lip was busted.
from my window the trucks pulling into the New York Times
building across the narrow street, as the lights twinkled above
on the marquees. I
imagined how at dawn, the stories from all over the world would
be delivered to homes with fireplaces and apartments with terraces.
My twin sister Heidi and I were ten years old and were not allowed
to read secular newspapers. We were living on New York State's emergency
fund with Mom for the next two days in The Times Square Hotel.
a striped purple sweater from The Lambs Nazareth Church hand-out,
I thought it looked like something Punky Brewster would wear on
TV. It was my favorite piece of clothing from my backpack stuffed
with clothes, shampoo, fake furry animals, and my diary. Heidi pretended
that she was on a camping trip and read a history book with a flashlight
underneath the wooly covers of the queen size hotel bed.
on, Heather. Open up!" Mom yelled, pounding on the door. She
had returned early from the welfare office. It was almost dinner
time, but I didn't feel like letting her back in. Slowly, I pulled
away from the scratchy seventies curtain and opened the locks. A
rat ran under the bed. Heidi's forehead of curls came out of the
was that noise?"
Mom. I'm letting her in," I said.
that 'ti, ti, ti, ti' noise."
rat's under the bed."
and I were beyond screaming at rats. We had Mom to attend to. I
opened the door. Mom drew me into her arms. A wisp of her platinum
blond hair fell down from her traditional bun, tickling my nose.
I laughed and then watched her hoist Heidi into her arms. Mom looked
like a child, full of glee and love. It was as if she had forgotten
slapping me across my mouth, my buck teeth cutting through my bottom
lip, for sneaking candy yesterday. Her sunken blue eyes were so
light. I swore they were most beautiful when light shone through
them, but the room was without sunshine. Now, her cheekbones looked
white and bony.
girls! Check it out! There's a picture of us in The New York
Post! Maybe Steven Spielberg will see it and put you in his
next movie." Mom cheered. She had worked hard tracking down
the reporter, spending a whole roll of quarters on the payphone
telling him our story. When he finally came to interview us, Heidi
held a Home Sweet Home sign she had crocheted, and the photographer
snapped away. The headline read, "Show-Biz Twins in Double
Trouble." It was nice to see Mom happy. And I was proud of
her. "Let me just wash off all the welfare grime!" she
continued, "What a stupid place filled with administrators
who ignore everyone! Just like they ignored Jesus."
reached into her chic Le Sport backpack and pulled out the roll
of toilet paper I had stolen earlier from Turtle Bay Music School.
She opened the door and walked to the bathroom down the hall. Heidi
and I were lucky to have need-based scholarships for music lessons
where, for a moment, I could forget about everything, including
my dad. My violin teacher would never find out our secrets. Their
toilet paper was the softest and easiest to steal. When I was hungry
I'd reach into my backpack, tear off a piece of toilet paper, and
pop it into my mouth like chewing gum. After an hour of playing
Shubert, Vivaldi, and Dvorak I'd go with Mom and Heidi and spend
the rest of the afternoon at the Citicorp atrium. If we asked nicely
the food court would give us "samples" of cookies. But
they locked their toilet paper bins up and we quickly learned that
saving cookie crumbs wasn't as easy as hoarding toilet paper.
do you say we go to Nathan's on Broadway to celebrate?" Mom
announced as she returned. I could tell she believed that our full-page
article about being homeless would save us. Maybe in a few days
a Daddy Warbucks would jump out of his limo and give us a new apartment.
we walked towards Nathan's Famous Restaurant, Mom pointed to the
Carter Hotel. Its big red neon sign was visible for blocks, posted
high on the 24th floor. "It's for short stays," she said.
neighborhood was filled with peep shows and signs advertising porn.
As we walked past hustlers, drag queens and hookers, sex seemed
to be a business. Sailors piled out of a go-go boys' club and tourists
and sidewalk preachers gave them the eye.
we entered the cavernous, yellow and green striped restaurant, hoping
no one recognized me from the article. By the counter, the workers
had on funny hats and were handing out buttons and balloons. I smelled
the yummy grease and grabbed a yellow one. Mom bought three hot
dogs and I quickly burned my tongue on sauerkraut. Heidi squeezed
mustard out, stained her shirt, smiled, took a huge bite, and skipped
out of the hot dog place. "Come on! Let's go ride the elevators
at some fancy hotel!"
street was busy with people as I held my mom's hand and my violin.
I took it just in case Mom forgot to bring enough cash. I was getting
used to busking for a meal.
man came into our path with skin that was bubbling underneath like
gasoline ready to explode. He pulled from his jacket a shiny silver
object. People screamed. I let go of my mom, ran back inside down
the broken escalator into Nathan's, and hid underneath a table.
My mom and sister ran inside, too, but stopped on the first floor.
They froze in each others arms, screaming. It was the first time
I had been separated from them.
balloon floated up the stairs. I snuck back up and watched the man
wave a knife a few feet away from my mom. He threatened to stab
anyone in reach. I sunk down the escalator's grid. With each taunt
of his knife, I thought, I'm a bad person. I could have protected
Mom and Heidi. I am a selfish little girl with a violin.
man jumped on the crazed man's back. Cop cars pulled up with their
colored lights. I ran to my mom and my sister huddled in a corner.
We hugged and said how much we loved each other and how we would
never let each other go. I bit my lip. It began to bleed again.
cameras came quickly as the streetlights peeked between the skyscrapers.
Mom was the beautiful witness, her tears reflecting the camera lights.
Cars slowed down, men turned their heads, and a reporter asked for
the spelling of her name. She was like a marquee star in Times Square.
Finally Mom would be unforgettable.
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