Book: Suckerpunch

Previous: Chapter 14
Next: Acknowledgments

MY DAD CALLED MY mom soon after Enrique and I left his apartment and told her everything that happened. When Oliver dropped us off the next day late in the afternoon and we walked into the house, she went off. What were you two thinking? You lied to me. You said you were going to Las Vegas. I can’t believe you would do such a thing. Where in the hell did you get the gun? Marcus, what happened to your face? I didn’t raise you two to behave like animals. How can I ever trust you again? Marcus, go put some ice on your face.

I went into the kitchen and opened the freezer and packed a Ziploc bag with some ice cubes. Then I went upstairs into my room and closed the door and lay on the bed with the bag of ice pressed to my cheek. I thought about the horse. I thought about my dad and Enrique and the horse again, always the horse, broken and shaking in the rain.

Even though I was exhausted from the trip, I couldn’t fall asleep. I stayed up past midnight watching the green numbers of my digital clock.

I woke up late the next morning with a headache pulsing between my eyes. I shook some aspirin out of a bottle and swallowed it with a handful of water. Enrique was already awake and eating cereal at the dinner table, the spoon chiming against the bowl. There was a large cardboard box on the table and I heard something moving inside it.

Mom found it in the backyard, Enrique muttered, milk dripping from his bottom lip.

I inched toward the table until I saw the black feathers. A crow’s ebony head popped over the edge of the box and swiveled in my direction.

Where did she find it?

I don’t know. Ask her.

My mom walked in from the garage carrying a basket of laundry. Marcus, your face looks terrible, she said. Go put some ice on it.

I did already.

It still looks really swollen.

I’ll do it again later.

She put down the laundry basket and walked toward the table. Did you see the crow?

Yeah. Where was it?

It was just sitting there in the grass. I’ve been feeding it oatmeal.

Crows eat meat, Mom.

They’re scavengers, Enrique said. They’ll eat anything.

I went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. I took out the salami, unpeeled a few flimsy slices from the bag and went back to the table. I held the salami up to the crow. When it opened its beak, I dropped it in.

Is it male or female? I asked my mom.

Not sure.

I think it’s male.

You’re probably right, she said.

Let’s have crow tonight for dinner, Enrique suggested.

My mom scrunched up her face. Enrique, that’s disgusting.

I looked at the crow. He sure is quiet for a noisy bird, I said.

He hasn’t made a sound all morning, my mom said. I think he’s scared.

How come he can’t fly?

I don’t know. His wings look fine to me.

I leaned into the box and the crow backed into the corner, his claws scratching against the cardboard. He just squatted there silently and stared up at us, his shiny black eyes like drops of ink.

 

Two weeks later school started again at Cerritos High. I was now in my final year and could stand on Senior Hill next to the courtyard and not worry that some lineman on the varsity football team would slap the back of my neck. It was a tradition at the school—the hard smack that left welts on some unsuspecting kid’s neck, branding him as he scurried down the hill.

That first Monday it seemed like everyone on campus looked at me differently thanks to Britt’s big mouth. I heard you shot a horse, a junior said to me by the lockers. Is it true you shot a horse? a freshman asked in the cafeteria.

Yeah, I did, I told the freshman.

Cool.

No, it wasn’t cool.

Oh, okay, he said, and walked away with his tray of spaghetti and meatballs.

I was hanging out with Oliver on Senior Hill when he told me about Catface, how sometimes she bolts across the room as if a firecracker went off under her. That cat’s psycho, Oliver said.

Did you give her any acid?

No, man.

I stared at Oliver, trying to sniff out the lie on his face.

I swear, he said. She freaks out on her own.

So your mom is cool with you keeping her?

I guess. She likes to jump on her bed in the middle of the night. Scares the shit out of her.

I laughed and imagined Catface in Mrs. Thompson’s bedroom, moving quietly across the carpet. I imagined her leaping onto the bed and Mrs. Thompson jerking awake. I wondered if there were ever times when she thought it was her husband, climbing back to bed after getting a drink of water or taking a piss.

Hey, Killer, Britt yelled from behind.

I turned around and saw him walking up the hill, pointing his finger at me like a gun.

Don’t be a dipshit, I said.

Would you rather I call you Nub or Freak Show?

Yes, I would.

Okay, Freak Show.

Hey, did you get this flyer? Oliver said. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a fluorescent green sheet of paper and handed it to Britt. I had already seen the flyer, the collage of beer cans and women in bathing suits, a house address scrawled at the bottom in a gangster font.

Whose party is this? Britt wanted to know.

Tower’s.

Last time I saw that dude, he was carrying you into the bathroom at the Travelodge.

I was pretty wasted that night, Oliver said, and smiled, reminiscing.

We all were, I said.

Britt socked me lightly on the arm. Especially you, Nub.

I’m never taking that shit again, I said.

Too bad you guys didn’t make it to San Francisco.

Yeah, Oliver said, and stared at the grass as if there was something to see there.

I looked over across the courtyard and saw Enrique leaning against a wall with the Heavy Metalers, a crowd I hadn’t seen him mingle with before. They had long straight hair, and their attire was simple: black jeans or gray corduroys with a band T-shirt, Tool or Korn or Godsmack. I saw Ashley, her hair now dyed blue, walk up shyly to Enrique. My brother said a few words to her and she turned away and walked by herself across the courtyard. One of the Heavy Metalers shook his head no and his long hair stirred on his back like a curtain that’s just been closed.

I waited until Enrique saw me staring at him and I waved him over. He walked leisurely toward the hill as if he was bored with the idea of movement. After we returned from our trip, he went back on his meds and his mood had stabilized somewhat. A week later he had an appointment with Dr. Kumar, who wanted to try out another antidepressant. He seemed to be doing much better. Of course, he still wanted nothing to do with our dad and was content with the idea of never speaking to him again.

My mom, on the other hand, thought I should and kept nagging me to call him, so one Sunday afternoon while Enrique was out mowing the lawn I did. I parted the blinds with two fingers and watched him push the mower across our yard, cutting the grass in neat, even stripes. It was a brief conversation that left me confused: I wanted my dad in my life and I didn’t want him in my life. I’d like to see you again soon, he said. Both of you, he added. I watched Enrique make another pass across the lawn. I have to go, I said. Good-bye, Dad.

What’s up? Enrique said when he was finally standing beside us on Senior Hill.

Don’t hang out with those guys, I said.

Why not?

Just don’t.

Whatever, he said.

Bruce Powell, one of the bigger linebackers on the varsity team, snuck up behind Enrique with his hand raised, his eyes focused on the back of my brother’s neck. I pulled Enrique behind me and held my hand up at Bruce. Don’t ever touch my brother, I said.

Chill, Bruce said, backing off.

You shouldn’t be up here, Oliver said to my brother. Someone’s going to get you eventually.

Enrique shrugged. Hey, what’s that? he said, pointing at the green flyer in Britt’s hand. A party?

Yeah, Britt said. Are we going to this thing or what?

Enrique and I looked at each other. It’s up to you, he said.

Both of us, I corrected him.

 

I’d decided to take an art class that year. My teacher, Ms. Elliot, was a short woman with glasses and hair like steel wool. On the first day of class, she had us grab one of the magazines she’d put out on her desk and told us to find an image we thought was striking and draw it. I grabbed a National Geographic and found a photo of a boy in the Amazon jungle with a blowgun to his lips. He was bare-chested with red paint on his face. The blowgun was angled up toward the trees. According to the caption, a white-bellied spider monkey was perched high up on a branch. The caption didn’t say whether the boy hit the monkey with his dart, but I wanted to believe that he did, that his aim was perfect and the monkey squeaked and fell and the boy now felt like a man.

When all the students pinned up their drawings on the board that Wednesday morning, Ms. Elliot pointed at mine and said, Who drew this?

I raised my hand.

It’s wonderful, she said, and leaned in close to my Amazon warrior boy. She straightened her glasses on her nose. Nicely done, she said.

After class I bumped into Ashley in the hallway. We hadn’t really spoken to each other since we got back from our trip. I could tell she was glum. She wasn’t wearing her little silver stud in her nose and her bright blue hair hung limp to her shoulders.

Hey, you, I said.

Hi, Marcus.

How’ve you been?

Your brother’s an asshole.

He’s going through a lot right now, I said. Some heavy stuff, you know?

Yeah, well, she said, and her voice trailed off into the clamor of students moving around us, their small talk and gossip and laughter. I still had some feelings for Ashley, but it was different now—its color and shape had changed. I guess I was going through a lot of heavy stuff myself.

Someone from behind me covered my eyes and their hands smelled of strawberry lotion. It was a game—Guess who? But I knew immediately.

Hi, Beth, I said.

She removed her hands and clicked her tongue. You’re no fun, she said, and slapped me playfully on the shoulder.

Sorry, I said. I’ll guess wrong the next time.

What makes you think there’s going to be a next time? Beth smiled a big flirtatious smile.

Ashley looked at her watch. I have to get to class, you guys. It’s all the way over by the science building.

I’ll catch you later, Beth said.

See ya, I said, and watched Ashley head down the hallway with the crush of students, a bright blue head in a sea of blondes and brunettes.

I turned to Beth. She was wearing a green sweater that brightened the contrast of her olive eyes. Your brother broke her heart, she said.

I know, I said. He tends to do that.

How ’bout you?

I’ve been meaning to call you, I said.

Sure you have.

Seriously.

Uh-huh.

I’ll call you tonight, I said. Okay?

She shifted her books from one side of her arms to the other. I’ll be holding my breath, she said, smiling.

 

The crow stayed with us for three weeks. We kept him inside the cardboard box and placed him by the TV in the living room. Sometimes during dinner we moved the box to the chair where my dad used to sit and fed him scraps of whatever we were eating: salami, cheese, ground beef from Mom’s empanadas, pizza, tuna, fries, and fish sticks. He really loved fish sticks. Some days we took the crow outside and let him hop around in the grass. We were puzzled as to why he didn’t just fly away.

What’s wrong with him? Enrique said. We were standing in the backyard, looking down at the crow, his feathers blue-black in the bright sun.

I don’t know, I said.

He jabbed at the grass with his beak, looking for a worm.

He doesn’t fly or talk or anything, Enrique said.

Maybe he’s a mute crow, I said.

But how come he doesn’t fly?

Who knows? Maybe he’s afraid to fly.

That’s stupid, Enrique said.

My mom was at the other end of the yard, watering the flower beds. She moved the hose from side to side and the water came out of it like a sheer curtain. She stopped moving her arm and just stood there holding the hose without blinking. It was as if the water had hypnotized her.

Mom, I yelled.

She snapped out of it and looked at me and suddenly the crow leaped into the air, his feathers rustling by my ears. He angled up and flew toward our neighbor’s house and perched on the roof. Seconds later he sailed back down onto the lawn.

He’s going to leave, my mom said.

I’m tired of him anyway, Enrique said.

I moved slowly toward the crow and reached out with my hand, palm up. He blinked his oily black eyes and crouched low and lifted off into the air again, flying back to the top of our neighbor’s roof. He began to caw, over and over, and it sounded like the rusty hinge on an old gate swinging in the wind.

Hey, he can talk, my mom said. She was looking up at the crow with her hand like an awning over her eyes, shielding the sun.

I wonder what he’s saying, I said.

He’s saying, So long, suckers, Enrique said.

Then he lifted off and flew away from us—a black hole that slid across the sky and over the quiet houses—and I knew that he wasn’t ever coming back.

Previous: Chapter 14
Next: Acknowledgments