I am in love with Grace Willentz. She is sitting under the tree and I am watching her sit. Grace points to boys and tells me to catch them and kiss them. I catch them and kiss them. I am in love with Grace’s hair, which is the color of yolk. 

Yesterday, Ms. Strauchler had us circle the room reciting the alphabet and when it was Lucas’s turn I thought, “Please don’t let me get r,” and when it was Ashley’s turn I thought, “Please I will do anything,” and then it was my turn and it was r and I could not say it. I was sent to a small room and a woman made me say the word “car” over and over again and I did not see Grace until lunch and when I went outside she was sitting with Allegra and I was burned. 

Today Grace is tall and she sits under the tree and I guess this is our clubhouse because this where I come back to after grabbing Freddy, my best friend, with my teeth. All the boys are scared of me and of Grace, who kisses no one. Grace has no father and calls her mother by her first name. I try calling my mother “Erica” but feel a little sick and then on Tuesday I am coming home with my father and there is a man on our stoop with a gun in a brown paper bag and I do get sick and do not leave the house for a week. I lie in bed with my head under the covers, press my head deep into the pillow, think of Santa Fe. Think of the summer, the low roll of arroyo, the desert’s slow creak into dark and then crash and then storm, then flood. 

This is before that. There is a spider. I am feet held to my chest, watching dust catch the thick light. I am watching my sister stretch away from the afternoon, stretch like a lazy sphinx across the cool adobe portal. I feel like fever, watching her. There is a spider, she moves closer, she moves closer, it is always like this, the day finds its pitch and then she is gone, my mofar’s arms collapsing around her, speeding her inside and away from everything dangerous. It rains. It will happen again.


One day Grace showed me her ruby slippers. We were in her room, which was bigger than mine and had sliding doors, and she slid the doors closed and slipped her small white feet into those big red shoes, and she danced. Grace lifted her skirt above her knees and moved her legs fast, stomping the floor and laughing, Grace danced so hard I could not watch. She was some kind of sun, and when it was my turn I put on the shoes and they hurt but I danced harder and laughed louder and then it was too loud and I kicked my feet high in the air and the shoes flew off and knocked over the light and in the dark Grace was so angry I felt I could see her red anger, glowing and glowing.


Greenwich Village is bright like a fat dull knife. It is New York and it is not New York. It is Sunday and I feel my chest get smaller when I think of tomorrow. I press my face to the last window of the subway’s last car and watch the dark tracks disappear into darker. 
I walk down Hudson with my mother and tell her what to write. She writes what we will do today. She writes the names of the songs I hear on WQXR and love. At home, there is a little box full of index cards with lists of things that make me happy. I feel safe with these lists, as if without putting the day into words it never happened, as if getting it down makes it true.

In the morning, when there is only time to go to West Eleventh, I feel a little swallowed and then the whole day does swallow me up and I am in the cafeteria with my lunch box, which is cloth and faded and pink because my mother doesn’t believe in throwing things away. I have weird lunch, seaweed and bean curd and she doesn’t cut off the crusts of the bread and it isn’t even white bread, and doesn’t use the bags that seal shut like the other mothers, uses wax paper and rubber bands so that at the end of the day my bag is all sticky and I am sticky and I don’t even know why Grace is friends with me. 

But she is and at three o’clock we stand together staring across the street at Ray’s, the only. I want pizza so badly and Freddy is there already and maybe we are talking about this. Maybe I am holding her hand, I want to go home, I am waiting behind the fence for someone to come and get me. Ms. Strauchler is telling the whole sticky group of us that the only adults we can trust are our parents. She says it like this, she says “If you don’t feel safe then don’t go.” I am afraid of something that I cannot see. 


The next time I save my sister is from dust. I am watching her draw circles in colorful script and then there are white crumbs in her hair, her hair is gold and it too, in that moment, is crumbling, the ceiling is falling, the sky is falling, I am watching and then screaming and for once she moves and then everything really does fall. I am late for school and they are planting a tree, everyone in their dresses, Grace in her long gold stare, Grace who is bigger than the tree.

That night my father gives me his father’s medal of honor and tells me I am very brave. I think, there are things in the world to be brave about. I wonder what my father’s father looked like, if my father was brave like me when he died and if that’s what his silence is, bravery.


I think of Grace’s big red shoes when I kiss the back of Alvaro Trigo’s head. Noah Barrow always has sleep in his eyes and I want to brush it out but think that might be wrong and so kiss him on the nose instead. I think of the night I slept over at Grace’s house and when everyone was asleep rubbed against a piece of paper and hid it behind her couch, and how in the morning we watched cartoons and I felt that she knew that I loved her, and I felt embarrassed.

Next year, the whole world opens and darkens. Grace is taller and not mine and Freddy’s mother calls my mother to say that he won’t be coming to my party, and I am eating my lunch in the Big Kids’ Yard, which is too big. Devin, who wears a leather jacket, who paid Ana a quarter to lift her skirt, and she did, Devin is coming towards me with ten more boys. I am running away but Devin shouts and the ground is a swamp and the boys are swarming me, holding me to them, lifting my mouth to Devin’s, Devin who presses against me all wet and leathery, Devin licks my face and I fill with a shadow feeling, I taste the hard animal of his shoulder, I feel, for the first time, my body move away from me. 

The month after we move there is a fire on Morton Street. My mother and I walk the three blocks back down to look. Jane and Ann are still next door, and I feel instantly, painfully guilty when I see the hole in our kitchen wall, remembering all the times I wished our apartments were connected. I see the wall, I see inside the wall, the fire-gutted space, the wires hanging loose, I think, these things just happen, sometimes kitchens explode in heat. 

Now we are on West Tenth and closer to Grace and if I was still friends with her this would matter. I would put on my black shoes and think of her red ones. I would cross Hudson with my father’s hand in mine, I would cross Bleecker and then 7th Avenue and that huge street would open and I would cross it too, past the fire station, past the party store with its muggy pink toys. 

My father would stop walking and point to the blinking light across the avenue and I would know what to do, I would drop his warm red hand and start running, the light would turn red and New York would close like a throat, I would kick off my shoes and this time never stop. 


Anne Marie Rooney is an MFA candidate at Cornell University. She has won an Iowa Review Award, as well as a Narrative prize, for her poetry. Find her at
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