We Deserve Better
She sits in the middle of the circus holding a sign that reads, We Better Than This.
It is the first day and no one cares figuring her for another homeless. Yet there she is the following day, in the same spot, a good spot, according to those in the know—The Characters—who are beginning to see her and her sign as imposition upon their land.
Batman approaches Dora the Explorer.
“What do you think we should do?”
“Tell her to fuck off,” she says.
Batman looks over at Chewbacca posing with six Asian tourists. They have fixed their fingers into peace signs. They are all giggles. It is a filthy hot day and Batman does not envy Chewbacca.
“Let’s give it till tomorrow,” Batman says.
Optimus Prime has joined the conversation. All he adds is a shrug, using a mouth organ to make the sound of hydraulics as he drops his shoulders.
The sun rises and the girl is there again, sitting cross-legged, cradling the sign in her lap.
Dora approaches Batman who is posing with some stern-faced Russians.
“Nip this shit in the butt,” she whispers.
“Fine you wanna be diplomatic? Send over Captain America.”
He kneels and sets his shield like a peace offering. He wears blue contacts and an invisible retainer. Beneath his mask his hair is an exceptional blonde.
“Hey there young lady.”
She squints at the sun bouncing off his shield and gives a small wave.
“Do you happen to be another homeless?” America asks.
She shakes her head, her braids jumping like electricity.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“Ah yes. Good ol’ freedom. Freedom freedom freedom. Nothing quite like it. Would you like some gum?” America asks, pulling a stick from his red boot.
She shakes her head again.
“Does this happen to be about money?” America asks.
“It’s always about money,” she pauses. “But I’m not asking for money.”
America sighs the way one does in the presence of a communist and returns to The Characters.
“What’d she say?” quizzes Minnie Mouse.
“Nothing really. She’s like a black Buddhist or something.”
“Well she’s fucking up our hustle,” says Wolverine.
“I’ll take care of it,” America says, walking off to spit out his dip.
The following day, America doesn’t bother kneeling.
“So what we betta than?” he asks.
The girl runs her hand like Vanna White displaying all that is before them: the heat, the cement, the asphalt, the liquor store-smoke shop-tattoo parlor, the stars, the theater, the souvenirs, the traffic and the traffic and the department store atop the department store atop the McDonald’s.
“And?” America says.
“People plan whole vacations around this intersection,” she replies.
“And it doesn’t bother you?”
“Is this some kind of joke? Like a hidden camera show? Doesn’t matter how the hell I feel about it. Doesn’t matter in the least. This is how I feed my family and how they feed their families,” America says pointing towards The Characters huddled together like penguins against arctic wind.
The girl looks down at her shoes. She seems to be counting in her head.
“I’m sorry, “she says finally, “Y'all deserve better.”
America lets out a good deep laugh.
“Stay in school alright? And don’t be here tomorrow.”
The next day she returns with a new sign, We Deserve Better.
“This little niglet,” America says cracking his neck.
“Look,” shouts Dora the Explorer pointing a gloved finger.
African tourists in vibrant colors stand before the girl. They point at their camera and give her a thumbs up. The father snaps a photo and the family claps. As they leave for other sights, the mother, whose hair is pulled up in an authentic colorful head wrap, that also holds within it, a sleeping baby (African women tend to hold valuables atop their head, from cassava root to medicine to adoptable babies) leans down and drops a twenty at the girl’s feet.
“Fuck this girl,” Dora growls taking off her hoop earrings and handing them to America.
But before Dora can reach her, an SUV pulls up before the black girl. From its doors spill a celebrity and her people. They are trendy, hip, and thriving, dressed in all sorts of summer-festival pastiche. They are high and careless from a night of cigarettes and social media. There is a bindi on the celebrity’s forehead; there is Sanskrit on her neck. She dances with pouted lips towards the sitting girl.
“Ugh, LOVE THIS,” slurs the celebrity dripping to the floor. She slings a skinny arm about the girl’s neck and rattles off a mirage of selfies.
The celebrity collects herself with the grace of a newborn colt. She bows to the girl, her hands flattened to prayer. When she rights herself, she holds up her fist and yells, “Girl Power!”
And with that she trots back to the SUV gathering her texting-tribe in tow, while Dora falls to the ground, taking her over-sized head in her gloved hands, and begins to cry.
The following day, the girl with braids does not show but in her place are twenty others, handsome and attractive and impressively white, the way child-actors tend to be, all holding signs that read, We Are Better. The news vans line up. Memes are mass produced. Day-time hosts dance and chant the slogan like a mantra. Soon enough the department stores begin carrying t-shirts. The celebrity releases an EDM song of the same name. A soda conglomerate buys the rights to the mantra, casting the celebrity in a national commercial where she leads the coming revolution, dancing with a can in hand, a dreamcatcher woven into her hair, to the four-on-the-floor beat. Soldiers in Fallujah watch the commercial on their mobile devices. They begin to cry. It is over. Mission Accomplished. They are heading home.
Matan Gold is a writer from the San Fernando Valley, just outside Los Angeles. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in Waxwing and Into the Void. He begrudgingly works at a grocery store.