A Mango-Shaped Space Read online

  I flash back to Adam asking me about the bracelet and touching my arm. Was that just last night? It feels like a year ago. And that girl on the bench couldn’t possibly have been me.

  Jenna assumes my silence is a confirmation. “I knew it! Don’t even bother to come,” she says coldly and hangs up the phone.

  I stand there, numbly staring at the dead receiver in my hand.

  “Why didn’t you tell her what happened?” my mother asks, guiding my hand to replace the phone in its cradle.

  “She didn’t give me a chance.” I shrug. “It doesn’t really matter anyway. Nobody could make me feel any worse than I already do.”

  “Why don’t you call her back and explain?”

  I shake my head. “I couldn’t possibly go to the party anyway.”

  My mother strokes my hair, something I can’t remember her doing since I was a little girl. “I think you should try to eat something now.”

  “I don’t want to.”

  “Please try, that’s all I ask.”

  I decide it’s not worth arguing, and I let her take me down into the kitchen. I stare out the window at the bleak gray sky while she busily prepares me something to eat. The newspaper is on the table, and I glance at the large headline type. All the letters are black. I can sense a kind of depth to them, but their colors are gone. I almost laugh remembering how I used to wish all the letters would just be black. So now I’m no longer the girl who sees colors, and I’m no longer the girl whose grandfather’s soul is in her cat. All I am is the girl who is no longer special in any way. I’m the girl who is empty. Like a deflated helium balloon. I can’t believe this is how everyone else feels all the time.

  Mom places a plate of wheat crackers covered with cheddar cheese on the table in front of me. I take a bite and nearly spit it out.

  “What’s wrong?” Mom asks.

  “It tastes like wet cardboard.”

  “Just try to get it down.”

  I was trying to get it down, but swallowing is proving difficult. My throat is too tight. I spit the cheese and cracker out in the sink. As I stand there holding onto the counter, it dawns on me that I didn’t have to step over Mango’s bowls to get there. I look down. Sure enough, they’re gone. I can feel the now familiar hysteria rising up in me, and I point at the ground.

  “You got rid of his bowls already?” I accuse my mother with a shaky voice. “How could you do that?”

  Jumping to her feet, my mother says, “Your father thought it would be best if —”

  “And where’s Mango?” I’m screaming now. “Did Dad throw Mango away too?”

  “Mango’s out in the woodshed, Mia. Just calm down.”

  I honestly feel like my heart is shattering into a million pieces at the thought of Mango lying alone in the cold shed. In an instant I’m out the back door and running to the tiny shack. Mom calls out that I’m not wearing shoes, but I ignore her and swing open the flimsy wooden door. There he is in the corner, still wrapped in his Pooh blanket. I take a step toward him and then can’t make myself get closer. I kneel on the cold, hard floor and cover my face with my hands.

  “I’m so sorry, Mango,” I whisper over and over as the tears warm my cheeks and hands. “I loved you so much. You were the best cat. It’s all my fault.”

  My mother appears at my side and puts her hand firmly on my shoulder. “Mango loved you very much, Mia. You gave him a wonderful life.”

  “I killed him,” I state matter-of-factly, not looking up.

  “Is that what you think? That’s crazy.”

  “We all know I’m crazy, right? Well, you don’t have to worry about that anymore, because my colors are gone.”

  Mom hooks her hand under my elbow and lifts me upright. She puts her hands on my shoulders and looks me in the eye. I try to turn away, but she holds on.

  “Look, Mia. The only thing that’s crazy is the idea that you had anything to do with Mango’s death. And remember, Jerry said that your colors could disappear in times of trauma. This certainly qualifies as traumatic. I’m sure they’ll come back.”

  I wrestle free from her hold. “I don’t want them to come back. I don’t deserve to have them anymore. You don’t understand; I did kill him!” I run back inside and straight to my room, which is starting to feel like a prison cell. Sometime later that night my father delivers a bowl of warm creamed-corn soup and says he’s not leaving until I finish it. I shake my head repeatedly, but he stands firm and gives me the spoon. I finally choke down the soup without even tasting it and hand him back an empty bowl.

  “I thought we’d have a memorial service for Mango tomorrow,” Dad says, still standing by my bed. “It might help you feel better.”

  “I won’t go.”

  “Maybe you’ll change your mind in the morning,” he says, switching off my light. I know I won’t change my mind. There’s no way I’m going to watch Mango being lowered into the ground. I try to sleep, and somewhere in the back of my mind I think, Wait, I have to give Mango his pill before I fall asleep. Sure, now I remember. When it’s too late.

  The next morning I awake to Zack shaking me. “We’re going to start the service soon,” he says. “You have to get up.”

  The pain comes back instantly. I cover my head with the comforter. “I told Dad I’m not going.”

  “What? I can’t hear you.”

  “I’m not going,” I repeat louder.

  “Do you think that’s what Mango would have wanted?” he asks as he storms out.

  “Mango would have wanted to live,” I whisper. After a few minutes I make myself get out of bed and brush my teeth. The bathroom window looks out onto the backyard, where Dad is hacking away at the nearly frozen ground with a shovel. I move closer to the window and see a small wooden crate lying a few feet away from him. My stomach knots up as I realize Mango’s inside it. The rest of the family stands nearby, bundled up against the cold. It must be windy too, because Beth’s hair keeps whipping around her face. Suddenly she turns her head and looks right at me. She gestures for me to come down. I shake my head and back a few steps away from the window. I stand there for a minute, my arms crossed in front of me. Then I hurry back to my room, search under the covers for Tweety, and run outside in my slippers. Everyone is standing around the hole now, with the wooden crate in the center. They’re holding hands and offering Mango to heaven, but I just can’t do that yet. I won’t.

  Crying, I thrust Tweety at my father, and he lets go of Beth’s hand to take it. “You’ll put it in there with him?”

  He nods and bends down to open the crate. I turn away before I see anything and run back into the house. I can’t stay in my room anymore. I need to be far away from here. I wish I were old enough to drive. I put on my sneakers and a heavy sweater and run right past everybody into the wet fields. My mother calls out after me, but I don’t turn around. I run past the ravine, which now has water coursing through it. I’m amazed that I don’t fall on my face since the grass and the fallen leaves are so slippery. I keep running until I feel a sharp pain in my side. I guess the hunger is finally catching up with me. I’m only a few yards away from the cemetery, so I keep going until I reach Grandpa’s headstone. I lean against it to catch my breath. It occurs to me that I never really mourned him, because I thought he was still with me. Now that I know he’s really gone, it feels different being up here — sadder and definitely more final. Usually when I came here Mango was with me. I remember when I brought Grandpa his painting and Mango walked all over it. He had so much energy then, and that was only a few months ago. I hang my head and close my eyes and just try to breathe.

  “Your mother thought we might find you here.”

  I whirl around to see Jenna, Molly, and Kimberly standing a few headstones away. They still have makeup on from the night before, and I can tell that Molly and Kimberly feel uncomfortable standing around the graves. They keep checking the ground as though they’re worried that a hand will suddenly shoot up.

  “What are you doing