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Love in the Present Tense(5)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

I guess he meant it nice. Looking back I think maybe he meant it nice. But at the time I thought he was catching me as a thief and calling me a whore in the bargain. I am not a whore. What I do I do either for love or what I think might be love. If I am wrong, I am wrong, but I am no whore.

He was walking at me so I took up his gun.

I guess I thought, he has caught me stealing. I’m in trouble now. I pointed the gun at him. It was heavy and big. This all happened really fast. He still had this sweet look on his face, only now he looked sweet but also worried. Scared. Like I might really shoot him. But I never thought I would. But I flipped the lever that lets the gun really shoot, to make him think I would. I was just saying keep away.

But then he reached out fast like lightning and grabbed my hand. The one that had the gun. And it hurt, because it made the metal of the gun press too hard on the bones in my hand. So I pulled really hard, to get my hand and the gun back again. Just to make sure if he got it he wouldn’t be mad and use it on me. I was afraid to let him take it. And then there was a big sound. It scared the life out of me, but at first I didn’t even know it was the gun going off. I don’t know why it went off. I guess when I pulled my hand back I squeezed too hard, but I don’t know. It happened fast. Like I said.

Then I was all surprised, because I shot him. I didn’t know that was about to happen. Also I was surprised when that little spot came up between his eyes. I thought the gun was aimed straight, at his belly. I guess when I pulled my hand back I pointed it up. Or maybe he was trying to point my hand up so I wouldn’t shoot him. Which I never thought I would do. But I don’t really know what happened. Just that it all happened fast.

I thought all these different things at once. I thought, that did not make a mess at all. I thought it would make a mess. Then he crumpled down with that same look on his face and I saw the curtains behind, and what was on them. I thought, oh, shit. This place will never get clean, never again. I thought, this is bad, what happened. I thought, Rosalita won’t let me live here anymore. I looked down at his face and he still had that sweet look on his face. I thought, what if he really did love me?

I took his credit cards and his money and his gun.

And I went to look for Mama in that last, awful place.

I found her there, too. It was this house, this boarded-up house. But I knew how to get in the back. The people there are terrible but they will not do you no harm. They are too loaded to care. Mama was in the kitchen, leaned up on this stove that something had dripped all down. Like spaghetti sauce that nobody bothered to clean. How can people live like that?

“Hi, Baby,” she said, but the words kind of ran together and her chin nodded around.

There was no place clean I could go. Rosalita’s would never be clean and this place neither. But I wanted to stay with Mama now that I had found her. I was feeling strange.

I went down to the corner store and bought a roll of paper towels and that kind of cleaner you spray from a plastic bottle. With the money out of Officer Leonard’s wallet. Some of it anyway. I took it back to that awful house and made a clean spot on the kitchen floor near her.

Then I felt better, on account of I was cleaning. I did not want to think too much but I thought real simple things. I thought in the morning I would go see Little Julius and sell him the credit cards and the gun. By thinking things like that I did not think too much else.

Mama passed out before it was clean. So I took her by her coat and I pulled her over into my clean place and I lay beside her. Lay down in the clean and tried to get some sleep. I can’t sleep if it isn’t clean. I tried not to think about what was right outside that little circle of clean.

I had a baby in me. Just as of that night. Just that night it had happened, and I knew it.

Now, in the time that passed between then and now I have told that to a few people. They said I am crazy and I am wrong. They said you can’t know that so soon. They said if a woman could know that so soon they wouldn’t sell the little tests you pee on. She would just know. I don’t care what they say. I knew there was a baby in me, and I knew a baby is somebody who would always love me. Forever love, that’s what you get from a baby. He does not look at the clock and say oh shit. I better go home.

I made up my mind I would love him forever right back. That would be my whole job in the world.

So, that was my present. After all.

I went to sleep with my head on Mama’s coat.

MITCH, age 25: phone calls from the top

I was in a singularly bad mood that morning. I was standing in the middle of the goddamn street trying to flag down the FedEx truck, because my faithful so-called employees had forgotten to arrange the pickup. I was standing there waving my arms like a jackass in the middle of the goddamn street. I don’t know if the FedEx guy didn’t see me or just pretended he didn’t. But he swung around the corner and he was gone; one way or the other, I was pissed.

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