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As you may or may not know, I write a lot of stuff.  And some of it is not appropriate for the web site (or I’m reluctant to use it because it’s self-serving or it’s about something unrelated or it’s too irreverent or whatever).  Other pieces fall in the never never land of not being appropriate for ANYTHING exactly.  This next piece is one of those.  I wrote it when I was at West unit among all the lifers.  They have, as you might imagine, a lot of interesting things to say. 
Kay, Put all of this on the web if you think it’s appropriate or falls under some sort of entertainment-education umbrella. 
After all, it’s okay sometimes to let people know

THERE’S HUMANS AMONG THE BAD GUYS.

I should explain some things first.  Francisco “Paco” Enamorado (not his real name, but close) doesn’t annunciate very well.  Some words are not possible.  You know how that works.  You stand there (in the kitchen, in the steam of the dishwasher and the echoes of industrial cooking equipment), and try to look like you’re listening to him, and try to look like you understand him as he wraps his lips around English words that have no business being anywhere near his little round Cuban face.  I swear his lips can’t cope.  His lips move as if the air in the dish room was freezing.  They grope spastically, like the lips of a man who’s been standing in the cold for hours, numb and thick-tongued and clumsy mouthed.  It’s painful to watch and listen to.  The vowels win out because the American consonants lay down like cowards under the onslaught of Spanish sensitivities.  The word “February” for example, sounds like WEB-A-RAY.  So Paco says, “My appeal was filed last February,” but you hear, “MY PEA HOON FIED A’ WEB-A-RAY.”

And it’s important to pretend to understand, like I said, so “YES!” I say, loudly, nodding, smiling falsely, steam billowing from the waters in the sweltering prison kitchen.  “YES HELL!” I shout, not understanding a fucking word.

He sighs as he stacks the just-washed trays.  “Si,” he says, happy for the audience.

I smile a lot when I listen to Paco.  And he’s always encouraged.  He’s a short man, sad-eyed but graceful about his burden, prone to irrational anger that explodes then evaporates quickly, a function I claim of middle age (the evaporation, not the explosion).  And like so many in prison, he’s into self-maintenance.  His pockets bulge with carefully wrapped food items stolen off the line.  Sugar packets fill his boots.  He has a round belly and big hands and he smokes like a Turkish waiter, sucking the ends of his roll-your-owns so hard the ash peels back of its own volition and vanishes into the Stratosphere.  He lives in prison with me, but he also lives in a small dazed world of insecurities, illiterate comprehensions and foreign intrigues.  There are constant designs on his ideas about right and wrong.

And he’s doing nineteen years for a serious crime he says he didn’t do.

We’re all innocent in here, though, so even if the facts of his case as he related them to me seem to bear him out, until the courts formally apologize, he’ll be marking time with me.  I look like a good listener to Paco – middle aged, avuncular, white.  He constantly entertains me with the affronts of his life.  He tells me other stories, too, so I’ve learned that although he’s (ahem..) innocent, he’s been in the crime business for years.  Some of his stories are sad.  This one is too incredible not to record.
- Gary Brooks Waid -

PACO’S GIFT
©2000
By Gary Brooks Waid

There was a little girl. 

(If I die, Rachel thought, Mama’ll finally be happy.)

Rachel dreams.  She’s so tired and so sore and she dreams that she can’t see right.  Something’s wrong with her eyes.  No hands, no feet, no eyes, hot, no water.  She imagines a man is looking at her.

(If I die, Mama’ll be happy.  She won’t be my mama and she won’t have to put up with me.  And she won’t be so mad--  --I can’t see too good but I see some.  I see a man lookin’ at me.  I hope he ain’t mad.  I’m bein’ quiet.  I hope he ain’t mad.)

She dreams.  She’s on the sidewalk at the bottom of her steps in her red dress and her dinner shoes.  She’s playing.  Her kitten is in the dream, small and gray, playing with her, jumping at the little stuffed Garfield, jumping and running and batting its paws.  Then suddenly there’s a noise and the kitten is running but sideways, sideways in circles on the sidewalk screaming.  It must have tumbled over the curb and into the street.  It’s been hit by a car and it’s screaming.  There’s a spot of blood on its nose and it’s screaming.

The little girl’s mother appears.  She looks down and sees the kitten dying, the blood, the street.  She begins to shout at Rachael.  She shouts and shouts, looks at the dead kitten, then at Rachael.  Shouts and shouts and grabs Rachael’s arms and begins to shake her, hard.

“You murdering little fuckup!”  You’re a little murdering, ugly, stupid – like your father – fuckup!”

Rachael loses the thread.  She sees the man again for a moment, feels him touch her.  Then he’s gone.

(I ain’t seen God, Mama.  This man, he don’t look like God.  I hope he ain’t God.  And I hope God ain’t mad.  If I die, Mama, please don’t let God be mad.  Or you.  I didn’t mean nothin’.  And I didn’t make no noise.  I never once made no noise.)

Paco stood in his tiny kitchen in his tiny house and said to his woman, “I do not do this thing because I like it.”

“You will,” she said, looking away.  “You will like it.”

“I do not.  I will do it for you.  For us.  I do it because we have the need and because I do not speak properly, the norte Americano, for a job driving a taxi.”

Paco was angry with her.  He was always angry at her.  It was not her fault, though, that he had to pretend about their life like it was some kind of tree that would bud and bloom one day if only they could get past the hard part.  It is simple to see, he thought.  It is the getting behind that is so hard to fix.  Always getting behind and wanting some things, nice things like the Ford truck for sale, but not having them.  And everywhere you look there are people with so many nice things.  Not like in Cuba.  In Cuba there was beauty but no things.  The girl selling oranges on the street of his father’s:  He was only a boy, but he remembers just how she looked.  How she smiled.  She peeled the oranges in spirals and left the white part and never lost the juice.  Then she folded them in newspaper for you and gave you salt and chili even if you were a small boy.  And she was beautiful and smelled like her oranges and had nothing.  No things.  Not even a ribbon for her hair.  But she was beautiful all the same without the things.  Not like in the United States, where there are so many things.  And the women in this Estados Unidos, because they are here, want these things from you.

His woman reproaches him for such a failure.

That bitch!  She is a bitch!  She thinks she should have money and things from his work.  But what can he do?  He is a gardener.  He can swing a blade.  He can broil in the sun, push the wheelbarrow with the sun beating on his forehead, the sun white and hot on the walls of the big private school and he is kneeling in the dirt in the row of hedge, hired to garden and weed-eat, or in the Winter snow-blow.  And in the evening he walks towards the river, away from the sun with fifty dollars.  He walks down the road and along the stores in the mall and past the car lots with cars and trucks for sale, the trucks like the green Ford that might be his soon because he will learn to do this thing.  This thing he has to do.

That evening he went with his friend Tomas from Puerto Rico.  They drank some beer and they drove to a residential neighborhood in Tomas’s big Chevy.  They broke into an apartment that Tomas had been watching.  They took the stereo, the TV, and some money.  Paco made only three-hundred dollars that night, but he learned.  And he did it again with Tomas.  And soon he was doing it every week during that summer, riding somewhere and robbing someone’s house to make money.  He thought he would buy that truck and many nice presents for his woman before he stopped.

One night in the month of September he and Tomas broke into one of a group of older apartments at 114th Street and Lincoln Avenue across from a blacked-out bar named “Tony’s” on the corner.  The apartment was on the second floor, up a flight of stairs from the sidewalk.

The hour was late, traffic was light, an occasional siren could be heard, nobody was outside.  They entered a bedroom through an alley window in back, accessed from the fire escape.  It was dark inside and quiet.  There was worn carpeting under Paco’s feet.  He stepped around the unmade bed and kicked at discarded clothing.  He saw a dresser with a fat, burnt candle and bottles of women’s things – perfume and makeup – arrayed like toy soldiers on the dark in front of the mirror.  He smelled the scent of woman.  A closet stood open, blackly, with shapes inside.  He examined the floor for men’s shoes but found none.  No shirts or jackets hung on the bar.  Good, he thought.  No man.

He eased past, leading Tomas, and opened the door to the hall.  And he smelled something wrong.

He closed the door quietly and turned to his friend.  “I smell garbage,” he whispered.  “There is garbage here.  We should go.”

But his partner wanted to see.  He wanted to make sure.  “We must look,” he said.  “There is no man here.  Maybe the woman is away.”

So, together they crept past a dark bathroom and towards the purple glow of a night light.  When they emerged from the hall the lines of shadows illuminated a small, combination kitchen-dining room, edged with a breakfast bar that was supported on one end by a floor-to-ceiling wooden post.  Together with its twin post by the refrigerator, the bracketing effect was of a sort of portal into the living area beyond.  Quickly, instinctively, Paco covered his nose as he scanned the place, the messy counters, the dirty dishes overflowing, the closed windows, the cat box spilling over.  In the illuminated square of living room he saw broken glass sparkling on the carpet.  Paco noticed everything in an instant, though, because his attention was captured and arrested by a horror unimaginable.

At the portal, tied to one of the posts in spiraling wraps, wrap after wrap of white clothesline, was a little girl no more than six years old.

“Madre de Dios,” said Paco quietly.  “We have found the devil’s house.”

She was not moving, but hung from her tethers exhausted, long black hair tangled, both eyes swollen shut, dress torn and stained with vomit.  Her arms were free of the rope but there was duct tape layered on her hands, thick, club-like, and she must have tried and tried to get the tape off because black blood stained her chin and neck where she’d tried to bite the material.  Somehow she had kicked her shoes off, too.  Her legs were swollen and soiled and the vinyl flooring around her was scuffed and streaked from kicking.  Paco smelled garbage, but he also smelled shit and puke and the desperate rot of abandonment.  In the quiet he heard the buzz of flies by the night light.

Tomas said, “We go now.  Right now.  We call the cops from the street.”

“No!” said Paco.

“Yes.  Now.  This is danger.  She is dead.”  Tomas turned and left without another word.  Paco did not see him again for many days.  Paco could tell that the girl was not dead.

For ten minutes Paco cut bindings and unwrapped the little girl.  Whoever did this was very angry, he thought.  And he thought about how he could kill a person who would do this.

But he also thought how this was just his luck to find her, the little girl alive but not very alive and him in trouble now because of what will happen.  He laid her out on the floor and knelt over her, looking into her face.  She’s pretty, he thought.  And she has nothing.  Less than nothing.  She opened her eyes and saw him, but then her pupils rolled back and her swollen eyelids shut.  He touched her forehead and she felt very hot and dry.  He rose to his feet and walked down the hall.  In the bedroom amid the clutter on the dresser he found a telephone.  He pressed 911 and asked politely for a Spanish-speaking officer.  Later he met the police and the ambulance attendants at the door.

Rachael Smith was almost dead when they took her away.  In the hospital she was put on IV electrolytes and antibiotics.  Her small body was slowly rehydrated, her stomach revived, her wounds were treated, and she received three weeks of gentle physical therapy along with love from an outraged medical staff.  She couldn’t remember too much.  She’d been tied up by her mother five days before, and for all of that time the lady was in and out, smoking from her pipe, passed out on the couch, yelling about the cat sometimes, one time in a bout of madness screaming at Rachael as she taped the little girl’s hands.

Asked why she didn’t cry out for help, Rachael said, “Mama’d get mad when I talked.”

The police found Rachael’s mother sitting on a stoop in front of an all-night convenience store drinking beer.  She was incoherent.

~*~

Paco was never charged with burglary.  No cop would witness against him, and the District Attorney was so infuriated at the mother, he gave instructions that the witness was to be left alone in exchange for his testimony at trial.

In the courtroom Paco sat and thought about things.  He wondered how a mother, any mother, could do such a thing.  He asked himself if his own woman could do such a thing.  And he wondered about desperation, about HIS desperation, what was HE capable of.  But this mystery was not simple, this anger and hate.  This was not just a kitten thing or a five-day thing.  Where was the father in all this?  Did he run away?  Who decided to actually torture the baby girl?  A mother, or a drug addict?  Had the mother abandoned a previous life, maybe, or was she less guilty somehow for her part because of some long-ago sins of another mother or another father or of a husband long gone?  After all, our past marks us.  Paco knew that; he was from Cuba and he knew that.

In the end Paco saw there was no excuse, no excuse ever in the world for what had been done to the child.  And he became so angry he stood up as the mother was being led away, and cursed the mother aloud, announcing his decision in his native tongue over the heads of the startled onlookers,  Francisco “Paco” Enamorado pointing at the woman, shouting his indignant curses from another land many years away.

And in the quiet courtroom it was as if he’d bestowed his decision upon the woman, for the child who had nothing, not even a ribbon for her hair, but was beautiful nonetheless.  It was Paco’s gift and he was proud.  The little girl will be taken care of now, he thought.  She will have more things because of me.

The judge didn’t understand, of course.  He thanked Paco for his help, and later out on the parking lot the newspaper photographers took Paco’s picture as he stood with his woman in front of his green truck.

The End.

Gary Brooks Waid

 

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