I’m sitting at a small rickety table by the window of this nondescript cafe, its only sign a half-shattered plastic square that reads “Breakfast.” No name, just what it serves. What I serve. Remarkably, Angel manages to keep this place open. I don’t know why he picked this location, this dingy block of downtown Long Beach , so empty of hope the only life on the sidewalks are the alcoholics ditching into the Algiers Bar across the street. I’m on my break, trying to read a moldy paperback copy of The Stranger, drinking coffee I’ve laced with whiskey from the flask I keep in my apron pocket. The awning of the bar reflects the sun in glaring hot swaths across the asphalt. I lift my cup to drink and in she walks, predictable as the heat of the California sun.
My father closes the refrigerator door and takes seven steps, so I know he is halfway through the dining room when he lets out one of those long-winded farts to beat the band. The shuffling sound of socks on tired linoleum tells me he is doing the victory dance he always does when he thinks he has outdone himself.
My friend Debbie mouths, “Yuck, gross.” She knows better than to make a sound.
Luz blessed the day her neighbor, Don Chuy rolled-over his milk truck. Nobody would ask for an accident like that, but now, years later, she knew Don Chuy blessed the day too. It was the day he was miraculously spared from the jaws of death, the day the Virgin spoke to him.
As soon as the bus driver pulls the door shut, I drop into an empty seat, pressing my head against the glass, closing my eyes so I can’t see the girls waving their arms out the windows, muffling my ears so I can’t hear the boys chewing gum. Mrs. Harden and Shanna are standing in the aisle, delivering their speech about good behavior but I’m thinking about bad behavior, about Shanna’s body, which I can see even though my eyes are closed.
It’s very hot here. Hotter than I’ve ever liked. Even when I was a kid. Growing up, summer was only good for me because school was out. Swimming’s okay but I don’t go crazy for it. I like camping to get out into the woods where it’s a little bit cool, ‘cause those nights when you can’t sleep for being all sticky sweaty, that’s not for me.
What I especially don’t appreciate is being able to see the heat.
There was nothing wrong with where we lived, except that the neighborhood was radioactive and the house was pitched at a sharp angle. When I was in high school and obsessed with my body, I used to lay my dumbbells on the floor, and they’d roll to the wall of their own accord.
You and Peggy don’t agree on many things, but the communication strategy for this whole mess might just be the worst of it. Waiting for the gray of dawn to fall into your bedroom you are having tough time with all of it. And you want to cry, cry like a baby without having to pretend everything will work out. But you cannot risk Damian hearing you.
The Glock has one bullet in the chamber and fifteen in the magazine. Roy’s got it cocked and ready. He bets me twenty bucks he can fire all sixteen while the target’s coming at him, but that’s not all. He says: “I’ll alternate – head shot, body shot, head shot, body shot, squeeze out all sixteen, and make fourteen, before the target’s five yards out.”
The phone calls start. Her mother has taken Evie’s words to heart and calls at least ten times a day. Evie can let the machine pick up at home, but at work, she has to answer. Sometimes, she puts her mother on hold for half an hour at a time, hoping the theme from The Nutcracker playing over and over again will drive her to hang up. No such luck.
Today must be the day. It’s icy out. February. No berries of any kind to be plucked for waffles. Elroy has his boots on, but still. I know how slick that ice can be. I know how you can be walking steadily and carefully one second, and the next you’re sucked to the ground. I have a vision of falling. Of Elroy’s blood seeping onto the ice for some animal, or worse, a child to find.