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She put on all of the bracelets. All three of them. Then she stepped out. The hallway seemed smaller than last time she'd been in it. More claustrophobic. Her heels and her dress made it hard to walk down the steps. But the elevator was out of order, and what could she do, stay at the top of the steps all night? No, that wasn't going to happen. She had to go out today if it was the last thing she ever did, even if she broke her neck getting down the steps, she was going to get out of the sh***y little slum with its peeling blue walls and angry vibes of hate and pain. She hadn't been out in ages.
Maria Anne! Maria Anne! Look! Look, it's me! It's me, Little Ty! Remember me, Maria Anne? Remember Little Ty? I'm all big now. I'm grown up. I'm Big Ty, now. And guess what, Maria Anne? Guess what? I'm better now, Maria Anne. I'm better now! Wait there, Maria Anne! Wait there! I want to see you. I'm going to cross the street and see you, Maria Anne! Wait right there! And then, Tyler Shore, a real ghost from her past, ran headlong into the busy street. And then the Frito-Lay truck rolled into sight. And then, the little autistic boy who'd triumphed over leukemia that Maria Anne had known so many years ago was dead, and Maria Anne screamed and screamed.
That was three days ago. Had she really not been out of her house in that long? It was kind of hard to imagine. But trauma could make time blur and ebb quickly away. The steps didn't give Maria Anne as much trouble as she expected, which was good. It was always good to be thankful for small favors, Maria Anne thought. Especially in a thankless and favorless world like this.
Maria Anne stepped out onto the cold concrete pavement. Hammell Street was the same as the last time she'd been out two weeks ago. Cracked, covered in graffiti, grimy, littered with dealers and addicts. Nothing ever changed around here. Maria Anne walked down the street. You had to go a ways off of Hammell Street to find a cab. She stared down at the concrete. Counting the cracks helped pass the time. There were so many cracks on the sidewalk on Hammell Street. It was like no one cared. No, it wasn't like no one cared. No one did care. After today I'm going to get off Hammell Street, Maria Anne thought, even if it means living with mom again.
Four days ago, Maria Anne would never have thought twice about the idea. She might have slapped someone for even offering the notion of moving back in with her mother. But now things were different. After the funeral, Maria Anne promised herself, I'm going to talk to mom. She needed her mother's help, and her mother needed her. Her health was deteriorating with age, and since Maria Anne's father died, she'd had no one to take care of her. It would be painful, but Maria Anne would reconcile with her mother if her mother would accept it. She would. She had to. After all, she was her mother's daughter.
Maria Anne saw a cab and flagged it down. As she got in, and absently gave the driver directions, she wondered how she'd even ended up on Hammell Street. She remembered how, back when she was in high school, she would drop her things off at her old house after school, and walk across the street to the Shores' little house. She used to babysit Ty when he came home from school. His parents didn't get home until about six, a lot earlier than her own, and he needed to be watched at all times. The first day Ty had despised Maria Anne, just as Maria Anne had despised the job. But her mom thought it would be a good experience for her. And money was scarce, so a job was a job. Ty had been horrible that first day. When he got home he'd made a huge mess of the kitchen, and when Maria Anne scolded him, he threw a tantrum like none other she'd ever witnessed. She sent him to his room, and he cried and screamed until his mother came home. Maria Anne was sure she was going to get fired, after that. But when Mrs. Shore came home, she looked so grateful, even when she saw the mess Ty had made in the kitchen, and heard about his fit, that it broke Maria Anne's heart. She still remembered what Mrs. Shore said to her that day: 'Ty can be a burden at times, yes, but we love him so, so much. Mr. Shore and I feel terrible that we can't be here all the time for him, but if we don't work, we won't be able to afford the house, and Ty would get so worked up living in an apartment. I want you to know how much this means to us, Maria. We've been through six babysitters in the past year alone. Don't worry, though, Ty will grow to like you. It just takes some time for him to get used to you. He's a wonderful boy, once you get to know him. He's so smart. He has leukemia, you know, but the doctors say he's going to overcome it. He's such an interesting boy. The doctors say they've never seen anything like it. His body naturally fights the leukemia. Of course, we do have to go in fairly regularly for checkups and such, but Mr. Shore and I were so glad when we heard our son wasn't going to die. He means so much to us, Ty. He's really such a kind, gifted little boy. It's just'his disabilities'you know'it's hard for him. I'd just like to say thanks, Maria. Thank you so much, bless your heart.'
Maria babysat Little Ty every weekday from two forty-five to six for the next three years. And Little Ty did grow to like her, after a little while. He learned her name, and, after she'd been coming for two weeks, he started to talk to her. By the time senior year was half-over, they were conversing from the time he walked in the door until the time she walked out.
Little Ty's parents loved her, just as he did. Every year for the three years she babysat, on her birthday, the Shore's used some money they'd put aside to buy her a bejeweled bracelet. They were always beautiful. When things got bad, they were the only things she held on to. When she and her parents started fighting again, and Maria Anne just couldn't take it anymore, she held the bracelets close to herself. When she finally did leave home, they were the only pieces of jewelry she took with her. They reminded her of Little Ty, who was the only reason she'd stayed as long as she did. But though she had grown to love the little boy, she couldn't take it anymore. She dropped out of school and left home. She never saw Little Ty again. Until two weeks ago.
Since she'd left home she'd been all over the country, as was her dream. She started smoking cigarettes among other things in California, picked up a coke habit back in NYC, lost the tiny bit of money she'd saved up gambling with a fake ID in Vegas, lost her virginity, which she'd kept so proudly until then, in Miami, to a businessman with some much-needed cash, found herself the property of a very nice pimp named Josef who beat her and the other girls and only fed them once a day in Chicago, and finally escaped him and moved to Hammell Street just twenty minutes from her old neighborhood.
And there she'd stayed. On Hammell Street, where nothing ever changed, trying to salvage what remained of her sanity. It was relatively safe on Hammell Street. There were lots of drug dealers and scummy people, but there was never really any shooting, except for very occasionally. And only two people'd been killed in her building the entire time she'd lived there. It wasn't ideal, or remotely close to it, but it was something. But now she had to leave. She knew her mother would be at the funeral. She'd been close with Mrs. Shore. That's how Maria Anne came about getting the job in the first place. She would make amends with her mother tonight, and with luck she would accept. The cab had reached her destination. She paid the driver and climbed out, every step taking her closer to what would hopefully be a fresh start.
The preacher's speech was adequate, but Maria Anne cried the whole time. Mrs. Shore's eulogy, however, was beautiful. Maria Anne was weeping so hard that by the end she could barely see. So was the rest of the audience. After the eulogy, Maria Anne walked up to Mrs. Shore, and they cried in each other's arms. Maria Anne tried to whisper apologies and words of comfort, but nothing seemed appropriate. Nothing seemed potent enough to convey the bone-deep sorrow she felt. Her face said enough. Mrs. Shore kissed her forehead, when she stepped away, and Maria Anne set off into the crowd to find her Mother, tears still streaming down her face. It wasn't long before she spotted her. She approached her for the first time in one and a half years.