Authors: Lynne Ewing
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction, #Social & Family Issues, #Peer Pressure, #Violence, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Sword & Sorcery
An old bent woman biting a thick cigar gave me a strange look and walked over to the entrance, the hem of her long yellow dress sweeping across the floor.
“Ah, you a bad one, you are,” she said, the cigar wagging at the corner of her mouth as she spoke. “You got no future. No future on your face. None at all.” She smiled and blew smoke into my face.
I breathed in the acrid smoke.
“You need a cure, I think. I could give you what you need. But you got to pay the price, eh?”
She slammed the door.
I stood looking at my reflection, wondering what she had seen in my face. That I was a murderer? Had forced my best friend onto the street? I felt suddenly hot even with the devil winds spinning down the street.
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The light shines through the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
La luz en las tinieblas resplandece,
y las tinieblas no prevalecieron contra ella.
—S. Juan 1:5
od is the dream maker, and I prayed to the Holy Mother of God to awaken me from this nightmare. Wind blew against the church like dangerous swirling floodwaters. I imagined the wind blowing the old mission church from its foundation and spinning Ana and me over the smogged Harbor Freeway across the Pacific Ocean and dropping us on some tropical land beneath purple orchids and yellow singing birds. I held Ana’s cold arm as if to tell her to wait. Then I slipped my old fourth-grade picture from my jacket pocket. My front teeth looked too big for my mouth then, even with a smile so big that it curled my cheeks into my blue eyes until I looked like I was squinting at the sun. I
pinched the picture and slid it down Ana’s lacy blouse, slowly. My trembling fingers pushed the picture to where her heart lay, still as a stone inside her rib cage. I don’t think anyone saw me. It was too dark. Power lines had fallen to the Santa Ana winds earlier that morning. So now flickering candles lit the sanctuary and made shadows appear behind everyone like shimmering ghosts.
It was a mistake to let myself get carried away with imagining the ghosts because a shudder rose from deep inside me, a pale moon of dread. I couldn’t stop the chattering of my teeth. I have too much imagination. All my life I have seen things that weren’t really there. Visions. Nightmares. That’s why my friends call me Dreamer.
I don’t know if it was the ghost shadows, the crying wind, or the cloyingly sweet smell of carnations that made me feel so dizzy. I grabbed the edge of Ana’s white casket to steady myself and knocked over a pink teddy bear someone had placed on the pillow beside her. A stack of photos under the bear slid across the white satin with a slick sound that sliced into me. A Polaroid picture of Ana holding two guns stared up at me. I turned it facedown with a sharp slap. Ana hated guns.
I knew. We had been best friends since fourth grade—outcasts, both of us. I had been kept back a year because I had missed too much school taking care of my mother. Ana had come from Mexico with her parents and didn’t speak
English yet. That was the year it took two of us to make one person. Ana and Kata. No one said one name without calling the other. I spoke for Ana even though I could barely speak for myself. I protected her. Later she helped me pass tests so I could stay in school.
We used to sit on the playground and plan our weddings, tracing long flowing white gowns in the sand with sticks. In our imaginations the lace trains swept across the edge of the playground, carried by little girls in white ruffled dresses. Then in sixth grade—I can’t remember the day it happened—a stone rolled in front of our futures. We dropped the sticks and our dreams and started planning our funerals instead.
Ana wanted a blue dress and an ebony casket to carry her to eternity. Her mother and sisters laughed when she bought the blue dress. They told her she was crazy to buy a prom dress before she even had a date. They didn’t understand that Ana was buying her shroud.
Now Ana lay in a white gown like a child taking first communion, a white prayer book pressed in her hands, the stiff lace scratching her for eternity. Maybe I should have told her mother about the blue dress that hung in her closet in a pink bag, but I knew she didn’t need more to cry over. I was never going to tell her. About the dress. About Ana’s secret life. How could I give her more sadness?
Ana was dead because of me. She didn’t want to go to
the battle of the go-go’s Tuesday night. She wanted to study for her algebra test. But those devil winds swept down from the desert that night, breathing against my bedroom window, calling me with their stormy voices and scraping the bony branches of the dead apple tree back and forth across my window, demanding that I run wild with them. I couldn’t stay home with the wind calling me and my mother and her demon lover making love noises in the living room as if I weren’t even in the house.
“Come on, the party scene is nothing without us,” I whispered into the phone, trying to persuade Ana to come out with me.
When she didn’t answer, I made my voice like the wind. “It’s a big contest,” I whispered. “You want to win, don’t you? We got to keep our reputation. All that practicing, the blisters on our feet, that was for nothing?”
I knew I could talk her into it. Her home had become too small for her, with her perfect sisters and perfect mother crowding around her. Only the night was big enough to hold our wild spirits.
“The night belongs to us,” she said finally. That was our code to meet at the corner of Arden and Fifty-third.
Ana had to sneak out of her house.
I didn’t. Mom was passed out in front of the TV in her bikini panties and bra. Her boyfriend, some man I didn’t know in his skivvies, a guitar resting on his knee, saluted me
with two fingers as I grabbed my black trench coat and walked out the door. Mom was always bringing home men and introducing them to me as my new dad. When I was still too young to understand, she’d point to a man walking down the street and breathe into my ear, “There goes your daddy, baby. Go catch him.”
I’d run after the stranger, hoping to find what other children had. That was how she used to pick up men. Now I ran down the street to meet Ana, my coat flying behind me like a witch’s cape, my high heels tapping a staccato beat on the cracked cement sidewalk. The wind blew through my hair, tousling it around my head like a bed of kelp in a worried sea.
Ana was already at the bus stop.
“Dreamer!” Ana yelled when I turned the corner. She carried a black plastic purse filled with bottled water, bananas, and honeysuckle. She rolled her butt, the red go-go shorts tight on her rump, her legs long in the five-inch heels that matched mine. I opened my coat to show her my outfit, a mirror image of hers. We wore our white blouses low-cut and provocative over satin bras specially made for us at Trashy Lingerie.
An old woman with a fallen stomach, gripping plastic grocery bags in her swollen fists, looked at Ana, then at me.
“Desgraciadas,” she said, and stepped away from the bus bench as if we had something contagious.
Ana and I laughed.
“Ah, it’s okay, viejecita,” Ana said. “You can’t catch what we got. Nobody can. You got to be born with it.”
“¿No tienen vergüenza?” she asked.
“Oye, we know what we’re doing, revealing our bodies,” I said. “I’d rather tease than please. No boy’s going to own me the way my mother gets owned.”
The bus pulled up to the curb with a hiss of air brakes. Ana and I waited for the woman to hobble on board. I tried to help her with the bags, but she pulled her hand away from me and made a spitting noise.
We followed her onto the crowded bus and dropped our coins in the meter, then ran to the back, looking for a place to sit as the bus pulled away from the curb, making everyone tilt wildly. I could feel the eyes of everyone on us. The men looked at us without moving their heads so their wives and girlfriends couldn’t see them stare.
The women stared openly, some with cold eyes, hissing and calling us names under their breath. But others had a different look, as if their souls had left their bodies and gone with us. Those women needed to dance, and when they didn’t, their souls went on to the dance without them, leaving them with just a husk of a body, as dry as bones, sitting alone on the bus. I pitied those women who had given everything for their families and kept nothing for themselves, not even a dance.
We fell giggling into the seat at the back of the bus, next to the woman with the grocery bags. A young mother with a baby turned and smiled at us. She looked about our age, her eyebrows as thin as knife cuts, her eyelashes spiked from layers of mascara. Ana stopped laughing and looked at the dark pressing against the bus window.
“Is Pocho going to be there?” I asked Ana.
“I didn’t tell him,” she said.
“He’ll be mad,” I said.
“Yeah? What right does he have to be angry? He doesn’t own me.” Her words tumbled out, an avalanche of sudden anger. “I hate the way everyone thinks I have to tell Pocho everything.”
“You’re his lady,” I said.
“Did you tell Kikicho?” Ana said.
“Of course,” I said.
“Then where is he?” Ana said.
“He couldn’t come,” I said.
“So Pocho’s probably doing something, too,” she said, and shrugged.
“But I invited Kikicho. You should have at least called Pocho.”
“Forget it,” she said, and looked out the window again. Something was bothering her big time.
We got off the bus in the old warehouse district near Fourth Street. It must have seemed strange to the people on
board: two girls dressed for a party getting off at a vacant lot filled with discarded mattresses, rusted car frames, and shadows as black as midnight.
Ana’s mood seemed light again.
“On the count of three,” Ana said, “turn and see how many people on the bus are still looking at us. Okay?”
“I bet they all are,” I said.
We counted, then turned on three. Everyone was staring out the bus window. Even the driver glanced back at us.
“Outrageous Chaos!” we yelled. I opened my coat, and Ana and I shimmied.
“No one’s ever going to forget us,” I said as the bus rolled away, snorting exhaust in our faces.
The old woman with the grocery bags smiled a toothless grin from the back window as if she thought God had rained the bus pollution on us.
The woman turned back, but not before raising two crooked fingers in a curse.
“Why’d she do that?” I said.
“Cada loca con su tema,” Ana said, and shrugged. “Besides, we’re not superstitious.”
“A curse doesn’t have anything to do with superstition,” I said. “You pray, right?”
“A curse is just an upside-down prayer. Why’d she have to do it?” I felt nervous about the night now.
“Come on,” Ana said, her voice loud and echoing into the night. “She can’t hurt us, not that old woman. We’re Outrageous Chaos, remember?”
I looked at Ana. Something was wrong. Her voice sounded desperately happy, like a person laughing when she really wanted to cry. She grabbed my hand and pulled me down the dark street, wind pushing our backs, toward the distant music.
The dance battle was held in a deserted warehouse. Crowds of young people lined the entrance, handing over money to two men wearing yellow sweatshirts.
We ran to a side entrance where security guards in yellow parkas huddled like football players trying to stop a touchdown. They stepped aside when they saw us. Some even remembered us from other competitions and said, “Hey, O.C.”
Ana and I called our dance crew Outrageous Chaos, but the guys all called us O.C.
Inside, girls stood in clusters doing each other’s hair, practicing steps, testing red and brown lipsticks, painting fingernails black, and smoking cigarettes. They eyed us when we entered, sizing us up. Ana and I acted cool, like the competition meant nothing, but already my heart was thumping. I took off my coat and stretched. I lifted my leg against a wall, rested my head on my knee, and counted to ten. I liked the feel of my legs, the muscles pulling bone,
totally in my control. Ana slipped honeysuckle blossoms into my blond hair, weaving the stems into the wind-tossed tangles. Then she wove the flowers into her black hair, her fingers working quickly. When she was finished, she wore a crown of pale pink and white flowers that looked like a halo.