Authors: Lynne Ewing
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction, #Social & Family Issues, #Peer Pressure, #Violence, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Sword & Sorcery
I didn’t like being so close to the border between two gangs’ neighborhoods, both enemies to us, and I knew Pocho didn’t either, because he took my hand and pulled me along, trying to make me run faster. We dodged into the next alley and clung to the shadows along the fence.
A police car drove down the cross street, and then I heard the thumping rotor blades from the sheriff’s helicopter overhead. The helicopter’s searchlight broke the foggy darkness and shone over the street like strange moonlight.
We crawled under a car parked on the next street. I lay there with my cheek resting in broken glass and dirt.
Pocho lay next to me. “Why didn’t you shoot him?” Pocho said.
I told him what Raul had said about Ana.
“Not Ana,” he said.
“Ana told me she was pregnant,” I said.
“Then it was mine,” Pocho said, but his voice told me he was forming a lie.
“I believe Raul,” I said. “I saw his eyes.”
“What does that mean, you saw his eyes?” Pocho said, his lips moving against the dirt on the street.
“My grandfather said true lovers share the same soul.”
“I saw Ana in Raul’s eyes. They share one soul.”
“So you fired at his house, and now they know your face and they’ll all be hunting you down and the sheriff, too. Jesus, Kata.”
“I couldn’t kill Ana,” I said. “He had Ana’s eyes.”
“Your grandfather had too much imagination, and so do you. You see things that aren’t there all the time, so what makes you think this was any different? God, Dreamer, wake up.”
“Raul told the truth,” I said.
The helicopter light swung to another block. Pocho pulled himself from under the car and started running again. I followed him, my chest blazing with pain.
Pocho stopped. “It’s safer if we split up,” he said. “I’ll go back the way we came. You go home.”
“No,” I said. I knew Pocho was going to try to draw them away from me so I’d be safe. I wasn’t going to see another friend take a bullet because of me. “I’m staying with you.”
Pocho pushed me hard and backed away from me. “We’ll both be dead if we don’t go different ways,” he said.
“Come back,” I wailed.
He threw our gang sign at me and took off running in the direction we had just come from. I knew I couldn’t catch him. He was gone already.
I cut across the street and turned at the next corner, running, not looking back, my lungs choking for air, sweat beading on my cold forehead. Then I heard footsteps behind me. I turned, thinking Pocho had come back, but instead I saw a group of bangers running after me, fast and sleek like a pack of wolves, splitting up now to cover any direction I could run.
I let out a desperate cry and ran down the nearest driveway. I flung myself over the back fence and went down hard, landing on my hand. Splintered wood and dust fell into my face. I could hear pounding footsteps on the other side of the fence. I dived under a boysenberry bush, the thorns pricking my skin and cutting into my face. I froze and held my breath as the fence rattled against my back and the vatos flung themselves over and into the yard.
My muscles ached from holding so still, and my lungs grew hot from wanting to pull in oxygen. I closed my eyes tight so I wouldn’t see the bullets coming.
A back porch light came on. The back door opened and a high, angry voice filled the night air. “Get out of my yard!”
“Bullshit,” one of the vatos spit.
Then the man on the porch stepped aside and two pit
bulls ran into the yard. Rough shouts filled the backyard, and the vatos disappeared into the night, the dogs growling at their heels. I waited until I thought they were on the next block, then pulled myself up and started walking again, my twisted hand throbbing, the tiny boysenberry thorns digging into my temples.
When I finally got home, I tiptoed into the kitchen. I didn’t think my heart was ever going to slow down. I wondered if Pocho got away safe.
I walked into the living room.
A scream struggled up my throat, but I stopped it. Mom was sitting in the dark.
“What are you doing up?” I said.
“Waiting for my daughter.” She had never waited up for me before—ever.
“No men to keep you busy?” I said. The empty space between us had grown too large for her to close it now by staying up late, waiting for me.
“You found those words pretty easy,” she said. “Maybe you got more you want to say? Go ahead.”
I shook my head, but I doubt she could see me in the dark.
She sighed and went to her room. I felt like I was watching her ghost. I wished she had loved me enough to wait up for me back when I needed someone to wait up for me, back when I still had a chance.
I went to my bedroom. I fell across my bed and drifted into a dream. Night dreams took me places I was always happy to go. But this half-waking dream kept me in my room, tied to the earth and all my troubles. The wind came into my dream, rushing around me with a great softness, whispering to me in a language I didn’t understand, telling me of ancient and secret magic, trying to show me how to lift myself up and away from this life. I struggled to understand the words carried on the wind, but the answers remained lost in the wind’s wailing.
A sound jolted me fully awake. I sat up in bed, listening, looking for the danger.
A shadow stood at my window. I sucked air into my lungs, expecting a spray of bullets to blast through the glass. Instead a hand reached up and knocked. I climbed from bed, went to the window, and pushed it open.
“Hey, Kata,” Pocho said.
“You made it.”
“Yeah, I run faster than bullets,” he said, and smiled. “I got nowhere to sleep tonight.”
“Come in, then,” I said.
He swung his leg over the sill and pulled himself up and into the room. I closed the window and turned on the lamp on my nightstand.
Pocho sat on the edge of my bed, the springs sagging under his weight. His eyes looked blank and sad. He took off his shoes and let them drop on the floor. I lay on the bed and pulled the covers over me.
“You knew Raul wasn’t the one who shot Ana,” I said.
He nodded and took off his Pendleton and T-shirt. Tattoos covered the hard muscles on his back and arms.
“You took me to kill the wrong guy,” I said.
“No,” Pocho said. “I took you to the right one. I loved Ana. I did. You know? She never let me touch her, and then she goes off with some vato from another neighborhood. Raul’s the one I wanted dead as soon as I heard.”
“You should have blasted him yourself, then. It was wrong to send me.”
“No, I couldn’t. If you blasted him, people would think he killed Ana. If I did him, they’d believe the story and think Ana loved him and I was jealous. I wanted the secret to die with him.”
“Who told you, anyway?”
“The little bitch. Don’t you mess with her.”
“She caught Ana with Raul,” Pocho said. “She knew about it but didn’t tell me until after the funeral. Said she’d tell me about Ana if I let her in. She said you were keeping her out.”
“She doesn’t know what’s up.”
“Maybe I’ll recruit her.” He said it like a challenge.
“Don’t mess with her,” I repeated. “Out of respect for Ana. She didn’t want Amelia in the life.”
Pocho took off his jeans and fell back on the bed. He lifted one leg onto the mattress, then the other. I turned off the lamp. The light from passing cars and the glow from the neon sign of a taco stand on the corner lit the room, giving it a strange red cast.
After a while Pocho whispered, “Kata?”
“I didn’t mean to hurt the puppy.” His words struggled from his throat. “What makes me do what I do?”
I shook my head against the pillow. “Why do any of us do what we do? We don’t have many choices here.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Pocho said, and stared at the ceiling. He was silent for a long time, and I thought he had fallen asleep, but then he spoke softly, his words filling the room with sadness. “I wonder if this is the way guys feel in war,” he said. “I don’t want to die.”
“I know,” I whispered. “I don’t want to die either.”
He took in a long breath and let it out slowly. “Why didn’t she love me?”
I covered Pocho and put my arms around him. His skin felt cold, and he was shivering. I didn’t think I could ever warm his body. Then I realized he wasn’t shivering. He was crying like he had when we were little kids alone in the
dark in my room. His sorrow scratched against his lungs and chest, sounding like a small bird trying to escape his body and soar to another world.
Knowing each other’s hurts made us close but also drove us apart. It’s hard to pretend you’re strong around someone who’s seen you at your weakest. Usually we needed to feel strong more than we needed each other.
Pocho pulled away from me. The movement was so sudden I thought he had changed his mind and decided to leave.
“I feel like someday I’m going to run past the edge into the darkness, and I won’t come back,” he said.
“You’ll come back,” I said. “You’ll always come back.”
He slipped his hands behind his head and stared at the passing car lights brushing the darkness across the ceiling.
“I can feel it waiting for me,” he said. “Something black and ugly. It makes me jealous of that puppy.”
“How can you be jealous of a dog?”
“’Cause I’ve been thinking about death, you know, ’cause of Ana, and I keep thinking about hell and what’s going to happen to me when I die. That little puppy just dies. I mean, it’s just gone and it doesn’t feel no more when it dies, but me, I got to go to hell and spend eternity in flame.”
“No, you don’t,” I said. “It’s not your fault you live here. God knows that.”
He paused and took in a deep breath, his chest rising
high under the covers. “Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I go back in my mind to when I was three or four and I start living my life forward, thinking how different I’d do everything. Do you think I could have made anything different?”
“Things happen for a reason,” I said. “Maybe we don’t figure that part out until after.”
“When we’re with God.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“You know,” he said, “I try to think of death like a phone call. Like I’ve just hung up with Ana. She’s still there. I just can’t talk to her because the connection is gone.”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling that dull pain in my chest again.
His shoulders shuddered, and he made a strange sound, a hiccup like he was trying to swallow back a sob. “But I don’t want an invisible Ana,” he said.
“I know,” I said.
We lay in the dark a long time, not saying anything, watching lights and shadows change as cars passed outside my window.
Finally he spoke. “Kata, would you scratch my back?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Remember when we were niños?” Pocho said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You was so mean to me,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “I was mean to you.”
“You taught me how to fight good,” he said.
“It was the only way you were going to survive in our neighborhood,” I said.
He was silent for a long time. “My mama was a lot like Ana. Do you remember her?”
“No,” I lied, not wanting to remember the only time I’d met her.
I scratched his back until he fell asleep. Then I got up and looked out the window. The wind had scattered the fog, and the few remaining clouds looked white against an indigo sky. Shadows hovered close to the apple and avocado trees.
I had a strange feeling that something really bad was going to happen—worse than Ana’s dying. I didn’t know why I should feel so afraid. Nothing could be worse than losing Ana, but my hands started trembling and a lump I couldn’t swallow grew in my throat. Nando said you can’t miss something you never had, so there must have been a time when I felt safe.
I crawled back into bed, and when I glanced back out the window, I had the unshakable feeling that someone had been standing there, watching me. A small mark smudged the outside of the window like an angel’s fingerprint.
My curandero grandfather had told me that in ancient times spirits and angels traveled in our world, but when people stopped believing in the spirit world, the door between the worlds closed. Now spirits and angels could
only make the passage into our world by twisting through the keyhole and screwing their beauty into scary shapes: werewolves, vampires, and ghouls. Geists, my grandmother called these spirits that invaded our world.
My grandfather told me this when I was afraid of the invisible creatures I sensed lurking in the darkness around my bed. He protected me then, but now his power had faded into the black-and-white photographs that hung above my bed, and I didn’t know who could protect me.
“Jesucristo, Redentor mío, ¿por qué me has desamparado?” I muttered, praying to God. “Why have you abandoned me?” But I didn’t expect an answer. He couldn’t hear me. I was lost to Him.
The next day I woke up alone. Ana was still dead. Pocho had left sometime during the night.
Sunshine turned the morning fog metallic and dusted the leaves with gold. Then the gold glare lifted and the fog disappeared the same way it had come, from nowhere and in silence like some mysterious force. It made me sad when the fog disappeared because I no longer had an excuse to stay in bed.
I got up and went to the kitchen, my bare feet cold on the linoleum floor, to make a cup of coffee for Mom. The faint smell of peanut butter and coffee lingered over the
dirty dishes Pocho had left on the counter. Water dripped from the faucet onto a knife in the sink. I rinsed the dishes and left them on the drainboard, then boiled water and made a cup of coffee. I shook a vitamin from each of the jars and took the pills and coffee to my mother’s room.
I pressed against the door. The room smelled sour, of stale love and beer and broken promises. The blinds were drawn against the sun. I crept inside to where Mom lay, tangled in her blankets.
Mom was awake and staring at nothing, her face pressed into her pillow. When I was a girl and she did that, I would run to her and shake her, afraid she was dead. Now some days I prayed for her to die because it was so hard to care for her, but then I would hate myself and pull back the prayer as if it were a kite sent out in a too violent wind.