Nine had always found the house on Joshua Tree Court dystopian. The entire community, lined with imported saplings and prefabricated town-homes, felt like something shiny the leaders of a New World would build after decimating every person, place, or thing that came before them. That the shutters were painted a pretty shade of purple was little consolation.
While her parents were picking out cheap interior fixtures—railings that would become rickety within a year of wear; faucets that would soon lose water pressure; sinks that never seemed to drain right; and taupe-colored carpeting that would mottle within months–Nine wistfully imagined her family back in their two-bedroom apartment across town, where the high school she’d attended for the past three years was just two streets away and her semi-estranged grandmother lived in a building one block over.
After her family settled in, Nine’s stepfather, Paul, who she’d been inexplicably calling “Dad” since she was ten years old, planted star-gazing lilies in the tiny front yard, because they were her mother’s favorite flower. This also did little to hearten Nine, who felt a prickling heat crawl up her arms, like a warm-legged troupe of invisible tarantulas, for the entire first year that they lived there.
“Dis child so insolent she doan know a good ting when she see it,” Paul lamented, watching Nine drift sullenly from room to room of their new home, openly, if silently, pined for the days before he was a part of her family. “In time she come to realize what she have.”
But Nine’s uneasiness persisted, as did the idea that she was living in some alternate world, where dread numbed emotion better than Icy Hot.