirty.
I only need to eat once a day. I’m fine with it.
So, get this. Tuesday I’m walkin’ over by Schissler and Elm. You know that old hardware store right on the corner? The one with the beautiful antique brick? Right next door to the abandoned retail store?
Well, I never go into the alley between them. I see too many needles and broken glass back there. I know what that’s about.
But I’m walkin’ along, I guess it was about 4:30, because the rush hour crowd hadn’t hit the sidewalk yet.
I look down and see this beautiful calico mommy cat steppin’ real close to the building with this teeny baby kitten in her mouth. Just creepin’ along, real quiet-like.
Then, out of nowhere, she drops the baby right there by the sidewalk. Leaves it right there to fend for itself.
Now why would a mommy do that?
I pick her up and she cuddles into my arms. No way I’m putting her down.
Her name’s Katia. Clever, huh? I love Katia Popov. She’s my favorite violinist. Cute name for a kitty too, right?
She stays with me now. How about this? Caroline shows up with a carton of milk for her yesterday!
Then after that, I take her over to the park and Rollie starts in with the naughty names for “kitty.” Starts poking me with his elbow and says nasty things about me and his friends.
I’m not cool with that. It scares me.
Joelee says they moved somebody out of the women’s shelter. Thinks that’ll open up a place and maybe I should go over and apply.
I might. But I’d hate to give up Katia. They don’t let pets in the women’s shelter.
I’m going to keep Katia and take my chances. She cries a lot, but I don’t mind. It makes me a little less sad if I can comfort her.
And sometimes when I snuggle with her and she’s happy, she really belts it out. It makes me laugh because she sounds just like my violin.
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