It’s President’s day, a dead white man’s holiday. School is out. I’m standing in the courtyard smoking Camels with Diego. We’re shooting the bull about the presidentes and how Tamieka struts her ass down Sherman Way like nobody’s business.
“Thanks Jorge Washington for them wooden teeth ‘cause a top hat ain’t bringin’ in Tamieka,” Diego says.
“Don’t be dissin’ Lincoln. He freed half of youse.”
“What half is that?
I’m about to I tell my Lincoln joke but I stop when Diego tips his head. Without turning around I know exactly what’s up: my mother is tweaking, spinning, hanging the drain. She claws her way out of our apartment, tears off the screen and hangs out the window.
Damn. Not today when Tamieka wears her red, white, and blue ribbons in her braids like the first lady of the San Fernando Valley, and Diego and I want her trick so badly we ache for it.
“Get in,” my mother screams. Her voice is a siren in the courtyard.
No matter what sets my mother off, she is ready like a chain up pitt. She rants about peanut butter jars, damns the smog, and curses Reverend Dee.
Diego stamps out his Camel. “We’ll hook up with Tamieka later, bro.”
I ball up my fists. “I’m gonna kill her crazy ass, I swear to God.”
“Let it ride,” Diego says all macho-like.
I can’t let it ride. Climbing the steps, I remember how in the Philippines my mother was soft spoken. She made sticky rice and adobo. We’d sit in the shade and she’s slice mangos into fine pieces and feed them to me.
Then came Reverend Dee and his Winds of Grace church sucking my mother into Jesus craziness. What type of deal did the Reverend whisper in her ear—the Holy Spirit would protect her with a Green Card and a manicure set? California would save her? If my father were alive, there would be no Reverend Dee, no US of A. My father would have stomped Reverend Dee before his first sermon.
When I reach our apartment, the room is empty. Television voices blare Jepordary! questions. I walk over to my mother’s bedroom. I listen as she begs the blank walls to rescue her from this city of fallen angels where we live like leftovers, forgotten and spoiled.
I step closer.
She turns from the wall. “Boy,” she asks, “whose boy are you?” Her eyes are glassed and gone.
If I wanted to I could snap my mother’s neck in one quick strike, put us both out of this misery. Who would know or even care about two nobodies grinding it out in the land of empty? No one. Not Jesus. Not my dead father, and not fucking Revered Dee.
I drape a sheet over her.
My mother pats my hand. Her fingers are as smooth as a mango’s peel. “Mine.”
“Yours,” I say then catch up with Diego, so we can deal it down with Tamieka.