Authors: Charles de Lint
And I don't believe it.
Or is it just that I don't want to believe it?
If we're going to be fair, I wasn't much better in the communication department, sending back my own one-word, all-business text because I had to rush out to save Ampora's ass. Not that she appreciated it. But I can't even be mad at
because she was trying to do the right thing and I was the one who assumed otherwise. I didn't stop to ask first. I just tore into her.
I'm usually pretty good at dealing with things, but not today. I can't even grab my board and let the waves clear my head because I'm still grounded. Plus I miss the otter in me. It's like that part of me that I so loved has been cut out and tossed away. The only thing that seems to be left is to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.
I open the door quietly. I can hear Mamá in the kitchen getting dinner ready, so I close it behind me just as quietly.
"Marina?" Mamá calls from the kitchen.
There's no sneaking by her. You'd think she had Wildling hearing.
"I'm home," I call back.
She steps into sight and looks down the hall to where I'm standing and touches my hair.
"How was your day?" she asks.
"Oh, you know—the usual. I have to go study."
I feel like the lie is written all over my face, so I duck and head through the living room before she can ask me anything else. Before I can get to my bedroom, I find myself pausing by Mamá's shrine to the Virgin and
. My gaze moves away from the paintings, votive candles and Mamá's beads to a small framed photograph hanging just to the right of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It's an old picture from better times: Ampora and I can't be much more than seven or eight. Mamá's sitting in a plastic lawn chair in our old backyard with the two of us standing on either side, big smiles all around. We were happy because everything hadn't unravelled yet. Mamá hadn't had her affair, Ampora didn't hate us, and I hadn't become a Wildling.
I want to ask the painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe why it all had to happen, but there's no point. They never answer. Not the Virgin, not
and for sure not God himself. They're too busy amusing themselves by turning our lives into tela-novelas, and I'm left looking at a picture of what used to be.
But that's not really fair—and not even entirely true. I love my stepmother Elena and I adore Ria and Suelo. I can't imagine a world in which they don't exist. But I miss the family I had in that picture. I feel horrible for how I treated Ampora. And I miss the old days, when Mamá knew how to have fun. We would do such silly things and laugh for hours. Now Mamá's always sad and Ampora hates everything I say or do. What happened today will only make it worse. I don't care what Principal Hayden thinks. Going to talk to the guidance counsellor isn't going to solve anything.
I sigh and start to turn away only to find Mamá standing in the doorway, watching me with a concerned look in her eyes.
," she says. "What's the matter?"
There's no point in pretending that there's nothing wrong. Not with me standing here in front of her shrine. When has she ever found me like this? Try never.
But what do I tell her? That her daughter's a Wildling? That she might be falling for a guy who's in a motorcycle gang and he's also a Wildling?
I might as well stick a knife in her chest because I don't know which would horrify her more.
So I take the easy way out.
"What do you do when you find out you've misjudged somebody?" I ask her. "When you've told them off, except then you find out that they didn't deserve it?"
"What if you're pretty sure they won't care?"
"If you are me," she says with a sad smile, "you pray to the Virgin and
that the ones you have wronged will eventually listen to you and see that your apology is sincere. You can't force anyone to forgive you. But first you must say those words to them. You must tell them that you're sorry."
I give her a glum nod. I know she's thinking of Papá and Ampora and how, even after all these years, they have yet to forgive her.
"Talk to me," Mamá says. "It hurts me to see you in such a state."
"No, it's not like you think. She didn't do anything this time. It was me. I was the—" Bitch, I almost say, but this is Mamá and we're in front of her shrine. So instead I only say, "I was the one in the wrong."
"What did you do?" Mamá asks, her voice careful, as though she's not entirely sure she wants to know.
Explaining takes a while and there's only so much I can share. I tell her this: how Ampora stood up to the Kings to protect Ria and Suelo and the other children in our old neighbourhood; how that brought the wrath of the Kings down on Ampora, and through her, on all of us, her whole family; how I hadn't been aware of her altruistic motives and got mad at her for putting us all in danger. Yelled at her, pushed her up against a fence. Almost hit her.
I don't mention Theo—the last thing she needs to think is that I'm interested in a boy and, God forbid, one that's in a gang. And of course I don't tell her any of the Wildling business. But I do say that Josh managed to defuse the confrontation with the Kings.
Mamá makes the sign of the cross. She didn't only live in East Riversea with Papá and us. She grew up in a barrio in Mexico. She knows firsthand how the bandas impact the lives of everyone around them. There's no avoiding their presence. All you can do is duck your head and hope they don't notice you. What you don't ever do is report them to the authorities.
put an end to it?" she asks, clearly perplexed that this could happen.
"But he's such a small boy. How could he stand up to them?"
"I don't know."
That's true—I really don't know how yet.
"But he can be very persuasive," I add.
Mamá is quiet for a moment. She looks at her shrine. The Virgin with her dusky skin.
. The votive candles and her beads. I don't see whatever it is that she sees, but the images seem to strengthen her.
"You must have had an angel watching over all of you. Your sister has been difficult for a long time now," she finally says. "Ever since the divorce. I know she's been hard on you and some might say that this is something she brought on herself. But
, we both know what you did was wrong, if understandable. And if she will not accept your apology, you cannot make her."
"But what do I
"You could ask Our Lady to help Ampora see that you're truly repentant."
ever going to happen, is my first thought. But as I look on the kind features of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I remember how I always loved going to church when I was young. I didn't turn my back on it until Mamá betrayed the family and then turned so fervently to religion when there was no one else she could ask for the forgiveness she craved.
Today I understand her a little more than I ever have. It's so hard to have done something wrong but know that you'll be dismissed when you try to accept responsibility for what you've done and make things right. When the people you've hurt won't even let you try to make things right.
I don't really believe praying can make it better. I don't even see it making me feel any better. But it would make Mamá feel better.
"Maybe I'll try it," I tell her.
I search her face before I kneel down. But there's no triumph in her features, no sense that she feels she's finally won me back into the fold. There's only sympathy for what I'm going through.
She kneels beside me.
"I will pray with you," she says.
"I'd like that," I tell her, and I'm surprised to realize that I actually mean it.
The sense of well-being I get in sharing this moment with Mamá doesn't last. How could it? The little girl I once was—the one who went to church with wide eyes and true faith—she doesn't exist anymore. There's only me, and I've already had too many disappointments in my life to believe that invisible spirits in the great beyond look out for us down here.
After a while I get up. I make the sign of the cross—more out of respect for Mamá than what her shrine symbolizes—and go to my room. I drop my backpack on the floor, walk to my window, then back to the door. When I realize I'm pacing, I force myself to sit down at my desk. There I shuffle books and paper around in a meaningless pattern before I finally turn on my computer.
I'm not in the mood to work on my blog—not even to answer comments it might have gotten—but if I don't do something to get out of my own head, I think I'll go crazy.
I consider doing a short post to ask my readers if they've noticed themselves having a shorter fuse, getting more aggressive recently, but I know that's a bad idea as soon as it comes to mind. The authorities probably follow blogs as part of their general info-gathering and who wants them to read anything like that?
Instead of writing, I look through the new comments. I'm only half paying attention when I come across a post saying that Congressman Householder is coming to town to speak at a "Humanity for Humans!" rally. I click on the link, which brings me to a picture of his hateful face urging everyone to attend and stand up for their rights as human beings.
This is so awful it literally makes my skin crawl.
My phone rings before we can head off to look for Josh. The caller ID shows me it's J-Dog.
"What's up, bro?" I ask.
"Where are you?" he asks.
I tell him.
"So you're not part of whatever's going down at the skatepark?"
"What's going down at the skatepark?"
"Oh, nothing much," he says. "Just a goddamn army of Mexican car freaks having some kind of powwow on
turf, and your little animal boy's right in the middle of it."
Across the table from me, Cory sits up straighter. He's not missing a word.
"Let me get this straight," I say into the phone. "You're telling me that the Kings have Josh cornered in the skatepark?"
"Dwight says right now it's more like they're talking something out," J-Dog says. "Josh and Fat Boy. The other Kings are standing around, keeping watch."
Dwight's one of ours. An Ocean Aver who likes skateboarding, but also uses the opportunity to deal to the other skateboarders when they're looking for some weed. His own little niche market, I guess. But one day, one of those kids is going to get too whacked-out to do their trick on the board, and you know Dwight won't have their back then. Avers don't mix business and pleasure.
"What I want to know is," J-Dog goes on, "is this your personal business or should we be saddling up because, I've gotta tell you, I'm in the mood to bust a few heads."
"It's personal." I tell him. "I'll go deal with it."
As I stow my phone, I see Cory giving me a measuring look.
"That was your brother?" he asks.
"And he knows about Josh?"
"It wasn't planned. He just found out about me, then Josh came by my crib and J-Dog figured it out. It's cool. He's not going to tell anybody."
"I've got to motor."
Cory stands up when I do. "I'm coming with you."
I shake my head.
"No, man," I tell him. "I took enough of a chance coming here as it is. Vincenzo was pretty clear what would happen if I talked to any of you. Cruising through town with you on the back of my bike is just begging for trouble."
"Don't worry about that," Cory says.
"Yeah? It's not your …"
My voice trails off as Cory does that Donalita thing and changes from the Indian kid he normally looks like to a long-haired surfer dude.
I look around us. Almost stranger than the change in his appearance is that no one even noticed. Cory smiles as though he knows exactly what's going through my head.
"People see what they expect to see," he says.
"If you say so."
But it's still giving me the creeps, Cory's voice coming from this surfer.
Donalita scampers down the tree and perches on the picnic table.
"And if you're worried about your grandmother," she says, "I'll watch out for her."
I make myself look away from Cory and focus on her. "And when she wants to know who you are?"
Donalita grins. "I'll tell her I'm your girlfriend."
She laughs. "Don't worry. I can be good."
"And what are you going to do if Vincenzo shows up?"
"I'll teach her the tricks a coati-girl has for hiding."
I don't have time for this. If Fat Boy himself is having the meeting with Josh, it's serious. I need to have been on my way ten minutes ago. I search Donalita's face. I don't know that I actually trust her, or that I want to trust her, but I take a little comfort in the idea of someone watching Grandma's back.
"You have a phone?" I ask her as I walk to my Harley.
I rattle off my number. "You call me if anything seems off.
"Aye aye," she says and throws me a salute.
"This isn't a time for goofing off."
"Don't worry," Cory says. "She can be more serious than you think."
She flashes me a toothy smile but the teeth aren't a girl's anymore. They're sharp and pointed, and there seem to be an awful lot of them.
"Okay, then," I say.
I start up the bike. Cory hops on the back and I take off for the skateboard park.
Fat Boy's name isn't ironic, except in that his bulk isn't so much fat as muscle. The guy's huge, covered in tattoos, and he just seems to get bigger and bigger the closer I get. Bigger than either Tiny or Chaingang, that's for sure. And there's not going to be any taking him down by surprise like I was able to do with Tiny. Fat Boy might be smoking a joint, but his eyes are bright and alert, fixed on me with the unblinking intensity of a snake.