Danae let her school backpack drop to the kitchen floor with a thud. The small kitchen was worn and painted with a chipped washed out green color. The cabinet doors were broken, one hung halfway off its hinges. The four-seater dining table with its ripped plastic cover was speckled with crumbles of food and brown stains of who knows what.
She could already hear the racket in the bordering living room. Today was her last day at school, and she was not looking forward to the holidays with her mother. She was eleven and a half (and the half was very important) with lengthy straight chocolate hair, and eyes of the same dark brown color. Her face was still roundish despite her being on the thin side, her lips were plump and the eyes very slightly almond shaped, the skin had a slight tinge of yellow like lightly browned butter.
She heard her mother’s cackle in the next room while her eyes surveyed the kitchen for scraps of whatever she and the other two men with her had eaten. There were none. She went over to the fridge, looked in there. Nope. Just the sour milk that had gone off three days ago. Better not check the cabinets. Something moved in there the last time she tried it.
She sighed and picked up her backpack before someone trips on it again, and gathered her courage to pass by the party to her bedroom.
When she came into the living room that had little more than some worn couches, an old box TV set, a chippy coffee table, and a carpet sprinkled with cigarette buds, she found her mother with her red lips and blonde hair laugh enthusiastically at something the guy with the big belly and the shirt full of holes had said.
The other guy was snorting something, Danae, or Dany as was her nickname, didn’t know what. Her mother had started seeing other men, many other men, after her dad died in a car accident. She wasn’t sure how that happened, she didn’t really know him very well, because he worked a lot. It was only a few months ago, and her mother had moved on surprisingly quickly.
She was looking for another man who could provide for them, she’d said.
“Mom, there’s no food in the house.” Dany complained.
She didn’t like being so close to the men her mother brought home. They looked at her funny, and they weren’t always nice to her. She always thought it was because her mother said she looked native, whatever that meant. She didn’t look much like her father or her mother, more like her grandfather who came to America from Alaska. He died when she was small, but she’d seen photos of him.
Before her father died, she heard him told her mother late one night that her uncle had moved there. She knew about him, but couldn’t remember him. He came to visit once when she just learned how to walk. She remembered stomping toward him and he picked her up and lifted her into the air. He had dark hair and eyes. Like hers. Native. But he was raised in America too with her mom. She didn’t know why he never came to visit again.
“Oh,” her mother said, “But I thought-“ and that was as far as she got before the man next to her whispered something in her ear and she started crowing with laughter again, waving Dany off.
“Scram, kid!” the man who snorted something said, then took a bottle of beer amongst the many, many, empty bottles on the coffee table and knocked it back.
She dropped her shoulders with a scowl and went into her bedroom. Her room was small, painted in an eggshell color, the old white curtains had faded red and blue triangles, her bed was modest and made of wood, and had a squeaky mattress. Her blankets were a mismatch of colors. The dresser was made of pine. She had a mirror that had lots of stuff stuck on the corners at one time, and now all that remained of them was dirty glue that wouldn’t come off. The floors were vinyl and lifted on some of the edges. She had a small bathroom that had a toilet, a sink (and a stool to stand on in front of the sink) and a shower. The walls and floors were blue. And the toilet was olive green. She sniggered every time she saw it.
Her mom said they moved into this house so she had a better chance of snagging a new husband because he would feel sorry for them. Dany didn’t understand how exactly that was supposed to work.
She dropped the backpack and took out the three books she borrowed from the library. She loved to read, and was a whole level above her peers. She enjoyed fantasy, mystery and contemporary books, and had picked one of each genre to keep her busy with, even managed to find The Hobbit, while her mother and her many men occupied the television with the movies that made the strange moaning sounds. Dany didn’t think it was a horror movie, because she didn’t hear monsters growling or anything like that.
It wasn’t so bad. Until they started making the funny moaning sounds. Then she listened to very loud music using her iPad while she read, sometimes in the middle of the night. She threw the books on her bed, then got an idea. She peered around the doorframe into the living room. There was only a small corridor of about six paces that separated her room from the living space. They were still occupied, her eyes went to the T.V, but she shut them tightly when she saw naked people. Eeuw!
She snuck over into her mother’s bedroom, which was strewn with dirty underwear and those things that she wore over her chest. She went to the vanity, silently, slowly pulled open the drawer for her wallet. She wouldn’t notice if a dollar or two was missing. She never did. Dany took five and stuffed it into her pockets.
She didn’t think this through, because now she had to go back out through the living room. She slapped the sides of her head in frustration. “Ugh! Stupid!”
Maybe she could use the phone in the hallway to order pizza. Nope, they’d have it before she could. And five dollars wasn’t even enough for a small one.
She sighed. She was going to zip through it. She stood at the very end of the hallway, bounced to get ready and limber up her feet, blowing out breath through her mouth. Then she ran, blasting past the adults at lightning speed.
“What the heck?” Gevin asked Helen, while his hand fondled her breast.
They heard the backdoor in the kitchen close.
“Oh, must be the wind.” She waved a hand, and popped a red cherry in her mouth.
Outside the house, Dany unchained her third-hand shit brown bike, and rode off to Tony’s Grocer with a huge grin on her face. She saw some of the kids in her class on the way, they just scowled at her. She didn’t have friends, because everyone called her mom a…bad name. Whatever, she didn’t care. She didn’t need them, but sometimes she thought it would’ve been nice to have someone to talk to.
She parked and chained her bike, then went inside the shop and bought Pepsi, peanut butter cups, candy bars, and some toasted cheese sandwiches. She didn’t spend all the money. She couldn’t buy too much stuff that could spoil, because she couldn’t use the fridge. They’d grab the food before she could get to it. What she bought stayed in her bedroom.
That evening when the men had finally left and she was watching cartoons on T.V, her mother was busy cleaning up the kitchen. It was past eleven, but Dany didn’t really have a bedtime curfew.
Suddenly her mother came into the living room and looked at her with a confused face. Dany raised her eyebrows and pouted her lips at her.
“Did I feed you today?” she asked, scratching her head with a very long pink fingernail.
Dany kicked her legs forward and backward as they dangled from the couch. Sometimes she wanted to cry. Really, she did. But she felt like they just drifted farther and farther apart every time she did. “Don’t worry about it, Mom.”
She nodded, frowned. “Oh, I have to tell you that you should pack some stuff. I’m going to Anchorage tomorrow to meet a nice fellow. Rich guy,” she said as her eyes drifted to the ceiling. “He has friends too. I met him on an online dating site. He liked my profile!” she batted her lashes.
Dany frowned. Half the time she didn’t even know what her mother was talking about. “Where’s Anchorage?”
“In Alaska of all places! It’s so cold there. Maybe I can convince the bloke to move here to the living world. You should pack a warm jacket. You have one, right?”
She didn’t, not one that was warm enough for Alaska. But she’d pack what she had, and what she could fit in her carry on. A thought crossed her mind. “Where in Alaska does your brother live again? Is it close to An…to An…Anchor?”
Helen scowled at the mention of her pathetic brother. Stephanie was right to leave him for Michael Fletcher, that handsome real estate agent. Matthias was always too quiet and too dull, even if he had money for days. He used to be a lawyer when he lived with Stephanie in New York. Now she had no idea what the hell he did with his life, but when she asked him to lend her money years ago he wouldn’t give her a cent. They haven’t spoken to each other since. “He lives in Harlem. End of the Earth. It’s where he belongs if you ask me,” she said more to herself than to Dany, waving a hand in the air and retreating back into the kitchen. Harlem, Harlem, Harlem Dany repeated over and over to herself so she wouldn’t forget.
“Be ready at seven!” Her mother called out of the kitchen. “And feed the damn cat!”
“Paw went to heaven six weeks ago, Mom. I buried him in the backyard.” Dany rolled her eyes, and took a half melted chocolate bar out of her pocket to chew on while she watched Tom chase Jerry.