Jack and I were alright together.
Ma says that the day she found out she was pregnant with me, he broke all of his toys that his tiny toddler hands - maybe only three inches wide - could manage in half. Of course Ma was worried - she raked her hands through her hair and sighed two or three times before figuring that it was just too hard to share attention between two kids - but when she asked Jack why he broke his toys, he told her, “I want to share my toys with my sister or brother. That way, you don't have to buy for both of us,” or whatever vocabulary he had at the time that could express that sentiment; I usually omit the probable ploy it was for him to still hold some attention, some extension of power in our house. And Ma? She went wild in every way, called all of her sisters to tell them about the sweet little boy she had raised and the sweet new kid who would be his sibling. Her voice sounded so loud to Jack as he picked up the other phone in the house, twisting the cord around his wrist each time she sounded less like the whispers of comfort he knew. And I’ve heard the phone dwarfs voices, diminishes them to nothing important but a metallic vibration through your preferred ear.
While I did all of my growing, separating, becoming inside of Ma, Jack did his own on the ground. When I breathed, he crawled; when I kicked, he walked. Neither of us could advance without a beginning from the other, not then, not ever. Later, and sometimes even during her pregnancy to the lucky ears who heard, Ma would say we were more like twins, and less like the regular brother and sister with four years in between. For a long time, she couldn't see a period when some part of Jack existed without some part of me, but once her eyes healed from that blindness, she was subject to a new kind.
The morning I was born, our father dropped Jack off at our grandmother’s house while he put his right hand on my Ma’s forehead and braided her hair as she was preparing to give birth for the second time, all while his left hand clenched around one of her tightly-rolled fists - hers in honor of the familiar pain of birth, his for a story that can be told another time. It was all done after nine hours, though their fingers never loosened their grips on the skin of their palms. Some things just stay.
As soon as my mother’s older sister arrived to relieve Pops of his duty, he bolted with his shoelaces untied, not willing to let go of fatherhood, but drifting so far from marriage forced by his object of adhesion.
“Just to get Jack,” Pops said as his voice and shadow were already receding from Ma’s available senses, only a second after she asked him where he was heading.
“Your mother lives forty minutes away, Mark. Let Lucia pick him up - she’s in that neighborhood, and she’s heading here anyway.”
“Nah. It will only take a minute,” Pops said, but it took fifty minutes there and fifty minutes back, and by the time Jack was pulled out from the only space for a car seat in our dad’s two-door truck with the already chipped silver-gray paint, I was almost ready to be shelved, taken out of the free grand show-and-tell.
As soon as the nurse attending to my mother saw Pops arrive, she shoved me into his arms and said, “Here, Dad! Have you had a picture with your baby girl yet? I’ll count to three for you. One…two…three,” except Pops didn't know if it was on three or after three, so he had no possible indication of knowing exactly when his cheeks had to be stretched just to make some room for exposed teeth. And Jack? He found his way to the front of our father’s legs, faced the camera instead of the rear, and as soon as he saw how tiny my eyes were, he laughed because it looked as if he just poked his fingers into the cavities and called it a day, and laughed more once he saw I had no teeth because God wanted to punish me for taking attention away from Jack, so He pushed my teeth back into my gums until later, rendering me incapable of eating all good things in life that Jack had already gotten to experience. He laughed all the way to the flash of the camera and the subsequent crinkling of his eyes that always came with the camera, no matter how old he got; it is true that some things just never change.
The Polaroid photograph shot out of the camera - Pops faked a complaint and said it almost scraped his face in one of those shallow red lacerations that curves along his cheek in a cracked red thread - and unto the floor, and right on the shiny sticky side, Jack grabbed it and held it up to the fake light of the ceiling, waiting for the illumination to create brightness elsewhere, or at the very least, capture his own. When he saw the memory in front of his eyes before his mind, he just said simply, “This is mine.” No one said anything, and he waved it in front of my face until I cried for food.
“Is she crying because she doesn’t like me?” Jack asked Ma.
“No…no, she’s…” and her sentence must have never finished, just like now, because her mind was everywhere else loomed among the stars that had yet to appear in the sky, far far way from the earth.
I can’t say the ellipses my mother introduced that day ever held any continuity, never any hope they would be a means to a beginning and transition into some other sentence, some other answer; she was too occupied to finish it, ever, and Jack’s brain, reborn from an older soul and made suitable for the size of a new head that will grow until the day it dies, only tried to make sense of what it knew then, and these things were definite: he had a sister, his sister was crying, but when Jack laughed and smiled before her tiny eyes wide open, but blinking with a tilt like a doll, she laughed and smiled too. It was not up for question that Jack would be the one to automate the switch of those flickering, tiny eyes, accompanied always by some little smile. And he always was.
From the plentiful blank of time the world has so graciously given me, I have salvaged from a robbed safekeeping two things: Jack’s beginning and Jack’s end, both following the finite line of memory in the eternal cycle of life.
His beginning is so long after the stories and legends of figures who fade in tangibility and remain in audibility - is it four years after birth? Four years is what Jack told me, and four years is sure to be what I’ll believe after science proves it to be three or five or seven.
Here is my first memory - of him, of all - that can be recollected in a single moment: it is one of the hottest days in the city of San Antonio, Texas ever, so hot that the rays of the sun created tiny mirrors on crushed and weathered gravel, and the mirages created waves in the air that hang like curtains which can do nothing to protect the person standing behind. The heat, some digits away from one hundred, was beginning to reach me in a slow lurking pattern - it’d come and go, but never hit me. I would only ever feel it behind me, breathing on the base of my neck.
Pops got us ice cream that day - me and Jack, not Ma, who was doing God knows what in God knows where. We were never her problem in the summers, and she would completely ignore the poor innocent who called home where the people you love are; home for Ma was whichever sister or casual college acquaintance decided to put a roof over her head and just enough food in her stomach until it was time for her to buy our school supplies at garage sales and buy her own for her students on discount racks.
At age four, I was obsessed with the color pink, and anything resembling it visually or audibly. I liked pigtails because they sounded like pinktails; I liked pigs because I first heard pinks; I liked strawberry ice cream because of its shades of red that ran alongside another rather than blended together. I had never even had a strawberry, let alone an ice cream of its flavor, when I pointed to the nearly full tub of pale red ice cream, at the time more like slush that comes days after a fresh blanket of snow or hours after a dirty sprinkle of sleet. My father pointed to the shallow pool of vanilla ice cream and said to me, “Ana, you won’t like that ice cream. You’ve never had it before. Eat this one, you had it at your birthday party with your pink cake. You can even put sprinkles in it, if you want. But sprinkles won’t taste as good with the pink ice cream.” But I already saw scraped vanilla bean running through what would have been a smooth sheet of ivory without it.
“I want the pink one,” I told Pops, although that second word was emphasized greater than what it needed to be, and as soon as he heard it in Italics, his brows furrowed and palms opened.
“No talking back, Ana. Don’t be spoiled, or you’re getting a spanking when we’re home, and no ice cream at all. Is that what you want? Because it’d sure save me a hell of a lot of money,” he said through gritted teeth. It would have only saved him two dollars, but that was long before I could grasp numbers with both hands; at the time, they were only an identification of age. Words were different; I knew my name, I knew everyone else’s; I knew twenty-six of them, greater than my fingers and toes, and when I heard some of those twenty six through gritted teeth without all of the repeated pronunciation I’d practiced at school, I knew to cry. In the weather floating somewhere in the early hundred, even through the open door of the creamery, my tears were hot as they hit my cheeks, but I was thirsty and stuck my tongue out anyway to collect the saltwater leaving my eyes. Jack thought I looked stupid - he made fun of me the whole way home and some days after - but he felt bad like he always did.
“Get her the ice cream. She wants it. She’ll eat it. I know she will,” Jack told our father. The sentences were so simple, but so far beyond my comprehension then, now, most likely later. From what I had known, all of Jack’s thoughts he allowed the rest of his world to hear were suggestions - no sure things, no promises, nothing ever solidified in action and cemented to the ground. His sounds had proved consistent, all sentences spoken softly and quickly, ready to be retracted immediately after rejection. But I knew a change of Jack in his order to our father. Jack who now spoke loudly, Jack who was now familiar with certainty, Jack who did not share thoughts, but facts.
Pops didn’t notice, nor did he celebrate. He only rolled his eyes and sighed, lifting his shoulders inches forward and expanding his stomach inches outward. If we were only a few years older, I would hear the words, “It’s your ass on the line,” to follow, but his body language was enough. Pops nodded to the teenage boy behind the counter who had been waiting for the past few minutes, shifting his ice cream scoop between two tubs.
“One small strawberry, one vanilla cone,” Pops muttered.
“I wanted a medium peanut butter,” Jack said, his voice raising. The employee began making his way to the opposite end of the counter, until Pops defeated his volume with his own affirmation. “You talked back to me. That is no way to speak to your father, and I wish your mother would teach you this stuff when she’s around you. It’s ridiculous. Her and all of her white nonsense, that discipline will delay you or make you want to kill either of us, or both of us, in your later years. No. You need to know when you’re doing something wrong, and you need to be punished.”
His speech was too long for attention spans that had only been around for eight or four years.
“Do you understand?” Pops added. We learned to nod at those words, no matter what preceded them. “Good. Let’s leave. I would hate for the two of you to continue causing a scene. Lord knows you’ve done enough in the few minutes we’ve been here. Come on. Let’s go. Did you not listen to when I said it the first time? Let’s go.”
As soon as Pops made Jack strap me into my carseat, I grabbed my spoon to learn the taste of pink that was meant to be savored. It was a flavor completely unexpected and absolutely unwanted by me. Almost immediately I gagged and let what I had put in my mouth settle into the dip of the spoon. The ice cream melted quickly into a puddle of a thick pink syrup as I emptied my mouth from time to time of frozen lumps of strawberries. Through all of it, Jack was watching me. He put his finger to his mouth to silence me.
“Don’t say anything. Don’t say it tastes bad or that it’s gross, please. Just give it to me,” he told me at his normal volume. Our dad had on the radio, one of his tapes way back from when he met Ma and could make himself happy with just the sound of her voice or the metal scrapes of a guitar. Jack’s voice still drowned it all out for me. I nodded and gave him the cup as Jack slouched as low as he could in his seat. He finished my ice cream in two minutes, and one minute later, he yelled, “Hey, Pops. Can you hand me a napkin please? I think Ana finished her ice cream so quickly that she’s a little sticky around her face.”
Pops lowered the radio one or two notches. “Great. Really. She didn’t get any on the seat or the handle on the door, did she?”
Jack pretended to look for fifteen seconds, and slowly sat up a little straighter each second that passed. Finally, when he reached his full posture: “No. There’s nothing.”
“Really? So when I stop the car and get out to check if the door handle is sticky or pink or both, I won’t see anything, feel anything?”
“No sir. You won’t.”
Once I saw the wilting flowers my dad planted when he first moved in, just to make some part of his new life better than his old life with no landscaping and a dry brown lawn, he stopped the car.
“Both of you, get out for a minute,” he said. Pops was angry; he spoke in short sentences when he was upset. He swiped his hand along every edge where I sat.
“You didn’t make a mess, Ana?” Pops asked. His temper was cooling, only slowly. His tone separated questions form orders, whereas before everything was one desire that needed to be fulfilled to no end.
“Good. You and Jack ought to go inside. It’s still hot.” He slammed the door of his car as he spun on his heel to open the front door, but fumbled with his keys when he started to make an attempt at unlocking it and began speaking without separating his teeth again. We stood through his muttering and frustration for four minutes until we finally entered.
Jack and I were ready to go to our respective rooms for the next few ten minutes until Pops sought his familiar ground when we heard a sharp, “Jack! Come here.” Pops said it so quickly that it was hard to hear, and almost impossible to put into an coherent thought using the little context provided. Jack just knew, though. “Wait here,” he told me, shoving me further back just a little. I watched Jack’s figure recede into the setting sun the windows allowed as the sounds of his thumping footsteps grew in heartbeats of my ears.
“Son. You can’t disobey me in public like you did earlier. It’s not acceptable.” Pops was speaking softly and the remorse of an action which had yet to take toll bled through his strong, paternal echoes. “You need to be disciplined.”
So Jack bent over and took the spankings with which he wasn’t completely unfamiliar - our grandparents were fans of the same punishment - and on his face, laughed to his own company, and Pops was already feeling his own age before Jack’s. Pops was wondering all sorts of things that only time could answer, like when he stopped being spanked and when he started being a father - when he got to old to remember things that happened a day before, because as far as he knew, spaghetti was for lunch today and yesterday.
But I couldn’t know that. All I saw was a flat palm facing Jack’s rear, and all the sense I could make of it got absorbed in the pain of a world I wouldn’t know truly for another ten years. I watched, disobeying Jack (because I clearly had not learned my lesson from Jack’s punishment) from behind a wall until Jack caught my eye. He never changed, always a constant I could depend on. His smile just widened, and his laugh only expanded his mouth, defying all of the silent ways amusement can be conveyed in expression. Jack could have mouthed or signaled to me all the ways he was alright alone, but I feel his smile shared all the ways we were alright together in that moment.
After everything, Jack walked into where I slept, which was more of a bed surrounded by a few walls than a room. It was true that Pops was still settling in - it had only been a year since he and my mother split up for the first time - but it was also true that Jack and I were doing no more than passing through. There was no note of finality in the arbitrary furniture for unspecified routines, and I was so aware of it at a young age when I tried to climb onto the bed before realizing it was too tall, and there was no step stool to supplement it. My only option was to sit on the floor and stare at the wall until my imagination assembled something close to entertainment. I stared at the wall for forty minutes, maybe an hour, until I saw color reveal itself on the wall, fading in and out in changing hues. It was alright for the first light show I had ever seen, but interrupted when a shadow blocked the best green lights. I shifted my top half left and right, attempting to reconcile the shadows which were ruined, but the creaking of the old and cracked brown floors were unforgivable inconsistencies. Jack sat next to me and took a light breath before he spoke.
“Pops was mad today, huh? At least when we got ice cream. A little when we got home. I know.”
“Yeah. He was really mean.” If I could express the same sentiment today, my word choice would be no different.
“I think that maybe he just had a bad day though. I think he’s a good dad. He wanted to see us. I have some friends whose parents aren’t together, and their dads, sometimes their moms, never want to see them. It’s good that Pops is so nice. He just has a temper. That’s what Ma would tell us, remember? She would always talk about him like that. She’s right, I think. It makes sense,” Jack rambled.
I had no idea what a temper was. The word “temperature” had been tossed around before. I always got dressed for school in Ma’s room and she would have the news on, and at 7:15 every morning, I knew the temperature, plus some more I didn’t know was important. All I could imagine when I thought of a temper was not inclusive of Pops; it was only a sun slightly animated, with its center still and its rays floating around, and the reason why we went for ice cream at all today. The picture of the sun’s rays expanding and retracting remained vivid until I began crying and had to close my eyes to see black and only black.
“It’s okay, Ana. You don’t need to cry,” Jack comforted me. When I had heard those words before, they were always condescending, always part of an eye roll, but Jack’s words were all of his smiles and good smells and kind eyes. “You know what would make you feel better? Here, get on the bed.” Jack crouched on his knees with his palms facing the floor so I could step on his back to hoist myself up. Once I was situated and made to sit on a corner of the bed against a wall, Jack backed a few feet back until he got a running head start into the mattress. Just as quickly as he hit the bed, he sat straight up and turned around to face me.
“Hey, kid! I’m the bus driver. I’m going to get you to school on - woah!” Jack yelled as he fell off the bed on his side.
“Sorry, Ana. Looks like that turn was rough. That’s okay. Maybe we should take another - oh my goodness!” Once more, Jack collapsed unto the floor, and I laughed the laugh I used only around him, the one we seemed to share when some part of ourselves were the same.
“These streets are out to get me! One more turn, though, and you’ll be at - no, not this again, please!” For the finale, Jack hit the ground with a thud, planting only his heart before his face. I applauded the ending, with whistles I tried to hard to make from my throat and mouth. When he got up, his nose was giving away rubies freely and I rushed to collect them with a napkin, but Jack only told me, “Ana, calm down. I can take care of it,” and rushed outside, where there was no human blame for the sight of blood.
I didn’t notice the unnatural bump Jack had on his nose from that day until I saw his back flat against his coffin.
Here is my final memory - of him, of his tangibility - that can be recollected in a single moment: it was one of the coldest days in the city of San Antonio, Texas, ever. There wasn’t any snow because the people had been bad, having sex and smoking and doing drugs and begging. God doesn’t bless people who have done bad things. But cold…there was plenty of cold, plenty of people ill-equipped for the cold wearing thin jackets meant for nothing less than thirty degrees ready to be folded tightly into a suitcase as soon as it’s time to go back home to where the sun really doesn’t shine. The air was filled with murmurs and consonants enunciated better than other ones every time in favor of the chatters of teeth clamped together, and I could only hear the s and t so well because not enough people were hanging outside to make their sounds muffled by the masses.
“What the hell are you doing out there?” Ma shouted from the doorway. She was wearing her flannel nightgown she’s had since her first pregnancy, a little before Jack, but something terminated it along some timeline in space that belongs to no one now but a body that hadn’t really formed, so she’d just had it since before Jack. It had gray rabbits milling about the soft green flannel looking as if they chewed and nibbled on the little balls of fluff bitten by the unfairness of age and years, but Ma made it look better loved, just as she always had.
It’s not as if she looked particularly young. At certain times, even now, I would get my eyes focused elsewhere, some place beyond my mother’s face, and then she would laugh and divert my focus towards her again, and all I could find again are little crevices by her eyes, made as if someone pressed the prongs of a fork against her skin. I know that if the fork were hot, Ma would stick out the heat of the edges until she just laughed from the pain and created those same crevices from personal nature, personal will. She’s always been that way.
Ma’s hair shows just the same as creases. It’s been a silvery-gray since a month her thirty-sixth birthday, since she made Jack dye her hair close enough to the age of nineteen in anticipation of our dad showing up for my birthday party the following week. He never did - he did call, if it counts for anything - but Ma felt a little younger too, if it counts for anything. The next time Ma was due for another hair dye, Jack’s hands were busy with his art (selling for sixty bucks a pop at the least, if I’m remembering correctly) and she was busy with the worry of living and gathering all necessities of it. Her hair only got grayer by each brown strand she pulled from stress, but I never doubted she wore the silver crown well.
Her nose was also something belonging to another world. Ma always told me and Jack it skipped a generation, but God felt the world was so boring and so much alike that by the time we were both living, He decided that it was worth a shot to add some variation in faces - why not give these kids some old long noses to switch up the new cute button ones? All three of us suffered from that difference from the rest of the world, but the older one becomes, the more prominent it seems. Ma, the oldest of us all, wore the nose proudly. It was longer than what was usual, but not long enough to be identified as such, and made to look shorter by the appearance of a round tip, which was really a curve pointing to the lip. Ma argued that it was a common feature of an indigenous Mexican tribe, that we’re the vessels and should wear what was not driven into extinction proudly. Jack would say that plastic surgery can be just as effective as an extinction as white people or smallpox, but I could just as easily see him swear to God later that he meant nothing he said.
All of the age she had on the eyes only drew attention to some other characteristic of senses two through five. Ma’s smell was more than an elementary school teacher’s waxy and wooden scent. When I snuggled up to her at night on rainy days, when I feared my roof would cave in from the rotting tree tapping against my window by some wind that would blow me all the way to California, she’d put her hand right over my head and distract me with the smell of her clean linen and flour-scented hands, something I would think could go away after she quit working at her father’s taqueria. That flour carried her own memories as a young girl, all on her own lineage, so smelled just like seventeen too, or at least gave the picture of someone young enough to wake up at five in the morning to make tortillas. Her touch was a mother’s expected tenderness; there is not much else I can say in regards to that kind; however, the feeling of touching my own mother made me feel older than she. The first days I had seen her sick and was finally old enough to take care of her, I pressed the back of my hand to her forehead, only to be hit with a torch of fire reading one hundred and three degrees digitally.
Nothing like seeing those numbers belonging to someone else could have made me felt older. Her sound was loud all the time, so unlike the soft, but firm speech Jack paraded before my mild manner. Ironically, she never had the confidence he did. All words of hers ended with a question mark; no sentence of hers ever held finality, and ended with just enough seconds for the other side of the conversation to begin and introduce a new idea that just might be better. And her taste is entirely uncharted territory, and shall remain so until I die.
But this is no story about my mother, or all of her communicated scents. It’s about my interrupting thoughts and the continuity of moments in the line of memories, and where Jack fits into it.
I snapped out of the past to continue into the line of succession and replied to my mom, “I’m looking for Jack. Where is he?”
“Beats me. I don’t know. He left yesterday without saying s*** to me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s his own problem.”
“Wow, Ma,” said Jack. He emerged from our house, his black shadow looming over our mother before his own body did. “Way to hurt my feelings. It’s nice to know that if I’d gone away forever, you’d have the cops crawling all over me.”
“Well, you’re no kid, that’s for sure. You know they prioritize amber and silver. What are you?” Ma questioned.
“Brown,” Jack said, and that was it. No more questions from Ma, no more searching from me. A sort of silence traveled among us that had become familiar ever since Pops was done with us for good, and I could hear Jack and Ma thinking in the midst of it. Ma already knew she was losing Jack to something (despite his body heat keeping hers warm only a foot away from hers) ever since my day zero when he took ownership of Full Family Photograph Number One, and if the evidence wasn’t in the gaps between conversations, it was on her face where her nose looked longer or on her hands when they curled together at the fingers as her knuckled turned white without the company of my father. And Jack? It’s just whatever scene he was creating in his mind at the time waiting to be adapted onscreen at any time soon enough.
“So,” Jack started again. It wasn’t much of a continuation, considering he made nothing available to continue. “Ana, do you want to go somewhere?”
“I don’t know. The park. Church. The north side. The west side. You can choose. You need to utilize your free will sometime. It’s a skill to learn. They don’t teach you that at school, do they? Whatever…just choose. I want to leave before it gets cold.”
“Before it gets cold? Don’t be ridiculous!” Ma interjected, but she was a bit too exclamatory at the moment for me, so all I could say was, “To the park it is.”
“Which one?” Jack teased.
“You know…Olive Park.”
“And to Olive Park we go.”
We - me, Ma, and Jack - were really the only ones who called it Olive Park; the real name is something my below-average Spanish isn’t comfortable enough pronouncing. When I was seven and Jack was eleven, my family was new to our inner-northwest neighborhood (the very specific kind where a brand-new Cadillac is parked right next to a truck from the eighties sitting as low as it could be to the ground with tape on the windows and the title “Lil Papi” scrawled on the back window) and remained relatively confined to our little borough, where the grass was green, the exterior paint of the house was intact and a different pastel for every home, trash were actually in cans instead of on the lawn, and the people were only a little paler. (Not because they were white, but because they didn’t work outside - the kind of work that would give those awful tan lines, so that everyone knows that girl’s dad mows lawns every Sunday, and thatches roofs every weekday.) Our neighbor gave my mother the wise idea to take us to the park to swim in the public pool instead of frolicking in the sprinklers, because our feet could get torn up my the little Texas stickers buried beneath the earth. Once the three of us got to the pool and Jack’s bright blue floaties were on my body, only gripping the sporadic patches of hair sprinkled up and down my arms, we were faced with a yellow caution tape, and a few drops of a round, green solid at the only part of the pool where I could stand. My mother called it s***, but my brother and I called those little round drops olives.
I got home that day and vowed to never go to that pool again; I hated olives and I hated s***. I jumped through the sprinkler and watched the mirages from it sit on the ground as the hard, hard water pressure created one or two little slices on my legs. As I cried, my brother pretended to pee using the beams from the sprinkler so that I would stop.
It was true - I never returned to that pool. But something kept bringing me back to the rest of the park: the basketball courts where all of the five-feet tall Mexican boys would play from four to close; all of the ice cream and raspa trucks lined up in the biggest parking lot; the tennis court no one ever used because it was too white of a sport. I would run there in a bright something shirt, as Ma sat on the bench reading the memoir of a president’s wife, looking up casually every eleven minutes just to make sure none of those basketball players tried to recruit me, and sometimes, Jack was right there with me, just as he is right now.
We ran for four miles before Jack had to stop. He never said anything, never held up his palms, fingers straight in the air, nor did he curve his back over so that his sweat could drip to the ground instead of his body. He just stopped with some transition into walking, not even following the steadiness of the music or the consistency of the basketball dribbles.
“Are you okay?” I inquired. I could never merely question Jack, and never describe my actions near him with words complemented by a thesaurus for every high school English paper.
“Fine, fine,” he said breathlessly. “We can go longer if that’s what you want.”
“No. That’s okay. I’m tired too, actually,” I smiled, although I was planning on doing seven miles.
Before we left Olive Park, Jack bought an ice cream for me at the van that has settled in the same spot for years, settled in the same spot today, despite it being one of the coldest days it’s been in a lifetime for me, half a century for some, or maybe just a few days for visitors.
“What do you want, kid?” Jack yelled from tens of feet away, distracting me from the future pros in their discount sweatsuits and full-priced shoes.
“Nothing you can get at the store,” I shouted in return. And what I got was really nothing anyone could get at the store, unless it’s from the store I haven’t been letting myself attend. It was Dora the Explorer’s head, a favorite from the earliest fifth of my life, with some frozen cream for the face and dull, gunmetal gray gum balls for the eyes. The day was cold enough to make the ice cream stick to my tongue once I first licked it, forcing me to widen up and bite from then on; the numbness which latched unto my teeth didn’t let go until the next day, when the cold was no longer worth withstanding, since Jack was no longer available to know the same conditions I would.
“Finish, and then we’ll drive home,” Jack hurried.
“Okay. Some excursion.”
“Well, I was expecting the pool to be open. Cold degrees can’t stop those crazy Mexicans,” Jack laughed, and it was okay for him to, because we were never those kinds of Mexicans who would swim in that weather - no one in the neighborhood really was, probably no one in the world - but just the kinds who would eat ice cream in that weather.
We made it home within three minutes, and two minutes after that, our dad called Jack. Just as I did the day my memory is most capable of recalling, I lingered behind activity, behind the noise of Pops’s frustration and expectations.
“Son, I got stuck somewhere. I normally wouldn’t ask this - I hate to bother you, you know that - but the insurance line is busy and I can’t get anyone else on the phone. My car stopped, and it isn’t something simple like a flat. To be honest, I can’t say I know the situation. Can you come get me? It’s freezing. Have some mercy on your old man.” Before Ma could say anything about how the fool should freeze to death as his teeth chatter and his stomach resides within itself, Jack responded, “Yeah. Yeah, I guess. But when I pick you up, you can’t expect Ana and Ma to come with me, welcome you, right? And like hell I’m telling them what that I’m doing this for you. Not that they would care enough. See you then.”
“Drive carefully so that you don’t get in an accident, but don’t cruise along. It’s cold, and i know you’ll be relieved earlier the sooner this is over. And Jack, in spite of the situation, in spite of where I am in my relationship with all of y’all, that is absolutely no way to speak to your father.” Pa’s voice was already clipped, and although his words lacked the brevity his tone suggested, each connotation was cold and distant, no different than how he would sound speaking to an insurance agent who was too busy to help him. But for Jack, the coldness was temporary like the weather, and overlooked in an instant just to show Pa how a real man ought to look.
The vision of a man Jack intended to communicate to our dad never saw reality, and was only a sketch in full color, because by the time an hour had passed since the phone call summoning Jack to his abandonment, Pops could see no reliability. No, reliability was left sprawled on the corner of two thoughtlessly-named streets where the stoplights went out - it wasn’t as if people had any desires to leave their houses anyways - as its natural interior bled out into man-made cracks, not reaching far enough down the road to save anyone, let alone itself.
Jack’s blood got cleaned up pretty quickly, though. I did it myself at four in the morning so I wouldn’t get hit the same way he did. In that way, his lineage in memory existed in the past, but with all of its potential staring in the eyes of the future. Like I said: we were alright together.