Early Saturday morning, Diane shakes her son awake, “It’s time.”
Mark’s eyelids spring open. He’d dressed the night before: All that’s left are his sneakers. “Help your sister,” Diane says. Cindy hasn’t moved; she’s a sound sleeper, always needing someone to carry her in from the car on late nights. She was four now and already getting too heavy for their mother.
Mark leans into Cindy’s face and whispers, “C’mon.”
His mother moves around the near empty apartment gathering up the last of the items. Mark can hear containers from the medicine cabinet dropping into a plastic tub. He pulls apart two slats of the mini blinds and peers down into the alley. The pickup is still there, silver tarp draped over the contents of the bed, rope crisscrossed and knotted down. He helped load it yesterday, wedging the elevator door open with a broomstick and piling their possessions inside. Then the manager told him not to tie up the elevator, other people wanted to use it too. After that, he carried the rest of the things down the stairs.
Cindy folds her blanket, aligning the edges of the cloth, the flowered waistband of her shorts stick out over her pants. Some things about Cindy make him sad: her limp hair hanging in front of her eyes, her chubby hands, how she expects everything to be fun when most of the time it isn’t.
He tries to count the places they’ve lived. Nine that he can remember, three in Anaheim alone. A few times, they’d stayed with friends of Diane’s but he didn’t count those. Once, when his mom had an argument with the manager of one building, they moved right into the building next door. Mark felt weird walking past where they used to live like it was a friend that he wasn’t speaking to anymore.
And soon they’d leave here too. Last night, he’d ridden his bike down to the corner store. Both sides of Lincoln Avenue were lined with buildings just like theirs: two story apartment houses with outside walkways. Some buildings had names like Vista or The Palms. Most needed paint; the stucco crumbling or patched with another color. On summer nights, he could see the fireworks over Disneyland, a few miles away.
As the sun went down, Mark pedaled, weaving in and out of the buildings, the cracked cement changing from rough to smooth as he circled the courtyards. He rode past the small laundry rooms, the smells of bleach and detergent lifting to meet him.
At the store, he leaned his bike against the front window where he could see it. He didn’t have a lock. The bike was an old Murray, with a rusty fender that would rub against the front tire. Inside the store, he bought a Mountain Dew and some Skittles. He’d save a few for his sister.