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Looters

By
August 1, 2012

“You better be stretching,” he said. “Don’t want to pull a muscle carrying all the shit we’ll be taking.”

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Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

It was the day after Katrina had hit Miami, and I was waiting under the tree, while Danny took his sweet time. Years earlier, when the neighborhood was just beginning to turn to shit, I’d sprint to Danny’s, knowing that I’d made it when I came around the corner and saw the branches. Later, I’d bike over, speeding past the thugs and bums, popping a wheelie as soon as the tree came into sight. It was a massive tree, with roots snaking all over the yard, and on that night, for the first time in years, I got out of the car and stood under it. I jumped from root to root, as I had done as a boy, circling the tree, staring at the branches. Somehow, the storm hadn’t damaged a single one, making clear what I already knew—that the tree would stand forever, and I would always be rooted to it.

I saw myself driving to Danny’s, over and over, the years flying by, that tree looming down, reminding me of my past and present and future, as if they were any different. Eventually, after the Corolla broke down, I’d hobble over on a walker, where Danny, on his walker, would stumble out of the house, ready with another idea that wouldn’t take us anywhere. Entire days, again, would be spent under that tree, emphysema taking hold, as we stared at neighborhood kids, who, unbeknownst to them, were already well on their way to becoming the very people that were watching them. Finally, mercifully, an oxygen tank strapped to me, I’d trip over a root, where Danny, late as always, would find me dead, only to think it a good idea that my ashes belonged under the tree. They’d sprinkle me there, helping the tree grow, now part of it, proving that nothing, ever, changed. Drastic measures had to be taken, which is why I was under the tree that night, having been convinced by Danny that what we were about to do was a good idea.

I pushed, sickened by the tone of his voice. Somehow, throughout the years, it had grown higher, as if he were going through reverse puberty. He put his hand on my back and looked up with me.

I stared up at the tree, wondering how many times I’d climbed it. I kicked it, knowing that it wouldn’t go down, yet I kept trying, chipping away tiny pieces of bark, as if the tree were spitting at me. I leaned in close and pushed, my triceps vibrating, leaves falling down, when Danny’s front door opened. He stood there, motionless, silhouetted in the open doorway. Behind him, a candle flickered, disappearing and reappearing. Danny slammed the door shut and started walking, whistling. The light moved to the window, where it stayed, as Danny approached.

“You better be stretching,” he said. “Don’t want to pull a muscle carrying all the shit we’ll be taking.”

I pushed, sickened by the tone of his voice. Somehow, throughout the years, it had grown higher, as if he were going through reverse puberty. He put his hand on my back and looked up with me.

“Remember when we tried to build the tree house?”

“Yeah,” I said, “of course.”

How could I forget that years earlier we’d come across a stash of stolen plywood and tried to build a livable structure on the tree? I pushed harder, grunted.

“You’re really stretching,” he said.

“Getting ready.”

He dropped the duffel bag he was carrying and joined me, doing pushups against the tree.

“I’m ready,” he said. “Get ready.”

He’d always been the instigator, acting fearless, because putting on a show is half the battle. I started doing pushups, keeping pace with him, counting when he started counting, ten, eleven, twelve, until he pushed off the tree, picked up the duffle bag, and waited by the trunk of the car.

“Now,” he said, “we’re ready.”

I gave the tree one last kick and walked to the car, and hopped in. I stared at the window, where the candle still flickered, and tried to make out Danny’s mom. I waved, and then she blew out the candle, her lips visible for a second.

“Pop it,” Danny said.

And I popped the trunk. He tossed the bag in, slammed the trunk shut, and was sitting shotgun before I’d even put the key in the ignition.

He nodded.

I shoved the key in and turned, hit the lights.

“And we’re off,” he said.

And we were off.

More of them appeared, until ten or twelve were visible, now blinking on and off.

“Highway,” Danny said. “Head south.”

I pulled out, crushing debris left behind by the storm, only to stop on the street. I looked around, unable to see, for the first time in ages, the overflowing garbage cans. The potholed streets, loaded with standing water, were no longer visible. I couldn’t see Tammy’s red miniskirt on the corner, as Tammy, for the first time since the mid-’90s, hadn’t made it out to her spot. I looked at my sister’s lawn, where, miraculously, my bastard nieces and nephews weren’t running around in soiled Pampers, yelling, “Daddy, daddy, daddy,” at passing cars. The power outage had accomplished the impossible, allowing me to drive off in peace, passing my house, where my mother was probably praying.

Sayonara,” Danny said.

I waved goodbye, and it was then that I saw the first light. It was up ahead, floating low to the ground like a little UFO, joined by another light, and then another, before I could process what the hell was going on. More of them appeared, until ten or twelve were visible, now blinking on and off.

“Danny,” I said.

“Fuck it,” he said. “Go.”

I went, only because we were so close, and as we approached the stop sign, a few of them disappeared. Then a few more. I slowed down, confused, and said, “I’m not sure.”

“Just lights,” he said. “Or I can drive.”

When I stepped on it, another handful of lights disappeared. I held the wheel with both hands and pushed the Corolla harder than she’d been pushed before, having made my first actual decision of the night. She fought a little, took a minute to get going, but when the wind surged through the open windows and ran up my nose, I embraced it. I took a hit, and then another. Danny slapped the dash, as if the Corolla were a horse, and head out the window, yelled, “Giddy up, bitch!”

And then it grew dark. The blinking lights were gone, so I accelerated and focused on the stop sign. I turned my high beams on, and that’s when they responded. In unison, all the lights came back on and blinded me.

“Don’t stop,” Danny said. “It’s a challenge.”

“I can’t see anything.”

I stopped, twenty feet away from the stop sign, and they appeared. They jumped from behind cars and started banging on the hood. The smaller ones were trying to get in, but I locked the doors and started honking. The leader, a skinny bastard, had planted himself in front of the car, arms crossed. He held a massive flashlight toward us and said, “Pay.”

I turned the lights off and they did the same.

“Move,” Danny said. “Go play in a puddle or something.”

“Lights,” the leader yelled.

We were blinded again. They started shaking the car, laughing like a bunch of crazies and yelling, “Pay!”

“Fine,” I said, “let’s talk.”

The leader pushed away the runts and leaned into my window. He turned his flashlight on and placed it under his head. His face, hairless and smooth, revealed that he was eleven or twelve, one of the kids that stayed indoors all day.

“I don’t care how old you are,” Danny said. “I’ll fuck you and all your little shits up.”

“Two hundred,” he said, breathing on me. I could smell the booze. “Or we tear up the car.”

“Fuck it,” Danny said, “I’m getting out.”

When he tried to open it, half of the crew pushed up against the door and yelled, “Pay.”

“Pay,” the leader said. “Or we’ll destroy it.”

He shone the flashlight on the kids. They were smiling, all of them, flashlight in one hand and an instrument of their choosing in the other. Some squeezed forks and scissors. Two fat boys were sharing a Snickers and forgetting about the baseball bats in their other hands. The older boys, nine or ten of them, grew serious when we made eye contact and held up their pocket knives.

“Lights,” the leader said.

I shielded my eyes, blinded, and said, “I think you should move.”

“After you pay.”

It was then, from the corner of my eye, I saw Danny lift up his shirt and reach into his waistband, flashing a gun.

It was then, from the corner of my eye, I saw Danny lift up his shirt and reach into his waistband, flashing a gun.

“That’s right,” Danny said, “I got something for you.”

“Move,” I told the leader, who gave the signal, dispersing the kids.

“Pussy,” Danny said.

I accelerated, leaving the neighborhood behind, wondering when the hell Danny had gotten a gun.

“So it’s like that,” I said.

“It’s like that.”

We were alone on the highway, as if the entire city was ours. The darkness had washed it all away, except for us, our windows down in that shitty Corolla, marveling at nothing. We couldn’t see the poor hoods, probably the first to lose power, but it didn’t matter, because the rich fuckers and their mansions had vanished too. All the reminders of my existence, of where I was from, were gone. No more fancy whiteboys zooming past me in sports cars. No more billboards mocking me, reminding me of shit I couldn’t buy. No more Cubans. No more Dominicans. No more Haitians. No more white people. No more blacks. No more Mexicans. No more people. No more Miami.

“I should’ve blown him away,” Danny said.

“I know,” I said, knowing that we didn’t have it in us. “You let him off the hook.”

“Would’ve put it in his damn mouth.”

He flashed the gun again, nodding, as if trying to convince himself, and that’s when I flipped the lights off. The gun, gone. Danny’s moronic acting, gone. My hands on the wheel, gone. Gone.

“Lights,” Danny said. “Lights, man.”

I didn’t say anything, let him panic a little.

“Lights.”

Darkness. Danny fumbling around. Silence from me.

“The fucking lights,” he said.

“It’s under control.”

And strangely, things were under control.

He was breathing heavily, scared, but Danny must’ve been feeling what I was feeling, because he didn’t say anything else. Any minute now, I was sure, the darkness would transport us away from the city and its problems. We must’ve been all over the road, but not once do I remember feeling in any danger. I’d let go of the wheel, only to grab it again, accelerating, heading south. After a minute or two, or maybe it was ten, a lone light, up ahead, appeared. It was fast approaching, cutting through the darkness and bringing us back to the city, to reality. I could see that I was indeed swerving, so I grabbed the wheel with both hands and steadied us. I slowed down, now able to see that Danny was sliding down the passenger seat, sinking toward the floor, as if the light were melting him. Finally, it was on us, illuminating the car, reminding us in that instant of who we were and what we were about to do. It passed us, whatever it was, leaving only fumes in its wake. Danny reached over and hit the lights, fully bringing us back.

“Did it see us?”

“We’re phantoms,” I said.

“You got that looting fever,” Danny said. “Would happen to my pops. Motherfucker would turn into a cowboy.”

“You got that looting fever,” Danny said. “Would happen to my pops. Motherfucker would turn into a cowboy.”

I knew about Danny’s dad, how after Andrew, he literally dressed like Santa Claus and went around the neighborhood, passing out, as he was calling it, inventory. Miami didn’t get another major storm for ten years, and sure enough, he got locked up.

“South?” I said.

Danny looked out, smiled. “We’re close.”

Some kids inherit sports or a love of cars from their dads, but Danny’s had passed along the love of the loot. Here we were, speeding through neighborhoods I’d never seen before, preparing to fulfill, it seemed, Danny’s childhood fantasy. He had his head out the window, like some mutt, nose crinkled and everything, sniffing the air. My father left behind the Corolla, disappearing so quickly upon hearing of my birth, that he must’ve hightailed it out of Miami on foot. Maybe it was supposed to happen, destiny or whatnot, two useless guys from a useless neighborhood taking advantage of some natural disaster, and who was I to fight all that?

“It’s Pinecrest, isn’t it?” I said.

“They go to Disney. I remember my dad telling me.”

The possibility pissed me off, an entire neighborhood going off to play with a big rat as the rest of us stayed behind. They’d wear those ridiculous hats with the ears, hanging out with Cinderella and Goofy and that stupid ass duck, their houses safe and sound, all shuttered up.

I accelerated and got off at the next exit, running a flashing red light before Danny knew what had happened.

“This isn’t it,” he said.

“It is.”

I turned onto the first street, where we entered one of those cookie-cutter neighborhoods, a pink two story house greeting us in every direction. The houses had fared well, except for their roofs, now without tiles. Every roof looked identical, the neighborhood having managed to maintain its vision, even post-hurricane. Red tiles were sprinkled throughout, mixing with branches and debris, giving the neighborhood an artistic vibe that the residents, had they been around to see it, would’ve commented on favorably. I could see all this, because the moon, as if privy to the artistry of the red clay tiles, had found a cloudless opening. I kept going, crushing a tile, only to realize that pulverizing it only added to the street’s flavor. Still, I kept driving over them, as they were impossible to avoid, an unwilling artist.

“Cut the lights,” Danny said.

I kept them on, unable to stop looking at the center of the neighborhood. A tree had split down the middle, exposing beautiful white flesh, shavings of which littered a pile of tiles.

“Off,” Danny said.

“Pick,” I said.

He pointed, not realizing that he’d chosen the lone house with a swing set.

“That’s the one,” he said.

I drove on, stopping just before I hit their driveway.

“Off already,” Danny said, getting out of the car.

I turned them off.

I popped the trunk and got out, joining Danny, who was already opening up the bag. He handed me a ski-mask, which I put on immediately, and it did its job just as quick. My nose was smashed in and my hair stretched back, but I kept pulling down the mask, adding pressure, crushing my features. Danny walked on, once again reaching into the bag, pulling out a hammer. He stood in the middle of the lawn, next to the swing set, lightly tapping it with the hammer. I walked over, staring up the house, as Danny was.

“I have the upstairs,” he said.

He pulled out a garbage bag and handed it to me.

“Small shit,” he said. “Jewelry. Money. Silverware.”

I was still looking up, taking in the sheer size of the place, how half our neighborhood could’ve lived in it. They must’ve had three or four cars because the garage took up the entire front half of the house. The front door looked to be made of reinforced steel of some kind, like no other I had ever seen before. The windows were all steel-shuttered, which was fitting, because it made the place look more and more like the fortress it wanted to be.

“Focus,” Danny said, handing me a flashlight. “There’s always a weakness.”

“Focus,” Danny said, handing me a flashlight. “There’s always a weakness.”

He tossed the duffel bag over the side gate and hopped over. I followed suit, hitting the concrete as I came down, nearly rolling an ankle. They had a pool in the middle of the yard, where Danny was pissing. I scanned the porch and saw that they’d used plywood, instead of actual shutters, to fortify what looked to be a sliding glass door. I shone my flashlight at it, waiting for Danny to finish up. The man of the house, clearly an amateur, had tacked on a sheet of plywood, which was already soggy from the torrential rains.

The plywood was littered with tiny pictures and phrases. I got closer and was able to make out a heart, which, I realized, as I moved in, was made up even smaller hearts. Underneath it, in pink permanent marker, the artist had signed her name—Becky. This Becky had also painted flowers and unicorns, one of which was being ridden by Becky herself, made clear by the fact that Becky had written B-E-C-K-Y across the gown she’d draped herself in. The top right hand corner had been claimed by Brandon, who was obsessed with squiggly lines and rectangles. In what seemed to be an artistic flourish, he’d added a tail and four legs to one of the rectangles, which Becky, with her pink marker, had named Trixy.

Behind me, I heard Danny zip up and say, “Plywood. Ha.” I turned around and watched him approach with the hammer held high above his head. He started with Becky, ripping at the heart, until he’d split it in half, focusing his attention on the unicorn—the horn. He kept at it, smashing away, finally eviscerating the horn, leaving behind a measly old horse. Then he slaughtered the horse. I picked up an empty flowerpot and attacked what remained of Becky’s artwork, chewing and spitting out the colorful splinters fighting back. I stripped her little gown off, shred by shred, until I broke through, exposing a sliver of glass. The squiggly lines and the rectangles and Trixy were next, so I pushed Danny out of the way and went at Brandon’s mess. I flowerpotted and kicked and elbowed his lines, reshaping the rectangles, until a larger chunk of window was visible. I was about to throw the flowerpot at Trixy, when Danny put his hand on my back and said, “Chill.” He grabbed hold of the bigger opening in the plywood, ripping it clean off like a bandage, unveiling a pristine sliding glass door. We shone our flashlights in, where we saw a granite countertop. I was ready, or I wasn’t ready, but it didn’t matter, because Danny smashed the glass with his hammer, kicking in the remaining shards. He walked in and said, “Five minutes.”

He was upstairs, kicking shit over, when I walked in. I could hear him laughing and howling, yelling, “Stilettos,” getting off on raiding a woman’s closet. I looked around at the spacious living room, unsure of where to go and what to grab. “Cowboy boots,” Danny continued, having discovered the western wear section. I pictured him up there, marveling at a pair of leather boots, as if he’d come across the Holy Grail. I’m pretty sure I even heard him squeal like a girl, which is when I walked over to a perfect little glass table. Danny continued his play by play, mentioning belts and hats, all of a sudden a fashionista. I picked up a silver candleholder, inspecting it, and opened my bag, only to be interrupted by Danny’s commentary on polo shirts, which meant that he’d gone on to closet number two. “Ties,” he yelled. “Motherfucker’s got a tie rack. I got you a silk one.” It was then that I flung the candle-holder, candle and all, across the living room. It smashed into the wall, going straight through, leaving behind a small hole. I shone my flashlight at it, staring into the darkness, and picked up another candle-holder, throwing it, enlarging the black hole. I threw three more, knowing that I had no use for them, marveling at the growing hole, how it seemed to be taking over the wall. I picked up a remote control, threw it. I picked up a potted plant, threw it. I picked up a book, threw it. I picked up a bowl of lemons, threw each one individually. Then I threw the bowl, hurling it into the hole, which was now the size of a basketball.

I made my way to the entertainment system, which housed the family’s forty-something-inch TV and DVD player. I opened a drawer and shoved the flashlight in, scanned the titles.
Little Mermaid I threw into the hole. Sleeping Beauty
I threw into the hole. Pinocchio into the hole.
Aladdin into the hole.

I’d thrown everything on the living room table, leaving the table itself. It was there, I knew, that Becky and Brandon, the entire family, swapped stories and ate chocolates, so I kicked it over, sending glass everywhere. I made my way to the entertainment system, which housed the family’s forty-something-inch TV and DVD player. I opened a drawer and shoved the flashlight in, scanned the titles. Little Mermaid I threw into the hole. Sleeping Beauty I threw into the hole. Pinocchio into the hole. Aladdin into the hole.

Next, I went into the kitchen, where I found their fancy china, frisbeeing them into the hole. Then the knives. They had one of those expensive knife sets, each blade bigger and more intricate as you worked your way up. I threw the butter knife and the bread knife, followed by a paring knife. The heavy duty blades were next, each one larger and sharper, until I reached the biggest butcher knife I had ever seen. I shone the flashlight at the knife, holding it out as if it were a samurai sword. I kept it.

I walked to the couch and gutted the first cushion, tossing what remained into the hole. I continued, cushion after cushion, until white fluff was floating everywhere. I stood there, in the middle of that room, knife in hand, when Danny started coming down the stairs.

“I got it all,” he said. “Everything.”

“Me too.”

He was speeding up, the light bouncing up and down as he approached.

“Where you at?”

“Living room.”

Then he appeared, shining the flashlight on me, at the knife. I saw that he was wearing a huge purple polo shirt and five or six ties. Boat shoes had replaced his beat up Nikes. Two of the belts he had spoken so fondly of were strapped around his forehead, glistening, surely made of the finest animal skin. He was wearing glasses, female ones, hers, whoever she was, and I wanted to snatch them off his face. I took a single step forward, stopping, exhaling. His bag was overflowing with the rest of the belts, their shiny buckles mocking me.

“Everything cool?” he said.

“Looting.”

He turned to the black hole, raised an eyebrow, and started walking toward me. He could probably see the craziness in my eyes, which is why—and I’m almost positive of this—that for a fragment of a second, he grazed his waistband and
felt for the gun.

He turned to the black hole, raised an eyebrow, and started walking toward me. He could probably see the craziness in my eyes, which is why—and I’m almost positive of this—that for a fragment of a second, he grazed his waistband and felt for the gun.

“You really fucked this place up.”

“Didn’t like anything.”

“And the knife?” he said.

“I’m a fan.”

He stared at me, not saying anything else, when something crashed inside the house.

“Let’s move,” he said.

I turned to the dark hall leading to the garage and started walking. Another crash. I stopped.

“It’s time,” Danny said.

I kept going, the blade leading the way, unsure of why, only sure that I would destroy whatever was making the noise.

“Give me the keys,” Danny said. “I’m gone.”

I reached the door.

“Keys.”

I grabbed the handle and squeezed, surprised to hear Danny coming up behind me, saying, “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

I turned my head and saw him reach into his pants, pulling out the gun. He stared at it, unsure of what to do, finally pointing it at the door. It was shaking, but he held it out there, no other choice than to be what he’d always wanted to be.

“Okay,” he said. “Ready.”

I was hoping that whatever it was would fight back, taking me out, doing what I could never do myself. Another crash, as if it were slamming off the walls. I clenched the knife and Danny tried to steady his arm.

“I’ve never shot before,” he said.

“You aim,” I said. “You shoot. You will shoot.”

“Yes,” he said, shaking his head no, “I will shoot.”

I pushed the door open and entered their laundry room, where, next to the dryer, a pair of blinking black eyes looked up at me. It was a tan Chihuahua, huddled into a ball, shaking almost as much as Danny was.

“Trixy,” I said.

I stepped aside and made way for Danny, who was still pointing the gun straight ahead, until he took a step forward and pointed it at Trixy.

“Motherfuckers,” he said.

He kept the gun on Trixy as she stood up and went to her bowl, which was empty. She barked once, twice, and then jumped, crashing into the washer.

“Becky and Brandon left you,” I said.

She jumped, kept jumping, as Danny’s gun went up and down with her.

“She’s going in,” I said.

Danny looked at me and put the gun away, smiled. “Fuck yeah,” he said. “Throw it in.”

I dropped the knife on the dryer and caught the dog when she jumped again. She nuzzled up against me and licked my hand, grateful to finally be leaving the room. I walked out, petting her little head, as Danny egged me on.

“Throw it in,” he said. “Or I can hold it like a football and you can kick it in.”

“Do you want to go in, Trixy?”

Trixy barked, looked up at me, wagged her tail.

“That’s a good girl.”

“Throw that bitch in.”

Danny grabbed my flashlight and held it out, along with his, spotlighting the hole. Trixy barked, tried to pry herself loose.

“The bitch knows,” Danny said.

I squeezed her ribcage, felt how small she was.

“Or dunk it in,” Danny said. “Slam it into the hole.”

A disappearance, however, would set off a grueling sequence of events—flyers, phone calls, prayers. Little Brandon on his bike, searching the neighborhood, calling out Trixy, Trixy, Trixy, losing hope, giving up, growing up.

It was too easy. They would find the dog and patch up the hole, telling their kids that she’d died peacefully in her sleep. A disappearance, however, would set off a grueling sequence of events—flyers, phone calls, prayers. Little Brandon on his bike, searching the neighborhood, calling out Trixy, Trixy, Trixy losing hope, giving up, growing up. Becky crying and having nightmares, incorporating them into her artwork. Trixy impaled by a unicorn horn. Trixy strangled to death by sunflowers, her pink heart ripping out of her chest.

“Throw it,” Danny said.

I picked up the empty bag at my feet and threw Trixy in.

“You,” I said, staring into her black eyes, “have a new family.”

I would’ve driven for two straight days if I knew what was coming. If I knew that the storm, overnight, was to transform into a category-five monster, I would’ve kept going. If I knew of the weakness of the levees, that they would disintegrate before the storm even made landfall, I would’ve kept going. I would’ve kept going, going, and going, if only I would’ve known that Katrina was set to destroy New Orleans. I would’ve parked smack dab in the middle of the Lower Ninth Ward, windows down, waiting for the water to rise. It would’ve come for me, as it had come for the others, finding them holed up in attics and hanging off roofs, rising, always rising. It would’ve risen as the sun came down, crawling up the car, wanting me and only me. And I would’ve waited, reclining my seat, in hopes that it would get to me faster. I would’ve closed my eyes and crossed my arms, smiling, as it kept rising, tearing up the car. Finally, it would’ve found me, splashing against my ankles and working its way upward, rising, rising, rising. It would’ve embraced my calves and my kneecaps, rising, my thighs and my waist, rising, until it inched up my stomach and cradled my chest, where my heart would’ve been beating like never before. It would’ve risen up my neck and crashed against my chin, reaching my lips. I would’ve clenched my teeth, trying to save myself, which had always been the problem. Still, I would’ve fought, even as it entered my nose and blanketed my eyes, rising. Rising. I would’ve held my breath. I would’ve thought of my mother. I would’ve thought of my sister. I would’ve thought of my poor little nieces and nephews. I would’ve even thought of my father. I would’ve gasped for air, finding none, only to gasp again. And again. Again. Gone.

But I didn’t know, so I hit the highway, as Danny dove into his bag. He was as happy as I had ever seen him. He’d never leave the hood, forever satisfied by his two or three looting sprees a year, evidenced by the sheer joy in his voice when he flashed a pair of red stilettos.

“For my mama,” he said.

He threw them back in the bag and pulled out a scarf, which he wrapped around his neck. He pulled out two more, like some kind magician, trying to get one on me.

“Scarves,” he said. “I have scarves.”

“Touch me with a scarf and I drive this car into a ditch.”

The scarves went back in and out came a bar of soap, which he held under my nose.

“Smell,” he said, “some classy shit.”

The guy had stolen used up soap and now he was trying to get me to smell it. I was best friends with a soap thief, who would forever be my best friend, even if the mere sight of him made me sick. I was from where he was from, and we were heading back there, where everybody else was.

“Take a whiff,” he said.

It was crumbling onto my pants it was so used up.

“The whores will love it.”

I smelled the damn thing, only because I wanted it out of my face, but he was right.

“Wonderful,” I said.

“And I got enough for all of them.”

Danny proceeded to shove his face in the bag and started pulling out bar after bar of soap, tossing them to the back seat, where Trixy was scared shitless. She started barking as the car smelled sweeter and sweeter, probably reminded of her master. But the soap kept coming and Danny kept saying, “It’s designer.”

I reached into his pants and yanked out the gun. I’d never held one before and was surprised by how heavy it was. I squeezed the handle and slowly worked my fingers upward, until my index finger was just under the trigger.

And I kept driving, wanting to get away from Danny and the dog and the soap and myself. But then I saw the lights. They were blinking on and off, more than before, visible from a half mile away.

“They won’t get my soap,” Danny said.

The entire backseat was filled with soap, nearly covering the dog, which was now jumping as well as barking, wanting out.

“Go around.”

I kept going straight at that little leader motherfucker, who was waiting for me with his crew.

“They’ll get their hands on my soap.”

I switched on the high beams, in hopes of blinding them, and they responded with darkness.

“I don’t want to deal with them,” Danny said.

“You don’t have to.”

I reached into his pants and yanked out the gun. I’d never held one before and was surprised by how heavy it was. I squeezed the handle and slowly worked my fingers upward, until my index finger was just under the trigger.

“We got our loot,” Danny said. “No need.”

But I needed it like I’d never needed anything before.

“We’ll split the soap.”

I did not stop, even as Danny tried to convince me of the soap’s street value. He knew better than to try and take his gun back, finally shutting his mouth. I ran the stop sign I’d tried to tear down back when I was a kid, which had stood then, and was still standing, and would always stand. I deliberately hit the series of potholes the city had failed to fix, sending Trixy into a fit. She was really barking now, as if she knew this was home and couldn’t bear it. She was howling when I hit the first garbage can and only howled louder when Danny pegged her across the face with a bar of soap. I took down three more garbage cans, speeding through the falling garbage, when the lights, one by one, started reappearing.

They kept coming, every kid in Miami, until the car was completely surrounded.

They jumped out from trees and crawled from underneath cars, approaching, no leader in sight.

I parked.

“No,” Danny said, cradling a bar of soap.

They kept coming, every kid in Miami, until the car was completely surrounded.

“Lights,” a voice said.

And the lights were off.

I could hear them rambling, speaking some bizarre language, only their eyes visible. Little fingers slammed against the windows, while their pointy knees drilled the doors.

“Pay,” he said.

He was in front of the car, flashlight under his chin.

“Give him the stilettos,” Danny said.

I saw that he had a crowbar in his other hand, which he waved as he approached.

“Pay,” he said.

“Pay,” the little voices repeated. “Pay. Pay. Pay. Pay. Pay. Pay.”

“Pay,” Danny said.

“Pay,” Trixy said.

He climbed the car and stood on the hood, facing Danny.

“You won’t shoot a kid,” he said.

He took a step forward. “You won’t do it. So pay. Bag out the window.”

I pointed the gun at him, at his chest. He was already dead and he didn’t even know it. He was quite brave, for a dead kid, smashing the hood with his crowbar.

“You won’t shoot a kid.”

“Hey,” I said.

He looked, dropped the crowbar.

“Chest or head?” I said.

He must’ve seen something in me, because he started shaking.

“I’ll be doing you a favor,” I said. “I kill you and you won’t see this place ever again.”

“Stilettos,” Danny whispered.

I placed my finger on the trigger, waiting for my brain to send the signal that would let me pull.

“Chest or head?”

He just stood there, flashlight under his chin, considering. Next to me, Danny looked to be caressing his soap, unable to look on. Behind me, Trixy kept barking, which must’ve instigated the kids, because the Corolla really started rocking.

I pointed it at his head, said, “Head.”

“Chest,” he said.

I pointed it at his chest, said, “Chest.”

“Head.”

Back to his head, where I aimed at his chin. At his left eye. At the right. A cheek. Then the other. I finally settled on the forehead.

“Okay,” I said, “the head it is.”

“No no no,” he said. “Chest.”

I placed my finger on the trigger, waiting for my brain to send the signal that would let me pull. It sent something else, because my finger started trembling, moving further and further away. Pull, I thought. Pull.

“Pull it,” I said.

“Scarves,” Danny said.

The leader’s brain, just like mine, had paralyzed him, only letting him blink. We stared at one another, and kept staring, as the first kid finally broke through. Others followed, pulling and tearing at my clothes, as the leader and I did nothing. They ripped the Corolla’s door clean off the hinge and dragged me out, throwing me to the ground, kicking the gun away. I covered up as they punched and spat, trying to drown out Danny’s pleading, which grew louder as they whipped him with his own belts. They finally silenced him, only to surround Trixy.

“Get it,” a voice said.

“Yeah yeah yeah,” another said.

I stayed in the fetal, listening to Trixy’s howling, which turned into a pig-like squeal when they opened the back door. They’d spilled the soap, crushing it with their dirty feet, kicking up a pleasant mist of aromas into the neighborhood air. I smelled citrus and honey, roses, so much of it assaulting my senses that my eyes watered. Still, they hadn’t caught her, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, as pieces of the Corolla were landing near me.

“I got the stilettos,” Danny said from somewhere.

Then the power came back.

Lights.

I saw one, wearing an over-sized plaid blazer, grab the dog and give her a yank, sending her outside, where she broke free and started up the street, barking, barking, barking. They followed, all twenty or thirty or seventy of them, wearing the finest in suburban American fashion. Some wore business suits and khakis, waddling up the street like drunken midgets, barking themselves, as if angry at their middle managers. They were followed by a group in tropical wear, slipping and sliding, trying to prevent their ill-fitting thong sandals from flying off. A smaller group had chosen winter wear, rolling up the block like juiced up ticks, draped in coats and jackets. Lights flickered on from inside houses and people stepped out, where they saw, as we were seeing, the final group break away from the car. They wore heels and denim, ties as belts and belts as ties, a few of them even having settled on dresses. They clicked and clacked up the street, barking, sending out the rest of the neighborhood, who could do nothing but stand there and watch their boys, who had now become girls, or some combination of both. They pranced up their potholed runway, howling, passing the others, spiking them with their heels, slashing them with their scarves, kissing them with their cherry red lips.

G

Author Image

Alex Perez is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His fiction has most recently appeared in Subtropics. He lives and writes in Miami.

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