That summer my brother, Bones, came home with the face of comedy in his bag: white plastic with blushing cheeks and deep dimples, the grin so wide it was ghoulish. He never wore it around the house, only bringing it out briefly to show it to me and Mami, as if cluing us in to the fact that he was planning to change his identity.
         Bones was taking dance classes with a retired ballet dancer named Etienne Loup who ran a bi-weekly studio for underprivileged kids in Chelsea. He had been recommended for the class by a teacher who’d seen him goofing with his boys on a piece of cardboard during recess. She thought dance might offer him some sort of salvation. We all knew that my brother’s salvation wasn’t going to be found in the classroom, but even so, it took a week of phone calls before Mami finally agreed. She did so reluctantly, and on one condition: that I would chaperone him. She wasn’t worried about Bones getting lost. She was afraid that he would be kidnapped by our father.


         We lived on Haven Avenue, in Washington Heights. At one end of the Avenue was the hospital where I had been born and where my mother worked as a cleaning lady. At the other end, overlooking the George Washington Bridge, were the dorms where the medical students lived. Four years earlier, our father had decided that he no longer wanted to live there with us. He went out one night in his gypsy cab and did not come home. Sometimes he stayed out late to drink and play cards with other cabbies in the pre-dawn hours when the bar-and-club crowd had been safely ferried home, but he was always back at the apartment by the time Bones and I were eating breakfast. He’d join us, sipping at a bottle of Brugal while we ate our generic chex. We’d see Papi again later in the day, at dinner, which was his breakfast. He’d be drinking coffee then, and eating Dominican eggs while Mami served us moro and chicharrones.
         There were no calls to the police. Nor did Mami get in touch with his cronies. She knew what had happened. Her actions that day were heavy with resignation. She told me that she’d been preparing for him to leave ever since they’d emigrated, the year before I was born. The surprise was when, not if. Papi had a girlfriend--at least one--“up the hill,” east of Broadway, somewhere in the 190s. We all knew it. Perhaps he’d gone to live with her. Or maybe he’d just had enough of New York and gone back to Santo Domingo.
         It was especially hard on Bones. He had always been Papi’s favorite, a designation that spoiled him from an early age. The nights he wasn’t driving his cab, our father would sit out on the fire escape drinking rum and listening to the Yankee game. Around the seventh inning, he would come back into the apartment, looking for his son. “Where’s my muchachito?” he’d ask. The muchachito was asleep by then and Papi would wake him and carry him out to the fire escape and give him the highlights of the game so far.  Then he’d start in with the bullshit. “One day, I will be sitting here listening to the Yankees and I’ll hear Bob Shepherd’s voice saying your name.” At this point Papi did his best imitation of the Yankees’ PA announcer, echoes and all: “Now batting-ing-ing for the Yankees. Edgardo-oh-oh Solano-oh-oh!” Bones usually fell back to sleep, cradled in Papi’s lap as the final outs were recorded. Then, when the game was over, if Papi had drunk enough, he’d talk to his sleeping son, sometimes giving advice, sometimes confessing.

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