Talen was living with his sister-in-law in a rented house in Englewood. When Derek and I went to pick him up he wasn’t ready, so we waited inside.
On the living room floor slept a toddler, lulled to sleep by the antics of SpongeBob and Patrick Star. I followed Derek into the kitchen, where I skirted around a gradually expanding orange-brown spill that, if left unattended much longer would surely evaporate and be forgotten altogether. Next to the sink and amidst scattered pot ashes and produce peelings, the sullen eyes of Hansel and Gretel peered out from the cover of a Little Golden Book—their faces distorted by the flaked ashes as though in homage to their cremated witch. I wondered if the book had ever been read to the boy in the living room, or if this children’s horror story stayed shut up in its cardboard house.
Talen emerged from his bedroom, and as I looked around I saw a stuffed Broncos mascot and a stubby, bubblegum pink penis sucker taped to the wall. Surrounding the sucker, in a nook meant for a landline phone, was a shrine-like display venerating the Playboy Bunny.
I knew one thing for sure: I had nothing in common with the owner of this house.
Later that night, half-consciously scanning my apartment, I noticed my own book-laden countertops and brightly decorated walls, and thought, Maybe we’re not so different.