Runnin’ (Part 9) – The Shelter


The Shelter“When’s the last time you ate?  Figures Pat wouldn’t feed you.”

“We were traveling.  No money.  Not his fault,” I say. “And his parent’s place was stocked.”

“There’s good food at the shelter.  They order pizza on the weekends.”

“Screw that.  Just let me go.  I’ll figure it out,” I say, but I don’t know where the hell I am.  I’ve never been in a big city before, only small, safe college towns where students put you up for free because they’re bored and want the company.

“No can do.  You’re a minor.  And the shelter is just temporary. A few days tops.” He looks at me, his blue officer eyes almost haunting.  “You don’t seem like a bad kid, ya know?  I have a daughter the same age as you, wouldn’t want her hanging around with boys like Pat.  You  remind me of her.  What you used to do? Before Pat? Interests?”

“I was in band. And theater.”

“What’d you play?”

“Stupid flute. The director was an ass so I told him to…shove it.”

“Do yourself a favor.  Go home.  Get back in band.  Guys like Pat aren’t talented, so you’ll be in good company.  I’ll give you a ride to Hannah’s Place.”

I wonder who the hell Hannah is, why my mom had to scrimp on $60 lousy dollars, why I have to stay in some weird shelter for teen girls with troubles.  But this whole mess of my life is swallowing me so fast I can’t fight anymore.

I cross my arms tight against my chest. “Fine. I’ll go if you get me some smokes,” I say like I have some power, like I have a choice.

On the way to the shelter, Pipes tells me more about his daughter, Jessica.  I’ve always hated that name.  Jessica’s the name of a stuck-up bitch with feathery hair and tight jeans and pearly, pink lipstick.  In fact, my mom was going to name me Jessica when I was born, but a mean nurse with a tight, sour face said, “Oh no, honey.  You wouldn’t want that. It’s an evil woman’s name.” Damn.  That nurse was right.

Pipes makes her sound nice, though.  Says she talks too much on the phone and it pisses him off.  She’s going to homecoming with a sweet boy. How she bleached-out her dark hair and her mother freaked. He’s clueless, but not that bad. He lets me smoke in his squad car, rolling down the window a crack so I can ash out the window. He doesn’t say anything as it flies back, a gray dust all over the black vinyl seat and scary metal grate that keeps the criminals at bay.  At least he lets me sit up front, like a real person, a free person.

On the side of the freeway, there are brown apartment buildings lined up like teeth with tiny windows facing the road.  An ugly, weathered signs says “If you lived here, you’d be home now.” And I wonder why anyone would want to call that dump home.  Why all those kids aren’t running, too.  Maybe they are.

Feels like we’re driving forever. We exit into a neighborhood that looks like a scene from a late-night cop show with tattered houses and chain-link fences and barking dogs.  I start to think he’s taking me to some under-age whore house to make a buck.  But his voice is soothing and soft, not creepy or phony like a pimp or a molester.  Those voices I know too well.

Pipes is chatty like a girl, gossiping about his nice, rebellious daughter and how she wears tall black boots, how she hides mini-skirts in her school backpack and squirrels away trashy lipstick in the pockets of her hoodie so her mom won’t know.

“I’m telling you, Jess is a handful.  But she’s a damn good kid, smart, too. You would like her,” he says.

I imagine he’s taking me home. I’d meet his uptight wife and piss her off because I swear too much.  I’d meet Jess and she’d like Bob Dylan and we’d sit on the floor of her room like normal teenagers and listen to “Tangled up in Blue” over and over again.  I’d sleep on the sofa with soft pillows and wake up to waffles and eggs and orange juice in tiny, cute cups.

Instead, Pipes pulls up to a tan, two-story house with shingles for siding. It’s dumpy with uneven shutters and a porch that sags like a frown. Two black girls with tight braids and tighter tank tops sit on the stoop smoking. They’re eyeing the police car like snakes ready to strike.

I think about Pipes and his nice daughter and wonder if he’s right.  Maybe if I’d been handed a different life, we would’ve been friends.  Maybe I wouldn’t be here now.  But I don’t have time to think anymore because Pipes is grabbing my pack and walking me to the door.  His heavy knuckles rap against the door-frame as the girls blow uneven smoke rings in my direction.  They are smiling and snarling and whispering.  I try to suck myself in all small and tight so they can’t see me, so I’ll disappear.  But it’s too late, the door opens and a blonde in a smooth bob with a social worker smile says she’s been waiting for me.  I walk in slow and heavy, like I’m wearing cement shoes as the girls on the steps are laughing and saying, “What up with the gypsy? She get lost or something?”


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