Anna viewed things differently than you or I. She saw all the layers at once. She saw the color and the brightness and the depth of voices.
She was left on her own a lot. Her parents were kind and intelligent. Spirited. They laughed with their throats. They treated her as some sort of miniature silent business partner. Cute and combustible. She told them the stories that bounced around her head at night; the ones that visited her while her parents ran up figures at the table of whatever furnished apartment they were living in that month.
Her stories were full of green and purple caves, near drunk with stars. They were full of tiny princesses who eventually had matching tiny princes who fell down chasms that appeared after earthquakes. Eventually she drew the princess, glittered up in pink. The prince’s clothing and look was inconsequential; he looked just like the princess but in black jodhpurs and a skinny mustache, a crown of yellow on his black hair.
She was intensely critical of her darling parents. She knew that most children did not grow up in the same manner that she was, that their parents didn’t set up newsstands in dark subway tunnels and corridors. The other children had yards, even if they were just tiny scrubby things where only dandelions grew. They had grandmothers near by who baked things. Their mothers knew how to bake things, too; Anna’s mother bought cookies and cakes from bakeries. She did know how to apply lipstick so that it pursed her lips like Clara Bow’s and how to line up stockings so they didn’t sag and how to entrance customers into buying more than they’d normally buy. She could make a good grilled cheese and egg sandwich for a travelling business man who visited their subway newsstand. Anna’s father would chuckle softly at the men as they walked away, knowing that Anna’s mother was his, she was bonded to him. He knew how jolting her presence was to the business men, because he was jolted every single morning when he woke up next to her. Her face was perfect, even when yesterday’s lipstick and mascara smeared all over the white and blue embroidered pillows while she slept.
Anna seldom had her own room in these temporary tenements. Usually she slept on the sofa, wrapped in the pink damask coverlet that her father had bought for her in New York. It made her think of a home in the clouds, an apartment in a high rise. A permanent place where she could put books on shelves and paint murals of her princess. The princess would be wearing the glittery pink dress, and would be holding the prince’s soft and effeminate hand as they escaped the green and purple caves. She’d paint marble steps that would swirl up and around and out of the cave entrances below, and their castle would tower above the dark green and purple depths with obscenely blue and silver turrets. She’d paint a thousand windows on the castle, so that light would pour out of their home like stars.