Chapter OneNot that many years ago I would go to a house in the neighborhood, not always someone's I knew, one I'd never been inside of, where I'd only have to maybe hop a fence, nothing complicated, and from the backyard I'd crawl through an open window. People always latch the ones in the front but never in the back, and especially not the bathroom one, you know, and it wasn't so small I couldn't get in quick. I could've stole lots of shit in those houses, except that's not what I was going in there for. I wasn't like that. Maybe I don't know exactly what I was doing except I was doing it. I never took nothing, nothing much if I did, because I didn't want to. I was more watching how the people lived, imagining how it would be in their house. I stared at the framed pictures they had of their family. Husbands in suits and wives with necklaces and old grandparents from the other times way before. Unsmiling dudes, glaring at you, in tilted military hats and coats with medals and ribbons. Full-body shots of happy daughters in white veils and lacy crunchy wedding dresses that poured all over into the bottom of the picture. Shocked little babies on blue backgrounds squinting like What's going on here, what's all this light shit? Dopey-dumb I'm-so-proud high schoolers graduating and making a face like they were department store managers. If I felt like it, if I had the mood, I sprawled out on their couches or lay down on their beds. Go, How would I be if I lived here? I'd let that come into me, I'd let my mind go to the show it liked. Maybe you could say I would go off to my own world. To me it wasn't mine, nothing like mine, because it would go to black. I loved that color. It was like when the eyes aren't open but try to see. What would finally come were colors and lines busting through, flying out and off and cutting in, crazy fires and sparks, and it'd come out speeding, and I'd be like a doggie out the window, those lane dividers whiffing by on the freeway straight below an open car window. I'd start to see shapes floating and straightening and wiggling and see it like it was a music that didn't make sound but was making a story. Not a regular story and I don't mean one you would hear some loco nut tell you, one that didn't have nothing to do with people or places you've ever seen. It's that I can't describe it better. Just, I have to watch, I have to listen. It was always good too. Say like when you hear music and it gets inside your brain and goes and goes, sticking there. And so I guess it got in mine like that. I listened and watched until I stopped getting too stupid because, you know, I had to leave and get out of there fast. And once I got up, shook it off and remembered where I really was, even if I opened their refrigerator, when I looked inside, wasn't like I didn't think of eating or drinking, I didn't take even a soda, thirsty as I might have been. I didn't want them to know I'd been there. Though I kind of opened the fridge door because maybe I do think of-well, like orange juice. It's that I like orange juice. So maybe when there was some orange juice I might have taken a gulp or two. But see, even then, nobody'd really know. One time I was in this one house, and I was looking inside a drawer in this girl's bedroom. I knew about her because she was this dude's older sister, and she was in junior college. It was that there were a bunch of bras, and I picked them up and looked at them, touched them because I was holding them. Wasn't like I never seen my mom's and my sister's, it wasn't like I didn't know the difference. And it was the only time there was something like that, swear, and I did stop and yeah I still got jumpy about it and felt like it was fucked up, real bad of me and afterward I only snuck into one more house. Like I said, I didn't know what I was doing it for, and it wasn't like I liked doing it.
I heard this shit because she was on the phone and I listened to her. It was her sound, a white ripply line right into the black. Not above. Black was everywhere and the white came from the front, above, maybe below. I don't know. I think it was Nely she was talking to, probably. That was who she talked to. That's who I thought. My mom was going like What can he do? and So what he screamed. Listen to me, she said. No, listen to me. No, listen, listen. And I listened to what I could. I saw the white ribbon curling and swirling. Men. She kind of laughed. He will never know, she said. Ay, ay, no! She laughed. She said, He is a man, and I didn't ask for that. She was laughing but not laughing happy and I'm listening and I'm like going to that somewhere else inside my head, all by myself.
I got worried I was getting sent to juvie when I did have to go to the court because of nothing, for so much less. That was this time when the police scraped the tires of their black-and-white against the curb ahead of me. I was walking by myself. At first I didn't believe it was about me, but that policeman kept wanting to know what I was doing. I was not wanting to say. Okay, maybe, even really I was scared like anybody and I didn't want to show it but probably I did. How was I supposed to answer because what'd I do? I was just walking, you know? Maybe a couple days earlier I pocketed a chocolate bar and I folded a baby comic book down my pants. It wasn't like the first time I did that, and when I did get caught this one and only time, when a drugstore man yelled something, I ran, and I never made it back to that store again and that was the worst of it and that already was back then, and no way anyone could still care or remember. So the passenger policeman who came up to me first, he goes, So what're you doing? and I'm like, Walking on the street, mister, which is when the driver policeman comes around to stand next to his partner, and he frowns at me too, like I'm stinky. Until a second or so later, he gets this expression on his face. His eyes go a little up to the sky, and his body gets kind of stiff, and he blows this fat old pedo. And so, like anybody would, I laughed. I did because it was funny, right? And so yeah I'm all guilty of laughing. But that's when they both get all blowed up mad-I'm disrespectful, and I got attitude, and who did I think I am? They got so close into my face I thought they were gonna kick the crap outta me. And so that's why I had to go to the juvie court, to hear a commercial about disrespecting the police and authority and to hear about all the potential trouble I was going to be in if I didn't go right and goodboy, straighten out and care about school and my education and get good grades. My mom had to be there with me too. She had to take off from work and listen and act like she was all worked up about me too, which she wasn't, I knew it, because I heard her talking all the time on the phone about what she was up with, but the lady judge wasn't going to notice nothing. Once I told my mom how the police dude threw a fart, she cracked up just like me, because it was funny, right? But I knew not to say nothing to a judge about what really happened. I'm not stupid. That judge, she wouldn't have laughed, and then I don't think my mom would've laughed no more, and she never laughed as much as me. She was tired, and she didn't like to waste time because she was already way too busy.
It was that my mom, if she wasn't at her job, was out on dates and whatever. And sometimes she'd get in so late I wouldn't be awake. That was better for me than when she was home, because when she was home, though I lived there and slept there, it was better to be inside a neighbor's house than pissing her off. She could get all mad and complaining about me and go how I messed up this and that and she could yell at me how she couldn't afford a maid to clean up after me, though once in a while a lady named Marta, a sister of a friend, would come to pick up the house and scrub the floors and wash windows and dishes and vacuum even under the torn couch cushions. That Marta thought I was all right because I made my own dinner and lunch and did my shit without nobody. She told me whenever she came too. That didn't mean much to me except when I was getting yelled at and I knew it really wasn't about none of what the yelling was about. Probably my mom's screaming at me was that it used to be my sister, Ceci, she could yell at. Then it got to be me. I didn't ever believe it was because I was a man or made bigger messes, like she said. My mom used to fight loud with my sister. She would get so she'd go after Ceci with belts or wooden hangers or whatever was near. One time it was a soda bottle. I remember that time good. I was eating banana after banana during the fight and my mom turned on me for one second too-maybe why was I eating all the bananas the minute she bought them-and my sister screamed right back so much it jumped back over to them and they called each other out, like they would go at it for real. Sometimes both of them would cry for a while during and after, though mostly it was my sister, once she got old enough, and meaner, until she finally stopped being at home much. Ceci wasn't talking to me very much then either. Then they were both gone mostly. It was just, without my sister there, I was starting to have the whole house, like it was mine. I never got hit or yelled at like Ceci. My mom would be around for maybe an hour or two, and she'd either change clothes and leave or be so tired she went into her bedroom and went to sleep.
This one night I was watching the TV. I already ate a cheese enchilada frozen dinner, which was crap, and the fried chicken, which I loved but my mom said cost too much. My dog, who I named Goofy because of her floppy black ears even though she was a girl dog, was with me on the couch after she licked the tin containers all clean, dragging them all around with her tongue, then scratching and biting at her pulgas back near my lap, when all the sudden she heard something and she was digging her claws against my legs because she was on it before a human ear could, running so fast she was barely able to make a corner turn to the straight-ahead for the front door, barking all excited like it was somebody she hadn't seen all day. I didn't hear nothing, probably because I had that TV on and nobody ever knocked on the door unless it was a Mormon or Jehovah or one of those ex-tecatos who love Jesus like their heroin, and I learned to stop opening the door for any of them. Usually I wouldn't even look if I did hear but because Goofy's barking so crazy I go, and before I even get near the door I could feel the pounding on it through the floor and I heard some man yelling at it loud and he's beating on it, so hard that it's shaking and rattling. I ain't going to answer but he keeps hitting on the door so much I can't help myself, the words pop out of me that my mom's not here. It was that he was screaming about her. He was screaming like You bitch, open the fucking door right now, you goddamn thief, you slut, you bitch, open this door, Silvia, right now, or I'll fucking bust it in.
I was standing there not sure what to say or do next, Goofy all barking and wagging like it was something fun.
"Open the door," he says. "Open the fucking door."
And without thinking first, now I'm talking too. I'm saying no. I'm saying that my mom's not home. I go reach over and check that it's still locked, and I hook the chain thing, backing away from it as quickly as I got close.
"Open the door," he says. He was beating on it so that the door was wanting to give in. "Open it!" I felt like the whole house was shaking.
Finally I can think for a second. It was hard because Goofy was going all crazy. "She's not home!" I shouted. I can think finally, and what I'm thinking is that I know who it is. I'm thinking it's the man I heard her talking on the phone about. That once he'd shot a man. That he got drunk a lot. This man's voice sounded drunk.
"You open the door," he says, "or do you want me to bust it in?"
I swear he was slugging the door with his fist, and there was like a crackling wood sound.
"Do you hear me, kid? Do you fucking hear me?"
I'm whispering to Goofy to stop barking, Come on, Goof, trying to make her calm, but she's on automatic. It got like she was barking at another dog and wanting to bite.
"Where is the bitch? You tell that fucking mother of yours to open the door or I'm busting it in right now! You hear me?"
I ran to the kitchen. I had to open a bunch of drawers because my mom never put things in the same ones or maybe I didn't because I didn't know which drawer either. I found that big knife. It was as long as my wrist, a wood handle. As soon as I grip it in my hand, I don't feel as scared. I didn't care if he carried a gun. He comes in, I cut the dude. Goofy was still wailing at the door and he was still hitting on it and saying shit but it seemed quieter to me. I walked back a little slow, and I didn't go near the door but to one side of it. I held the big knife in my hand and I'm gripping it so hard I didn't feel like it was a knife but me.
The man started kicking the door. Then he was throwing his body against it, and you could hear wood cracking. I'm just standing there and I didn't hear Goofy no more, if she was even barking. When the door blasts, splintering the side it opened on, it swung so hard and wild that Goofy didn't move away and she made a loud crying yelp, getting thrown against the wall, crushed between it and the door. The man was standing outside on the front porch and breathing fast. He rolled up the sleeves of his white business shirt and tucked it into his black slacks and there was some tattoo on his right forearm muscle and he had on a slippery tie loose around an unbuttoned collar and he was big. His face all purple. Real quick Goofy went back to her barking again and the man couldn't figure out which of us to look at first until I see him see my knife. His eyes were slits but I could feel heat and breathing out of them too and I was standing there maybe ten feet away, one hand with the big knife loaded in it, the other hand clenched and a little up, looking ready to jab in a left-right combination.
"Watch yourself now, kid," he says, stepping inside toward me.
I stepped back, though not like I was backing off.
"You have to put that down right now," he says to me. "You just drop it, okay kid?"
I didn't say nothing. I stepped back once more, keeping the same distance between us. He stepped toward me again and I backed up once more, thinking where a knife should go....
Then he went at me. He was so fast he took me down even before I saw him come and his hand locked my hand with the knife in it to the floor. He pushed the air out of me because his body on me was so heavy I couldn't breathe. Goofy was growling and biting him and I was trying to at least kick his nuts but I didn't do a thing to him and when I made him roll a little, it made the knife dig into my own stomach.
He got me onto my back and pinned me, both my hands pressed to the floor, his knees into my chest, hurting my ribs, the knife not cutting me or him.
"Stop," he says, too close to my face. "You gonna stop?" Goofy was back to biting him and that was when he let go of me, ripping the knife away from me as he stood up. Goofy kept going for his leg until his hard black shoe lifted her jaw and head when he kicked her there really hard, and she whimpered, hurt. I got up once he got off me, and I was crying, and I saw how I was bleeding at my stomach. It didn't hurt or nothing yet. He was standing there watching me for what might not have been such a long time, and then he just turned around and took off out the broken front door.
And so all the time it seemed like I was hearing her on the phone when I didn't want to. I probably wanted to know, but I didn't want to hear. Wondered who it was when I heard her going, Whatever I have to do, or, No, I won't, no. The phone was nothing good. It was like waiting on a school bell, jumping at how loud and always expecting. When I can't not listen in on her, I want to smash that quiet between. When it was her voice I was following, when there was silence it meant that some shit would hit. So I tried to never listen. I made it go black inside my head, and then words, when she'd make them, were these shapes that wormed around, spraying light that would disappear into a hole that was bigger than any room I been in.