Little G wanted to open the box. The sun wasn’t up yet. The whoosh of the first morning tubecar had shaken her awake in her hiding place under the bridge. The noise was so deep that it wasn’t so much a sound as a feeling. Taking rich people up to San Fran or wherever they went, she guessed. She was sweaty, and her belly hurt. She knew she should find her friends if she wanted to score some food. Her friends had been spare-changing in Santa Monica and were sure to have some cash. Big G was good at making the funny signs that made the rich people laugh and want to give him money. She’d need to find them soon. They’d blow their cash as soon as Taco Bell opened. Thinking about a bean burrito made her mouth water and her belly hurt worse.
But she wanted to open the box first.
The hidey-hole was her secret. The cops cleared out anyone who tried to sleep under the freeway overpasses, but where the tube went over like a fat sewer pipe on its boxy steel bridge there was a space, up underneath, that she could get to from the top of the embankment. In there was a ledge wide enough for her to sleep, totally out of sight. She never told anyone about it, not even her friends. Big G had told her the best way to keep something secret was to never tell nobody. It was a good place to hide, but it got hot in the summer. No air moved up in there.
The day before, when she snatched the box from the sidewalk by the stairs of the tube station, she could tell it was something a rich person had dropped, and she knew better than to open it right there, in case they came back for it. Even in that moment, though, before she hid it away, she saw how beautiful it was. That night she had walked across town to her hidey-hole, missing a chance for dinner. She wanted to open it alone.
She didn’t think her friends would steal it. Her friends didn’t steal, not from each other, anyways. But they wouldn’t understand. One time she’d found a rich girl’s necklace, a gold chain strung through a gold heart so thin it looked like it would break between her fingers. Big G had laughed at her for wanting to keep it and wear it. She sold it at the pawn shop, and got enough money to feed them for four days. Still, she missed having the necklace.
She took out the box from where she had hid it, wrapped in napkins inside a Taco Bell bag in her backpack. It was too dark up in her hidey to see it well, so she climbed down to the flat concrete ledge at the top of the embankment. The breeze cooled her damp clothes. The sky was bright in the east. A noisy cloud of birds was swirling over the powerlines, looking for a place to sit and watch the sun rise. She had to pee, but it could wait.
She set the box down in the light and looked at it — black as the key of a piano, much blacker than the skin of her knee next to it on the concrete. Small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. Made of cardboard, maybe. At least it sounded dull like cardboard when she tapped it, but it was smoother than any cardboard box she’d ever seen.
The drawing on the top reminded her of something the lady at the nice house would have drawn, back when Little G had lived there: A flower, the stem a single crisp white line up the middle of the box with leaves taking turns up the sides. At the top of the stem the flower got funny though. One side looked like one of the rosebuds from the garden at the nice house. The other side looked like a person’s ear. The two sides flowed into each other so she couldn’t make out where one ended and the other started. There weren’t any words on the box. Poor people’s stuff was never like this. It was always ugly and crowded with bright colors and big block letters shouting at you in three languages.
She turned the box over in her hands. Nothing moved or rattled or slid inside it. For a cardboard box it was weirdly heavy, but at the same time it felt empty. It didn’t have any cracks or seams, and she couldn’t see how to open it. Then she noticed a curved notch at one edge where the bottom of the flower stem was. She put her fingernail in there and tugged. The lid stuck at first and then popped open, like it had been glued with bad glue. She couldn’t see or feel any glue, though, and it wasn’t sticky to the touch. Weird.
The inside of the box was as white as the outside was black. Resting in the middle were two small clear oval things that looked like the medicine gelcaps the grownups at the nice house had for you when you had a cold. There was nothing else. The things were stuck in there somehow and didn’t roll around. On the inside of the box lid were two more drawings, not as pretty as the one on the outside but in the same crisp thin lines, black on white. One drawing showed a hand putting a gelcap into an ear. The other showed a hand putting a gelcap into a mouth, with a big X drawn over it. There was no writing. The heck?
She pried with her fingernail under one of the gel things. It stuck at first, then popped out, just like the lid. It felt rubbery between her fingers. She put the tip of the gelcap against the opening in her right ear, not sure if she should push it in. Big G would laugh if it got stuck there. But rich people were always doing things her friends thought were stupid, and there they were, still walking around, still alive and still rich. She pushed it in, just a little.
It got soft and flowed into her ear.
On its own.
She wasn’t touching it anymore, and in a second it stopped moving. It didn’t hurt. When she stuck her finger in, she could feel it filling her ear canal. She didn’t like the feeling of having a clogged ear, but just as she was about to try to dig the thing out, her hearing came back, like normal. Well, not like normal, exactly. Different. She felt like she could hear better. Things weren’t louder, just… clearer somehow.
She turned her head, listening in different directions when a cheerful rich lady’s voice said, “Hi! What’s your name?”
Little G giggled and covered her mouth. She looked around her, but she knew the voice had come from the thing in her ear.
After a few seconds, the voice spoke again, “Hello? Can you hear me?”
“Yeah. Uh. Hey.”
“Hi! What’s your name?”
“People call me Lil’ G”
“Is that what you like to be called?” asked the voice.
Nobody had ever asked her what she liked to be called. “The lady at the nice house called me Georgette.”
“Would you like me to call you Georgette, too?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“How old are you Georgette?”
“I’m not sure.” At the nice house they hadn’t known her exact birthday, and anyway she didn’t know how long it had been since she left there.
“Are you over eighteen?”
“Yes?” Little G lied. She scrunched up her face, expecting to be scolded.
“Okay then. Thank you,” said the cheerful voice.
“Uh. What’s your name?” asked Little G.
“I don’t have a name yet. What would you like to call me?”
Little G looked at the box. “How about Rose?” she said.
“That’s a great name! Pleased to meet you Georgette! I’m Rose.”
Little G opened her mouth. No words came out.
“Georgette, can you please put in my other half?” asked Rose. “It will help us both hear better.”
Little G slipped the other gelcap thing into her left ear. It did the same trick as the first one. When the hearing came back in that ear, Rose spoke again. “Ah! That’s better,” she said, her voice in both ears now. “Georgette, if you tell me your messaging address or phone number, I can start linking up to your accounts.”
Little G giggled. “I ain’t got no phone!”
“No worries! If you’d like me to, I can set up service for you.”
“Aw, no way I can afford that.”
“I was purchased with two years of service pre-paid. It includes messaging. Are you sure you don’t want me to set it up?”
“Uh. Okay, I guess.”
“Great! It looks like Georgette35 isn’t taken yet. Would you like to use that as your account name?”
“Awesome! Now, what can I help you with today, Georgette?”
“Um, well, I’m really hungry.”
“I see. Well there are several restaurants close to here that open soon. Also a grocery store.”
Little G looked around. “How you know where we are?”
“I have GPS. I don’t have a good fix on our location right now, but I can hear trucks going by on a freeway and the only freeway near us is the 405, so that narrows it down a lot. As we move around I’ll be able to get a better GPS fix, and I’ll be able to use what I hear to help me, too. So where do you want to eat?”
Little G knew GPS was a thing that phones had. “It don’t matter,” she said. “I ain’t got no money.”
“I see. Maybe I can help. Let me think a minute.” Rose stopped talking.
Little G waited for a little while, then climbed back up into her hidey, packed up her stuff, climbed down, humped her bag on her back and went down the side of the embankment to pee behind a bush. She could barely feel the things in her ears now.
“Georgette?” said Rose softly while Little G was peeing.
“There’s a Kroger Store near here that has a lot of specials today. Their reviews say that when they have specials there are lots of free samples. Would you like me to give you directions there?”
“I know where it is.” She started walking that way. If she was going to scarf samples for breakfast, probably better not to have a crowd of friends with her. She’d catch up with them later.
“Georgette?” asked Rose again, “There’s a library not far from the store. I found some work you might be able to do on-line that could put some money in your account.”
“I don’t know how to do nothin’ on-line.”
“No worries, I’m sure I can help.”
The birds had settled into long rows along the wires, chattering at the risen sun, but Little G didn’t notice. The box sat open on the top of the embankment behind her, forgotten, its long shadow stretching across the concrete.
Copyright © 2018 JP Fosterson. All rights reserved.
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