I have a shoulder to cry on in cold summers so that's fine when the dust settles clumsily on the kitchen sink. Fire in the grate means the flowers will die by September but that's fine now that college will meet me sparkling clean and ready to disassemble the intricate patterns of the past. The old curtains are flapping wildly, purged free from all the memories of a rushed kiss and a fragile hug. There's a stain on them, a line that's not so white anymore and brown enough to earn a second glance. It's from when I first learned the use of expired drugs.
I have a shoulder to cry on when the fowls start to die and I have to roast chickens for dinner. A shoulder that's grown too tried and unreliably numb. But that's fine because I am leaving for college and home is far too foreign for education and a chilling ceremony.
In my room, there's a candle burning. The lights are still on upstairs and though there's a song playing, I can still hear them fighting. I have a shoulder to cry on when the fights get too loud and I have to admit that every police call has been by me. The candle is red, tainted by fear and abortion pills. But that's fine because I can take cover in Europe and still go to school.
On my bed, a box sits still. It's opened halfway to reveal clothes I've packed in a hurry. It's all the clothes I bought and forgot I owned but college is calling and flights are being canceled. I will go anyway so that when the police come, it will be the fire in the grate and shivering cowards. My toothbrush is neatly packed on the side of the box and though I know that by morning I'll need to unpack, I shuffle my feet and sing a sad happy song, the fragment of high school endings.
The door opens and it's my mami's head that pops in. She rolls her eyes when she sees the box and when she comes in, I can see the pale, neat belt marks on her arms.
"Still not going to stay home for one more week?" She jokingly slaps the words into the thickness of our skins and we wince from all the burning anger and silent hate.
"You know I can't," I tell her. But we know I can. I have a shoulder to cry on as fear dampens my tongue, a new kind of emotional meeting in the dark.
"What will you do when you get there?" She doesn't need to ask. She settles uncomfortably on the bed beside my box and gives me one of her old cheap smiles.
"I'll be living at the hostel. That's what I'll be doing. Reading."
"You'll be in Europe. Its a new place, a new culture."
"It's not so bad. I'll be too buried underneath my books to notice."
"I hope you have a better plan."
We don't look like a family. From where I am standing I can tell, read between the lines of every seemingly disappointing conversation. But we don't look like a family. She is sorting through the books on the side of my bed and there's a frown on her face, achingly obvious.
"I've been thinking, Beth." She must have thought through all the screams and slaps with the way she curls her lips as she picks up the last of my books. "Are you going to take these books along?"
"You could always get new ones there."
Our conversation is short and untitled. I can't really be sure why she is here but as she closes her eyes and escapes the world, I pretend she isn't here and stare at the burning candle. The red candle pulls me closer, draws me in, and pushes me towards the limit. My back hurts from all the tossing and turning. I think of the abortion pills swimming inside of me and I laugh at how easily I had flipped the switch.
"I was thinking." She says again.
I can tell this conversation will be just as inconsequential as the lipstick stain on papa's shirt last Tuesday.
"I want to divorce your papa."
She is twirling the tip of her hair as she says this as though she is still unsure.
My question is born out of whether or not she can bear to tell me the reasons herself. I know all of her secrets and the sickening problem with my papa. And I can't blame her, she's the third wife in two years. And really, I can't blame myself for not caring. College is calling and I have a shoulder to cry on when the evening comes.
Mami doesn't feel the need to answer. She is busy, addicted to safe ends.
"Why do you want to divorce him?" I ask.
"He is a coward with big dreams. I am contented with reading books of people who could have been famous." Her answer is quick and pretentious.
"Why do you want to divorce him?" I ask.
She sighs and says, "You know why."
We both fall silent.
Sunlight strips us bare. I am standing and she is sitting and we do not know how tired we both are.
"You don't want to fix it with him?"
It takes her a while to look at me. She says, "What's going to happen in college?"
"I don't know. Friends? Fancy things? Graduation?"
"When you are done, do you want to come back here? Is this the home you want to come back to?"
"You've never asked."
"You are eighteen now."
"I don't know. I want a happy home."
"I am pregnant, Beth."
Maybe it's not the subtle confession that drowns all my thoughts and makes me feel like throwing up. Maybe it is. Or maybe it's for the abortion and the decisions after. We look at each other and this may be a simple assessment of things but we loved the silence and we looked on and we forgot what to think.
"When did you find out?" This is what I ask when the sun has begun to drain.
"A week ago."
"Do you want it?"
The afternoon sinks below the apartment and when papa goes to work, Mami prepares chicken soup and laughs at the redness in my cheeks. We sit together and eat and whisper fractions of lies. When papa comes home by six, I do not expect a change. I've known him all along and after Rita, there will be a fourth mami. He stands with us in the living room as we watch a movie. Then she serves him food. I hear them arguing later when I am lying in bed. I fall asleep to their shouts knowing that tomorrow, college is calling.
And I have a shoulder to cry on when the time comes.
There's a fire in the grate even though the sun is early in the morning. Its papa's bad habit, I am sure. Mami prepares roasted chicken because two of the fowls have died and she can't throw them away. Papa doesn't come down by seven and that's not such a bad thing. Nine in the morning on a Wednesday is not him. Mami finishes cooking and asks me to call him down. And I will do just that because, by eleven, I'll be gone.
I knock on his door. There's no answer. I push the door open. There's a probability. Papa might be dead. But then I see him on the floor crying. And I don't know which is better: him dying or me caring. I sit beside him on the cold floor.
"What happened?" I ask him.
"You shouldn't see me crying." He whispers.
"Food is ready. Mami asks me to call you down."
"I am a bit tired." He says.
"Rita wants a divorce."
"Okay. I'll be leaving soon."
I leave him alone. I know he'd been expecting a better consolation but I couldn't. There's dust on the kitchen sink when he comes down and she gives him breakfast. Papa drives me to the airport and there he tells me, "I am a stupid person."
The sun is burning dreams when I let him go. And I know he needs a better hug but I am tired of anchoring him. I barely wave him off and he knows I don't care about him. But maybe I do.
I don't have a shoulder to cry on but that's fine as long as Europe welcomes me fully.