WE LIVE IN A three-storey apartment building in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is about as high as Scottsdale gets. Were on Via Linda. That means pretty road in Spanish, inaccurately. On the plus side we have a shared pool, which gets cleaned, oh, ABOUT EVERY THREE YEARS,andifyoucontinuewalkingonViaLindayougetto the desert in about a half-hour, which is awesome.
That last bit isnt meant to be sarcastic, by the way: I love the desert. Whenever I can, I go out there and just climb a hill or something. When I say when I can what I mean is, when I can persuade Mom to come with me. From my description of her ass in the pyjama jeans you can guess that this is not a frequent occurrence. But sometimes, once every couple of months maybe, shell give in and haul herself, sweating, up a hill with me, and then at the top through panting breaths shell admit that, yes, it is beautiful.
Anyway, the mountains. There are loads of them. Then you can see to about infinity in every direction, all sandy flatness covered in scrub and cacti, and pale little hills sticking up under the endless wispy-clouded sky.
Its possible to imagine, then, that youre standing in five hundred years ago, before the settlers came, when the Apache and the Navajo and the Yavapai wandered the desert. Now they dont wander so much they stick to the Yavapai Nation reservation up in the hills near Flagstaff. Notthat Ive seen it that would mean an actual honest-to-goodness trip, and Mom is never going to sign on for that. I dont think theres much there apart from a casino anyway.
Mom and I lived in Alaska till I was four not that I remember it. South Alaska, not the full-on North Pole. Then we were in Albuquerque for like a year, I only vaguely remember it, and ever since then weve been in Scottsdale. Here. Once, I asked Mom why she came south to the desert, and she said, Alaska has fingers of rain and its eyes are always half closed.
It is maybe relevant that Mom had a cooler of wine on board at this point, but she does say strange things even when shes sober. For instance, she talks a lot about rain she says Im her daughter, and she loves me, and if she wants to keep the rain from falling on me, then whats wrong with that?
Uh,nothing,I say when she comes out with crap like that, because the important thing is to agree with her.
Although, I kind of know what she means. That is, I only remember Arizona and New Mexico, so I dont have anything to compare them to,but its true that it never rains here and there are no shadows, and you couldnt call it sleepy or half awake. Its light all day, then the land closes its eyes and BOOM, its night. It gets cold at night its because of the lack of moisturein the desert. Apart from that its almost always warm. Right now its spring and its like mid-seventies all the time. Thats another thing that Mom likes about it. She says, The cold in Alaska gets into your skeleton, and you can never shake it.
Right now, Mom is mainly trying to shake it by walking surprisingly fast down the street, her ass rippling in her, ahem, pyjama jeans. Thats not subliminal any more, by the way. Its just description. No one walks in this part of Arizona no one besides us anyway, because we dont have a car. I mean, its just houses and strip malls.
And even though shes over weight,shes twenty feet ahead of me now, passing the Apache Dreams restaurant, a low block of a building with floor-to-ceiling windows. As far as I know it serves mainly waffles, which is a weird thing for an Apache to dream about.
I hurry to catch up. Ive got jeans on NOT pyjama jeans and theres sweat trickling down my back, but its either that or show my scars, and Im not doing that. My hair is pulled back in a ponytail, like always. I am wearing a T-shirt with a band name on it; its kind of a joke between me and my mom.
I read a load of books Harry Potter, Twilight, but also George Eliot,Dickens,Faulkner whatever.My mom taught me to read when I was, like, four. Shes pretty proud of it, and you know, I dont really blame her. Im glad, anyway reading is awesome. Just escaping into someone elses life, into another world. In books, everything is possible.
And . . . it seems that in girl books theres always some description of the girl so you know what she looks like,but heres the thing, I dont KNOW what I look like. I mean, I have seen myself in mirrors, obviously. But OK, you tell me what you look like.
Not so easy, is it?
But, fine, to get it out of the way: I have brown hair. I have eyes. I have a nose, and a mouth. My mom says Im beautiful, the most beautiful girl in the world, but she would say that, wouldnt she? I guess its possible Im pretty. Im five-five. One hundred and fifteen pounds. Athletic, you could say.
Ice cream for dinner after, honey? Mom asks when Im walking beside her.
I nod. Thats what we do every Friday, of course, but she likes to ask, and what does it hurt? Anyway I love Ice Cream for Dinner Night. I always have. Me, Id happily have Ice Cream for Dinner Night every night, like forever. I think Mom would too, but even though she shops in the plus-size section herself, its important to her that I stay healthy.
I like that even more than I would like ice cream for dinner every night.
I step out into the street to cross over, and theres a Chevy station wagon I didnt see and
AND I TOLD YOU four hours,didnt I? Thats only been,like,a half hour, dont get ahead of yourself.
So Mom reaches out and gets a hold of my T-shirt and pulls me back on to the sidewalk, where I teeter for a moment.
No,Shelby,says Mom,shouts it,actually,which shows that shes had a shock because she hardly ever uses her voice with me. Shelby is my name I said that already, I think. Mom named me after a Ford Mustang Shelby GT, because she says its beautiful and powerful at the same time, and thats what she wants for me. Moms weird like that she doesnt even seem that interested in cars, but you never know what little thing shes going to turn out to randomly know a load about.
You can never quite get a handle on her, is what it means. And you can never cheat on a test. Or make something up in an essay.
Sorry, I say.
Its not . . . its not an apology that I need, says Mom. I need to know youre safe when Im not there. Youre just always dreaming. You KNOW, Shelby. You KNOW you look both ways before you
Yes. I know. Then I get pissed, suddenly, like when a house light goes off on a timer. But youre ALWAYS there, I say.You never leave me alone.
This is true I mean, Im homeschooled, so we spend a lot of time together. And no one could deny that Mom is über-protective and kind of scared of everything. When I was a kid she never let me out of her sight; she covered me in SPF-50 if we even stepped outside; she wouldnt let me ride a bike.
But its cruel of me to say it that way, to tell her she never leaves me alone, because its not like I mind it I mean, she loves me and she doesnt want anything bad to happen to me; I get it. Right at that moment though I just want to hurt her.
Mom takes a deep breath . . . and says nothing. She just takes my hand and leads me across the road, as if Im a little girl again. Its Ice Cream for Dinner Night, she says just to herself, like a calming mantra, but I see it. I see the fear on her face.
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