Yesterday Mom dressed up like work, and made me put on my tie, but then she walked past our everyday car and unlocked The Covered Wagon, which is our adventure car. We were going on an adventure dressed as busy-ness people! I couldn’t wait to see where we were going to hike in our fancy clothes.
But then Mom stopped the Covered Wagon in the same car kennel that we always leave it in before work, and we hiked the same 3 block hike that we always hike to the office. This was very strange. The adventure must be after work. We worked a very, very long day until I had greeted almost everybody coming in, and also watched almost everybody leave again at the end of the day. When there was almost nobody left, we hiked the 3 blocks back to the car kennel and got in the Covered Wagon. Finally! Adventure time!
Mom drove a short distance and then put on my leash and let me out into the night. “Yippee!” I said. “Night hike!” And then I immediately dropped my nose and started sniffing around to see what kind of hike we were going to have. “Wait,” I said. “But these are just people’s front yards. Where’s the trail?”
“Do you need to go potty?” Mom asked. I kept sniffing, waiting for the interesting stuff to happen. “Come on, go potty.”
“I’ll save it for the trail,” I sniffed.
“Fine,” Mom said, and turned around.
“What? Is that it? Where’s the hike?” Instead, Mom climbed into the back of the Wagon with me and started bedding down. “I don’t get it. Is the hike in the morning?” I asked.
“We’re trying something new,” Mom said. “We’re sleeping here tonight.”
“But what about our stuck house? Are we strays now? Like for real?”
“No, of course not. But we spend so much time driving… it’s 90 minutes to work in the morning, and an hour back home at night. Just think of all the things that we could do with that time…”
“Well then why don’t we live in one of these houses here then?” I asked. “They look nice.”
“Maybe we will, but moving is just such a pain. And I like where we live. It’s quiet, and safe, and the neighbors like you, and the landlord leaves you alone…”
“Exactly. If we moved you wouldn’t see your friend Margo in the driveway, or smell Dan the Cat’s pee in the front yard…”
“I do love the smell of Dan’s pee…” I said.
The problem with where we were sleeping was that it was on a very steep hill with the pillow side of the bed on the downhill side. Mom asked the Witch in Her Phone to measure the hill, and she said that it was 13%, which means that its great grandparent was a wall. I tried to sleep like normal, but the blankets I was sleeping on kept sliding into the driving area and I had to climb back up to the bed every few hours.
When we woke up I thought that Mom would take me hiking for sure, but then she got back in the driving chair and took us somewhere else. “Wait. Where are we going now?”
“To the beach.”
“But why didn’t we just sleep at the beach?”
“Because the beach is in The City.”
“Oscar. We must never, ever, ever sleep in The City. In The City meth heads will break into your car for the change in your ash tray.”
I knew math heads were very scary and angry ghosts because I had seen one before, but I didn’t know that they could actually see us. They always seemed like their eyes lived in a different world than the one we lived in. “So why don’t you just lock the doors?” I asked. But apparently math heads can go through walls too. Even though Mom says that math heads used to be human, and we should remember that they’re only like that because math ate their brains, they still freak me out.
We drove to a dark that smelled like the ocean, sounded like waves, and felt like sand. Then Mom let me off the leash. Behind us in The City there were lights, and cars, and people, and all the human things, but here on the sand there was only dark and the invisible ocean going on and on forever. I ran around in big circles until I heard Mom calling my name, then I ran back to check on her before she let me run more circles through the deep sand and waves.
“Mom!” I said, as I ran back to her for the 247th time, “I can see Alcatraz! Look! See the lights in the ocean?”
“Uh, that’s not Alcatraz. Alcatraz is that way,” she said, pointing away from the water and back toward the lights of The City.”
“Can I see all the way to Japan?!” I asked.
“Well, no. That’s just a cruise ship. But it’s about the same size as Alcatraz. Don’t worry, I made the same mistake when I first moved here.”
I ran in all the places while Mom dawdled slowly behind me. I ran until the black air turned grey, and the grey turned blue-grey, and the ocean grew its shapes, and the sky behind us turned sun-colored. Then we got into the Covered Wagon and drove until the beach became a park, and the park became houses, and the houses became churches and stores. Then the churches turned into office buildings and the stores grew into superstores. Finally when we got to where people piled their homes one on top of the other until they reach the sky, and other people build futuristic things in old drafty warehouses, we turned the Covered Wagon into its kennel. This was the fancy neighborhood where they like different kinds of decorations. They use parking meters instead of trees as urinals. They decorate the outside of buildings with math heads instead of bushes, and old food wrappers lie on the ground instead of leaves. If we had kept going just a little further we would have found The Little Water, and in the middle of it, Alcatraz.This is the fancy part of The City where the rich people live and the famous people build their busy-nesses. If we had kept going just a few more blocks we would have reached the Little Water where all the rich and famous buildings turned their backs to the hills and oceans, and turned all their windows to look at the two most famous things in my City: an abandoned maximum security prison, and the second most popular place in the whole world to dead yoursel. There are plenty of other cities, but there’s no other city like mine.
-Oscar the Stray