Authors: Pepper Pace
This was maybe the only valuable thing that Juan Carlos had ever taught them; and why Scotty couldn’t completely hate the man. Juan Carlos had pimped out his mother as if she was his possession, as if he owned her. And by association he felt as if he owned them all. Scotty had come to understand that it made Juan Carlos feel powerful to be the source of their creation.
Scotty figured that Juan Carlos loved them all the way a master loved his slaves. The way that crazy preacher Jim Jones loved his disciples. Their love was tainted, though. You can’t love something that you haven’t taken the time to get to know and understand.
Scotty was suddenly tired. He’d had enough of this trip down memory lane. But figured that his father wanted something and until they got to the point this was just going to get long and drawn out. But Scotty didn’t think the man deserved to get the nice easy version of the facts. He intended to keep it real.
“What do you want to talk about?” Scotty finally asked coldly. “Mom? She’s not hooking these days. She’s got full blown AIDS and is living in a residential treatment facility for recovering addicts.”
Juan’s eyes flinched and then he looked away.
“She seems happier though. But she misses us. The court took us away. Me, Phonso and Beady visit her sometimes but she can only have supervised visits with the others—and that doesn’t happen so…”
Juan Carlos looked at his son, “You kids got separated …”
Scotty was surprised to see that Juan Carlos seemed saddened by that.
“You never met Tyrone. He’s four now. Mom hooked up with Beady’s father and had Tyrone. Well Beady and Tyrone’s grandmother is Miss Gloria and she took in those two. She was willing to take in Ginger, Erica and EJ as long as I was able to bring in money on the side to help out.”
Juan Carlos looked down with a frown. “What about Alphonso?”
“He and I got a place together in Garden Hill Top.”
“How did you manage that?” Juan Carlos asked.
“We just got some guy we hang out with to put his name on the lease.” No one bothered them—well other than the numerous girls that Alphonso brought around. He might be fifteen but he whored around like he was twice that. It surprised Scotty that his brother didn’t have children … although the two were very much in consensus that there was no need to bring any more children into the world.
Scotty reached for another cigarette; his brow was creased with anxiety. “Do you remember Leelah James?”
Juan Carlos paused in lighting his own cigarette. “Leelah,” he said softly. “She never let me come back. When I messed up with her there was no going back.”
“Leelah’s dead,” Scotty said bluntly.
The cigarette fell from Juan Carlos’ hands. He stared at his son ignoring the smoldering cigarette that lay on the concrete floor between his feet.
“How?” He eventually asked and this time his voice sounded brittle like the polar ice caps.
“Raped and murdered … while she was tricking.”
Juan Carlos rose to his feet. He walked to the cell door and clung to the bars, his back to his son.
“Who did it?” he whispered.
“It’s still unsolved.”
Juan Carlos looked over his shoulder towards Scotty. “How long ago?”
“About two years.”
“And what about Vanessa?” Juan Carlos asked after a long pause.
Scotty considered lying and saying that he didn’t know. He thought about the lack of pictures of them and how Juan Carlos hadn’t been around. How the only thing that the man had to gloat and be proud about was a legacy of pain for bringing two young women into that life; one murdered in the street, the other HIV positive and strung out. And then what about the children with a father that couldn’t protect them, and how about him dropping out of school last year so that he could work his hustle full time.
Scotty was happy to knock the smile off Juan Carlos’ lips. Because skipping down memory lane wouldn’t be any fun for him.
“Vanessa lives with her grandma. I think she, at least, is going to be alright.”
Juan Carlos looked shaken when he turned back to Scotty.
“Is this Miss Gloria good people?”
“Yes.” Scotty said simply.
Juan Carlos sat down on the bunk with his head buried in his hands tiredly. “You should go talk to your brother now. He wants to see you before you leave. He’s in the high security wing so you’ll have to talk to him behind glass.”
Scotty’s head began to swim.
“T-Tino?” he stuttered.
Juan Carlos looked up at him with dead eyes. “Yes. He has some things that he wants to get off his chest, Scotty. Something to do with the hammer you used on his face.”
Scotty shook his head, his mouth going dry.
“Tino’s … here?”
Juan stood. “Come on, I’ll take you to him.”
Scotty flinched. “No. No, I’m not—no.”
“Scotty. Tino’s still your brother. He’s your family-“
“Fuck that!” Scotty backed away from his father until the back of his legs hit the toilet.
Two years ago Scotty, at the age of fifteen and tired of being his older brother’s punching bag had picked up a hammer and had beaten his brother with it.
His beatings at the hands of his older brother had been bad enough, but then he discovered that he’d been sending their younger brother out to sell drugs. Tino had successfully destroyed Scotty’s chances of fitting in at the prestigious high school that his high-test scores had allowed him to attend by forcing him to sell drugs there.
Soon he was just seen as another stoner and when he’d eventually dropped out, no one thought it was a loss.
Tino had forced him to sell drugs at the school and when Scotty had refused Tino had beaten him. Scotty still wore the evidence of that beating on his face in the form of a scar beneath his left eye that hadn’t been stitched.
That had only solidified the hate but what had taken it over the edge is what he’d done to Vanessa. He should not have done that to Vanessa White, so innocent and far removed from the dirt of the ghetto. She would not have known that despite the fact that Tino was also her half-brother that he was a viper just waiting to strike.
Scotty’s posture straightened but his cold grey-blue eyes locked onto his father’s.
“Tino and I have nothing to discuss. When I laid down the law that night I told him not to ever come back—that if I saw him I’d kill him.” Scotty had actually thought that his brother’s absence was due to his belief that Scotty would in fact carry out the threat. Now he saw that it was more than likely the fact that the older brother was in prison.
“You hit him with a hammer—”
“He beat me for years, and broke Phonso’s wrist! Oh and by the way, the night I used the hammer on him—it was after he tried fucking his own sister!”
Juan Carlos’ brow drew together quickly.
“He didn’t tell you that shit, did he? How after her mother died Vanessa was taken to live with her grandmother. But she came back to visit me and instead got Tino. I got home in time to see her crying and running away. Luckily she got away. Beady wasn’t so lucky.”
Juan Carlos’ face was pale. “I didn’t know—“
“Of course you didn’t. How could you? You are here while I’m the one fixing all the broken pieces!”
Juan Carlos shook his head. “Scotty-”
“We’re done here. Tino’s no brother of mine. Let him know that if I see him, I’ll finish the job.”
He moved past his father and out the cell. Their conversation had been loud and he had the attention of several men but no one said anything to him as he rushed down to the lower tier where he rejoined the Scared Straight program.
When Scotty left the divergence program his prior criminal record was expunged. He left the Justice Center like a newborn baby with no history of his many prior misconducts.
When he inhaled, the air tasted sweet even though he was right smack dab in the middle of downtown Cincinnati.
A car filled with his friends was waiting for him at the curb and they shouted enthusiastically at him. Scotty smiled but there was one small part of him that wondered what it would be like to start his life anew. Right now, no more hustling. He had his GED and he could go to college and follow his dream to teach.
But it wasn’t time. Soon, though, when he was sure that his brothers and sisters wouldn’t end up right back in the ghetto. He thought about Vanessa White, happy that she had made her way out of the projects completely. He prayed that she would make it.
Miss Gloria gave him a huge hug when he entered the small house.
“Hi Miss Gloria,” he said while holding her frail body against his. He didn’t release her first. He always waited for her to move away before he dropped his hands. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone but Scotty enjoyed the human contact.
She brushed her hands against the stubble on his cheeks. “They don’t give you razors in that place?”
His brothers and sisters rushed into the room and jumped on him. Even little Ty tried to climb into the foray. He hefted his little brother up onto his shoulders. He was four years old but a big sturdy four. Miss Gloria fed him better than their mother ever had and now the little boy with caramel colored skin, hazel eyes and a curly ‘fro was guaranteed to be a star football player if he ever decided to play sports.
Phonso closed the front door after them and gave Miss Gloria a hug before he slapped Scotty on the back and led him into the house.
“Grandma made a lot of food for you,” Ginger smiled up at him. Scotty lightly pinched her nose even though at the age of ten she should be done with such things. Unfortunately Ginger would always be much younger than her chronological years. She was a pretty redhead with freckles and green eyes. Whoever her biological father was, he had to be straight from Ireland. She was also autistic and though her abilities had been greatly enhanced by the special school she attended, she would always be developmentally behind other children her age.
“Go wash up so I can feed you.” Miss Gloria directed. “Y’all kids get down off’n him and let your brother get cleaned up.”
She sounded gruff but there was a merry twinkle in her eyes. Scotty leaned in and kissed her cheek once again.
The house smelled amazing, like Thanksgiving Day. Scotty was starving and wondered if he would always feel like there was an empty hollow in the pit of his stomach waiting to be filled.
His brother EJ made to follow him but Miss Gloria stopped him and told him to take out the garbage.
“Yes ma’am,” the twelve year old said sullenly but did as he was instructed. He would be as tall as Scotty’s 6’3” inches but would probably stay wiry thin. The boy’s fraternal twin Erica was also tall and lanky though not quite as tall and not quite as lanky as EJ. She hugged Scotty happily before skipping off back to help set the table.
Once everyone else had retreated to complete their chores Beady punched him lightly in the arm with a big smile spread across her pretty face.
“Ow,” he exclaimed while rubbing the fake injury to his arm.
“Welcome home, ‘bro.” She stated, following him up the stairs as if he was her hero.
“You act as if you’re happy to see me,” Scotty stated while hiding a smile. They headed down the hall together.