Still at Your Door: A Fictional Memoir
by Emma Eden Ramos
by Emma Eden Ramos
Publisher: Writers AMuse Me Publishing
Published: February 22nd, 2014
YA — Sabrina “Bri” Gibbons has only a few short minutes to pack her things and help her sisters pack theirs before running with their mother to the bus that will whisk them away from Butler, Pennsylvania, an abusive relationship, and a secret that none of them wish to acknowledge. She was not prepared, though, for her mother to drop them on the streets of New York with the promise that she would be right back. Haunted by the sight of her mother running back to the cab, Bri, with Missy and Grace in tow, settles in with their grandparents. Thoughts of her present and her future collide with memories of her past, her dead father, and her mother’s bizarre episodes. She watches her sisters struggle with school and acceptance, all the while knowing the lack of any sense of security will make it impossible for them to carry on as ‘normal’ children. She finally lets her guard down enough to allow someone else in and sees a faint glimmer that her dreams might be attainable. Disaster strikes again, this time targeting her sister. Is it possible for Bri to find that balance between her dreams and her family’s realities?
Emma Eden Ramos is a writer and student from New York City. Her middle grade novella, The Realm of the Lost, was recently published by MuseItUp Publishing. Her short stories have appeared in Stories for Children Magazine, The Storyteller Tymes, BlazeVOX Journal, and other journals. Ramos’ novelette, Where the Children Play, is included in Resilience: Stories, Poems, Essays, Words for LGBT Teens, edited by Eric Nguyen. Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems (Heavy Hands Ink, 2011), Ramos’ first poetry chapbook, was shortlisted for the 2011 Independent Literary Award in Poetry. Emma studies psychology at Marymount Manhattan College. When she isn’t writing or studying, Emma can usually be found drinking green tea and reading on her kindle.
They are broken into sections. You may use what you would like.
I hold tight to my memories of the solid years. Each one is a crystal vase filled to the brim with brightly colored petals. Summer, ‘99: Missy is five, I’m six. We’re vacationing at Virginia Beach with Mom and Dad. Mom wears a black one-piece, a white sun hat and no sunscreen. Her lanky, bronzed legs shimmer under the fiery rays, but it’s all well and good. “Gypsy skin,” she explains, lathering up my little sister. “You and I have it.” She winks at me. “Missy here’s more like Daddy.” In front of us, Dad talks to a blonde boy with a surfboard. He turns to us and beckons. I jump to my feet, eager to hit the waves. “Sabrina.” Mom presses her leathery palms against my cheeks. “Bri-bear.” She kisses my nose. “Go on.” I grab Missy’s hand and we scamper toward the giant salt pond, ready for Dad to scoop us up and wade us through.
Another summer, many years later, Missy and I come across what looks like a secret stash of sea glass. We collect the emerald green fragments just as a mother-sized wave unfurls to scoop them back up. The edges have been smoothed over, calmed. I slide my index finger across one side of the largest piece. Missy stands next to me, peering out toward the horizon. I turn to her, the glass held tightly in my fist. Before I can begin, she says, “Water life is easier.”
“Huh?” I stare down at the rushing waves. A thick clump of seaweed tickles my ankle.
Missy seizes a shard from her stash and flings it. The water swallows the glass whole. There’s no resistance on either side. “It wasn’t ready.” She shakes her head.
“What does that mean?” I ask. “How is water life easier?”
“I don’t know. I guess… you go in jagged. You’re jagged when you go in but smooth when you come out.”
Trying to understand, I scrutinize my sister’s profile. I recognize our mother in her pronounced cheekbones, her long black lashes.
“But not us.” Missy speaks to the open water. I just happen to be standing by. “We come in soft, without edges. Those come later.”
“You mean we get jagged with age?”
“Yes.” Missy’s eyes grow big. She cocks her head to one side, then turns to meet my gaze. “That’s what happens to us.”
From our second floor bedroom, I hear the old red Ford sputter. Brrr, brrr, brrr. The brief silence is followed by aclang and a fuck!
“What the hell?” Missy’s bed creaks. “What’s going on?”
My bed is closest to the window. I get up and tiptoe over. “Shush,” I whisper. “You’ll wake Gracie.” Looking back, I see my little half-sister sprawled over her sheets, her thin brown hair dangling in front of her face. She’ll be eight in a little over a week.
Outside, the young January frost stings at our tiny four-paned window. By March the glass will be splattered with white grime, and no one will bother to clean it. Mom’s car wheezes thick puffs of smoke, but she is nowhere in sight. I search for her, notice Jim’s truck is gone from its spot, then jump, startled as the front door slams, its metal chimes making a racket against the wood and glass.
“Huh?” Grace sits up, wide-eyed. “What’s wrong?”
As I head over to Grace’s bed, the sound of Mom’s heels rattle up the stairs and through the rickety hallway. All three of us freeze, waiting for her to reach our door.
“Come on! Come on!” Bursting into the bedroom, two packed pocketbooks slung over one shoulder, Mom fumbles around for the light switch. I shudder as the bulb flicks the room into candescent disruption. The fluorescent glare gives her a grotesque glow, and I wince at her mismatched outfit, caked-on foundation and crooked maraschino-cherry-red lipstick. She jerks from one side to the other, as though trying to latch on to some invisible thought strand. “Come on, girls,” she manages, before rushing to the window. “Get up. Get! Goodness, how did I produce such lazy… let me open this window. It’s New York time. Get your clothes on. The car has to… no time for breakfast. Let’s go!”
“What?” Missy and I start at once. Grace just stares blankly, her mouth hung open like an untended puppet’s.
“We’re going to New York, Babies!” Mom dances across the room, smiling. I notice a dark ring under her eye. The purple skin pokes out beneath a thick layer of pale foundation.
“Where’s Jim?” I turn to Grace. Her knees pressed against her forehead, she rocks back and forth, whispering something I can’t make out.
“The bus leaves in an hour.” Mom jiggles the almost unhinged doorknob before exiting. “We’re done with this place for good.”
As the door slams shut, I whirl around on the balls of my feet. The floor resists my calloused pads, firing splinters into the softer areas of my toes. Missy meets my stare with a scowl. “Fuck this shit!” she snaps, tossing her sheets to the floor. I don’t respond because there is nothing to say. It’s been a while, but we’ve made this move before. Sure, the details vary slightly each time, but we’ve got the gist down pat: four sets of clothes each, Grace’s stuffed dolphin she calls Daisy Girl, toiletries, a few books, my ten-year-old denim knapsack and my new journal with the words The Sky’s the Limit written in cursive on the cover. Missy grumbles, stepping into her jeans from the day before.
“Will we have real school in New York?” Grace stands next to me, two fingers lodged between her lips.
“Yes,” I nod, stopping to yank her hand from her mouth. “You wanna look like a rabbit when you’re my age?”
She pulls Daisy Girl from the pile I’ve arranged on the floor. “No.” She hugs the stuffed animal to her chest. “We’ll actually go there? To school?”
“Uh-huh. Remember?” It’s true. In New York City, when we stay with Grandma Marta and Grandpa Kal, school is not Mom gathering us into the kitchen at midnight to help her learn the lines to a play she hopes to star in some day. It isn’t me yelling at Missy because she’s filled out Grace’s state administered home exam in her own fifteen-year-old handwriting. School, when we live with Grandma Marta and Grandpa Kal, is that place we go and, for six hours each day, pretend that we are normal girls… girls who know very ordinary lives.
The engine rumbles beneath us as we say goodbye to the gray ramshackle we’ve come to accept as our home. Grace taps her fingernail against the chilled car window. She blows warm breath on the glass and, before the moisture can evaporate, draws a tiny heart with a smiley face in the middle. Missy sits with her legs up, her forehead pressed against her knees, the music from her headphones competing with the asthmatic car engine.
“Mom?” I whisper, reaching across the cup holder where an opened twenty-four ounce can of beer has been sitting for almost a month. As I brush Mom’s cheek, sticky residue from her foundation sinks between the cracks on my index finger.
She turns to me and smiles. “Yes, Bear?” I see she is only ten miles above the speed limit.
“What do you want me to tell Grandma and Grandpa?”
“About what?” Her eyes are level with mine, but I know she isn’t really looking at me. I’m more like a blank screen, something stable and empty for her to project on to. Once again, I point to the purple ring under her eye.
“Oh.” She pauses and, for a moment, reverts back to the road. “Remember when I played Blanche? You remember, in A Streetcar Named Desire, back when we lived in Roanoke.”
“Yes,” I nod. “I remember.”
“Grandma and Grandpa came to see me then. They sat with you and Missy right up there in the front row.” Tilting her head back, Mom shuts her eyes as if to hold the memory still: keep it in present time. “Your daddy carried Missy backstage afterwards. I don’t know if she ever got to see my final fight with Stanley, but you, Bear, you stayed awake for the whole show! That’s why we’re going to New York now.” Mom takes hold of my hand, her bony fingers disappearing into the spaces between mine. I try not to flinch as the tips of her nails dig into my palm. “All we need’s a little time and money, Bri.” She pauses, then swivels, looking back at Grace and Missy. Both have dozed off. “Time and money.”
Feet up on the dashboard, I take my journal out from my beat-up knapsack. I’m fifty pages into this one already – fifty pages of thoughts, hopes, stories, some real, some made up. New York, I write in sprawling letters. New beginnings?
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