The night before my grandfather dies, my parents send me to stay with the family of a friend. I am seven.
I eat dinner with my friend that night. His name is Mason, and his father drives him around on a motorcycle that makes me jealous and causes my parents to give him disapproving frowns.
At this point I usually go home, to my family, my stuffed bear, my little blue blanket, my nightlight, my 10-watt bulb. Instead, Mason and I return to his room, where we play more. I'm tired and confused.
Mason's mother explains to me that I have to stay overnight. She has long, blonde, soft hair. My mother's hair is coarse and frayed. I nod at her words.
It's early summer. The sun sets through a purple and orange sky. An hour later we are put to bed.
The room is dark. Mason asks me if this is my first sleep-over. I lie and say it isn't. He asks how many I've been to. Lots, I say. How many, he presses. I dunno, I search for a number, maybe five?
Later, Mason breathes softly in the bed next to mine. I can't sleep. In the rush to come over earlier, I forgot my bear, my blanket, and my pajamas. I borrow a pair of Mason's. They're too tight and red, the wrong color. I like blue.
I wake. I must have been asleep. I cry for my mom, but she's not there. No one comes. I'm scared. Strange shadows creep across the wall toward me. I pull the blanket up above my chin.
There's a purple streetlight outside Mason's window. It flickers on and off every thirty seconds. I practice counting. Sometimes it's shorter, sometimes longer. Always around 30 seconds.
My legs hurt and I want water and I want to use the potty. I get out of bed and put my feet on the floor. Mason turns over and I hold my breath. Another three flickers pass. I keep moving.
The hall is completely dark, the kind of place where monsters wait. I'm here because, without warning, my parents shoved me into a car and drove me here to visit my grandfather in the hospital. I asked if I could could come. They said no.
I find the bathroom and run the faucet, turning my head sideways and leaning in to drink. Then I hear a bang and I shriek and stumble backwards. I fall into the tub and hit my head. I cry out and wail.
A flashlight beam blinds me. It's Mason's mom. She lifts me out of the tub and asks what I was doing. I sniffle and say I needed to use the potty. She laughs and says don't worry, it was just a transformer blowing. Her hair smells like sweet flowers, and I let my tears run into her shirt.