Red, Grey and Blue

daisy_eganNonfiction by Daisy Eagan

Sunday. Another staggeringly hot August day in the middle of a heat wave that’s lasted all summer.

All the windows are open. Someone nearby is blasting ranchera and I’m grateful that at least it’s not the out-of-tune Mariachi band that comes around sometimes. The man with the ice cream cart goes by ringing his tinny bell. The Ice Cream man replaces the Tamale man who came earlier in the day. The Tamale man stands by the open back door of his station wagon calling out, “Tamales comprados! Tamales!” He used to come by everyday at the same time until one morning I yelled out, “It’s 8:00 in the morning on a Saturday, for Christ’s sakes! SHUT! UP!” Since then he comes by less. Or maybe I just like to think it’s because of me.

These are all welcome distractions today. I am trying to write 5 pages of memoir for a workshop I’m taking and nothing will come. I’m thinking about cheating and handing in something I wrote for another class.

My dog barks at a yellow remote control car that speeds past the kitchen window. Oscar’s kid sits on his front step, the controller in his little hands. Hector’s roommate walks by drinking a Heineken. He’s not wearing a shirt. I don’t like him. He’s greasy and he always whistles at my dog as he passes, riling him up and getting him running back and forth from the front door to the kitchen window, barking and jumping.

The cursor blinks at me. Mocking me at the top of an empty page. The morning of false starts has bled into afternoon. Panic setting in as deadlines approach. A stack of books waiting for me on the kitchen table. The old familiar symphony of doubt drifts into my head. And then.

Pop. Pop. Poppop. Pop.

I look quickly at the doorknob, like it will give me an explanation. My boyfriend’s words echo in my ears, “It’s just firecrackers. It’s okay.” It’s okay, I tell myself.

I leaf through an old diary again, hoping that something new will have written itself since this morning. Looking for inspiration in a past I can only remember by reading.

It doesn’t register at first. The familiar tune of helicopter blades slicing the air. It’s gotten so I don’t even hear them anymore. But then I hear trucks. And neighbors murmuring. I peek my head out. Fire trucks and cop cars line my street. Other heads are peeking out of doorways. Hector’s roommate stands at the front gate, propping it open, looking east down the block. The quiet woman from upstairs stands beside him. I head toward them.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Someone got shot,” Hector’s roommate says.

A small crowd of people are gathered maybe 20 feet away from my front gate. I see cops forming a loose semi-circle, casually holding them back. One makes a weak gesture at the crowd, asking for room. And I see legs laid on the sidewalk. I’m compelled forward by, what? A terrified curiosity. Dread. Naïve hope. Bragging rights.

I peer, tip-toed, between the branches of a tree. They’ve cut his shirt off him. Paramedics move gloved hands frantically over his big, brown belly. Some women turn away, shaking their heads, hands on their own chests, as if protecting themselves from his wounds. I can’t tell if he has his eyes open and I want to know. His shaved head rests so close to the wrought iron fence, I wonder if he hit it on the way down. And I can’t shake this thought. His head so close to the fence. I worry that the pain of his skull cracking on the iron bars was worse than the gun shots, themselves.

This is something I think about on my own, now and then. I worry about getting shot and hurting myself on the way down. My kneecaps shattering on the hard concrete. My skull splitting open and pouring its contents on the pavement. The thought of it makes me wince. Every time. I don’t worry so much about the gunshots. Those are quick. Those, I imagine, don’t cause too much pain. But the bone on concrete. That worries me.

I turn away, shaking my head, my hands on my chest.

“I thought they were firecrackers.” I say to Hector’s roommate.

“So did my husband.” The woman next to him says. “But I said ‘no’.”

His head was so close to the fence.

He will ditch his gun in a dumpster somewhere and go home and watch TV while his mother cooks Sunday dinner in the next room. Somewhere another mother sits in a hospital waiting room while her son bleeds to death on the O.R. table. This morning she was in church. Praying to keep everyone safe. Praying to find a way to get her family out of the neighborhood. Praying that she won’t have to bury her son. This morning, his mother was also probably in church, praying for the very same things. And he will eat Doritos and play Grand Theft Auto with the volume up as high as it will go. He’ll rustle his little brother’s hair as he goes by and chide him about his homework. Somewhere another little brother sits at home with an Aunt maybe, or the neighborlady, wondering why everyone is shaking their heads and whispering.

“Anything?” he will hear someone ask.

“Nothing.” another grownup will reply, clutching her Rosary beads.

“And what does this get you?” I ask him in my head. “Cred? Respect? A higher ranking? You saw the guy who wronged you. He stole your woman, maybe. Or he talked shit about you. Or he tagged over your tag in the alley on Barton Ave. Or he shot your boy. So, you slow down, roll down your window and before he knows to run, POP POP POPPOP POP.

“Do you feel better now? Do you feel some kind of relief? Are you proud that you killed a man, in the middle of the afternoon while Oscar’s kid played with his remote control car in the front yard?

“Imagine this: One of the bullets meant for the man you shot pierced through the window of the apartment he stood in front of and right into the head of a little girl going to get a sharpener so she could sharpen her crayon. Or into the head of the priest who heard your mother’s sins this morning. Or into the head of your mother.

“Coward.”

These are the thoughts that will keep me up at night.

The street is taped off. I can’t walk my dog around the block unless I use the alley. But now, I don’t know what’s hiding there. If a man can get shot in the middle of the afternoon, right on the sidewalk, God knows what can happen in an alley. I’ve never been afraid of it before, but now it’s just like the attic was when I was 5, forbidding and threatening. There may be monsters there.

I ask the tall, thin cop as he walks toward me, hand on his hip, if I can get to my car on the other side of the tape. Another approaches.

“Her car is over there.” The first one explains.

“Which one is it?” The other asks.

“It’s the. . . Not the. . . It’s the Protégé. The black one.” I’m feeling guilty talking to these cops. Like I’ve done something wrong. I’m aware of wanting to sound perfectly innocent so I can leave and drive away as quickly as possible. One cop walks away and says something to a third cop. He looks at me for a moment and then nods. The other one comes back.

“It’s okay. You can go. I’ll walk you over there. Here, let’s cross the street.” He leads me away from where the man had been. There are two piles of clothes. There is blood. A small chalk circle. His head was so close to the fence.

“Is he okay?” I ask the cop. “The man.”

“I don’t know.” He says without looking at me. He walks with his shoulders leading the way, like any moment he’s going to leap forward. “Last we heard he was alive but not doing well.”

“I thought they were firecrackers. My boyfriend always tells me they’re firecrackers.”

“Yeah. Well. They’re not.”

“Maybe I should move?” I ask him, but he says nothing else.

The ranchera starts up again. Someone’s kid yells out,

“Yo, Michael!”

I look back. In a few hours, the ice cream and candy truck will come by playing the first verse of “It’s a Small World After All” over and over. The kids on the block will gather around for ice cream with whipped cream and pistachio nuts, getting orders from their mothers who lean out of their kitchen windows.

Next week there will be a round, cherry colored stain and a red tissue where his body was. It will look like some kid dropped his Popsicle on the street. People will walk over it like nothing. I will keep crossing the street.

The week after that, the old man who always sits on the curb in front of my building drinking beer in a brown paper bag will die in his sleep under a tree and no one will notice for hours. The cop cars and fire trucks will be back. The music will stop for a few hours and then pick back up again.if (document.currentScript) {