Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I feel like my body is really huge. Like a giant. Like Alice in Wonderland when she eats the cake. And then other times—most of the time—I pretend I’m really, really small. So small, I could fit in a pocket. Small as a little raisin, so shrunken up and tiny you could swallow me whole.
I’ve learned that the less space you take up, the less trouble you are. The less space you take up, the less strangers you have to touch in the crowded streets and bus stations. People can’t make as many mistakes because of you, like kind of accidentally touching your private parts or stepping on your feet. But sometimes, I just want to be big. I pretend I’m the statue of the lady on the other coast. I want to paint myself green like her, so no one could act like they didn’t notice me. I’d wear a giant crown. It’s better that I’m not her. I’m not the right person for that. Because if I were her, I’d want to use that torch to set the world on fire.
Mama and me, we take care of each other. I don’t know what she’d do without me. I have to sing to her a lot, and I have to come up with games to keep her awake. During the night time, I get to ride up in the front seat with her, and sometimes I get to roll the window down and let my hair whip wild across my face. I feel like Medusa. I read about her, once, in a book. I stick my head out the window and stare at the truck drivers, but none of them have ever turned to stone.
Sometimes Mama prays out loud, and I have to help her. Like when the gas light dings on the dashboard. That’s usually a time we pray. Or if the rain is falling hard, or if the edge of the cliff is too close. I imagine that the car could fly like the planes I see over our heads. Mama says they don’t stay up there forever. They land in some place or other. Mama and me, we don’t land. Not for good anyway. We just do the “occasional layover.” That’s what she calls it. Mama’s so funny. Sometimes, she makes me laugh so hard I make a snort noise. I think I’m funny too, because she laughs at me a lot. I try hard to make her laugh. Sometimes, I worry that I really am Medusa when I look at Mama. Sometimes, her face goes so still and so sad, I get scared it’s stuck like that. So, I have to make her laugh to make it stop. I don’t know what made Mama sad, but I’ve learned how to make her look happy.
I’ve learned dangerous things hide as safe things a lot. Like the treats at the grocery store, with their pink frostings and cute characters on the box. They look safer than a knotty, brown potato or a prickly pineapple, but Mama says they’ll rot your insides. Or like the lady with the clipboard who took me from the new apartment. She seemed nice and safe. Mama wasn’t there. She was out, looking for food, and the lady didn’t understand. I tried to tell her, but it’s hard to understand if you’ve never been hungry in a scary place. I don’t think this lady had ever been really hungry or really scared at all, with her shiny nails and shimmery hair and smooth skin. She smelled like baby powder and sugar-free bubble gum. Her hands were soft and pillowed, like the kind you’d want to stroke your hair while you fell asleep. Maybe she would sing. She looked like she would. Not really good, like on the radio, but nicely. Softly. So I held her pillow hand, and I walked to her clean car because she told me I had to, and she didn’t look like a stranger.
We got to a brick building and went into a small room, where she had me sit on a scratchy couch with flowers sewn onto it. I tried to sit like the other ladies we’d passed in the office, crisscrossing my legs and sucking in my belly. The bubble gum lady called a lot of people, smiling kind of sad up at me. She kept saying how cute and polite I was over and over. I didn’t think she knew me all that well, but I was nervous to disappoint her. I sat up even taller and sucked my belly thinner until I saw stars in my eyes and gave up.
She told me I would be safe now. I hadn’t known that she was safe and that Mama was danger, but that’s what the lady said. All the people in the office looked like TV people, clean and white-teethed. They didn’t look like our family. The one at the Twinn’s Corner Restaurant with the pool tables and the music player. That’s where Mama worked before. Here’s the thing though, Mama just calls them our family. I know they aren’t the real ones. Those real family live way on the other coast where the ocean gets really cold and the shore is rocky and the statue lady stands. At least, that’s what Mama told me. She said the women all wear pearl earrings, and sweaters that match their shirts. And all the men wear the same shoes and tell the same jokes. She said it like it was a bad thing, but I didn’t know why. The ladies in this office had matching clothes, and they seemed all right to me.
They weren’t. I felt safe there, but it was dangerous. I haven’t seen Mama since. So I make myself small, like a tiny piece of bubble gum. I pretend the lady is gnashing me between her teeth.
Alexandra Hubbell is a writer based in Charleston, SC. She holds a BA in English Writing from NC State University, and is a locally produced playwright in her hometown of Raleigh, NC.