Photograph by Gilda Davidian
WHERE WE ARE
by Richard A. Sanchez
“You don’t really look like someone named Eduardo Montez,” Beady says. His Dad’s not home right now, so he’s pouring gasoline from a plastic spout onto the small strip of concrete outside his bedroom. The smell burns my nose when I breathe, and I hold my breath watching the ants shake and roll over. I stand back a few feet on the dirt of his backyard, because he’s about to pull a box of matches from his pocket. “You know that, right?” he says, his eyes squinted, focusing on his work.
Issue #14 soundtrack: Night Manager "Blackout Sex"
My Mom and I move around a lot, and people are always asking me about my name. Teachers stop in the middle of roll the first day at new schools and look at me funny, like someone’s playing a joke on them. During breaks, most kids act like Beady, say I can’t be Mexican, that, yeah, I have dark hair, but that my skin’s too light and my eyes are blue. A Mexican kid always asks if I speak Spanish, and is disappointed when I can’t. Nobody cares either way after the first few days, and I get used to being ignored until we pack up and leave again. I like moving. Schools and kids are the same most places and I don’t have to worry about them or what they think of me too much, because there’s always someplace new to look forward to.
We’re not moving this time, though, or so Mom says. It’s hot here and there’s nothing for me to do, but mom just sees a place where rent is cheap and work is steady. So this small California desert town is it. “Don’t get any of that on your pants,” I say to Beady, shielding my face with my arm.
“What, are you nervous?” he asks.
In Yucca Valley, summer lasts until Halloween. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway. I’m a week into my junior year, they’re playing the first football game of the season tonight, and it’s hotter than I can stand even now, at dinnertime. Beady’s lived in the desert his whole life, and today’s like any other day to him in his long shorts and combat boots like always, his ripped up Black Flag shirt and all his necklaces. He has some nearly destroyed dog tags you can only read a letter or two off of, a bunch of linked safety pins and a few others. He goes to a lot of trouble, Beady, but he’s not exactly the most popular kid in school. He’s tall and skinny and pretty uncoordinated, for one thing. He can’t shoot a basketball and can’t play video games, either, from what I’ve seen. I think his Dad hits him. I’ve known him only three weeks, long enough to hear about three “skateboarding injuries” and a fall from his backyard fence. He’s always picking a scab or showing me a new bruise like it’s a trophy. He seems to like his nickname, too, squinting at everything all the time like he’s pissed off. I guess it’s better than Dwayne, the name teachers call him; I think he just needs glasses.
“You look more like an Eddie Martin,” he says. “Or an Edwin something. Ha.” Beady scrapes one of the long wooden matches along the rough side of the box and it lights up with a sound like a Fourth of July sparkler. He never laughs when he thinks something’s funny. He either just nods if it was something you said, or says “Ha” if it’s his own joke.
“My name’s not Eddie, it’s Eduardo. My father’s full-blooded Mexican.” I wait for some kind of reaction, but he doesn’t look up. “My mom didn’t just invent my name,” I add. I always end up fighting for this, for a Mexican-ness that I really don’t know anything about. But I can’t be just one thing or the other, which is what people always want; I’m both. My face is my face, and my name is my name, and whatever that adds up to is who I am. I keep waiting for Beady’s eyes to meet mine, but he just watches the lit match burn down to his fingers.
The thing about Beady is, he tries to make normal things seem more dangerous than they actually are, like when we walked home from the bonfire the first week of school. We live two houses apart, about a mile from the high school we go to, and as we headed home, Beady said we had to be careful not to get busted for curfew. I’d never heard of curfew, other than one a parent made up, and growing up in cities, I’d never really walked the streets at night. In the black desert night with Beady, though, I jumped behind every bush he said to jump behind, and put my head down so my eyes wouldn’t reflect the headlights of oncoming cars like he said they would. According to him, every car on the road could’ve been a cop waiting to give us a ticket. What did I know? I was used to sidewalks and paved roads and streetlights, riding an Orange County Transit Authority bus home with a friend after a night out. When I got home all scratched up with torn and dirty jeans and Mom asked what happened, all I said was, “You moved us here.”
“So you’re halfabeaner,” Beady says, flicking his wrist so the match blows out. “Big deal. I look more Mexican than you.”
I kick at the dirt and a small brown cloud puffs up. “Would you just get this over with?”
Beady slides open the box and lights another match. Holding the flame up as high as he can with one hand, he sets the open box of matches on the concrete with the other, in the middle of the pool of gas.
“Don’t,” I say, but in a quick motion, he drops the match in the box and jumps back. There’s a noise like the screech of a big cat, a puma or a jaguar or something, and Beady and I watch as the three squares of concrete on his back porch light up. The flame burns out a few seconds later as we stomp the concrete and sweep the burnt ants onto the dirt with our shoes. “You’re an idiot.”
“Ha,” he says. “Smells like chicken.” But it doesn’t, it smells like a car engine, like your hands smell after playing basketball outside all day. Like the color black. “Did you ask your Mom if I could stay over tonight?”
“The couch is all yours. I told her we’re going to a party and we’d be back late. She doesn’t care.” My Mom works at the old folks home, taking care of the “residents,” as she calls them. She comes home tired and goes to bed early. The deal is, if I don’t get hurt or killed, I can do what I want. Sometimes, like tonight, when I’m just going along for the ride, I wish she didn’t trust me so much.
“We better get out of here,” Beady says. “The game’s gonna be over soon.” Neither of us care about the football team, but in this town you have to go to the game. That’s where everyone is, and that’s how you find out where everyone’s going. At least that’s what Beady tells me.
“You gotta pay the price if you want to ride, Beady,” says Elizabeth, a girl with curly long hair and black fingernails. This is the friend Beady promised, who would be at the game and could give us a ride to the after party. She’s taller than me, and she stands with a foot out, chewing gum with one hand on her hip and the other dangling her car keys. Another girl stands beside her, rolling her eyes at Beady and me like we’re kindergartners.
“I’m fine, how are you?” Beady says, shoving his hands in his pockets. “This is Eddie.” He gives me a look so I won’t say anything.
“Hey, Eddie,” Elizabeth says to me. “You’re Beady’s new Mexican friend, huh? You don’t look it.” She turns to Beady. “So?”
“I can get you some gas money,” he says, and looks at me. “Right?”
“Don’t need it,” Elizabeth says. “Full tank. But there is something else you can do for us.”
We walk to her car, which turns out to be a truck. A small one with only two seats up front. Beady climbs into the bed and lies down.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say.
“Air conditioning’s better back there,” Elizabeth’s friend says.
I lie down next to Beady and we both look up at the dark sky. The stadium lights over the football field hide everything else. As the truck gets on the road and the sky goes dark, the air feels even better than I thought it would on my face and my fingertips. Beady and I have our arms crossed over our chests so we don’t touch one another.
“You do the stupidest crap,” I say, loud enough so he can hear me. We must be on the highway now because it seems like we’re flying. The girls listen to loud reggae in the cab.
“Why are you still here, then?” Beady asks.
“You knew they were going to do this.”
“You can leave anytime you want. Tell her to stop the truck. Walk home, go ahead. I’m going to the party.”
“What do they want, anyway?” I ask.
“It’s nothing,” Beady says. “Don’t even worry about it.”
The car stops around the back side of a minimart. Elizabeth’s friend slides open the back cab window. “Get something light,” she says.
“You better get at least a twelve pack,” Elizabeth says. “And don’t take too long, the truck’s running.”
“You got a full tank, remember?” Beady says, jumping to the ground from the truck’s back bumper. A single, twitching light shines against the building’s wall and gives the two of us short shadows as I follow behind him. It’s quiet. “Come on. I told you, this ain’t nothin.’”
“This is stupid is what it is. What do you think we’re going to do?”
“Grab and run. It don’t get much simpler.”
The door dings when we walk in, and I see Beady and myself on the security television hanging over the entryway. I guess I won’t be able to come in here again, wherever this is. The slushee machine hums from the corner, and classic rock buzzes at us from a small black stereo behind the cashier’s counter. Everything is bright and yellow and cool. The place is empty.
“He’s in the bathroom or something,” I say.
Beady heads for the refrigerators in the back. “Let’s do this quick then,” he says.
“He heard the door. He’s gonna be out here any second.”
The glass door on the refrigerator holding the liquor sticks when Beady pulls on it. “Locked,” he says. “Damn it.” He opens the next door over and tries to reach his hand through, but there’s not enough room to pull anything out. He looks at me for a long time, and I can tell he’s trying to think of what to do next.
“Let’s just get out of here,” I say. “There’s nothing we can do.”
Beady’s eyes get big as he glances back over at the entrance. Twelve-pack boxes of beer are lined up against the front wall. We grab one each and we’re out the door.
“Good job, guys,” Elizabeth’s friend calls from the passenger window.
“What’s up?” Elizabeth asks. “You’re not even running.”
“We handled it,” Beady says.
“Yeah,” I say. “No problem.”
Faintly, I hear the front door of the store ding again, and the scrape of shoes on cement. Someone calls loudly from around the corner. Elizabeth floors the gas, and the girls are gone. The tires don’t squeal, but they might as well have. Beady doesn’t have to tell me to run, I just do.
There’s a residential area behind the store, and Beady and I head for it. I look back once to see an older guy in sandals and a red vest slowing down where the blacktop of the parking lot turns to dirt. We keep running full speed, past some small houses. We make a couple turns, and there’s no way the guy kept following us this far, but we don’t stop. I think about dropping the beer, but instead I put it under my arm like a football. Beady carries his with both hands out in front of himself, until he slips at the edge of a gravel driveway and the beer breaks his fall. He cusses under his breath as he walks over to me, his shirt soaking and dirty, the skunky smell of warm beer all over him and in the air.
“I think we can stop running,” I say. “Where the hell are we?”
“Fucked is where we are. We’re in Joshua Tree.” He looks at his hands, which are dark and slimy, covered in beer mud. “I can’t believe they just left us.”
“Joshua Tree,” I say. “You’ve lived here your whole life, and you don’t have one friend who will just give us a ride to a party without making us do something stupid like this?” I push the beer into his chest. “Here you go. It’s all yours. I’m out of here.”
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Do you even know which way to go?”
“That way,” I say, and point west. If I follow the highway, there’s no way to get lost. “I should get there sometime tomorrow morning.”
“You’re just going to leave,” Beady says.
“Yeah,” I say. “I am. I’m sick of your crap.”
“There’s gotta be a payphone somewhere along the highway. I can call Elizabeth’s cell phone. She’ll come back. We can still go to the party.”
“I’m going home,” I say, and start off down the street.
“Fine,” he calls after me. “Just leave. Like your Dad left you. Stupid bastard.”
I walk back over to him and grab him by his wet t-shirt. He’s taller than me, so I have to look up to grit my teeth at him. I don’t mention that at least my dad’s not around to beat the shit out of me whenever he has a bad day at work. “Call me what you want,” I say. As I say it, I feel the anger leave me. With a little shove, I let go of his shirt. “I am who I am.”
“Fuck you,” Beady says quietly, backing away from me. When he’s far enough away, he says, “You go on home, Eddie. I’m going to party.”
“It’s Eduardo, Dwayne. Good luck finding a place to sleep.” He doesn’t say anything. He just walks down the street away from me. I stand in the middle of the street in front of somebody’s house, until a porch light flashes on and I start walking in the direction I think home is.
The high school is dark at what I guess is two or three in the morning. The football lights are off, and all the entrances are fenced shut. In the middle of the night, the buildings look like a bunch of brick squares, like the school is just one long fortress. The crickets are loud and constant all around me, but I’ve gotten so used to the sound I only hear it every once in awhile now, when I’m not thinking about anything. All of a sudden I believe my Mom: we’re staying.
Headlights beam down the street from behind me, and I can tell that a car is turning off the highway. I cut across the street, where there’s nothing but desert and a big ditch – everyone here calls ditches “washes,” I don’t know why-- that runs to the next block. I jump into the soft sand at the bottom and lie down, hoping that the car will pass and I can go home. But then I hear a car door open and close, and a bright white circle begins to shake on the ground in front of me. A woman’s voice tells me to stand up and put my hands in the air. Dirt tastes like metal in my mouth as I push myself up from the ground. The light makes me turn my face away as I climb up the steep hill.
“Why were you hiding from me?” she asks. It’s a cop, and she’s pretty. Her hair is tied into the tightest ponytail I’ve ever seen, and her shoulders are pulled back as if they were attached to ropes, but she’s got long eyelashes and small hands and fingers. She’s either really mad, or trying to make herself look that way.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I didn’t want to get in trouble.”
“What are you doing out here this late?”
“My friends were going to a party. I didn’t want to go, so I’m walking home.”
She turns the flashlight off. “We have a curfew in this town, you know.”
“I just moved here.”
“Well, you’re getting off on the wrong foot with this nonsense. You don’t run from the police, no matter where you live. You got that?”
I say I do. She pulls out a big pad with carbon copy sheets, and I remember again that I’m in trouble.
“It’s stupid,” she continues. “It makes us run. And it just pisses us off all the way around, if you want to know the truth.”
“I’m sorry.” And I really am. I’m not a bad kid. Anywhere else, nothing like this would’ve ever happened to me. I never had to make friends with a guy like Beady before, because it didn’t matter if I had friends or not. I was always just waiting to leave town again, to see the next place.
“Why don’t you tell me your name and your address.”
“My name is Eduardo Raymond Montez,” I say, feeling my voice crack. I realize I don’t have my address memorized yet. I don’t have anything else to say, but she waits like I’m supposed to keep going. “I live around the corner. The street’s got an Indian name I can’t remember because all the streets have Indian names. My Mom brought me here. I didn’t want to but I had to come. It’s hot all the time and there’s nothing to do, but this is it. We’re staying.”
I wipe my cheeks and feel really stupid, because I’m crying and because she’s so pretty. She frowns at me-- not like she feels sorry for me, but like she just doesn’t understand. “My name is Eduardo Raymond Montez,” I say again. “That’s all I know.”
The lady cop’s eyebrows push together on her forehead. She hasn’t written anything down yet, she just keeps looking at me. The pen is still in her hand, but she’s biting her bottom lip, and doesn’t look mad anymore.
Richard A. Sanchez's stories have appeared in Tin House and The Pacific Review. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Yucca Valley, California, where he is working on a collection of stories and a novel. Visit Richard online at richardasanchez.com.
Gilda Davidian graduated from CalArts in 2006. She lives in Los Angeles and is part of the art collective From Here to There. She was most recently shown in Humble Art Foundation's 31 Women in Art Photography exhibit in New York City. Visit Gilda online at gildadavidian.com.
Night Manager is a four-piece band formed this year in Brooklyn, made up of vocalist Caitlin from Paris, drummer Ezana from San Francisco, and East Coasters Tassy and Tim. For more info, visit Night Manager's Myspace profile.