My brother tugs on my shirtsleeve and motions toward a bowl of plastic fruit. This becomes a dare, a game we know so well. Who can escape the house having stolen something? A fake piece of fruit; this will be good. Mom and dad are talking prices with the real estate guy; how much it costs to live here, how long until we can move in. We’ve been living in a hotel for almost two months. It’s August and hot as hell out here in Florida, a kind of hot we’ve never known. My brother and I sweat through our shirts, my Umbro shorts stick to the back of my legs, his once buoyant coif of hair now sinks. I stroll over to the bowl of fruit–a hollow banana, a decorative apple, but the grapes appeal the most. I plop one off and put it in my mouth. My brother laughs and dad yells for me to come back to the pack. I spit the grape into my palm and close it tightly in a fist.
“Only one?” My brother jests upon my return. We stand behind our parents, tiny versions of the serious, soon-to-be homeowners that they are. We want things too, we have demands. We require a pool for swimming, a big loft for playing LEGOs, and separate bedrooms with not too much distance between them. In the car, on rides to and from potential houses, we sit diagonal from each other; him up in the passenger seat and me behind my dad who drives while my mom gives him directions from a big, foldable map. My brother plays Super Mario and I try to read my fifth grade reading level book (I start fourth grade this year) until I feel sick, which happens quickly. The tiny dings of Mario’s coins soothe me to sleep on my mom’s lap. I often awake to a new city, a new house that we might soon get to call ours.
Potted plants make good targets for stealing. Usually fake, they allow us to pluck tiny leaves, flowers, once a purple orchid that I kept in a playing card box until I was twenty-one. Once, a bamboo napkin holder made its way to my back pocket during a routine showing. The object doesn’t have to carry meaning. When we arrive back at the hotel where bags and bags of our clothes reside, we spill the contents of a day’s work out on the floor in front of the T-V. Zorro glows on the screen above us, the masked hero, Don Deigo de la Vega, whips through foreign cities in black and white. My brother pretends he is Zorro, wielding balloon sword we got from Dave and Buster’s, protecting me from danger in our hotel room. Pillows are boulders, the bed is a cliff, the blanket is a storm and we always escape just in time. A purple orchid is bestowed upon me, “For your troubles,” my brother says. We dine on fake fruit until our mom comes in. We hide the evidence under the pullout sofa.
My brother is and always will be my hero. He does not wear a mask. He does not save villages. He can barely even save himself. But he is my brother, and there was a time when that was all I had. We were kids in a new city and we only had each other. Countless hours spent watching cartoons in dad’s den when he still commuted to New York every week. So many Saturday mornings playing with LEGOs all day until we got called to go out for dinner. I used to pretend to drown in the pool so he could save me. He was a great swimmer, and when he picked me up from the bottom of the pool and rocketed us up towards the surface, I felt safe. So safe and loved.
Our parents never found anything we took. It was a crime so harmless, it was like it never happened. My brother likes to wear all black now. He looks like villain, but I remember how Zorro wore the same and was certainly a knight. And sometimes I try to save him. I’ve tried so hard to take him with me wherever I go. I hide him close where no one will find him. I hide him in my heart.