Friday, June 13, 2008

Screen Doors

I wake in the night, because my bedroom is separated from the mainframe of our house, only a poorly insulated washroom away from our carport, and I heard the rise and fall of voices through my sleep. They fumbled their way through my dreams until I awoke, immediately sitting in my bed, tense with fear. Careful not to make too much noise, I creep out of my bedroom into the laundry room. I stand very still behind the screen door and peer through the metal grating.
It takes me a moment to make out their silhouettes against the false autumn glow of streetlights. I feel  dizzy after rising too quickly from sleep. The night seems to pull at me, drawing me into a numbing spiral, towards the cool, stone tiles. I knuckle sleep from eyes, stubbornly and yes, I have made out the faces of my mother and our neighbour; no, I was not dreaming. Their voices tremble beyond their octaves, demanding volume far beyond their heated whispers. I cannot make out much of it, but I understand my mothers’ flailing arms and bent posture to mean trouble.
I feel sorry for Gene, our neighbour. I also begin to feel the familiar undercurrents of fear heighten my senses to static. The same fear that many adults have inaccurately characterized as “maturity for my age.”
We have pictures in our house of Gene holding me at the age of four. I look happy and safe against his sweaty balding head, his shining, crinkled eyes. In the pictures I often have tiny paws pressed against his face, or arms wrapped around his neck. There is even one, which I still have today, of us in front of mom’s half-way house in Laredo. And I wonder why he would have travelled all that way, a three- hour drive, just to bring me cookies and take that picture.
There is a sudden burst of volume and the two figures move towards each other.
“I’m tired of this fucking shit,” my mom yells.
“Susana!” Gene yells. There is a pause, a moment where I can hear nothing except the scrape of metal against my ear and then, “No!”
I hear a noise, the same noise my dog made when he was sick last year just before he died. It was louder than I’d thought, because the neighbours are arriving to their porches, armed with porch lights, robes and questions. Their faces and the light pouring from doorways left ajar distract me with their possibilities. I imagine the mothers, the fathers and children inside. I imagine a life on the other side of that doorway, where middle of the night disturbances caused by ungodly neighbours would incur such a pure response of disgust, or surprise.
I remember Gene and the terrible sound as if he’d been punched, or worse. I still can’t make out much more than shadowy figures and given the right angle, two angry profiles. Suddenly, however, my mother is walking towards me, towards the screen and the house. I shuffle away from the door, with only seconds before she rushes past. She doesn’t notice me. I relax my tortured lungs and breath again. I still don’t move.
The whirling sound of an ambulance fills the street and without thinking, I run back towards the screen, this time boldly throwing it open and stumbling into the harsh heat of the night.
There are people now. There are many of them. I am confused about how they’ve arrived so quickly. They are talking excitedly. As a group, they seem to move and throb and breath, surrounding someone. They are surrounding a man. I can barely make him out behind the limbs of all the people. The siren screams louder, drawing closer.
No one seems to notice me, so I move carefully toward the group of five, maybe six people. Where is my mother? This is her house and something happened. What has happened? I am afraid to know. Or, worse, I am afraid I do know.
A leg, an arm and an elbow sync together in a brief moment, clearing a window for me to see what they can see. And I am stunned. Everything is silenced in my shock and I am rooted still, watching strangers gather together to nurse Gene’s wounded arm. They are deep, straight cuts. Four of them dressing his arms like ruby bracelets.
He sees me, but pretends not to. He stands suddenly, his balance regained. The people step back.
“It’s nothing.” He says, looking and not looking at me. 
But it's too late. He can't protect me from seeing what I see.

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