A Mango-Shaped Space Read online

  The tears flow easily from both of us, and I know we’re both crying for a lot of reasons.

  I refuse to take the bracelet off in gym class, and the teacher tells me not to come crying to her if it breaks. As if I hadn’t already cried enough for two lifetimes. In my weakened state I can barely climb the rope. The teacher tells me I can sit on the bleachers for the rest of the period. Roger gestures for me to join him on the top row. He can’t climb the rope because of his ankle, but I see he had no problem climbing up the bleachers.

  “So why weren’t you at Jenna’s party?” he asks as soon as I sit down. “I thought you guys were best friends.”

  “My cat died,” I say bluntly, my eyes stinging at my own words. My voice sounds far away, as if it belongs to somebody else. I remember it felt that way in third grade, up at the board.

  He puts his hand on my arm and leaves it there. “I’m really sorry, Mia. I didn’t know.”

  It takes a minute for my head to stop flashing with images of the helicopter and of Mango in the ground. When I snap back to the gym, the first thing I feel is Roger’s hand on my arm. I look down at it, and he quickly pulls it away.

  “This might not matter much,” he says quietly, “but I know how you must feel.”

  I open my mouth to correct him, but then I realize that he, more than anybody, does know how I feel. “Did it take you a long time to get over losing your dog?”

  He nods. It’s the first time we’ve acknowledged that we were both in that vet’s office when his dog was put to sleep. “We had Oscar since before I was born. He was like a brother to me. I know that sounds stupid.”

  “No, it doesn’t,” I quickly assure him.

  “Keeping his stuff around the house almost makes it seem like he’s just in the next room, you know? Throwing it away would be like denying that he was ever there.” As he’s talking, Roger is forcefully twisting a loose string off his gym shorts. If he doesn’t stop, his shorts might completely unravel.

  I wish my father hadn’t been so quick to get rid of Mango’s bowls. Even Tweety’s gone now. All that’s really left are photographs and stray pieces of fur on my bed.

  “I think we’re almost ready to put the stuff away now,” Roger says, giving the loose string one last firm tug. “It gets easier, Mia — missing them and feeling guilty and helpless that you couldn’t save them. Oscar kind of settled into my memory, and I take him with me. Does that make sense?”

  I tell him that yes, it does make sense. He smiles and reminds me for a second of Adam. But Roger’s definitely cuter. I wonder why I didn’t notice it before? I’m suddenly embarrassed about how badly I behaved during our history project. I can’t apologize to Mango anymore, but at least I can apologize to Roger. Before I get the chance, one of the guys in our class comes bounding up the bleachers.

  “Hey, Mia, can you tell me what color my name is?”

  “I don’t know,” I answer haltingly. “What’s your name again?”

  “It’s Doug,” he says, puffing out his chest. “As in Doug, captain of the soccer team?”

  Roger rolls his eyes, and I stifle a laugh.

  I concentrate for a minute. I know from memory the colors of the individual letters in his name, but I can’t visualize them together to know what the word would really look like. My heart sinks. I tell him his name is hot pinkish-purple, since that’s the color of the d.

  “But that’s so girly,” he says, clearly disappointed.

  “Sorry,” I tell him. “It doesn’t mean anything.”

  Doug shakes his head sadly and then leaps back down the bleachers, two rows at a time.

  I turn back to Roger. “You know, I think you’re the only person left in the school who hasn’t asked me the color of their name.”

  He doesn’t seem surprised. “Whatever color it is wouldn’t matter anyway.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I’m color-blind,” he declares.

  It suddenly all makes sense, and I start laughing.

  “You think it’s funny that I’m color-blind?”

  “No, no. It’s just that — is that why your socks never used to match?”

  He starts laughing too. “Yeah. I was too stubborn to let my mom pick them out for me. I got over it, though. Now she ties them together.”

  “We’re some pair,” I tell him. “You don’t see enough colors, and I see too many! Well, I used to anyway. Now they’re gone.”

  His eyes widen in surprise. “Will they come back?”

  I tell him I don’t know as the teacher blows the whistle for us to go to the locker rooms. Roger and I stand up, and before we head off in different directions, he says, “You’re right about one thing.”

  “What’s that?”

  “We’re some pair.” He turns away before I can see his face and hobbles down the bleachers. I watch him go. For that brief moment my heart lifts and I almost feel happy. But then Mango’s little furry face appears in my head, and it hits me like a punch in the stomach that he won’t be waiting on my bed for me when I get home today.

  After school I ask the secretary in the main office if anyone in the school has the last name Henkle. She says there’s a Hansly and an O’Henry, but no Henkle. I’m not sure anymore why I want to find Billy. Am I hoping I can help him or that he can help me?

  I make it through the week with recurring pangs of pain and loss and guilt, and after dinner on Friday night I put on the pajamas that I plan to stay in for the rest of the weekend. Jenna has invited me to stay over her house, but I’m just not ready to have fun yet. Today was the first morning that Mango’s death didn’t crush me the second I opened my eyes. It actually waited until I had turned off the alarm and pushed down my covers. Dad said that any progress is a good thing, but I still don’t see the purple spirals that I used to see when my alarm went off. I admit it — I miss those purple spirals. And I haven’t been able to go into the backyard since Mango’s funeral.

  The phone rings around seven o’clock, and my dad tells me to pick it up in the living room. It’s Jerry, calling from his lab.

  “You hanging in there?” he asks. It’s good to hear his voice.

  “I guess so,” I tell him, plopping down in my dad’s new reclining chair. It was a birthday present from Mom.

  “You’re a strong, girl, Mia. You’ll get through this.”

  “If I’m so strong, then why are all my colors gone?”

  He doesn’t answer right away. “When did that happen?”

  “Right after Mango … after he … after he died.”

  “How do you feel about it?”

  “Empty,” I tell him honestly. “Flat.”

  “That’s normal,” he assures me. I’m having a hard time getting used to people calling my actions normal. “Your colors will return, Mia. I promise. And you’ll feel three-dimensional again. Try doing something creative to jump-start your brain a little. You told me you like to paint; why don’t you try that?”

  I agree to try, even though I haven’t been able to even look at my paints lately. After we hang up I go back to my room and stare at my easel. There’s a thin layer of dust on it. I’m still torn between wanting my colors back and feeling like it’s an appropriate punishment that they’re gone. I decide to leave it up to fate. If they come back, it won’t be because of anything I actively do. I pick up the wooden easel with one hand, fold up the legs, and bring it over to my closet. I have to push aside a lot of junk to make room for it, and I suddenly find myself staring at the painting I did of Grandpa. I hadn’t given it much thought after the rain ruined it. I reach in, carefully pull it out, and lean it up against my wall.

  Something is different. I kneel down to look closer. I distinctly remember when I finished painting it that Grandpa had a faraway look in his eyes. But now he looks almost content. I definitely don’t remember painting him that way. I feel a stab in my heart when I look on Grandpa’s shoulder and see the gray smudge that was once Mango. Then my heart starts beating faster as I noti