“Look,” Minerva said, pointing to the wrought iron gate. “Up there.”
Minerva’s classmate, Ollie Rose, didn’t look. Instead she pulled a box out of her bag. “Here.”
Minerva forgot about the strange bird perched at the park’s entrance. Taking the box, she raised an eyebrow.
“I’m giving this to you,” Ollie said. “In the morning before I came to school, this box was delivered to us, but your name was on it.” She tapped the label.
Minerva didn’t know what to think about this. Gingerly, she lifted the box’s lid. “Heaven of my heart,” she said.
“I’ve no idea who left them,” Ollie said in a rush. “Got no details or nothing.”
A pair of red velvet shoes rested in emerald green paper. Ollie shook her head and stamped her feet. Neither girl said anything, until thrust out her arm and yanked up the edge of her long fitted sleeve. “Scars,” she blurted. Indeed, three scars marked her forearm. “That is the trouble I get sometimes for dawdling in the streets with the wrong sorts. Can’t just stand here gawking at shoes, you know? Be a heap of trouble. Seen what happens to everyone who hangs around you much.” She pulled her sleeve back down.
Minerva’s thoughts raced. She didn’t understand the shoes, who could’ve sent them or why they were sent through Ollie Rose. The scars she understood. She had her own. But Ollie’s unexpected sharing confused Minerva more than the shoes. “I’ve done my best to stay out of trouble,” she mumbled.
“Got trouble anyways though, don’t you, Minerva Baines? Drama follows you like flies follow horses down Main Avenue.” Ollie sucked in her cheeks, waited a moment, and then let out an exasperated sigh. “Can’t you tell me about the shoes? Be honest.” She leaned over the box. “Stolen, ya think?”
“Everybody thinks I’m trouble,” Minerva replied, keeping her voice low and realizing how long they’d been standing together on the corner.
“Knows your trouble,” Ollie said. “Me too though, right?”
Minerva finally stopped staring at the shoes. “Now what are you talking about?” What had made her even agree to this walk with Ollie Rose? They never spoke to each other in school, and here they were like conspirators passing cryptic messages. Minerva pushed the shoebox lid closed, her thoughts wandering.
“Look,” Ollie said.
Minerva said nothing, but frowned. She wanted to focus on the shoes, and Ollie was a distraction.
“Up!” Ollie pointed to the top of the street sign they stood next to. “Here!” The bird that had earlier caught Minerva’s attention sat on the sign for Lazarus Boulevard. “Man, that’s a very weird bird, isn’t it? I’m betting you ain’t never seen a bird like that before.”
“In my dreams,” Minerva said without considering the reaction her reply might receive.
But Ollie didn’t seem to think this answer peculiar. “Danger, my dad says about remembering dreams. I’ve got to forget my dreams every morning. Got to clear my head of dreams and things that ain’t real. Nothing gets my daddy worked up like dreams. Left to your own devices, Ollie Rose, he shouts, you’d be mad and dancing in the streets.” She took a breath. “To be honest though, sometimes I keep a dream and hide it away where I won’t lose it.”
“Lose a dream?” Minerva asked, her eyes fixed on the bird. The bird’s eyes were fixed on her too.
“I’m talking way more than I oughtta, aren’t I? So where you gonna put them shoes since I know you can’t wear them?”
“High up on a shelf where they won’t be seen.” Her neck twinged from looking upward for so long. “It is a strange bird. Makes me wonder where it’s from.”
“My guess is the circus, but what should we do with it?”
Minerva tilted her head to the left and to the right to ease the kink in her neck. What could she say to make Ollie Rose go about her business. The girl had already said she wasn’t supposed waste time talking, and what kind of question was that? What should they do with the bird? It wasn’t theirs to do anything with. Perhaps if she said something outrageous, Ollie would finally run home. “Brain it,” she said. “Whirl it through the air and send it to Mars where dogs are made of diamonds and babies live underground.” She was breathless and warm in her heavy dress. Everyone said she was mad. She should embrace it. “Dropped from a black star, it follows girls through the labyrinth of the city streets and waits until they say the right words.” She felt giddy, unleashing every wild thought at poor Ollie Rose.
Ollie stared. “My goodness, you’re crazier than I thought.”
The bird remained on the street sign, watching, and Minerva used one arm to balance the shoe box against her hip. The other hand she held out, open, palm up. “Cellphone,” she said.
If Ollie Rose thought this an outrageous request, she didn’t show it. She shrugged. “Down there.” She pointed to the drain in the curb. “Below us somewhere ‘cause my dad threw it in the sewer last night when I showed up at the bar to take him home.” She looked off down the boulevard, her eyes unfocused. “Ain’t surprised, of course. That was exactly what I deserved for not thinking things through. Just because my dad’s drunk, don’t mean he ain’t quick. Like a snake he is, all coiled up and ready to bite! Me though? By the time I could get loose, that phone was long gone.”
“The sewers?” Minerva asked. She thought she had the worst father in the city, but now she wondered.
“Time for me to get home,” Ollie said. “I don’t have time for your madness, Minerva Baines. Got to get home before dad thinks he needs me to do something.”
“To do what?” Minerva asked, surprised to find herself interested.
Ollie sighed. “New York only knows.”
“I don’t know who sent the shoes, Ollie, or why.” Minerva hoped she sounded conciliatory.
“Was thinking you didn’t cause if you did, they’d have sent them straight to you all proper like.”
Minerva almost wished she and Ollie Rose were friends, but she couldn’t explain why she’d feel that way. She couldn’t have close friends in her life. “Living where I do it’s hard to get packages,” she said. “Like someone would steal it or my father wouldn’t even let me have it. A good girl isn’t supposed to get packages, he says.”
“King of his castle like my dad, sounds like.” Ollie gave the bird another look. It continued to watch over them.
“Then he’d open it and that wouldn’t do us any good.”
Ollie whistled. “I’d say to hell with dads that can’t be good to us, but there’s not much help in that.”
“Used to think I couldn’t want another dad,” Minerva whispered. She’d never admitted such a thought to anyone before. “Up late at night though, I plot escapes to Paris or London or any streets anywhere really.”
“All madness!” Ollie exclaimed. “My dad would hunt me down. Money don’t matter to him when he just wants me to listen and do what I’m told.”
“I am going to find a way out,” Minerva said, shocking herself. “Was even thinking about talking to Ms. Fellinghast at the fair.”
“Looking for an even faster death, are you? For nothing should you ever trust that woman! Your life means nothing to the likes of her and her circus of freaks and charlatans and you know what else?” Ollie’s cheek turned red.
Minerva shook her head, worried if she said the wrong thing, Ollie would stop talking about Ms. Fellinghast.
Both girls gasped at Ollie’s daring. Ollie jutted out her chin and sniffed, much like her mother would’ve done had she’d been alive. “This is the truth. Way long ago I heard my mother talking about the fair to our neighbor, Mrs. Rosalyn, and that’s exactly what she said.” She sniffed again. “Or my name ain’t Ollie Rose!”
“No worry, Ollie, because I’m sure you’re right. Way long ago and again just the other day I heard the same thing.”
“You’ll be okay, won’t you?” Ollie asked. “Know what I mean?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Be safe, and you know what else? Free. Just free. Like a bluebird.” The bird above them flapped its wings as if it understood.
“A bluebird?’ Minerva asked.
“Bluebird,” Ollie replied. “Now.” A man walking by bumped into her and she stumbled forward. Minerva caught her arm and helped her steady herself. “Ain’t that always the way? That man bumped into me like he knew I was going to say something I really meant. Just can’t stand this world sometimes, what about you, Minerva? Like when you know what you finally mean to say, does the world come and knock you sideways?”
“Me?” Minerva didn’t know how to answer.
Tears rimmed Ollie’s eyes. Without explanation, she darted forward and kissed Minerva’s cheek. Then she spun about and ran down the sidewalk, pushing through crowds of pedestrians, her skirt getting caught on handbags and canes before she was out of sight.