I SEE RED: Chapter Five


Flight of the Blue Car

[I see red.]
            The red car is in for a much bigger adventure than the blue guy could ever do. The red car is always better because it’s a faster color like Fire Engines. You don’t know how important the red car is until the blue is dead and gone. The red car will sometimes remember his friend Mr. Blue, but thinking about him will never bring him back. That is why the red car sometimes hates the blue car in his memories. Remembering is stupid and boring.
            I found a ladder on the outside fire escape, which is way too high up for me to reach, but I have a plan. I always have plans, don't you know? Kind of close to the ladder is a tree, which is not the strongest but also not the unstrongest. I grab a hard box from the play yard and stand on it. Hmmtoo small. I grab another box because that will make it two times big, and when I stand on it, I am tall enough to climb onto a branch. I jump up, and the boxes fall down, but lucky I am in the tree now.
            I hit my knee on the bark, and it’s got blood but I don’t care. I hate band-aids, mostly I hate when people try to put them on for me. The blood falls down to my sock. I climb to the next higher branch stick, and I am close enough now to get onto the ladder. The branch is a bit skinny for climbing and bends when I stand on it. I think I have to do this lightning fast so the branch doesn’t snap, so I get down low and BURST my energy like a rocket. I jump and grab onto the ladder like a cat. That was tricky, but I won.
I climb up the ladder fast, fast, fast. Now I am where I want to beI’m on the roof. Did you know most of the roofs in San Francisco are flat? I did. Even if they look pointy at the front it’s all fakethey’re flat behind the front. I wanted to climb this roof the minute I came to this school, but I never got the chance. Well, today is my day. Red car and phoney are in my pocket, so I get them out. The phone lights up under all that tape, and I see a picture of a stupid man giving a kiss on Mrs. Garcia’s cheek. I slide open the lock, and there isn’t a passcode. Her doesn’t have any games that I like, so I open her music. She has two songs the same as me but a hundred songs I hate.
The green square with the speech bubble is for texting. There’s a red circle in the top corner, and it says the number two. I tap the green and it opens a page with texting from a guy who’s name is Will, and there’s a love heart picture beside the word. He wrote a text that I can’t read, so I press some buttons, and it spells words automatically which makes me seem very smart. I press send. Oh! I know! I will add a photo to send to him. I open the albums and send a picture of Mrs. Garcia kissing a different man than the one when the phone was locked. OK, enough time wasting. Now it’s time for red car and phoney phone to have the ride of their lives.
I walk to the edge of the roof.

[I see you.]
I lift the walkie-talkie to my mouth and press the button reluctantly.     
“Hot dog,” I confess (famous last words).
I sense the principal is shining her shoes, readying herself to kick us to the curb. It must feel good to be right all the time. I run outside, but I can’t see him anywhere before help arrives. I ask one teacher to look in the bathroom and another to check all the staircases. The principal bursts from the building like mints in a cola bottle, and I can tell she’s absolutely livid.
            “He’s gone! He’s out!” she says with her beady eyes melting a hole in my already deflated soul. “I shouldn’t have let you talk me into keeping him here a single moment longer, Zoe. I had faith in your ability to change him.”
            I interrupt her rant, “Can we talk about this later? Right now we have a child to find, which I am sure you’d agree is more important.” Suddenly something falls from above and crashes into a thousand pieces on the cement.
             “What the f...udge?” I alter my speech to remain professional. On the ground before me is a red toy car, wrapped in tape, connected to a device that once was a phone. The blood drains from my face, and I look to the roof of the building. F-Word. Dallas is laughing and yelling, “Blast off!”
            I slowly grab the principal’s arm and calmly whisper, “Don’t make any sudden movements, don’t talk, just stand here. I’m going to tell you something, and I am trusting you not to react. I need you to act as natural as possiblecan you do that?”
            “Yes,” she whispers confusedly, “What is going on?”
            “Dallas is on the roof,” I murmur.
            Her eyes grow wide, and I’m pretty sure she just shit her pants a little bit. “Are you serious?”
            “Don’t look up,” I say, as she is frozen like a deer in headlights.
            “What if he jumps?” she says, as though I hadn’t already thought of that possibility.
            “We will get him before he has the chance,” I lie through my teeth.
            “How?” she says, almost inaudibly.
            How indeed. I need to think fast.
            “We have to look as though we’re still searching for him. Get some staff out here, and just direct them to look for him like we did yesterday. Make him think he’s winning,” I convince myself. “I am going to climb up on the roof.”
            “Don't be stupid. You can't get on the roof,” she whispers bluntly. “Call the fire department for God’s sake!”
            “Not yettrust me,” I say, without fully believing what I am about to do. “Call them when I catch him, and not a moment before.”

Why did I volunteer myself for this? This is the stupidest plan I have ever hatched, and with one wrong move both of us may need scraping off the sidewalk. This kid may literally be the death of me, and here I go like a lamb to the slaughter. The principal rallies the crew, and I hear them starting the fake search party. I run to the fire escape, extend the ladder as quietly as possible, and climb on and on not stopping to look below.
            When I reach the top I see Dallas standing on the other side of the roof looking towards the city. He’s singing with all of his heart, and I see the lengths to which he's gone in order to get a moment he can call his own. I don’t want to scare himI’m trying to be sneaky, not stupid. When I get within ten feet, I know it’s time to say something.
“Buddy,” I say quietly.
“I won!” he laughs, “You better watch out, or I’ll fly like the car.”
            The moment passes in slow motion, as I realize the gravity of the situation. There is no time to be afraid, and by the look in Dallas's eyes, he’s definitely not 'home' right now. I cease talking to the boy, and I begin conversing with his demons.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“I am the boss,” he snarls.
“Dallas, listen to me,” I assert confidently, “Dallas, take the wheel.”
He jumps on the spot, arms flailing.
“What’s your name?” I say.
“D… Damn you, asshole!” it screams.
“Dallas. I see you, Dallas. You’re called Dallas,” I say, trembling.
His eyes close and face winces.
“I’m Dallas,” he says through clenched teeth, and he returns to me, so slightly. I need to seize the momentand fast.
“Have you ever played this game? It’s called Undead Pirate Ransom. They’re zombies, and also pirates. I think you’d like it,” I mention casually, my heart beating like a hummingbird's wings. I sit down in my place and put the phone’s volume on full blast. Zombies moan words like, “Argh!” and, “Shiver me timbers!” The sound of swords brandishing fills the air, and Dallas follows it like catnip. He runs towards me.
“Let me see!” he says, trying to take the phone.
“No way, I’m playing right now!” I retort, grasping my phone tighter than ever before.
“Can I be next?” he begs.
“I guess. But you have to watch me now, so you know how to play,” I reason.
Dallas sidles up beside me, and without a second’s hesitation, I extend my arm and scoop him into my lap. My phone leaves my hand, and bounces twice on the roof. I have him, thank God, he’s safe with me for nowbut I need backup before he escapes. I can’t risk the walkie talkie, so I scream more desperately than I ever have before.
“HOT DOG! I have him!”
The principal is mid-call to 911, and I wait, painstakingly on this roof with Dallas. He’s kicking and screamingI’m going to need superhuman strength to hold him until the fire truck arrives.
            Finally, I hear sirens.  

[I see red.]
            I’ve been tricked! The Evil She is trying to kill me again, just when I thought her was nice. There’s no such thing as a nice killer, so she is now the most evil person I have ever knowed. I have no breath left, and I’m trying to scream to tell everyone I’m dying, but no sound is coming out. I think this has to be the start of what dying feels like. I have to kick and scratch her so I don’t die before they all find out who the bad guy really is. This lady whispers lies to me, she follows me everywhere, and she takes away my choices. I have to tell the police about her as soon as I can talk again.
            I throw my head back to crack hers again, but it doesn’t work. She seems stronger today, and she’s holding me tighter than any other day. Her leg is over the top of mine, and she is not letting me win at all. I need some new ideas to make her stop killing me. Waitis that a siren? The police heared my wishes, and they are taking her to jail. I hear sirens getting louder, and louder, then they stop. I just have to survive until they take her away.

[I see you.]
            Dallas elbows me in the side, and he’s kicking like crazy. He reaches his mouth down to my arm and plants his teeth, which hurts like nobody’s business. Instinctively, I push my arm into his bite, which opens his jaw and he releases. His screams are husky, and he seems breathless. I hear him trying to scream, but it comes out all breathy.
            “You’re killing me!” he wheezes, “Why are you making me die?”
            My arms are loose enough around his waist to know that I’m not actually taking his breath away, but the stress of the situation seems to be choking him. If I let him go, he’ll jump off the roof, but if I hold him, he might hyperventilate. Luckily, I see the cherry picking extension rise up beside the roof. A firefighter climbs out and approaches us.
            “Be careful,” I ask, “He runs. If you’re going to take him from me, you have to promise that you won’t let him go.”
            “OKI won’t,” the firefighter agrees.
            “I mean, from the second you take him from my arms to the second you put him back in my arms you can’t let him go,” I reiterate hysterically. “He is hard to hold, so make your grip tight enough to contain himbut you have to make sure he can breathe. Also, don’t talk to him. Just get him to the ground safely.”
            “I promise you, I won’t let him go,” the firefighter confirms and reaches over to take him. I’ve never let anyone take Dallas from me while he’s ragingnot even his own mother. What if this firefighter (albeit a 6’3” man) loses gripjust for a second? A second is all it takes for Dallas to run and jump.
            “DON’T LET HIM GO!” I scream with empty arms, as I watch the fireman carry Dallas from the roof to the cherry picker. They climb inside, then I hear the hydraulics mark the cherry-picker’s descent, watching strangers take him as they fade from view. I’m alone on the roof right now, and I cry from the pit of my stomach. By the grace of God, we both survived. I’m angry and thankful, relieved and terrifiedall at once. I assume the firefighters will come back for me, so I make a decision to trust their ability to keep him safe. I can’t do anything from up here, except take in the beauty of the San Francisco skyline, which will be forever associated with this unfortunate moment in time. Soon enough, the cherry picker returns and I’m ushered into the bucket with a different firefighter.
            Once we’re on the ground, the first firefighter hands Dallas back into my arms, and I walk him to the front entrance of the school. I corner him by the doors, blocking his ability to run.
            “What’s your name?” I ask.
            “You’re killing me!” he says, cowering.
            I stand him up again on his feet.
            “Dallas, I like you every single day. It doesn’t matter what you do, I like who you are. You’re safe, Buddy. You’re safe with me,” I tell him, “What’s your name?”
            “Dallas,” he whispers, almost silently. “I’m Dallas.”
            He falls to the floor and weeps, so I scoop him up onto my lap. He’s not at risk of running now, he’s ‘home’ within himself. He melts like wax into my arms and cries, as I stroke his sweaty hair away from his eyes.
            “You’re OK, Buddy. You’re safe now,” I whisper, gently rocking him back and forth. He falls asleep in my arms, intermittently sniffling as he starts to calm in his sleep. The principal stands there with her mouth open, not sure whether to be enraged or impressed. She walks over and sits beside me on the ground.
            “He’s not welcome back here, I know,” I say, trying to save her breath.
            “Sorry,” she replies. “His parents are on their way over.”
            I’m a little worried about what might happen next.
            “Zoe,” the principal says quietly, “Are you OK?”
“I’ll be fine. This is part of the job,” I brush off her concern.
“Maybe you need to rethink your involvement with this family,” she says carefully, knowing that her suggestion is unwelcome. “For your own health and safety.”
“Things always get worse before they get better,” I insist. “We’ll find him another educational placement, and we’ll start again.”
Nobody ever screws up so much that they’re beyond help. I believe that with all of my heart.