The way upwards: feet on the lattice, the wooden planks that the ivy like to play on, climbing up, up until I can reach mama’s window on the second story. It has a ledge and I grab onto it, pulling myself up, the warmth of the orange-juice sky spilling over and touching my fingers. One last pull, muscles burning in a sweet, good way, and I’m on the rooftop. This was the way upwards, the way mama didn’t know about, the adventure that only the ivies were witnesses to.
We have one of those funny rooftops, the one where the shingles are rose and dirt colored and rested on top of eachother, sleeping, purring, sideways creatures that I give names to. I like them because they are alive-things, warm under my palms. I want to be an alive-thing but mama wants me to be a good-girl-thing and a sit-still-thing. These things sound boring and flaky like the dead skin I pick off after bad sunburns. I leave trails of them, the skin drifting off me like snow, coming off in patches. I say yuck! and mama makes a face because that's not a real word and it never snows.
I like snow but snow doesn't like the southwest and I don’t blame it. Deserts are silent and long. We used to have a front yard with grass but then the TV said the water was precious and we should turn off the sink when we brush our teeth and now I time my showers and mama got rid of our grass and replaced it with sticky, manly plants she called cactuscactus in the big book of ETYMOLOGY and found another word: kaktos. I like this word better because it is funny and weird and mama doesn’t know it but papa probably did. I bring it upwards with me and tell the shingles all about it. I tell them about the way upwards. About kaktos and my showers which were exactly four minutes and twenty-seven seconds. They giggle, I think.
When I get older, I’m not sure if I will keep going upwards to the rooftop and the pretty sunsets. When you get older you get colder and more responsible and your back hurts. Mama is cold, cold as the snowcones papa used to get me with the pink-blossom tops. She’s so cold and she always has so many candles lit, especially the one by the picture of papa that she doesn’t let me blow out. It’s precious like the water I think.
The shingles are my good friends and they like the sunsets too. If I was lying--which is bad and something young ladies don’t do--I would say that the way upwards was for the sunsets. But, really, it is for the shingles and for papa. They are warm against my back and papa used to tell me about them before his wrists got all thin and breakable. I was bad at sleeping and he would come with the big book of ETYMOLOGY and read to me, quiet like it was a secret. I didn’t know what shingle meant and he touched my cheek and I could see his brown eyes in the brightness of my nightlight. On the roof, he said, they cover us and protect us.
Like a blanket? I asked and he nodded. He read about latin words.
Papa had a blue blanket in his special bed. The bed in the big, white place with the chairs with wheels and the nice ladies that always bent down to talk to me. I didn’t like the big, white place but when papa started coughing and couldn’t stop that’s where he moved. Mama said it would help him feel better, like cough drops do, and I now know that was a lie. I wonder if older girls shouldn’t lie, or if it’s just young girls.
I slept with papa in the special bed but one time I woke up and mama was crying in the chair near the bed. She sounded so sad and it made me want to cry too. I went back to sleep because mama had planted the ivies while papa told me about lattices. She was strong and crying meant bad things. The next morning, mama let me eat ice cream before breakfast.
Papa was the one to tell me about the way upwards. How all of us are going to go upwards but he was going soon. He touched my cheek. He said I love you, and the big book was nowhere to be seen and I knew what that meant. Mama holds me sometimes as we watch TV and that's how she says I love you. She never liked words like papa did but she likes to stick my pictures to the fridge and add extra marshmallows to my hot chocolate and put my favorite clips in my hair. Mama is cold but I think it’s because her bed is so big and papa is upwards.
I find mama up on the rooftop, her feet dangling. She looks so mad and asks me a million questions and she says that she knows I’ve been climbing up here. I begin crying and then she looks sad and holds my hand.
Why? she asks.
Because, I say, Papa told me about the way upwards. I want to see him.
She wraps herself around me. I can feel her heartbeat and the heat of her skin and maybe, I was very wrong. Mama isn’t cold and she kisses my head and we watch the sunset. She helps me off the rooftop and we go back inside