Kind of Blue
Daniel A. Olivas
Silence. René just stares at me. And then another: “So what?” It’s not really a question. It’s a statement. A declaration. A dare.
René wipes his nose using his torn shirtsleeve. He gets most of the blood and snot off his upper lip that had been seeping slowly from his nostrils. René holds his arm in front of him and examines the sleeve. His dark skin peeks out from the torn blue cotton. He blinks and then lets out a muffled laugh, as if he had just discovered five bucks in his pocket.
I can’t stand seeing René’s eyes when he gets like this so I turn and look over toward his apartment’s kitchen window which now has most of its glass piled up in jagged shards inside the sink and a few pieces on the floor. Big Man lays right there, on some of the broken glass. He’s in a heap, like he’s drunk or something. But he’s not.
“So what?” René says again.
He follows my eyes over to Big Man.
“Fuck that pendejo,” says René. “He tried to kill me, that fucker. You saw.”
“But…” I start to answer.
“But the fuck what?”
I look down at my feet, tired at looking at Big Man, who really isn’t very big. Maybe five-five, if that. Muy flaco, también. Skin and bones.
“Never mind,” I say. “Forget about it.”
“Damn straight,” says René, victorious. “Damn straight.”
René named Humberto “Big Man.” Funny because he’s so small. René made himself laugh with that one.
Big Man’s little sister Silvia is “Slinky” because she’s kind of sexy in a weird way. Goth. Pierced left eyebrow, left nostril and left cheek. She gives René blow jobs but they don’t fuck. René says he has too much respect for Silvia to stick her. Even though he doesn’t—or didn’t—think much of her brother. Silvia turned fifteen last week. Big Man and me and René finish high school this year. Well, at least, I will.
Anyway, René named me “Freddie Freeloader” which I hate. Kind of a fucked up name, you know? It’s just because of that time I bummed some mota off of René behind the dumpster at our high school. It was this one hot day during our Ancient Cultures class which we cut at least twice a week. Just that one time I didn’t have any weed on me. But then, right there, after passing over the joint real nice, he calls me Freddie Freeloader through tight lips, trying to keep the smoke in his lungs, but then he starts to laugh and then he chokes, tears running down his face, totally cracking himself up. After he calms down, René looks up at me and says, “You’re Freddie Freeloader, Alfredo.” He adds: “From now on.”
And it’s stuck with me for almost four years. René isn’t called anything but his own baptism name. Nobody dares call him something else. Not me. Not nobody.
Anyway before I even realize he’s run out of the room, I hear a grunt and then all this glass breaking. I freak out at this point and get to the kitchen as fast as I could, tripping over my untied shoes. And there I see Humberto on the floor, not moving, with broken glass all the over place. René was hovering over the body, his shirt sleeve torn and bloody, looking up at me and smiling.
She hands me one drawing, and then another. I don’t why Sylvia calls her pictures Flamenco Sketches. I don’t see any Spanish dancers. Just black circles, going round and round and round from the outside edges to the center. But I don’t criticize her. I just look at each one and nod like I really like the drawings. I don’t know why she brought them here, of all places, but she has a right to do what she wants. Especially right now.
The church is crowded, people are crying, the priest is saying something over Humberto’s coffin, which is closed. His mom’s a mess, collapsed down into herself, weeping but not making a sound except for a moan that scares me. Sylvia finally puts the drawings down on the pew, leans her head into my shoulder, closes her eyes. I was surprised she wanted me to sit next to her with the family, but René was nowhere to be found so I guess she needs me. They don’t blame him, not really, because I told everyone it was an accident. I had to.
I look around, see all of these people I’ve known since I was little. And then I see him, René, off at the side of the church, by the statue of Saint Thomas. You know, doubting Thomas, the one who didn’t believe Jesus had come back from the dead. And I blink, once, twice, and then he turns his head a little to stare back at me. And then he does it. He smiles. Just a little. With that look in his eyes. And I swear he starts to laugh, real quiet, but it’s still a laugh. I turn away from René and kiss the top of Sylvia’s head. Her hair is so soft and smells good. “It’s okay,” I whisper. “It’s okay.”