Book: Suckerpunch

Previous: Chapter 11
Next: Chapter 13

WHILE OLIVER WENT TO get us some sandwiches at Subway, Ashley and I sat with Enrique in our room at the Best Western and mulled over what to do with him. He curled up on one of the beds and sobbed. He screamed at us when we tried to convince him it was time to go home. His face scrunched up like a fist. No, he shrieked. We’re not going home. Ashley ran her fingers through his coffee brown hair. It’s okay, sweetie, she cooed.

By the time dusk came around and filled the sky with pink clouds, a calmness washed over my brother, and his face then reminded me of our neighbor’s, Mr. Murphy, the day an ambulance backed up into his driveway. My dad had always said the Murphys were crazy and that he wouldn’t be surprised if they all ended up in the loony bin. Then one Sunday morning the paramedics took Mrs. Murphy out on a stretcher. See? my dad said. What did I tell you? Later on that afternoon, Enrique and I stood on top of the air-conditioning unit in our backyard and watched Mr. Murphy ride a child’s bicycle around and around his swimming pool, his pale face serene as a statue’s.

Oliver returned with our sandwiches and set the bags on the table.

Enrique washed himself up in the bathroom. When he came out, he looked at us with his wet hair combed back. I feel better, you guys, he said. Really, I do.

Ashley walked up behind my brother and looped her arms around his waist.

Good, I said. But I still think we should head back home.

It’s going to be dark soon. Let’s leave first thing in the morning, he suggested.

To San Francisco, Oliver added. We have to see my uncle.

Forget it, I said.

What do you mean Forget it?

We need to get my brother home. He’s not well, if you haven’t noticed.

It’s my damn car. Oliver glared at me. And we agreed we’d see my uncle after your stupid little stunt here with Enrique.

What stunt? Ashley said, looking at Enrique. What’s he talking about?

Nothing, he said. It’s nothing.

I thought you had a whole sheet of your uncle’s acid left? I asked.

I do, but he told me he’s got some uppers. And some other shit he couldn’t mail to me.

Marcus, it’s okay, Enrique said. We’ll drive to San Francisco in the morning, get the pills, and then we’ll head back home.

It’ll only take us an hour and a half to get there, Oliver said. Two hours tops.

Catface jumped on the small table in the corner and began licking her forepaws.

Whatever, I said. I leaned back on the bed and kicked off my shoes and let them thump on the ground. Do what you want, I don’t care.

Oliver clicked on the television and the four of us watched the sports highlights in silence, then a few lame commercials, then the weather forecast for the Bay Area. Scattered showers in the morning with a chance of thunder, the pudgy weatherman said. On the screen was an animated cartoon cloud with blue raindrops across three frames.

I’m not even sure if the windshield wipers work, Oliver said.

Great, I muttered.

I thought about the afternoon Enrique and I flew a kite in the rain, how we tied a key to the tail and wished for lightning. The kite was black with big yellow eyes like an owl’s. The wind pushed it higher and higher into the charcoal gray sky and the wooden handle spun in our hands, vibrating as the string unspooled. The rain pelted us and we watched the kite sway side to side above us like the head of a cobra ready to strike.

Enrique jumped out of bed, full of energy, and picked up my backpack. Let’s go, he said.

You’ve got to be kidding, I said.

We’re not leaving Monterey until we see him.

Let’s stay here, babe, Ashley said. You’ve had a rough day.

Oliver didn’t take his eyes off the TV. I’m staying here, dude.

Fine. Can I borrow the car?

Sweetie, Ashley said.

Oliver dug inside his front jeans pocket and pulled out the keys. He flung them at Enrique, who caught them with one hand.

Don’t go, Ashley pleaded.

I have to, Ash.

No, you don’t, I said.

Look, I’m going. Enrique slung the backpack over one shoulder. You can come or you can stay here, I don’t care either way.

I looked at my little brother, who was now tall with broad shoulders and whiskers on his chin. Once he was a cheerful kid, giggling on a merry-go-round, in a bathtub with a cloud of suds on his head. Once he shucked off his swim trunks and ran naked along a shore, howling like a car alarm as my dad ran after him, his footsteps sinking deep into the wet sand.

Enrique’s hand was on the doorknob. Well? he said.

Wait, I said. Let me put on my shoes.

Ashley pulled on a sweatshirt and flung her green hair over the hood. I’m going too.

 

It felt strange letting Enrique drive. At home, I was always the one behind the wheel while he sat in the passenger seat, his feet kicked up on the dash. Even though I’m only a year older, I felt fatherly toward Enrique on those drives to the market or the mall or wherever we went, like there were things in life I could teach him. But here in Monterey, more than three hundred miles from home, with Enrique driving and me in the passenger seat, I felt small, like it was his turn to give me the lesson.

We were a few blocks away from the apartment building. I had the map open and the dome light on. We’re looking for Charlwood Avenue, I said.

Got it, Enrique said.

You’re going too fast.

No, I’m not.

I glanced over at the speedometer, where the needle pointed to sixty. Yes, you are. This is not a freeway.

Slow down, babe, Ashley said from the backseat.

Streetlamps flew past and their orange light slid quickly in and out of the car, pulling our shadows into the windshield.

Slow down, Ashley repeated, almost yelling.

Damn, okay, Enrique snapped. I heard you the first time.

A siren whined far off and I looked behind us. Ashley had also turned around and faced the back window. Oh no, she muttered.

A police car approached us, blue and red lights strobing.

Nice going, I told my brother.

Shit, Enrique said. The gun.

A bolt of panic struck the car, jolting all of us.

What? Ashley said. What gun?

I grabbed my backpack and shoved it deep under the passenger seat.

It’s a starter pistol, actually, Enrique said. It’s not loaded.

What the hell are you doing with a starter pistol? Ashley asked. I knew something was going on.

Relax, you guys, just relax, I said even though I was far from being relaxed myself. The gun was under my seat—the cop would think it belonged to me.

Enrique slowed down and began to pull over. Damn it, he shouted, and slammed the heel of his palm against the steering wheel.

Shit, shit, shit, Ashley chanted. We’re going to jail.

We’re not going to jail.

Yes, we are. If you have a gun—

It’s a starter pistol, Enrique yelled.

Okay, everyone calm the hell down, I said. If you don’t, he’s going to think something’s up.

The tires of the Buick crunched over gravel as we rolled to a stop. The police car pulled up right behind us and our skin and hair and clothes flashed blue, red, blue, red.

I glanced over at Ashley. She rocked back and forth, her arms wrapped tightly around her as if she were wearing a straitjacket. I reached over and placed my hand on her knee. We’re not going to jail, I said. Nothing’s going to happen.

Ashley swallowed hard and placed her hand on top of my own.

Just be calm, everyone, I said, but when I glanced over at Enrique, he’d begun to weep. Whether it was fear or lack of meds or a combination of both, I couldn’t tell.

Get a grip, I snapped at him.

The police officer knocked on the glass. Enrique rolled down the window.

Good evening, the officer said. He shined his flashlight at my brother’s face, his wet cheeks. Enrique sniffled and wiped his nose.

What’s going on here? the officer asked.

My, my dad, Enrique said, stammering and weeping. He just, my dad, he just died.

The officer shifted the flashlight to my stunned face, then Ashley’s, then back to Enrique, who was still muttering on, playing the role of the boy who lost his father.

We’re going, we’re going to see…, he continued. Going to see my mom. He made a fist and held it against his forehead. Oh God, Dad. Why, God, why…

Enrique leaned in to the steering wheel and a string of snot stretched down from his nose.

I’m sorry, son, the officer said. But you can’t drive as fast as you were driving.

I know, I know…

What’s your name?

Enrique leaned back in his seat. Oliver, he said. I know I was going fast, I’m sorry, my mom called, she was hysterical. Enrique covered his eyes with one hand. Oh, Dad, he mumbled. Oh, Dad.

The officer shined the flashlight on my face again. And your name?

I could’ve peed on myself right then.

Alberto, I said, which is my middle name. I’m his friend, I added.

The flashlight’s beam crossed over to Ashley, frozen in the backseat, her mouth half open. Only her eyes moved.

And yours? the officer asked.

Ashley said nothing. Her eyes quickly darted to mine and then back to the officer.

That’s Cindy, I said. She’s my girlfriend.

Look, the officer said, turning his attention back to Enrique. I can’t let you drive in this condition. His tone was soothing, sympathetic.

He’s right, Oliver, I said. Let me drive.

Enrique wiped his eyes with his palms. He took a deep breath and let it out. Okay, he finally said.

My legs felt numb as I stepped out of the car and walked around the front of the Buick, my fingertips trailing the hood. While Enrique was standing by the road, the officer placed his hand on his shoulder as if he were consoling his own son.

Moments later the police officer was nothing more than two red taillights shrinking into the night. We sat in the car for a long time, catching our breath.

I think I’m going to be sick, Ashley said, her voice cracking.

Roll down the window, Enrique offered. He wiped his face with his shirtsleeve and sighed. Jesus, he said. I should get an Oscar for that performance, don’t you think?

I leaned back and breathed slowly out of my nose, trying to calm down my heart. I lifted my hands off the steering wheel and they trembled in the orange light of a streetlamp.

Enrique chuckled as if he’d been acting the whole time, but I was right there, sitting right beside him. There was something darker happening to him that went beyond simple role playing.

It’s not funny, Enrique, Ashley said. What’s wrong with you?

Babe, nothing happened. Why are you so pissed?

Because I told you to slow down.

I stared at my brother hard and shook my head.

What? he said.

We’re going back, that’s what.

Like hell we are.

I’m not doing this, I said.

Then drive me there and I’ll do it myself.

No way.

Come on, Marcus.

I said no.

Screw you, then. Enrique grabbed the map from the dashboard and yanked the backpack out from under the passenger seat.

What are you doing? I said.

Enrique opened the car door.

Sweetie, stop, Ashley said. Please, get back in.

The door was wide open and Enrique already had one foot outside, his body half turned away from us. He looked at me over his shoulder. You’re either driving me there or I’m walking there, he said.

Tires shrieked in the distance. A car blared its horn and a man shouted into the night.

Now, my brother said, which one is it going to be?

 

Enrique and I have stood on many doorsteps together. Like the afternoon our Frisbee sailed over the wall and into the Murphys’ backyard. We let Rock Paper Scissors decide who would knock on his door, but when I won Enrique begged me to go with him until I said yes. I made my brother ring the doorbell, but then he cowered behind me. When the door opened, Mr. Murphy was wearing a three-piece suit and a fluorescent yellow diving mask. The Frisbee was already in his hand, balanced on top of his fingertips as if he were some stuffy waiter at a fancy restaurant. I believe this flying contraption belongs to you, he said, his voice all nasal from the mask pinching his nose.

There was also the time we stood on the doorstep of the Chinese family that lived on the corner of our street. We’d heard they were giving away puppies. The door opened and this Asian woman stood before us in black pajamas with cherry blossoms embroidered on the sleeves. Where are the puppies? I asked her. She shook her head and said something in Chinese. Puppies, I said. Do you have any puppies? When the woman shrugged, Enrique began barking spastically and panting with his tongue out. Then she closed the door in our faces.

There were Halloweens when we went door-to-door together, swinging our bags of candy. One year I was a werewolf and Enrique was Dracula. I complained to my mom that my flimsy mask looked lame, so she spray-painted some cotton balls brown and glued them onto the mask. I was pretty happy with it until Chuck Phillips’s dad asked me if I was supposed to be Fozzie Bear. Enrique wore a black vest and a black cape and had plastic fangs that glowed in the dark. My mom painted fake blood on the corners of his mouth that dripped down to his chin. Every time we rang the doorbell, Enrique said, I vant to sock your blod. We got our handfuls of candy and then we moved on to the next house, the next welcome mat, and waited for another door to open.

But now we stood outside our dad’s apartment, the porch light yellowing our skin, the air ripe with the scent of coming rain. I thought of Enrique’s plastic fangs, the teeth my dad would knock out years later. I thought of my brother barking like a dog and the puppies that didn’t exist, their invisible whimpers. And as Enrique readjusted the backpack over his shoulder, I thought of Mr. Murphy answering the door in his diving mask, the strangeness of that moment, as if the world were a dream in some other boy’s head.

Enrique rang the doorbell and took a step back.

I stared at the circle of light in the peephole and rubbed my palms on my jeans.

Footsteps thudded behind the door like a heartbeat through a stethoscope.

The peephole went completely dark.

There was a long pause.

Then the door opened.

Previous: Chapter 11
Next: Chapter 13