I know Sonja will be late even before the tired woman behind the counter yells my
name to give me the message. My name is an all-access pass— Lee—but she still
manages to make it into two syllables. I jolt out of my exhausted trance when I
finally realize I’m the Lee she’s yelling for. I’m pretty sure I’m the last girl in
California not to have a cell phone. It’s after one o’clock in the morning. I’m at the
24-Hour Chinese Food and Donuts on Harrison Avenue and Second Street. Transient
central for San Francisco. I probably look like a homeless person, but I’m technically
only between addresses for a few hours. I kick my duffel farther under the table and
make my way up to the counter, watching my bag the whole time, and wait for the
inevitable announcement—“Your friend is on her way.”
I sit back down and hug my wilted cup of coffee to my face. The strength of it
surprises me, dark and oily. A man in a tight green dress flashes an incomplete set of
teeth at me from the counter and holds up his own cup. He looks harmless, but he
could get chatty. Social rejects get chatty late at night. Sure enough, he starts up in a
groggy voice, “You sure are tall, honey. What are you, six feet?”
He’s off by two inches, but I don’t want to talk about my height. I touch my index
finger to the rim of my cup and draw a line across the yellow Formica in front of me.
It works better with actual spit, but I just got off a Greyhound bus. I don’t want to
lick my fingers.
“Are you part black or Indian? I don’t mean anything by that. I’ve dated many
gorgeous brown men. And with that cute short haircut, you could just about pass for
one of them.” My new white friend chuckles.
I don’t know the answer to his question. I stare at the line I drew and wait for it to
work. I don’t have a lot of magic, and whatever I do have is most likely evil, if I can
believe Da. I discovered the spit trick by accident, and it doesn’t work for much, just
redirects people’s attention when I don’t want it. That and the music thing. Maybe
one or two other minor skills. That’s all I have.
I don’t know what else I’d have in the way of magic if it weren’t for Da. His house, his
rules. He’s my stepfather, or he would be if he’d married my mother. We have no
legal or blood relationship, not that it matters. I know kids whose real dads beat
them up. Being related doesn’t do them any good.
But I’m still going to look for my real father. That’s why I’m here.
Her short fiction has appeared in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal and Of Dragons and Magic and her poetry in Insomnia and Sinister Wisdom. She is also a musician and occasionally performs around the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her wife, their cat and a flock of chickens. The Songbird Thief is her second novel.