Tanja walked home from school with her little brother. She protected little brother like a mother. She kept him clear of the traffic, and the bullies. But who'll protect him from exhaust, she thought. A white Chevy Nova sputtered passed along the street.
They walked to their East Oakland apartment. Mom would be home eventually. Tanja thought about what she would make for dinner. Little brother thought about watching G.I. Joe. In a crack of the pavement, a patch of earth shown, sprouting lemon grass and a few dandelions.
Little brother stopped to pick a dandelion. A head of gray and white marked the prize of the bunch. He thought of a wish.
"Come on!" Tanja protested.
Yanked along by the arm he said, "I wish that I grow up rich." He scattered most of the seeds into the air. The ground was paved over asphalt and concrete with relatively few cracks for the seeds to find. She pulled him harder.
"Would you walk with me, boy?" She was intent on getting home. "Wishes don't bring wealth," she lectured. Tanja was twelve years old.
Back home in 203 B, little brother sat in front of the TV., and Tanja prepared dinner. She put the noodle water on the range, and rolled meatballs. Dinner was well cooked when mom arrived home.
"You're late," Tanja said.
Mom was unusually gracious. "I'm sorry, honey. I brought a friend home." She turned and smiled to introduce Mr. Hariss.
"Mister Hariss?" he laughed stepping in. "Are ya always so formal?" A heady odor of tobacco followed him in.
"Say hi to Mister Hariss, Tanja," mom said.
"Hi, Mister Hariss," Tanja said meekly.
"Mmm. Smells good. What's for dinner?" Mr. Hariss asked. He shouldered out of a synthetic, black jacket. "Wolf Security," was stenciled on the back.
"Tanja's quite the cook," mother began following him into the kitchen.
Tanja picked little brother up from the television. "Let's wash hands," she said.
Dinner was fine. Mr. Hariss stayed the night. Tanja was awakened once by them making love in the other bedroom. Little brother lay undisturbed in his bed. Tanja watched his chest gently rise and fall, until she fell back asleep. An ambulance screamed by two blocks to the north.
School was slow the next day. Mrs. Wilkins assigned a science experiment to Tanja's class. Tanja wasn't sure what she'd do, but she passed the dandelions on the way home again and that gave her an idea. She found a milk carton in the gutter, and dug out the plants- dirt and all- with a shard of glass to put them in the milk carton. She was quick and efficient.
Mom was out with Mr. Hariss, so Tanja didn't have to cook. She and little brother microwaved some burritos and drank Kool-aid. Little brother watched television.
"Don't you ever have homework?" Tanja demanded.
"Uh-uh," little brother stared at the screen. "I wish we had Nintendo."
Tanja left him, and thought about her experiment. She put the dandelion milk carton on the window sill. The dirt looked gray. I wonder what dirt that dandelion will grow in, she thought.
The next day she found some yogurt containers in the dumpster behind the corner liquor store. She wandered about town looking for different types of dirt after school. That night she put a dandelion in each of her pots- each one labeled according to where she found the dirt. Mother and Mr. Hariss watched television with little brother.
One of the dandelions died that week. It was the one from the Luckys parking lot. The others looked fine. Tanja kept track of everything in a little notebook.
The weekend passed and Monday returned. Little brother tried to get out of school, feigning illness, but mother made him go. He seemed ill to Tanja. On the way to school the street was strafed with gun fire. Car windows shattered. A stray bullet caught little brother in the face. He had been looking about at the chaos with wide eyes when he was hit. Tanja tried to pull him down to safety, but she couldn't get him in time.
Over the next few weeks most of Tanja's dandelions died from neglect. One lived to go gray. Wishes can grow anywhere, she concluded. Only a few survive.