Paradise Fought: AbelBy: L.B. Dunbar
She pushed her hood back and blonde hair cascaded around her face. She wiped briskly at her cheeks, and I risked a glance sideways at her. One arm was crossed behind my head as I continued to wait her out.
“My brother’s dead,” she said. Her tone was cold. I turned abruptly to look at her.
“I’m so sorry.” I paused a beat. “What happened?”
“He was killed.” Her voice was bitter.
Her silence told me she didn’t intend to tell me. I continued to stare at her.
“Are you here for the holidays?” I tried again.
Shaking her head, she answered. “My mother. She wanted to get away. She’s…she’s having trouble moving on. She wanted to forget the holidays.”
I nodded my understanding. That’s why we were here. Avoiding and forgetting there was a holiday that most people celebrated.
“My brother took care of us. He took care of everything. My mom doesn’t know what to do without him.” She sighed, rubbing her covered hands up and down her legs. Drops of water still rested on her tan skin, and the gooseflesh rose as she only spread the water around with her wet sweatshirt sleeves.
“I don’t know what to do,” she emphasized softly. Her voice was almost a whisper, excessively sad in tone.
I don’t know what made me do it, but I reached out to touch her. It wasn’t like I knew women. I wouldn’t make this move typically, but I took courage in the safety of our little cave. I wiped the rain from the side of her face then pushed her loose hair behind her ear. I might have imagined it, but I thought she leaned into my knuckles as they graced her cheek. Then she stilled. I retracted my fingers. She hadn’t looked at me since we entered our protective grotto. I, in turn, studied her profile: slightly pouty lips, a sharp nose, and those bright blue eyes. She looked so familiar.
“Do you know what time it is?” she asked abruptly. Glancing down at my phone, I spoke.
“Oh God, I’ve got to go,” she said, pushing herself forward, scooting to the end of the lounger. I sat upward.
“I’ve got to go.”
“But…” I didn’t know what to ask, what to say.
She stopped as she reached the edge of our cave. Turning to face me, her hands touched the top of the canvas. She stared back at me. Blue eyes again pierced me. My heart rate jacked up. I couldn’t lose her, and then she ran. By the time I’d made it out of our hovel, she was gone.
“Oh, Momma, not again,” I groaned as I nudged her to roll over. Her body was positioned in a way that her head draped over the edge of the bed. Dirty blonde hair curtained the side of the mattress. Her arm hung so her knuckles dragged on the floor. Her upper body was naked. The trashcan next to the bed reeked. My gag reflex kicked in, and I struggled as I choked back my own vomit, triggered from the smell. I hurried to remove the offensive odor by simply throwing the whole can in the bin in the kitchen. Returning to her room, I found my mom had shifted and lay flat on her back. Her head rolled back and forth on the soiled pillow as I questioned once again, How did my life get like this?
We’d had it all: a nice house outside of Vegas, a car for each of us, and credit cards. Since Montana’s death, we had nothing. He’d been born Joseph Montana, but everyone knew him as The Mountain. He’d been an unstoppable prizefighter. His strength was in the ring, until one fight it wasn’t. Something had happened. My brother was dead. Along with his death, came the loss of all that we’d known. We had to sell the house to cover debts Joey owed. We got rid of one car to conserve our limited funds. I cut up the credit cards when my mother maxed them out. Our trip to Hawaii had been our last hoorah. I hadn’t known then we didn’t have the money for that trip. Joey had paid for it a year in advance, before his death. My mother refused to give up that final luxury.
We now lived in a shit small apartment off campus. It was the best I could do, as I couldn’t leave my mom alone, and I was determined to complete my degree. She had to come with me to Santa Clara, and I had to move out of the dorms. It wasn’t ideal at twenty-one years old. I was supposed to be in the prime of my life. The young live to be twenty-one. But my mother was sucking the life out of me, and I had to take the fun only when I could steal it.
She groaned as her head rolled to the right and pinched her eyebrows over closed eyes.
“So bright,” her voice croaked. She’d been a beautiful woman. She still was in many ways, but the death of Joey aged her. The drinking was making her hard. The boyfriends were getting worse.
She moaned again. We didn’t have curtains and the standard plastic blinds did nothing to block out the bright California sunshine. I had already been up for hours. Despite our circumstances, I wanted to look pretty. My blonde hair was curled, my make-up light. I had freshened up some slowly outdated clothes with accessories. My tan would be distracting to the older print dress I wore with a pair of cowboy boots.
“Momma, I gotta go,” I said, pushing back her wayward hair. Today was the first day of spring semester, and I had to get to campus early. She swiped at the hair herself, while her lips smacked at nothing. She nodded her head in acknowledgement, but I didn’t believe she understood me. Exiting our small place after locking up, I took the yellow VW convertible that remained in my name and headed for campus.