Home > Love in the Present Tense(3)

Love in the Present Tense(3)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

I asked him did he see my mama. And I told him about the scar she wore on her face, so that way he would know which mama she is.

He said yeah, maybe he might’ve made a sale to a person such as that, and maybe by now she would’ve gone on home to use up what she got. Like that answered everything, he said that to me, and stared me down. And I said shoot, Mr. Slacker, we don’t live noplace. Like what was he thinking? Used to we had a real apartment, but that’s been a long time now.

He just shook his head and went back inside the bar.

I stood a minute more under that overpass. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

Then I walked to the bus stop, thinking it was good I had three dollars.

Before I could even get there this boy slapped me up against the brick of a place. No one around to see. Boy no older than me. Younger maybe. But bigger. Held me there with his dirty self that smelled bad.

“What you got for me?” he said. “Got any money?”

I thought for a minute about that three dollars, and would I fight for it. I can take an ass whipping. I done so many times. But it was my birthday and also I could not see getting my ass beat for three dollars. That white man with the shiny gold ring, where was he now when I needed him?

“I got three dollars,” I said.

“Shit, that ain’t no money,” he said.

So I said, “Fine. Don’t take it then.”

But he did take it. Stuck his hand deep down in the pocket of my shorts and took it away and then pressed his dirty self up even closer and said he can take what he wants. I was just about to spit on his face.

But then he said, “Don’t want nothing from you, though.”

And he let me go. I spit on him just the same, and he kicked me in the leg and ran away.

I sat on the bus bench anyway, because sometimes there is this one driver on this route who will let me ride even if I don’t pay. He puts a finger to his lips and real quiet says, I got to go there anyway, don’t I now? With you or without you. He is nice. But a bus came by and it was not him driving. It was this lady. She stopped and put the door open with that noise sounds like an old man complaining while he sits down. She looked at me and I looked back.

“Getting on?” she said. “Don’t have all day.”

“No money,” I said. And she closed that door and rolled away.

It was starting to get dark. I’d been sitting on that bench a real long time.

I knew there was one more place to look for Mama, but it was a long walk and not someplace I really so much wanted to go. I was thinking maybe I did not need to find her quite that bad.

Then the cop car stopped for me.

So much of how it was started when that cop got out and came up to me. But I didn’t know all this when it first happened. I guess you never do. I didn’t know there would ever be a Leonard, or that this man would be his father, or that anybody would have to die. I didn’t know where all this would take me at the time.

This cop, he got down on one knee by the bus bench. “You been sitting here an awful long time,” he said. “You been letting some buses go by. You got a way to get back home?”

I looked at his badge, and his little name thing. It said Officer Leonard DiMitri. I looked past him to his partner waiting in the car. His partner had a mustache and his lip was funny underneath. Like one of those lips start out in two pieces, and later the guy grows a mustache to cover it but you can still see where the split was. He had this look like he didn’t like what was starting up here. Maybe it was just the lip but I don’t think so. Then I looked back at Officer Leonard, right up into his face, and I smiled back at him, and I saw he had the taste. And I thought, good. Now I can get back to Rosalita’s place, and finally this day can be over.

I got in that car with them and he asked me my name, and I told him. First and last both. Right in front of that lip man. I don’t know why. I had got happy and forgot to be careful. It was stupid, I knew right away. How stupid, well. I had to wait to know that.

First thing he said—this Officer Leonard, when he saw Rosalita’s place—he said, “My oh my. Your mother certainly keeps this place awfully clean.”

I did not tell him Rosalita was not my mother. I did not tell him that I was the one who kept that place so clean. Clean, that is a big thing with me. When I live someplace you can eat off the floor in that place. Off the seat of your chair. Right out the stainless steel sink. There will not be one germ. Not if I have my way. Every place I go, I make that place clean. Turns out that is a good thing, because when you make places clean wherever you go, seems you always have someplace you are welcome. I was trying to decide what to tell Officer Leonard and what to not tell.

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