“Bones” by Jon Michaud
--page 2

         I was in bed in the next room, with my window open, listening to all of it. That was how I learned about the girlfriend up the hill. That was when I heard Papi say, “I will come back for you, muchachito. I promise.”
         Maybe Bones was awake for some of those confessions, too. Maybe that was why he was so sad--not because our father had left, but because he’d left without taking him along. Here he was, stuck with us, while Papi was off somewhere, having adventures. Maybe Mami had also been eavesdropping, because after Papi left, she started walking Bones to school every morning. There was nothing more embarrassing for a twelve-year-old kid in our neighborhood than being walked to school by his mother. Nothing more embarrassing, except, maybe, being escorted home by his big sister.
         During those first weeks after Papi’s departure, Mami went a little crazy. She started going to a santero, a man Papi called “The Voodoo Fool.” One day Bones and I came home and found a candle burning in a glass vase on the floor of our entry hall. The next day, the vase had water in it. We knew right away what it was; we’d seen them in other apartments and on the streets of Washington Heights whenever anyone was killed. It was the water of the saints--the vase had a decal of La Virgen de Altagracia, the Dominican patron saint, on the outside. The water was supposed to absorb the evil spirits as they entered the apartment. Papi had always laughed when he saw stuff like that. He called it chickenhead bullshit.
         But maybe it was more than chickenhead bullshit. Maybe it worked, because for four years, Papi’s evil spirit never re-appeared. He never phoned. He never sent money or a birthday card. We never ran into him on the train; we never saw his cab when we were crossing Broadway. There were rumors--that he was living in Queens, or New Jersey, that he’d gone back to D.R. Even so, the prospect of Bones going all the way down to 23rd Street revived Mami’s fears. She, who never went south of 145th unless there was a sale at Macy’s or a flight to Santo Domingo, could not have been more worried if the dance class was being held in a crack house.

~

         The task of accompanying my brother to class on Tuesdays and Thursdays was far from onerous for me. It was a godsend. Most of my high school years had been spent as his warden, which meant that they had been a prison for me, too. I’d never had a boyfriend. Never been on a date or to a concert. Mami’s worry tyrannized us, and also keeping us from the drinking, drugs and promiscuity that were common in the neighborhood. Because I was always rushing to meet my brother after school, people in the neighborhood started calling me The Girl Who Walks Fast. Bones said it was my Indian name.
         The dance class ran from four thirty to six, which gave me ninety minutes to roam the streets of Chelsea and Greenwich Village in a 3-D daydream. In the next few months I would be applying to colleges and those afternoons were a tour of the life I thought awaited me when I finally left home. I pretended to be the women I saw, women getting out of taxis with handsome men, women buying clothes, women laughing with their girlfriends over a late lunch. I listened to them talk. “You should have seen him..” “Do I have to spell it out for you?” “Tonight’s the night.” These phrases spoke of eventful lives, every fragment full of mystery and promise. Ninety minutes was never enough. Most evenings, I turned up late at the studio to find Bones scowling in the reception area, or, if I was really late, waiting on the street.
         “What the fuck, Sis?” he’d ask. “You got a boyfriend or something?”

~

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