Stephanie - Second Place Winner in CWA’s 2018 First Chapter Contest

by Robin Jones

     I asked my mom one time what it feels like when she's on it (crack); during one of her sober moments; that didn't last long. She looked at me for a second and smiled like I was asking what her favorite color was. She said, "It's not describable. I don't know how to tell you. It's the best feeling in the world. I can do anything. It's like a stream running through my body. It gives me tingles. I can feel it in the tips of my hands and the base of my feet. Everything in that moment is bright and beautiful like the Sun came out and there’s not a cloud in the sky. It only lasts for a moment but it's the best moment." Shortly after, she started using again. Fuck me for making her remember how good she thought she felt. 

     For a few hours a day, I am able to feel like the other kids. I imagine fresh new clothes and my hair combed. I imagine that I have the best lunch box, packed with all the food my mom made me the night before like the other kids' moms. I hate the free lunch ticket I have to show every day. The food they give me is not even real food. I guess since I'm broke and my mom doesn't care, they give me whatever they want. It doesn't matter though. I'm so hungry, I eat it anyway. I imagine my mom taking me to the park on the weekends like those other girls' moms. I really hate those bitches sometimes; I would give anything to have their life.

     My entire fantasy is about to go to hell for the next 12-13 hours when I walked up those dirty stairs and brace myself for whatever I find on the other side of the door.

     The building is a brick four-story walk-up. There are four sides to the building and we live on the east side. The big brown glass door is heavy and never locked. Anyone could come in and out of the building. When I open the door into the narrow hallway, I always go to my right and check the mail, even though we never get anything. In that small corridor, I look down at the honey-comb shaped white tiles and I imagine a beautiful mansion with a white butler named Belvedere and a mom who hugs me tight and says welcome home. The roaches scurry by and I smash them under my shoe.

     We are on the third floor. I walk up the first set of stairs and there are two doors on either side of the top landing. On the left side is the old lady who's really nice to me. I wish she was my mom sometimes. I've never met the family on the right. On the second floor is the lady with all the cats; you can smell her apartment outside. Her neighbor is some young drug dealer who calls me his little cousin. The fourth floor is where “Baby Girl" lives. She's my play-aunt and she uses more drugs than my mom does. She told me one time she's sick from some disease she got. She has spots on her legs, stomach, and face. She says there is no cure. I hate this building and most of the people who live here.

     It's going to smell like shit in there; I can smell it before I opened the door. I wish that just once I could come home and not have the house smell like vomit and dirty ass. I want to go to a home like the other kids in my school. I want my mom not to be a crackhead. What I want most of all though, is her gross, disgusting boyfriend not to be in there when I turn the doorknob.

     Fox is an evil bastard. Who names their kid Fox anyway? Maybe because he really does look like a fox. He has a really long nose and small lips. His eyes are slanted and I can never tell if he can really see. There's no soul in his dark brown eyes. He's tall and light-skinned. His reddish-brown fade looks like an old brillo pad that needs a little Blue Magic® hair grease. My best friend's mom always tells us to never trust a light-skinned boy; "They ain't shit," she says. I always laugh in my head because her husband is light-skinned. She would say strange shit like that sometimes, but she's not a hype, so I listen. If there is ever a moment when the devil took human form it's through this clown. Fox is exceptionally unattractive. He has small dark freckles all over his face and when he smiles, it makes my stomach turn. His teeth are brown, which I know are from the drugs. Everyone who smokes crack has brown teeth and gross skin.

     Going to school is the only refuge I have. It's a place for me to pretend for 8 hours a day, that I don't have a mother addicted to every class of drug. If she can cook it, cut it, smoke it or shoot it; she's happy. It's the bullshit that happens when none of these things are possible that makes school my safe place. She doesn't care that her boyfriend made me feel uncomfortable. She doesn't seem to care about shit really. She's either too high or too in love to see him looking at me as if I'm a fresh turkey on Thanksgiving. I really wish I didn't have to go inside this apartment. Damn.

     The apartment feels like the inside of a shoebox. I imagine a shoebox is probably nicer. I never take my shoes off in the apartment until I go and lay down. The carpet grosses me out. It's thick and shaggy. At one point in time, I assume it was tan. Some parts seem soft walking on, while other parts seem hard or crunchy beneath your feet. I'm still not sure if the red spots are blood or ketchup.

     I'm lying. I know what it is.

     Since we don't have food, let alone a luxury like ketchup; I know it's the blood that drips from my mom and Fox's feet when they shoot up. Fox's arms look like cottage cheese, so I think the only decent veins he has left are in his feet. I sleep during the D.A.R.E. classes, so I don't know if the high is the same when shooting from your foot. I mean, I live with two druggies in a building filled with addicts. What the fuck can the D.A.R.E. woman tell me about drugs besides what's the best vein to plunge? I'm not even sure what I can use the get the blood stains out of the carpet.

     We do not own a vacuum. We had one from the nice old neighbor downstairs, but Fox and my mom sold it for a rock and some chips. They didn't even give me any chips when they came home that night. The living room is their bedroom, so it's no surprise; that when I open the door they are butt naked; laid out on the brown leather pull out sofa in the middle of the small room.

     The couch is ancient and smells like mothballs and bad life choices. It's had a harder life than me. It is cracking on the arms and some of the colors have faded. The cushions are ripped in multiple places. If you sit on it with shorts, the ripped parts feel like they are pinching the back of your thighs. The back cushions are built into the couch and have never been cleaned. The huge tear on the top right corner is where the roaches have made a comfortable home for themselves. It sits in front of a radiator that's in front of a small, square, barred window. The view of the gangway is always better than watching TV. There's always someone shooting up outside or having sex like they think no one can see them. I saw some teen boy get beat with a pipe outside one night. I wanted to call the police, but they never come this far south anyway so I went back to watching Soul Train©. I avoid the couch as often as I can.

     There's a small TV to the left side of the front door, kind of in the corner. It's a dingy box television with brown paneling on the outside. Every station is in black and white. The picture on the screen seems to never show all of what you're watching. It looks like the picture is cut off because the screen is too small. There are two knobs on the right side of the screen and a volume knob. If I turn the volume too far up; it goes out. You have to use force to turn the channel knobs and you have to hit it a few times after turning the station, to get it to come in clear. We had an antenna for about a week before it went missing. That happens a lot to things in our apartment. Of course, we only have like four channels. I'm guessing that's because they are free. Dick Clark's ugly ass is smiling about some shit that only has to do with white kids named Lawrence and Becky, who live in big houses, and have dogs named Spot. I had a dog named Peanut once. He died when my mom burned the house down after she shot up and left the stove on. Dick isn't talking to me. My dog is dead. 

     My mom is lying on her stomach. We have the same shaped ass; which means I don't have a lot to look forward too when I get older. Fox is lying on his back; he's a hairy bastard between the legs. He's hairier than my mom. I can't believe they have sex. She'll think I'm sleeping, but I can hear her at night sometimes and it makes me sick. Fox is so damn ugly and I just don't understand why she's with him. Maybe it's that whole, "Crackheads of a feather…" or some bullshit like that. He's rail-thin, which is normal for someone like him. I decide to walk to the kitchen, hoping maybe there will be a surprise; like food. The kitchen is to the right of the bed/living room. There are no windows, only a pendant light with a dingy bulb that makes the walls look yellow. It has a small eat-in area where we have a round glass table and four black chairs; it's the nicest thing we own.

     The table has ash and burnt spoons on it. About six razor blades and square cuts of mirrors are scattered all over. There's still white powder on a few them. Two clear pipes with cylindrical stems and round globes at the end are in the middle of the table. The bottom of the globes is burnt. There are two brown belts and a few cans of beer, Newport's, and a bag of Cheetos® covering the rest of the table. I move to the other side and go in the fridge, just as I thought an old brick of government-issued cheese. This shit was old when we got it. Maybe I can scrape off the moldy parts. We have a few slices of old bread left, so I cut the molded parts of the crust off and used the good part of the cheese. There are egg noodles in the pantry, but there's leftover dope in our only pot. I decide to save the noodles for a special occasion. I make two sandwiches and sit at the table. The woman downstairs always says grace before she eats. Since this isn't a real meal, and God left us a long time ago; I don't see the point.

     As much as I want these Cheetos® to be good, they are stale and nasty, but I eat them anyway. It's better than having my stomach wake me up in the middle of the night, or bothering the woman downstairs for the third night this week. Since there isn't much to eat, it doesn't take me long to finish. I sit too long and go to that dark place in my head again. The place that creeps up whenever I see leftover dope on the table. It tells me to take a small hit, just to see what all the fuss is about. I have seen my mom and Fox enough times, shoot it or snort to know what I'm doing. I want to know why my mom cannot get her shit together, leave that lame ass cokehead Fox and be a family with me. I want to know what's in the powder that looks like baking soda, that almost made her sell me when I was younger. Sometimes I don't even think she would mind if I took some. If anything, she would whoop my ass for snorting it, only if it's her last hit.

     I knew by watching them when they came down, that I don't really want to take a hit unless that euphoric feeling lasted forever. I don't want the crack to be like school and leave me to suffer through my miserable existence after a short amount of time. I think that's why I always seem to walk away when these thoughts creep in my mind. It's either all or nothing and since it never lasts, there's no point in losing my teeth and selling my body and soul to get it again. I would rather just get up, get dressed and go to school.

     I turn my chair so I can face them. They don't move. There's not a lot of light, so I can't really tell if they are breathing. There is a part of me; strong at times; that would rather let them just die. They have a terrible life anyway and maybe if my mom isn't here; I can go to a home with Becky and Lawrence, their dog Spot, have my own room and dolls, and eat real cheese. With my luck, and being the forgotten child of God, I would probably just end up in another dope-filled home where they beat me and never feed me. It's hard, wanting her to stop breathing and knowing I’ll be sad if she does. She's my mom and I love her…she's all I have and I suppose it's better than nothing.

     I get up and walk over to the lamp we have with a broken shade that didn't really shade shit. I can tell the shade was white at one time. You can see the wire outline through the shade. It is big and round and does not match the base, which is shiny and black. The cord looks like a rat chewed on it and the switch has a naked girl ornament hanging from it. We keep it classy. I hope she didn't keep it because she thinks it looks good. As soon as I turn the light on, I can see the roaches scatter from under the TV. Ugh. If I could burn this building to the ground, I would. I walk over to her side of the bed and hover over her a little. I don't dare touch her. The last time I did, she woke up thinking I was the police and slapped the shit out of me. Lesson learned.

     I watch to make sure her back is rising. That's how I know there's still life. I will always hope Fox is dead, so I don't bother to check his breathing. With any luck, God will answer at least one of my prayers. When I see that she is breathing, I start making my way to my bed.

     I walk across the living room to my bedroom. My room is the closet. It's right off the bathroom. It's not really a walk-in closet but it holds a twin bed. There is no door between the closet and the bed/living room. At least my mom has enough sense to put up a bedsheet to create some privacy. Luckily, once they wake up, they usually leave for the night and don't come back until after I've left for school in the morning. I wait until they leave to take a bath because he's the type of asshole who would come in while I'm in the tub. Sometimes, I get so paranoid that he'll come back that I take a bath downstairs at the old woman’s house.

     Fox starts to stir. There's this moment suspended in the air. It feels like I have left my body. I can see myself sitting on my bed staring at him. I don't want him to keep breathing but I want him to wake up and make a move. Instead, he opens his eyes and stares directly at me. No one moves. I'm not sure my physical body is breathing. Every day, I tell myself, this will be the day that he goes too far and I kick his ass. This will be the day that my mom witnesses this, curses him out, beats his ass, and kicks him out. She'll turnaround from the door, look me in the eyes, and tell me she loves me and that she's so sorry. THIS; will be the day we start fresh: she packs my lunch, brushes my hair, she helps me with homework, and joins PTA. Instead, she rolls on her side and reaches out for him while calling him baby. So much for today.

     While they're awake, I work hard not to take too many breaths. Whenever they ask in class what superpower we wish we had, I always wish for invisibility. I don’t want to be seen, especially by these two dope fiends. Most parents or adults would be horrified that their child can see them naked. Fox and my mom don't so-much-as flinch with shame. I remember we went to church once and I thought my mom was turning her life around. I thought we were going inside the church; we actually went around the building to meet her dealer. They laughed and talked for a while and the dealer made some crack about Adam and Eve being naked in some garden and Adam, spanking “that” ass. I'm almost positive that's not how the story went in the Bible, but my mom always uses that as an excuse as though it's okay for her boyfriend's penis to suck up my oxygen. I have never met a crackhead who didn't think they were profound and clever. She is no exception.

     My mom moves first. She gets out of bed and steps directly on the nasty ass carpet. I throw up a little in my mouth. She walks to the kitchen as if she doesn't hear the roaches crunching and dying under her feet. She passes the table to get some water. On her way back to the bed, she takes a glass tube and snorts one of the lines on the table. You can almost see when it hits her…her eyes get massive, like black marbles. It's as if her soul left her body and there's nothing there. She's not a talkative hype, mostly because I don't think she can actually form words. She starts to look vacant, which she interprets as peace. Instead of walking, she somewhat glides back to the bed, like she's about to lay on silk sheets and be fed grapes. She sits on the bed and stares at whatever it is she thinks she sees.


     If Fox raped me now, in front of her; she would not notice a thing.