"Too bad she's loose," Ma says when she hears Lila's pumps clicking down the stairs for a date in the city. I don't think she means it or if she does, it doesn't stop her from loving Lila. I know because I can see the worry lines cutting deep between her eyebrows as we watch Lila through the blinds. Some nights I turn over and find the other side of the bed empty and Ma still waiting at the window for Lila to come home.
Lila isn't bad, though. She's just alive in a way that Ma is too tired to remember. It's like Lila can still hear the rhythm in a salsa on the radio and not just complain about the noise.
"Bonito, right?" Mr. Wu tried yet another key and jutted his chin at the rosebushes hanging over the chain- link fence. It had been a warm September, so they were still pushing up blooms. I nodded to be polite, but it didn't make the place look any better to me. The house looked too quiet. It had no stoop for people to gather on. Nobody was playing out front. And it had those white scrolled bars on the window that scream, Break- ins happen here!
Lila circled my waist.
"Only a block away from the school," she whispered in my ear.
"That's a selling point?" I asked.
"Okay, maybe not, but at least it's a short walk. "I could see Daniel Jones High clearly from the front door. The school takes up half a block and is painted the pale green of disinfectant. There are grates on the windows and blacktop with a long cement wall covered in drawings and neon tags: Julius 174. 10- ass- itty. Slinky. Art and barrio all mixed in.
"Here we are!" With a click and a bow, Mr. Wu finally threw open the door. "Utilities included, too, señoras.
"He stared at Lila's butt the whole way up to the second floor.
Nothing deterred Ma. Not the ugly blue rug with the mysterious dark stain that I pointed out. Not the dead roaches turning to dust inside the cabinets. Not Mrs. Boika, a nasty Romanian lady downstairs who stared at us without even saying, ¿Hola, qué tal? or anything. Not even when I asked her how we would move her scratched- up piano from our place to this. It's an upright Steinway that hasn't been tuned in all the years we've had it, but suddenly I was protective.
"It's not like in the cartoons, you know, where movers lower it out a window," I said. Ma ignored me was she planning to leave it behind after all these years? I wondered and said the new apartment was perfect. There was a bus stop right outside the door and no loud neighbors or slobbering dogs to make a mess of things.
"Those were her exact words," I told Mitzi on the phone. "It's perfect." I was sitting on our fi re escape later that day, miserable. In the summer, Mitzi and I used to paint our nails out here. Now I picked paint chips off the metal and tossed them down." Maybe you'll like it better," she said. "You never know."
"Be serious. I'm switching schools in September of sophomore year. The new place has barred windows. I won't know anybody. How is that 'perfect'?"
"Are you still there?" I asked.
"Yeah, sorry. At least school just started, right? Anyway, I need to work on this stupid lab report for physics."
I sighed. A five- alarm fi re wouldn't get between Mitzi and her homework. Her dad was a doctor in Honduras, even though here he only works in the lab at a clinic. He has plans for Mitzi to be a surgeon. She'll probably like it, though. She's the only kid I knew who didn't make naked Ken and Barbie kiss. Instead, she would amputate their limbs with blunt- edge scissors, their putty- colored little feet lined up on the front stoop.
"What time is it?" she said. Papers shuffled in the back-ground. "¡Ay! I gotta go to practice."
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...