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کتاب: هیچی نیس، آرام باش / فصل 8

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Calvin Johnson

WHEN I GOT HOME from work I found Sonny and Maggie waiting for me at the kitchen table with dinner made and set. Maggie’s my sister. I’m just living here until I can save enough. But I like being around her and her daughter. It’s like being back at home. Home like we can’t have it anymore. Since our dad left, just disappeared. Really he hadn’t been there all along. But our mom acted like he had. Like him leaving was the end. It wasn’t really about him or any of us. She’d been undiagnosed for too long. That’s what Maggie said.

Being bipolar is like having an ax to grind with an ax you need to split the wood to keep you warm in a cold dark forest you only might eventually realize you’ll never make your way out of. That’s the way Maggie put it. She got it like me and my brother didn’t. But she’s medicated. Managed. Maggie, she’s like the key to the history of our lives. Me and my brother, Charles, we hate and love her like you end up feeling about anyone nearest to you who’s got it.

Maggie made meat loaf and mashed potatoes, broccoli—the usual. We ate in silence for a while, then Sonny kicked me in the shin under the table, hard, then played it straight, kept eating her dinner. I played it straight too.

“This is good, Maggie, tastes like Mom’s. Isn’t this good, Sonny?” I said, then smiled at Sonny. Sonny didn’t smile back. I leaned into a bite, held it over my plate, then tapped Sonny in the shin with my foot.

Sonny broke a smile, then laughed because she’d broken a smile. She kicked me again.

“Okay, Sonny,” Maggie said. “Go get us all some napkins? I got that lemonade you like,” Maggie said to me.

“Thanks, I’m’a get a beer though. We still got some, right?” I said.

I got up and opened the fridge, thought better about the beer, then got out the lemonade. Maggie didn’t see that I didn’t get a beer.

“You can get that lemonade I got for us though,” she said.

“You gonna tell me what I can and can’t do now?” I said—and wanted not to have said it right away. Sonny got up and ran out of the kitchen. Next thing I heard was the screen door opening and closing. I got up with Maggie and went to the front room, thinking Sonny had maybe run out the front door.

Instead, there was our brother, right there in the living room, with his homie Carlos—his shadow, his twin. At the sight of them, Maggie turned around and went to Sonny’s room, where I should have followed her.

They both had forties in their hands. They sat down in the living room with the cool and cruel indifference of guys who know you owe them something. I knew he’d show up eventually. I’d called him a few weeks before to let him know I would get him the money I owed, but that I needed more time. Maggie let me stay with her on the condition that I stayed away from our brother, Charles. But here he was.

Charles cut a mean figure at six foot four, two forty, with broad shoulders and big-ass hands. Charles’s Chucks went up on the coffee table. Carlos put his feet up too, turned the TV on.

“Have a seat, Calvin,” Charles said to me.

“I’m good,” I said.

“Are you though?” Carlos said, clicking through channels.

“It’s been a while,” Charles said. “It’s been a long fu@king while I would say. Where you been? Vacation? Must be nice. Hiding out like this. Home-cooked meals, kid running around. Playing house. With our fu@king sister. What the fu@k is that? I have to say, I can’t help but wonder where all that money you’re saving goes, with you being up in here rent free. Right?”“You know you’re not paying rent,” Carlos said.

“But you got a job,” Charles said. “You’re making money. That money should be in my fu@king pocket yesterday. In Octavio’s. You’re lucky you’re my little brother, you know that? You’re lucky I haven’t told no one I know where the fu@k you run off to. But I can only take so much of that sh@t.”“I told you I’d have it. Why you gotta come unannounced and sh@t. And keep acting like you didn’t have something to do with that sh@t at the powwow.” I’d gotten robbed in the parking lot before I could even go in. I shouldn’t have brought the sh@t with me. The pound I had then. But then I wasn’t sure if I did bring it. Or did Charles put it in my glove box? I was smoking too much then. My memory was a fu@king slide sh@t that happened to me went down and didn’t come back up from.

“Okay. You got me. You hit the nail on the fu@king head. I should never have left. You’re right. I should hustle, and pay Octavio back for some sh@t I got stolen from me by his homies. So thank you. You’re really helping me out here, brother,” I said. “But I can’t help but wonder why you told me I should go check out that powwow at Laney. See about our Native heritage and sh@t. You said Mom would have wanted us to go. You said you would meet me there. And I can’t help but wonder if you didn’t know what the fu@k was coming for me in that parking lot. What I can’t get my head around is why. What’s your interest? Is it to keep me around? ’Cuz I was talking about giving that sh@t up? Or did your stupid ass smoke all your sh@t up and need mine to not come up short?”Charles stood and took a step toward me, then stopped and made his hands into fists. I opened my hands and raised them in a take-it-easy gesture, then took two steps back. Charles took another step toward me, then looked over to Carlos. “Let’s go for a drive,” he said to Carlos, who stood and turned off the TV. I watched them walk out in front of me. I looked back down the hall toward Sonny’s room. My right eye twitched involuntarily. “Let’s go,” I heard Charles say from out front.

Charles drove a dark blue custom-made four-door Chevy El Camino. The thing was clean like he just washed it that afternoon, which he probably did. Guys like Charles were always washing their cars, keeping their shoes and hats clean as new.

Before Charles started the car, he fired up a blunt and passed it to Carlos, who took two hits off it then passed it back to me. I took one long hit and passed it back up. We drove down San Leandro Boulevard deep into Deep East Oakland. I didn’t recognize the beat that was playing, something slow and bass-y, something that came mostly from beneath the backseat, from the subwoofer. I noticed Charles and Carlos were just barely nodding their heads to the music. Neither of them would ever admit that they were dancing, bobbing their heads like that, but they were kind of dancing, dancing in the smallest possible way, but dancing, and I thought it was hella funny, and I almost laughed, but then realized a few minutes later that I was doing it with them, and it wasn’t funny, and I realized how high I was. This was some other sh@t, what they smoked, could have been fu@king angel dust sprinkled on, they called that KJ. sh@t, knowing them that’s exactly why I couldn’t stop my head from bobbing, and why the streetlights were so fu@king bright, and mean seeming, and, like, too red. I was glad I only hit it once.

We wound up in the kitchen of someone’s house. The walls were all bright yellow. Muffled mariachi music boomed through the room from the backyard. Charles gestured for me to sit down at a table I had to slide behind, like a booth, with Carlos to my left, tapping his fingers to some other beat he was hearing in his own head. Charles was across from me, staring straight at me.

“You know where we’re at?”

“I’m guessing somewhere Octavio might end up being at, but I don’t know why the fu@k you would think that was a good idea.”

Charles laughed a fake laugh. “You remember the time we went over to Dimond Park, and we went through that long sewer tube? We ran through it, and at some point there was no light, just the sound of the rushing water and we didn’t know where the fu@k it came from or where it was going. We had to jump over it. You remember we heard a voice, and then you thought someone grabbed your leg, and you squealed like a little fu@king baby pig, and you almost fell in but I pulled you back and we jumped and ran out of there together?” Charles said, sliding a bottle of tequila on the table in front of him back and forth. “I’m trying to get you into the position of being grabbed,” Charles said, and stopped sliding the bottle. He gripped it, held it still. “When Octavio sees your face, it’s gonna be like that, and I’m’a pull you back, save you from being taken down that long tube to nowhere. You ain’t getting outta this sh@t alone, you feel me?”Carlos put his arm around me and I tried to shrug it off. Charles leaned back and let his big arms fall to his sides.

Right on cue, Octavio walked into the kitchen. His eyes turned into bullets—he shot them around the room. “What the fu@k is this, Charlos?”

That’s what Octavio called Charles and Carlos because they were always together and they looked alike. It was a way to put them in their place, make them know they were both equally less important than him, Octavio, who stood six foot six, with a barrel chest and muscular arms you could see even through the triple-extra-large black T-shirt he always wore.

“Octavio,” Charles said, “take it easy, I’m just trying to remind him what’s what. Don’t trip. He’s gonna pay. He’s my little brother, Octavio, no disrespect, man. I just want him to know.”

“Know what? No disrespect? What is that, Charlos? I don’t think you even know.”

Octavio pulled out an all-white magnum from the front of his belt and pointed it at my face while looking at Charles.

“What the fu@k kinda games you think we’re playing here,” Octavio said, looking at Charles, but talking to me. “You take, then you owe. You don’t pay, you lose the sh@t, I don’t give a fu@k how you lost it, it’s gone, then you disappear and show up in my uncle’s fu@king kitchen. You’re fu@king crazy, Charlos. I came here to have a good time. But because you got my sh@t stolen, and because your brother smoked all his sh@t up, you both owe me, and I got into some sh@t with who I get the sh@t from, and now I owe, and we’re all fu@ked if we don’t make some real money, real soon.”Octavio kept the gun pointed at me. Smoked all his sh@t up? What the fu@k? I stared down the barrel of the gun. I went into it. Straight into the tunnel of it. I saw the way it had to go down. Octavio was gonna turn around to the countertop behind him to get a drink, then Charles would shoot up out of his chair and put Octavio in a choke hold from behind. The gun would drop to the ground in the struggle, and Charles, he’d hold him there, turn them both around, and trying to suddenly be a good big brother, he’d yell at me, “Get the fu@k out of here!” But I wouldn’t leave. I’d know just what to do. I’d grab the gun on the floor. I’d pick up the gun and point it at Octavio’s head and look at Charles.

“Give me the gun, Calvin. Get the fu@k out of here,” Charles would say.

“I’m not leaving,” I’d tell him.

“Shoot him then,” Charles would say.

Then me and Octavio would catch eyes. I’d notice for the first time that Octavio’s eyes were green. I’d look into those eyes so long it’d make Octavio mad, and he’d slam Charles back into the cupboards. Then I’d tell them all how they’re gonna make Octavio drink, that he was gonna drink until he couldn’t stand up anymore. I’d tell them that if they made him drink enough he wouldn’t remember sh@t. We’d make the blackout so bad it would go forward and backward in time, swallow the night.

My eyes were closed. For a second I wondered if I might still be in the car, dreaming the scene from the backseat. It was a night like so many others I’d had before. Maybe I’d wake up in the backseat, we’d go home, and I’d get back to the life I was trying to make that didn’t include any of this sh@t.

I opened my eyes. Octavio was still holding the gun, but he was laughing. Charles started to laugh too. Octavio set the gun on the table and they hugged, the two of them, Charles and Octavio. Then Carlos got up and shook hands with Octavio.

“These are the pieces you had made?” Charles said to Octavio, picking up the white gun.

“Nah, this one’s special. You remember David? Manny’s little brother. He made them in his fu@king basement. The rest just look like nines. Go on, tell him,” Octavio said to Charles, looking at me.

“You remember when I told you about that Laney powwow, you said you wanted to go because there was that big one coming up at the Oakland Coliseum, and you were on the powwow committee for work. You remember that?” Charles said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“You remember what else you told me?”

“No,” I said.

“About the money,” Charles said.

“Money?” I said.

“You said there would be something like fifty thousand dollars in cash prizes there that day,” Charles said. “And how easy it would be to steal.”

“I was fu@king joking, Charles. You think I would fu@king rob the people I work with and then think I could get away with it? It was a fu@king joke.”

“That’s funny,” Octavio said.

Charles lifted his head toward Octavio like: Whatsup?

“That anyone would think you would rob the people you work with and think you could get away with it. That sh@t’s funny to me,” Octavio said.

“This is how we make it right,” Charles said. “You’ll get a cut too, then we’ll be good, right, Octavio?”

Octavio nodded his head. Then he picked up the tequila bottle. “Let’s drink,” he said.

So we drank. We went through half the bottle, shot after shot. Before the last shot there was a pause, and Octavio looked up at me, then lifted his shot glass toward me and gestured for me to get up. We took the shot, just me and him, then he gave me a hug I forgot to return. While he hugged me, I saw Charles look at Carlos like he didn’t like what was happening. After Octavio let me go he turned around and got another bottle of tequila from the top cupboard, then he sort of laughed at who knows what and stumbled across then left the kitchen.

Charles lifted his head up to me like: Let’s go. On the way to the car we saw a kid on his bike watching everyone from far off. I could tell Charles was almost gonna say something to him. Then Carlos tried to punk him by acting like he was gonna hit him. The kid didn’t flinch. Just kept staring at the house. His eyes were hella droopy but not just like he was high or drunk. I thought about Sloth from The Goonies. And then I thought about a movie I saw one Saturday morning when I was, like, five or six. It was about a kid who woke up blind one day. Before, I’d never thought about the idea that you could just wake up to some terrible sh@t, some fu@ked-up shift in what you thought life was. And that’s what it felt like then. Taking those shots. Octavio’s embrace. Agreeing to some doomed-ass plan. I wanted to say something to the kid on his bike. I don’t know why. There was nothing to say. We got in the car and rode home in silence, the low sound of the engine and road leading us toward some sh@t we’d never make our way back from.

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