Lately the nightmares are getting worse.
I keep reliving those days when she just wouldn’t even get out of bed because she was so high. Staring at her door, afraid that I’ll be put into foster care any day now because she’ll stop breathing. And that inner part of me seeing how angry I was and watching as my sister and I just fight and fight, hating ourselves because we were so powerless.
Then there’s no food. The only food we eat now is lunch from school we get for free. I dread coming home. I dread the weekend. I won’t be able to eat Saturday because nothing is in our fridge. I think about stealing money from her purse to go grocery shopping. Just one more time. I wonder if I should walk to the store, it’s over a mile, or if I should take the bus. That’s two dollars I could need. I wonder if I could get myself a coke. I loved coke. When she woke up, she usually would go for a cigarette run. She’d get me a coke then. It was a reminder she was still breathing and I wouldn’t be put back in the system again.
When I got home, I put my bag down, and staring down the hallway at her door. I don’t steal. I am a good girl. I am a good girl. I am a good girl. I am a good girl.
But I’m so hungry.
I slowly open the door.
Her blinds are shut, she’s curled up in a tight ball, face down. The room has an acrid taste to it, stale with the hint of unwashed human and something darker. Something I knew she lived for and something I hated more than anything.
I listen for her breathing.
I can’t hear it.
She is dead. I am dead. I am going to lose everything.
I pick the pillow up from near her, heart thumping in my ears. I feel like I can’t breathe, something cold writhing in my stomach, clawing at my chest, causing my hands to shake.
I watch for the rise and fall.
Rise and fall. Rise. Fall. Rise. Fall.
I let out a shaky breath and slowly put the pillow down. She doesn’t move, no sign that she even registered I was just inches away.
My eyes sweep the room. I see the pipe just a foot away on the nightstand and just close my eyes. I don’t want to think about it. I have a goal. She always keeps it near her. I look down. At my feet there it is.
Worn brown leather with holes in it, overflowing with coupons and change. I slowly open the pouch she keeps her money in.
Disappointment floods my being. There’s only a $20 there. She’d know if I took her last $20. I spot her EBT card. I knew the pin. There had to be some left this month. I quietly pocket it. I count out change for the bus.
I put everything else back exactly the way I found it.
As I creep towards the door, she suddenly sits up right, staring straight into my soul.
Blood rushes into my ears, I feel like I’m going to faint, I’m cold all over.
“Allie?” She croaks.
“I’m sorry mom. Just go to bed,” I whisper.
“Kala?” she looks confused. “Why aren’t you in school?”
“School’s done for the day,” I say flatly.
“Oh.” Her eyes cloud over again, and I know I’ve lost her. She’s already sinking back into the bed. “Let me know if Chrissie comes.” she says with the last bit of lucidity. Then she giggles, turning over to stare at the wall.
I back out, breathing hard.
I am still a good girl. Right? I am a good girl…good girl…. I looked at the EBT card, feeling sick. What if she needed this? I just did something bad. Very bad. It wasn’t too late to turn back.
I look at the clock. 3:30 and Allie is still not home. School’s been out for an hour and a half. My stomach moans its hunger.
I have five minutes to run to the bus.
The driver sees me counting out nickles and pennies to make a dollar and just waves me on, handing me several transfers. I say thank you quietly, shaking as I get in my seat. I’m not used to kindness. Most bus drivers just yell when I have so much change. I’m used to yelling.
When the bus drops me off in Haleiwa, I look longingly at the fast food restaurant across the street. I haven’t had it in years. I think only of a happy meal. They were usually the only toys we got in the year besides Christmas. Though, we only got them on special occasions. Usually a birthday. Or if mom had been particularly frugal and craved french fries. Which rarely happened.
My stomach growls again and I walk the rest of the way to the grocery store. I get honked at by someone from school, sneering at me from the passenger seat. Another high schooler drives by. They shout at me to go back to the mainland, being a stupid haole bitch. Their friend laughs and says I look like a boar and watch out, that someone will shoot me. They drive away, sniggering and turning up 98.9. Even though I was in 8th grade, I knew most of my upper classmen.
It’s nothing new.
I walk by Haleiwa Supermarket. It’s too expensive for us. I cross the street instead, cutting into Fujioka’s supermarket’s parking lot. The paint is peeling and their air conditioner is fried today. There’s always a faint rotting stench that tinges the air along with a fishy smell. It’s worse today.
Good. They’re having a big sale. I have a feeling it’s because everything is going bad fast, but it’s a good thing for us.
I pass by the produce. I covet a few of the apples, but I notice one has mold around its core, the others bruised. It’s too expensive anyway.
I head for the back where I grab the cheapest hot dogs there. They’re 2 for $3. This is a good day for me and my sister.
I look at the buns. They’re more than the hot dogs are. I grab the cheapest loaf of bread instead. I think we still have a jar of peanut butter at home. I grab boxes of pasta but then I notice that spaghetti sauce is too expensive. It’s nearly $4 a jar. And Allie won’t eat Alfredo sauce so I don’t even bother looking at it. I put back the pasta with a sigh and grab saimen instead, splitting evenly between chicken and beef flavorings. Allie likes the chicken ones. We could have four a piece. That would last us most of a week.
I cheered up a bit at the thought.
The mac n cheese here is pricey. I stare at it. Weigh the benefits. Allie would want it. She’ll be mad I didn’t pick up cereal either, but it’s just too pricey. Nor could I afford milk nor do I want to lug it all the way back home.
I love mac n cheese though. It’s the only thing I never get tired of. But neither does Allie. It’s probably her favorite food.
I pick up the smallest box. It’s single-serving. My sister at least would be happy. I grab some spaghetti-os too. They’re two for a dollar. I don’t like them as much, but it’s better than nothing.
As I check out, I look at the sodas. I have $10 worth of stuff in the cart. If I have enough…then….then I’ll indulge. I nod to myself. Yes. I deserve it.
The surly cashier rings me up. I hand him the card.
He eyes me up, but decides to not ask any questions. I don’t know whether it’s a compliment he thinks I’m old enough, or an insult. Or maybe he just understands.
I doubted it though.
He tells me there’s not enough. We’re a dollar short.
I thank the bus driver in my head and give him half of the change. He bags everything.
I think I have enough for that coke. Oh, I really really wanted that coke. I haven’t had one in at least two months. That was the last time she had gotten me anything. (She spent all the money on cigarettes, upgrading to a pack and a half a day so there wasn’t leftover money for my coke) It would remind me what happiness was like. Just for a little bit. My stomach rumbled, but I ignored it. I needed this coke, it would be balm to my depression.
I took a can from its lukewarm fridge and put it on the register.
“$1.04” he says without looking up.
I stare at the change in my hand. I forgot about tax. .99 didn’t mean .99. I feel my eyes water a little.
I pick it up and put it back in the fridge.
He just watches.
I sit at the bus stop with my groceries, nose deep in a book I had borrowed from our school’s library. I’m mainly using it as a deterrent, as there’s someone next to me shouting at the top of his lungs that we all needed to be saved.
When the bus stops in front of me, I want to cry with relief.
The walk home feels long, as I’m weighed down by the purchases. But it means we’ll have dinner tonight. That cheers me up.
I see the car parked out front. Mom’s friend must be here. But when I enter the house, it’s quiet. Her door is open, but I don’t hear movement. They probably went to the beach or the cemetery. For privacy. No neighbors to call the cops when they smell it.
I put the food away. I make saimen tonight for Allie and I.
By the time Allie gets home, it’s past 10. I reheat her bowel, and hand it to her.
She looks at it. Then at me. “Don’t we have cereal or something?” She asks with disdain.
I shake my head. “This is what we got.”
She takes it and goes into her room, slamming the door.
Mom still isn’t home.
I turn on the small brick tv we have. It’s sitting on the floor and you have to wiggle a stick to get the power to turn on, since the button came off. It’ s better than nothing though. We also don’t have cable. But I do have an n64 that someone gave me. I have one game. Donkey Kong 64. I turn it on, picking up the controller.
I stop playing when I see a roach scuttle by.
I swallow a scream, jumping onto the couch. It’s already 1. Mom still isn’t home. I berate myself over and over in my head for being such an idiot. It’s just a roach. It’s just a roach. It’s just a roach. But it moves towards the couch and I jump onto the armrest. I can’t help it. Something about them scares me so much. I would usually yell for mom to kill it. But she wasn’t here.
She usually at least comes home. Or did she work tonight. She would be home in an hour if she did.
I made two peanut butter sandwiches, thinking she’ll be hungry when she gets in.
It’s 2 am.
She’s still not home.
I huddle on the couch, staring at the back door. The roach had crawled under it. I hoped it didn’t find its way to me.
‘Please let her be alright. Please let her be alive. Please let her be okay. Please come home soon. Please come home soon.’ It’s a mantra, repeating over and over again in my head.
At 3 I see that a roach crawled onto the sandwiches. Something insides me breaks. Tears well and I feel them slide down my cheeks until they wouldn’t stop. A torrent of emotion breaks through the dam I had sealed.
I know I have to throw them away. But it’s food we could have eaten. It’s my stupid fault. I should have known better. The roach crawls away and I put them in the trash with trembling hands. My tears had stopped, and I forced myself to calm down.
I don’t cry much and even then, not for long. I had cried for 10 seconds. That was too long. I tell myself to not let it happen again. I was getting weak.
She comes home at 3:30. She’s yelling at someone.
I hear a car squeal away.
She staggers in, frowning when she sees me awake. She had put on make up, it was smudged, her eyeliner bleeding into her ears. She looked like she had been crying.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“I couldn’t sleep. I was worried.”
She laughs and shakes her head. “Go to bed Kala. You worry too much.” She goes to her room and I watch the door close.
I stare at it until the sun rises, donkey kong music still playing lowly in the background. I fantasize that I lived in a place like that family I had seen on tv once at a neighbor’s, where the mom woke up and her door would open this early and she made pancakes and orange juice and asked if you did your homework and took you to school.
And didn’t do drugs.
The roach crawls on the wall as I wake my sister up to get ready.