Manny slammed the front door. He ran down the rusted iron stairs with the fourteen dollars his father had paid him to be silent. He wiped the water from his cheeks and stared at the front gate. The apartment complex was two stories, a bland peach color, with blue letters that read Havenhurst Estates. Everything needed a new paint job, and some grass, and some pipes that made it so it didn’t take five minutes to feel some warm water. Manny spit at the whole complex. His spit, was feeble. It landed a few feet from his shoes leaving a small dot on the concrete.
* * *
“Why you lookin’ all sad homeboy? Here,” uncle Pepe said as he handed Manny a knife. It dangled between them for a few seconds. Manny looked up slowly taking in his uncle’s outfit: brown snake skin boots, faded bell bottom blue jeans, and a tucked in collared shirt with big red, blue, and yellow leaf prints on it.
“Really!?!!” Manny said. Face like a Garbage Pail kid, round as the moon, with a smile that pushed up against his squinted eyes. His coffee bean skin had become red at the cheeks from the excitement.
“Yeah, man. Here, take it. But you gotta promise me to look after you cousin.”
Manny grabbed the knife and slowly rubbed over the fake wood grain. He placed it flat in his hand. It extended a couple of inches past his fingers. Its weight was light as he held it, but heavy in his guts. The edges of the blade were dull, and some rust was present at the base, but the tip felt dangerous. Manny sunk the blade back into the bolster lining, an eroded fake gold trim. Then he quickly hit the small button under the gold. The click shot through Manny’s mind. He thought of his father.
“Por que chingados le estas dando eso,” said Coco.
“Relajate hermanita. He’s a boy,” Pepe said.
“Y!” She said. Coco was on the other side of the counter Pepe had sat at. Her short crop of auburn hair outlined her annoyed expression. She was cooking chiles rellenos and moved through the small kitchen space with the ease and grace of a gazelle. The aroma of the fresh green pepper rose into Manny’s nose, as it settled into the blanket of egg yolk and breadcrumbs sizzling in grease.
Pepe just laughed, tapped Manny on the shoulder, and gave him a head nod that told him to go on. Manny slipped the navaja in his back pocket and ran out. He heard his aunt say, “Manny, le voy a decir a tu mama…”
As Manny went down the steps, he looked at the pastel blue-green doors and counted, one-two-three. He called to his cousin, “Ricky! Hey Ricky!”
Below, Ricky was swinging a white plastic ninja sword. He was cutting up invisible enemies from a rival clan. When Manny’s blue Asics hit the dirt, Ricky said, “What!?!!” His eyes wide, moving up and down.
“Look,” Manny brushed the black strands from his forehead and pulled the knife from his pocket, hitting the button to expose the blade. The dull steel was framed by his white shirt and red sleeves.
“Oooh! Who gave you that!”
“No he didn’t. Did you steal it? I’m gunna tell.” Ricky began to stomp his way up the railing and granite steps. To Manny, he looked like a stick figure drawn in brown crayon with a head of black broccoli.
“See that’s why I didn’t even wanna show you. You blab like your sisters,” Manny said.
Ricky turned around, held his plastic sword near his jean shorts that were cut just above the knee and said, “No I don’t.” His two front bucked teeth sticking out like a rabbit.
“Then why you trying to tell on me for? Be cool man. Look, we can share it. One day I’ll have it. The next day you’ll have it.”
“You promise?” Ricky said as he walked back to his cousin.
“I promise,” the blade between them like a door to another world.
“Can I hold it?” Ricky asked.
“Yeah, but don’t start acting stupid.”
Ricky immediately slashed at the air, cutting up enemies like he had with his plastic sword. This time he slashed with plastic in one hand, and jabbed the steel with the other. His globular nine year old head moved around the barren center of the complex like a rubber ball bouncing on concrete. The building was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday afternoon. Manny shook his head.
“Alright, give it back. I don’t want Uncle Pepe to come out here and see you acting crazy.”
Ricky reluctantly handed the knife back to Manny. He folded the blade in and put it in his back pocket. Then he said, “So what do you wanna do? Your mom said we only have thirty minutes before we have to go back inside.” That was a lie. Manny wanted to get upstairs, because before Uncle Pepe gave him the knife, he promised to take them to the store to buy candy.
“Wanna ride our bikes around the block?” Ricky said.
“I don’t feel like walking over to my apartment,” Manny replied.
“Dummy, it’s the next building. It’s not even far.”
“Well, both of my tires are flat, so it doesn’t matter.”
What Manny actually meant was that there was a lady in the apartment who wasn’t his mom. The one with the big nose, long pink finger nails, and poofy brown hair that looked like it swallowed half a canister of an Aqua Net. She always showed up on the weekend when his mom would work the morning shift at the 99Cents store.
This morning, after the nameless woman showed up, Manny hung around for a while. She wore skin tight purple Levis, and a white blouse tied up over her stomach. Her L.A. Gear tennies were worn down, full of folds and cracks, grey in places even. Yet, she had three brand new sparkly laces in them. She got on her tippy-toes when she went to hug Manny’s father. manny didn’t really understand the ugly simplicity of it: she was younger, more shapely, and prettier than his mom. That’s it.
Her voice was high pitched, resonant, and comfortable inside their small apartment. “Can we go to IHop,” she asked. Her face wide and full of excitement. Manny’s father Jamie, had saliva caked at the corners of his smile. He said, “Gwait Heyur” in his broken English.
The woman sat down on their black couch: floral print, with the plastic still thick and firm over it. Her stomach wedged out from under her blouse, and rolled over her jeans, as her boxy ass balanced on the edge of the couch cushions.
Jamie emerged, walked past his son in the hallway, holding a thin 14 carat gold necklace from his leathered redbrown hand. The small cubic zirconia failed to shine as he brought it closer to the woman’s eye. Her nude colored lips curved up, but she stayed calm. “Ju like it”, Jamie asked.
She wrapped her fleshy arms around his shoulders and said, “Si, Me Amor.” Her beat up Spanish shanked at Manny’s ear drums.
When Jamie finally looked over at his son, he removed the stupid elation from his face and slowly walked over to him as the woman went to the bathroom. Manny looked up at his father puzzled and disgusted. Jamie lightly slapped him in the face and said, “Toma”. He pulled some crumpled up singles from his dirty blue jeans. Manny’s dad always gave him a couple of dollars and told him to go to his tia Coco’s apartment for a little while when this woman came over.
Manny said, “I don’t want to go apa.”
Jamie stayed quiet, and pulled out a ten dollar bill that he snapped in front of Manny’s sullen dark eyes. He grabbed Manny’s hand and placed the money firmly inside of his small palm. Jamie said, “Ya, vete.”
“Who is she apa?” Manny said.
“Uh friend of jore mams,” Jamie said.
Manny turned from his father’s black eyes and crooked nose, and went to his room. He looked at his unmade bed and punched his pillow. Before he exited, he glanced at an empty plate covered in a thin layer of syrup. The plate was near the edge of the wood frame of his bed. Manny kicked it hard against his dresser. The sound was loud. It rang out beyond his room, but the plate did not break.
Manny ran out the room, and startled his father and the woman. Her pants were open at the waist. Manny could see her white cotton panites. He felt a bit of arousal. Her face went red and eyes stared at the carpet. But when Manny’s father said, “Que chingados estas haciendo en ese…” holding a beer in the hand he had over the woman’s shoulder, Manny took off through the front door. He made sure he slammed it.
When he got to his Tia Coco’s she looked towards Manny’s apartment, gave Manny a huge, and called the woman a puta.
Now here Manny was staring at his cousin with an invisible wall between them. They stood silent for a while, moving dirt and rocks with their shoes. They could hear a few families on the bottom floor active in their tiny apartments. Manny who also had jean shorts cut just above the knee like Ricky, shoved his twig-like fingers into his front pockets. Ricky fiddled with his plastic sword spouting off incoherent ramblings about Skeletor and the Castle of Greyskull.
“Hey, come on. Let’s go see if anyone one is at the pool,” Manny said. “And leave your sword here.”
“No. Someone will steal it,” Ricky said with confused black-brown eyes.
“Man, no one wants to steal your stupid sword. Here give it to me. We’ll stick it on this tree.” Manny reached for it, but Ricky pulled it away.
“I don’t want to. My dad just bought me this one after you broke my old one.”
“That was an accident, plus you look like a stupid little kid walking around with it.” Manny saw Ricky’s eyes begin to tear up. “Alright. Never mind. Just don’t start crying.”
He watched Ricky’s head fall towards his chest. Ricky wiped a couple of tears with the collar of his Famous Amos shirt, and dragged the sword across the ground.
Manny put his arm over his cousin’s shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, holmes. You’re not a little kid and you’re not stupid. It’s just we won’t scare anyone if you’re holding a toy. Also the hynas won’t want to talk to us.”
Manny was trying to mimic how his older cousins spoke. His fascination with fighting and interest in girls was almost as sudden as the first appearance of the poofy-haired woman in his apartment a while back. Ricky was still only concerned with Transformer cartoons and playing with his G.I. Joes. Ricky slid his sword into the belt hole on the left side of his hip and picked his head up.
Once they reached the pool they saw only a couple of families in the water. They put their hands on the warm brass bars and stared for a little bit. Then they heard a familiar voice.
“What are you two chavalas doing?”
It was Izidor, a fat, dark as burnt toast kid from Manny’s complex. Izidor was on his way to to the same middle school as Manny when the summer was over. He spent the past weeks trying to build his rep by punking younger kids in the three buildings on the block. In the humid Valley heat he looked like a melting Hershey’s kiss wrapped in an orange striped shirt and grey jeans. He had his younger, witless pseudo-goons Felix and Andy with him.
“Nothing,” replied Manny looking at Izidor in the eyes. He nudged Ricky on the arm and they began to walk back towards Ricky’s apartment.
“Where you guys going?” Izidor said. He, Felix and Andy followed.
“None of your business,” replied Manny.
“Hey, lemme see your sword.” Izidor pointed to it with a finger that looked like a roll of nickels.
“No,” Ricky said.
“Cause I don’t want you to.”
“He’s scared you’ll take it from him,” Felix said. The three began to chuckle.
“No I’m not,” Ricky said holding the sword with both hands like he was about to pull it from the belt hole and slice Izidor across his chest.
“Then let me see it.” Izidor reached for the sword.
“Aye, he told you no, fool,” Manny said aggressively stepping into Izidor’s path. It made Felix and Andy stop laughing and look at Izidor for instructions.
“Who you trying to get crazy with, holmes? I’ll kick your ass and take his stupid sword.”
Felix added, “Look Izidor, I think he’s gonna cry,” pointing at Ricky.
“He’s always crying. What a lloron. He was crying in the pool last week. Too scared to jump in. My dad says he’s gonna be a maricon when he grows up. Too many women around him.”
“Take that back,” Manny said.
“Or what? He’s a maricon and you’re a little bitch. You should go home before I kick your ass, Manuela.”
Felix and Andy started laughing again, louder. Manny looked over at Ricky. His eyes were filling with water as he held his sword nervously. Beyond their little-big man posturing, the complex was quiet. Manny wondered why none of the moms on the bottom floor had heard their voices and stepped out of their homes to threaten them with a whipping.
Andy finally said, “Ju can’t kick their ass Izidor. They’ll tell their mommies on ju.” The three bullies cackled.
Izidor added on, “Hey guys, you know Manny has two moms. One’s at work right now and the other one is sucking his papi’s pee-pee.”
“At least we have a mom,” Ricky struck back, surprising Manny and the other three boys.
“What’d you say you stupid, nigger?” Izidor thrust both of his meaty palms into Ricky’s bony chest and Ricky went flying into a patch of dirt. The sword bent under his frail weight. Maricon, little bitch, two moms, and nigger shot across Manny’s expanding boyhood mind. The words and vague images attached to them were like a spectra of orange and red lights that lit up Manny’s twelve year old rage.
While Izidor stared at Ricky on the floor, Manny clenched his fist like a small rock and slammed it into Izidor’s eye. Izidor let out an agonizing yelp. Felix and Andy stopped their cackling. Manny socked Izidor one more time, hard. The second punch landed on the tip of his nose and upper lip. All five boys clamped into the ground in shock.
Ricky stood up and brushed the dirt off his shorts in awe of his cousin.
“Aye what are you two dumb asses doing? Fuck him up!” Izidor yelled, waving at Felix and Andy, holding the right side of his face. As Felix and Andy stepped forward, Manny pulled the knife from his back pocket and the click rang between the five boys like a warning bell. Without any hesitation, Andy and Felix ran off.
“You better not…,” Izidor struggled to finish his words as he began to cry, holding his face. “I’m gonna get my brother to fuck you up…” he said unconvincingly. Manny stepped toward Izidor, leading with the knife. It weakly glimmered with the sunlight coming through the rectangle created by the design of the apartment complex. Izidor ran off. His tight striped shirt and jeans doing their best to keep his weight in place. Manny thought he was fast for a kid his size.
“You alright?” Manny said as he slipped the knife into his pocket.
“Yeah. My sword is messed up, but I’m okay.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll get you a new one.” Manny thought of the money in his pocket.
“You don’t have to. I can still use this one.” Ricky held up the bent sword. They smiled at each other and confidently walked back towards the apartment. As they approached the steps they saw their Uncle Pepe coming down. Pepe’s boots created a clinking echo as he sauntered down the steps. His oval belt buckle, complete with a dead scorpion, shined as the sun hit its gold trim.
“You two vatos ready?”
“Where are we going?” Ricky asked, looking at Manny.
“He didn’t tell you? We’re going to the store to get you guys some candy.”
“Really!?!! Awesome!” Ricky said.
“Yeah lil’ man.”
“Should I go tell my mom?” said Ricky.
“Nah, she knows you’re coming with me,” Pepe said as he ran his fingers through Ricky’s dense black curls. Manny walked on the other side of Pepe, took out the knife, and peered at it without exposing the blade.
“You like it, huh?”
“Yeah. A man needs a knife.”
“Ohh you a man now, haha?” Pepe said with a big grin. The three of them walked out of the apartment complex side by side. Pepe’s banana yellow ‘54 Chevy truck was parked right outside the gate. He opened the passenger door for them.
As Ricky and Manny climbed into the truck and Pepe ran around it’s back end, Ricky asked, “Hey Manny, what’s a maricon and what’s a nigger?”
“Nothing man. Izidor is just fat and dumb.”
Ricky’s eyes still looked confused. “Are you scared about his big brother?”
“Fuck no. Remember, we got the knife now.” Ricky, understand, and bobbed his head up and down.
The driver’s door cranked open. Pepe sat down and started his truck.
“You locos ready?’
“Yeah,” Manny and Ricky replied in unison. Pepe grabbed the gear shift. The one with a dead tarantula encased in glass. He pulled it down to first, the truck rattled and jerked. Then they took off.
Francisco McCurry is a decolonizing native traveling the space ways of planet air, broke and bold. He is working on a novel called Lucha Libre in America and holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. He has published work in Potholes In My Blog, 5th Element, and Lunch Ticket. He pays bills working in education in LA, and knows Wu-Tang is Forever. You can follow him on instagram @glockwerkorange