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Silence is Harder.
That week, Antoine’s mother tucked an extra forty dollars into the money she normally gave Momma for taking care of Antoine. I was surprised, because I knew she struggled to get by herself.
“Momma, are we going to use it pay the rent to the landlord?” I asked.
“What? No, of course not, Miranda. We’re already being evicted, why give him more when he’s kicking us out anyway? We’re going to have a treat. You stay here, I’m going to the store.”
I plopped on the couch, and wondered what she’d bring home. Ice cream, maybe? A new movie to watch?
A half hour later, she was back, carrying pizza for us both, gummy worms for me, and beer for herself. For a while, everything was fine. We munched and chewed while watching a cheesy television special, and Momma even cried a little when the dog died.
At 9:30, I yawned and said, “Momma, I’m going to bed.”
“Okay, baby. I think I’m going to go visit a friend. You don’t mind, do you?” she asked.
I thought for a moment.
“No, I’ll be fine,” I said.
Momma shook me awake at 2 am. My head felt heavy; I couldn’t even lift it from the pillow.
“Miranda, let’s dance!”
She wheeled giddily around the room, giggling.
She grabbed my arm, and pulled me out of bed, spinning and twirling drunkenly to the blaring music. I pulled my hand away, and fell onto my bed.
“Momma, no. It’s 2 am. I’m tired,” I said.
“Don’t be such a party pooper. Life’s too short!” she said.
“No, Momma. No. Please. Just let me sleep,” I said.
She reeked of cheap beer. I couldn’t believe Momma was drunk. I had never seen her so wasted.
“Forget you!” she said loudly.
Momma pirouetted into the living room, still giggling. I laid down on my bed and closed my eyes. I tried to use a pillow to block out the noise, but the loud rock music still wiggled under the pillow and pounded in my head.
After about ten minutes, I gave up and went into the living room. Momma had passed out on the couch. I snapped off the music, and silence seeped through the apartment. Fully awake now, I walked back into my room and sat on the bed. For the first time in a few years, I took out my old light-thrower. I don’t know what it was really called, but it spun around, and when you turned off the lights, you could watch the illuminated shapes of animals float through the air, growing bigger and smaller as they hit the wall, then the corner, then the other wall. When I was really young, I’d lie down between Momma and Daddy on my bed, and we’d watch the light dip and curve all over the room, giggling and pointing at the shapes while a tinny lullaby played.
Impulsively, I switched it on and threw myself on the floor. I imagined Daddy lying next to me, laughing and looking lovingly at Momma, and being nestled between the two of them, safe. But when I opened my eyes, I was still alone. The shapes had lost their magical quality. The lullaby was annoying. I was lying on dirty carpet. Disgusted, I flipped the toy off. I curled up into a ball, feeling lonelier than ever. Images of Daddy yelling at Momma popped into my head. Of her sobbing on the floor. Of watching him walk out, and the terrible silence that had filled the apartment, like now.
I couldn’t stand it anymore. I turned the music back on. The thumping bass made it hard to sleep, but the silence was harder.
When I woke up the next morning, sunlight was streaming through my window. Sleepily, I rolled over, and squinted at the clock. 10 o’clock.
10 O’CLOCK! I was supposed to be at school two hours ago!
I rushed around the room, pulling on jeans and a t-shirt. When I stepped into the living room, Momma was still passed out on the couch. I shook her awake.
“Momma! It’s past 10 o’clock! Why didn’t you wake me up?”
She squinted sleepily up at me. “What?”
“I’m supposed to be at school right now! You made me miss the school breakfast,” I shouted hysterically.
She sat up, cradling her head in her hands, tracing her thumbs back and forth across the dark circles under her eyes. She didn’t say anything.
“Momma, I’ve got to go. Please try and pull yourself together by the time you have to babysit Antoine. Don’t act like you have a freaking hangover around a four year-old!”
I stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind me. It wasn’t until I’d gotten a few hundred yards from the apartment building that I realized I’d forgotten my coat. I didn’t feel like going back; I didn’t want to see Momma still sitting there on the couch, looking used up.
I slammed my fists into the pockets of my jeans, and then folded my arms against my chest, trying to keep warm, trying to walk quickly, trying not to cry.