“I have something for you.”
Those words rang out from the open doorway of the bedroom... and not for the first time, either. I have something for you. The little girl slowly turned in the chair at the desk, turning away from the window with snow falling outside, away from the blank paper and pile of mixed up, broken crayons.
The Tin Man stood there, dressed in a dark suit, his hand hidden behind his back.
“Is it Buster?” she asked, trying to ignore the swelling in her chest that really hoped it was. It had been another week without him. Another week without her mother. Too many weeks.
The Tin Man’s face twisted, like her question made him angry. Not Buster.
The little girl frowned, turning back to the frosty window. “No, thank you.”
“But it is Christmas today,” he said, “so you get a present.”
Her brow furrowed. It wasn’t Christmas. Not anymore. They’d missed Christmas. Santa hadn’t come. “It’s the new year now.”
“True, but it is still Christmas.”
She just shook her head, staring at a bare red crayon on the desk, all of the paper peeled off and scattered around in front of her. Red crayon wax was caked under her fingernails from picking at it that morning.
The Tin Man made no sense.
How could it be Christmas still?
“Use your words, kitten.”
Use your words. He always said that, like she wasn’t allowed to have any thoughts that just belonged to her. She had to make them into words and give them to him. He was always taking everything.
“I don’t have no words,” she said. “I just wanna go away.”
“You want to go away?” he asked, his footsteps coming through the room as he approached. “Or would you like me to go away?”
He stopped behind her, his shadow covering the desk like a storm cloud had moved in and blocked all the sunshine. He touched her shoulder and little girl froze, whispering, “I want you to go.”
His hand darted over as soon as she said that, gripping her jaw so hard she cried out. It felt like a metal claw. He yanked her face up, forcing her head back, banging it against the chair as he made her look at him. His expression was hard, his eyes as cold as ice as they glared down at her. His rough touch left finger-shaped marks on the pale skin she’d gotten from her mother.
Tears stung the little girl’s eyes, her throat burning.
“You think I will not hurt you because you are small?” His hand moved to her chubby cheeks, squeezing them hard, making her purse her lips. “You think I will not hurt you because you look so much like the woman who has my heart?”
“She has your heart?” the little girl tried to ask as tears fell down her cheeks, the words sounding like a muffled sob, but he understood.
“She has all of me. I love that suka more than she could ever understand. I love her to death, kitten. The moment I saw her, I knew she would be mine. I gave her everything, and all she had to do was love me back.”
He closed his eyes, like those words hurt him, as his hand shifted again, pressing against her throat until she couldn’t breathe. She tried, sucking in air, but it felt like her lungs were broken, like they had a hole in them so everything leaked out until she was choking.
The little girl struggled, grabbing his hand with her own. His eyes opened when she touched him, something flickering in them, like flames roared inside of him.
He let go right away.
The little girl inhaled sharply, touching her neck as her whole body shook. Why did he do that?
From behind his back, the Tin Man pulled out a stuffed cat. Small, and calico, with a red bow around its neck. He tossed it on the desk in front of her, on top of her broken crayons.
“Merry Christmas, kitten,” he said as he turned away. “I love you.”
“You know, when you mentioned breakfast, I kind of thought you were going to go home and make pancakes again.”
Lorenzo laughs, standing on the street corner in the Chelsea neighborhood, just down from a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place that stays open twenty-four hours. He clutches a styrofoam container, at eight o’clock in the morning, eating the most gigantic burrito I’ve ever seen in my life.
Four bucks, cash only.
He made me order one, too.
Or rather, I said I wasn’t hungry and he said, ‘fuck that, I’m getting you one and you’re going to eat it,’ like the gentleman he is. I’m grateful for it, even though I pitched a fit.
Turns out, it’s delicious.
“Can’t believe you’ve never eaten there,” he says. “I thought it was a requirement to be a New Yorker.”
“I’m not your typical New Yorker,” I point out. “I never really got the experience. Too busy slinging pussy, I guess.”
A woman walks by as I say that, clutching her chest and casting me a look, like she might catch something by walking near me. Yeah, like some fucking human decency, maybe. I scowl at her, chomping on my burrito, waiting for the light to change so we can cross the street.
The old battered teddy bear is tucked beneath my arm. I probably look ridiculous, I know, like I escaped from some hospital’s mental ward. People cast looks at me like they’re genuinely concerned about my sanity, which is funny, considering I feel more at peace in this moment than I’ve felt in a while. “You ever worry you might really be crazy?”
“Worry? No. I’m pretty sure.”
“You’re pretty sure you’re crazy?”
I laugh, looking at him, seeing he’s watching me curiously. The light changes and people go around us, but he doesn’t move. Not right away.
“There’s nothing wrong with being crazy,” he says. “It’s all just a matter of perception. Hell, I think my brother’s crazy, working some bullshit job with his beauty queen girlfriend studying whatever she’s studying, spending tens of thousands for a little piece of paper that’ll declare her competent enough to get her own bullshit job where she’ll make not even a fraction of what I make, when I didn’t even finish high school. But the world thinks that’s normal, and really, that’s all normalcy is—it’s whatever fucking brand of crazy has the majority.”
He goes on so long, staring at me, that the light changes again and people gather around us.