Rodriguez handed her phone into the elevator. The doors closed as the elevator continued carrying residents up and down. The elevator bounced hard when it dropped to each floor and whined when it climbed up. The operator stood on a milk crate in the corner so that more residents could squeeze in. Back at the ground floor, the doors opened.
With a charged phone, Rodriguez felt a degree of relief. At least she could text. The afternoon light was fading, and the air was turning colder. Rodriguez went inside to warm the apartment with 30-minute intervals at the stove. Jayleen stayed outside in the treeless, soggy landscape. There wasn’t much to do until she saw her friend Ruben. “Don’t try the Army food. It sucks,” he told Jayleen.
She was a girl on the quiet side, a bookworm, tall and skinny with braces. She smiled at Ruben. “It’s crazy, right?” She went inside before the night descended.
Inside the apartment, mother and daughter bundled on the couch, wrapped in blankets. Two candles flickered.
“You finish ‘Little House on the Prairie’?” Rodriguez asked. “We are living ‘Little House on the Prairie’. But they had horses.”
Jayleen disagreed from her corner of the couch. “Mom, the thing is, I read the whole book. They had to travel 800 miles. Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura and baby Carrie.”
The candle flickered, throwing shadows on the wall, two silhouettes at the bottom of the world. It was quiet for a moment. “Honestly, I wish I could be a bird right now,” Rodriguez said. “What can you do, Mami? You have to be patient.”
Jayleen’s head was dropping. Rodriguez blew out the candles. They used a flashlight to guide themselves to bed. Rodriguez slept in her daughter’s bedroom, in a cocoon of imagined heat.