Authors: Lynne Ewing
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction, #Social & Family Issues, #Peer Pressure, #Violence, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Sword & Sorcery
“How do you know?” I yelled back at him, and slammed my bedroom door.
“All right, you stay here in your pinche little neighborhood with your little life measured out in city blocks.”
Then his voice came through the crack, sweet and gentle. “Dreams carry us, Kata. If you can’t imagine yourself doing something other than living the life, then you won’t do it. You’ve got a gift, Kata. Don’t waste it.”
I opened the bedroom door and looked at him. “I can’t dance without Ana.”
“Yes, you can,” he said.
Nando wrapped me in a hug. I cried in his arms for a long time. When I stopped crying, he said, “You’re right, Kata. There is too much smog in Los Angeles. If your mother’s feeling well enough, I’ll take you up to the mountains tomorrow night so you can see the night sky the way God meant it to be seen.”
I nodded. “Okay,” I said.
Nando slept on the couch, the chicken in the cage beside him, head tucked under its wing. During the night Mom got up and took him to her room. Her love sounds were different with Nando. The sighs they made were soft and sweet enough to bring babies from heaven. I sat there in the dark listening, even though I knew it was wrong, wondering if I would ever hear love sounds like that. And if I’d be able to hold on to it if I did.
Finally I could bear it no longer. I couldn’t stand the thinking, the memories. I needed to run wild with the wind. I crept out of the house and walked down the street, watching each passing car. There was another battle of the go-go’s at the Sports Arena. I caught a bus and went down there.
The crowd was huge, and I didn’t know as many people as I had at the warehouse. I watched the girls go onstage in tight silk go-go shorts and gold high heels. I hadn’t bothered to change my clothes. I wore my bagged-out jeans, Pendleton, and T-shirt.
When it was my turn, I went onstage without Ana, without a costume, without the honeysuckle. I felt like nothing. Guys started hooting when they saw me walk out. They threw beer. Foam splattered all around me. I held my head high and waited for the music to start. Then I rolled my hips. I rubbed my hands up over my body and into my beer-wet hair. The rain of beer stopped when I moved. I kicked out of my shoes and undid my belt. The bagged-out jeans fell to the floor.
The guys screamed. I guess they thought they were getting a show.
My jeans lay in the middle of the stage. I kept swinging my hips, moving my feet, unbuttoning my Pendleton. I let it fall slowly, like a snake shedding its skin. Then I traced my hands up my body again and into my hair, dancing with the music, my hips like waves on the ocean, my hands
becoming the seagulls in the sky, and slowly the jagged edges of my world became smooth and liquid and I became the music. There was silence as I danced slow and sensual in my T-shirt and panties and bare feet.
The motion touched my heart, stirring a longing inside me that made me want to soar above my life and the violence to something good inside me that I had left with God.
The music stopped.
For a moment there was no sound. Then came booming applause that sounded like gunfire and made me feel like Ana on the corner, waiting for her bullets.
“More,” people shouted. They wanted me to dance again, but I picked up my clothes and ran offstage. I stood trembling in the harsh light of a bare bulb encased in a steel frame. A tall, thin man handed me a beer. I took it and swallowed, finishing it. I wiped foam from my mouth and looked in his bloodshot blue eyes, set under heavy brows that joined at his nose.
He rubbed my side. “You want to give me a private party?” he said, and then he grinned at me, his smile a brutal slash across his gabacho face.
“Yeah, maybe,” I said. “Get me more beer.”
“How much do you want?” he said.
“Enough to carry me away.”
“I got some tequila in my car,” he said, and let his hand slip around my waist. He pulled me against him and walked
me out into the cold. I still hadn’t put on my clothes. He kept nibbing my side, inching up my T-shirt, until his hand was on my bare skin, dipping down in my panties, holding my hip. We wove in and out of the crowd that had gathered outside.
Kids were shouting their gang names, and fights were starting. Security guards were running, speaking into their radios, trying to stop the fights before they became a riot.
“What’s your name?” I said as he opened the door to his Chevrolet Impala. “I want to know your name.”
“James,” he said, and I crawled into his car. He leaned over and started kissing me. I pushed him away.
“James, you promised me a drink,” I said.
He pulled a bottle of tequila from under the front seat. He handed it to me, and his hand started sneaking up my T-shirt. I held his wrist and swallowed, tequila burning my throat.
Then shots rang out and everyone ran, their screams echoing in the night air. Bullets cracked and ricocheted off cement, as rapid as castanets. I fell to the floor of the car.
A shot hit the windshield and pebbly pieces of glass rained over me.
When the gunfire stopped, James held his shoulder, blood rushing through his fingers. I looked out the broken windshield. A Monte Carlo swerved and rammed into a
police car as it turned the corner. Then it flipped and caught on fire.
I grabbed my clothes and the tequila and ran blindly away from the chaos. I found myself in a field and looked around frantically, too drunk to get my bearings. Finally I lay down where I was and fell asleep, a piece of driftwood, tossed and worn and washed up alone, far from home.
It was probably because of all the drinking the night before and sleeping in the field, and on top of that the hot bus and the closeness of the women pressing against me on either side, that I fell asleep on the ride home. When I woke up, my cheek rested on the bare shoulder of an old woman. A moist unwashed odor rose from her body.
I lifted my head. The sweat between her bare shoulder and my cheek made a sucking sound as I pulled away. She wore a faded red sundress with yellow flowers around the hem. The soiled straps of her bra dangled on her wrinkled arms. Her hair was wrapped in a careless bun on top of her head.
“You been partying?” she asked, the awful sour smell of her breath curling over me.
I said yes just so I wouldn’t have to say anything else.
“I used to party,” the woman said with a lopsided grin.
Her orange lipstick seeped into the tiny wrinkles that gathered like scars around her lips. “I partied every night. And fought, too. I kept a razor blade in my beehive hair. Sometimes I kept my boyfriend’s knife there, too. The boys, they liked me real fine, you know what I mean?”
I nodded and stretched my arms.
“Every night,” she said, and broke a banana from the bag of groceries caught between her swollen and scaly bare feet. The toenails were yellow and long, and I wondered if she had climbed on the bus barefoot.
When she finished peeling the banana, she gave me half. I said, “Thank you,” and took a bite. Only then did I realize how long it had been since I had eaten. My head pounded, and I closed my right eye against the pain.
“I was a real good dancer.” She sighed with her whole body, and I was afraid that if I encouraged her, she would start telling me intimate details from her past that I didn’t want to hear. I looked at the front of the bus.
“Ay,” she groaned. “A good dancer but the wrong music.”
She kept moving her lips as if someone, visible only to her, had come up and starting arguing with her. Then I realized she was singing, her yellow plastic rose earrings flopping against the wrinkled skin on her neck.
Her eyes looked out the window, then darted back at me. “What music did you choose, eh?”
I didn’t know what to tell her.
“Never mind. I know. I know the beat.” Her feet tapped the floor, and her arms and shoulders moved with surprising grace. “Yeah, I know it, don’t I? You never forget that dance.”
She stood and pulled the line for the next stop, her body odor washing over me like dark waves and making my stomach turn. She pushed her swollen feet into worn yellow shoes that were hidden under the seat.
She smiled at me as I stood to let her out.
“Every night I partied. Every night. I was a real party girl, teasing all the boys and thinking I was so smart to make them all crazy over me.” She smiled, chunks of banana caught in the folds of her wrinkled chin. I brushed them away with my hand, the saliva and banana making my skin creep.
“You’ll see,” she said, and stepped off the bus.
The bus jerked forward, pulling away from the curb. I felt suddenly cold and alone. It was as if a dark wind from somewhere in my future had blown the old lady to me. I stood and pulled the line for the next stop.
I jumped off the bus and ran back a block, past flower shops and women selling tamales from white kettles set on cardboard boxes, to find the old lady. I had to ask her what she would have done differently.
I stood there on the corner in the smogged air, traffic creating a wind of exhaust whipping around me.
The old lady was gone.
Three little boys were riding tricycles up and down the street. I stopped one with thin arms and a T-shirt that reached to his knees. His cowboy boots were worn and scuffed.
“Where’d the old lady go?”
He stopped pedaling and looked up at me with his brown eyes.
“You know, the old lady who got off the bus, what way did she go?”
He shook his head.
A woman slammed out of the house behind me. Her metallic red hair was wrapped in pink sponge curlers, and her face was covered with beauty cream. “What do you want with my son?” she asked.
“An old lady got off the bus,” I said. “I need to talk to her. Did you see which way she went?”
“No old lady got off the bus,” she said. She stepped in front of her son, her body a barricade to shield him from me. “The bus didn’t stop here.”
“It did. Just a minute ago. She was wearing a red sundress and yellow shoes.”
“I’ve been watching the whole morning,” the woman said, and folded her fat arms across her chest. “I should know. The bus didn’t stop here.”
I started running then, trying to outrun my thoughts,
but my mind was thick with words. Party girl … razor blade … that beat … that dance … wrong music … wrong.
I ran. But how do you run away from the future?
When I got back to the neighborhood, I saw Amelia standing with Pocho. She was dressed like some tough little chola in Converse sneakers with fat laces, low-slung work pants, her midriff bare, a gold hoop pinching the skin above her navel. She was going to let Pocho own her. I had seen that look on young girls before. He lit two cigarettes in his mouth at the same time, then handed one to Amelia. She took it and breathed deeply, the ember turning red.
“She’s too young to smoke,” I said to Pocho. Then I turned to Amelia. “What are you doing out here?”
She shrugged and bit a hangnail, then sucked the blood, the cigarette ember dangerously close to her eye.
“You stupid little chavala. You want Pocho to bust up your life like he did to Ana?”
She looked up at Pocho. He glared at me.
“You should be home studying,” I said.
“Yeah, I gotta go,” Amelia said.
She ran down the street. From the back it looked like Ana running away from me.
“Leave her alone, Pocho,” I said. “I told you to leave her alone.”
“It’s her choice,” he said.
“You want her to end up like some old lady on a bus without ever living her life?”
“You’re crazy,” he said. “You know that? You’re crazy.” His hand was shaking with anger, and ashes flew off the end of his cigarette, little gray specks floating around him like moths.
“Me? You said you loved Ana, but yesterday you left Serena crying down at the field, and now you’re going after Amelia. You didn’t love Ana.”
“I loved her,” he said, and his eyes went dead, the lids closing halfway.
“Just stay away from Amelia,” I said. “Or I’ll …”
“You’ll what?” he said.
“I’ll tell everyone about your mother,” I said, and let my eyes meet his in challenge.
He stepped closer to me, and I could feel the muscles tensing inside his body, see the rapid pulse beat against the skin in his temple.
“I been with Amelia already, you bitch.”
“You pig!” I yelled, and pushed hard against his chest. “No wonder Ana didn’t love you.”
His backhanded slap spun me around. But I swung, too, and connected. Blood trickled from his nose.
That made him really angry. He pushed me away and pulled a knife, the blade long and sharp. Sunlight reflected off the blade in white spikes.
I dumped a trash can, then kicked through the trash looking for a bottle. When I didn’t find one, I dumped a second trash can. A beer bottle rolled into the street. I picked it up and hit it against the curb.
It didn’t break. In the movies bottles break easily. In real life they don’t. I swung it again as Pocho circled with his knife. He smiled and waited for me to come after him, his crystallized hate flowing out like icy breath from his lungs.
Finally the bottle broke, cutting my hand. I started after him, holding the neck of the broken bottle, my blood pattering on the sidewalk, curb, and street.
I glanced at the drops of blood and stopped, suddenly remembering Ana being carried to the ambulance. I looked up at Pocho, at the anger in his eyes. I had a choice.
“I’m not going to fight anymore, Pocho,” I said. “You want to hurt me because I know your story. You think killing me keeps your past hidden forever? You can’t hide it from yourself.”
He swiped his knife across my stomach in three quick strokes back and forth, testing me. It didn’t hurt, but I looked down and saw blood seeping into my torn Pendleton.
I dropped the bottle and stood there in the street remembering the day ten years ago when Pocho’s mother brought him over to our house. My mother had just broken up with one man and had taken up with the first in a long line of
other men. That new daddy was Pocho’s father, and his mother went half-crazy when her husband left her for my mother.
I had opened the door, and she pushed Pocho at me.