Suffer the Little Children
On a night when it’s actually quiet enough to hear my own thoughts, after the lights have gone dim, my eyes burn red from reading one too many pages. I just let my mind escape, each window of my memory is open wide, holding fragments of things that only belong to me. Like my very first kiss. I alone can touch, taste, and even feel these moments in time. These pieces of me.
Some of these memories are like flash bulbs bright and white, hot–only later do they fade, leaving behind colorless spots and gaping holes where faces, dates, and details should be.
Then there are those memories that are so vivid the colors will not wash away. The years have passed and yet you still feel scared, excited, sorry, and sad all at once. In one great wave of emotion. The ending is always the same and no matter how hard you try you always remember the things you want to forget the most.
The winter of 1999 was mild, and as the sun broke through my eyelids, I noticed for the first time how dirty and bare the single window really was. The walls were thin and the brittle sheet rock just wasn’t up to holding much of anything, let alone the ragged red blanket I tacked up each night before bed, each morning it laid in a heap on the floor.
Privacy was something we had almost none of that chilly winter. You never knew who would pop there head in the window at all hours of the day or night.
My lower back throbbed; it still amazed me that Mall and I got any sleep at all on that squeaky single bed we shared. The two of us were nothing more than a tangle of arms and legs. More than once one of us had ended up with a busted lip.
Mall, tall and broad chested, his copper red skin felt soft and warm against my cheek.
The crumpled pack of Camels lay on the mountain of junk piled high on the night stand. Now just getting them without waking Mall. Half-eaten candy bars, loose change, .22 shells, Zig-Zag rolling papers, and my bra, I searched for my lighter blindly.
Lying back in bed, all I could do was sigh with my slightly crooked cigarette dangling from my lips.
Mall’s tangle of blue black hair lay across his forehead, his full lip faintly parted. The dimple in his smooth cheek made him seem so much younger than twenty, he almost looked innocent. I tried to time my breathing with his.
Some nights when we were all alone, it was really like the reservation and everyone in it and around us was a million miles away. I’d have my ear pressed to his naked chest. The rhythm of his heart was strong and loud as he’d tell stories of when he was small. How much he loved his mom always made him feel good inside. “Don’t go falling in love,” he’d tease. But it was too late, I loved him. He knew it and even though neither one said it out loud, he loved me too.
Untangling myself from his heavy embrace, I carefully made my way out into the hall. Side-stepping empty beer cans, wadded Taco Bell wrappers and a bag of day-old microwave popcorn. Tiny kernels spilled onto the maroon carpet.
Marissa and John Boy were just down the hall. Their door was shut tight yet plums of purple drifted into the hall through a large jagged hole at the base of their door. The sweet scent of marijuana mixing with the smell of kerosene. The bastard had moved the heater closer to their room. No wonder the room was like ice. “So you’ve been holding out,” I said, slamming open their door.
Marissa, lying there on their mattress with only a T-shirt on toying with a .22 pistol, caressing it as if it were her lover. It creeped me out when she acted like that. She’d always been kind of wild and reckless even back in eighth grade, but ever since we started staying out at the rez, she acted way more careless.
John Boy’s eyes were glazed and glossy like shiny black marbles as he handed me the duct- taped Graphix bong. Little nubs of green bud fell between my knees as I fumbled to extract a smoking seed.
Their room was a war zone like always. Somebody had tried to paint the walls burgundy but gave up halfway through the job, “POMO pride” and “Pip” were tagged in crude black letter. The words jumped out at you both angry and proud.
Sitting at the corner of the mattress, I was careful not to spill the Pepsi can full of floating cigarette butts. The green bud tasted more like resin then bud. Sweet and carmely like a Sugar Daddy.
“You got my lighter?” I croaked, remembering why I was there in there first place. I tried to hold the smoke a little longer.”I know you been trying to gaffel it for days!” The smoke burned deep in my lungs and my eyes began to water.
“Yeah I got it, don’t be a jerk.” She nudged the barrel of the gun into my side.
“Quit fucking around, Marissa, That isn’t funny, remember what happened to Nick?” I was pissed and she was giggling, it was like life had turned into a big joke, and I was the only one who didn’t get it.
“Are you feeling okay? I was only playing with you, you look like you’re getting sick. I heard you throwing up this morning, what’s up with that?”
“Oh now you want to act like you care, when just two seconds ago you had a gun to my side, some best friend I have, I feel loved!” We both started to laugh and John Boy took another hit off the bong, looking at us like we were both crazy.
The unexpected bass of Mac Drag’s song, I”’ve been down o so long” made all three of us jump.
“Well at least Mall’s up.” John Boy said, cracking the first smile I’d seen on his face all morning. Even though he was Mall’s cousin, they looked nothing alike.
John Boy was short and wirey with thick black hair that reached his waist. His eyes were spaced wide apart and he was always smiling. He and Marissa could have been brother and sister. Except she was several shades lighter and not Indian. She wasn’t just pretty, she was beautiful.
It must have been around nine. You didn’t even have to have a watch to know what time it was on the rez. Things seem to come alive all at once. The crack of 22 dogs barking, babies crying, and couples fighting over who was going to warm up the car. These were all the sounds I was used to hearing on most every morning. So there really wasn’t anything really different about this morning except the stone I felt in the pit of my belly. I stumbled back to our room.
“Are those fools up yet?” Mall asked as he pulled me all but on top of him. “Yeah they’re up, Marissa’a acting like an asshole and John Boy’s just stoned. And I just don’t feel good!” Mall just smiled and kissed my forehead. Some how his smile was infectious and eased my queasy stomach. “So what’s the plan anyways?” I tried to sit up. “No more of that lame-ass reenactment bullshit I hope, it makes me feel like I’m in some low budget B-rate movie. We don’t even know who’s all going to be there. What if this just screws us all up? What then?” He didn’t answer.
Staring out the window, the lifeless trees made me feel sad, and even though Mall was right beside me, I felt alone. A paper bag jumped through the empty street. The porch light across our lot switched off, How I wished I could snap off the bad feeling I had just as easy. But it was too late, I was in so I best get excited about it.
“Is John Boy really gonna wear that mask? Can he even breathe with that thing on?” I asked. “I mean it looks so weird looking.”
“It’s a gas mask, it will probably make him breathe better. Hell I don’t know, if he wants to wear it, let him wear it.”
“Well damn, I was just asking. Why do you have to get all shitty with me?”
“You ask stupid questions, Leah, that’s why.”
“Fuck you too!”
“Babe, stop that I didn’t mean to get shitty with you. I’m just trying to think.” When he smiled his dimples made me smile too.
“Mall, my stomach feels hella fucked up.”
“Just lie down for a while, are you hungry?”
“Nah, I’m just going to lay down.”
My eyes wondered from the paper bag to the spaced-out houses and tilted trailer, the cars on the block and two dogs fighting over a paper plate. Chimney smoke rose high in to the overcast sky and disappeared in to nothingness. “Babe, wake up.” Mall’s voice shattered the black sleep that had me far from the reservation from the gas mask and guns.
“Hey, I just fell asleep! What’s wrong?”
“You slept all day. It’s dark out, look for yourself. Here, I got you a hamburger.”
I was so hungry, I wanted to lick the cheese off the paper, but I didn’t.
“Come on, we’re all ready.”
It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the dimness of the living room, it was so hot my arm pits began to sweat. Marissa sat on a stool with her back to me feeding broken sticks to the fire.
“You’re going in,” John Boy said, smiling as he took a bite from his already half-eaten burger.
“I know already!” I said.
If only I knew how to drive, then I could just wait in the car, but at twenty-two, I was lucky I knew where to stick the key. Driving scared the hell out of me.
“So what are we waiting for, let’s do this!”
I was ready as I’d ever be and a surge of courage made me the first out the door.
“And I’m sitting up front” I said, leaving the front door wide open for them to follow. I started to chain smoke as we got closer to the city limits and all of a sudden I had to pee. Sharp little jabs kept shooting up my pelvis. None of us had much of anything to say.
“So I’m gonna knock, go in, and ask if she has anything,” I said turning in my seat to ease the pressure on my pelvis more than anything.
“Then come back to the van,” Mall instructed like a director.
“Okay, I got it.”
Marissa popped in the only tape on the dash board. 2Pac started to sing “All Eyes On Me” Which, after only a few lines, made me so nervous I switched it off.
Arnold Street was tucked away from any main streets hidden among amaze of side streets and dead end cul de sacs. Mary Anne’s yard had cars parked bumper to bumper, something we all suspected. Christmas lights were strung from one end of her roof to the other. The windows were sprayed with fake snow and a giant Santa stood guard over a taped trash can. It wasn’t yet Thanksgiving but you couldn’t tell Mary Anne that. Every year she outdid her neighbors.
By the third trip around the block, only one car remained. “Well, it’s now or never,” I said and stepped out into the cold November air.
“Is Mary Anne home?” My smile was like syrup. Marla, Mary Anne’s faithful sidekick opened the door wide and I followed her bony back down the narrow hail to Mary Anne’s tiny bedroom. Mary Anne sat Indian style. Presents and shiny wrapping paper surrounded her from all sides. “You got any greens right now, Mary Anne?” The fake smile stamped on my face.
“I’m still waiting.” Her long horseish face was lined and her cheek bone looked about ready to brake through her skin.
“Come by tomorrow, maybe six or eight.”
“All right, thank you Mary Anne.”
“Uh-huh.” She was already concentrating on rewrapping a small white box. I let myelf out.
The van was hot-boxed with nothing but cigarette smoke.
“Mary Anne, Marla, Lil’ Jessie, and some little friend of his playing Sega. Oh, and some tweaked-out dude I never seen before.”
“Okay, okay.” Mall sounded breathless and he was sweating.
“I’m going to say I forgot to ask her something.”
“And stall at the door like you have to tie your shoe,” John Boy finished, putting my thoughts into words.
“Let me have a drag.” The smoke burned my eyes. I pulled my shoe strings loose, careful not to trip. I made my way back to the lighted porch. My heart was throbbing and the gravel crunching under my feet seemed to fill the silence that passed in on me from all sides.
“Uh, Marla, I forgot to ask Mary Anne one more quick question.” My smile slipped.
I squatted fumbling with my dirty shoe lace, and when I heard the slide of the van door, I didn’t even look up. Mall’s knee brushed my back, and John Boy nearly knocked me into the gravel as he rushed in the front door. I could have just walked to the van, I should have just walked to the van, I slipped inside after John Boy and slammed the door, locking us in, and froze up.
“Get down bitch, get the fuck down!” Mall’s voice was tight and mean. He was already in her bedroom.
“Get over here and don’t look at me!” John Boy pushed the two teenagers face-down. Their small bodies seemed to convulse as they tried to curl up in a fetal position.
“Legs out, don’t fucking look at me, put your hands over the top of your head!”
The sound of shattering glass melted the fear that had me pressed tight to the front door. I moved to the middle of the living room. I could see down the hall where John Boy had Marla, the boys, and the tweaker dude laid out long ways, but I couldn’t see Mall or Mary Anne at all. All at once my nose burned, kerosene fumes took away all my air.
“Bitch where are they? I’ll burn this whole place down to ashes!”
Once again I was rooted. Do something, fuck. I felt stupid just standing there like stone. I scanned the room an open kitchen. I spotted a wall phone and started tearing out any phone cords I seen, and for some reason I started opening kitchen cabinets and even the refrigerator. It was almost empty. A half a gallon of milk, some watery Jell-o, and a few cubes of butter.
A small cry got me out of the refrigerator and I walked back toward the hall. John Boy was bent on his knee, it took me a minute to realize what he was doing. Until I saw the blood. John Boy pistol broke skin with Marla’s cheek bone. After the third violent blow I panicked.
“Enough!” was all I could manage to get out. He looked at me through the gas-mask goggles. I couldn’t see his eyes, but the stiffness of his body made him seem like a total stranger. As if his anger could only be stopped up to a point. I heard something like wood snapping, coming from the bedroom and then out of nowhere, the door bell rang. The entire house went silent. I could hear myself breathing.
“Somebody’s at the door,” I hissed, becoming fully aware that we were taking to long.
“Tell them she’s busy, tell them to come back, fuck tell them anything, hurry up!”
John Boy looked as scared as I felt. I flipped open the peep hole and a short pimple-faced pizza boy looked around the porch like he didn’t have time to be standing there.
“Can you come back later, she’s busy.” I said through the door. A sharp pain shot through my belly button and I almost crumpled to the floor. A fine sweat broke out all over my body.
“She ordered the pizza, what do you mean come back?”
“She doesn’t want it anymore!” I could barely get my thoughts together and panic crept in my voice. Something hot gushed between my legs soaking my thighs, another pain.
“Oh my God.” I whispered. The pizza boy forgotten. I pulled my hand away from my wet crotch, blood. My pale finger tips glistened red as the Christmas light blinked blue, yellow, orange, and red. My fingers were red. I had known or a part of me had known there was something growing inside me all along. And now it was dead running down my legs filling my shoes in the middle of a robbery. The pizza boy was gone. My thighs stuck together as I tried to get my balance. I could smell the copper scent of my drying blood. The pain was now a dull deep ache. The only thing I could think about was that I was glad I was wearing black pants. I hated myself for feeling glad.
Mall almost fell stepping in the tweaker dude’s back. Somehow I made it to the van. The people huddling inside forgotten. The black duffel bag tucked tight under John Boy’s arm. On impulse, Mall stopped to snatch a silver package from under the Christmas tree.
Kicking up gravel, we sped away into the moonless night. Mall tossed the silver package into my lap.
“Merry Christmas, girl.”
He started to count the cash inside the bag. One corner of the package was torn. The pain in my belly was fading . We were almost home. The dried blood made my thighs itch. I tore at the package, feeling transparent and disconnected.
A navy blue baby blanket with satin trim peered at me from the shiny silver paper. The tag read: “To baby with love.”