A Mango-Shaped Space Read online

  “That sounds very noble, Zack,” Dad says.

  “Oh, and I’ll wear a really awesome outfit,” Zack adds. “With a cape.”

  “You’ll be a big hit next Halloween,” I tell him. “At least you can finally throw out those Spock ears.”

  “Who?” Zack asks innocently.


  “Looks like our family’s back to normal,” Dad says to Mom as we sit down for breakfast.

  I drop my fork, and it clanks loudly against my plate. “How can you say that?” Everyone stops eating.

  “Grandpa’s not here anymore. Mango’s not here anymore. How is this normal?”

  “Mia,” Dad says calmly, “change is normal.”

  “Then I don’t want to be normal.”

  “Uh, Mia,” Zack says, “I don’t think you need to worry about that.”

  I’m so tired of my emotions flipping back and forth. I don’t think I’m handling change very well at all.

  With his mouth full of pancakes, Dad asks, “Is it true that your colors are back? That must make you happy.”

  I nod. “It does, it’s just that …” I don’t know how to tell them that while I’m very grateful, I still feel guilty. Like I don’t deserve something special.

  “Oh, I almost forgot!” Mom says, smacking the side of her head. “We’re invited to the Roths’ this evening for the first night of Hanukkah.”

  “I have a date,” Beth announces.

  “With Brent?” I ask, not really expecting a response.

  She surprises me by saying yes.

  Mom tells her she can meet her date afterward, and Beth pouts.

  “I don’t really feel up to going,” I tell her.

  “We’re all going,” my mother says firmly. “It will be good for us to do something as a family again.”

  Dad puts down his glass. “But tonight’s my poker night, I can’t —”

  “We’re all going,” my mother insists, using her nonnegotiable tone. “The whole neighborhood will be there. One more word out of any of you and we’re not getting a Christmas tree this year.”

  Beth stands up and puts her plate in the sink. “Do you have any idea how many trees are cut down each year just so we can hang pretty lights on them?”

  My mother pushes her plate to the side and lays her head down on the table. I know how she feels.

  Six hours later we’re in the Roths’ living room watching their twin sons play a game with a wooden top called a dreidel. They always ask us to play, but we can never figure out the rules. Sometimes I think the boys switch places in the middle of the game just to mix us up. The doorbell rings, and Jenna and her dad come in, followed by an older couple who have recently moved in next door to the Roths.

  Jenna and I go to the back of the room to talk. “I miss you,” she says. “It’s been forever since we’ve hung out together.”

  “I miss you too,” I tell her and mean it.

  “I’ve been working on a great PIC mission,” she whispers. “You know, when you feel up to it.”

  “Can you give me a hint?”

  “Let’s just say it’ll be our biggest job ever.” She tries to wink, but it looks more like she’s got something in her eye.

  The Roths always let each of the kids light a candle on the menorah, and when it’s my turn, I say a prayer in my head for Grams and Grandpa and Mango. I tell them I’m sorry our time together on this earth was so short and that I miss them. When Zack’s turn arrives he looks up at Mom for permission. He’s still banned from anything to do with fire. Mom nods her head slightly, and Zack lights his candle without burning anything. Afterward, Mrs. Roth busies herself by making sure the wax doesn’t drip all over the glass table, while everyone else gathers in the dining room for dessert. Out of the corner of my eye I see Zack sneak out of the room, unnoticed by everyone except me. A minute later he runs back in and frantically waves me over.

  “What is it?” I hiss. “You can’t just go snooping around people’s houses.”

  He drags me out of the room and down the hall. “Trust me, you’ll want to see this.”

  “Anything that starts with you saying ‘trust me’ makes me instantly suspicious.”

  “Look!” he says, and points into the den. A low wooden gate keeps us from entering. In the corner of the room, on top of a big pillow, is the Roths’ cat Twinkles. Curled up around her belly are five tiny kittens. “Look at that one by her leg,” he says, pointing to the smallest kitten.

  I put my hand over my mouth.

  “It looks just like Mango, doesn’t it?” he says. “When he was a baby.”

  I nod, unable to take my eyes away from the tiny thing.

  “I guess we know who the father was!” Zack says, laughing. “That Mango always was a lady’s man. Er, a lady’s cat. I mean, a lady cat’s cat, or no, I mean —”

  “It’s okay, Zack. I get it. I wish Mango were around to see this.”

  “Maybe he’s watching right now,” Zack says. “I bet he’s an angel cat.”

  “So you found our kittens, eh?” Mr. Roth appears beside us and we jump. He doesn’t seem angry at all. “They’re not ready to leave their mother yet, but in about a month we’ll be looking for homes for them. Let us know if you’re interested.”

  “We want one,” Zack says, his eyes shining. “The littlest one.”

  I whirl around to face Zack. “What? No, we don’t. Sorry, Mr. Roth, just ignore him.”

  “Well, let me know if you change your mind,” Mr. Roth says, leaving us alone.

  “Why’d you say that, Mia? I want him.”

  “How can you think of replacing Mango already?”

  “It’s Mango’s son. Or daughter. It’s not just any cat.”

  “Zack, if Mango was the father, then they’re all his children. How could we just take one?”

  “I hadn’t thought of that,” he admits. “Hmm …” he says, and walks slowly back to the living room, no doubt hatching some plan to get Mom and Dad to take all of them. That will never happen.

  I glance behind me and then climb easily over the gate. Twinkles looks up at me warily and keeps an eye on me as I approach. I bend over to get a better look at the kittens. It’s uncanny how much the littlest one looks like Mango. My eyes cloud up, and I have to lean my head back for a few seconds to avoid letting the tears slip out. I reach out my hand and lightly pet his little head. He opens his squinty eyes and yawns. Then he lets out a surprisingly strong mustard-colored meow and settles back into his mother’s warmth. Who ever heard of a cat named Mustard? Impossible.

  That night Dad knocks on my door as I’m about to switch off my lamp.

  “Come in,” I say, leaning up in bed.

  He walks in and sits on the edge of the bed. “I thought you’d want to have this.” He hands me Mango’s Winnie-the-Pooh blanket. I sit all the way up and rub the familiar material between my fingers. Some stray Mango fur is embedded in it. I never thought I’d see it again.

  “But I thought you buried Mang … I mean, that Mango was bur … I mean … oh, I can’t even say the words.”

  “I saved it for you. I thought you might want it back.”

  I look at him gratefully and hold the blanket up to my nose. “It still smells like him.” A mixture of cat food, the outdoors, and litter.

  “He loved sleeping on that blanket,” Dad says on his way out of my room. I hug the blanket to my chest and then sniff it a few more times before laying it at the foot of the bed where it belongs.

  That night I dream I’m at the county fair with Zack. We’re eating hot dogs with gobs of mustard and laughing at Beth, who’s stuck on top of the Ferris wheel.

  When I wake up I swear I can still taste the mustard on my tongue. It doesn’t take me too long to figure out what the dream means.

  Author’s Note

  For more information on synesthesia, check out the comprehensive Web site run by Professor Sean Day (http://www.users.muohio. edu/daysa/synesthesia/), The Man Who Tasted Shapes by