I Promise I Will Make it Up to You
Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo
who lived it as it happened
and who, locked in schizophrenia,
lives it still.
Hard. Hard now where the hand touches and the dark is thicker even than his grip around my throat. Lupe says, "Lay down, 'Steban, just lay down." Or I think I hear her say that. He unties the cord on my pajamas. Lupe is asleep. Are we leaving? I am Esteban; I am the boy. I am outside my window, out by the tree, I am kicking at the bent wheel on my bicycle, I am pinching rocks until they crumble away. The pillow is wet. Something is dripping. Lupe is asleep.
The size of the doorframe is stronger when we are alone. Mami stacks the chairs on the living room carpet while she scrubs the kitchen floor. Me and Lupe make a train. We can't go very far because the rug is torn and the chairs don't pull right. It's raining out today, but it's okay to be inside right now. What happens next. What happens then? There are holes in the plaster walls. Mami says the ants did it. Her hair is flat, pulled back tight in a grey rubber band. Red marks on her face. Lupe rolls her eyes and goes out to paint leaves on the balcony. Are we going now? Mami says quiet while she makes herself up different. Yellow lipstick over the pink. Her hair sprayed up round and stiff. When he gets here, he will put his beer next to him on the floor and tell us to take his pants off. This is the game. Maybe this is love.
What is it when he makes the water rolling hot and twists my wrist until my hand fights under it? What is it when he pulls my knees out in the bathtub and pushes my head underneath? Watching him through the fingers, the tightness. No breath. Where is Lupe?
Now we are leaving. We can go. He put strings in the jars with the kerosene and cut the chairs with his carpet knife. The wooden handle with the twisted blade. I was hiding in the toy box, hurt in the edges. He won't get Lupe, but he'll get me. The wooden handle with the twisted blade. Mami's friend drives a car onto the grass. She wears a coat over her nightgown. He's blacked out on the couch. Mami points to where he kicked in the television. The woman steps through the glass, crying. Mami's shaking her head no, no, pushing us into the car. He will find us tomorrow. The woman measures coffee and puts another rag where Mami bleeds. Lupe tells the story. The woman says don't you see what this is doing to your children? Mami tells her it's okay, they won't remember, they were asleep. He will find us tomorrow.
If I am really good, if I can stop being so bad, they will let me stay here. The nun tries to look nice to me, sitting in a tiny chair like mine. She touches my knee. You want to stay in the same school with Lupe, don't you? Maybe Lupe's upstairs right now. Maybe she can hear this, and will tell me later what really happened. These nuns are all liars, all hidden, too ugly. They should stay away. I don't say nothing. Lupe will tell them later. I could stand outside the office, and Lupe will explain. They all think she's perfect, 'cause she never gets caught.
In the basement, with Rico and Maureen. Rico hangs his clothes from the pipes, but they keep falling on the dirt floor. We pass the joint and laugh. Lupe is on the mattress, folding the corner of the skinny tapestry, smoothing it out again. She's sick of me hanging with them all the time, but I can get more cigarettes and food, faster than anyone, so they need me around. I empty my pocket on the table and Maureen goes for the candy. Lupe pretends like she's pissed at me, but she takes a pack of smokes. We can stay here all night, if we want to. Mama doesn't care.
I don't remember his name. What's his name? He's a teenager, bigger than us, he's a friend of Rico's brother Mike. He's got a motorcycle. What's his name? Him and Mike take me and Rico out to the fields behind the park late at night. We smoke and drop some acid. Rico gets up on the bike and starts acting like he's going somewhere. I get in the way, jumping around like I'm out of control and he better not smash into me. I jerk at the handlebars, and the helmet falls to the ground. The guy says, "I hope you didn't lose what was in that helmet." We stop. I put my hand inside. Nothing. Me and Rico are freaking out, down in the weeds with matches looking for what fell out.
Mike and the other guy say they'll be right back. We burn our fingers and keep forgetting where we looked and where we haven't. Mike and the other guy come back after a long time. Mike says, what the hell are you guys doing? We tell him we're trying to find the fucking keys or drugs or whatever we lost. The other guy laughs, "Ah man, there was nothing in that helmet."
I don't care about any of this shit. I could be older, or different, and it still wouldn't matter. What's there to talk about? Rico's cool, he never asks questions. We just trip and walk around a lot at night. He's all hot for Lupe. What an asshole. We play these games where Lupe is like the maid or something, and Rico and me take turns getting on top of her. She won't let us take our clothes off, but she'll spread her legs real wide. Fucking sister, man. I turned her on to the books. You have to be totally careful, you know, to put everything back exactly where you got it. She gets up on their bed, checking out the magazines and polaroids. She freaked on the ones of Mom, but I told her that just proves it, right -- it makes her a fucking whore. You just gotta put everything back where you find it. Exactly. Lupe laughs at me and says, talking like some fucking schoolteacher, she says, "Our mother is not that intelligent." No shit, man. No fucking shit. Let them even try to fuck with me now. I'll just let him do it. Because one of these days I'm gonna be bigger than him, and he's gonna be old, and I'll kick his fucking ass. You don't believe me? You just wait, Lupe, man, you just wait.
Fucking drunk all the time, anyway. Mom puts grapefruit juice in it, like we're not gonna know the difference. She's got this little poodle now, like anyone needs a poodle, and it fucking yaps at me every time I come into the room. As soon as she leaves, I chase it up the stairs and corner it under their bed. Fuck you. She still thinks she can use him to control me. I don't even feel it, man. When they dragged my ass home from the station, I wasn't even in the car. Not really. He sliced out a piece of the lawn hose and used it on me. Said, you won't forget this, you little motherfucker. Nah, man, I won't forget. The next time, he chops off my hair with the pruning shears. I just laughed. Took fifty bucks off his dresser. I'll do what I want. Let him catch me. I don't feel it anyway, and eventually I'll be bigger. Count on it.
Walking on the hill with the homeboys. Standing under the streetlight, playing the dozens. This skinny dude's a snaggle-toothed jive-ass knickerbocker-necked motherfucker. His car is a 1919 get-out-and-push. Everybody's basin' is as old as the hills on my grandmama's chest. Slappin' hands. Stalkin'. Talkin' 'bout Yvonne's big tits. You can't tell me shit. I'm a little dude, and I ain't black, but I got a cleaner cut of crystal than any motherfucker on this street.
Now when it's time to go, I don't even blink. She gets me up from bed, and I just go for the car. If the police come, I don't say shit. Let him break her fucking arms. When he put her through the sliding glass door, I wouldn't even look at her. At the motels, I just smoke some dope and watch the 'toons. Like she can really make me go to school. Where's she gonna make me go? After six of them, even the continuation won't take me. I tell her, someday I'm gonna kill that motherfucker. She says it takes two to tango, and that she always instigates it, that's why he beats her.
What about me, man? What about when I was fucking five years old? What about what he used to do to me? She waves her hand in the air, says, I don't remember any of that. You probably dreamed it. He wouldn't do that. He's been nothing but good to you kids.
My sister said this is bullshit, man. She bailed. In her room, like she's doing laundry, stuffing her suitcase into a wad of sheets. Out the back door, only she just leaves the sheets in the garage and runs around the house to her friend's car. She tried to take me with her, but I said, you go Lupe, man, you're better than me. You got places to go. She touches my cheek, my hair. Says, I promise I will make it up to you. Fucking schoolteacher. With all her men, her fucking little friends. Like I'm stupid. Like I really want to be around a bunch of people who think I'm crazy. I don't need touches, and I don't need words. They believe everything she says. She can talk to anybody. Mami says, she's only fourteen, she'll be back. It's like two or five years later, and nobody's fucking seen my sister.
If I was gonna dream, it'd be something better than this. What's the difference, anyway? It's not even like it matters. I could be anywhere I want to. You just look out the window. Count the threads in the rug. Go inside, and leave them here to think they're dealing with you. And all the time, you're hanging with these dudes who are talking up some kind of magic. Whispering. Lay down, 'Steban, just lay down. Go to sleep.
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"I Promise I Will Make It Up to You" © 1990, 1995 by Canéla A. Jaramillo. This story first appeared in Black Ice, Spring 1990, ed. Ron Sukenick. Reprinted by permission of the author. Original Photo © 2002 by Canéla A. Jaramillo