16

THERE WERE NO WINDOWS DOWN THERE, AND SHE DIDN’T KNOW if it was morning or evening. The light from the lamp sort of stopped halfway up in the air and then a little bit fell on her. She could barely see her hand when she held it in front of her.

She wasn’t cold anymore because she had been given two blankets and warm water that they had made sweet. After she drank the sugar water she must have fallen asleep, and when she woke up it was as if she didn’t know if she had been asleep. It was so strange, but it was also good because she wasn’t scared when she was sleeping. You couldn’t be scared because you weren’t there.

Now she was there again and she heard a noise from up on the roof. She would have liked to scream out “I want my mommy!” But she didn’t dare. Maybe the man would come with more sugar water, and then she’d sleep again.

Nobody had hit her again. She didn’t think about that at all. Now she thought about the summer and that it was warm under your feet when you walked on the street or in the sand. They had walked in the sand when they came over on the boat. When they had driven onto the boat it made such a terrible clanging sound, and some men waved to them to drive deeper into the boat’s belly. Then she had walked in the sand-it wasn’t long after-and Mommy had sat with her awhile, and then she had gone swimming, and Mommy had stood there at the edge of the water, and then Mommy had gone and bought something to drink from a man who was standing on the beach. It was a funny small bottle and the drink tasted like lemon.

It was ugly down here, she could tell. There were no tables or chairs, and she sat on a mattress that smelled bad. She had first tried to hold her nose up and turn away, but that had been hard, and now it didn’t smell anymore, or only when she thought about it.

Now she crinkled the slip of paper a little inside her pant pocket. She didn’t dare take it out and look at it but she had it, like a secret, and that was scary but it was good too.

Then she thought that her mommy was dead. She’s dead and I’ll never get to see her again. Mommy would never be away for this long without saying anything, or calling, or writing a note that the men could show her and read to her.

Her whole body gave a start when the door up above creaked open.

Now she saw the legs of the man as he came down the stairs. She kept her head down and only saw his legs even when he came up to her and the mattress.

“We’re leaving.”

She looked up but she couldn’t see the man’s face because the light was shining right on him. She tried to say something, but it came out like a squawk from a crow.

“Get up.”

She pushed off the blankets and first rose to her knees and then stood, and one of her legs hurt because it had been underneath the other one and had fallen asleep.

Now she tried to say something again. “Are we going to Mommy?”

“You don’t need to bring that with you,” the man said, and took away the blanket that she had under her arm. “Let’s go.”

He pointed toward the stairs, and she started walking, and he followed behind her. She had forgotten how high the steps were, and she almost had to use her hands and feet to ascend them, like a mountain climber. Her eyes hurt from the sunlight that poured through the open door. She closed them and then looked again, and it became darker and easier to see because someone was standing in front of the light in the doorway.

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