This is some bullshit.
That’s what Carlos thought. There he was. Just going home from Morales’ house, walking down the alley. The green Ford turned the corner behind the liquor store on Eighty-ninth. It came flying down the alley. Right away, he could tell it was trouble. There was a girl driving, and she was driving all crazy. This is some bullshit. That’s what he thought when the car passed up him and Tony. Then they came back. Backing up the alley all crazy. Carlos and Tony already knew there was a problem when the car passed them and came back. The girl didn’t know how to drive, you could see that right away. Then the guy yells something out the window. By this time they were both ready for something bad. Then the guy in the passenger side sticks the gun out the window and fires.
At first he didn’t feel it. Right away when the guy fires, him and Tony hit the dirt. There they are on the pavement. Carlos smells oil in the stain right under his face. He’s all sweaty, like when he’s been playing ball, or like when they jumped him last week. He’s remembering how he was walking a girl home from the dance at the church. On his way home some gangsters jumped him, right at the very corner of Eighty-eighth and Commercial, across the street from the church. He feels the lump throbbing on the back of his head where they hit him. They held a gun in his mouth and pulled back the hammer. It smelled like metal. He had the taste of metal in his mouth for hours after. They took his jacket that time. That’s just how he feels now, all sweaty. His stomach is tight; he thinks maybe he’ll puke.
This is some bullshit.
Then he feels it in his hand. That’s where it starts to hurt. It’s hurting like hell all of a sudden. Fuck. He’s laying in the alley. He doesn’t know if Tony is hit or not. He sure the hell is. He lays there. Then Tony comes over and says, “You OK?”
“In the hand.”
Tony helps him get up and they’re walking down the alley toward home when the narcs spy them. They can’t run. Anyway the blood is running down Carlos’s arm all the way to the elbow where it drips off. The narcs pull up next to them in their old beat up Chevy and tell them to get in. They put them in the backseat. The narcs are surprised because these two look so innocent.
One of the narcs asks him, “Did you see who shot you?”
The fuck. What do they think, I’m stupid? That’s what Carlos thinks. He’s thinking, Here I am in the back of this shitty old car sticking to the vinyl seats. Here I am bleeding like shit and they’re dragging me back down the same alley I just got shot in. Past the Dumpsters, past the wrecked garages, past the nasty fences. Back to the exact same place I just come from. And they think I’ll tell them who done this to me. Do they think I’m stupid? Tony thinks the same. The minute they IDed someone they’d be dead. Neither one answers them. The narcs start getting mad. You can see it. They’re grumbling to each other. “We should just let all these fuckers kill each other.” The short one starts accusing Carlos and Tony of being gangbangers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They’re both getting good grades in school. They both hate gangbangers. Carlos says he wants to go to the hospital. “Look at me. I’m bleeding all over your car.”
By now he starts thinking he’s going to puke for real. Tony starts getting mad.
“Yeah. Look at him. You gotta get him to the hospital.”
The narc didn’t even turn around to answer. “I’m real surprised neither of you fellas saw anyone. How far away was the car?”
Tony is really mad now. “Give us a break, officer. We gotta get to the hospital.”
It doesn’t take long. The narcs give up after about ten minutes and let them go to the hospital. They don’t take them, though. Carlos and Tony go to Carlos’s place and his parents get them a ride to Claybourn Hospital. They don’t have a car so Carlos’s uncle drives them over. A couple of bandages later, they’re out. Of course it takes about five hours to get the bandages. Filling out forms, they wrote down “no insurance.” Claybourn wouldn’t do nothing without insurance. They had to go back to Carlos’s place and then go to the county hospital.
Claybourn’s waiting room was like a white-out: everything white and clean. The county doesn’t even look like a hospital. It’s filthy. Every time Carlos has been there it’s been under construction somewhere or other. After about five more hours’ waiting in the ER at the county, another doc looks at Carlos’s hand. He unwraps the bandages and now his hand is the size of his foot.
“You have to get some X rays.” After another two or three hours, the X rays come back. “The bone in the middle of your hand is broken and there’s a piece of bullet still in there. We can’t put a cast on you until the swelling goes down. Go home and come back the day after tomorrow.”
Carlos goes home with his parents. His mom is hysterical. She’s been crying since he walked in the house bleeding. His dad doesn’t say anything. By now his hand is really hurting. It’s throbbing like a motherfucker. Tony is waiting at Carlos’s house. They spend the night together in the attic. The landlord lets Carlos sleep up there. Even though there’s no heat, it’s still better than on the couch in the living room. They pretend to be asleep till the sky turns gray in the morning. They spend the day in the apartment watching TV and listening to music. His little brother Jesse comes in, Carlos’s older sisters come in, the whole family comes in and looks at him. Carlos can see in their eyes that they’re all worried. What can he say? It’s like they’re blaming him or something. It wasn’t his fault.
The narcs come by. They got his address the day of the shooting. They sit in the living room with him and Tony and Carlos’s mom. The short one looks kind of funny. His flack jacket is too big and he looks like he’s wearing football gear under his shirt. Even though his hand’s hurting like hell, Carlos gets the urge to laugh. The narc looks like a teddy bear with armor. Carlos’s mom has basically been crying for two days straight now. Her eyes are all swollen up. Don’t tell them nothing. No digas nada. That’s what his pa had told him to do. That was good advice. What could they do, anyway? The cops leave after a while. Even though he’s not hungry and neither is Tony, they eat some rice and beans, just so Carlos’s mom doesn’t feel bad.
That night they pretend to sleep again. Carlos is thinking how Jesus must have felt with the nails in his hand. He prays. Tony is worried so much his stomach hurts him. He already has lost too much in his life. His mom is dead. His dad’s in jail. He’s living in a foster home. What would he do if Carlos gets killed?
The next day off they go to the county hospital. This time they tell him he has to stay. He goes up to the ward. The place is so old there’s a guy working the elevator. There’s a doctor with an Indian accent. He smells like garlic or something.
“We may have to do surgery to get the bullet out.” He goes away holding the X ray. He’s amazed that such a sweet-looking kid has gotten his hand ruined.
Another doc comes by and looks at his hand. He goes away. There’s a lot of noise on the ward. There are no walls, only curtains. The guy in the next bed is coughing like he’s really sick. It’s a strangling sound like a wet choking. Just hearing it makes Carlos want to throw up. He has to use the bathroom. He goes walking down the ward and sees all the sick people, smells all the smells, hears the quiet crying.
He gets back to his bed. He pulls the curtain closed. This is some bullshit. Alone, he cries.
The next day they put on the cast. It turns out that one of the bullet fragments is too deep and that taking it out would wreck his hand. Tony has been there practically the whole time. It was better than being alone in that big ward. They go home.
The narcs have a suspect. They make Carlos and Tony go with them to the station. It’s one of those new police stations, all fancy bricks and shiny steel. Just going into the place anybody would get nervous. They recognize the guy but don’t say so. The cops tell them they’ll have to go to court soon. It turns out the same guy shot somebody in Bessemer Park and somebody else over on Houston. It was a regular shooting spree. The guy in Bessemer Park had just come from California. He had a wife and a little kid. Right on the street he got shot and died. He was taking his little girl for a walk in the park. Three o’clock in the afternoon. Somebody should have told him it wasn’t safe.
Carlos’ dad tells them not to go to court. He knows what would happen if they ID the shooter. Just so Carlos isn’t tempted, he tells him, “Remember the family in the Bush? They fought the gangbangers and they got their house burned down.” The people over in the Bush are tough, meaner than the South Chicago people. Even so, that family had got their house burned down. They don’t go to court.
The narcs go to Carlos’s house the afternoon of the trial. The two didn’t go to court so they have a warrant for Carlos and Tony’s arrest. They aren’t there. Carlos’s mom gets really nervous now. At night she asks Carlos, “What will happen to you?” Carlos’s dad threatens to send him to Mexico. His parents are always nervous. The two spend the next couple of days hiding from the cops. They go to school. A couple of people ask them what happened. Life goes on like nothing happened. At least they can go to school. Curly can’t any more. He’s a kid from down the block.
Curly’s brother, Vincente, joined the Knights about two years ago. Vicente was a good kid. He worked at the birria store. He would peel the garlic for making birria all day long. Even though he smelled like garlic, the girls would still talk to him all the time. He was quiet, and they liked his looks. He was sweet, too. He kept getting bothered by the Devils. He got hit with a bat once. He got tired of it. He joined the Latin Knights so he could go to school without being bothered. In the end, he shot somebody and had to leave the neighborhood. It’s too bad his ma didn’t listen last summer. Last summer his cousins went to talk to his ma about him and the Knights. They got all worried. After seeing him hanging around the Knights.
It was last June that his cousins went to see the padre. The padre’s office was where a lot of the kids would go and talk about stuff. Julio did most of the talking. They told the padre, “We seen him hanging around the Knights.” The padre had seen it, too. Vicente was getting the look. He was wearing all baggy clothes. Black, too.
The padre told them, “You have to tell his ma.”
They all squirmed. “What if he tells the Knights? They’ll kill us.”
The padre was quiet for a minute, thinking. “What if you don’t say anything? Then Vicente gets killed. It would be your fault.”
They got all serious. Then they decided. So, they went and told Vicente’s ma that he was going to join the Knights. She got all mad.
She called up their moms and yelled at them. “Your kids are no better than mine. Who are they to be telling me this stuff?” She was cursing, too. It’s too bad. She should have listened. Instead she got all mad. Anyway, Vicente got in trouble and now his brother Curly can’t go to school.
At least Curly works. He helps some guys out with construction. Curly doesn’t talk much. Once he said he was sorry his brother ever joined a gang. He doesn’t think he looks at all like his brother, but the gangbangers think so. He has the same wavy black hair and the same color skin, like coffee with milk. Some of the girls like Curly, too. In front of Curly’s house Chiquilin’s older brother, Miguel, hangs out all weekend in the summer with his dad and some older guys drinking. They play loud music all night long on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. It’s that the house has a nice porch on it and the house next door is abandoned. That way there’s nobody to complain about the music. That’s how come they hang out there. On the Saturday night after the shooting, Carlos walked past the guys drinking.
“What happened to you?”
“Somebody shot me.”
“We haven’t seen you outside.”
“Yeah. My ma won’t let me out of the house anymore.”
Carlos’s ma was afraid that what happened to his cousin Javier would happen to him. Javier had joined the Devils and had to leave the neighborhood and go live with all white people. He just comes to visit sometimes. All the moms are paranoid about this stuff happening. One little thing and they won’t let you go out at all. It wasn’t Carlos’s fault they shot him.
Copyright © 2002 by Michael Enright