A Mango-Shaped Space Read online

  She’s off and running before I can stop her. My father and I just look at each other. Time passes very slowly until she returns.

  Cradling a few dusty blocks in her arms, she holds one up in front of me. It has the letter q carved on each side in faded red. “What color is this?” she asks.

  “It’s red,” I tell her.

  “See!” she says gleefully. “I’m right!”

  “The q is red,” I repeat, “on the block. But in my head it’s a dark silver, like the color of Dad’s helicopter.”

  My mother doesn’t say anything. She just keeps turning the block over and over in her hand.

  “Well,” my father says after a long pause, “we’ll just have to go see Dr. Randolph. I’m sure he’ll be able to help.”

  Over the years, Dr. Randolph has cured us kids of everything from chicken pox to broken bones. He means well, but he’s getting old and a little forgetful. For the last few years, he’s called me Beth. I even heard him call Zack Beth once, but Zack denies it.

  “Dad, the last time we went to Dr. Randolph you said he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed anymore.”

  “Never mind that,” he says. “We have to start somewhere. I’ll call him right now.”

  He goes into the kitchen and opens the cabinet with the emergency numbers posted on it. Mom is still staring at the block, as if she’s trying to see what I see. I know how frustrating it is to see something differently from someone else, or in my case, everyone else, and I feel sorry for her.

  I have to go give Mango his pill, so I stand up to leave. Mom breaks her gaze away from the block and looks at me solemnly.

  “Why didn’t you come to us before?” she asks. She sounds hurt.

  My throat tightens. “I tried to, back in third grade. No one believed me, remember?”

  “I’m glad you’re telling us now,” she says, reaching out to hug me. It feels good. Mom’s not usually the touchy-feely type.

  “We’ll find out what’s going on,” she assures me. “Don’t worry.”

  I nod and leave her holding the q up to the light.

  Mango is asleep on my bed, wheezing his mango wheeze contentedly. He springs up as soon as I open the box of tuna-flavored cat treats. Without my colors, Mango’s wheezes would just be wheezes with no comforting mango puffs. Is that worth giving up for good grades? I guess I have no choice. After all, everyone else manages just fine without seeing them. He gobbles down the treat, never suspecting a pill is hidden inside it. He’s so trusting. I give him a few more treats without pills in them, and then he yawns in my face and I wave away his icky tuna breath.

  That night, I go to bed early and dream that Dr. Randolph has turned Mango into a stack of dusty building blocks. Every time I pile them up, someone comes and knocks them back down.

  I can never turn around fast enough to see who it is.

  By morning my parents are still waiting to hear from Dr. Randolph, so they decide to send me off to school. On the bus I randomly open my art book to an artist I haven’t seen before. I decide instantly that this is the guy for me. His name is Kandinsky, and the shapes he uses in his paintings look a lot like the ones I see when I hear noises. His images are all twisted together and overlapping, like when I hear music with a lot of different instruments. The colors he uses are flatter, more primary than the ones I usually see, but they’re still pretty close.

  In history we are divided into groups of four and told that each group will have to present a big project at the end of the marking period. It will be based on an event in American history that America would rather forget. Roger Carson is in my group, along with Jonah Finley and Laura Hoffson, who is always the first to volunteer the answer in class. Roger and I glance at each other, and he quickly looks down at his desk. We’re supposed to get together outside of school to decide the topic. Half of our grade will depend on this assignment, but no one seems too eager to make plans. Least of all me. The marking period isn’t over until Thanksgiving, and that seems very far away right now.

  During lunch Jenna tells us about the boy-girl party she’s planning for her birthday in November. Molly starts pointing at the boys she thinks should be invited, when the school guidance counselor shows up at our table.

  “You’re Mia Winchell, right?” she asks me.

  Surprised, I nod. Had I done something wrong? Had I put my history homework in the wrong pile?

  “Your mother is here,” she informs me. Then she lowers her voice and says, “You have an appointment with your doctor.”

  I gather my books while the guidance counselor waits.

  “It’s nothing,” I assure my friends. “I’ll see you later.”

  My mother is waiting on the front steps of the school, and she tells me Dr. Randolph has agreed to see me right away. For some reason Beth is in the front seat of the car, her newly red hair glowing unnaturally in the sunlight.

  “What’s she doing here?” I ask.

  “She has poison ivy all over her arms and legs,” my mother informs me, holding open the back door. “Be nice.”

  I slide in and lean forward, noting that Beth has tube socks on both her arms. “So, how’d the herb-picking go, Beth?”

  “Shut up.”

  “Can’t you just cast a spell and make the poison ivy go away?” I ask.

  “Mom!” Beth says.

  “Mia,” my mother warns.

  I lean back in my seat. “Sorry.”

  Beth looks at me over her shoulder. “Why are you going to Dr. Randolph anyway? You don’t look sick.”

  I don’t know what to say. Luckily Mom jumps in and says I just need a checkup. Beth doesn’t seem convinced, but she drops it and starts scratching the back of her hand through the socks. Mom tells her to stop or she’ll get scars. That stops her instantly.

  Dr. Randolph’s waiting room reminds me of the vet’s except with kids instead of animals. A group of toddlers play with toy trains and Legos while a baby hollers in his mother’s arms. I cover my ears to soften the shrill screams, but it doesn’t stop the silver spears from shooting across the room. I wish everyone else could see them. At least here I’m not the only one covering my ears. I’m dreading going in there and having to explain everything again.

  The three of us sit as far away from the chaos as possible. Beth has started scratching again. I make sure I don’t get too close.

  “Why do you still bring us to a baby doctor?” Beth asks our mother. I am wondering the same thing.

  Mom frowns. “Dr. Randolph is a pediatrician,” she says. “That means he sees children of all ages. Including sixteen-year-olds and thirteen-year-olds.”

  Beth is finally called in, and my mother starts to get up with her. “That’s okay,” Beth tells her. “I can do this on my own.” My mother sits back down with a sigh.

  “By the way, Mia, I spoke to your math teacher this morning.”

  I try to ignore the toddler pawing at my sneaker. “You did? What did she say?”

  “She doesn’t understand why you’re having so much trouble, since you do so well in most of your other classes. She said if you don’t improve you’ll have to go to summer school next year.”

  “You’re kidding me.”

  “I wish I were.”

  “What am I going to do?” I ask. Nothing could be worse than summer school.

  “We’ll figure something out,” she promises. “I’ll go over your homework with you.”

  I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s not going to help. I know what I’m supposed to do to solve the equations; somehow I just manage to get all mixed-up in the middle.

  Ten minutes later Beth returns covered in pink lotion, clutching a prescription. She doesn’t look happy. The nurse pokes her head out of the door and motions me in. I wait for my mother to join me. There’s no way I’m going in there alone.

  Dr. Randolph meets us in the examination room. I hop up on the table and wait for him to cure me. He’s always done it before. He finishes flipping through my file and