My sister cries every day on our walk home from school, and every day I don’t comfort her. We lean into the steep streets with no sidewalks and no words between us.
Her sobbing sounds bounce off adobe walls topped with crowns of broken glass hiding what I imagine to be regal courtyards with fountains and shady palms. The Mayor lives there a girl in my class had whispered to me as we passed the sleeping guard dog outside the gate. He has a hundred dogs like that behind the wall, she said.
I know my sister’s crying will wake the dog. I keep my eyes on the matted white lump of its body up the road, its shape wavering in the heat, as I bend down to pick up rocks from the gutter. Three will be enough.
My sister tries to quiet her heaving chest and also picks up a rock even though we both know she will not throw it. She looks to me for direction. At this elevation the sun is always too close, and her tears are drying quickly as she blinks into the blinding sun behind me. There are no trees to scramble up or hide behind, no alleys to run down—just the smooth white walls, the sky staring down at both us and whatever is on the other side of them, and the street whose steepness we must lean into to keep our balance. The three surfaces press in on all sides of us—a one way tunnel.
Just don’t look it in the eyes, I tell her.
I hold on tight—not to my little sister’s hand but to the rocks in my pocket until their hot dust turns to mud in my palm as we walk by the dog, its ears twitching. I imagine the Mayor lounging on the other side of the wall, his large white dogs roaming like a herd of carnivorous sheep.
Someday I’ll come back here. I’ll be taller than the walls and I’ll peer over them to find patchy grass. No palace. No dogs. I’ll wish I could tell her about it. I’ll wish I had asked her what was happening at school.
We’re several blocks past the dog when I look back to see it running up the hill to us, head low, silent, fast. Run I say. And she does—I hear the sound of her pink backpack bouncing over her heels up the street behind me as I look straight into the dog’s wild eyes, wait for it to come closer, cock back my practiced arm, aim for its head.
Chloe Ortiz (PZ '22) is a Pitzer senior. As a child she was banned from discussing religion and politics and she has now devoted her life to studying them.