And then we were in fall and took a bus to your mother’s house—and I’d always assumed she was dead, the way you spoke of home in a past tense—way out in Okeechobee, carrying with us that street sign I helped you steal because it was her name, JODI St. “Saint Jodi,” you said. On the long ride out we shared our daily bottle of Dayquil, and when the bus stopped we waded back into the heavy heat, those weird water turkeys flying over from Nubbins Slough, cawing at each other in long, awful creaks. Anhinga, you told me, it’s Brazilian for devil-bird. Hunts its prey entirely underwater, head and all. I took your hand. It sneaks up on fish. It moves like a snake.
We walked the maze of neighborhood looking for a rancher with a pebble yard. You said hers would be the only ornamentless property in the complex. And, like everything you ever said, that was true—no crystal balls, no woodcuts of boys pissing on the house, not a single pink flamingo—and you told me to hang out out here, and even though I was parched as fuck and had to piss and wanted to see if St. Jodi’s eyes switched colors the way, in sunlight, yours did, I obeyed and crouched beside the dying palm tree. How hard is it to let a palm live? It stood crooked, brown leaves limping down around me, looking like your dreads before we lopped them off and wove each one through the shelter’s chain-link fence—our first and best and final act of public art.
Jodi spoke to you through the screen-door, saying, “It’s not my birthday. It’s not my fucking birthday.” And I made myself as small as possible. And: Who’s that, she asked. And: Nobody, you said. And: There’s someone on my property, I’m calling the cops.
And I stood and turned and waved to you both.
You didn’t wave back. She said, Who is that?
And I kept just waving. And you said, Nobody. I don’t know who that is.
She did not believe you, but I did. You two continued to argue as I wandered the complex, lost for the exit. That’s not even how you spell my name, I heard her say.
I was desperate for a CVS, but instead found one of those birds—long neck bent like a spring, beak like a spear, caw like a motor that won’t turn over—wading in somebody’s blue blow-up pool. It called in that awful voice for another, but above us both the sky was bare.
And now it’s summer. I’m back at the Lauderdale shelter. They don’t let me eat without lending a hand. I do the eggs in a wok. I add milk the way you loved. Remember how you’d plead the staff to add a cup? How come you never taught me to ask for what I wanted?
I haven’t gotten all the way clean yet, but I haven’t quit the job. I lead Friday yoga. I lean heavy on corpse pose, where sometimes I can’t get empty, and I see you two there on the stoop, how she starts to fix the collar of your dirty white polo. Saint Jodi pats your shoulders. The more she touches you, the clearer her vision, the stiller her hands, the pills work again, you never even stole them. She pulls a piece of gum from the pocket of her housedress. Places it on your tongue like a Jesus wafer. She hands you the home phone and says, Please speak to your grandmother. And: Don’t worry, she doesn’t remember anything. Just tell her you love her.