All the Girls in Sunday House Get Lost

by Tegan Swanson

I was at Sunday House for Girls of Dane County for sixty-three days,
eight hours, nineteen minutes, and breakfast before I found out the
space-time continuum was a real thing. Or, at least, that’s what Jezzie
said, but she lied a lot, so I didn’t believe her at first. We were down in
the basement schoolroom where we went because office staff didn’t
trust us to go to regular school, and in the middle of math Jezzie
turned around in her chair and wrote on Little Mary’s desk with a
pen. Little Mary’s eyes got wide, and she sat straight up, which she
never did, so I knew it was business and listened in.

“A door?” Little Mary asked. “Where’s it come out?”

“That house on the east side of the lake,” said Jezzie.

“Boys’ Center?” asked Little Mary. “Or Porch Light?”

“Boys’ Center,” said Jezzie. “Blue tile in the bathroom.”

“I never been inside,” said Little Mary. “Only the roof and the back door.”

Little Mary stuck her finger in her mouth and licked it, and Jezzie
laughed and then I laughed and they both looked at me, so I stopped.
Jezzie turned back to Little Mary and told her how she found the
door and how she did it with two boys and that she had a kiss-bruise
on her cooter.

“Time the same?” Little Mary whispered. She was sitting in front
of me and across from Jezzie, so she didn’t really have to even turn
in her desk to ask, which meant she could still pretend like she was
paying attention, and that was important because Little Mary had to
graduate from the school in the basement of Sunday House this semester,
or she’d be too old after and they wouldn’t give her the G.E.D.

“Time? Like watches and shit?” Jezzie hissed.

“Yeah, like watches and s-h-i-t,” said Little Mary. “Is it the same on
one side as it is on the other?”

“I s’pose so,” said Jezzie. “I went in, it was dark. I came out, it
was still dark.”

“Then it ain’t a space-time continuum,” said Little Mary.

“Smart-ass,” said Jezzie. “Whadda you know about it?”

“Never mind,” said Little Mary.

“Yeah,” said Jezzie. “Never mind ’cause you crazy.”

“F-u-c-k you,” said Little Mary, and then she stopped whispering
and started pretending to pay attention again, although I could tell
she was still listening because she didn’t start taking notes.

“You wanna go tonight?” Jezzie asked.

Little Mary nodded her head once, and then she pointed at the
board, and Jezzie turned around and spit on the floor just after Teach
called on her because it was obvious she hadn’t been listening, so she
just made stuff up.

“Thirty-five,” she said.

“No such thing, Jezebel,” said Teach. “Nice try. Marietta, do you
have a guess?”

I knew it was nine, but I wanted them to let me come to Boys’ Center,
so I didn’t show Jezzie up. I shook my head, and Teach whistled
out real slow through her nostrils like she’d been running.

“Disappointing,” she said with her suburb accent, pronouncing
all the syllables.

***

Sunday House was right downtown next to the Capitol building and
all the restaurants and the YWCA where me and Mama stayed once
when we didn’t have any money. All us girls were there for different
reasons, like Little Mary, whose whole family was meth-heads, and
who was not actually little like me but we didn’t tell her that, and
who looked like one of those girls in the magazines but took antipsychotics
which meant she had lots of friends in her head that yelled
and made her upset. I don’t know where Jezzie came from before, but
she also let me hang out with them sometimes. I was careful around
her when I first got here because I heard she beat on girls just ’cause
they were smaller and she could. She told everybody she was only
around until her uncle Henry got put in prison and she could stay
in her house again, but I heard the lady from Wisconsin Children’s
Services, Ms. Orleans, tell office staff it was hard to find foster homes
for older girls, especially ones with history like Jezzie. I didn’t know
what history meant or why Jezzie had it, but whatever happened
that put us there in the first place, all I knew was nobody wanted to
stay at Sunday House forever.

I was supposed to be there until Mama came to get me. She
dropped me off and said it was only for a little while and she’d bring
me a sandwich with hot honey dipping sauce when she came back.
Weekend came and went and Mama didn’t, so either she got lost on
her way, or she lied—I couldn’t decide which. Probably she’d have
a good reason for lying, but getting lost usually meant we couldn’t
go back to the sleeping bridge at Tenney Park because she’d gotten
in a fight with somebody or she was high and forgot where we were
headed in the first place, so I always hoped it was that she’d lied. Ms.
Orleans wouldn’t tell me either way. She came to Sunday House once
a week for individual therapy and asked lots of questions, mostly
about how much food Mama gave me for lunch and whether or not
I ever felt threatened. That was a silly question because I knew she
knew anyone who slept under a bridge had more drugs than money
for groceries, and what did threatened even mean besides my life being
halfway to caved in on a daily basis.

***

After two o’clock bed checks that night, when office staff thought our
sleeping meds had kicked in and they could leave us alone until cereal-
at-seven, Jezzie sat up, flipped the overhead lamp on, and heaved
her bulk over her bunk.

“Little Mary,” she hissed across the room. “Wake your crazy ass up.”

“F-u-c-k you,” said Little Mary. “I tongued meds. Been conscious
since lights-out.”

“Well, we gotta go, I mean, g-o. Like skeeee-daddle.”

“All right,” said Little Mary. “Lemme find the pink bra makes my
boobs look bigger.”

I watched them walk all the way to the door before I said, “Can I
come?” real quiet from below the bunk I shared with Little Mary.

“You?” Jezzie said. “Marietta, you ever even kissed anybody?”

I shook my head.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Nine,” I said. “Next month.”

“She’s a baby,” said Jezzie to Little Mary.

“Whatever,” said Little Mary. “Marietta can do as she like as long
as she tell the po-lice it was her idea. We get caught, you tell them it’s
your idea?”

I nodded.

“Girl gets shit,” said Jezzie.

“Tell them we’re on some kind of scavenger hunt,” said Little Mary.
“They might believe you’re young enough.”

So they let me along with the provision I not make any sound, and
if there were any police I distract them so they could run. Jezzie led
the way because she was oldest, and then Little Mary because she
was biggest, and then me because I was lookout. I’d never been higher
in Sunday House than our floor, and we climbed so many stairs I
thought maybe my legs were gonna fall off. At each new level, there
was a window where I could see the moon, its half-circle face shining
through the glass at me just like in the song me and Mama used to
sing. Every floor we went, I hummed along to myself—up, up a little
bit higher—and thought about how next Mama’d always sing oh, dear,
the moon is on fire, and then finally when we got to the attic, the moon
it went up, she goes up, out of sight.

Little Mary and Jezzie kept going, but I got distracted and stopped
to look out over the city. We were so high the statue of Lady Forward
was practically pointing at me from on top the Capitol dome. I could
barely see the streets around the square and the cars moving around
them, back and forth from wherever it was they needed to go. Mama
had a blue car, and I tried to see if she was somewhere out there, but
it was too dark to tell and the square was too far down to see any
people inside the cars. I picked one and imagined it was hers anyway,
and I watched it drive all the way until it was gone. Then Little Mary
came back and grabbed me by the arm and said we had to go, and we
went up in the attic.

The ceiling hatch was cracked with duct tape over the alarm so
night staff wouldn’t hear us escape, and when we came in, Jezzie was
up on a maintenance ladder with a lit cigarette in her mouth and a
mirror in one hand, drawing black lines around her eyes with a pencil.
She pointed to the corner, right at the base of the roof where there
was a door in the wall. It was wood and peeling blue paint and noth-
ing special, but I thought it looked like it could maybe lead straight
out into open space, or I guess the space-time continuum, which I
was not sure was open or just really long and a circle so it never started
or ended anywhere.

“That’s it,” she said.

Little Mary reached up and took the cigarette out of Jezzie’s
mouth, took a drag, then passed it to me, but I shook my head, and
she shrugged and stamped it out on the inside of her arm, next to all
the other perfect, shiny circles she’d made before.

“The hell?” said Jezzie.

“What?” said Little Mary, but then she stopped and threw the butt
on the floor. She had marks from other things, too, like the compass
she stole from math class or the fork from the kitchen. I came into
the bathroom once, like nine-and-a-half days after I came to Sunday
House, and found her scratching a bunch of tiny lines on the round
of her thigh with a paper clip. She was mad that I interrupted and
put a paper towel over it, but the blood came through bright red so
she couldn’t hide it. I asked her how many she’d done, and she said as
many as she could fit, and then I asked her if it hurt, and she said of
course, like it was a stupid question.

“Right,” said Jezzie. “Let’s go.”

“How’s it work?” Little Mary asked, stepping in and out of the
door. “I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

The inside of the door just looked like a closet—not anything special,
just junk everywhere, like a cardboard box with a bunch of left
shoes somebody lost in there. I didn’t understand how it was supposed
to take us any place other than the dark.

“You gotta think on it,” said Jezzie. “Like using your imagination.”

“But I ain’t never been there,” said Little Mary. “How am I supposed
to use my imagination if I don’t know what it looks like?”

“That’s why the imagination,” Jezzie said. “You see shit don’t exist
all the time, right?”

“F-u-c-k you,” said Little Mary. “Lemme try again.”

She grabbed me by the hand and pushed me through the door,
then Jezzie jumped off the maintenance ladder and shoved her way
in with us, and Little Mary closed the door behind her. We were all
smashed together in the dark, and the older girls were giggling and
dancing around like they had to pee, and then there was a blink and a
sizzle sound, and then all I could see were firework lights until Little
Mary opened the door again. Jezzie was first out, but we all fell right
quick after her, and wherever it was outside was a step down, so I
tripped on my own foot and cracked my knee against a rock on the
ground. I’m afraid of blood, but I try not to be because Mama says
it’s only insides and there’s always more where those come from; the
stuff you can’t get back is soul. So I just stood up and looked around
and pretended I was fine and nothing hurt.

“The hell?” said Jezzie. “This ain’t Boys’ Center.”

We were standing in the dirt outside a crumbly, broken-brick
shack, all the walls falling halfway off, no roof, no glass in the windows.
I turned around and saw a stone bridge that went up over a
stream toward the lake, and a chair tipped sideways in a bush next to
me, and a bike upside down in the middle of the parking lot. Tenney
Park. Right near where Mama and I used to sleep. The same half-circle
moon was shining away in the sky, but everything else was quieter
than it ever was at Sunday House, like somebody put the whole world
on mute. The lake was still there, but without the empty booze bottles
or the rubbers usually on the banks, and it smelled a whole lot
better than it did the last time Mama and I stayed here.

“Y’all broke it,” Jezzie hissed. “Worked just fine last night.”

The dome of the Capitol was all the way on the other side, white
and glowing and taller than everything else. I thought it looked like
God had come down with a bucket of moon juice and poured it all
over, and I turned around to tell Mama because for a second I forgot
she wasn’t there, only Jezzie and Little Mary. Then I didn’t say anything
because I knew they didn’t care if it was the same color as the
moon. They only cared that we were not at Boys’ Center getting ready
to f-u-c-k.

“We in the middle of the goddamn woods,” said Jezzie. She turned
around and got real close to Little Mary’s face and started speaking
loud and accidentally spitting like she does when something makes
her upset. “Bugs crawlin’ all up on me, plus Marietta fell over and
now she all muddy, probably gonna get it on my new shirt. Where
them boys at, huh?”

“Don’t ask me,” said Little Mary. “You the one made us come here
instead.” She poked Jezzie in the arm with her first finger, which
made her even madder.

“This my fault?” yelled Jezzie. “I told you the goddamn door went
back and forth and back again. I said it’s gonna come out the same
place we come in, and it did when you all wasn’t here.”

“I know where we are,” I said, but neither of them was paying attention.
Jezzie kept yelling.

“How we supposed to get back? Night staff gonna find out we’re
missin’ when they come lookin’ for us at breakfast, and then they
gonna tell Ms. Orleans we ran again. If I get sent to detention because
of you—”

“Shut it!” I said and then almost immediately regretted it. Jezzie
whirled on me fast as I’d ever seen Jezzie move, probably to say what
she thought about being told to shut it. I knew I had about threepoint-
two seconds and probably less to explain myself.

“I. Know. Where. We. Are,” I said.

Little Mary bent down in front of me and put her hands on either
side of my face, and I puffed up my cheeks and glared. Her eyes got so
wide I thought she was gonna yell, but instead she smiled.

“And where is that, lil’ girl?”

“Tenney Park,” I said.

I started talking about how before Mama left me at Sunday House,
we used to stay here in her car in the parking lot or under the bridge,
sometimes just down on the beach if the weather was nice. She had
to pay for the pills that made her less sad, but sometimes she couldn’t
afford enough of them, and when we were here all the yelling was a
little slower, and she could hear people in the real world without having
to try so hard. I told Little Mary and Jezzie that having a noisy
head is genetic, and my gran-mama had it too, and at the park, we
didn’t have to pretend, because nobody cared and we could be on
our own. Then I stopped and just sort of stared off into the dark like
Mama was next to me, but they probably thought I was looking for
something nobody else could see.

“So your mama’s crazy?” asked Jezzie. “That why she sleepin’ in a
house ain’t even got a roof?”

“That ain’t her house,” said Little Mary. “That’s part of the park.
And don’t say crazy.”

“Where she at?” said Jezzie. “You think she’ll take us?”

“Fool,” said Little Mary. “Marietta’s mama’s not gonna bring us to
get some. Besides, now we gotta get back before they find out we missin’.”

“She got a car?” Jezzie asked me.

“Nah,” said Little Mary. “She’s gone gone, like dead.”

“No she’s not,” I said. “She’s not. She’s coming back.”

“Shit,” Jezzie said to Little Mary. “You’re not s’posed to say shit
like that.”

That shut them up for like a minute, but we all knew someone gone
gone, so pretty soon Little Mary and Jezzie started making jokes
about how they were thirsty, and when we got back to Sunday House
they were gonna find another way to Boys’ Center. I went walking
up over the bridge instead. I peeked in all the broken windows of the
shack, and I put the bicycle upright against the falling-down porch,
then I climbed up in the tree where the moon was and popped out
at the top. For like ten minutes I just stared out over the lake from
way high, but I could tell Little Mary and Jezzie were getting impatient
to leave.

“How’d it work last night?” Little Mary asked Jezzie.

“I went in the attic, came out that blue-tile bathroom,” Jezzie
shrugged. “Then I went in the bathroom, came out the attic.”

“Marietta,” said Little Mary. “Let’s go.”

I thought for sure the door was gonna fall off that old shack and
leave us there in the park forever, but it didn’t, and the blink-sizzleflash
happened again, and we came back out the other side in the
attic of Sunday House. By then it was almost sun’s-up, so Little Mary
and Jezzie and I went downstairs to our room and crawled in our
beds, and when night staff came to wake us for cereal-at-seven just
like always, nobody even noticed we’d been missing.

***

Me and Little Mary and Jezzie went up to the door in the attic every
night for like two weeks after, but it was never the same twice in a
row. We came out all kinds of weird-o places: a burned-out bodega
across the street from my elementary school that got torched by the
hoppers after the counter girl called the narcos; the Capitol building
where Mama’s friend Tina used to be a nighttime janitor; a port-apotty
in the parking lot of Grace Episcopal where Mama and I went
for soup dinner on Wednesday nights after her AA meetings. None
of us could figure out why we came out any place, but it was fun, so
we kept going.

We tried one at a time or in pairs, holding hands or not, yelling
the address out loud over and over and over. Jezzie still thought if
we held our breath and imagined really hard until our eyeballs almost
popped out—and then just before they actually did pop out
we jumped in and slammed the door—it would do it, but it never
did, and we stopped trying because it gave everybody a headache and
Little Mary almost fainted. We drew pictures. We kept photos in our
pockets. During geography one day we even looked up the map coordinates
for places we wanted to go, and then we wrote the numbers
on our boobs with Sharpie markers because Little Mary said boobs
were magic, and maybe all we needed was a little of that, but we still
ended up somewhere else. I thought that one was my fault because I
didn’t really have boobs yet, but Little Mary said it didn’t matter how
big they were, and that wasn’t the issue.

Then one night she seemed really upset, and she asked if we could
all try really hard to go back to Tenney Park because there were a
lot of voices yelling in her head at the moment, and if it worked for
Mama then maybe it would be okay for her too, and could she please
just get some peace and quiet, so we tried, and it still didn’t work even
though we’d all been there once before and it should have been easy.
After that she went to bed without even brushing her teeth, which
she always does, and first thing the next morning, Little Mary got so
mad she started throwing folding chairs out the rec room window.
Then she punched an office staff right in the face when he tried to
stop her, so we had to spend the rest of the day in our rooms while
they took her to Meriter Health to calm down, but I guess that didn’t
work either, because when Little Mary came back, she never really
came back. A man in hospital clothes showed up at Sunday House
the next day and gave office staff a filled-up plastic garbage bag that
said Little Mary’s name on the front in black letters, and then he
brought her in, and she sat down in a chair in the corner and stared
at the wall and didn’t talk to me or anybody else, even Ms. Orleans,
for like a week.

***

I thought it was probably our fault Little Mary was sad because we
hadn’t been able to go where she needed, and when I thought she
wasn’t gonna be my friend again, I wished that Jezzie had never
found the door to the space-time continuum, even if it meant I might
never find Mama. But after a few weeks, Little Mary got happier and
started eating again and talking at free time, and one day she even
said something sassy to office staff, so I thought maybe she’d want to
go back to the door. She wouldn’t admit it, but I could tell Little Mary
was afraid after what had happened. I was too, but I kept thinking
that maybe on accident we’d show up where Mama was, and then I
could just stay put with her, so I still wanted to go. Turns out, all Little
Mary wanted was to get by and go live in Chicago with her auntie,
but Ms. Orleans told her she had to show everybody she could take
care of herself first, and that meant not cutting or throwing chairs at
people or running away when she was mad. I wrote Little Mary a note
and asked if she wanted to go, and she wrote back and said no, so I
wrote another note that said how come? and she wrote back maybe
tomorrow, so I asked again the next day during school. That’s when
Little Mary said she wasn’t interested in going places she wasn’t supposed
to anymore, and maybe I should shut up.

“You shut up,” I told her, and I raised my hand and asked Teach
if I could please be excused, and she said I could, so I went to the
bathroom and cried, but only for a minute. When I came back, Little
Mary turned around and drew a smiley face on my desk to say she
was sorry. I thought maybe that meant she wanted to go again, but
it still didn’t, and I didn’t want to go with just Jezzie because sometimes
she was mean to me, and I thought she might leave me behind
as a joke. The older girls in Sunday House were always telling stories
about what it was like to be on the run—how you could eat whatever
you wanted if you could steal it, how it was fun to sneak into the
movie theater or ride around on the bus all day—and they all said
the best park to sleep in was Tenney because it was warm under the
bridge by the lake, even in winter. But when Mama came to get me,
I wouldn’t have to sleep under a bridge or steal anything, and she
would probably take me to a movie because she’d been gone so long,
anyway, so I stayed put and pretended like I didn’t care about the
door anymore either.

***

Ms. Orleans came to see me again when I’d been at Sunday House for
eighty-nine days, fourteen hours, eight minutes, and lunch, which
she brought me from the fried chicken place with the red shingle roof
on Fish Hatchery Road. I don’t even like fried chicken because we
had baby chicks in the elementary school I went to before Mama left
me at Sunday House, and now eating them when they’re all grown
makes me feel bad, but I ate it anyway because it was nice of Ms. Orleans
to bring me food when she didn’t have to. We sat in the meeting
room with pictures of animals that were supposed to make you feel
comfortable but didn’t, and we talked about regular stuff like what
we were learning in history class—how Christopher Columbus killed
all the native folks with blankets—and whether or not I was making
friends—maybe Little Mary, who laughed at my jokes even though
they were dumb. I told her I was writing stories in my English class,
and we got to experiment with vinegar and baking soda in science,
my favorite period, and she asked if I would let her see them sometime.

When I asked if she’d heard from Mama, Ms. Orleans showed me
some photos she brought of men she said were trouble. She asked if I
recognized any of them, and one of them looked like a guy that used
to leave his pickup outside our apartment building off of Park Street,
but I didn’t say. Instead, I told her we were reading A Wrinkle in Time
in English class, which wasn’t even true. She smiled and asked me if
Sunday House was like the book, and I lied again and said no, but I
think she could tell because after that she said she was trying really
hard to get me into a group home. I thought this meant the YWCA
where I stayed with Mama, so I shut up and smiled about everything,
even when she asked me if I had any relatives besides her. I told her
there was a guy that Mama called Bruce and also her friend Tina who
slept with us under the bridge sometimes so Mama told me to call her
Auntie, but she walked into the lake when she was drunk, and she died.

Ms. Orleans got quiet and wrote a few things on her yellow notepad
without looking me in the eye, so I told her it didn’t matter where
I went, because Mama was the only thing I needed, because she loved
me a lot and that was enough. Then Ms. Orleans said she had something
important to tell me. She said Mama was missing, that her car
had been found in a parking lot by the lake, that the police said she’d
left it behind in a hurry because her coat and an empty bottle were
all sitting in the front seat. Then I stopped listening. Nobody listens
when all you’re gonna hear is something like that.

***

That night Jezzie tongued her meds to try and get Little Mary to
come with her to the door again. She said she was sick of waiting and
that they should run, that they were old enough to be on their own.
They didn’t need baby shit like Sunday House anymore, she said. She
had a bunch of canned tuna from the kitchen and a package of mini
muffins, and she knew a guy who could get them both a ride if they
showed up when he said.

“But it has to be tonight,” said Jezzie.

“How you even gonna find him?” asked Little Mary.

“I figured it out,” she said. “We can go wherever we want. No more
shithole bodegas.”

“Like what?” Little Mary whispered from the bunk above me. “You
find a tee-vee palace?”

“No tee-vee,” said Jezzie.

“Damn,” said Little Mary. “How ’bout a pool?”

“Nope,” said Jezzie. “It’s snow-time in the door-world anyway,
same as here. Too cold for swims.”

“Well, what the f-u-c-k,” said Little Mary. “Why you even tell me
about it?”

“Better than here,” Jezzie hissed at her. “How long you gonna wait?”

But Little Mary didn’t say anything else, and then the bed frame
creaked above me so I knew she rolled over, and that meant she was
gonna ignore Jezzie if she tried to ask her again. Little Mary had
been in and out of placement since her mama’d blown up their Buick
with a port-a-lab in a two-liter soda bottle, so she could pretty much
ignore everything.

“You think your auntie’s really gonna come get your crazy ass,
drive all the way here from Chicago?” hissed Jezzie.

Then she got up and closed the door, and the light blinked out
behind her. I lay there for three minutes and fifteen seconds being
afraid-but-not before I decided to sneak out by myself and go all the
way up to the attic after her. I started out into the hallway, but Little
Mary turned over, and she got light on her face, so she woke up and
scared the crap outta me.

“Marietta,” she said. “Where you goin’?”

“Nowhere,” I said. “Bathroom.”

“Liar,” she said. “You gonna find Jezzie.”

“No,” I said.

“No?” she said, sarcastic the way Mama used to when she knew
better. “You ain’t goin’ to the door?”

“No,” I said again. “I hafta pee.”

“Well shoo then,” said Little Mary. “I don’t want this whole room
stankin’ like piss.” Then she shut her eyes, and the sound of Little
Mary’s sleep-breathing started up again.

On my way up the stairwell to the attic, where the door was and
Jezzie probably was too, the moon went up, she goes up, up she goes
again, except it was full, and when I stopped at the sixth floor to look
out at the statue of Lady Forward pointing at me out over the cars,
it was so bright it didn’t even matter they were far away; I could tell
none of them were blue or had Mama in them. I stayed and watched
through three red lights and eighty-nine cars, all of them going toward
home or away from it. But I was afraid Jezzie might leave without
me because she didn’t even know I was coming, so I ran up the
rest of the stairs to the attic, and by the time I got there I was breathing
hard and huffing and my face was all sweaty.

When I came in, she turned around like she’d been caught at something
bad, but then she saw it was me, so she just rolled her eyes.

“You run up here?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“Who says you can come?” she said.

“Me,” I said, and Jezzie laughed so loud her voice bounced
around the attic.

“You says, huh? Damn, lil’ girl, you better watch it.”

“Where you going?” I asked.

“I dunno,” she said. “You tell me.”

“Tenney Park,” I said.

“Little Mary ain’t comin’?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“She gonna rot in this house,” she said. “But we ain’t, right?”

“No,” I said, not understanding why Little Mary was gonna rot
anywhere.

“Girl gets shit,” she said and punched me in the shoulder pretty
hard, but not hard enough to make me think she meant it. That was
the closest Jezzie ever came to being my friend, and I guess it wasn’t
even close, but I still wanted to see where she was going. We went
in the door, and she shut it and told me to shut up and think about
the numbers 3-1-7-B. I wanted to say B wasn’t a number, but I didn’t
and just thought like she told me to. It was dark for a long time, and
then there was the blink and the sizzle sound, and my eyes got laser-
beamed with firework lights, and then it was dark again, and
everything smelled like lake, which meant we’d come through the
space-time continuum. Jezzie opened the door, shoved past me, and
jumped out into falling snow. I jumped out behind her and looked
around. The bridge was right there in front of us again, and the lake
was all frozen and quiet, but I couldn’t see the Capitol dome or the
statue of Lady Forward because of the weather. Jezzie pointed across
the street to a small brown duplex with Christmas lights along the
roof, a wreath on the door to the right, and a tree lit up inside it. I saw
there were three black numbers, 3-1-7, on the front between both doors.

“That’s my house,” she said.

“Your mama live there?”

“No,” she said. “That’s just where I wanna live someday.”

I thought that meant she knew the folks or that we were gonna visit
them, so I started walking across the parking lot, but when Jezzie
didn’t come with me, I turned around and looked at her standing under
the street lamp, next to the shack and all my footprints smashed
down in the snow.

“What’re you doing?” I asked.

“Bein’ near,” she said.

“You’re not going inside?”

“No,” she said.

“Oh,” I said. “How come?”

But Jezzie didn’t say. Instead, she said I was lucky I didn’t know
where my mama was, because at least then I could pretend like she
was coming back instead of being abandoned.

That made me mad, so I said Ms. Orleans told me Mama was gonna
come get me tomorrow, which was a lie, and Jezzie knew it. She got
right up in my face, and I thought she was gonna tell me I was wrong
or punch me for real or cry or both at the same time, but she didn’t.
She just kept staring at her house. After like four minutes, I cleared
my throat and said f-u-c-k like Little Mary to try and get her to say
something, too, or maybe decide we could go back because it was cold
and she was done being near or whatever, but then she took me by
the hand and said, let’s go, and started walking toward the lake.

I was anxious about going out on the ice because I’d seen enough
cartoons and polar bear shows on the nature channel to know I might
be too heavy, and then it would crack, and I’d fall in and freeze up like
a popsicle, but I didn’t want Jezzie to think I was a baby anymore, so
I followed her. The ice right next to the shore was shoved up against
the dock, rippled and hard, bright white like it had been there forever,
and maybe the whole world was freezing inch by inch, starting
with this one small corner. At first I was real careful and slow, but
after a while I could slide along on my shoes without even picking my
feet up. As we went farther out from shore, I watched the lake change
from white to green to deep dark blue, and I imagined I was floating
over all the animals asleep under me, all the lost folks like my auntie
who had drowned in it; maybe this was where Mama ended up, too,
because sometimes she went in the lake when she was sad, and she
had been kind of sad when she dropped me off at Sunday House, and
also whenever she was sad, she drank too much and did things she
wasn’t supposed to or followed folks who didn’t know where they
were going. Then I got sad and stopped thinking about anything.

I looked up at Jezzie, who was spinning around in slow circles, and
then I looked back toward the shore and her house with the Christmas
lights, but we were so far away I couldn’t see them anymore.

“It’s nasty out,” I said. “I’ma go home.”

“Home?” she said. “That ain’t home.”

I started sliding away, but Jezzie didn’t follow me.

“You coming?” I asked.

“Nah,” she said. “Nothin’ I want at Sunday House.”

“So where you gonna go?” I asked, and she said no place I needed
to know, but if I ever decided I was done pretending everything was
fine, I could come find her. Then she told me I wasn’t bad for a little
kid, and she turned around and kept walking. I watched her go and
go until she disappeared, but I didn’t stop staring at the spot where
Jezzie had been because we always waited for everybody to get back
in the door, and I didn’t want to leave anyone behind. I stood there,
and the snow kept falling on me and heaped up around my legs, and
I got so cold I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet or my face, not even
my nose, and I wanted to stay longer, but I had forgotten to bring
my coat, just like Mama. I counted to three hundred and seventeen
because of Jezzie’s house, and she still didn’t come, so I went back
over the ice, deep dark blue to green to white, and then I went up
the shore toward the shack, closed the door, and thought about my
bed just in case the door forgot where we came from because Jezzie
wasn’t in it. But I came out in the attic just like always, and I went
down the stairs without looking at the sixth floor. I kept going down,
and the moon kept going down, and then everything was dark.

That night, I dreamt me and Mama went swimming in a snowpond,
and the next day during cereal, I was gonna tell Jezzie, but she
wasn’t there, and Little Mary wouldn’t understand, so I forgot about
it because that’s what happens with dreams sometimes. Later, Ms.
Orleans came to see us during snack, which was weird because she’d
just been the day before, and it was usually at least a week between
visits, but I guess office staff were worried about Jezzie or maybe
that she’d convinced us all to go after her or something. As soon as
we were done eating, Ms. Orleans pulled me aside and asked if I ever
thought about running away. I said no too fast, but I couldn’t take it
back, so I looked down at the floor. Ms. Orleans said it was okay, if I
knew something I wouldn’t get in trouble. I thought about telling her
we’d gone through the door in the attic to visit the lake, and that’s
why Little Mary got so upset and had to go to the hospital, or about
how Jezzie just walked off and disappeared, but I decided against it
because that’s the kind of thing she’d probably get worried about.
She asked me if I was sure, and I said yes, and then she said if I ever
wanted to tell her anything, I shouldn’t hesitate, because all anybody
wanted was for us girls to be safe. Ms. Orleans gave me a hug, which
she said she really wasn’t supposed to do, but I told her I was glad she
did it anyway. Then she smiled and said she would be back, and she left.

***

Jezzie was missing for sixteen days exactly before office staff put a
new girl in her bed. She was small like me, so I showed her where
the laundry room was and how to use the shower with the leaky faucet.
Little Mary smiled at her sometimes, but I think she was full up
making friends who weren’t forever, and she never really tried to be
nice or talk to her about how Sunday House was like she did when I
first met her. The new girl was there because she’d punched a boy in
her grade so many times he had to go to the hospital, but she said it
was because he’d punched her first. Her parents both worked at the
university. Ms. Orleans came to see her a lot, and office staff pretty
much let her do whatever. She got to go on off-sites with her friends
from school, and one time she let me have some of her cupcake from
the fancy cake shop on the square. After that I felt like I owed her,
and plus I thought maybe if we were friends I could go on her offsites
too, and if I was really lucky, she would bring me home with her
when they let her leave.

At first she didn’t believe me when I told her about the door. She
said it sounded like a book she read once and it wasn’t real-life, so
there was no way it was true in the attic of a crap-o shelter like ours.
I got kind of mad when she said crap-o, but I promised if she came
with me, we could go wherever she wanted, so she said yes, and we
both tongued our meds, just like Jezzie always did. When we snuck
up the stairs, I made her stop at the window with me to look out over
the Capitol square. I pointed at the statue of Lady Forward and told
her about the time I’d walked out on the lake in a snowstorm with
Jezzie, so far we couldn’t even see it anymore, and she smiled, but
she didn’t seem to think it was that cool. When we got to the attic,
she complained it smelled like shoes and screamed three times even
after I told her we had to be quiet.

“There’s bats up here,” she said. “This is stupid.”

“Okay,” I said. “We gotta hurry anyway, before night staff find
out we left.”

First she said she wanted to go to the Children’s Museum so we
could play with all the exhibits without anybody else around, but I’d
never been before, and I didn’t know the address of it for the numbers,
so I told her she had to pick something else.

“Fine,” she said. “My house.”

“What’s your address?” I asked, and she told me, no B in hers, a
big one across the lake. We stepped inside, and I closed the door and
told her to think really hard about her house, that pretty soon there
would be a blink and a sizzle sound like if she were holding a camera.
The new girl was always talking about her dog and all her dolls at
home, and I hoped when we got there, she would let me play with
them, too. It was taking a long time in the door, and I could tell she
was getting real fidgety like Mama used to when she needed something
from the grown-up store. I tried to pretend like it was normal,
but the new girl wasn’t having it.

“Is this some kind of joke?” she asked. I explained sometimes we
just had to be patient, but then the new girl opened the door anyway.
She started walking back toward the stairs, but then she turned
around and made an ugly face at me. She said some of the other girls
told her not to be friends with me. That I was bad news and I was
never gonna leave because my mama was a loser and nobody else
wanted me, that I was always gonna be just another girl stuck in Sunday
House.

“That’s not true,” I yelled, and the new girl laughed at me when she
saw I’d started crying, just a little—the kind Mama said were sneaking
out because they had to.

“I thought you said we were supposed to shut up?” she said and
laughed again.

“I’m not stuck at Sunday House,” I yelled again.

“Jeez,” she said. “Don’t be a freak.”

That’s when I punched her. Not very hard, just a thump on the
side of her cheek. I’d never punched anybody, and it hurt. The new
girl started wailing right away, said she was gonna run downstairs
and tell night staff what I did, that I was trying to sneak out, that I’d
tricked her into coming up into the creepy attic and she was afraid I
was gonna do stuff to her in the closet. Before I could stop her from
screeching or telling, before I could say sorry or knock her over and
make her sit still and promise not to tell what we’d done, the new girl
ran away.

I stood in the middle of the attic floor for thirty-seven seconds trying
not to panic about how much trouble I was in. I knew it was bad
that we’d been sneaking up there, but I was more scared staff would
think it was all my fault that Jezzie was missing and Little Mary was
sad, and now the new girl would have a bruise on her face, so that
would be my fault too.

Then I burst into real tears and ran in the closet and slammed the
door shut behind me. I couldn’t think of any place but Tenney Park.
I thought maybe I could go to the bridge that the older girls said was
warm enough to sleep under, that maybe Jezzie was there, and we
could hang out and be friends because I wasn’t a baby anymore. Maybe
Mama had come back to look for her car and wandered all around
the lake, stopping in every parking lot she could find. Maybe the family
with the Christmas lights would let me stay with them. I started
saying Tenney Park over and over, Tenney Park, Tenney Park, Tenney
Park. I waited and waited and waited some more, but the blink-sizzle
sound never happened.