When Amanda was ten, she decided that she would finally buy her town. The whole thing, from Maple to Cross View. She walked to school that day, down Oak Knoll and across Woodcrest and canvassed the streets. There was Jason’s house with the swing, and Monica’s with the two chairs on the porch positioned on the front like eyes. That one wasn’t her favorite, Amanda noted, making a quick comment in her notebook. She still liked it more than her own house, which barely even had two stories if you counted the attic, which she did.
It would be nice, she thought, to feel at home in any house in Adams Township. She walked down the street with a purpose, and that felt nice, too. She reached a crosswalk and stopped, waiting for the light to turn. The red clung stubbornly to its color, and Amanda pressed the button over and over, one, two, three. The red stayed. She crossed her arms and curled her fingers into fists.
Across the street and down the road was school, seven hours of it, and suddenly it was all too much. All Amanda had with her that Tuesday was a single spiral-bound notebook, her map, and three pencils, none of them sharpened. She wasn’t ready for school, and she didn’t want to sit and listen and move when the bell rang; instead, she moved when the light changed, across Oak Knoll and up Woodcrest, passing her house where she sometimes spent eight hours just sleeping, doing nothing, and finally, finally Amanda felt like she was really doing something.
She wouldn’t own Adams Elementary because it was technically outside of the township and she wouldn’t bother with anything outside of town lines. She was a townie like the rest of her family, the definition of a townie. That Amanda knew with a certainty as sure as water hanging in the air before it rained, as steam rising from the pavement after a summer storm. Her grandma had grown up in Adams, and so had her mother, and she was growing up there right now. She grew like the vines that clung to the side of the house, so close that they became part of the structure: so close that they grew into the cracks and crevices of the wall and so tightly that they couldn’t be removed without fracturing the facade. So Amanda knew. She owned Adams because Adams owned her. They needed each other.
She would go to Crescent Avenue. There was a house at the top of the hill there that she liked. 42 Crescent. It was the pale blue of eggshells and the hats her baby brother wore, with windows rippled by age, as if someone had pressed crescents in its glass and named a street after it. She was considering renaming the streets once she’d bought them, and maybe letting her friends name some too, but that second part was a definite, absolute maybe.
Amanda walked and walked, purposefully stepping on each crack in the sidewalk. She was too smart to fall for stupid stuff like that. My smart cookie, her mom called her. She felt her wallet in her pocket, its weight a ballast that steadied her. It was technically her mom’s emergency money, but her mom was always telling her to share and how important that was, so Amanda figured that this was all right. She wondered what was going on in Mrs. Cope’s class, whether she’d taken attendance yet. Probably they had. She felt like the second hand on a clock in room 4B, ticking forward and forward until each minute ended and she had to do everything all over again.
Not today. She had almost reached 42 Crescent Avenue, which she had determined would be her main house once she’d wrapped the whole deal up. Her mom and dad and brother could each have their own houses on different streets, and she wouldn’t even make them pay her that much to live there. Amanda climbed the stairs to the porch at 42 Crescent Avenue slowly and carefully, holding onto the white wooden railing as she went. She hoisted her backpack high on her shoulders and approached the house; she touched the siding before she even thought about the doorbell and she said hello to the house out loud. Her hello was quiet and considered, slow and almost musical.
The doorbell was not. The button sent out a sound that was what Amanda imagined radar would sound like, or the fire alarm at the White House. The noise sucked away all the air from the porch and Amanda was left without anything to breathe, deflated and descending into nerves. She hated answering the door, but she needed to, she reminded herself, she needed to and it would be her house soon anyway.
Amanda couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t know that she would own Adams Township. It had always been a certainty, a foundation that she built her idea of herself in the world on. She existed and so did the town and her family existed in the town and the town, she thought, existed within her family. Some kids inherited lake houses or beach houses but she would inherit a town full of houses. So Amanda wasn’t sure where this sudden nervousness was coming from, or why she was hoping that there was nobody home at 42 Crescent Avenue, and she certainly couldn’t explain the sudden fear that jolted her when she heard footsteps approaching the other side of the front door.
It was not fair. Not fair at all that she felt this way when she knew that her claim to Adams was natural, right, resolved. She knew that Adams was hers the way that she knew how to read. She’d learned how to read by sounding out the names on her mom’s maps, spelling out streets and parks. Amanda’s mom managed a McDonald’s one town over but her job, she told Amanda, was just her job and her calling was cartography. She gave Amanda a map of Adams for her last birthday; her mom had starred the house that the four of them lived in and colored the other houses light blue. There were maps all over the house; they were hung over the stairs and in Amanda’s room, over Evan’s crib and next to the front door. To Amanda, the town was centered in her house and traveled out from there. The force of the town was pushing the walls of the house out and the house grew to fit the boundary lines, pushing all of Adams Township inside Amanda’s property.
Before the door could open, Amanda flipped to the last page of her notebook, to her own map of her town. Not her mom’s town, not her dad’s town, not her baby brother’s. It was her version, done heavily in dark blue ink, and she added a small star to 42 Crescent Avenue.
The man who lived at 42 Crescent Avenue was not great with other people’s children. He didn’t know what to do or what to say when the girl knocked. She was small and skinny, the bare bones of a person. She looked at him with eyes like hail, cutting and cut with ice, and threw something, a wallet maybe. He tasted the leather involuntarily as it slammed against his face and it was sour and metallic. She had good aim. The kid had run upstairs and he tensed, not sure whether he should run upstairs and get her or what. He could hear the floorboards yield slightly under her feet, and he thanked every god there was that his kids had gone with Lucy to work today and weren’t here for this. He was scared that going up after the girl would scare her. Mark didn’t want that. But he was also scared that she would hurt herself running. Would he be liable? He didn’t think so, but he wasn’t sure.
Mark Specter had moved to Adams seven years ago for his wife Lucy. She and their daughters had a thoughtless, comfortable belonging in Adams. Mark envied them for it. He worked so hard to be a part of the community and it wasn’t happening for him. If there was a town carnival, he was there. A farmer’s market, he was there. Every year he bought their pool membership as early as he could, the first Saturday of April. No use. Mark loved his wife but sometimes he woke up during the night and felt the atoms of the molecules of Adams air constricting, closing in around him.
And now this girl in his house. He bent over and picked up her wallet from the floor. He nearly dropped it again when he saw how many bills there were crammed in it. Who was this kid? Mark fumbled for his phone, his fingers smudging against the screen but before he could call the police, the girl ran past him and out the door––he hadn’t been listening for her and he didn’t see her in time – and he dropped the phone. Mark looked down at the wallet that was still in his hands, and this time, he saw a small slip of paper nestled next to the money. If found, please call 923 – 866 – 0793.
A woman picked up the phone. Mark tried not to sound like a creep when he described what had happened; he promised over and over that he hadn’t abducted the kid, yes she was the one who ran into his house, but in the end it wasn’t necessary. Amanda’s mother – that was the girl’s name – said that this had happened before. Amanda had a problem with time management and she had trouble finding her way; she didn’t know what had gotten into Amanda; she was so sorry; Amanda would apologize to him later, when they picked up the wallet. She would take it from here, the woman said. She would find her daughter and she was sorry, Mr. Specter, that Amanda barged in on him like that. It wouldn’t happen again.
At the corner of Oak Knoll and Woodcrest, Amanda’s face was blotchy and red from running, and the veins in her legs were pulsing. She’d heard at school that pressing the button at the crosswalk didn’t do anything, but when she pressed it the light changed right away and she felt vindicated, a victory hollow as birds’ bones. She felt small. She looked up Oak Knoll and it went on forever, past Adams Township and out of the state and the country, growing even after she stopped getting bigger. There was no way she had scaled her map right. It was all wrong.
Amanda knelt down and placed her map carefully on the street so that when her mom pulled up, her car would run over the map. This was where the after-school daycare let out, where they’d agreed to meet if Amanda ever got lost; if you don’t see me after school, her mom said, find your way here and I will find you. That’s a promise. Waiting by the curb, Amanda felt the weight of that promise, and she wished that her mom wouldn’t look at her like the outline of a person that could not fill herself in. She wished that her mom wouldn’t pinch her lips so that it looked like she didn’t have a mouth.
In twenty minutes, her mom parked the car and buckled Amanda in. When she drove away, the tires would press half-moons into the paper, misshapen black crescents.
Audrey Rowland is a freshman at Oberlin College. She has been published by the Oberlin Review and the Writers Circle Magazine. She was selected to attend Kenyon Young Writers and the Juniper Institute for Young Writers.