Authors: Lynne Ewing
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction, #Social & Family Issues, #Peer Pressure, #Violence, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Sword & Sorcery
I began to weep, and the deputy sat down beside me. She crossed her legs and didn’t seem to notice the ocean of blood around us.
“You know who did it?” she asked. “Is that why you’re scared? That they’ll come back and get you? I can help you if you help me.”
“I didn’t see anything,” I said. I shook my head and pushed the tears away from my eyes.
“What gang did your friend belong to?”
“She was a good student,” I said. “She wasn’t mixed up with anything. Tell her mom that. It was my fault. I’m the banger. Ana was a good kid. We just danced together. That’s all.”
She put her hand on my shoulder. Her skin smelled of Ivory soap and gun oil and a good life. “I know better than that,” she said softly.
“Just tell her mother,” I said.
“Call me if those punks come back and give you any trouble,” she said.
“I’m okay,” I said.
She looked at me like she didn’t believe me. “Keep the
card in a safe place,” she said, and stood, her leather belt and shoes cracking from the movement.
I pitched the card into the pool of blood. The last thing I needed was for anyone to think I had turned rata and was helping some deputy sheriff. I’d never disgrace myself by testifying, even against a rival gang. I’d take death or prison first.
“Look, I know you kids don’t like the way the law works,” she said. “You think the only justice is revenge. But the fighting’s never going to stop if you don’t stop the retaliations.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, even though I was already planning how to avenge Ana’s death.
“I know you do,” she said, and handed me another card. “You call me any time, day or night. You think about what I said. Your friend’s dead, and now you have to make a choice. Don’t lie to me and say you don’t. It’s your choice.”
“I don’t got choices in this neighborhood,” I said. “If I had choices, you think I’d stay here?”
I watched her walk back to the sheriff’s car and talk to her partner, the blue and red lights strobing over their faces.
She came back to me. “Come on, honey. We’ll drive you home.”
I sat in the back of the sheriff’s car, shivering in spite of the paramedic’s blanket still wrapped around my shoulders. I wished I had had the courage to tell Ana the truth, to tell
her how I wanted out, too, to be just a normal kid, drawing wedding gowns on the playground with a stick. Maybe if she had known I was scared, too …
I held myself tight, the blood tacky on my skin. I couldn’t stand that Ana was gone. The deputy was right. I wanted revenge. I wanted to kill someone for doing this to her. No one hurt Ana without payback from me. Those bangers were dead already. Muertos.
The sheriff’s car rolled to a stop in front of my house. The deputy walked with me up to the front door, kicking through the yellowed newspapers scattered on the walk.
“I’ll talk to your folks,” she said.
I opened the door. Mom was standing in front of the TV in the middle of the living room, holding a cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other, singing some song I didn’t recognize, maybe one her new stoner gabacho boyfriend had written. He was strumming his guitar, still in his skivvies, his eyes red from the cigarette smoke and beer.
When Mom finally saw me, the song stopped in her throat and the beer dropped to the floor, suds puddling on my grandmother’s rug.
The deputy looked at Mom, then at me. “Sorry, kid. Don’t forget to call me.” She shook her head, turned, and walked away, her shoes hitting the sidewalk in rapid beats as if she couldn’t get away from the sight of my mother’s nakedness fast enough.
I ran to the bathroom and locked the door. I tore off my clothes and turned on the shower. I could hear my mother screaming at the man to get out. The front door slammed shut as I climbed into the steaming water. I let the fiery water pound my skin, my mother at the bathroom door, speaking through the keyhole.
“Kata. Kata! What happened, Kata?”
I hated the fine tremor that had crept into her voice. When the water turned cold, I turned off the spigot and stood in the steam.
I didn’t know what to do without Ana. I didn’t want to be here in this life without Ana.
I took a razor from the medicine cabinet, held it between my index finger and thumb, then slowly cut my skin, pressing hard, etching Ana’s name into the web between my thumb and index finger, my blood dripping onto the white towel.
My mother remained at the keyhole, sobbing and calling my name, her breath rushing through the small hole, joining the wind shrieking around the house.
“I promise, baby,” she said. “I promise I’ll stop drinking. I’ll be a mother again. I promise. Just say something. Talk to me.”
She had made that promise too many times for me to believe her.
“Kata, baby, what happened?”
I never answered her.
That was the night Ana died.
With images from our last night together churning in my head, I leaned over and kissed Ana one final time, her red lips waxy and stiff. Then I walked away from the casket, past the old women crowded in the front pew, pinching off the beads on their rosaries, their heavy perfumes spinning in the air like a potion against death and evil, covering the musty smells of incense, prayer books, and ancient adobe walls.
Most of my homies sat in the back pew in shadows. They wore black sweatshirts with white Old English lettering across the front that said R
. Kikicho had given me one to wear, but I couldn’t wear it yet. I didn’t want Ana’s mother to know I was ganged up.
Maggie, fair-skinned with red hair and no cholo mix in her Anglo blood, had been in the gang since she was eleven. She had a sense of invincibility that made her seem like a good-luck charm. She passed out black satin ribbons for people to pin to their clothing. I had made photocopies of poems that Ana had written, but I felt too sad to hand them out, so Maggie was doing that, too.
I didn’t want to sit with my homies. I did at all the other funerals, but this time I felt too angry to be with them. I
knew they would say it was scandalous, the way I was acting, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t like the way they acted, like Ana belonged to them. They didn’t know her, really. A thought crept across my mind, whispering with cold, hateful breath that I hadn’t known her either, not the way I thought. I raked my fingers through my hair to push the thought away, then paused at the edge of the altar, looking for a place to sit.
Kikicho stood on his metal canes and walked to the casket, his right leg dragging on the adobe floor. He balanced his canes against the coffin. The metal made a hard, clanking sound against the brass handles. Kikicho had three bullets inside him, one almost visible in his temple, one near his ear, and another somewhere in his back. Three other bullets had gone through his right leg. The doctors said he’d spend his life in a wheelchair.
I met him when he was in the wheelchair, making jokes about the bullets and pretending to stick a magnet to his temple. The magnet had drawn me to him. I took it from him and slipped it in my pocket. I didn’t know him very well then, only that he was an old vato loco and I respected him too much to let him become Pocho’s jester. He had paid his dues. Kikicho had something inside him, a softness of soul that made him handsome to me even though the other girls couldn’t see his beauty. They wanted guys like Pocho who ran fast and hit hard and treated them badly.
“Come on,” Kikicho said, and motioned with his chin for me to stand near the casket. He drew a camera from his pocket.
Pocho and Serena had already found places near the head of the coffin. Serena put her arm around Pocho and leaned into his chest, her face sad, her hands curled in our gang sign.
“Dreamer, oye,” Pocho said. His hair and eyes were black as raven wings, but his face was as fair as the first conquistador to land in the New World.
“Come on, Kata,” Serena said, waving me toward them with her perfect hands, the nails and rings glittering in the candlelight.
I shook my head.
“You guys were too mean to Ana,” I said, “to take a picture with her now. It’s scandalous.”
They looked at one another as if each expected the other to understand what I was saying.
“You know what I’m talking about,” I said. I stepped closer to the casket so the other mourners couldn’t hear me. “Two years ago, what you did to her when we got jumped into the gang.”
Ana and I were jumped into the gang the same day. Sometimes it’s just girls jumping girls, but sometimes, if you want to join a gang with guys, too, then both hit on you. Ana went first. She was small, but she had lots of heart.
They pulled her hair and slapped her face and kicked her hard. That should have been enough, but then Serena ripped the gold hoop earrings from Ana’s ears. Dark red blood curled down Ana’s throat. She had to wear Band-Aids on her ears for two weeks and lie to her mother, saying the earrings got torn from her ears in P.E. during a basketball game. Her mother called the school, but no one from the school called back, so Ana was safe in her lie.
When they jumped me, I fought back so hard I broke Serena’s nose. They were afraid to keep hitting me. I hadn’t planned on hurting anyone. I was going to take my beating, show them I was down for the neighborhood. But Ana was holding a sweatshirt to her ears to stop the bleeding, and I couldn’t let it go. Ever since we were niñas, I had defended her. No one hurt Ana and got away with it.
“Forget the earrings,” Serena said now. “That was in the past. I was down for Chancey. We were best friends, her and me.”
“No you weren’t,” I said, feeling the devil stir the anger bubbling up inside me.
Serena looked up at Pocho and pushed her fingers through her long brown hair. That’s when I saw Ana’s gold hoop earrings hanging in her ears.
“You take those off,” I said to her. “I can’t even believe you’d wear those earrings today and disgrace Ana’s memory.”
“Kata, stop,” Kikicho said, and motioned for me to get
in the picture. “She’s doing it to pay respect, to show her love.”
Kikicho was always trying to make peace. I ignored him.
“You’re disrespecting Ana,” I said to Serena. “Put the earrings in the casket.”
“Not today,” Kikicho said softly. “Don’t fight today.”
“Take them off,” Pocho said.
Serena shrugged and took off the earrings and slipped them under Ana’s pillow. I looked away as Pocho and Serena held their hands in our gang sign and the camera flashed.
I stepped into a small alcove near the altar and stared at the gentle statue of our Lord Jesucristo that stood behind a line of candles. How many funerals had I been to? How could He allow another death?
A sudden gust of wind sent a draft through the sanctuary, making the candles flicker like wild tongues. My head felt thick. The statue shimmered and took a step forward, the alabaster hands reaching for me, a huge weight falling on me. I cried out and tried to run, but my feet refused to flee, becoming impossibly heavy, sinking into the adobe floor.
Then I felt soft hands wrapping around me.
“Jesucristo,” I sighed, but those alabaster hands weren’t the hands holding me. Ana’s mother grabbed me before I fell and walked me back to her pew. She wore a black dress, her ankles swollen from the tightness of her patent-leather
shoes. Ana’s mother smelled of lilac powder, Aqua Net hair spray, and comfort. I wondered if she knew she was burying her grandchild along with her daughter. Had the deputy told her about Ana’s secret life? Had the mortician shown her the gang name tattooed across Ana’s belly in Old English letters?
Ana’s mother looked down at me, her brown eyes red from crying. “Are you all right, Kata? Do you need some water?”
“I’m okay,” I whispered.
She motioned to her daughters to make room for me on the pew, and we sat down together.
Then she saw where I had cut Ana’s name on the web between my thumb and index finger. Scabs still covered the letters. She gripped my hand, her fingers as cold as Ana’s. She drew my hand to her lips and kissed the scab of Ana’s name. Her tears fell, warm drops on my skin between her cold fingers. The sudden change in temperature sent a chill over me. She wrapped her arm around me, pulling me to her, rocking us back and forth.
Ana’s two older sisters, Margarita and Rosa, craned their necks around to look at me, their mascara running in black strings down their cheeks and necks, staining the tops of the white collars on their black dresses. I felt the glare of their hateful eyes staring at me. They gave me mean looks, as if I didn’t belong there, sitting in the pew next to them
with their perfect lives and working husbands and gold wedding bands.
Amelia poked her head from behind Margarita, her green eyes red and swollen with the loss of Ana. She flashed my gang sign at me. I pulled away, stepped over Margarita’s and Rosa’s knees, and squeezed into the pew on the other side of Amelia.
“Don’t disrespect your mother or my gang,” I whispered into her ear, the smell of her strawberry shampoo filling my nose. “You haven’t been courted into the neighborhood, and I’m not going to let you in. That’s my promise to Ana. You’re not getting in. I won’t let it happen.”
Amelia turned away from me and stared ahead, anger and determination rising in her face. I had seen that look before. Amelia was hungry for the never-think-just-do life she thought we lived down by the L.A. River. When I was her age, it seemed exciting and romantic to me, too. Hanging out, listening to music played on a boom box, sloshing down forties, and not worrying about school or rules.
I stood and started back to my place next to Ana’s mother.
“Make sure Kata gets Ana’s bracelets and books,” her mother said.
“How can you think about such things today?” Rosa said angrily.
“So she doesn’t have to think about what you’re thinking about,” I said to Rosa.
Rosa shrugged. I could tell she was afraid of me.
“It’s okay,” I said, and sat back next to Ana’s mother.
If I hadn’t seen my grandmother at my grandfather’s funeral, I would have thought Ana’s mother didn’t care, the way she was thinking about bracelets and books at her daughter’s funeral. Death makes people say odd things as if nothing has happened. I think it’s the only way they can get through what’s going on.