A Mango-Shaped Space Read online

  “You were?” I can’t muster up any enthusiasm.

  “We wanted to see the painting before class.”

  Oh no, the painting! I left it at home! “I have to go,” I tell them and fight my way through the crowd without looking back. The halls empty out as I get farther away from the auditorium, and no one sees me go into the phone booth. I say a little prayer in the hope that one of my parents will be home.


  I’ve never been so happy to hear my father’s voice. I tell him he needs to bring me the slave-ship painting from my room. It’s all wrapped up and ready to go.

  “Can’t it wait till tomorrow?” he asks.

  “Dad, tomorrow’s Thanksgiving.”

  “Oh, right. Hey, shouldn’t the turkey be defrosting? I’m in the kitchen, and I don’t see a turkey.”

  “I’m sure Mom has it under control.” No way I’m going to be the one to break the news to him. “Dad, you have to hurry and get here before the end of the assembly.”

  “All right, all right, I’ll leave right now.” He mutters something as he hangs up, but all I can make out is the word turkey.

  I pace the hall outside the phone booth, unsure what to do with myself. There’s no way I can stay in the assembly with all those people, but if I stand out here, someone’s going to make me show a hall pass soon. A door swings open across from me, and two giggling girls come out from the bathroom. I wait until they turn the corner and then duck inside. I keep busy by reading the bathroom walls. “Janey loves Jeff.” “I hate algebra.” “For a good time call Hank.” In comparison to the new colors I see around people, my colored letters now seem very dim. After I finish with the walls, I sit on the window ledge and watch the outside world go by. When I’m bored of that, I examine myself in the mirror, and the harsh light lets me see every pore on my face. It’s not a pretty sight. I notice that I can’t see my green glow in the mirror. I read somewhere that vampires don’t show up in mirrors. Maybe I’m turning into a vampire. At this point nothing would surprise me.

  Whenever another girl comes in I start washing my hands. If I have to do it one more time, my skin will flake right off. Finally, I decide to brave the hallway and wait by the main door. Dad’s truck pulls up a minute later, and he honks hello. I cringe and look behind me to make sure no one heard it. The coast is clear, so I run out and grab the painting from the backseat.

  “No hug?” he says, getting out of the truck to stretch.

  “My arms are full, Dad. I’ll owe you one, okay? Thanks for this.” I turn back and run into the school just as the hall fills with students again. Although only fifty minutes have passed, every-one’s glow is much dimmer, and it’s considerably easier to walk straight. I say a prayer of thanks to the god of synesthesia for both the experience and for making the experience fade away. I also throw one in to the god of Thanksgiving assemblies.

  As soon as the first group is done talking about the McCarthy hearings, it’s our turn. We meet at the front of the room, and I lean the painting up on the chalkboard. At least I won’t have to speak. Laura, Roger, and Jonah take turns reciting the story of the Ibos and their plight. Mrs. Morris seems captivated, and the class actually pays attention. When we’re done, Mrs. Morris asks us to talk about the painting. The other three turn to me expectantly. I haven’t stood up and spoken in front of a class since that fateful day in third grade. I freeze and look pleadingly at Roger. He silently gestures for me to go ahead. I pause for a second and see that all three of them are sending out faded tendrils and balls in my direction. They’re trying to give me support. I take a shallow breath and look at the painting, instead of at the class, while I talk.

  “Um, well, I painted the slave ship lost at sea to show that the souls of some of the Ibo are still not at rest.” I glance at Roger, who motions with his hand for me to say more. “And, uh, I used watercolor paint because it can wash away easily, just like the memory of the Ibo revolt unless we keep studying it.” I step away from the painting to show I’m done speaking. The class claps for us, and Mrs. Morris says she wants to hang the painting in the classroom. She pulls on the rubber gloves she keeps in her top drawer and lifts the painting by the corners.

  “It’s not wet anymore,” I tell her, moving out of her way.

  “Yes, well, just in case,” she replies. I realize she’s protecting her hands from germs, not wet paint. It’s hard not to be a little insulted.

  “Where did you run off to this morning?” Roger hisses at me as we make our way to our seats. His tendrils are active, but not in my direction. I’d have thought he would have complimented me on my explanation of the picture, but no.

  “I already know all about the Pilgrims and the Indians,” I hiss in return.

  “Very funny,” he says. “You left it at home, didn’t you?”

  By the time I recover myself enough to reply, he’s in his seat and looking away.

  It’s weird that Thanksgiving always comes on a Thursday. Yesterday I was in school, and today it’s this big family-holiday thing. It’s kind of jarring. In my opinion, we should get the whole week off, like for Christmas. By the time we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, the glows around everyone have faded even more. Now they’re just a soft glimmer. For some reason, Mango’s color is the brightest. Dad didn’t speak to Mom all morning because of the turkey-tofu switcheroo. He finally caved in around three this afternoon when Beth convinced him that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for the freedom of all living things, and that includes the turkeys.

  Today is the second Thanksgiving since Grandpa died, and it just isn’t the same without him. It was his favorite holiday. He used to take some of the cornstalks that Jenna’s father gave us and make tie-dyed patterns on the corn with food coloring. After a while the corn would start to stink, but it made the table look very festive. It’s too quiet without him here. Mango is curled up in a ball under my chair, and I silently thank him for bringing some piece of Grandpa back to the table, even if I’m the only one who knows it. The vet told us to keep Mango inside during the cold weather, so he hasn’t been allowed out in a while. He finally stopped pacing by the back door and now just stares longingly out the windows. I reach down and give him a morsel of tofu loaf. He wrinkles his nose at it.

  After dinner Mom takes a well-deserved break in the living room while the rest of us clean up. We were planning on going up to the cemetery, but it’s freezing outside and Mom won’t let us go. The cold front has definitely arrived. We make a lot of noise in the kitchen, maybe to make up for the quiet dinner. Raising his voice above the banging pots, Dad asks me if I’m excited about the synesthesia meeting.

  I nod. But I don’t know if I’m more nervous or more excited about meeting everyone — especially Adam. I’m glad there’s a short session on Friday night so by Saturday I’ll feel more comfortable with everyone. I hope. And with Jenna’s birthday party on Saturday night, this is going to be a big weekend.

  “So what time does the freak show start?” Zack asks as he plops his dirty plate into the soapy-water-filled sink.

  “Zack!” my father says, flicking his dishcloth at him. “Apologize to your sister.”

  “I’m sorry, Mia,” Zack says, lowering his eyes demurely.

  “No, you’re not,” I reply.

  “I’m a little sorry?”

  “You’re just upset because Beth has to baby-sit for you while we’re gone.”

  “I don’t need a baby-sitter,” Zack exclaims in a horrified tone. “I’m elev —”

  “I think what Mia’s doing is groovy,” Beth interrupts. The three of us turn to stare at her, and Dad lets his dish towel fall to the ground.

  “Groovy?” Zack repeats.

  “What is it?” she asks innocently. “I’m not allowed to say something nice to Mia in the spirit of Thanksgiving?”

  “Why don’t we all try to make the spirit of Thanksgiving last year round?” my father suggests, retrieving his towel and shaking it out. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”