He's a pato now but two years ago we were friends and he would walk into the apartment without knocking, his heavy voice rousing my mother from the Spanish of her room and drawing me up from the basement, a voice that crackled and made you think of uncles or grandfathers.
The heat in the apartments was like something heavy that had come inside to die. Families arranged on their porches, the glow from their TVs washing blue against the brick. From my family apartment, you could smell the pear trees that had been planted years ago…
I can still go far without coming up. While everything above is loud and bright, everything below is whispers.
He hated when I knew something he didn't. He put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me under. He was wearing a cross and cutoff jeans. He was stronger than me and held me down until water flooded my nose and throat. Even then I didn't tell him; he thought I didn't read, not even dictionaries.
She has discovered the secret to silence: pouring café without a splash, walking between rooms as if gliding on a cushion of felt, crying without a sound. You have traveled to the East and learned many secret things, I've told her. You're like a shadow warrior.
Both of us had seen bad shoplifters at work. All grab and run, nothing smooth about them. Not us. We idled out of the stores slow, like a fat seventies car.
“They don’t send you to jail for shoplifting. They just turn you over to your old man.”
These days my guts feel loose and cold and I want to be away from here. He won’t have to show me his Desert Eagle, or flash the photos of skinny Filipino girls sucking dick. He’ll only have to smile and name the place and I’ll listen.
He knew a lot of folks I didn't—a messed-up black kid from Madison Park, two brothers who were into that N.Y. club scene, who spent money on platform shoes and leather backpacks. I'd leave a message with his parents and then watch some more TV. The next day he’d be out at the bus stop, too busy smoking a cigarette to say much about the day before.
Mostly I stayed in the basement, terrified that I would end up abnormal, a fucking pato, but he was my best friend and back then that mattered to me more than anything.
After I was done, he laid his head in my lap. I wasn’t asleep or awake but caught somewhere in between, rocking slowly back and forth the way surf holds junk against the shore, rolling it over and over.
One teacher, whose family had two grammar schools named after it, compared us to the shuttles. A few of you are going to make it. Those are the orbiters. But the majority of you are just going to burn out. Going nowhere. He dropped his hand onto the desk. I could already see myself losing altitude, fading, the earth spread out beneath me, hard and bright.