“My hands were about to slip. I couldn’t drop it again! If I did, we wouldn’t have anything to eat!”
My hands were about to slip. I couldn’t drop it again! If I did, we wouldn’t have anything to eat! It was the first treat I had been able to get my hands on since we were on the street. My hands always got slippery when I stole. My sister, on the other hand, had no problem taking things off other people’s doorstep! I couldn’t even take something that I found on the ground! My bounty was a beautiful, creamy Milky Way bar that Libby would just love. She might even forgive me for taking Lady with me as my guard dog. Not likely though. The only thing she liked more than that scruffy excuse for a dog was maybe my mother. Well, now Lady was the only thing she loved. Because her number one special thing had passed away.
I managed to grip the delicate Milky Way until I got to my sister. She wasn’t looking happy. “I woke up to no food, no dog, and no sister! Where have you been?!” Libby looked as though being without an animal had turned her into a wild one.
I held up the fruit of my struggles. “To get this.”
Libby snatched the candy bar out of my hand. “I earned this!” She ripped open the wrapping that had protected the candy from getting covered in dirt. Out of it came the most beautiful sight an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old could want. A smooth, sweet chocolate bar. The beautiful sight soon disappeared. But the smudges of chocolate on my sister’s lips remained.
The average day for us wasn’t very active. When you live in New York, you already have all your options laid out in front of you. You can go on one of the subways and beg for money, but that is on Wednesdays. You can steal only on Tuesdays, but my sister usually broke that rule whenever she could. Although I pretended to look down upon it, I was actually grateful; we needed all the supplies we could get in order to leave this place.
Ellis. That is what they used to call me. It is what she used to call me. My mother. Most of my school friends call me Ellie or just L. But my mother insisted that I allow her to call me Ellis. It was my proper name. My original name. And according to her, my correct name. But I always think. Is proper and original always correct? That question bounces around in my head from time to time. But today I couldn’t afford to daydream.
Today was the day that we needed to pack up. The day we needed to leave no trace. The day the police come to kick us out. I needed to quickly gather my and my sister’s stuff before the authorities arrived. My sister and I didn’t agree on many things, but we both agreed that we wouldn’t be put in an orphanage. We both knew that being in an actual home would just make us more homesick. Even more homesick than we were already. It would be like only seeing the chocolate on my sister’s lips. You can never have that sweetness.
I had finally finished packing. I hadn’t seen Libby since I had told her to pack. I was hoping that she had gotten right to it and not put it off. For once I had trusted her, and I hope she didn’t abuse that. I hope…
Oh, what the heck! She’s my little sister! Why would she do anything that I told her to! I rushed over to our tent. Sure enough, she was grooming Lady. Our now pampered pet was loving it. She looked as though she was in a spa, having the time of her life. “Libby, the police are coming in five minutes! How could you! This isn’t a game, This isn’t pretend, it’s real life. And you keep treating it as a joke! Why can’t you just grow up!” I grabbed her wrist. I dragged her over to her stuff that was untouched in a giant mound. I scooped all of it up, and it went right into Libby’s lap. She opened her mouth to reply, probably with a snotty remark about it being a free country. I shut her down quickly with a small remark about how she was lucky I was helping her pack and not on my way.
Finally, we finished cramming our things into a bag. We turned to leave, but then I realized I had forgotten something. I turned back only to see the disconcerting lights that alerted me of the police that were so close. But I needed to reach it. I ran through the alley that we had slept in. I ran past the fire escape that we had used as a clothes hanger. I reached the place where I had tucked the package. I managed to stay out of sight of the police. I grabbed the package and dashed away from the scene. My sister and I sprinted away from the alley we had called home. I opened my hand, revealing a dirty handkerchief. And in my world, it was the “most correct” thing that came into my life.
Six months earlier…
Everything was quiet. It seemed like we would never have a home. Maybe we were meant to be without a home for the rest of our lives. I still remember his last words. “Bring me a gift from the ocean.” Not “I love you” or “you will always have a place in my heart.” I was kind of angry. I admit I wasn’t expecting a request. But it did make sense. Every morning the old man would bring us to a beach and just stare out into the ocean. “It’s perfect,” he would always tell us. Even though it was a complicated request, I was determined to fulfill it. Since Libby, Lady, and I were now homeless once again.
Libby and I both knew we were going to do it. We were going to give the old man who had taken us in a gift.
Since we were homeless, traveling far had become more complicated. For one thing, we didn’t have any money. No, I mean we didn’t even have a penny. We could either walk to the nearest beach, which was Coney Island, or somehow gather enough money to take the train to Coney Island. We couldn’t walk because in Manhattan the chances are too high of being plucked out of the crowds that flooded the streets. My little sister would refuse to hold my hand, and she would 99.99999% get lost. All this rushed through my head while on the outside tears were running down my face. My hands making tiny fists. I was able to feel two emotions at once. I was able to cry and curl up into a little ball, but at the same time get back up again and stand tall. My sister was right next to me, but if you looked into her eyes, you would realize she was light years away. I needed to get started.
I whispered in my sister’s ear, “Follow me.” I walked out of the room that held the last person who would ever take us in.
We walked along the sidewalk. My sister’s hands swaying at her sides. We both felt as alone as we did when we walked away from the police. When they told us we didn’t have a mother. No, we had a giant bottle of liquor. And a glass bottle can’t take care of kids. We only had Lady. And each other. But my sister and I were more distant than your average siblings. We were both reminders for each other that we used to have a real family. Sometimes, we were just objects to each other. Objects that could be hugged. Or yelled at. We weren’t sisters. We weren’t even companions. We helped out each other without talking.
“We need to get a job,” I told Libby.
Libby only nodded. Being at even the beginning of that funeral had softened both of us. “Where do I go?” My sister looked up questioningly.
I had an idea. “You go to a place with shade and start singing. You start getting people to come over and put money in your hat.”
I laid out what she should do by talking and drawing in the dirt. Libby nodded. She never sang. My sister was very self conscious, but that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t do whatever she could to make money. As a toddler she was always coming up with crazy money making ideas to get presents for people. Just because my sister comes across as a mean little sister, she gets beautiful things for the people she loves. This wasn’t going be like the time I told her to pack. She wasn’t doing this for me. She was doing it for the old man that had taken us in. The old man that had given us food. The old man that had taught us to care about other people. The man who showed us the bridges to different worlds.
When we came to the old man’s house, he took us to the ocean.
He said, “You need to understand.”
We went along with it because he had just fed us after he caught us looking through his trash. When we got to the beach, he showed us how we could see where the water ended. And that where the water ended was where the bridges to different worlds started. But for most people, the water just ended. The reason was because they hadn’t visited that world yet. My sister and I both knew that the oceans connected the different places in the world. But we thought that it sounded much more foreign to us. The way the old man said it, it seemed like he had visited these places. But we knew that the old man had never left America.
I left my sister at the spot she had picked to sing and set off to find a way for me to make money. I wasn’t born with a beautiful mellifluous voice like my sister’s, but I was older, and I expected myself to make more money than her. I could walk dogs. But I doubted anyone would want a 14-year-old girl to take care of their precious dogs. I could shovel snow? If it was winter. Suddenly, I had an idea. I set up a little stand and started to shout like someone at a carnival.
“Step right up, step right up! Get your fortunes right here! Told to you by a dog!”
As a little kid, I took ventriloquist classes. I could speak for our dog, Lady. It was a trick I took up to cheer my sister up in the days where we spent hours in our room. One little girl walked by and asked her mom if she could get her fortune told by a dog. They had a bit of an argument, but the little girl seemed to have the upper hand. They came over and asked how much it cost to get a fortune. I told them the price, and they looked surprised.
“Is there something wrong?” I asked.
“Yes, who told you to ask for that little amount of money?” The woman’s brows furrowed.
When I didn’t answer, she handed me three times as much as I asked her for. “Thank you so much,” I stuttered, shoving the money in my pocket. I would count it later…