The Bodega Chronicles

By James Seals

The Boyfriend:

Dude shot me.

From his car. Gold Buick.

He showed no respect. He sat in his bucket seat like he was watchin’ television.

Loungin’. Just chillin’. He said, “Come here.” I knew the dude. We had kicked it on the same

block when we were kids. So I walked over. Cool like. No reason not to.

“What up, man,” I said.

I set my left hand, palm down, on the car’s roof. Bent down to his level. Held some

Mexican beer in my right hand. Dude looked straight ahead. Red ball cap, flat bill, low on his

forehead.

I said, “What up, yo.”

He peeped to his right. Back to me.

Then pop!

I heard the gun’s explosion before I felt my stomach delta black blood into my favorite

jeans.

He drove away like he was on a Sunday stroll, tourin’ Christmas lights in a white

neighborhood, enjoyin’ scenic views.

My legs buckled. I felt pebbles bite into my knees. I felt my blood floodin’ its way to the

road. I looked at my Mexican beer, bottles unbroke. Then I looked at the leavin’ Buick. I saw a

red star flashin’ at me before I passed the fuck out.

A white cop woke me. He said, “What happened?”

Just like that.

No how you feelin’. No you okay.

Straight business.

I lay in ICU of a hospital I had never seen before. I grabbed my stomach.

“Nothin’,” I said, avoidin’ eye contact.

He pointed with his left finger at the gold shield on his dark-blue shirt. I shrugged. Didn’t

give a fuck ‘bout that badge. He blinked at me. I blinked toward him.

What’d he expect?

“I can arrest you,” he said.

I smiled. Closed my eyes. Went to sleep.

When I woke, no one was round. I heard the sound of beepin’, the sound of water

runnin’, the sound of distant TV. Every now and again I saw yellow hair and purple scrubs drift

past my room. No one checked on me.

Like I wasn’t there.

I thought about last night. ‘Bout what I had done wrong. All I did was walk to the

bodega. For somethin’ to drink. I had my hand in my pockets. The air cold from the afternoon

rain. I had walked past an empty Hennessy bottle. It looked like someone had spun it and it had

chose me. Truth is I dared not stop. For anything. At least not at that moment.

I said, “What up,” to the Indian dude behind the counter. He never responds to my

“Hellos” but I said “What up” anyway.

It’s rude to ignore people.

I paid no mind to the laundry powder and tire gauges. I slid past the over-priced spam and

Hamburger Helpers. I walked to the cooler filled with craft and American and Mexican beer. I

took out a six of Mexican. Pendulumed it all the way to the Indian dude.

I again said, “What up.”

He looked at the green price tag on one of the bottles, avoided eye contact with me.

“Cold night,” I said.

“$10.49,” the Indian dude said.

I flicked a folded 20 note onto the counter. The Indian dude snatched it as though I might

take it back.

“Want change?” He asked.

“Hell yeah,” I said. What was he thinkin’?

He laid the change onto the counter then slow slid it toward me. He seemed afraid to

touch me. I grabbed the change, except the copper coins, then walked outside. I stopped just

outside the door, set the six down, took one beer out of its sleeve. I needed a drink. I popped the

top with my keys. Let the cap fall to the ground. Watched it crooked roll to the bike rack.

Two dudes long-strided by. They were bundled as if winter had come. Knit caps and

leather gloves. Both black. They were silent. Walkin’ with intention. I wondered if they were

angry. Who they planned to hurt. A few cars sped by. One of those country-boy trucks rumbled

into the parkin’ lot.

The truck’s driver opened his door. Country music twanged from inside. Somethin’ ‘bout

missin’ somethin’ or someone. The truck’s door slammed. I heard the clickin’ of heals comin’

round the truck. A black dude in tight blue jeans and an off-white cowboy hat appeared.

I watched dude come near. He had a shiny belt buckle and a flannel shirt. He had crooked

legs. His teeth shone white as he smiled at nothin’.

“You serious,” I said to him then sipped from my beer.

The cowboy walked past.

Like I was nobody. Like I hadn’t just said somethin’.

I took a long gulp from my beer. Finished it. I pulled another Mexican from its slot.

Popped the top. Waited for dude. I started to feel cold again. I started to pace. Back then forth.

The cowboy seemed forever inside.

“Hurry the fuck up,” I said. “Come the fuck on.”

I couldn’t believe dude had ignored me.

That shit’s rude.

I stopped pacin’. Stood lookin’ at the bodega’s door. I wanted to rush into the store. I

wanted to shout at the fake-ass cowboy. Ask him, “What the fuck?”

My body shuttered.

I heard the honk of a gold Buick. To my right. I couldn’t see too well in the dark. It look

like someone was tryin’ to catch my eye. The horn sounded again. I ignored it. Waited for that

cowboy to exit.

“Hey,” I said to the cowboy when he exited the store.

“Hey,” he said. All pleasant.

“Why’d you ignore me?”

“When?” He asked.

“You know,” I said.

“Sorry, man. Didn’t see you,” he said.

He continued to his truck.

Again ignored me.

I listened to his truck grumble to life. I heard the muffled sound of music. I watched as

dude jerked the truck’s shift into gear. Reverse. Leave. I picked up my four then walked round

the store’s corner.

Ignored the gold Buick rollin’ up.

The Younger Son:

The man – muscular but short – burst from his maroon Pontiac Bonneville. Boy – red T-

shirt, grey shorts – turned to run. The man swooped, like a mechanical claw, down onto Boy.

What did Boy expect? He was only seven. The man grabbed Boy’s right wrist, jerked Boy to

him. Boy’s head collided with the man’s chest. Sweat stained the man’s white wife-beater. Boy

fell toward the ground, but the man yo-yoed Boy to his feet.

Boy tried to wriggle free. He scissor kicked at the man’s dick. The man tightened his

grip. Lifted Boy into the air. Then punch Boy in the gut.

Spit exploded from the kid’s mouth. Snot from his nose.

The man twisted the kid round.

Boy screamed in pain. He shouted, “Let me go. Let me go.”

Tears streamed from Boy’s eyes.

“Boy, I told you already,” the man shouted.

A bystander said in a drawn-out tone, “Whoop his ass.”

Boy swung his free arm like a windshield wiper on high speed. He hit the man on the side

of his head.

“Son of a bitch,” the man said.

Then he punch the child in the face. In the shoulder. In the neck. In the face again.

The man hurled Boy into the fence that connected to the back of the bodega.

“I told you,” the man shouted, “stop throwin’ fuckin rocks.”

“He’s goin’ to do it again,” the bystander said. “He does that shit all the time.”

“He won’t fuckin’ throw another rock at my car,” the man said.

The man walked to where the kid lay. He kicked Boy in his thigh.

“Are you gonna ever throw a rock again?” the man said.

He kicked Boy again. The kid looked at the man. The man – fists balled – towered over

Boy. Boy closed his eyes. He whimper to himself. The man walked back to his car to assess his

damaged windshield.

Boy had woke that morning to the shouts of his mother. He ignored her threats: I’ll come in

there, You’re gonna miss school, I’ll throw your breakfast in the trash. Boy rolled over, ignored

the morning sounds – drawers opening, closing; blow dryer whirling; pans tinking against the

sink. His mother again rushing to leave for work.

“Boy, I said get up,” his mother shouted as she hurried into his room.

She pulled the child and the sheet he lay on off the bed.

Boy slammed against the carpeted floor. Breathe rushed from his lungs. When he tried to

regain his breathe, the aroma of a week’s worth of unvaccuumed dust and dirt mushroomed into

his nostrils.

“Get the fuck up,” his mother said. “Same shit every day. I’m tired of this.”

“Leave me alone,” Boy said, still gasping.

“I wish I could leave you alone,” his mother said. “Shit. I wish I was left alone.”

Boy’s mother loomed – hands on hips – over him for a couple more seconds before

turning, stomping away.

The child laid on the floor for another minute. Out of defiance. He knew he could. His

mother often simmered before exploding then feeling guilty for a few days before beginning to

stew once more.

The door slammed. Boy rolled onto his back. Sat up. He wiped his eyes with the back of

his hands. He picked up his T-shirt and shorts from the floor. A musty scent lingered on the

cotton clothes. His mother hadn’t done laundry in some time. Boy though was used to the odor,

used to the lack of parental care, used to his life.

Boy brushed his teeth. Washed the crud from his eyes. Ignored his hair. He walked into

the kitchen. Noticed his cold breakfast – scrambled eggs, microwaved sausage – on the table. He

walked over to the plate, picked it up, then threw the plate and food into the trashcan.

Boy climbed onto the kitchen counter. He opened the cabinet where his mother had tried

to hide the chocolate-chip cookies from him.

“Sucka,” he said, smiling from lob to lob.

He ripped the blue wrapper from the packet. Dropped the plastic to the floor. Boy started

eating the cookies as he left the house, leaving a trail of crumbs on the floor. He walked the

opposite direction of his school.

“Get out my yard,” a neighbor down the road shouted at Boy.

Boy had again climbed the old man’s fence.

Boy laughed at the old man – overalls and bare chest.

“I told you. Next time I was gonna call the cops,” the old man yelled.

Boy picked up a rock. He threw it at the old man. The old man used his forearms to block

the rock from hitting him in the face. When the old man looked at Boy again, Boy flipped him

off then threw a rock at the old man’s kitchen window, shattering glass into the house.

Boy ran away from the old man. He raced down the street kicking gates, tumbling bins,

chancing cats and dogs.

Boy noticed a jogger approaching him. He jumped into a nearby bush, picked up a stick

and some rocks. He waited. He watched. He giggled.

“Aaaaaaaaaa,” Boy yelled when the jogger was feet from him.

The jogger stumbled to the ground. Started to crab crawl away from his attacker. Boy

slashed the air with his stick, with his sword. He pirate screamed at the frightened jogger. He

growled at the jogger. He acted the savage. Boy threw the rocks at the jogger. Then he sprinted

away from his victim, showing his bright whites to the world.

Boy continued to throw rocks. He broke windows, chipped cars’ paint, spilled eggs from

a bird’s nest. Boy walked to the bodega. He kicked at an imaginary opponent. The child karate

chopped the wind. He shouted, “Can’t no one stop me.” He held his arms high in victory.

“Members only,” they say.

Unlike them I’m tryin’ to get out. Graduate. I’m tryin’ to leave this joint. Got to finish

school first though. Last time I skipped they locked up my moms. Snatched up my lil’ bro. Ran

from me like I was vested with a bomb to my chest. They wouldn’t let me see either. Told me I

needed to be in school. Told me next time they keepin’ ‘em both.

That’s why I smoke.

Besides. I gots to set an example. Gots to show my lil’ bro I ain’t like moms: lazy and

lingering in this world. My lil’ bro needs better. She needs someone to look up to. Not like me.

No one was round long enough for me learn his real name.

Third periods my favorite period. I gets to listen to my music. The teacher – ties and

tennis shoes – don’t like that I talk loud. He says I gots too much energy. Which don’t make no

sense to me. He said I ask too many questions. So dude lets me put in my buds.

He said, “As long as you write your essays without asking for help.”

“Cool,” I said.

I started writin’ his essays. Started writin’ crazy shit. I wanted to know if dude read my

words. I told stories ‘bout being abused.

Nothin’.

I told stories about suicide.

Nothin’.

I wrote about wantin’ to shoot the school up.

Nothin’.

I wrote a poem while kickin’ it to rap sounds – bouncing my head up and down like I was

traveling across speed bumps – about smokin’:

     Listen to my lil’ bro cry

     Smoke: get high, get high

     Watch your moms slow die

     Smoke: get high, get high

     Listen to all those fuckin’ lies

     Smoke: fly high, fly high

     Everythin’ I’ll ever try

     Smoke: get denied, get denied

     One day they’ll be surprised

     Smoke: if they eva open their eyes,

                                  Open your eyes!

Nothin’.

Forth period. I struggle. Barely able to stand it. Everything becomes real again. I’m back

on earth. On the ground. Crowded with freaks. I can see ‘em all. What they look like. Who they

tryin’ to be. Forth period’s my hardest class. I don’t like the subjects.

They all fake.

They all again complainin’ ‘bout not havin’ the right shoes. ‘bout how they cain’t go to

the mall. Complainin’ that they moms up in their business. How she won’t stop lovin’ ‘em.

When the last bell rings, they don’t know. That’s when I smoke.

James Seals earned his MFA in Fiction at Mountain View Grand in Southern New Hampshire. His stories have been published in Amoskeag Journal, Forge Journal, Rio Grande Review and others. He also has published essays and poems. James manages the writing group East Austin Writing Project and is the editor of their website: eastaustinwritingproject.com

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