By Randy William Santiago
The sun rose slower every morning leaving the city beneath her darker longer. She watched night rise from its sleep as the darkness faded and the streetlamps lost their glow. For a while, people looked like shadows, eventually taking form and scraping their heavy feet to the tune of North Avenue’s traffic. From her window, they looked like people, yet somehow still escaped her. Their likeness scattering beneath the growing light like cockroaches. Greedy motherfuckers, she thought, Walking like they own the street.
Hers was the 5th floor apartment on the corner of North and Pulaski. Latino senior home. Alone with a TV, 2-person dinner table, smartphone she ain’t understand and 400 sq. ft. Spent most days that way, alone, watching the world through a window. A year and some change now since Richie passed, longer since they shared a cold one. Some mornings, she swears he appears at the crossroads of North and Pulaski, struggling to push his wheelchair across before the lights change. But then he too disappears behind the traffic. Sometimes visitors come but usually just Lucy, her daughter, popping by to drop off SSI checks or to clean. Doesn’t ever say much, never calls to see how she’s doing or if she needs anything or to grab a bite somewhere outside her dusty apartment. Always clean yet forever dusty. Hard to breathe in here, she often says, but Lucy doesn't budge. Just open a window, Mami. Complaining won’t change nothing. She never opened them though, simply sat and gazed at the tiny bodies as they claimed the streets and sidewalks and crosswalks and manholes and sewage tracts. Even the shit she didn’t want, she couldn’t have. When it all became too much, she unlocked her phone and attempted to dial Lucy’s number or Ruben’s or Alex’s, but couldn’t figure out where the phonebook was. Stupid phone doesn’t work, she said when Ruben and Alex finally visited. A year and some change since she saw Alex. His long curls, combed backward to hug his scalp, reminded her of Richie. How long you been here? she asked, clasping his hand and kissing it frequently. A few months. Hmm, she grumbled before slapping his chest, releasing his hand. He didn’t say anything, grabbed her phone and showed her how to dial numbers and send texts. I don’t know how to work that damn thing, she said, holding the phone at a distance. Ruben laughed from the kitchen. It’s not that hard, he said. I don’t mess with that touch-touch shit. Where are the buttons?
Why you always so angry? ‘cause that phone don’t work. Abuela, I’m showing you how to use it, Alex said. Don’t, she said, Just leave it how it was and don’t mess it up.
I’m not, if you just let me show you – Just leave it. She grabbed the phone and shut it off. How’s your girlfriend? What’s her name, the Indian one? Haspira. How is she? We ain’t together no more, he stared out the window at the brown and yellow brick buildings that made the neighborhood. What happened?
It ain’t work out. Ay, you kids are all gigolos, she said, remembering how Richie left her for Janet, all those years ago. How he disappeared one day, came back with a wife the next. How he begged forgiveness when Janet died. How she regrets accepting his tears. The communication ain’t work, Alex said.
Communication. Nobody’s good at communicating. Some people are. Look at your mother, don’t know how to talk to nobody, she said. Just walks in, cleans, gives me my check and pa’fuera she goes. Just comes and goes but don’t stay. Nunca, nunca se queda. That’s Ma, Ruben said. Does she come often? Alex asked from the couch beside Abuela. He was texting as she spoke. Only when I call, she said to the window, thinking it was the same as addressing them directly. They’d catch as many words this way as they would otherwise and at least the people below looked like they were reacting to her. Nobody calls me. I’ll call more, Alex said. She continued talking to the window. Your Titi don’t call me no more, your mother neither. This one never brings the babies around, she said, gesturing to Ruben. I’m here every day, but no one calls or drops by. Everyone’s working or traveling or busy being gigolos. You could ask to see the kids and I’d bring ‘em, Ruben said. Lips pursed, she swatted at the dusty air. Have you talked to your mother? You know Ma don’t like us, Ruben said. She doesn’t have to like you. She’s your mother. She don’t have to not like us though, Ruben said from the couch. He was sitting near Alex, who was texting still. You think your mother don’t like you? Forget about it! My mother hated me.
Why’d she hate you? Ruben asked from the edge of the couch. I did everything backwards, la hija mala. Caught me drinking beer on the street once and called the cops. I was in New York. Eighteen and she ratted on me, called me a whore, she said. Fucked up. I lost my first kid the day she caught me. Six weeks old. Alex and Ruben watched her pruned face tighten. Mourning when I had that beer, but mami kicked me in the ass, so I kicked her right back! I called my father and I says, the real whore is your wife, snuggled up with someone else on your couch cuando tu estas en la isla. She was cheating? Alex asked. Yup, and I ratted her ass. I ratted her and she sent me to Chicago. That’s when I met Richie, but he kicked me in the ass too. Black sheep? Pftt, I’m the blackest. La oveja negra, that’s me. Alex was texting again. Put that phone down, she said, Can tap tap tap, but don’t know how to call. I said I’d call more. Nobody calls. I’m the black sheep, nobody calls me. I call them, they don’t call me. Mami no me llamó, I called her until she died. Till the day she died, I called her. She lost her memory years ago though, Ruben said. You can’t blame her.
I don’t forget, she said. Five kids but she only called four. Did I not exist? You know you do, Abuela, don’t let that get to you, Alex said. Five kids. Was I born out the ass? Alex and Ruben sat quietly. Were they born out the pussy and me out the ass? I guess that’s why I do shit backwards. Born out the ass. You’ve never mentioned this before, Ruben said. Nobody cares. Who am I gonna tell? Us. No, that’s past. Did you tell Richie? Fuck that low-life. He looked out for you. He kicked me in the ass more than anybody. It ain’t healthy keeping it bottled up, Alex said, especially with Richie gone now. Fuck him, Mami and everybody else, she said swatting the dust again. It’s me, myself and I. Punto, she strung the sentence together with a pinched thumb and pointer finger. Who helped Richie when he was here? Me! That’s who. He looked out for you, too, Ruben said.
You’s don’t know your mouth from your ass.
I guess not, Ruben said. I gotta get Kimmy from school. I’ll call you for lunch next week, Alex said.
Abuela watched them enter the elevator from her door. Walked over to the window, sat and watched Ruben’s car merge with the buildings in the falling light as it dissipated into North Avenue. Streetlamps weren’t on yet, but soon they would be and people would become shadows again.
Gotta get this lowlife some light before he panics, she thought. Got up from her chair, walked to the kitchen and grabbed a tall, white candle from the cabinet beside the sink. Jesus Cristo. Lit the candle and placed it beside a photo of Richie on the coffee table. Jesus’s torso bled into the flame. Richie stood on a cane, smiling through a thick mustache. I’m sick of looking at you, Abuela said.
She considered blowing out the candle, but sat beside the window and watched the traffic instead as the sun fell and shadows overtook the world below. Consumed the night. Every day, same ol’ song and dance, she said to herself, this way then that way, nobody goes anywhere. Every day, same shit. She got up for her room, switched off the lights and watched as Richie’s shadow consumed the apartment.