by Sophia Apodaca

I’m listening to Franklin is Lost on my Walkman. I memorize each word, each page turn. I promised my mom I would learn on my own. I learned to tie my grandfather's shoes before breakfast. It took me an hour to pull the bunny through the loop. On the concrete front yard of my grandparents’ house, I stand with my head between the bars I'm not allowed to cross. Around the corner store a herd of wild balloons carry my mother home. The children next door whisper then shout as she comes closer. They want the balloons. They say there's enough for me to fly somewhere. Why would I want to go anywhere? My mom is home. I unlock the front yard gate. A woman on a motorcycle is selling pan dulce. She knows my name and offers me my favorite, the one with the white checkered surface. My mom buys a bag. It's after bedtime. I'm not supposed have sugar. When my puppy died she let me drink coffee. She said it was part of growing up. Inside she begins to gather our things. I jump on my bed. With silence she sits me down. We're going away. We get into a van. We’re playing a game, she says. All I have to do is memorize some things: a name, a birthday, a place I've never been. In the back of a van I fall asleep. Whispers tether me. Flashes of light wake me. My mother nowhere to be found. Only the scent of gasoline and wet dirt. A woman driving tells me everything is okay. That my mom is waiting for me on the other side. A man in a police uniform slides open the van door. He asks me questions. My mother’s game. I recite my lies without a stumble. The man gives us permission to pull through. It's dark again. I put my headphones on. The van is steady now. It’s the first lie I remember. The first time my mother gave me permission.

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