Breadcrumb #499

ANNA PETERSON

I wake up and look out my window.  The sun is beginning to gently illuminate my sheer white curtains; and then I realize - there is nothing attached to my shoulder.

Pins and needles start rushing through me like a tidal wave. I contort my body, thrashing against my sheets. I am telling myself that I have an arm, that it really exists even if I can’t feel it at this moment; I am not dreaming its existence. My vision focuses on my phantom arm. I pick it up and place it on the empty pillow beside me and wait for its feeling to return.

My vision focuses on my phantom arm.

As I lay there I can’t help but think that this is what being with you felt like. Telling myself your love existed. Convincing myself that it was real, even if I couldn’t feel it at that moment. Even worse, waiting for it to come back.

I glance over at my phantom arm and see that it is real. The blood is pulsing through it as it should be, and it can feel the cold air of my bedroom once again.

My phantom arm returned, but your phantom love never did.

• • •


Breadcrumb #498

JENNIFER FERNANDEZ

Because words on paper are angels enough to guide a lost soul through whatever forest they might find themselves in, and lead them home. But no one never really knows they’re lost.

We left the Bronx, in June 2007, I was a recent high school grad unsure if I wanted to go to college or move to Hollywood. Actors didn’t do college nor did they need it, right? Everybody on the block knew I was ambitious, “Chesca is gonna be famous” they’d say. Everyone except my mom, my very Dominican mom.

“You haven’t read any of these books,” my mom said as she cleared the bookshelf and packed away what she deemed worthy for our new apartment. “Actors at Work,” I read the title as if I didn’t know which books she was referring to. “Of course, I read it. And will read it again.” No point in explaining that in those moments when she asks about money and demands that I get a real job, that I turn to this very book for inspiration. Actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman to Meryl Streep sharing stories about craft, studying, being, doing – existing. She grabbed the tape to seal the box filled with my acting books and four editions of her ‘Remedios Caseros’ books. As far as this Dominican was concerned and Mama too, Vicks Vapor Rub was the plug, the heck with all of that. Junior walked into the house with sweat dripping down his fore head dribbling a basketball thinking he’s the next Felipe Lopez. He looked at all of the scattered books “We making money off this?” he asked. “Let’s set up shop in front of the building.” He grabbed one of them, “An Actor Prepares,” he mocked. “I bet J.Lo never read this. Diddy prepared, she just followed.” “Spoken like a true machista.” I retorted. “They train them young, huh?”

My little brother chuckled and walked away. By way of encouragement, he said that I wouldn’t have to do any of that because I have real talent. Mom stopped him before he could go too far, gave him a hug and put him to work; he had to do some heavy lifting like the rest of us or like most of us. Junior was the only one who still got a hug from Mom; a true momma’s boy. I discovered more items in the discard pile. I spotted my black and white composition notebook buried under more of her cure all books. Ella no sabe que lo que me cura a mi son palabras. That my writing took me into a world that was my own; finally someone I could talk to. Those blank pages were like the mood rings that turned your finger green; they would let you know how I was feeling. I wrote about whether my crush smiled back at me or ignored me. How my teacher didn’t understand my essay because well, he was a white man. I wrote down hip-hop lyrics, I connected to that world. It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up Magazine. Biggie had bars! I opened the notebook and the inside flap read, Franchesca: Actor/Writer. On some days, I felt like I had to pick, that I couldn’t be both. The reality was that both were pipe dreams in my culture so what did it even matter. I flipped the pages and came across my Dear God letters, which were really prayers unbeknownst to me. I copied poems from Teen Magazine, The Roses are Red ones.

I heard the wind chime by the door which was silly because the closest thing to a breeze we got in that apartment building was when the ceiling fan was on. Papi walked into the house and smiled at me. There goes my princess, he’d say. He kissed my forehead and I smelled the beer on his breath. The stench was coming out of his pores. Budweiser. I only knew that because of our trash can, leftovers and Budweisers. Papi mostly drank outdoors but every so often he’d have a couple at home. He thought we didn’t know he had a problem. My dad was supposed to be home three hours ago to help pack but he was preoccupied with hanging with the fellas in front of the corner bodega. He walked into the master bedroom where my mom was packing their clothes all by herself. This was candela pura especially since this wouldn’t be the first time he hadn’t shown up. A couple of years ago, he missed my mom’s college graduation because he overslept at his “friend’s” house. That was also the first time Papi hadn’t slept in his own bed. I bet he did that on purpose, there was a part of my Dad that didn’t want to see her liberated. Educated. You know, island mentality - he’s the man of the house. She decided to go to college when she realized that my dad’s vicio was costing the entire family. My mom wasn’t a yeller, she had a finesse about it; she knew how to cut you where it hurt without so much as raising her voice. Maybe it was the School Principal in her coming out. I drowned out their arguing, those voices that have become the soundtrack to my childhood, and continued flipping through a few more pages of my notebook. Another Dear God letter, I know God hears prayers but is he reading them too?

“Ya ta bueno, Chesca. Stop daydreaming. Move on to the next thing,” my mom told me as she walked past to get more empty boxes. She carried on as if she and Papi did not just have a heated debate.

A week later, we’re up to our knees with boxes, maletas and even garbage bags. The Dominicans are here, disturbing the peace in a quaint town in dirty Jersey. My brother found a neighborhood park for his daily runs and high intensity workouts. His coach told him he has to stay on top of his fitness. My dad didn’t have the corner bodega; he was home drunk more often than not these days. We had philosophical conversations on how he didn’t finish high school when he left the Dominican Republic. He raved about how he supported the family and put Junior and me through Catholic School while working at a factory. That was a sore spot since mom no longer needed his financial assistance. Our connection got stronger, so did his drinking. I enjoyed being able to talk to someone in my family - albeit an intoxicated parent. Papi wanted to tell me about his Casanova days (read: mujeriego) and how the white women in New York loved a chocolate brother who spoke Spanish. They weren’t sure if they wanted to go all the way black so Dominicans and some Ricans were as far as the experimenting would take them. I had to stop Papi. I didn’t want to know if he was with other women while with mom. I wanted to dialogue but not about that. Over the next few days, Papi and I continued our chats. He encouraged me to keep acting. “I’ll see you at The Oscars someday,” he’d say. The tension in the house was thick. He only had me to talk to and I in turn only had him.

I watched as my mom went straight to organizing, she didn’t have time to entertain nostalgia. She needed order; she avoided memories like the plague. So, this is what moving on up feels like, the Dominican version? Forget the Jeffersons, this was real life. As she tackled her last box labeled ‘miscellaneous’, she pulled out an old tattered pic. Her eyes became fiery daggers as she stared at the photo. Mom realized I was watching and laughed it off. Not knowing what to say, I asked to see the photo as if she would agree. She said it was none of my business. She stormed into the kitchen and grabbed the first thing she saw, one of those aluminum cups from DR. You know the ones where they engrave your name on it. The one where they spell your American name, the Dominican way. My cousin Jennifer became Yennyfer, her wannabe gringa behind was not happy about that. That’s a whole other issue. My dad walked into the kitchen, probably to get another beer, completely clueless. The timing was impeccable, I thought I was in a friggin’ Telemundo novela. She hurled the open side of the cup at my dad’s face and caught the right side with precision. He had a small but deep cut near his eyebrow that started bleeding. Funny thing was that my dad tried to dodge it forgetting he had a six-pack all to himself. Maybe it was more than a six-pack, his reflexes were slow. “VIEJA!” my dad yelled at her. He worried about me being there to see it. I wondered if this happened before. “Vete de mi lado,” she yelled back. “Get away!” He walked over to me and kissed me on the forehead as he pressed down on his cut with his index finger. He whispered, “Don’t worry princess,” and made his way to the bathroom. “Mami … you okay?” I asked her nervously.

It was the first time my mom showed emotion. It was the first time I saw the queen of the house shaken. She didn’t say a word to me. She wiped the tears from her eyes and ripped the photo up. My mom went right back to organizing. I’m convinced she is the Marie Kondo of her era. Except this didn’t look like it sparked joy, this looked like hell. Like an escape. I knew all about that but my mom was like one of those water balloons we used to fill up at the fire hydrant on the block, ready to pop. You didn’t need a PsyD to figure that one out. The doorbell interrupted my thoughts - that’s right we had a doorbell now. I assumed it was our neighbors bringing over some warm chocolate chip cookies. Suburbia 101. I opened the door and it’s a pissed off Junior.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Those racist fucking cops,” he said. “I’m riding my bike and they followed me.”

“Did they put their hands on you?!”

“No. They asked me for ID and questioned why I was in this part of town.”

Junior was a straight A student, not because he wanted to be but because he had to be. He needed college scholarships. His involvement with cops was little to none.

“Junior, we are not in the Bronx anymore. We don’t look like them,” I reminded him.

I tried to talk Junior through racial profiling and the fact that he’s a black male when my mom walked in on us. She realized she still had toilet paper in her hand for her sniffles and quickly disposed of it so that Junior wouldn’t see it. Her eyes looked watery but she’s used the visine line many times before. Supermom - to the rescue. Dad, nowhere to be found. “Que paso, mi hijo,” she said as she rubbed his back. I walked away and rolled my eyes. It didn’t call for all that. Junior needed to be informed not coddled. She got amnesia quick when it came to him. She was trying too hard to make sure he didn’t become the man who didn’t know how to love because he never received love. She didn’t want him to become the man she married.

I walked into my new bedroom; it looked like organized chaos thanks to my mom. I picked up my black and white notebook and I got lost in my writing.

Dear God,
I can’t do this anymore; I’m out to Hollywood.

• • •

Breadcrumb #496

JOSÈ ROLDAN, JR.

I can say that pain has made me pious. But, not in the Godly sense. I was a devoted person. However, my devotion was to my nostrils that have proven to me that they can take years of abuse without any repercussion. My family calls me an alley cat, because I’ve come so close to death a number of times. But, I keep getting up and going back to what keeps me going… Perico.

When I was a kid, my family left the island of Puerto Rico and moved to New York. The South Bronx. There was a lot for us to learn. You see, although there were tons of Puerto Ricans around us, this was not Puerto Rico at all. We arrived in late November and it was fucking freezing. I had never experienced weather like this before. Everyone seemed to love it, except me. We had to cover every inch of our bodies and looked like robots trying to walk down the street from all the layers we had to put on. But, despite the that we didn’t have the Palm trees surrounding us or tropical weather all year long, there was nothing but Puerto Rican culture all around us. You couldn’t walk down the street without hearing Salsa music or without smelling Rice, Beans and fried chuletas. There wasn’t a window that did not have the Puerto Rican Flag waving from it. Puerto Rico was alive and well in the South Bronx. Those that were born on the island talked about nothing but “la isla del encanto.” We missed it terribly and mourned our lives back home on the island. But things were different. Life was different and New York brought hope, dique. Apparently, life was better for us here. Work was plentiful and we weren’t starving. Well, that’s what they all said. Because, no one wants to face reality. No one wants to admit that coming here maybe wasn’t the best idea we all thought it was. There may have not been a hurricane that ran through this town. But people were living in conditions far worse than after Maria hit my island. The lobbies of our apartment buildings were filled with garbage just thrown on the ground. The elevators reeked of dried urine. The roaches and mice owned the building and came to collect their rent on nightly basis. It was horrific to say the very least. Within a matter of months, Papi, had used up all of the money he had in the bank. He didn’t get work at all aside from some side jobs painting and cleaning apartments. So, in order to get food on the table, he sold Marijuana. Actually, our apartment was the last stop of the Marijuana factory in the building. Our next-door neighbor Miguel, used to grow the shit out of an extra bedroom he had in his apartment and then cut, dry and bag it in his living room. He had a three bedroom for him and his brother. The other bedroom was turned into the botanical fucking garden. The room even had a green light y todo. One day Miguel needed my father to stop by to pick up some finished product to store in our apartment.

“José, tengo que ir a casa de miguel a buscar algo. Ponte pantalones.” Papi didn’t like any of us in the house alone. So, he always demanded that we get dressed to accompany him for any of his errands.

“Pa, I don’t want to go his house. I’ll stay here and play with games.” My cousin had lent me his playstation and I wanted to play God of War.

“No no no no. Ju go wit me.” I immediately sucked my teeth and threw my hands in the air. “Oye, ponte te bien.” Papi said with that look in his eye that made me second guess everything in life. I knew I wasn’t going to win this fight. So, I just went into my room and decided to take my time. I hoped that he would get annoyed and just go without me. But I wasn’t so lucky. He eventually came into my room and didn’t even say a word. He stood by the door and watched me as I dressed. Completely horrified, I got up from the floor grabbed my pants, and got dressed. I never even made eye contact with my father. I knew that looking at him would create a weird moment as he would have felt obligated to say something profound to me. Ever since he had to step up and watch us, Papi felt that he needed to drop some pebble of knowledge on us every once in a while. None of it was useful. Just some old Puerto Rican nonsense. There are times that I just wish that I had nothing to do with my family. Especially, my father. I mean, they didn’t do anything to me at all. But, at times I just feel like I needed to be away.

Far away from it all.

As we approached the hallway that we shared with eight other apartments, you could hear the sound of the radio playing in someone’s apartment. It was always the same, Freestlye music. Cynthia, Johnny-O, Coro and George Lamond were played so much, you would think they all lived in the building with us. Miguel’s apartment was completely unlocked so, we just walked right in. Miguel wasn’t the typical dealer in the neighborhood. He took care of the building and looked out for his neighbors. So, he wasn’t afraid of getting robbed or losing anything because he knew that the building would look out for him. That also included letting him know if the cops were on their way as well. The minute we walked in, I saw a thin cloud of smoke that surrounded the entire apartment. The apartment smelled like an old stale sock that needed to be thrown the fuck out. There wasn’t much furniture in the house besides a beige loveseat and sofa that was covered in plastic and a cocktail table that had stacks of VHS tapes, empty dirty glasses and completely filled ash trays. As we sat there, we can hear Miguel singing from the kitchen.

He took care of the building and looked out for his neighbors

“Jack, Jack, he’s a Lego maniac…. Jack, Jack, he’s a Lego maniac…”

Miguel constantly sang this song and it was annoying as all hell. Papi called out for Miguel as we sat down in the loveseat.

“Miguel, estamos aqui.”

“In the kitchen, ya voy.” Miguel yells back and then continues his Lego song. Within seconds, Miguel walked through a colorful beaded curtain that separated the kitchen from the living room. In both hands, he held the mother of all calderos filled with both nickel and dime bags. Now, Miguel was an extremely thin light-skinned Puerto Rican with an extremely large afro. Which made the caldero look even bigger in his hands.

“Bueno, here it is. I’ve been up all night getting this ready for you.” Said Miguel as he walked towards us from the kitchen.

“Since when do you bag your own shit, Miguel?” Papi said shaking his leg like he always did when he was high as a kite. You see, Papi started getting high a while back and we all knew it. But what Papi doesn’t want us to know is that he started on the harder shit. We know he’s using dope but, ain’t nobody going to disrespect Papi and bring it to his attention and since Mami is half crazy, we can’t rely on her to say anything. My sister, Xiomara, constantly cried about it. But no one her paid any attention to her or us for that matter. I mean no one really gave a fuck about another bunch of Puerto Rican kids from the island. That’s why Xiomara ran away from home at least four different times and each time she came back home kicking and screaming.

“I started bagging my own since my bullshit ass primo got caught selling to a cop. You ain’t gotta be scared little man. My snake is in his tank in my room.” Miguel said as I immediately got up and moved across the room. You see, Miguel would let his pet garter snake sliver through his hair most times and it would always freak me out because when the snake moved, his hair would move around as if his skull was caving in. One time, his snake poked his head out of Miguel’s hair and almost touched my ear. I panicked and everyone laughed at me.

“Papi, I have to pee. Can I go back home?” I asked my father as an excuse to go back home and not come back.

“Little man, you can use the baño here. It’s right there in the hallway.” Miguel said to me as he rolled up a joint for him and my father. Defeated, I got up and walked down the hall and opened the second door on the right. When I opened that door, I smelled the most heavenly smell I could have even imagined. Every inch of the room was covered with plant life. The room was completely dark except for a few green lights scattered all around the room. The room could have been an extension of the Botanical Gardens, there were so much greenery there. The smell was so strong in that room that after five seconds of having the door open, the aroma snuck into the sala where Papi and Miguel sat. They immediately knew that I had walked into the wrong room.

“Little man, not that room. Close that door!” Miguel said as he got up and walked in my direction. I slammed the door and went into the bathroom. I couldn’t believe what I saw, and I couldn’t get that smell out of my head.

Later that evening, when my younger brothers Edwin and Mike got home, I told them what I saw.

“We have to take some of Papi’s stash. You won’t believe the smell that came out of that room.” I told Edwin and Mike.

“Tu ta loco? Do you know what kind of trouble we can get into?” Mike said as he changed into his PJs.

“You’re such a pussy, Mike. Come on José, you I will get some and take it to school tomorrow.” Edwin was always down to do some crazy shit with me.

“Bet, when Papi and Moms go to sleep, I’ll go into the closet and get a few bags and put it in your bookbag.” Edwin and I shook on it and went about the night.

The next day, Edwin and I couldn’t even wait to get to school. We skipped breakfast and ran down the stairs.

“Show it to me.” Edwin said.

“Not here, loco. Let’s wait until we get to school at least.” As soon as I said this, Mike comes over with a fucking pancake in one hand and a boiled huevo in another.

“I’m not saying shit to ya’ll. When ya’ll stupid asses get caught, don’t say shit.”

“Shut the fuck up, you fat bastard.” Edwin yelled as he walked away from him.”

“It’s alright, Mike. We’ll be fine.” I said as I put my arm around Mike and made our way to school.

After school, Edwin and I met up in the school yard and found a place that we felt was discreet. We decided that behind the bleachers in the field would be a perfect place to light up some grass. I immediately open my bag and pulled out two joints.

“When did you roll it up?” Miguel asked.

“During lunch time. Pedro came out with me and showed me how he does it. I gave him one and left two for us.” I said.

“Shit, I don’t have a lighter.” Miguel blurted.

“Don’t worry, I got that covered too.” I shouted with all the pride in Puerto Rico. I let Edwin take his first pull. He immediately started coughing and I could not stop laughing.

“Oh, you think you could do better?” He said in between coughs.

“Fuck yeah, I can.” I handed him the lighter and put my joint to my mouth. He flicks his thumb and brings the flame towards my face. As soon as I’m about to take my pull, we hear

“Hey, what are you two doing?” We immediately drop the joints and lighter and begin to run as fast as we can. But the minute we got to the end of the bleacher, we were met with Mr. Abreu and Mr. Torres.

“What were you guys doing?” said Mr. Abreu as he grabbed Edwin.

“Were you two smoking grass?” Said Mr. Torres. We both said no in unison. But, they didn’t believe us. Both Mr. Torres and Mr. Abreu grabbed me and Edwin and dragged us back down the direction we came from. The joints were still there laying on the floor.

An hour later, we were sitting in Mr. Torres’ office with Mike who was pissed at the both of us. We weren’t saying a word to each other as we waited for either Papi or Moms to pick us up. Mr. Torres got up from his desk and walked out of the room.

“You two are complete idiots.” Mike screeched.

“Oh, shut up.” Edwin and I said.

“Shut up? Ya’ll got me in here with you. Papi is going to think that I was involved in all this. I told ya’ll to leave Papi’s stash alone but no, you gotta go and take his shit and try and smoke it at school!!!” As soon as he says this, Mr. Torres walked into the room. At first, he stood there just staring at us. We didn’t utter a single word.

“Mike, where did your brothers get the grass from?”

“Shut up, Mike.” Edwin yelled.

“I didn’t ask you to speak, Edwin.” Said Mr. Torres. “Where did your brothers get the grass from?” Mr. Torres said again with a sterner voice. Edwin stared Mike down as if he was about to kill him with his eyes.

“He didn’t do nothing, Mr.” I said softly to Mr. Torres.

“Mike, come with me please.” Edwin and I both look at each other and then at Mike. Mike looked like he was about to cry as he got out of his seat and walked out of the room.

The next week, we were all sitting in the living room eating dinner when we hear a sudden knock on the door.

“Quien es?” Yelled Papi from the dining room table.

“Police, open up.” Papi jumped up out of his seat and ran to the room. The knocking got louder.

“Open up the door, now. We have a warrant.” We could hear Papi moving shit around in the room as the door swung open and the cops came running inside the house. Xiomara immediately started crying and screaming while Mami just sat there knitting a scarf. We started to scream as a cop grabbed each of us. The next thing I remembered is Papi being dragged out of the apartment in handcuffs being read his rights while a social worker sat with us and told us that we would be placed in a group home for kids and that Xiomara was going to be sent to a girls home, while my brothers and I will be sent to an all boy home. We all held one another until the social worker grabbed Xiomara and ripped her from our arms. I watched as they took her in complete disbelief. That was the last time we saw her, until Papi got out of jail, years later.

• • •

Breadcrumb #488

MADDY BURNS

I have to say “Drive safe” when my husband leaves. If I don’t, he might get into an accident.

    I have to say “I love you” at the end of every phone call. If I don’t, and my mom or dad die, they might die thinking that I didn’t love them.

    I have to text “I love you” to all of them before I turn off my phone on the plane. If I don’t, they might think that I died mad at them.

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, is the go-to reference for diagnosing mental illnesses. It contains approximately 297 diagnoses of mental illnesses, under a bevy of codes. They include codes for:

  • adult psychological abuse by nonspouse or nonpartner, suspected

  • adjustment disorder, with disturbance of conduct

  • mild neurocognitive disorder due to multiple etiologies.    

    I’m still looking for the applicable code for a two-year old girl who thinks she killed her mom with her thoughts. The code for a little girl whose mother disappeared a week after she wished her dead. The code for a little girl who doesn’t understand what spinal meningitis is or what a hospital quarantine means. Because everyone knows that little girls can’t hurt people with their thoughts.

     Except  . . .

     When I say “Drive safe,” my husband looks at me and sighs.

    “I will,” he says, his eyes tired.

    When I say, “I love you,” my mother pauses a little through the phone before saying, “I love you, too.”

    When I text “I love you,” they know what I really mean.

• • •

Breadcrumb #487

ANDREW PHILLIPS

Sam thought about spadefoot toads. They were a dream so real he could hold them in his fist. His parents had gone out to see them when they’d first come to the apartment. They’d trekked into the woods and found the crater that filled with water one night a year every April. On that night, they’d stood at the water’s edge, watched the spadefoots climb up from their ground homes, and deposit eggs in the pool. It was a beautiful thing, his mother told him, the promise of life passed from parents to their young.

His parents planned to take him one day to see the spadefoots, but that promise was given before his father left on assignment.

In the meantime, he amused himself as best he could. He squeezed his toes together and pretended they were the shovel-like toad feet and dug up pennies and fluff from beneath the sofa cushions. Often, he croaked. Sam was that type of kid who felt moved to croak --  in his bedroom, at the laundromat, and in his school. Kids called him names and his teachers shook their head at him, but he didn’t care.

His mother didn’t mind the noise.  She built him a forest out leaves that she taped to his bedroom walls.  On winter nights, she strummed woodland melodies on her ukulele. She encouraged Sam to supply the lyrics, and they’d dance around the room.

When Sam was nine, his mother told him that Cheyenne and Troy were moving into the basement apartment. Sam was not impressed by this development. Cheyenne, a nurse his mother worked with at the hospital, phoned his mother at inconvenient times to complain about her ex-husband. Troy, her son, wasn’t any better. He belonged to a crew who called him retard. They were the reason Sam stayed inside at recess and read nature books.

“Help Troy feel welcome here,” his mother said.

“He’s very loud,” Sam said.

“Okay, frog man.”

“It’s toad man,” he corrected. “Get it right.”

His mother clasped a hand over her heart in mock embarrassment. “How could I get that wrong? What is my penance?”

Sam deliberated for a moment. “Five gummy worms.”

“Deal.”

Two weeks later, Sam went outside to count fireflies. Troy was whacking tennis balls at rabbits.   

“Wusses,” Troy said.

“They aren’t,” Sam said. “Rabbits are tough.”

Troy shrugged.

“They kill their babies,” Sam said.

“What?”

“The dads do,” Sam explained. “They get jealous of the babies. The mom rabbits give them too much love.”

“What dicks,” Troy said.

Dicks was a dirty word. It’s what Sam’s uncle called his father.

“My father is a dick,” Troy said.

Sam handed him a stray tennis ball. They were teammates without a coach.

On nights when his mother worked late, Sam filled the indoor forest with a tribe of new friends. Troy, Aunt Cheyenne, and a few kids from the neighborhood ate pizza and watched the weather report. It was April and the first downpour was around the corner. On the night of the first rainstorm, the spadefoot toads emerged. This year, Sam, his mother and the other boys would find them.

On the night of the rain, Sam’s mother had to work late, but told him he could go as long as he stayed with the other boys. They were a band of wellie clad explorers, and the spadefoots were calling them to join them at the enchanted pool.

On the night of the first rainstorm, the spadefoot toads emerged.

As they traveled deeper into the woods, the apartment building vanished from view. The only light came from their flashlights, and the soundtrack was the throaty tune of the spadefoots.  They were close. Sam felt it.

“What are you doing?” Troy asked. “Stop dancing.”

Sam hadn’t realized he had been dancing, but he couldn’t stop. He was happy, and it was okay to dance.  His mother and father danced on the night they’d seen the spadefoots.

“It’s fine,” Sam said. “My father---

“He’s crazy,” Billy Stoner said.

Troy’s lips twitched into a smile. “Just retarded.”   

Sam flushed.  The music inside him died.  It had been months since they’d called him a retard. Retarded was too much homework, deflated soccer balls, when his father failed to call.

Sam grabbed a rock and tossed it at Troy’s chest.

War descended upon the woods.  Troy hurled a rock in his direction, and then they launched themselves at each other. Sam fought for the woods and the spadefoots. He kicked, punched, and scratched his way through the wall of belligerent boys, and when he broke free, he ran after the music.

The woods seemed darker with every step.  The others were ghosts of a past world. The music was his future, a fragile one.  This future was pulling in different directions. The music was everywhere and nowhere.  He strained his ears for the throaty melody, but it eluded him. He turned right, then left.  He was back at the sight of the brawl, but the boys were gone. They were walking back to the house, or they’d never really come. Either way, he’d promised to stay with them, but he couldn’t go back. The spadefoots had been counting on him and they were boys that ruined the night.

Sam sat down on a stump and waited for her to find him.

She arrived after the rain, but face was streaked with black rivers and her smile was missing.

“Troy?” he asked.

“Is fine.”  

Sam nodded. He’d fought with the group and left them.

“I’m sorry,” She said.

“Why?”

She didn’t answer. “Climb on my back.”

He wrapped his arms around her neck and allowed her to carry him through the woods. He imagined he was a robin with a broken wing and she was returning him to their nest.  

“You know,” she said. “Everything’s going to be okay,”

Sam nodded. He could see the square top of their apartment building and beyond it, the moon with craters deep enough to shelter a dozen spadefoot toads.

• • •