The station wagon rumbled off the exit onto the desolate access road. There stood a junkyard of massive proportions and a small, linoleum-sided two-story house with ragged screen porch. Without saying a word, Mimi’s mother pulled into the yellow dirt driveway of the house, and turned the car off. The engine seemed to sigh as though it had been waiting that whole long, five hour trip for this very moment. Mimi looked around, a feeling like cold, mossy stones sinking into the depths of her stomach. She couldn’t see out of the back of the station wagon since their belongings were piled high, chair legs jutting out, the valleys and peaks of garbage bags stuffed with clothes. She opened the passenger side door and almost fell out of the car, clutching at nothing as her legs wavered beneath her. The cat carrier fell on its side on the baked yellow driveway and the door sprung open. Sirocco poked his head out, dazed, but immediately he leapt forward, tearing out of the box and towards the road. Mimi tried to jump on him, but missed, her half-numb legs collapsing beneath her. Kelly, her mom, shot out of the driver’s side window, since the door hadn’t opened in two years, and was sprinting toward Sirocco and the road. She lunged forward and yanked the cat’s tail back. He yelped, the wild whites of his eyes flashing, and she scooped him up, landing on her ribs with a thud. She still had her cigarette between her lips, and slowly took a drag before standing and depositing the cat in Mimi’s lap.
“Be more careful next time.”
Mimi smiled, her first in the week since her mother had informed her they were moving. She had known anyway as the only time her mother made bacon and toast and eggs was when she had some bad news, and Mimi hated moving more than anything. This was their fifth move in less than three years, different towns, different states…. The houses always looked the same though: yellowed linoleum, patchy grass, rotted porches, greasy kitchens, and musty bedrooms that still smelled like whoever had lived there before.
Mimi coaxed Sirocco back into his carrier, giving him a gentle shove for emphasis. He muttered and mewed, hunkering down with his ears flat against the top of his head.
“Oh it’s not that bad.” Mimi whispered.
She stretched and stood up, looking round for her mom, who was already on the porch, peering in the mailbox. She rifled her hand around and pulled out a key. Mimi lugged Sirocco over, swinging the carrier like a pendulum and crab-walking sideways. Sirocco was an enormously fat cat. He clocked in at twenty-three pounds last time they weighed him. Mimi struggled with the screen door, which creaked and hung loose at the top hinge. She’d have to fix that, though there wasn’t much she could do for the frayed and curling mesh screen that had tore loose from every corner of the door frame.
Kelly and Mimi paused and looked at one another. Even after all these moves, they still got a little excited right before they opened the door of a new house. You never knew what was inside. One time they had found an emaciated dead dog right by the door, his claws worn down and bloody from trying to get out. Mimi sucked in her breath as her mom jammed the key in the lock and jiggled it, cursing as it stuck. After a few minutes of threats the lock sprung open with a loud TING. Kelly looked back at Mimi, took a deep breath and marched in like a soldier, turning on her heel to survey the kitchen before returning her gaze to Mimi and offering her a tight, rigid salute. Kelly had come from a military family, and her dad, Mimi’s granddad, had taught all his kids a proper salute. Mimi could never get it right, always sloppy, with her wrist bent at the wrong angle, but Kelly had it down pat. It impressed some of her boyfriends, the fresh-faced army boys who weren’t that much older than Mimi herself.
Mimi poked her head just past the doorframe. It was sunny and dust particles floated in great hunks before the window. There were tomato sauce stains on the stove, browned but rather fresh. Curtains still hung in the window, ruffled calico print, like a prairie girl’s bonnet. The fridge was small, vintage, with rounded corners instead of a hulking rectangle like more modern models. The sink was missing one of the spigot handles. The counter was cracked but remarkably clean. A toaster oven sat on the floor, probably broken.
“Not so bad, not so bad.” Kelly sighed.
After three days of sitting on the porch, reading months-old newspapers she found in a closet, and peeking in the gaps of the junkyard fence, Mimi was almost excited to start school. It was late August, so there was still a week left. Kelly had started work the very next day after the move, and was too tired and pissed off to take Mimi to the town, or even visit it herself. But it was Saturday, and Kelly promised they’d go to town, and eat at the Greek diner that everyone at her new job raved about. There was even a little café, but Kelly said it wasn’t much, just a few tables, or so she heard. There was a public library, a used bookstore, and a real trolley that ran through the center of town. Kelly said it was for tourists, but if Mimi wanted they could ride it. Of course, Mimi did.
Mimi woke up at nearly seven in the morning and made a pot of coffee for Kelly. She fed Sirocco, but only half his usual serving, because they were running low. She changed his water, and then made some toast with peanut butter for her and Kelly. She usually made more, like cereal or oatmeal, but they had run out of that, and she didn’t want to spoil their appetites for the hummus and falafel they planned to order at the diner. Mimi sat down at kitchen table, using her knee to keep it from wobbling, and waited for the fresh scent of percolating coffee to wake Kelly up. She thought of the first time she had hummus, when Kelly was dating a 26 year old Greek-American private, Constantine. He was a fabulous cook with a black-red temper, but stunningly kind most of the time, unless Kelly made a wisecrack about him being less than manly. Mimi had been eleven or so when they dated, and though it was only for a few months, Constantine had taken a real shine to her, bringing her bottles of birch beer and Judy Blume books he found at yard sales, which he frequented every weekend. Sometimes he would take Mimi, since Kelly refused to get up before eight a.m. unless it was for a job. They’d rifle through old records together and Constantine would point out the ones his parents had, lounge and light jazz stuff like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. Usually he’d buy them both triple scoop ice cream on pointy sugar cones and they’d race to see who could eat theirs the fastest. Mimi usually won, but she ended up with more of it on her chin and shirt front than in her mouth. One night he made the hummus, right before the big fight when he stopped coming over, and Mimi scooped it up in great globs dripping off the flat bread he had brought over. Constantine was thrilled that they loved his hummus, and even Kelly told him it was divine. He said it was the first time Kelly has said anything nice to him, and she laughed. It was probably the last time too, Mimi thought, as Kelly was sparing with her compliments. He wrote the instructions down on the thick mint-green recipe cards he had found on one of his yard sale excursions, and on special occasions Kelly would buy the expensive chick peas and real lemon so Mimi could fix up a huge batch which they ate three times a day till it ran out.
Mimi was startled when Kelly entered the room, shuffling in her worn slippers with both fists rubbing at her eyes.
“Snuck up on you, huh?” Kelly squealed, her tone delighted but still sleepy and indistinct. “Remember when you wanted to be a secret agent? Well you’ll never be if you don’t stay alert. You should have heard my eyes peeling apart when I woke up, not staring at me half scared to death when I walk through the door.”
Mimi cracked a smile and ran over to fix a mug of coffee. She laid the toast out, a little cold now, and the steaming, milky brown coffee in front of Kelly, who was flipping through one of the old newspapers. They ate in silence, and Mimi thought about saying she’d given up her secret agent dreams long before she was in middle school, but figured it wasn’t worth it. Kelly might ask what she wanted to be now, and she had no idea. Well, she had one idea, she wanted to be a war correspondent, but she knew Kelly would snort laugh and ask if she thought getting her leg blown off by a land mine was her idea of fun. Kelly wasn’t much of a reader, and she didn’t stay up on current events or politics, because, as she said, it didn’t bother her none, and if it did, she wouldn’t need to read about it. Mimi respected this, but she couldn’t help but believe that war correspondents had the most beautiful, vital, exciting jobs on earth. Helping refugees, following soldiers into battle, evading bullets and missiles and friendly fire, all to tell the stories of heroics and heartbreak that sometimes made Mimi cry and get the paper all soggy. It was almost glamorous, in a brutal and terrible way, but more than any other job she could think of, it seemed real and important. And there were so many wars, all over the world, new ones breaking out every single day. She’d never be unemployed. She’d have, what Kelly always lamented lacking, that elusive Job Security, funny because her life would always be uncertain while on the job.
As Kelly wiped the crumbs from her mouth, Mimi stared at her expectantly. Kelly started to hum and rap her fingers on the table, causing it to teeter back and forth. Mimi squeaked a little deep in her throat. Kelly made a big production of ignoring Mimi, twirling her hair, but smiling wider and wider as Mimi fidgeted.
“Okay, okay. Get ready, we are going to town.”
Mimi glanced over at Sirocco who was looking despondently at his empty bowl.
“We can’t bring him today, but next time.” Kelly said. “Lord knows why you want to drag that mangy creature along every place you go. He’ll scare off anyone who wants to be your friend.”
Mimi rolled her eyes and tore off for her room to change out of her mismatched jammies; the top printed with penguins and the bottom with little blue stars, and gather the nine dollars she had saved in the last month.