Sally was never my friend, really. I used to tell my mother she was so she would let me go to her house. Sally was weird, but she was cool. I still think she is, even though she's gone. Most kids from the neighborhood are gone, I am the only one who is still here. Me and that kid from around the corner, I think his name is Jimmy, all he does all day is sit in front of his house and pick his nose. When Sally was here she used to tell me that one day Jimmy was going to pick his brain out, and then he would learn. I don't think you can pick your brain out through your nose, but if Sally said so there must be a reason.
Sally lived with her parents, her mother was a nurse and her father was a drunk. Well, that's what she told me. I remember going to her house and seeing him sitting in the living room watching TV all day. Her grandparents were italian, she was Sally Sindici and used to say that her father was a drunk, a drunk and a pazzo, only after she was gone could I discover that pazzo means crazy. I don't know about that, I haven't met any crazy person in my whole life. I don't like to go out much, I stay in the neighborhood when I am not at school and I never visit my grandmother, mom says she's a very sick woman and can't get any visits. I don't even know where she lives.
Sally used to call me Zero, "You're about as important as a Zero" she said. Maybe I was too naïve, but I thought zeroes were important, if you take the zeroes from one thousand all you have left is one. Whenever she wanted me to go to her house she would call me on the phone and say "Hey Zero, watcha doin'?" It didn't matter to me if I was doing my homework, or if I was watching TV or if my father was explaining to me how to crack open a can of beer without spilling it. If Sally called me I would go. She lived three houses away from mine, almost on the corner where I use to take the school bus. Her house was big, it didn't look that way from the outside but once you were in you could see that it was much roomier than the other houses in the neighborhood. The first thing that you saw when you walked in her house was a huge mirror hanging on one of the walls of the hallway that led into the living room. The mirror was much taller than my father and it was framed in wood. In front of it was a collection of hats. The hats were stuck to the wall, as if anyone would have thought of stealing any of those ugly hats. Once you looked at yourself in the mirror surrounded by the reflection of all those hats you felt like you were trapped in one of those paintings you see in the bedrooms of old people in nursing houses on TV. It was not a comfortable feeling, but it was different from home, I guess that's why I liked to hang around with Sally. It was always different.
The last time I saw Sally was in that hallway.
The most "different" thing that ever happened to me was one Sunday, I had come back from church and Sally called me. I imagine she was looking through her window waiting for me to return, it is an optimistic way to see a coincidence, but there really aren't many ways to explain coincidences. We walked in and the phone rang immediately, I ran to it and picked up. It was her.
- Hey Zero.
- Oh, hey Sally.
- How was Mass?
- It was ok, I guess.
- Wanna come over? – she sounded a bit more impatient than usual- I have something really cool to show you. Much better than Mass.
That thing, the way how she pronounced the last part of the invitation made me think that I was about to see something really, really different. I don't mean I was scared, but she hadn't ever spoken to me with such urgency, not even that time she called me and showed me how a dog died right in front our eyes. It died, I know; at least I know it should have.
That had been weird, almost creepy. We went to a nearby park, there was a patch planted thickly with trees and tied to one of those was a little alley dog on a leash. The look on the dog's eyes reflected how defenseless it was. It was the look of someone who knows hell will unleash upon them. I didn't think so then, but I did afterwards. Sally had put one arm on my chest and pushed me saying "Stand back, Zero" and I did. Then she closed her eyes and the weirdest thing started to happen: she began humming and the trees hummed along with her, I know it sounds pretty unbelievable but that's what happened. As she hummed with the trees as a choir, little birght, yellow sparks appeared from god knows where and revolved around her and the dog, then Sally stopped touching the ground with her feet. If you don't want to believe me I understand, but I have no real reason to lie about this. She was levitating, her arms were open and separated a bit from her body, it was similar to the paintings you see of Jesuschrist or Virgin Mary shining down upon the world. Only that the mercy and forgiveness they taught me in Sunday School that Jesuschrist and the Virgin Mary dispatched when they assumed this position (struck that pose was what I thought and got punished for), were not as merciful or as forgiving when Sally struck her pose, for the dog went ballistic still tied to the tree. The poor little thing jumped, squealed and growled in a way that really freaked me out. When it finally broke free from the leash I hid behind Sally without touching her, I was afraid I would too end up covered in her display of hellish sparks, then the dog began choking on something.
- Call it Sparky –she commanded me without quitting the hum. I never understood how she did it, I sometimes try to talk and hum at the same time and all I get is a noise like a washing machine and a bad sorethroat.
- Sparky? -I asked, not knowing if I was seeking confirmation or calling the dog.
But Sparky surely did look at me and his eyes were not shy, they were desperate trying to move me into action, but what could I do? Push Sally down to the ground? What if she went Holy-Mary on me too?
The dog ran around but everytime he reached the circle of sparks it was as if there were electricity pushing him back to the center of the circle, there was no escape for Sparky.
- Sparky? –I asked again.
And then, just as I mentioned the name for the second time, the dog began glowing with the exact same color of the sparks and in his eyes I saw little bright, yellow sparks too. The glow became so intense that I could no longer watch so I covered my face with my arms. Little by little I started feeling how the glow diminished because my eyes weren't so sore anymore, I uncovered my face and saw how the sparks disappeared one by one among the trees, I saw how Sally touched the ground with the tip of her feet at first and finally with her heels, and then all the sparks were gone, Sparky too was gone with them.
Sally turned to me and smiled her cute smile and said "Liked the trick, Zero? If you behave, maybe someday I'll teach you." And that was it for that day's oddities. Needless to say she was very vocal as to how silent I had to keep the secret.
So when she said she had something to show me "much better than Mass" I thought that, perhaps, I had behaved long enough and it was my time to learn 'Sparky's trick', that's how she called it.
I went to her house, she opened the door and I looked at my reflection in the mirror and I saw myself surrounded by hats. For a split second I had the feeling that the hats had eyes and looked at me, they gave me the creeps, especially because I felt their look was just like the one Sparky had given me that day in the park. And during that split second I thought I heard the hum again. That hum. That hum. Like a thousand felt hats hanging on a wall never to be worn again. That lonely hum...
- Hey, Zero! Snap out of it, willya?
Sally was calling me from the living room, I looked at the mirror once again but everything seemed perfectly normal: just another hallway decorated in a rock-solid bad taste. Her father was sitting in the living room, of course. He was a big, fat man in a reclining chair wearing nothing but a sweatshirt, green boxers, dirty socks and a Dallas Cowboys' cap. He had a beer in one hand and the remote controlling device in the other. He hadn't shaved in days and the room reeked of beer and stale cigarette smoke.
- Good morning, mister Sindici –I said, thinking that he was, perhaps, the least italian guy on God's green earth.
- How ya doin' kid?
He greeted me barely looking at me but he gave Sally the evil eye in a way I could never forget, those eyes had so many questions written in them that it was impossible for me not to feel uncomfortable. "What's he doin' here?" those eyes asked Sally, "Why don't I have a job? Why is the system so screwed? It's all your fault, you know that, Sally, now don't ya? I'll beat the crap outta you once the kiddo's gone." I felt bad for Sally too. I imagined how tough it had to be to put up with her father everyday, every single day of one's life until you're old enough to leave the house. I wanted to hold her hand, I wanted to tell her that everything was going to be all right, that she was not going to have to stand him all her life. But who was I to give her such certainty?
A sound coming from the television broke my deep moment of humanitarian sympathy, Sally's father was watching a football game. The crowd was cheering, the team wearing the yellow and green uniform, Greenbay Packers, my dad was a fan, had just scored.
- Stupid morons! How do y'all let the jerk run half the field?! What the hell are y'all doin' out there, grannies?! –Sally's father yelled at the TV. I could feel he was somewhat resented by the Cowboy's poor defense.
As I watched the scene I thought of taking Sally's hand again and telling her that there was more to life than her dad. Maybe I liked her, it's not so illogical once you think of it. I turned and looked at her, she didn't have the sad look of an innocent child being traumatized by her father's violent disposition. Her eyes were swollen with anger, her jaws were tense and her fists were clenched. It was clear to me then that she did not plan to lock herself in her bedroom and cry about this, she definitely had a different scheme in mind and once she put her hand on my chest and pushed me gently, I knew.
- Stand back, Zero.
I did. I walked four or five steps back and stood behind a chair. "Now come the fireworks" I remember thinking.
Little bright, yellow sparks started pouring up from the ugly red-and-brown carpet under the chairs and the TV. At first her father didn't realize, he was too busy paying attention to the kick on TV, but once he tried to swap some of the sparks away with his hand as if they were flies and realized they just multiplied, he looked in our direction like asking "Well?" Sally's arms separated a bit from her body and I thought again of religious characters striking a pose for some Renaissance artist. Then she levitated, not a bit, but a lot, at least thirty centimeters from the ground. Her father had a stupid look on his face, the kind of look you see on a guy who believes that the cord marked with a black lighting enclosed in a yellow triangle conducts no electricity. He tried to come closer, he reached out for Sally's overall, she loved overalls, and was kicked back by some kind of invisible force. He tried to run away, and who wouldn't? But the little bright, yellow sparks had already enclosed him and his daughter like boxers in a ring. Only that one boxer had an armor and a sword and the other, well, only boxers.
Sally began humming, I always thought that these things had to be done in a specific order, you know, first the humming and then the sparks. But that's what was so cool about Sally, it was always different. The objects in the living room hummed along: the chairs, the table, the window curtain and every object did it in perfect stillness, I think that was what scared the beejesus out of Sally's dad. In magic stuff you expect great, mysterious winds to come and bash the place. But not with Sally. Different, see? Sally opened her eyes and I didn't see the usual brown color, what I saw looked like taken from one of those japanese animations that make kids have epilepsy fits, her eyes were so filled with sparks that they actually looked like two big, glowing spots divided by a cute nose with freckles on.
- Call him...
- Sparky –I finished her sentence. I knew. I had began to learn the trick.
On TV the Cowboys Vs. Packers game had been replace by black-and-white ancient shots of fat women beating cats and laughing maniacally, bearded men scaring children and neat children sharing candies with beggars. All the place was filled with sparks and all I could hear was the deafening hum. It grew so loud that I actually had to cover my ears. And, as any good student, I paid great attention.
Sally turned her head, just a tad bit but enough for me to get the message.
- Sparky! –I cried.
Then Sally's father became possessed with yellow sparks until I could only see a yellow silhouette of a fat man in boxers and after that, sparks, a zillion sparks, then a trillion, then a billion, a million, a thousand, a few, none.
Sally came back down and her eyes recovered the brownish hue I was used to. She turned to me.
- Got it, Zero?
The door opened, her mother returned from the night shift at the hospital, she was still wearing her white uniform and the ridiculous little hat on her head. Like a crown, but once I saw it and turned to the living room to see mister Sindici's Dallas Cowboy's cap on the carpet in front of the TV, I thought a hat was a bit more of a dead-man-walking kick-me sign. Or spark-me, better.
Sally's mom looked at us and then at the cap on the carpet and finally she bore her eyes in Sally's.
- The Cowboys just scored – Sally mentioned looking at the TV with real interest-, I think dad would have liked to see that, right mom?
Sally's mom sighed. She grabbed Sally by the shoulders and led her out of the house, Sally did not resist, she didn't go Glo-stick-extravaganza on her mom for some reason. I was half expecting she would but, as you must know by now, it was always different with Sally. I followed them to the hallway but Sally's mother had already closed the door and I was left alone. But it was ok, I had learnt 'Sparky's trick' or so I think, I haven't tried it. What I did do was go back to the living room and picked up mister Sindici's cap, walk to the hallway and find a spot in front of the mirror for it. Once I stuck it there, I turned to the mirror and began to understand, or something like that because not many kids can make their eyes spark at will.
Anyway, it's not like I show off or anything. One thing I learned from Sally is that being a zero is not that bad, is it?