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The Button-Maker's Daughter

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It's hot in the hospital parking lot. Through the grate, a whisper of air reeks of stainless steel, gauze, bactine. The great glass doors suck their breath and slide open; inside she can hear phones ringing, footsteps, the clatter of wheels on linoleum. She sits on the stoop and sweats.

Whiny Mr. Hucklebee pulls up in his puke green Mercedes and Matt gets out without a word, leaves the front door open, sits in the back. At fifteen he's all knees and acne and puffy sneakers, blushing whenever he sees her. She slips in the passenger's seat and her thighs stick to the leather.

"Lou-" Hucklebee's pinched face, wirerimmed glasses. "You doing okay?"

"It's hot," Luisa says, not looking.

She stares out the window at the big red Y blown out of "EMERGENCY." Exit the lot and onto Dixie Highway where the palms are heavy with coconuts and the road has husky scars.

From the Hucklebees' kitchen she can see into her own backyard. It's dusk, hot night thick with aphids, and all the lights are on in her house. She remembers-

"Lou!" her father's gasp. "Get in the car, the back seat, okay?" and her mother, leaning against the window, pale, eyes closed, her shirt stained with vomit. She palmed the windshield, arched her back, moaned, left five sweaty fingerprints on the glass. Luisa sat in back and twisted her mother's glass bead necklace until it squeezed her throat. Her father forgot to lock the doors. Her father forgot to turn the lights off. But he'll be home tomorrow.

Past midnight. Matt's room has a stopsign over the bed, a Playstation, magic marker on the wallpaper. The moon is a green glow through the venetians. The sheets are sticky and there's a box of tissues on the bedside table, garbage can is half full of used ones. Bottle of hand lotion on the floor next to schoolbooks, Midsummer Night's Dream, Lord of the Flies. Maps of places she's never been. In a way, she thinks, she's free now. She hears her mother's voice.

Downstairs, Matt is splayed across the couch, skinny leg hooked over an armrest and an elbow across his face. He blinks when he hears her.

"Can't sleep," Luisa says, sitting on the floor. T-shirt too short, clinging to her not-breasts.

"Yeah," he says. "It's too hot."

"My mother died today," she says, trying it out. She chews back tears, swallows. "So."

"I'm sorry, I-" He slings his leg around, slaps the cushion for her to sit on the couch.

She thinks of her father, back at the hospital. Making a thousand phone calls. Mr. Hucklebee asleep upstairs. Her mother, a sorceress, flying somewhere. Luisa twists her necklace around a finger.

"My mother died today," she says, looking at him. "Do you want to kiss me?"

Agape. Her eyes fill with tears. She hears her mother's voice. Tomorrow her father will come home.

But tonight, there's Matt, agape. "Please?"

And anyway, he's just the boy next door.