Paper Mushy

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Four

There was a metal walkway that stretched across the interstate on the other side of the field, right where the six lanes of traffic turned into eight. It was entirely enclosed so nobody could get stupid and try to jump off. The green paint splattered on decades ago was either peeling or a rusty brown. Various messages and expletives were written on the metal railings. Call so-and-so for a good time. This person sucks. This person sucks good. Teens often hung out there to wave at cars or smoke weed. Sometimes, they went up there at night to have sex. Lord knows I’ve walked by there and seen things that are now burned into my mind. It was just supposed to be a walkway—a little pedestrian bridge to get you from here to there—but for Special, it was much, much more the that.

It was a getaway.

There was a bridge abutment built into a hillside underneath the U-shaped staircase that lead up to the walkway. The concrete wall was about ten feet high, with a cement pad jutting out from the bottom. The area was small and full of trash from the freeway, but it was just big enough for a girl of ten to have a place to play when things weren’t working out at home. Getting there was tricky. The hill around the abutment was quite steep. Special had to walk sideways to make sure she didn’t go head over heels. She parked the wagon against the wall and carried Ivory over to her play spot. There was an upside-down patio chair next to a barrel of toys (we’ll get to the barrel’s backstory later on, don’t you worry) with an old BLESS THIS HOUSE rug tying it all together. She kept the chair upside-down so that it wouldn’t get too dirty. Ianchelle had scolded her once when she came home with the butt of her jeans covered in dirt.

The toys inside the barrel were things she had found here and there: a bulldozer, a bouncy ball, a Barbie with no hair (you wouldn’t believe the crap up for grabs in Morrow Square; I once found an entire box full of false teeth underneath a mailbox). Ever since Shawn had entered her life, he had made negative comments about her toys. “They’re a waste of money,” he would say to Ianchelle. “You don’t need to get her any more toys! No wonder you’re broke.” Shawn’s reasons for Ianchelle’s current financial state were outright lies. It had nothing to do with toys. The toys Special had cost nothing. Shawn’s problem was that everything he saw had a value assigned to it. Everything Special saw simply had value, no dollar sign needed. The cost of something had no bearing on what it was worth.

Special flipped over the patio chair and sat down, watching the cars go by on the freeway, flowing together like they were on a predestined path to somewhere great. Life was hard right now, harder than it needed to be. She didn’t know what she could do to get her mama out of Shawn’s fingers. Act up around the house? Get help? What about The Boys from down the street? Were they a viable option? (A note about The Boys: the two men that had said hello to Special in the field had texted The Boys to let them know that she was going to her ‘secret chambers’. If any shit was to go down, it was not to go down near that area. Special may have been an unsupervised minor playing outside in the heart of The D, but there were still eyes on her. That’s not to say it wasn’t dangerous what she was doing. But Special wasn’t one to feel unsafe in areas that may seem dangerous or violent to you traditional folks. The girl had nerves of steel and The Boys had her back. We take care of our own.

Special picked up Ivory and started to play with her on the rug. She pretended they were on a safari searching for lions and zebras. She trotted Ivory around, hopping the papier-mâché creature up-and-down and talking in overtly childish overtones. She made Ivory climb the barrel of toys, perching her on top.

“Weee!” Special said. “Now it’s time for bed.”

She let Ivory fall into the company of the other toys and closed the lid on the barrel. It was almost dark now. She needed to get back home before her mama started worrying. She was not a fan of the play spot and had told Special numerous times that she shouldn’t play there so late. Lately, with all the stuff with Shawn, she had been more lenient. But maybe it wasn’t leniency. Maybe it was ignorance.

Special linked her hand inside the wagon handle and started to pull it up the hill. Something made a noise behind her.

She stopped and turned around.

It must have been a loud car, one with a giant sound system and thumping bass. She started to pull the wagon again but the noise came back, louder this time.

It sounded like scratching. But from where?

She looked over at her play spot and noticed something strange. The lid from the barrel was moving. Perhaps it was a mouse that had gotten stuck in the barrel and was trying to get out.

But could a mouse push a heavy lid like that? It didn’t seem likely.

The lid from the barrel slid off and hit the ground, wobbling around until it lay flat on the rug. Special’s hands started to shake; her teeth chattered.

What ended up coming out the barrel was the last thing in the world that Special could have ever imagined.

Ivory.

She rolled down the side of the barrel and hit the cement with a thud. She straightened out the pipe-cleaner legs that Special had smashed. She adjusted her wings, sort of like a pilot does before takeoff: up, down, straight, good to go. She opened and closed her beak, a soft tap emitting from the paper when it was pressed together. The cute, odd-shaped thing that Special had created and held and loved was alive. It was impossible.

“Oh my goodness!” Special ran over to Ivory. “You’re alive! You’re alive!” She sat in front of Ivory and pushed her fists into her cheeks, waiting to see what would happen next.

Ivory walked around for a bit, finding her bearings and examining the world around her. Special tried to communicate with Ivory, but it seemed as though she was unable to speak. No chirping came out of her beak when it opened. Special wondered if Ivory could learn things, like how a dog knows how to sit and play fetch, even though it can’t talk. Maybe Ivory could be Special’s pet.

“Show me what you can do,” Special said.

Ivory looked up at Special and flapped her wings. She understood her! That was a good start. There weren’t enough feathers for Ivory to fly. The paste that held her together was disproportionate—too much near the left wing, too little around the beak. Special picked her up and cradled her. The paint smudged when she rubbed her thumb over the body. A gentle breath warmed her palm when she moved her hand over the beak.

Ivory was just as alive as she was. It was a miracle.

It had to be some kind of magic, or maybe it was all a dream. Either way, it was a wonderful moment that pushed aside all of the bad that had seeped into her life.

Special pulled the wagon with one hand and carried Ivory with the other. A lone streetlamp buzzed in the field; the rest were shut off. The lights were still on in the living room at her house, but Special didn’t see anyone walking around inside. She opened the front door slowly and took off her shoes and crept back to her room. She wanted to show her mama how Ivory had come to life, but with Shawn in the master bedroom, it was a moot point. He’d probably kill Ivory if he saw what she was. He wouldn’t understand.

Special turned on an old lava lamp (two dollars from the garage sale on Dequindre Street last summer) and got into her pajamas. She let Ivory explore the room, although, there wasn’t much to check out. Just a heap of clothes, a bed, some stuffed animals, and her books from school. Ivory seemed interested in her science book the most.

“Do you want me to read you a story before we go to bed?” Special said.

She picked up the science book and hopped in bed. Ivory tried hopping next to her, but her pipe-cleaner legs weren’t strong enough to make the jump. Special leaned down and let Ivory climb into her palm.

She read chapter six: Mammals and Sea Life. They looked at photos of majestic creatures that lived on the highest mountains and in the deepest oceans. Special thought that none of them were as beautiful as Ivory.

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