By J. J. Sinisi
Camila pointed the gun in Miguel’s face but
when he tried to slap it away; she dodged under his hand and re-pointed. Miguel smiled,
swiped again, missed again.
“Three, two, one.” She said pulling the trigger. The gun clicked. “And
get pissed.” She flipped the gun around and handed him the handle.
He snatched it.
“Three, two, one,” he hurried through the numbers, but she feinted with
her right hand and as he dipped to stop her, her left grabbed the barrel, turned it sideways,
and wrenched the weapon free.
“Bang bang bang bang!” She tipped the gun at him, sticking him with
four imaginary bullets to the heart.
“This is a shit game.”
“You’re only saying that because you lost.”
Wiry black hair had only just begun populating his face over the past school year,
but his hard lined cheeks bathed in the shallows of his jaw, summoning forward his
pointy nose to where it sat now, reflecting the dim overhead gymnasium lights.
She shoved the gun into the zippered compartment within her backpack, an army navy
surplus reject, green with small rips she pretended were bullet holes.
darted away, running through the double doors towards the front of the building. He followed,
but his limp slowed him down.
The last afterschool buses left at five thirty. They
passed Mr. Davis’s classroom where he sat grading papers, or reading his tablet,
or looking at porn on his laptop, which Camila had caught him doing last week. Though she
hadn’t suspected his perversities, it hadn’t shocked her. Since Titi, the world
needed to try a lot harder to surprise her.
“Slow,” Mr. Davis said without looking up, but his voice faded.
Outside, she put a foot on the last step of her bus and waited for Miguel to finally
emerge from the front doors.
“Wait,” He stumbled, the long strides of his atrophied left leg betraying
“Careful!” she said, but waved and finally obliged the disgruntled
bus driver’s request to get on the damn bus already.
Miguel brushed himself off, a small scrape on his cheek which she winced at. The
bus rumbled out and he banged on her dirty window. She mouthed the words I’m sorry,
but he just watched.
Forty minutes later she sat on her bed, headphones strapped to her
ears, typing with one thumb on her phone and the other on her laptop.
‘I miss u.’ Her text read. His name
appeared as Miggy at the top of her screen, a nickname he hated.
Three minutes later, he typed back.
‘Ur game is shit.’
‘R U Okay?’
Another few minutes. From the
other room a yell, probably her cousin Dominga. Someone slammed a door. Camila tabbed the
volume up on her laptop, not listening to the house music tumbling in her ears but instead
letting it encase her in mental exile.
‘My cheek is cut.’
‘I know. Im so
‘Its not nice to abuse the handicapped.’
His mood lightened.
‘Ur just mad you lost.’
She waited. Or maybe he was still
pissed. She never made fun of his limp; he did it enough on his own. She’d tell him
to stop, that by indulging the haters he wasn’t owning anything, just emboldening
others. Miguel disagreed but he was wrong. Just because they were both deprived kids didn’t
mean she’d take him for granted. So it was, frequently, left to Camila to defend
his honor when he was purposely knocked down in the halls, or had ‘gimp’ scrawled
across his locker, or, and it only happened once, she had to punch a dirtbag in his dumb
throat when he was beating Miguel with his arm brace. That one cost her a week’s
‘U cheated. U know Im not that
‘Stop. Theres nothing wrong with
ur hands.’ She smiled, knew
he was annoyed but that she could tip him the other way. ‘Or ur fingers ;-)’
Someone banged once on her door, yelled dinner was ready.
‘Ur an evil girl.’
hungry.” She said and kept typing. ‘We
can play again tomorrow. Maybe this time I’ll let you win.’
thats sweet of U.’
‘Hey, its ur gun.’
the papers of her homework over her sheets, placing each subject in a loose pile. She began
and finished her English between his next texts. She assumed he was eating dinner.
The text finally came.
‘No, my brothers.’
She twitched, thought of Miguel’s brother, Hector, the boy who had been expelled
from school two years ago, the one who put Mrs. Thomas into the hospital for the audacity
of trying to pull him off another kid he was slamming into the hard high school floors.
‘You said it was urs.’
The response came immediately.
‘No I didnt.’ Then, ‘I need it back tonight.’
Outside her window, wilted chestnut tree branches brushed the screen. The limbs
hung lower in the winter, the only time of year Camila and Dominga could reach them.
She and her cousin would scrape their bare hands on the sharp bark. It had been so long
since they last climbed. She forgot what the cuts on her hands felt like.
‘I’m sorry. U mad?’
He took a very long time to answer.
Her mother opened her door. Camila pretended to look at her computer, too involved in her
music, but her mother pulled off the headphones.
“So now you’ve given up on dinner?”
“I don’t want you taking that late bus anymore. I have no idea where
held up her phone and shook it.
“Like you answer my texts,” her mother said.
She put the headphones back over one ear.
Her mother countered and pulled them off.
“Okay, what?” She said staring at the ceiling.
“You’re going to start fucking listening to me, that’s what.”
She threw the headphones on the bed.
“You make missing Titi so easy.” Once freed from her lips, the words
stormed the room.
Camila watched her mother loom, her red-skinned chest and the crucifix dangling
there, swaying and dark in the shadows of growing anger.
“You don’t get to speak that way to me.” Her
mother pointed somewhere far away. “Only cowards speak to me like that. About her.
And you are many things, but I did not raise a coward.”
pulled her knees to her chest and straddled the headphones around her legs.
was their tradition since Ecuador, her mother and her Titi used to make Bolon de Verde
on Thursday nights, cutting the fruit with little rusted paring knives, the same ones from
when they were children. After heating the all metal pan, they’d bathe them in oil,
cumin and chili powder, sprinkle salt, and let the whole thing simmer before removing them
from the heat, mincing them, then filling the husks with chorizo. Camila remembered those
Thursdays, and once the little balls were placed back in the frying pan the smells became
heady and thick, as though she could lick the air and taste the homeland. A homeland
she’d never seen.
Lately, her mother reminded her of that pan, simmering, forever
waiting for something else to be thrown on top.
But there were no plantains tonight. Just yellow rice and broiled chicken parts,
the automated meal absent of flavor her mother had been cooking her entire life. Maybe
she’d forgotten how good those plantain balls had tasted? Or maybe she never realized
it in the first place, thinking everything in life was bland and void of sensation, just
like her pale chicken.
Camila ate a few bits waiting for her mother to go back into her
room, and once she did, Camila dumped the rest of the meal into the garbage. Back in her
room, she closed the door and shut off the lights before crawling beneath her blanket and
thumbing on her phone.
‘Blacksburg Park midnight. Bring the gun or
She squinted in the dark at
the message. The big princess clock on her wall crept towards eight thirty. The tree scraped
her window. The rest of the apartment reveled in rare silence.
‘I can just bring it tomorrow. Promise.’
She put the gun on top of the math homework she knew she wouldn’t complete.
She thought just handling it would tempt her to do something stupid, something
glorious, something, anything. But it was just gray metal.
Her phone lit the darkness.
read the text a hundred times. Three words. The princess said nine now. Three hours. She
usually went to bed at one and tried to sleep on the bus in the morning. The park wasn’t
far. Her mother went to bed at eleven and
ever since Camila’s Titi was gone, Dominga slept in there too, watching TV until
four in the morning. Most nights, Camila would go to the bathroom and see the blue glow
beneath the door and she’d peak in and see her cousin’s glassy eyes, always
open, always crying.
princess’s hands kept moving. Camila’s jacket and scarf had to come, but she’d
leave her bag and stuff the gun into the thick pockets of her coat. At eleven thirty, she
tiptoed into the bathroom and waited, for what she wasn’t certain; movement, speech,
even the musty scent of the wet towels beside her head, but there was nothing. She flushed
the toilet and in the swirling percussion took two big strides to the front door, opening
it before the bowl refilled.
From the outside, the gnarled chestnut tree shrank, but the floodlights attached
to the side of her building stretched its limbs out like skeletal hands.
park was something different though, capitalizing on a cold so bitter it chilled the air
until the stars above peeled back the darkness and glistened like broken glass, or maybe
it was little pieces of the moon, frozen so absolute it had broken apart.
Snow brought about the quietest nights, but this had so far been a snowless season,
and half-digested in the bowels of Blacksburg Park, Camila discovered a silence so disquieting
she nearly panicked, so loud her thoughts, so voluminous her anxiety, threatening to bubble
over her mouth and drown her in thought.
Mr. Davis had told them about deprivation chambers in sociology class, little tombs
filled with water where people relaxed, their ears covered, listening for pumping blood
or firing synapses. The horror. She’d rather a real tomb.
Low, too low to be Miguel. Hector, she knew. She always knew it’d be Hector.
“I brought your gun,” she said through shivers.
“Here,” the shadow said.
Something clanked next to her. She stood on the broken concrete path that in the
daytime revealed dead brown weeds in its cracks.
“My brother likes you.”
“Okay.” She couldn’t stop shivering now, those smothering thoughts,
a missing aunt and her crying cousin, a mother absent since the vacancy of her father’s
are bullets. Slide them into the gun.”
bent down and hefted the clip. It nearly weighed more than the gun.
“Miguel wants to fuck, but he’s too afraid to ask.”
Her breath thickened to misty clumps. “I like him too.”
“Like him enough to fuck him?”
“I –,” she looked back at the park’s entrance, not too
far, toward her apartment, receded somewhere in the distance. “He didn’t say
that to you.”
“How’d you know what he did or didn’t say to me, girl? Now pull
that slide back. The top part of the gun.”
“Why?” She still couldn’t see him.
“Just do it.”
The click was different than when she pretended to pull the trigger that afternoon,
this one more definitive.
my gun you stole.”
didn’t steal it.” She held it out towards his voice, handle first. “We were
girls shouldn’t play with dangerous things.”
A small wick of anger lit within her, but the cold didn’t recede then as much
as it crystallized, forming a hard thing in the middle of her chest, her heart
maybe, becoming resolute and sharp with pointy edges.
Hector emerged into the dim light, lanky and over six feet tall, tank top loose
over exposed skin somehow impervious to the chill, perhaps protected by the double
sleeves of muddy tattoos striping his arms and neck.
“You want to shoot me, little girl?”
“My name is Camila.” She wasn’t sure if she said it aloud.
I care what your name is?”
“You should,” she said through her misted breath. “Little boys
should always care what girls say to them.”
boy.” He stepped closer. Now she could see them, the little goose-bumps pocking his
arm was still extended, the gun’s handle still outstretched towards him.
“You want to shoot me? Kill me here and then my gimp brother can say I didn’t
force him to become a man tonight. Shoot me,” another step, “so the punk can
tell everyone a girl saved his skinny ass.”
“Miguel?” She said past him.
She turned the gun around, slipped her finger through the trigger guard.
pointed at his chest. “Where’s Miguel?”
She listened to the park’s nothingness.
“No he’s not.”
Hector waited. More silence.
Caught, he chuckled. “Heh, shit right. You got me. Little bro ain’t
here. I stole his phone and told you to come here.”
“You shouldn’t have done that.” She thought her skin would freeze
to the metal grip forever, damning her to a life with a gun stuck to her hand, as if everyone
didn’t think women deadly enough already.
“He told me you stole it. I knew he wouldn’t come here and get it from
never said that and I didn’t steal it.”
about him. It’s just me and you and the night and the gun.” Hector slapped
his chest. “When I’m here there ain’t no one else, just like when you’re
freezing to death. I’m all you think about now.”
He held his hand out.
“Play time’s over. You had your chance, now it’s my turn.”
aimed high, quickly, like she had done to Miguel in their game that afternoon.
Hector flinched, closed his eyes and braced himself, as though fortifying against
a punch, as if being in a couple of prison fights somehow protected him from a
bullet to the head. There is no protection, she thought then, not from all the bullets
flying around the world at any given moment. Everyone will be hit, sooner or later. Everyone
with be shot dead.
She pulled the trigger.
“Ah,” he said through clenched teeth.
But the gun just clicked.
He grasped for the gun but in one movement she parried and brought it back up. He
stumbled back, his feet crunching frigid grass.
Her thumb flicked the side of the gun.
“No more safety, Hector.”
Camila, tended to pull her forward, she knew, collecting in her face, expanding and exerting
pressure behind her eyes until it burst from the pressure and she’d cry. That’s
how it went when her mother pushed her down the apartment stairs for stealing her cigarettes,
or the first time she kissed a girl, or when the detective told them her aunt wasn’t
missing but dead, shot dead in the park by a lover who loved her so much he decided to
“You going to kill me? You stupid little girl. You going to
kill Hector?” He slapped his chest.
Tears, little liquid things denoting her tension, the fright the world placed on
her slight shoulders, big tears and little tears, in the past they’d consumed her,
swallow her up and suffocate her in the cacophony of teenage anxiety. But not now. Hector’s
flinch, his goose-bumps, his lapse in authority, squinting, his teeth exposed, it turned
those tears inward, bled them back through her eyes, flowing inside until they froze atop
the jewel inside her chest, growing it into a spectacular shimmering star, multifaceted
and beautiful, and so Goddamned cold.
“What?” Hector’s hand stayed outstretched, groping at nothing.
He looked to the woods then back to her.
“I said fuck you. You don’t call my friend a gimp. You don’t get
to say that. He’s my friend and it’s because of you he acts the way he does.”
did you say to me?”
heard me. It’s why he’s so sad all the time.” Her eyes narrowed. “It’s why
we’re all sad. Because of you and the insurmountable pain people like you don’t
know how to deal with.”
He took a step back, made way for the growing eclipse of her star.
“Give me the gun or I’ll rip it from your hand and blow your head off.”
“The fuck you mean, so?”
She stepped towards him. He stepped back.
His feet slipped again.
“You’ll what? Rape me, fuck me, burn me, shoot me? Fuck you Hector.
Fuck you and your gun and your pain.”
She stepped once more and he retreated.
“You’re crazy.” For the first time she saw his breath, white and
They skated across the scraped expanse of each other’s
crazy,” he said softer.
She lowered the gun from his head, but he didn’t
approach. She released the clip and it clanked onto the floor beside her feet.
There’s always one in the chamber, she
remembered Miguel saying. She cocked the slide back and the last bullet jumped onto the
looked at her with a stilted sense of wonder splashed across his face. She
swung the gun away like a Frisbee, discarding the harmless thing into the dark
She turned, her star protecting her, repelling him.
It would’ve deflected his bullets, his fists; it’d stab his heart if she commanded.
Her feet thumped the concrete path and she heard
him breathing, the jingle of a far off ambulance, the slow wind. She tasted his fear, smelled
it, like a lioness. She would place that frailty atop the sharp edges of her rage and crucify
it and watch him bleed.
Her mother stood atop the stairs when she returned
and as though all at once, the star contracted to a small point and thereupon exploded
into a torrent of tears. Her mother charged down the stairs, anger transforming to grief
in accordance with the thawing of the ice.
J. J. Sinisi is a professional out
of New York but spends what little free time he has strolling dark alleyways creating crime
fiction. His work has appeared at Near to
the Knuckle, Dead Guns Press, All Due Respect, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, The
Flash Fiction Offensive, Heater, and he received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters contest. His noir themed website www.thisdesperatecity.com recently relaunched and is meaner than ever.