A Mango-Shaped Space Read online



  FROM, ADAM

  P.S. DO YOU HAVE YOUR OWN COMPUTER? I DO.

  “What are you grinning at?” Zack asks as he walks in. His hair is sticking straight up, and he has toothpaste around his mouth.

  “Nothing,” I answer happily.

  Zack leans over me and peeks at the screen before I have a chance to cover it. “Who’s Adam?” he asks. “Your boyfriend?”

  “Get out, Zack. I’m busy.”

  “No way. It’s my turn to use the computer. You hogged it all last night.”

  “Isn’t there a violent cartoon you can go watch or something?” I ask.

  “I’m too old for cartoons.”

  “Since when?”

  “Since right now.”

  I’m in too good a mood to argue anymore, so I tell him he can use it in ten minutes. He grudgingly agrees, and I’m alone again with my blank reply screen. There are so many things I want to ask Adam, but I don’t want to overwhelm him.

  DEAR ADAM,

  THANKS FOR THE WELCOME. I HAVE TO SHARE THE COMPUTER WITH MY WHOLE FAMILY. IT’S A BUMMER, I KNOW. I’VE ONLY JUST LEARNED THAT MY COLORS DON’T MEAN I’M CRAZY AND THAT I DON’T HAVE SOME AWFUL DISEASE. I’M LEARNING MORE ABOUT IT FROM DR. JERRY WEISS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, AND IT’S KINDA COOL. WHEN YOU SAY YOU HAVE COLORED TASTE, DOES THAT MEAN THAT BROCCOLI TASTES LIKE (FOR EXAMPLE) THE COLOR BLUE? OR DOES THE COLOR BLUE TASTE LIKE BROCCOLI? W/B/S (WRITE BACK SOON).

  FROM, MIA

  P.S. THIS IS THE FIRST E-MAIL I’VE EVER SENT TO A BOY.

  P.P.S. I WON’T TELL ANYONE ABOUT THE POETRY.

  I send off the letter before I lose my nerve. It’s so much easier to talk to people over e-mail than it is in person. I feel like I made a new friend, and I never even left the house! When Grandpa was alive he had a list of like fifty pen pals he met on-line and e-mailed regularly. He met them in different chat rooms, or on card-playing Web sites. He told me once that “youth is wasted on the young” and said it was a shame that other people his age had a fear of computers. When he died my father had to send an e-mail to all of Grandpa’s pen pals and tell them the news. I think some of the people still write to my dad. I’m about to open Jenna’s letter, when Zack returns and demands his turn. I log off and leave him to whatever mischief he has planned. Once, we got sent a month’s supply of nacho-cheese-flavored crackers because of some survey Zack filled out on the Web. They weren’t half bad either.

  I go up to my room and try to paint, but my mind keeps wandering. Mixing the paint on my palette only makes me think of my colored letters, which make me think of Jerry, which makes me think of my new friend, Adam, which makes me want to check the computer again. I force myself to work on my Lord of the Flies book report. Compared to the cruel kids in the book, my classmates suddenly don’t seem so bad.

  I decide to get some fresh air. Mango must be off hiding someplace again, and this time I don’t feel like searching for him. It’s a crisp, cool day, exactly as it should be for the beginning of October. There’s not a hint of rain in the air, and someone in the valley must have their fireplace going, because I can smell it. My Wild Child instincts take over, and I run across the lawn and jump into a pile of leaves that my dad just finished raking.

  “Errooowww!” something screams beneath me, and I hurry to my feet, slipping on the leaves. I wind up back on the ground, landing hard on my butt. I watch the pile of leaves quiver and shake, and out walks Mango, his fur bristling from being sat on. We stare at each other for a minute, and then I gently wrestle him to the ground. When he was a kitten he used to love pretending he was a dog. We’d roll around together, and he’d squeak and meow and then wait for more. After a few minutes I lie on my back, and Mango drapes himself across my chest and starts purring loudly. Fall was Grandpa’s favorite season. Maybe that’s why Mango’s purring so contentedly. I stare up at the bright blue sky and wonder what Adam looks like. I wonder if he wonders what I look like. It dawns on me that he could be an old man just pretending to be a fourteen-year-old kid. Now I’m nervous and decide to go back in and write to him again. Mango follows me in the kitchen door, but I lose him to the food dish. Zack is gone. I log on.

  DEAR ADAM,

  HOW DO I KNOW YOU’RE NOT AN OLD MAN PRETENDING TO BE A FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD KID? I’M GOING TO NEED PROOF.

  FROM, MIA

  P.S. WHAT COLOR IS MY NAME TO YOU? YOURS IS PALE YELLOW LIKE THE INSIDE OF A GRAPEFRUIT (NOT THE PINK KIND) WITH A TEXTURE KIND OF LIKE GRAPEFRUIT TOO, BUT THE OUTSIDE.

  Now, I suppose I could sit here all day and wait for a letter back. That would be a little too pathetic. But I don’t see anything wrong with checking every hour. Or every half hour even. So I manage to occupy myself for the next half hour. I do three math problems (probably incorrectly) and eat a bowl of cereal. When a half hour has passed, I log on again only to find the letters from Jenna and Kimberly that I hadn’t read before. I still don’t feel like reading them.

  Half an hour later. Nothing.

  Mom finds me and makes me help her clean out the pantry.

  An hour and a half later. Still nothing. I read Jenna’s letters. They tell me all the same stuff she already told me last week.

  I help Dad wash the helicopter. He lets Zack and me sit in it when we’re done. Zack straps himself into the pilot’s seat and looks over the gauges as if he knows what he’s doing. He asks Dad when he can start flying lessons, and Dad tells him he can take lessons when he’s seventeen. Zack in the sky is a very scary thought. While Zack is busying himself by making vroom, vroom noises, Dad motions for me to step back outside. He tugs at the collar of his flannel shirt. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was nervous.

  “Is everything okay, Dad?”

  “I was going to ask you that very question.”

  “I’m fine,” I say quickly. “Why?”

  “Do you remember a few summers ago we sent you to that day camp where the swimming instructor wouldn’t let you advance from tadpole to guppy?” I nod and wonder if my father’s been out in the sun too long.

  “Do you remember what I did about it?”

  “You marched down there and got me into guppy?”

  “Right. Exactly.”

  He leans casually against the chopper with one hand, and I wait for him to continue. When he doesn’t, I ask, “So what’s your point?”

  “My point,” he says, “is simply that I’m here for you. If you need me.”

  “Thanks, Dad. I’ll keep that in mind.” I decide not to tell him that I ended up being sent back to tadpole after almost drowning another camper while I flailed around in the deep end.

  Two hours later there’s still no e-mail from Adam. I’m trying not to be discouraged. I hope my last letter didn’t scare him off. Unless he wasn’t who he said he was after all. I finally read Kimberly’s letter. She has a crush on some guy in her gym class. He’s only in the seventh grade, but she says he looks much older. She asks me not to tell anyone. I can see that she forwarded the same letter to Molly, Jenna, and Sara, so who else is there to tell?

  After dinner I sit down one last time in front of the computer. I try sending out good vibes as the modem dials. Maybe I can ask Beth to cast a spell on Adam to make him write back. I must really be getting desperate.

  The vibes must have worked, because there are three letters from him. Three!

  Letter number one:

  DEAR MIA,

  YOU’RE FUNNY. I NEVER THOUGHT I WAS CRAZY, BECAUSE MY MOM HAS COLORED HEARING TOO. I HATE BROCCOLI, SO I NEVER EAT IT. LET’S TAKE CHOCOLATE. IF I’M EATING A PIECE OF CHOCOLATE, I’LL SEE A RECTANGULAR PATCH OF PINK WITH A GREEN STRIPE AT THE BOTTOM. IT JUST APPEARS IN FRONT OF ME AND KIND OF LOOKS LIKE A FLAG WAVING IN THE BREEZE. IF IT’S DARK CHOCOLATE, THE PINK WILL BE ALMOST RED. THIS ONLY HAPPENS WITH A FEW KINDS OF FOOD, BY THE WAY. THE IMAGE FADES AS I KEEP EATING THOUGH. PRETTY WILD STUFF. WE SYNESTHETES HAVE TO STICK TOGETHER — WE’RE THE ONLY ONES WHO REALLY UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER. BY THE WAY, I’VE MET JERRY BEFORE. HE