Days like this were made for staying indoors. When Astro and I go out on these days, we come back tracking summer- colored dirty smudges, my footprints in the hallway with Astro clicking his long toenails on the hardwood behind, wagging his tail. And Mom, she drops her curling iron, or glass of wine, or landline telephone and screeches you’d better get that filthy damn dog out of the house this second or there will be consequences and I know she means it. So me and Astro lay low until after dinner, lying on our stomachs watching Mom’s shadow under doorways. On the days that it was a glass she dropped, people come over for dinner, and mom laughs louder. Me and Astro, we know to keep scarce. We’ll stay behind closed doors, ignore the smells of food even though our tummies are rumbling, and I’ll tell Astro stories about my hero Neil Armstrong, where Astro got his name. Astro thumps his tail when I get to the exciting part where they all walk on the moon, and I get excited too and forget about the bruises on my knees from the cold floor.
We know when we can sneak out. We hear Mommy’s door slam clumsily, the dialing landline, and her yelling into it at some man named Ralph. Ralph used to come over to the house sometimes; he took me to a ball game and bought me a hot dog once, called me things like “Sport” and “Slugger”, and I could see his one gold tooth when he winked, grinning at me through mouthfuls of curly fries. He stopped coming around, but Mom still talks to him on the nights she drops glasses, and I know me and Astro are safe to leave.
We are expert sneakers. We sneak down the hallway and don’t step on the creaky floorboards and only use our tippy- toes. We are safe in the kitchen; the tiles are cool against our bare feet and I can see the moonlight running down Astro’s back like a comet. Astro lets me climb on him up to the counter, to the cupboards, to the chocolate sandwich cookies, which are our favorite. I grab them fast, careful not to let the packaging crinkle, and I feel like unwrapping presents on my birthday like I used to. I peel back the blue and white foil, my legs swinging as I sit on the sleek silver sink edge, and toss the first oreo to Astro. He catches it mid-air in a sloppy, slobbery crunch, and I flash him what Ralph used to call my “wonder- bread smile”. Astro thumps his tail. I stuff six cookies into my playclothes pockets (three for Astro, three for me), put the package back into the cupboard, and am about to climb on Astro’s back when everything gets bright like morning. I’m startled and I tumble to the floor, breaking the oreos into a million little pieces and I can see Mom’s red painted toenails through the hair in my eyes inches away from my face. I’m on my feet now but my apology is stuck in my throat and the words feel sharp caught there like the time I didn’t chew the tortilla chips enough and they got stuck and I couldn’t swallow and I cried and cried and Ralph finally punched me in the neck to break it up and then hugged me and said it’ll be alright Sport.
But Ralph doesn’t come around anymore. And Mom, she doesn’t wait for my tongue to untie and screeches you’d better get out of my sight this second you greedy ungrateful little bastard or I swear to God I can’t be held responsible for my actions, and I believe her.
We are expert runners, Astro and I. We’re running through moonlit dew- drenched lawns and hopping fences and making what Ralph called “a clean getaway”. My lungs are screaming at me but I won’t let my legs stop and Astro and I are like stars shooting down 32nd Avenue and I’m pretty sure we can race the cars and beat them. The neon sign blinking “Gemini Apartments” slows us down, and me and Astro are breathing and crying together like two lungs of a single body, stumbling up the stairs to the door that says number 7 on it and knocking and knocking and knocking until it opens and we hear “Are you ok, Sport?”.