Nothing churned Devon’s stomach more than the smell of bread, seeping through the hall every afternoon.
And though the smell seemed to crawl up every door of the apartment complex, as persistent and pestering as the rats that scurried under doors and down the hall. But, it wasn’t the scent that repulsed him: it was the score.
The Bread Woman lived across the hall from the Connors. Her face was as round and brown as the buenelos she sold from her apartment. Eyes as perceptively black as the security cameras hanging over the exits, nothing escaped from her godlike gaze. The placement of keys under rugs and flowerpots she memorized as well as her address. She could tell you the where the street preacher rented his porn every night. Every naked position of the teens who snuck out under bushes she recalled with the ease of reciting her middle name.
Besides teeth, her mouth held large mixtures of cigarette smoke, liquor and other people’s business.
She observed Charles from afar. The woman dropped hints about Teresia’s affair here and there, while he was stopped at the corner, in the bank, or in line at the grocery store.
One day, she cornered him at the laundry with Devon. Her fingernails were painted a gaudy and claw-like red. Squeaky and rasp, her voice dripped like a faucet. The Laundromat’s fan circled above Devon’s heated face. She briefly mentioned a handsome young gentleman used to come to the apartments on weekdays. Teresia seemed to like him very much and the children too. He gave them a keyboard, she remembered. He stopped by the Connors apartment so much she,
“…Was starting to think he was living there.”
Charles stared at the woman perplexed. The woman looked at him decidedly before walking off with her cart of clothes.
Charles grabbed his hamper and car keys, and headed to the minivan. Devon followed behind him, his stomach tumbling faster than the clothes spinning in the dryers.
A glass pitcher crashed against the kitchen wall.
“Get out!” Teresia demanded. Her nostrils flared and her face was as red as The Bread Woman’s fingernails.
Charles ducked. Shards of glass cut into his cheek. “Fine. I’m gone.” He brushed the glass off his shirt.
“You’d listen to her instead of me?” Teresia said. “She’s just jealous. She wanted you since the day we arrived here. Or are you sleeping with her? What’s the real reason?”
“Charles, listen to me, stop!” He walked out of the kitchen. Teresia followed after him, screaming. Charles went in the living room and walked toward the keyboard. He ripped the cord from the wall.
Teresia beat her fists against his back, yanked his collar. “Stop it! Why don’t you stop?”
Charles hefted the keyboard over his shoulders.
Devon’s head poked from behind his bedroom door. Lyn stood behind him, cheeks ashen. “Is this because I’m dia-beh-tik?” she asked, her breath still smelling like the apple juice she’d drunk earlier. Devon shook his head.
“Daddy?” she called, voice shaky.
“Not now, Lyn.” Charles said.
Teresia glanced at her children, and turned to her husband. “You’re scaring them.”
He glared at her, opened the door and stepped outside.
Devon looked at the keyboard on his father’s back. “Mom…?” he asked, walking into the living room.
“Get back in your room!”
Teresia rushed to the door. Charles form was encased in moonlight. He hefted the keyboard over his head and tossed it into the government disposal bins. The keyboard broke on impact with a sharp crack.
Teresia’s fists tightened into little balls. As Charles started back to the door, she slammed it in his face. She locked it and pulled the chain, putting the bolt on it.
Pound, pound, pound! Went his fist against the door, and then his foot.
“Teresia, open this door.”
“I’m calling the police.” She looked around and stopped when she saw Devon. Right hand jerking back, she slapped him soundly. “Get in your room!”
“Open the door.” The muffled voice behind the door became louder, angrier.
Teresia stepped pass Devon and found the phone. She held it to her chest and unlocked the door. Charles stepped inside.
“I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you,” Charles said.
She stood on the carpet, denying him further entrance. “You hadn’t any right to toss out that keyboard. Your children deserve nice things for a change,” she said. “I want you out. Now.”
“Get out of my way.” He pushed past her.
She shouted curses at him as he entered their bedroom. Their heavy footsteps sounded like monsters, louder and louder, taring their home apart. Louder still were the words. Bitch. Asshole. You Bitch tossed You Asshole’s suitcase down the hall. They spent a few more minutes sparring words, before Charles began to pack.
He opened his suitcase in the hall and stuffed his clothes inside. “I’m out. I’m out. I’m fucking out, okay? Are you happy?”
Teresia crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll be happy when you leave.”
“Who is going to pay for you to stay here? The guy you were sleeping with? Is that why he left you a dented-up keyboard? He can’t pay for shit.” Charles started for the door and she followed him.
“I’ll find a way,” she said.
“Don’t bring your johns around my kids.”
“Lovely as always, Charles. Tell me, did they teach you that in seminary?” she spat.
He glared at her. “No. They taught me what the grounds for divorce were.”
“File if you want,” she said. “He was much more of a man than you ever were. Much more.”
“Shut-up.” His voice was a low growl. He jerked the door open, nearly pulling it from its hinges.
She slammed the door close, forcing him to look at her. “And I never thought of you when I was with him. Not once.”
His hand recoiled from the doorknob. He struck her.
The blow knocked her backwards. She held her face with her hand and spat on the carpet. Blood and mucus mixed with the spittle. Her eyes were low with tears. “Get out,” she growled.
Remorse coated his face. “Teresia…”
She hurled the phone at him. “Leave!”
The phone landed at his feet. He backed away.
She looked up at the creak of the door.
He was gone.
Teresia sat trembling on the carpet. Her hand went to her cheek again. She drew her knees to her chin and rocked herself as she sobbed.
She couldn’t have been aware of the children. Next to Devon, Lyn stood in the hall, fighting tears of her own. She pulled the threads at the end of her ill-fitted dress. She wiped her tears with her palms stubbornly.
Devon grabbed her hand and held on. He’d thought they were too old to still hold hands, but now he longed for her comforting grasp, even if her hands were sweaty and full of snot.
Hate him. Lyn whispered the phrase again and again, cursing their father. As if she wanted her words to wish him away for good, to close that door on his back forever.
He felt in those words the anger from being homeless last year, the year his dad lost his job. Lyn had gotten attacked in those woods where their van had been parked. Devon’s parents explained a man did something really bad to Lyn. Why couldn’t Dad take care of them? Were they better without him? Then he’d moved them to the ghetto where he promptly abandoned them to join the military.
In Lyn’s tears Devon felt the hate that started burning months before grow. Buried, repressed, now he felt it to his very core. Hate him. Hate him. Hate him.
Lyn despised their dad.
And maybe he did too.
“We’re moving!” Devon announced.
Harris nodded. He took a sip from his gin and rested it on the step next to him. They were outside of Silent Mount apartment complex. Harris lounged on the front steps and sighed. Farther away, to their left, old men played a game of checkers.
Devon stared at his shoes.
“So, where you heading to?” Harris asked.
“Somewhere far from here. My mom wouldn’t say. She already applied for a job there as an accountant. She says it will pay a lot of money. I know the house is in the woods, and there aren’t a lot of people there. She’s calling it a new beginning,” Devon said.
“Well, call me when you reach the Promised Land!” Harris laughed.
“Promised Land?” Devon asked.
“That’s where you’re going, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know,” Devon said, scratching his head.
Harris took another sip from his bottle. “I’ll show you how different things will be.” He pointed a bony finger from one sidewalk block to another. “How much difference do you see, kid?” He chuckled and drank his gin.
“Well, they do look the same.”
“Exactly!” Harris said. He snorted and took a swing from his drink.
“But…” Devon said. “One is farther along than the other.”
Harris’s face reddened and his mouth went slack. Finally, his lips broke into a smile. His breathing became a gasping, drunken whisper, as he wheezed with laughter.
He wiped his eyes. “You think you’re smart, don’t you?” He caught his breath. “Keep that outlook, kid. It’ll get you far.”
Devon shuffled his feet and chewed his bottom lip. He tilted his head thoughtfully. “I…I wanted to say good-bye to Colin.”
Harris wiped his hands on his pants and coughed. “To who?”
Harris squinted. “Impossible. I don’t have brothers or sisters.” Harris frowned.
“The short, chubby kid…with the afro?” Devon said. “His stomach is kinda big, like a beach ball?” He stretched his hands out in front of him.
“Don’t know him.” Harris shook his head. “But for all you know you can be describing any kid in this neighborhood.”
Devon’s face furrowed. He chewed on his lip again. “Ah, okay…I’ll see you later then.”
Harris nodded, replacing his bottle of gin with a pack of cigarettes.
Devon almost reached home when he realized what he’d said. He wouldn’t be seeing Harris again. His family would be leaving in the morning.
That night, Devon threw his suitcase on his bed, and went through the clothes in his closet.
Then who had he been talking to and playing with?
He dragged the suitcase through the living room. He passed by the window and did a double take.
There he was, right outside the window!
Devon grinned and beckoned with his hand.
Colin looked angry, perhaps because Devon hadn’t said good-bye to him. Devon saw a flash of metal. The blade of a pocketknife was retracted. Colin held the knife in his hand, partly concealed by his shirtsleeve. His smile was a wink of white in the darkness.
Devon lowered his hand.
Writing will keep your family together.
Colin’s voice floated in Devon’s head. Devon stared at the binder in his suitcase. Now, Devon’s parents were separating. Perhaps it was best not to talk to Colin again.
Colin continued to stare. Devon leaned against the window and blinked. He squinted.
Colin’s eyes were burning red.
“Devon, what are you doing? We have to pack, we’re leaving early.” Teresia said. She had her own suitcase in hand. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and her face drawn and tired.
Devon’s heart thudded in his chest. He caught his breath
He pointed to the window. “Nothing, I…” He turned.
Colin was gone.
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