When you come to our place it looks like Las Vegas, all lights and screens going, electronics full-fire, ablaze. I convince my brother Frank to turn down the volume, this isn’t Best Buy, you know. No need to have that sound clanging around. The visual commotion already gives it the feel of an arcade, so that’s what I call it—the arcade. This is Frank’s gig, stealing and selling TVs and IPads, laptops and gaming systems. Everyone in the neighborhood is outfitted by Frank because he sells damn cheap. His prices are so low, some buy to resale, which is kinda unfair, as Frank does the thievery on top of the hawking, but really it’s ok. “Gotta move it, move it,” he sings to the new merchandise. He wants it in and out.

Whatever cash in hand is food on the table, Frank takes this job serious. He remembers living at Gram’s where no one gave a damn about food. Oh, people would be eating, but they wouldn’t think to go shopping, or to pick up something for the runts. He’d have to rifle through abandoned McDonald’s bags, or pluck dollars from pants pockets crumpled on the floor. I don’t remember this, but I was small. Frank says he took care I got fed, and that’s the truth.

At the arcade, I do the cooking. Frank says, whatever you need, and hands me two twenties for the groceries. I know not to get junk food, and I talk regularly to Mrs. Karis, the health teacher at my middle school, about what’s good food for growing babies. Frank just secured custody of Baby Dave and moved him into the arcade. Frank was nineteen when Mom went into Marysville, so he won custody of me sometime back, but Baby Dave was born inside, and spent his first eighteen months with Mom. When we knew he was ours, I set him up in the front room, but had to move his pack-and-play to the bedroom because of all the comings and goings. Still, he’s always painted neon by the glow of illuminated screens, lined up on every inch of wallspace, powered up and ready to MOVE!

Baby Dave’s the Space Baby, I call him. I bought him some sunglasses, it’s so bright in the arcade. Even with the blinds drawn, all day, every day. We live on the first floor of the complex and Frank won’t take the chance that a stranger might walk by and think “what the fuck is going on here…” He only sells to friends and friends of friends who come in with a chaperone, like some red velvet clubhouse. But, he’s got a lot of friends, enough to keep us afloat without seeking new business. Baby Dave sometimes teeters around in the front room with his glasses in his baby walker. Sunglasses and a diaper in his own private spaceship.

Never thought I’d live in an electronics store, and true, Frank sometimes lets us stay with Gram. That’s where Ohio social services think we sleep, our whole lot. It’s not the best arrangement over there though. Grandma entertains, while Frank just does business, won’t let the riff-raff sit around and play with the merchandise. Too many opportunities to fall into the wrong crowd, or get hurt, Frank says. Gram’s not a legal guardian, but when it’s time for services to show up, we clean her up nice, vacuum her floors and sweep out the scum. That’s Frank’s job and he’s good at it.

He takes good care of us, we have what we need. He buys clothes and minds Baby Dave while I’m in school. These are the important things we do to stay together, pretty much the opposite of Gram. Frank says, if she tells you something about life, about how to behave, you just do the opposite. So that’s our motto. Still, sometimes I wonder how we’re doing.

Like sometimes I dream Baby Dave sticks a finger in an electrical socket and skitters on the floor like a windup rabbit, primed to jump. Freakish, real slow at first, thlump, thlump, then thupthupthupthupthup. Frank has to kick him off the wall with a broom. This is just a dream, but I still get him sneakers. In real life, Baby Dave’s wearing some rubber soles.

~ fin ~

Allison Glasgow is a longtime editor of the magazine Thuglit.