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Authors: Ashley Hope Pérez

The Knife and the Butterfly

BOOK: The Knife and the Butterfly

Text copyright © 2012 by Ashley Hope Pérez


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Main body text set in Janson Text 11/15.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Pérez, Ashley Hope.

The knife and the butterfly / by Ashley Hope Pérez.
      p. cm.
Summary: After a brawl with a rival gang, sixteen-year-old Azael, the son of illegal Salvadoran immigrants and a member of Houston’s MS-13 gang, wakes up in an unusual juvenile detention center where he is forced to observe another inmate through a one-way mirror.
ISBN: 978–0–7613–6156–5 (trade hard cover : alk. paper)
[1. Juvenile delinquency—Fiction. 2. Juvenile detention homes— Fiction. 3. Gangs—Fiction. 4. Salvadoran Americans—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.P4255Kn 2012
[Fic]—dc23                               2011021236


Manufactured in the United States of America

1 – SB – 12/31/11

eISBN: 978-0-7613-8728-2 (pdf)

eISBN: 978-1-4677-3175-1 (ePub)

eISBN: 978-1-4677-3174-4 (mobi)

To my boys.
Los quiero mucho.


I’m standing inches from a wall, staring at a half-finished piece. Even though I’m too close to read what it says, I know it’s my work. I run my hands over the black curves outlined in silver. I lean in and sniff. Nothing, not a whiff of fumes. When did I start this? It doesn’t matter; I’ll finish it now. I start to shake the can in my hand, but all I hear is a hollow rattle. I toss the can down and reach for another, then another. Empty. They’re all empty.


I wake up with that all-over shitty feeling you get the day after a rumble. Head splitting, guts twisted. All that’s left of my dream is a memory of black and silver. I sit up, thinking about snatching the baggie from under the couch and going to the back lot for a joint before Pelón can bust my balls for smoking his weed.

Except then I realize I’m not at Pelón’s. I’m on this narrow cot with my legs all tangled up in a raggedy-ass blanket. It’s dark except for a fluorescent flicker from behind me. I get loose of the covers and take four steps one way before I’m up against another concrete wall. Six steps the other way, and I’m bumping into the shitter in the corner. There’s a sink right by it. No mirror. Drain bolted into the concrete floor. I can make out words scrawled in Sharpie on the wall to one side of the cot: WELCUM HOME FOOL. I turn around, already half-knowing what I’m going to see.

Bars. Through them, I take in the long row of cells just like this one. I’m in lockup. Shit, juvie again? It’s only been four months since I got out of Houston Youth Village. Village, my ass.

I sit back down on the cot and try to push through the fog in my brain from the shit we smoked yesterday. Thing is, I’ve got no memory of getting brought in here. It’s like I want to replay that part, but my brain’s a jacked-up DVD player that skips back again and again to the same damn scene, the last thing I can remember right.


We’re cruising through the Montrose looking for some fools who’d been messing with Javi’s stepsister. We’ve got this ghetto-ass van that Javi bought off his aunt, and the whole time he’s driving he’s hitting a bottle of Jack and trashing the punks who called his sister a ho. Pelón’s in the front seat, and me, my brother Eddie, plus Mono, Cucaracha, Chuy, Greñas, and three other homeboys are smashed in the back. We’re sitting on top of bricks and chains and bats and all the other shit Javi keeps there. All the way, I’m thinking that by the time we get out of the van I’m going to have chains imprinted on my ass from sitting on them so long. There’s a knot in my guts. Don’t matter how many battles I’ve been in, I get it every time. But I know as soon as we hit the ground it’ll turn into a rush.

“Where the hell are these fools?” I call up to Javi.

“Tranquilo, culero.
We’ll find them soon,” he says, passing the bottle to us in the back.

“Watch for the red and brown,” Pelón says, all businesslike.

Greñas lights up a fat joint, sucks on it hard. Everybody’s joking and taking hits when Javi sees the beat-up green Caddy his stepsister told him about. He floors it and noses the van right up to the tail of the car. Three dudes in the back throw up their hand sign.

The Caddy flies through stop signs, swerving like a dog with an ass full of wasps.

“Come on, let’s ride them bitches!” Mono says.

Javi floors it, and we lurch through a red light.

!” I shout over the horns. “We can’t kick their asses if we’re dead!”

Javi laughs crazy. “Stop being a pussy, pussy!”

The Caddy pulls through a CVS parking lot, then takes off down another street. Javi tries to keep up. He scrapes over a curb when we make a turn, throwing all of us in the back on top of each other.

“Shit, Javi, you made me spill the Jack!” Cucaracha moans. Javi just throws his foot down on the gas again.

We catch up after about a block, and this kid in the back of the Caddy drops his pants and presses his ass up against the glass. That sets Javi off again.

The Caddy swings into a big empty lot by this run-down park. Javi plows through the patchy grass and dirt to the other side. Before he even stops, the rest of us grab our shit.

“Let’s school these fuckers!” Eddie calls as we pile out.

“Hell, yeah!” I shout, swinging a chain. On the other side of the park, a big Chevy Tahoe pulls up with more of the Crazy Crew kiddies.

Now that I’m outside and I can move, I’m feeling good, strong. We roll in a kind of whacked dance, pushing across the field toward them, throwing our signs up. Our blue and white is on our tats, and maybe on our undershirts and rags. Eddie and a few of the boys are wearing blue and silver jerseys. But these fools are decked out like it’s dirty Valentine’s Day, brown and red popping out everywhere—shoelaces, pants, hats, sunglasses, even.

They walk toward us looking cocky since they’ve got us outnumbered. But these are soft midtown boys. We’ll whip them fast.

We start throwing our bricks and chains at them. They dodge and shout shit. Their guys have pipes, but I can tell they don’t know how to fight. Babies. They’ll be running scared soon.

Chuy hits this tall, fat dude with a brick. I start smacking another guy’s legs with the chain. He yelps and runs without even throwing a punch.

We keep pushing toward them, pitching our stuff, then going after it again.

I’m smacking around this one dude when I see a light-skinned punk going hard-core after my brother Eddie. Eddie’s older than me, but I’m stronger, so I go bail him out.

Chinga con mi hermano
, and you mess with me!” I say. I block the dude’s blows and whip the chain around his legs. He crashes to the ground.

Eddie kicks him in the gut and slaps my hand. “
La Mara Salvatrucha controla!
” he shouts. He spits on the fool lying there, whimpering like a puppy.

Eddie goes after another punk, and I look around. There’s a bat lying in the grass not far off. I jog over to it, feeling like a fucking king now that the fight is rolling. I’m reaching for the bat when I see something red flash out of the corner of my eye. I look, but there’s nothing. A second later, I think I see it again. I shake my head in case something ain’t right in there. I turn quick and catch sight of the red again. And then—


I dozed off, I guess, because when I wake up, I find some nasty-looking slop on a plastic tray. It’s on this ledge attached to the cell bars. I go after it like a madman. I don’t care how bad it tastes; it’s food. Last time I ate was yesterday morning. Pelón’s sister Maribel and me finished off a whole box of Honey Grahams and the last of the milk. Her mom was so pissed she chased us both out of the house. That’s how come I ended up rolling with my homeboys when I should’ve laid low and gone to Becca’s. I could’ve been doing her fine ass instead of getting myself picked up over a fight with some kiddie gang.

I wonder about my homies, Eddie most of all.
Pinche carnalote
. I press myself up against the bars of my cell and stare down the hall to see if maybe he’s here somewhere. If he is, I can’t tell. From what I can see, most of the fools in here are still hunched up under their blankets, and it’s quiet as hell. I look out at the cell across the way. Somebody’s in there, but he ain’t moved off his bed once while I’ve been awake.

“Hey! Hey,
” I call to him. “What you gonna do, sleep the whole day?”

The body in the bed shifts a little, but the dude doesn’t say anything.

“I’m talking to you, man. Help me out here. Where the guards at?”

I keep at it until finally the guy in the other cell lifts his head up. He’s a skinny kid who looks part black, part Hispanic, maybe a little Vietnamese or something. Like maybe he’s a baby Tiger Woods.

“Hey, Tigs, you gonna answer me or what? You seen another guy? Like me, only taller and kind of fat and not so good-looking?”

Baby Tiger shoots me the finger and lays back down on his cot. I guess I’ll have to find out about Eddie on my own.

There’s something messed up here. I mean more messed up than your usual lockup. I haven’t seen a single guard walk the hall yet. And the quiet. Prison is a noisy place; dudes all the time yelling insults and adding crazy ice to their stories about what they did to get put away. The quiet here crowds in on me, makes it hard to think.

I keep trying, but I can’t remember nothing else about what happened. I just see the same stupid scenes, sometimes with a voice-over of what I know Becca would say. Things like, “Javi’s stepsister
a ho; how you going to go start a fight for someone speaking the truth?” and “Azzie, get your ass out of that van!” and “You ain’t
gonna feel ready to change, Azael. You just got to do it.”

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