Authors: Judith Van GIeson
Judith Van Gieson
All rights reserved.
Copyright Â© 1998 Judith Van Gieson.
This book may not be reproduced in whole
or in part, by other means, without permission.
First ebook edition Â© 2013 by AudioGO.
All Rights Reserved.
Trade ISBN 978-1-62064-468-3
Library ISBN 978-0-7927-9499-8
Cover photo Â© Mi Keledray/
book is dedicated to attorney Alan M. Uris, my old friend and legal adviser, and to the girls and the boy in my hood
Thanks to Paige, Marisela, Liz, Nedia, Sharon, Michelle, Jessica, Tony and Emilio.
I couldn't have written this book without you.
only house on Mirador Road with a courtyard. It's my buffer between the living room and the street. My neighbors live in cinderblock houses and trailers; their only buffers are the cars and trucks parked in their scraped-bare yards. In my hood the smaller the house the greater the number of vehicles parked in front of it. The neighbors have chain-link fences and an occasional rosebush or plum tree. I have a weed that grew into a Siberian elm and shades my courtyard in summer. In the winter the bare branches mark time on the wall with their shadows. My courtyard has a
(an adobe bench) growing out of the wall, a brick floor and a struggling rosebush planted by a previous owner. The adobe wall snakes across a wooden door that has a chevron pattern to the boards. There's enough space between the V's to see the outline of who's coming, but not the details. When the bell rings, it can be someone trying to sell me black-market t-shirts or just checking to see if anyone's home. Or else it's Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons on the conversion trail. This time it was a small person with a halo of blonde hair.
“Who's there?” I asked before flipping the latch.
She sounded harmless, so I opened the door. My visitor had a mane of blonde curls pulled high above her head and tumbling down her back. She wore shorts and an extra-large Chicago Bulls t-shirt. Her skin was the color of vanilla ice cream, something you notice in my neighborhood. Her fingernails were painted blue, her lipstick was black. She held a candy bar in one hand. The other hand cradled a baby wrapped in a blanket.
“I'm selling candy for my school,” she said, showing me the candy bar. Her nails were bitten down and there was white space at the cuticle where the blue had grown out. “W
,” the candy bar wrapper read. “F
HANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
.” Behind the girl a boy on a bike pedaled slowly down the street.
“How much?” I asked her.
“A dollar for that?” The candy bar was no wider than two pencils, no longer than Cheyanne's finger.
She shrugged. “It's for the school.”
“All right. I'll take two.” One for me. One for my live-in lover, the Kid. “Come on in. I'll get you the money.”
She kicked the door shut behind her, followed me across the courtyard and into the living room looking around at my beehive-shaped adobe fireplace and at the vigas in my ceiling. I went in search of my purse.
“Baaad house,” she said when I came back with the money.
“Thanks.” I gave her two dollars. She gave me two candy bars. “Where do you live?” I asked.
“In the double-wide down the street. You have a computer?”
She'd noticed the Equus that the Kid, a mechanic, had taken in trade for fixing somebody's truck. I'd been trying to do research for my law practice when Cheyanne rang the doorbell. “Yeah.”
The surf box was on the screen. “You're on the Internet. Cool. My girlfriend's dad has a computer but he won't let her on the Internet. He says she'll cost him too much money.”
“I was trying to use it for work myself.”
“Whatta you do?”
“I'm a lawyer.”
“How'd you know?”
“I see you go by in the morning.” She stared at the computer. Her fingers seemed hungry for the keyboard like a musician's drawn to the sax or piano. “Would you mindâ¦?”
“Go ahead,” I said.
She put the baby down on the sofa.
“Boy or girl?” I asked.
“Girl. Her name is Miranda.”
She sat down at the computer. Her fingernails skipped across the keys and pulled Teen Chat up on the screen. “Any
out there?” she typed, sending her message onto the information highway.
“You know what
are?” she asked.
“White dudes,” I said.
“Right.” She laughed. “You, me and my mom, we're the only
who live on this block. Did you know that?”
I'd suspected, but I hadn't actually known. Leave it to the kids to know who everybody was in the hood.
“That's a fine guy you got living here. He reminds me of Carlos Leon.”
The dude Madonna's had a baby with.”
Older, younger, lighter, darker. As far as I was concerned, that was where any resemblance to Carlos and Madonna ended. No baby on my horizon. No big bucks or personal trainers, either.
The private room message came up on the screen, the place one teen can talk to another privately. “What's your name?” it asked.
“Cheyanne,” she typed.
“What do you look like?”
“I have blonde hair.”
“How old are you?”
“Eighteen.” Going on sixteen. Maybe. The baby on the sofa began to cry. Cheyanne continued to type, but the baby wasn't going to be ignored. Her cries escalated in volume. Cheyanne spun around. “Shut up, you little brat,” she screamed. “Can't you see I'm having fun?” The baby couldn't see or didn't care. Cheyanne left the keyboard and stomped across the room. She lifted Miranda and held her high like she was preparing to give the baby a good, hard shake.
“Don't even consider it,” I warned.
“You're right. I'd never get away with it.” She unwrapped the blanket, flipped the baby onto its stomach, turned a key in its back and shut the crying off.
“That's a doll?”
“Kinda. They give us these babies in school, see. We have to feed 'em, take care of 'em when they cry, and not rough 'em up. One day they'll have one that pees, and then we'll have to change the diaper. It's got a computer inside so if we don't take care of it the teacher will know. It's supposed to make us not want a real kid.”
“Is it working?”
“I guess. Some of these dolls act like babies born on drugs. They're smaller than the other babies. They cry for fifty minutes and they shake all the time. Even when you hold them they shake. They're real expensive, so we don't get to take them home.”
“How old are you?” I asked.
Eighth grade wasn't what it used to be, and neither was thirteen. I'd thought I was bad when I was thirteen, but that was many years ago and bad isn't what it used to be either. Having taken care of Miranda's programmed needs, Cheyanne went back to the computer and found the box of Digital Schoolhouse CD's that had come with the system. I hadn't opened the box because it sounded
“You have Schoolhouse!” Cheyanne said. “Cool! Would you mind?”
“You're sure? I mean, I'm not overstaying my welcome, am I? My mom says not to do that.”
“I'll tell you if you do.”
Cheyanne took a CD out of the box, placed it in the D drive and loaded it. The copyright information came up, tinny music played, a spider appeared in the corner of the screen and spun a web. Cheyanne sang along with the music. Her head kept time and her blonde curls bobbed. “Itsy-bitsy spider went up the waterspout.” Her fingers left the keyboard and made a spider's climbing motions.
The phone rang and I answered it. It was a guy from Celestial Dry Cleaners offering me a special on upholstery and carpet cleaning.
“I don't have any upholstery and I don't have any carpets,” I replied. The guy hung up.
“What time is it?” Cheyanne asked.
“A la! I gotta go. My mom'll kill me.” She logged out of the nursery rhymes, put the CD away and picked up the bogus baby.
I walked her across the courtyard and opened the door. The boy on the bikeâwho was not a
âhad parked across the street. His hair was slick and black. He wore a t-shirt with a logo that read G
. He had a souped-up bike, the low rider of bikes, with a polished brass chain and tassels that dangled from the handlebars.
“Cool bike,” I said.
Cheyanne yelled, “Danny, you dork. Stop following me!”
The boy put his feet to the pedals, the rubber to the road and rode away with his head down and his elbows poking into the street.
When the Kid came home I told him about my visitor. “I've never seen her,” he said.
Then I told him about the boy on the bike. He didn't know who Danny was, either, but he knew about the bikes. “There's a club here,” he told me. “They work on the bikes like the big boys work on cars. Sometimes I fix things for them. It keeps them out of trouble, out of gangs.”
“How old are the boys?”
He shrugged. “Nine. Ten.”
“Isn't that a little young for gangs?”
“Not anymore. They like to rank in the little ones they call peewees. Peewees will do anything to
“The Church used to say âGive me a boy until he's nine and he's mine forever,'” I told him. The Kid had grown up in enough Latin American countries to know all about that Church. “Now it's give me a boy when he's that age and it's gangbang forever?”
“Yeah,” the Kid said. “The boys ride their bikes along the ditches. I can see them from the back of the shop.”
It would give the boys a special point of viewâthe backyards, the faces that people hide from the world. Everybody sees their neighborhood differently. Cheyanne had seen the Kid and I, but we hadn't noticed her. I had noticed the boy. The Kid had noticed the bikes.