Home > Love in the Present Tense(2)

Love in the Present Tense(2)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

To make things worse, Rosalita had got arrested, only this time she did not come back. And I had to wonder why. Usually it wouldn’t take her no more than two, three hours to make it home. Cop would pick her up, take her on a ride supposed to be to the station. Only they’d go someplace else, she doing for him for free what he was supposed to be taking her in for. Then he’d drop her back on the corner.

This time she did not come home all day. Maybe some cop really put her in jail. Maybe he didn’t want nothing from her, or had kids and a wife he wanted to stay true to for real. Or a bag of other maybes I could not understand. What had happened to things? I didn’t know.

I went by to where Little Julius was sitting out on his stoop and I asked him did he see my mama.

“Maybe I seen her,” he said. “Maybe I ain’t. Why’nt you come over a little closer here and we talk about it?”

I didn’t get no closer to Little Julius. He was a big fat man with his hair shaved all off and little designs shaved in, and when he smiled, his front teeth were all gold. You would think it would look nice—all that gold. But no. It was ugly in a way I could never explain. He liked the color of my skin because of me being part black and part Korean. He said I am fine. Not that day, but he had said it. In the past. And even that day, even with him not saying it, you could feel that hanging around.

I said, “Maybe did you sell her something?”

Little Julius said, “Ain’t got nothin’ to sell. Ain’t got no product. If you would listen to reason maybe I would have. You and me, we could do okay. Little girl like you, just don’t have no idea what you got. You and your mama, live in a real house. You’d be doin’ okay.”

I knew we were talking two very different kinds of things and so did he. I cared and Little Julius, he did not.

“Who she buy from when she don’t buy from you?”

Little Julius frowned. Frown like that means maybe time to back up. Maybe time to get the hell somewhere else.

I say no to guys all the time. Every day. Most don’t like it any too much. Sometime I say yes. The good ones, they’re not sure what they feel. Feel too many things at once. They are the only kind I say yes to. The too-sure kind, I say no. They got no conscience to make them feel some other things. Watch out for that.

I waited under the freeway overpass for some guy they called Slacker. Listening to the cars go over my head—thump-thump, thump-thump—I was wondering what makes that thump sound. If there are bumps in the road or something. But I never been on that road, or most others. Me and Mama didn’t have a car. I was wondering should I go back in and ask for this Slacker guy again. But I was in that bar once already, and the bartender man, he threw me out. Said I would lose him his license. Said he would send this Slacker out to see me.

Thump-thump. How long it would take him to come out and see me I didn’t know.

I was thinking maybe I would just go on back to Rosalita’s. Give this up for the day. But it’s a long walk back there. If I had bus fare maybe I would’ve already been gone. The day was already almost over.

Then this man came walking by. Looked too good to be down there. You know, with a suit and all. A white man with a shiny gold wedding ring. I was sitting on the sidewalk and he looked down at me and I looked up at him, and I knew he had the taste. I could see it in his eyes. And I knew he would give me some money if I asked, because he did not know it. At least, he did not know it out loud. So he would think he was looking at me for some much nicer reasons. Like I am this nice young person he wants to help out, and like there is no shame in a thing like that. I looked up into his eyes like I had fallen into something I couldn’t quite find my way out of. Which in some ways was the truth.

“You okay?” he said.

“Can’t get home,” I said. “No bus fare.”

He took out his wallet and pulled out three one-dollar bills. I could tell he did not ever ride the bus and was trying to think what that might cost. I didn’t tell him, because then he would give me the most he thought it might be. He reached it down to me and I wondered what he would do if my hand touched his when I took it. I knew he was a man who would feel lots of things at once. I could say yes to a man like that. Maybe get a steak dinner for my birthday. But then he let go real quick and walked on. I watched his back walking away. That is a man who knows trouble when he scrapes by it. That’s what I told myself while I watched him walk away.

Then next thing I knew this white dude with his hair slicked back came out of the bar and said maybe he is Slacker and maybe not. All depends on who is asking. I said I am asking and then he figured maybe yeah, that’s who he is.

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