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Lily Child Chapter 1 Lily didn’t expect anything for Christmas. Mom spent the rest of her welfare money on whiskey and cigarettes, so she didn’t even bother asking for a tree. Jimmy, the guy who owned the small corner grocer, rang purchases on her EBT card as milk and bread. “We’ll be back in a moment. If anyone comes in, tell ‘em to wait,” Mom said. Lily watched them disappear through the back door. Hurriedly, she stuffed three Snickers bars in her right pocket and half a dozen airheads in her left. She lifted her shirt and pushed several bags of teriyaki beef jerky down the front of her pants; then several bags of mixed fruits and nuts into the back. The funny noises started, which was how she knew they were about to come
back. She straightened out and tried to look normal. They reappeared from the back door. “Lily, get a liter of soda and a pack of hot dogs and some bread.” The ripped up soles of her shoes flopped against the floor and echoed off the walls. She picked up the hotdogs and bread like Mom told her. Then she hid a small bag of apples under her arm inside her jacket. More than likely Mom would eat all the hot dogs by morning, leaving her with absolutely nothing. “Go to church, if you’re hungry,” she’d say. “I have to pay for my food, but you don’t.” But church only gave out free meals on Sunday afternoons, after services. Mom knew this but didn’t care. She just wanted Lily out of her face. Just as she turned to go back to the front of the store, Mom and Jimmy were
locked in a loud, disgusting kiss. His hand was down her shirt. Lily took the extra moment to stuff a couple cans of ravioli into the sleeves of her jacket. As she walked back to the front of market, she swiped a packet of the large U shaped needles and slipped it up her sleeve. She walked up to the counter and waited. Mom told her never to interrupt her when she was doing something with Jimmy. The bell sounded out as a customer walked in. “You should go,” said Jimmy. “Okay,” Mom said. “Come by later, if you’re not busy. Bring some beer, too.” Jimmy didn’t say anything. He ran his hand through his hair, several times, and looked away. Mom sighed. “Lily, let’s go.”
They exited into the cold Christmas air. Snow had already layered the block. People tried to bury themselves in jackets and shawls. “I don’t know why I keep you around, Lily. You’re bad luck. Jimmy is really good, really into me, but because I got you, he’ll never come around. He thinks I’m trash is what, and it’s all because of you. You’re trash that I have to lug around until I’m dead.” She shivered loudly. “See this?” she asked, indicating her dirty sweater. “I don’t ‘got’ a warm coat, but you do. You got that for free. Well, you know what? Nothing in this world is free. Look what I gotta do just to get you dinner?” At the corner she pressed the light and shivered. Lily did her best not to look at her; it made her especially angry when she was in a mood.
All up and down the block, stragglers hurried off to who knows where. Lily wished she was one of them, going off to visit real family or friends, or even to her own apartment where she’d be alone. Mom walked across the street as though she were trying to get away from Lily. She did her best not to fall far behind and not to walk by her side, because both could land her sleeping in the stairwell. Lily sighed with relief when she made it up the sewage smelling hall without Mom pushing her down the stairs again. Maybe tonight she’d shut up in her room, and Lily would sleep on the couch while watching Christmas movies. To her relief, Mom did just that: she went to her room and shut the door without another word. The apartment was dim and smelly, with one bulb that stuck out of the
ceiling. And the bug ridden carpet had a layer of air between it and the floor. There was only fifteen feet between the door and the single window opposite. On the right side of the wall nearest the door was a sink, stove and refrigerator, followed by the door to the single room which had the only bathroom – Lily sometimes peed in the sink rather than disturb Mom. On the other side of the door was an ancient television; on the left side was a moldy couch that she’d sprayed numerous times for bugs. That’s why the apartment always smelled like pesticide. Lily turned on the television. The movie looked funny. Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, but she couldn’t hear everything because of the snowy sounds.
She unzipped her backpack, the only safe and secret place she had, and stuffed her food in there. Then she put the package of U shaped needles on the
table. They were for sewing leather and she planned to use one to fix her shoes later; hopefully, they’d work on rubber soles. Sitting back on the dirty couch, she pulled off the top of a can and licked it clean. Using her fingers, she fished out a ravioli and sipped and licked the sauce that ran down her palm. The sky was pitch black that night, she noticed looking out of the window. Snow had started to fall heavily. More than anything, she wished she had her cocoa, but it was in the locker at school: the only other safe place in her life. Across the street, in the apartment facing theirs, a couple had come home. Lily loved to watch them. She knew it was creepy, but they seemed so normal. After moving around the room a bit, they sat and snuggled on the couch. They toasted with the drinks in their hands. Then the man leaned forward and
picked up a remote control and pointed it. He set down the remote, and then they relaxed without anything more. Once, Lily spent a night at the house of a friend from school. Michelle was her name. Her family and life were so different than hers. It made Lily wonder what it would be like if she were someone else. Michelle’s mother actually hugged her when she walked in from school; her father even said hello to her. Not only did they make dinner together, but they ate at a table. They asked Michelle about her day, and later, kissed her goodnight. Lily wished she could have visited her again, but she was no longer welcome. After dinner, Lily, in disbelief that they could throw away the last bits of salad and a half eaten chicken leg, was caught digging through the trash. Michelle’s mother walked in and caught her pocketing the food. She called her disgusting and made her put it back in the trash.
Lily wasn’t humiliated, though she supposed she should have been. She was used to people calling her on her peculiarities. On one occasion, she overheard her teacher call her ferine. Lily didn’t know what that meant, but she hated that teacher anyway. As she slurped more red sauce from her can, she looked down on the street to see how much snow had gathered. Down below was that tall girl again. Light from the lamp poles reflected off her long black hair. On her face was the deadest look she’d ever seen; not to mention her pale skin. Even stranger was she only wore a little leather jacket, yet she didn’t hug herself for warmth. There was a strong woman with purpose, thought Lily. Nothing could touch her. Lily had seen her many a time while passing through her neighborhood. She even contemplated dying her stringy ash
blonde hair black. She wanted to be like that one day; Lily wanted to be untouchable, too. Through the walls, the sound of her mother’s metal bed frame squeaked. Lily put her can of ravioli on the floor, between the wall and couch. If Mom saw it, she’d take it and eat it. Mom opened the door. “Lily, go to the store and tell Jimmy to come over after work. Tell him I’ve got to see him.” She was already slurring. “Okay, okay, let me just put on my shoes.” Lily bent over and pretended she was tying up her boots. Mom went back inside her room after a moment. They’d been through this before. She’d tell Lily to go get her something or other. Then she’d drink and pass out
before Jimmy, or whatever it was she wanted, ever got a chance to make her. As soon as she heard the sound of her mother getting back into bed, Lily picked up the can of ravioli. Sitting on the rim of the can was a cockroach inspecting the ravioli with its antennas. She flicked it away and took a long sip.
~~~ Life had been like this for as long as Lily could remember. She knew Mom was off in the head but there wasn’t much she could do about it. On more than one occasion, social services had tried to get involved, but they always brought her back. The system was too full and where they could, they sent children back home. Things were okay, though. Of all the kids at school, she was the luckiest. She went where she wanted, did what she willed and no one interfered. Every day,
she showed up to school at about noon, ate lunch, slept through classes and then hung out at the Boys and Girls Club until late. Lily never really considered her future. Sure, the aides at the club talked about goals and being poor, and college and getting ahead and stuff. Simply, she had no desires except to survive each day. Mom was the same way. Many times, people came by to help her find work. She even went to a few jobs, but they never lasted a single day. People learned quickly that Mom was not mentally well. It was one thing to deal with someone who acknowledged their problems; it was another to work with someone who refused to try and be better. Lily couldn’t wait to turn sixteen because the first thing she’d do is leave. She’d get a job and move out. The only problem was she couldn’t read or write very well, but her friend, Janice, who lived downstairs and was a few years
younger, promised to help her out. So far, she had kept her word by helping her memorize the alphabet. Also, she practiced writing with her. Lily had fun at the Boys and Girls Club. She didn’t have any friends there, but sometimes, they ordered pizza for the kids who stayed later. That was the main reason why she hung out, because a few days per week it was always a guaranteed dinner. If they didn’t order pizza, then they had fruit, graham crackers and milk for snacks. Often, she’d play pool and air hockey for hours on end. She was pretty good, too. No one at the club could beat her. Occasionally, she’d even played for money at Dalia’s, the neighborhood bar. At first, some of the guys were angry to have been beaten by a teenage girl, but Dalia came to her rescue. Since then, they respected her and even got used to her being around.
Dalia was a drunk who lost track of money and business as the nights progressed. Generally, her patrons didn’t take too much advantage of her, though Mick, the biggest scum of them all had pocketed a bottle here and there. But Dalia ‘got’ Lily right away, which was probably why she gave her jobs to do for money sometimes. They weren’t nice jobs; no it was usually doing something disgusting, like cleaning up vomit or piss off of the floor. Last week, the dishwasher broke, so Lily cleaned glasses for a couple hours. On that very evening, on her way home, as she crossed the street between 57th and 2nd, she spotted that girl again. She was old, maybe sixteen years of age. Curious, Lily followed her. Everything about her was interesting. The way her feet pounded the pavement shouted dominance; how her hair flew along the wind showed the reach of her influence, and the way
people’s eyes drew to her dark beauty made her more powerful. They stopped at the corner light. Slyly, Lily walked up and stood beside her. From the corners of her eyes, she tried to catch a full glimpse of the strange girl’s face. Snow white, she was, with glittering eyes. The only color on her face was the red of her lips. She was so pretty and fierce like white fire. She walked too fast across the street, and disappeared around the next block. How could someone move so fast? Lily hurried to catch up. She caught her around the corner, walking along several yards of chain link fence. The girl turned into an opening in the fence, down a short path and disappeared through two pieces of wood nailed across a short walkway. Lily wondered what kind of place it was. From outside, it looked like it was on its last leg and could collapse at any
moment. Yet from the building, she thought she smelled food.
The next day, she woke at 10 am. She heard Mom’s snores through the walls. Thank goodness Lily wouldn’t have to deal with her, but now she’d have to go to school without a shower. The bathroom was in her mom’s room, and it was never worth waking her. On a wood shelf, above the television, she kept her clothes. She pulled down a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. Before putting them on, she inspected them for bugs. Then she grabbed her back pack and made her way through the white blanketed blocks. Snow heavily piled atop her head, but she didn’t mind. Somehow, the cold made her feel more alive. All the businesses on the block were closed, even the donut shop. Stanley, the owner,
usually gave her a free bear claw, now and again. The streets were empty; it occurred to her that school might be canceled that day. She’d never know until she got there because they didn’t have a phone. Mom had a crappy little prepaid, but she never wasted it on phone calls from anyone who didn’t have a penis. That week was the last one before Christmas vacation. She didn’t know what she was gonna do with the Boys and Girls Club being closed for an entire week. She’d be bored out of her mind. Oh well, at least she had enough food to last awhile. She all but crawled up the heavily snow piled stoop to the school hall. Her heart pounded because she knew it was possibly locked. When it opened, she nearly cried; tears well up in her eyes. Even if school was closed, she needed to get to her
locker – it was where she hid her main stash of food. Normally, she didn’t carry it all in her back pack because her mother might find it. But since the hall would be closed for two weeks, she had no choice: She needed to get what she’d stored there. Five years ago, she forgot to get her food before the hall closed and wound up eating leftovers out of trashcans; it was a lesson she never forgot. She swept a dozen packages of graham crackers, a wad of hot cocoa powder, a block of cheese and a half eaten jar of peanut butter into her bag. She reached up on the top shelf and pulled a six pack of cup-o-noodles, a thermos and a box of tea and put those in, too. She closed the locker and turned the dial, and then faced the long hall. Not a student was in sight. This depressed her because the last thing she wanted was to go home, and she was sure the Boys and Girls Club would be closed.
Lily walked down the hall to her first period classroom and sat at her desk. From her bag, she pulled a book and opened it to the folded page. The Fellowship of the Ring was a most popular tale, but she’d barely been able to make it past the first ten pages. She knew she had to practice reading to get better, and that’s why she kept going back and trying. Eventually, it had to sink in, but sometimes the long winded passages made her fall asleep. If it wasn’t for Janice, she probably wouldn’t have made it as far. Bilbo didn’t want to give up a powerful ring that, according to Janice, had addictive powers. He and the other fellow, Gandalf, had plans for his nephew Frodo to join some kind of magic battle. Lily felt stupid because she never saw the movies, as if her mother would ever take her. Sometime later, she woke with a chill. She’d slobbered all over the desk.
The clock above the chalkboard said 12:30 pm. She was still alone. Across the room was the teacher’s sink; they were the only ones that got hot water. After she filled her thermos, she stuck in a teabag and twisted the lid shut. Then she sifted through her backpack and pulled out some jerky and ate an apple. If Lily could have, she would have stayed there and read all day, but it was just too cold. Not even the tea was helping. So after her snack, she walked to the Boys and Girls Club. Her spirits sunk when she pushed in the handle and the door didn’t open. Mom would only kick her out if she went back home now, so she decided to try the library. She walked up the steps of the Met and was delighted when she saw that it
was opened. There were only a few people in the halls and about the desks. Up the stairs she went to the second floor and over to a chair that was obscured by book cases. There, she could read in peace. Over the intercom, a woman announced that they’d be closing early. That was alright, though. All she needed was a couple hours. By that time, she could go home, hopefully. She sat in the warm cozy chair. But then a group of boys walked past. They stared hard at her; she looked back. A few minutes later, they wandered back. “Hey,” said the one with the light brown hair. “Why do you look homeless?” Lily didn’t say anything. She returned to reading her book. They couldn’t bother her much, as she was
used to being taunted. Eventually, they’d go away. “You should wash your hair and your clothes. You smell bad and look ugly.” When she still didn’t respond, the boy said, “I know who you are. We go to school together. It’s true; you really are deaf and stupid.” “Fuck you,” she said. “What? You want to say that to my face?” Lily stood up. Sometimes she loved to fight; it was the only way to work out pent up anger. She wasn’t bad, either. Obviously, the boys hadn’t heard much about her, because if they had, they’d have known better than to mess with her. The boy got closer and pushed her. She stumbled back onto her seat. Lily didn’t hesitate to flip her leg up,
forcefully, as she landed in the chair, right into his crotch; then she stabbed him in the shoulder with a pencil she pulled from her pocket. She could have let it go at that moment, but for some reason, when she got going, she couldn’t stop. Ignoring the blood that welled up from his shoulder, and his high pitched squeals, she grabbed him around the neck of his shirt and swung him around. He stumbled into the wall and fell; then Lily pulled him up the neck and dragged him to the head of the stairs. Being that she was taller and stronger than most boys at that age, it was no big feet to fling him back down the stairs, which she did - and he screamed all the way down. The librarian screamed at them all to leave. Every face in the place looked at them. Lily just hoped she didn’t throw her out next time, because the Met was one
of her main hangouts, when the club and school were out. As the boy walked past, the librarian stopped him and pulled the pencil out of his shoulder. Briefly, she looked at Lily. Thinking she would attempt to apprehend her, she took off running. Lily didn’t know what to do for the next couple of hours. She decided to wander the blocks in her neighborhood. After an hour, it became harder because the weather got worse. She was starting to think maybe she’d just sit in the stinky stairwell when she passed by a small diner she’d never noticed before. In her back pack, she had a $20 visa gift card she’d won in a drawing at the Boys and Girls Club Christmas party last week. She was planning to use it to buy herself Christmas dinner at a diner. Although maybe she could only get a cup of coffee and still have enough left over.
It wasn’t that she’d already spent all the money from working and playing pool at Dalia’s, as it was in a savings account. However, for someone like Lily who moved among the scum of the city, it was best not to carry anything that indicated she had any source of cash. And that was why she didn’t have a card for that account. Besides, that was for when she turned sixteen and needed to get a place. She’d already done the research, and she’d need at least twothousand dollars. For her, that was a lot of money but she had three and a half years to go. Lily was confident that she’d make her goal. It almost hurt to breathe the warm air after being outside for such a time. A kid who was just a few years older than her worked behind the counter. He was cute with soft brown eyes. “Take a seat anywhere.” The entire restaurant was empty.
“Why are you open if there’s no business?” “My father’s at the airport, picking up my grandmother. He’ll be back for me soon, I hope. Unfortunately, the kitchen is mostly closed. What are you doing out today in this terrible weather?” “I have nowhere else to go.” “Oh, well, have some coffee.” She sat down on the stool a few seats down from him. He pulled out a little white cup and filled it. “Anything else?” he asked as he set the cup down in front of her. “No, thanks.” “Well, might as well have the last piece of apple pie, then; it’s on me.” He placed a saucer on the counter; then scooped the last slice onto it.
“Where do you live?” “A few blocks over,” she replied and took a bite. “I’ve seen you before. You were walking down the street with some crazy lady. Was that your mom?” Lily swallowed and took a sip of the coffee. “Do you have anything else you can give me for free?” His eyes shifted downward, taking in her appearance. Lily often found that candor combined with her homeless appearance helped her get things from people. Just like with others, he said, “Let me see what I got.” She finished up her pie and took down the last of her coffee. Just then, a man walked in and called, “Rudy!”
The boy appeared with a small bag in hand. “Hey, Dad.” He handed her the bag. Lily smiled and said, “Thank you so much! If there’s anything I can do to pay you back, I will.” “Miss, you’re gonna have to leave. We’re closing up for the day.” Lily stood up. “Well, bye.” “Bye,” said the boy. “Come back sometime. Outside, the snow was getting worse. There was no way she could remain outdoors, so she turned and headed for home. When she made it to her building, she took the stairs all the way to the top floor. There were no apartments on that floor because it was the janitor’s space.
At the top of the stairs was a door that was pad locked. Sometimes, Lily squeezed through and hid inside when she knew the janitor wouldn’t be there. She was sure he was probably gone for the day. The room was freezing cold, but there was a small heater fan the janitor kept over in the corner, next to the window. Lily plugged it into the wall and turned it to face her. She shivered and sneezed as the heat blew dust in her face while thawing her. Then she pulled the foldable chair over by the window and looked through the bag. Inside a foam box were three large chicken breasts and a mound of coleslaw; in a smaller bag were half a dozen rolls and a few frozen pats of butter. In yet another bag was a few chocolate cookies. As she ate, she watched the snow and was thankful for what she had. She was inside, warm and had good food.
Plus, it was her favorite time of year. Sure, it was cold and if she wasn’t careful, she was twice as likely to die of starvation or hypothermia, but the world was inspiring at that time of year. In the cold and dark, her dreams and desires were made real. People didn’t notice her as much, and she could come and go from hiding places without being caught. Her fantasies weren’t of anything special or magical, as was Janice’s, who liked to pretend she was a witch when they played. No, for her, she was simply a well-dressed woman, walking through the rain to a place of shelter. The place was clean and warm, and had all the things she needed to live. Janice accused her of not having an imagination. Lily thought she was right; although she did have one fantasy that was imaginative. She’d always wanted a sister, maybe an identical twin. Sometimes, she imagined having a sister right down to the very things she’d say and do. The sister would be her best and
most reliable friend ever, and she’d never go away. From downstairs, she heard screaming and shouting. That was pretty normal in her building. The walls were thin and sometimes the police were called. Lily ate as much as she could and placed the rest in her backpack for later. On the shelf, she noticed a heavy blanket-like item, except it was really stiff and heavy. It was some sort of blanket she’d seen the janitor lay down on the floors of apartments before painting. She wrapped herself in it, stretched out on the floor and tried to read a bit more of The Fellowship of the Ring.
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