Genuflection

 

By Alana Noël Voth

 

To Al Lujan and Paul Lisicky

 

The sun gets in my eyes when I step out of the porn shop. Anyone living on East Colfax knows the sun never burns out here. Even when the sun goes down, we got the heat inside us. The gringos explain our heat as hostility: that’s what they think. Maybe they think right (in some cases) but building a baseball field and coffee shop chains deeper into the east—that’s just like gringos to think a baseball field covers brown with green—and cappuccinos smother the stench of drugs and drunks, gunshot and blood, the smell of come in backseats.

I don’t hate gringos; I’m half gringo myself, half white, even if I don’t look it. Back in the trailer park, the gringos—let’s face it, “crackers”—didn’t know what to make of me, so they just kicked my ass. Mom was silkworm-white; she had blue eyes and scarlet lips. She was a whore; she was also a traitor. Mom fucked men so brown they looked Indian, and if there’s anything gringos hate, it’s beautiful gringas fucking spics then giving birth to kids that can’t pass.

My daddy, Mom said, was real beautiful, real brown. Her dad, of course, tried beating the Mexican’s identity out of her. When she wouldn’t give him up, her dad said, “You’re losing that kid.” Mom told him, “No way,” and he said to his brothers, “Hold her still,” before he punched her in the stomach; she counted eight blows. I think it’s a miracle he didn’t kill her. I think it’s a miracle the blood she gave up blew through her lips and not from between her legs.

Two months later, when her dad’s beating proved a failure, he threw most of Mom’s shit, which wasn’t much, into the back of a neighbor’s truck with directions to leave her at the Creek Side Trailer Park where the creek was dried up. He threw enough money at her to last her a month and said, “So you’re going to hell? So what?”

Trailer parks, if you haven’t seen any lately, are where white retards and rejects live: the working-class poor; drunks who keep hold of their minimum wage jobs; and whatever else is leftover from white society’s wet dreams.

“You ain’t no bastard out of the trailer park,” Mom said, but I was a bastard, all right.

****

 

Mom wasn’t always La Puta Merengue. She didn’t always shop at the Goodwill, eat cold chili out of the can, or sleep all day on the couch in a terry cloth robe then rise after sundown to prepare for her tricks. Before I left, or before Mom kicked me out—you could see it both ways—she was horrible thin and crusty-eyed.

The Cracker stood in the door to the trailer with a sawed-off shotgun, threatening the Mexicans. José Lopez stood his ground for ten minutes. He called to Mom in Spanish. I didn’t know him, just his name, except he came to see Mom three times a week, and José was probably the reason Mom managed to keep the trailer. Mom told José to go away.

The hog-bellied Cracker took over, and it was all shit from there. Maybe our life wasn’t perfect before that sack of shit showed up, but at least Mom and me didn’t wear matching black eyes. Fucking Cracker knocked her around every damn day and was constantly fucking her, fucking her in front of me, whacking off in her face, and I don’t know why, but she was hooked.

One night, I went to Mom’s bedroom and found the pictures of Kari Carpenter who once bought silk underwear at Victoria’s Secret in the Cherry Creek Mall. Good girl, good grades, Kari was the most popular girl in her high school. Mom told me about her: how Kari’s friends wanted to be her because she was pretty and sang in the glee club. Kari’s first boyfriend, Toby Ellis, drove a Toyota Camry, and drove Kari bored out of her skull, Mom laughed, and straight to her knees in the backseats of East Colfax.

East Colfax—a mixture of the last places to buy vinyl, tattoo parlors, diners, pool halls and porn shops—this is my home now. The buildings are often ugly and the streets usually smell like what bums leave in the gutters: sometimes a bum takes a shit on the sidewalk, and it’s like saying, “I was here.” Sometimes the junkies piss their own pants too.

I let Willy use the broom closet in the porn shop to clean up. After his second time using the closet, he told me, “Manny, I been on the junk so long my dick is dead.” He tried to revive it, stayed put in one of the booths an hour, looped reel playing, and him behind the curtain grunting. I imagined Willy’s eyes squinting at the sunny slice of the twelve-by-twelve screen, knees pressed together, shoulders hunched, yanking his fist violently—the same intensity you might use to clobber a wad loose from a choking victim—and I willed his cock back to life.

When Willy pushed back the curtain, he just shook his head. His poor dick was a shoestring that wilts when you try to lace it through a hole.

“Sorry, Willy.”

I really was sorry for him. Whacking off kept me from impaling myself on a fence post in back of the trailer after the Cracker took over.

****

 

On East Colfax, you get exactly what you’d imagine: me; Willy; runaways clogging the alleys; high school truants crowding into the pool halls; thugs and gang bangers patrolling the main drag; dealers hunkering down on the side streets; pimps parking their Thunderbirds in front of Church’s Chicken; and the hookers and hustlers holding all corners.

The junkies get to me the most, like Willy, he’s lovely to me? Thin, pale, and trembling, sour and musty, his face (probably no older than thirty) rubbed out and soiled, but his eyes like scrubbed flint in the sun. His memories are like scattered ash after the phoenix rose and didn’t take him with it. I listen, sometimes for an hour or two, to Willy’s fragmented stories: his mother’s dead, she isn’t; he was once in the military, he was a college professor; he’s never been in love, he falls in love every day.  I listened to Hank, Willy’s friend, too. Hank says the Almighty exists in a plastic baggy packed inside a dealer’s cheek and plays hard to get. When I see what Hank and Willy and the rest of the junkies give up for a piece of celestial bliss—crumpled dollar bills, their assholes—I believe that nothing sublime exists long on this earth.

****

 

I leave the porn shop at three every afternoon. My trip down the avenue feels like getting thrown around in a boat sometimes—except I haven’t been on a boat lately so it’s more like the bus—how people cough, and someone elbows me in the ribs, and I just try to breathe through it.

On the bus, I lean my head onto a window smeared by god-knows-what and imagine Kari Carpenter rebelling against her upper-middle-class-white upbringing. She was a girl in a car full of girls; anticipation hung above the seats like perfume, and every girl with a butt stuck to the leather seats wanted to do something daddy wouldn’t approve of—and besides, some truth was being withheld from them, and Kari was the most eager to take it.

She told the girl driving, “Cross the bridge over I-25 onto Colfax then drive east.”

The other girls giggled. Kari applied lipstick then stuck her head out the window, tasting cool freedom, opening her mouth to the danger and heat from the street. When Kari pulled her head back into the car, the breeze rushed through the opened windows, pushing tendrils of her corn-colored hair against her lips, turning them darker.

The car full of girls got as far as Chubbys before the driver braked a little too late and collided with a low rider’s chrome bumper. The brown boys circled the other car and then peered inside; smiles opened their faces.

Kari stepped out of the car and studied both bumpers. “I don’t see no trouble here.”

Were the brown boy’s advances just for kicks? A “fuck you” to white suburbia? Pure lust? Who knew? Mom told me, “Toby was sloppy and stupid. But this brown boy . . . he made my body feel born again.” So I’m going to blame Kari Carpenter for letting passion get the best of her? I wrap my arms around my chest and hear myself breathing. I’m alive.

****

 

The Mexican gang bangers named me my first day on the avenue. They called me “Manny” because it’s funny to them but also a way to keep from kicking my ass. I might look brown, but I’m jotito, a “little faggot,” so when the Mexicans taunt me, “Get it up the chiquito today, Manny?” they’re letting me pass. That way, they don’t kill me.

Three o’clock and I leave the porn shop. I feel the sun on my back like a dry tongue. The avenue rushes past me. I blink up and down the sidewalk in both directions, hold a hand to one hip, and scuff at the ground with one dirty shoe. Willy and Hank sit side-by-side on the bench that is bolted to the sidewalk, so I go over to check on them. They are “not well today.” Hank trembles and pulls his collar up against the sun. I sit beside Willy and hold his hand, see the veins through the skin of the other man’s wrist, pulsing ropes.

“Willy,” I whisper, “you look tore up.”

“Manny, Jesus Christ is a black transvestite, saw her with my two eyes last night.”

He saw Black Tina. Rocket-high on dope, anyone might mistake her for Jesus Christ. She’s something of a ghetto-bound messiah, picking out the new arrivals and giving them Church’s Chicken (her favorite) while warning the junkies away from bad dealers, keeping the thugs in line after a gringo ran his SUV over a “Fucking spic, get out of the way!” or robbed a hooker of her pimp’s money. Black Tina knows who all the undercover cops are; hell, she bangs the undercover cops. She told me where to score a good soup line, too; I had beef stew and cornbread that night.

Black Tina is like Tyra Banks in a purple tube top and green pants. She wears orange lipstick and blue metal eye shadow. She also packs an Adam’s apple that’s like a bird while she belts out a tune. Her favorites are “You Turn Me Right Round (Like a Record)” and “Love Shack.” The gringos trolling by in their Camrys check her out with eyes that let you know what they’re thinking: she might have been Diana Ross if she wasn’t a whacked-out whore. Black Tina told me the gringos like her to sing while they try ramming their cocks to her vocal chords.

I pat Willy’s wrist. “You saw Black Tina.”

Willy mumbles, “I know what I saw. You got something to make me well?”

“You know I don’t pack, Willy.”

“If you did, I’d hate you.”

Next to him, Hank shivers and moans.

A bum wanders next to the bench; his cardboard sign reads: Am sik nede mony God blis.

“Hey, man. Stay here.” I jog back into the porn shop then return with a pen to fix his spelling. I tell the bum to hit the corner of Glenwood and Colfax, next to the Diamond Cabaret, where suits come out after a martini-and-stripper-deluxe lunch and have to wait for a valet to bring their cars.

“Holds them up,” I clue the guy in. “They got to give you some change.”

The bum starts walking. I watch him blur into the heat then slide the pen in my pocket.

“What would you want, if someone gave you the time of day?” Willy asks, teeth rattling.

I almost say, “Mom back,” but bite down on that wish. I had her as long as I could; now I had to want for something else. “The truth, Willy?”

“Give it to me straight.”

“A brown boy who loves me.”

“Well, I knew that about you.” Willy closes his eyes. “Next time I see Jesus Christ, I’ll tell her that’s what you want.”

He falls against Hank and the two of them hold each other.

****

 

Before the Cracker put a stop to it, Mom sang to me: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” That was love; Mom and me put our heads together, and she sang, and the look the Cracker gave her was nothing like the glare he gave me. I wanted the fucker chained to a peg stuck in the ground behind the trailer. I could have watched his mayo-white flab turn to nothing but flaps in the breeze. But I didn’t have the guts, comprende? If I had, Mom wouldn’t have had to push me out the window to save me. Maybe I would have saved her.

Four blocks from the porn shop is Chubbys. I heard it got written up in the newspaper for having the city’s best green chili. (You never see the gringos lingering in the parking lot after dark though.) At Chubbys, the Mexican gang bangers park their Novas, soft-top Mustangs, and low-riding Chevys. On the benches outside the restaurant, somebody leaves a half-eaten burrito lying in an inch of already gelling green chili, maybe a few French fries.

I count used condoms while crossing the parking lot. If I don’t watch my step, I get a rubber in love with my shoe and then the Mexicans tease me: “Jotito thinks he can put his foot up someone’s ass because his cock is too small.” I play it cool.

Except while sniffing for leftover menudo, I admire the Mexicans, muscles like reeds running elbow to shoulder, brown as an Indian summer, and pants belted low on the hips. Soon enough, the papayas show up, and the Mexicans wipe their chins like they’ve just eaten pussy. The papayas don’t do much for me, but the Mexicans start posturing, jockeying for position.

The Papaya Parade brakes just short of the curb—I’m standing at one of the benches with my fingers in leftover chili—and then the Mexicanas scramble over the seats and tumble out doors; purple mouths crack gum and each girl poses harder than the last.

One Mexicana yells, “¡Anda con otra!

I finish the chili. My stomach still feels empty though.

****

 

The bell rings every time a customer comes into the porn shop. The customers’ faces all show the same bored detachment, the same quiet loneliness. The guys are regulars—hardly ever strangers—and usually gringos.

The first day I got behind the counter, the guys hit on me with an intensity that was unnerving. They said they suffered “Latino lust.” They eyeballed me as if through a scope. I gave them breaks anyway: free lube, extra time in the booths, and turning my head when they sucked each other off in the aisles.

What I understood about these gringos was that the porn shop was a kind of trailer park on the avenue for white trash who needed to feel comfortable in an uncomfortable place, because they didn’t feel comfortable anyplace else. The sun comes in one window where I sit at the register, but I shiver because the manager insists you got to keep the air-conditioner high so it forces the smell of armpits and jizz up to the ceiling.

I stare at the light through the window and imagine it getting closer to me; it’s wrapping me up like a warm kiss, a man’s arms—a brown one who loves me. I catch something in my nose, a scent of peppery sugar and a muskrat smell, and come out of my zone. I never saw this Mexican before. He walks like a panther, or your imagination walking tracks in the carpet at the foot of your bed: you can’t hold him for long. He’s a hustler but not smudged or bruised like the ones I’ve seen on the streets. His brown shines like the surface of a dark soda.

The hustler stops at the register and cracks the counter light with his knuckles. He wears a gold band on his right hand, little finger.

“Hey,” he says, and his breath smells like cloves.

“Hey,” I say back.

The Mexican’s mouth is blood-dark. His eyes are velvet pincushions hemmed with inky lashes. A small scar edges the corner of his left eye; another runs from the corner of his mouth – and when he smiles, the scar disappears in the crease. His teeth are as bright as the white on a chessboard, but something sticks to his front tooth, a piece of tobacco.

The hustler moves away from the register and twitches his narrow hips; the tight loaves of his ass are wrapped in leather pants, and the skin running out the sleeves of his white t-shirt pulls taut across slim, solid bones. He stops at the condom display and grabs grooved, lubed, and Magnum, shoving individual packages in his front pockets. He’s already packing: I mean between the hipbones, barely constrained by his zipper.

I start to sweat beneath the air conditioner.

The hustler returns to the register and holds a finger to his mouth and then pats his pocket. I think he lets his fingers pass across his zipper on purpose. He flicks a hip against the counter, leaning forward so I can see his arm tightening just below the shoulder, then he places his hand on mine before flipping my hand over and jabbing at my palm with his finger.

Bueno,” he says then pins me with his pincushion-eyes.

“What?”

“Good. You got a good line,” he says. “All the lines in your hand, long and solid. You’ll live to fuck a long time, or fuck so much you’ll live a long time.”

“Are you trying to hustle me?” This is pretty unlikely; he’d have to be stupid or desperate to think I could afford him. I calculate ways to skim the register.

The hustler’s hand encloses mine, and the pressing heat makes me think of the pressure of two chests against each other, the push and pull, the friction of two bodies embracing, wrestling, fucking. The hustler’s black eyes are ringed by gold. The scar has a pulse.

“I haven’t seen you before.”

I shrug.

“Got any friends?” He rubs his finger over my knuckle.

“Hmm, yeah.” With my other hand, I swipe at my forehead.

The hustler looks amused. “Like who?”

“W-Willy. Black Tina.” I suck in my breath.

“What you need, Chico,” the hustler says, “is someone looking after your ass.” He laughs.

“W-what, you offering?”

The hustler lets go of my hand, and I feel the air-conditioned air rush for the warmth in my palm, so I close it. “Well, hey. It ain’t a big deal.” He knocks on the counter again, then stands straight. “What d’ you go by?”

“M-Manny.”

“You got one of those s-stuttering problems, Manny?” He punches me soft in the shoulder. “Just kidding.”

I recover fast enough to give him the bird. “Just kidding, too.”

The beautiful brown boy blows me a kiss as he leaves, twitching his narrow hips.

****

 

HE. IS. ON. MY. MIND. Yeah. Feels like the guy is a hot one through the veins; pincushion eyes and shining skin and a blood spot for a mouth and those sexy facial scars; and let’s not forget—yeah, yeah, breathe—how he twitched those hips and smelled like muskrat. Let’s not forget his kiss that went from the air to my face to my chest to my toes and then straight to my dick. Charged blood. Erect the whole damn rest of the day. I beat off five times, and each time:

HE. IS. ON. MY. MIND.

When I come out of the porn shop at three o’clock, I barely miss walking on Hank who pounds a vein in his elbow and barks, “See here? Still got a good one!”

Then I trip over Willy who says, “Hey, Manny, I scored!”

I mumble hello and take another step before hesitating and looking up and down the sidewalk like it’s race day. “Hey, Willy, hey.” I rush to my friend and engulf him in a hug.

Willy pats my shoulder. “Manny scored, too, huh?”

I wave good-bye heading toward Chubbys, turning my face into the sun as if snuggling the crook of the hustler’s arm. I serenade the crowd: “This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.” I’m wearing my girl’s narrow t-shirt that says Porn Star and punch out my chest, hear catcalls. After discovering an unwanted beef taco and an almost cold soda outside Chubbys, I holler “¡Hola, chicos!” to the Mexican gang bangers then walk again singing: “This light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine; all right!”

Black Tina stands on a corner facing the traffic. I dance then spin. The bird in her throat dips when she chuckles “What’s the matter with you? You high?” She cuffs my hair.

“Don’t mess with the do.” I smooth the strands.  “No drugs.” I jig.

Black Tina stoops to catch if the gringo in the SUV is signaling her then studies my tight jeans and T-shirt. “Don’t tell me. You’re a working faggot now.” Black Tina eyeballs me under metallic-blue lids. “You keep your ass behind the counter. I’m in no mood to worry about you.”

I stand on tiptoe and land a wet one on her shiny black cheek. “Don’t need to worry about me. I got me someone who’s watching my ass.” I grin, doing more jigs.

Black Tina wipes her face. “So Manny has a sugar daddy?”

I shake my head.

“Good. That’s a surefire way to end up right here.” Black Tina stamps the corner with her heel then ducks to see if the gringo in the Cutlass is signaling her. When he drives on, she swears under her breath.

“What I got is pure perfection.” I drop my voice an octave as if we’re in church. “You must have seen him somewhere. He’s real beautiful, real brown. He’s got these scars on his face.” I touch a finger to the corner of my eye then my mouth.

Black Tina shakes her head. “Oh hell, that one’s trouble, Manny.”

“Tell me. Who is he?” I feel the heat again, like a lighter hovers close to my wrist, heating the pulse underneath.

Black Tina stares down the block. “Carlos has no loyalty,” she says.

I look down the block and watch the hustlers. Some of the brown boys paint their eyes and pucker their lips at the traffic. Some grease their hair and sport enormous muscles. A few look scrappy and nervous.

“Look at all the lovely faggots,” Black Tina murmurs. “Want my advice?”

I shrug.

“Stay clear of Carlos and the rest of those boys. Misery loves company.”

“I’m not miserable.” I grin as evidence then fidget, searching the next block for the one Black Tina calls Carlos.

“Keep it that way,” she says.

A long car slows at the curb. A window rolls down revealing a gringo’s face. Black Tina leans in to negotiate. I take this as my exit and head straight for the next block. Some of the working boys snicker at me. Some of the hustlers hang in groups studying their nails, bitching about tricks, about lockjaw, and a lot of them brag about the size of their tips. I spot the beautiful hustler on the southeast corner, in front of the record shop: real records, slick vinyl, rare.

Carlos holds his corner alone. I watch him watch the traffic. “This little light of mine… I’m gonna let it shine….”

Next to the record shop is a Pete’s Kitchen, serving runny eggs and buttermilk biscuits with lard gravy. Next to Pete’s is Rita’s Flowers: a dozen roses for seven ninety-five. I wonder about them roses.

Carlos has one hip bent toward the traffic. He nudges the inside of a pocket with one finger. A teenaged gringo sticks his head out the window of a sports car then spits. Carlos shows him the finger. Other cars go by; the gringos size Carlos up; he acknowledges the attention by patting his crotch. I back into the wall of the record store and stuff my hands down my pockets. I’ve got a boner. I’m there for a while before Carlos notices me.

“Hey. You’re the chico from the porn shop.”

“Yeah.”

“Good lifeline.”

I shrug, half-smiling.

“You didn’t rat me out about the condoms.”

I nod.

Carlos props a shoulder against the wall next to me. “Owe you one, eh?”

“It’s nothing,” I say, but my boner hurts.

Looking me up and down, Carlos notices the tightness in my pants. “What’s that?”

I blush.

“Tell me,” he says.

I try to laugh. “My dick’s hard, all right?”

Carlos scoots closer. Our arms touch. “Why?” Bangs flop over his eyes and his breath blows against my neck. With a finger he tugs on my belt loop. “Tell me, M-M-Manny.” His breath is as hot as spiked punch.

“Shit,” I say. Sweat noses its way down my spine.

Carlos touches the bone that rises out of my collar with his lips. “Porn star, huh? What would you do to me?”

I move my elbow to touch him.

Carlos chuckles.

“I’d fuck you,” I tell him in determined voice.

After a minute, Carlos cups my crotch with his hand.

I hold his wrist and push his hand harder against me. “I want you, okay?”

“Nice, Chico.” In one quick motion, his hand lowers my zipper and the fly falls open. He holds my cock. I moan, unable to help it. “That’s nice, too.” He lets go.

Carlos steps back to the curb, watching the traffic.

I zip up then follow him. “What’s going on?”

He squints at the traffic. “I’m working.”

After several minutes and me not budging, Carlos looks at me. “You need some dinero? I mean real money, none of that minimum wage shit?” He waits. The traffic seems to move faster, a blur. The other hustlers laugh.

I scratch my neck, my arms.

“You anxious about something?”

“No.”

Carlos nods for me to come closer. “I got this trick, sí? He wants to watch me with an amigo.”

I don’t answer.

“You my amigo?”

One scrappy-looking hustler stands apart from the rest. The boys don’t talk to him. I imagine he charges ten for a blow job, anything to get them to stop.

“Hey.” Carlos knocks on my head with his knuckles. “You cool with this?”

“Sure, I’m cool.”

A Ford Taurus pulls up. Carlos leans in the window; the trick is a gringo, older, like forty, and he seems nervous, craning his neck to get a look at me out the window. He doesn’t seem impressed. Carlos laughs, which says to the trick: Easy does it, this is good, let’s try it out.

I’m in the backseat. Carlos relaxes in front next to the trick.

In the motel room, I just want this trick to scram. His hair is buzz cut; his jaw is rough with whiskers; he smells like a TV dinner; and his pale eyes dart around the room before landing on me. “Well?”

I look at Carlos, who nods and begins removing his clothes. His body is slim, taut, and dark. His cock isn’t erect but nestled like a brown dove in a nest of thread-like hair. I want to push my nose there and breathe. I undress, shivering. Carlos smiles and nods me over. I go to him. He lowers his head and lets his mouth trail across my shoulder. I shudder, teeth rattling.

The trick moves to the bed, yanks the covers off, and then asks real polite for us to get on the bed. Carlos lies with his head on a pillow, hair back from his face, arms stretched above his head.

“Get him hard,” the trick says.

I crawl my way to Carlos. Leaning over him, I kiss his face.

Carlos says, “Nice.” He licks my lips, licks my chin, smiles.

I kiss his throat.

“Nice, baby.”

I hold my face in his hair, laying tiny kisses on his temple. Carlos breathes into my collarbone. My cock hangs heavy and throbbing between us. I touch him with my hands. I’m not worth a shit; I’m too anxious. I want this too much. I want the trick to get lost.

“Carlos?”

“Yeah?” He smiles up at my face.

I melt on top of him, relax, let it go, and hold him. His hands reach around my waist, rubbing my back. I feel his cock pressing into my stomach.

“Suck me off,” he whispers in my ear.

I nod, my face still in his hair, but I just want to touch him, take my time, make it last, make it count. I start slow, rubbing his chest then his stomach.

“Come on, faggot. Make him come.” It’s the trick behind us, slouched in a chair, watching.

I lift my head and glare at him.

He glares back. “You’re out of your mind if you think I’m wasting money on this.”

I bite down on my tongue then lose my hard-on.

The trick springs from his chair. “This is bullshit!”

Carlos pushes me off him. He smiles real easy at the trick. “It’s okay, Amigo, it’s just the niño, you know, he’s new at this, nervous.” Carlos pats my back. “Get dressed, Manny.”

I shake my head. “What? No.”

He nods for me to do it then looks at the trick. “You and me have fun, ?”

“Get the fuck out of here,” the trick says to me.

Carlos says, “Hey, easy does it, he’s going.” He nods to me again. “Go on, Manny. I’ll hook up with you later.”

I hesitate. “Promise?”

The trick curses.

“Yeah.” The scar near Carlos’ eye ticks. “I promise.”

****

 

Mom told me, “Go. You have to leave, baby.”

I tripped over stuff moving through the yard. It was dark. I got a pain in my stomach, so I started to run. The faster I went, the better I felt—like layers were falling off—and I ran as far as I could without stopping. When I reached Colfax Avenue, the porn shop manager made a deal with me: if I watched the register, and swept the floor after each shift, wiped come off the seats between customers, I could crash in the broom closet for free.

In that closet there’s a window. If I stand on the ladder, I can push my nose to the screen. I spit in my hand and hold my cock, short and wide in my grip. As my cock grows and tightens, I’m stronger for those moments before I think of him and life-blood-come spills through the cracks between my fingers. My body sags in the corner of the closet. That’s how I drift in and out of what’s sleep every night since the last time I saw Carlos. I hug my legs to my chest, cock nestled between them. Mostly what sleep brings is an instant replay, and each dream is different.

In the first, the trick in the Taurus is nervous. I can tell, and Carlos can, too. We don’t go.

Or, the trick is cool and we go to the motel and toast with champagne, and then we make love—me and Carlos—and the trick cries because we’re so fucking beautiful together.

Or, the trick freaks out in the motel room and Carlos says to forget it then says, “We’re getting the hell out of here,” and we hightail it back to Colfax swearing and laughing at the close call, then Carlos buys me breakfast at Pete’s Kitchen, eggs with soft yolk bleeding over the white, and tells me that we need to stick together.

No matter what, my dreams didn’t go the way reality went. In reality, I got lost after the trick kicked me out because I didn’t know exactly where the motel was. A bunch of crackers found me though then shoved me face first in the concrete while one took a leak on the back of my neck. I stumbled down streets then ended up in a head shop lifting a pack of “all natural” cigarettes before getting busted and hauled off to jail. I stayed the night in a cell where I thought I saw the trick in the Taurus as a moon face glaring through the hole of a window.

I screamed until a guard promised to knock me out cold.

****

 

There’s a tiny headline in the back of the newspaper about a hustler that got cut up in a motel room off Colfax. I put fifty cents in every newspaper stand I find on the avenue and carry as many papers as I can back to the closet. The air smells like newsprint.

Willy waves at me as I’m walking between the newsstands and the porn shop. The junkie’s arm trembles. He looks like fucking hell, and I tell him.

“Thanks, friend.” Willy’s eyes fog up.

Black Tina grabs me on my third trip with the newspapers. “This isn’t doing you a lick of good.” The whore knocks the papers out of my arms and I lunge for them, screaming. She stays calm. “A friend of mine will load you up so you can sleep this shit off.”

“Fuck you,” I say. The sun hasn’t shone in three days. The air is biting and cold and inky.

Black Tina grabs my arm. When she breathes on me, the air is sour with vodka. Her mascara is running. “I know where this heads, Manny. I know what you’re after.”

Yeah, she would know what I want, the whore who carries a knife in her purse.

I clean up and buy a pair of boots just like his.

I take up the southeast corner and hold it. The other hustlers avoid me; they think I’m loco. Eventually, a car slows down at the curb: a trick, the first one. He isn’t the one I’m waiting for, but that’s going to take time, and so this one will do. I got the heat inside me, and it’s exactly what the trick thinks, so he sizes me up. I show him the smile until he relaxes.

I climb into his car, coiled tight on the seat. The gringo tells me to bend over so he can see my cherry ass.  The trick swabs the cherry with spit on his finger.

The trick gasps, “Motherfuckinggodohgodthatfeelsgood.”

But it’s only this for me: bile washing over my tongue, payback in my heart, and oh, I got the guts, comprende?

***

 

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