Grandma arranged the bedspread out at the edge of the parking lot. It floated in the air for a moment before settling down on the small border of grass that divided the asphalt and the pavement. Merri and I rushed over and plopped down giggling and poking at each other. I could feel the stiff, dry grass pushing through the thin blanket. My eyes drifted to Grandma hovering above us.
“Don’t be getting that dirty. I gotta put that back on the bed when we’re done.” Grandma pointed her finger at us when she spoke. It was crooked and bent like an old tree branch from the oak tree that used to be in our front yard. The grass was softer and greener there. The scent of it still lingered in my mind.
“Grandma, aren’t you going to sit with us?” Merri’s voice was small and sweet. The kind of voice you heard in a Disney movie. I gazed over at her and tugged on her ponytail. Merri let out a shriek and turned to stare at me.
“Noel, stop it!” Her small face puckered with anger.
“You know Grandma has a bad back.” I frowned at her, tipping my head down slightly like I see my teacher do when someone is bad in class. I slowly moved my stare away and relaxed.
Grandma just smiled and leaned against a Buick that had been in the parking lot for over a month now. It had big orange stickers on every window. One of the tires was flat and it leaned to the one side like an old man walking with a cane.
“Is someone gonna come and get that old car?” Merri had asked when we got home from school the other day. I let her climb the staircase to our room ahead of me. It was best to keep her moving in this neighborhood.
“Don’t know. Doesn’t seem to bother anyone being there.” I had stopped for a moment and gazed over at it. Inside there were boxes and blankets stacked up against the tinted windows.
“Why does that old car in the parking lot have stickers on it?” I asked after closing the motel door behind me.
“Don’t know. I guess it don’t run anymore.” Grandma’s eyes never left the small TV that sat on the dresser.
“Is someone gonna fix it?” Merri asked.
“I saw an old man sleeping in it the other day,” Grandma said.
My eyes widened and Merri’s jaw dropped.
“Why would someone sleep there?” Merri bounced up and down on the bed.
Grandma’s face clouded over and she put her hand on Merri’s small leg. “Guess he’s got no other place to go.”
I could see the tears welling in her eyes before getting up and walking to the bathroom. Merri raced to the window and pulled the floral print draperies aside to look down at the car.
Tonight I strained my neck to see if he was there, but the stickers and the darkening sky made it difficult. I saw Grandma peer in as well every so often.
“What time do the fireworks start?” I asked, rubbing the tops of my thighs. I shifted slightly, feeling my pigtails swish as each passing car sent a wall of summer air sliding into us. I could smell the earthiness of the ground for a moment before the odor of exhaust and road tar assaulted me.
“Nine, I believe. Every weekend night at nine.” Grandma stood straight and rubbed the small of her back.
On the other side of the four-lane highway sat the entrance to Disneyland. This entrance here was just for the hotel that sat like a guardian between the real world and the magical one, but I felt that just being so close had to mean good things were coming. Merri and I checked off the days on a calendar that we found in the motel drawer. Today was number 27—27 was the magical day for fireworks. The hotel manager Harvey told Grandma about them the morning we checked in.
“Bet those girls can’t wait to get into Disneyland,” Harvey had said. He stood behind the small, wooden counter in his dirty, white T-shirt. Merri thought he looked like Santa Claus when we first saw him, with his big belly that nudged its way out the bottom of his shirt.
“We aren’t going just yet. Gotta get things situated,” Grandma said. She glanced over
her shoulder at the parking lot outside. Merri was bouncing up and down. “Disneyland! Disneyland!”
I felt the heat rising in my face and I wanted to run behind the counter and kick that
man in his shin. Just like I did when at school Tommy Harper called me “white trash.”
Harvey’s round face flushed red as he handed Grandma a key. It sagged from the plastic gold fob. “Do you have any luggage or need to store anything? You can get a bin at the Stow and Go behind here for a discount.”
“We’re good, thank you.”
“Hey,” Harvey whistled softly and waved his hand at Grandma. “When summer starts, they have fireworks every Saturday at nine. You can get a clear view from the far side of the parking lot. The girls might like them.” Harvey’s eyes were wide and shiny.
Grandma reached out and patted his thick hand. “Thank you for your kindness.”
We left and climbed the rusty metal stairs to the second level, number 216.
There were others who had made their way out to the parking lot. A few caught sight of us sitting on the bedspread and rushed off to their own rented room to retrieve theirs. The crowd grew as the sky got darker, and I could see the glow of the park lights rising above the hotel like a horizon.
“Shouldn’t be long now!” a voice said. I turned around to see Marla standing a few feet away, cigarette dangling from her painted lips. Grandma shrugged and squinted her eyes at the thin woman. Marla had the room two doors down from ours and she never seemed to be alone. There were always different men coming and going. She always had a cigarette in her mouth, like it was a part of her.
“She’s a lost soul. Got that demon in her like your Momma,” Grandma had explained one rainy day when we passed her on the street yesterday.
“Isn’t she going to get sick in the rain?” Merri had said, hands pressed to the bus window.
“She’ll be fine,” Grandma said, then lowered her head and shifted Merri in her lap. I knew she wasn’t going to be. She sick like Mommy. I was old enough to know the walk, the hurried look with her hoodie pulled tight around her head and cigarette glowing in the afternoon air. She looked like a skeleton, her hands were long and bony.
“Will she get arrested like Mommy?” I whispered to Grandma.
“Not our business. Got enough on our own plate.” Grandma squeezed me as the bus pushed on. It was visiting day at the prison where Mommy was and there was no time to worry about Marla.
“What plate?” Merri asked, wrinkling her nose.
I nudged her and pulled a book out of Grandma’s bag as we were passing the main entrance to Disneyland. She began humming as she fingered through the pages. Grandma had bought the book from the Shop N Save. It was covered with Disney princesses. We forgot that book at the prison that day.
Merri had started crying when we were leaving. “My book! Noel, Grandma! I forgot my book!”
Grandma had her own tears in her eyes when she scooped Merri up and held her tight.
Merri wasn’t crying tonight. She was excited and kept waving at people in the cars that passed. Grandma had taken us for hotdogs and fries for dinner. So much better than the food we normally make on the hotplate that sits in our small room where I share a bed with Merri. I had my own room once, and a yard where the grass was soft and smelled fresh after being cut. Merri and I would race around on a night like this catching fireflies while Mommy and Grandma cleaned up from dinner. That was before Mom got sick, before her life became long absences and police cars and before she fell asleep with her cigarette and our house was swallowed by a blanket of orange fire.
The first firework was red and orange. It burst out into the night air coloring the darkness with magic. The lights went out just as a siren roared by, startling the crowd and sending some people scurrying back to their rooms. I grabbed Merri’s hand and glanced up at Grandma, feeling my heart pound inside my chest. Grandma reached down and pressed her hand on my shoulder. As the next firework burst onto the canvas of the night sky, I turned to Merri, her eyes shining and reflecting the reds, blues and pinks that kept exploding in the air. Her mouth was wide open. I turned to Grandma, who stood above me staring out past Disneyland. I tugged at her shirt, startling her. She smiled down at me then nodded towards the magical display bursting in the sky.
Jeanette Perosa is a graduate Arcadia University’s MFA program. While not chasing her four children or teaching at Montgomery County Community College, she is writing fiction or traveling with her husband. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals such as The Thorn Literary Journal, Perspectives Literary Journal, Adanna Literary Journal, Delta Woman Magazine, Eunoia Review, Autumn Legends and Mamalode. She is currently finishing her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter. Read more here: http://jeanetteperosa.org
Photo: Joshua Fuller