I was at the mouth of Balmy when I heard the two pops. The narrowed L-shape alleyway with aging Victorians gobbled up the sound and swallowed it whole.
I had let my dark black, now greying hair grow out with months of a sorry-ass-of-an-excuse for a beard which laid against my John Doe shirt. They had given it to me 17 hours ago, after I signed my contingent release paperwork. With a pair of boosted sunglasses from CVS, I hoped I would blend. Every time I got out, it was important to reinvent or at least look different than when I went in. Luckily, the blue in my hood have very short memories.
When it came to street life, I was always half in or half out but this time my left foot was in the street and the other on the sidewalk. I half turned and over my shoulder I could see the colorful murals. They were like a guerilla gallery. Bright red. Iridescent green. Electric blue. One was a tribute to a slain trans woman and one was called The Culture Contains The Seed of Resistance. Street artists had been responsible for making pretty in the hood since I was 19 or 20. I usually appreciated them most when I was rollin’ or had been tweaking for a few days. Or at least their voice was heightened when I was down a nickel or dime bag of g or some tina.
I stepped back quickly. I hoped I wasn’t seen. Fuck. The only good witness was a very dead one. I told myself, “you didn’t see a thing, not one single thing.” My only job was to delay anyone and everyone. Talking my way in was usually when I was high or needed to cop but today it was strictly shuck and jive. “Oh, that coat is absolutely divine, Gucci?” Or “Hey man, don’t we know each other from Macateer?”
I looked around the corner, through a rusted rain pipe. There were one. No two. Nope three. Within seconds they were heading south, down Claredon and out of site. I was just about to step out when one had run back and spit on him and exclaimed, “maricon, puto.” He began laughing and then he too disappeared.
After blood hits the streets, all those involved become ghosts. We called Benito from the old neighborhood “Casper”. That guy could disappear better than anyone, unless he got too jacked. In fact, too wired up is what got him snuffed.
I walked two half steps into the alley toward the take and almost tripped. Wearing cowboy boots wasn’t usually my thing but when I stepped off the Quentin bus, there they were. Lazily, tops flopped, like dog ears, and size 12 in black. I quickly abandoned my orange flip-flops, I had traded for a pack of Marlboros.
Within 10 feet I spotted them. A pair of red and white Jordan’s, mid-calf. I said, “Swaaa-eeet!”
His body was on it’s side. One to the head and one to the chest. A Sureno special. He was still bleeding out and his oversized white t-shirt began to pattern an Atlanta Braves jersey. The upper shot had sprayed against the mural behind him, freckling Frida Kahlo.
I tried not to look into his face but he seemed strangely familiar. I knelt down and removed the first shoe. “Nice socks too!! Nike stretch!” I removed them too.
Once he was barefoot, I began rooting his pockets. First the front then the back. No wallet. I reached down into his waistband. “Yep,” I said. He was wearing a nut-cup.
As I unbelted him, I again looked at his deranged, silent face. “Panchito?” Nah, it couldn’t be. He was still at Pelican Bay or maybe Chino. My thought reshuffled as my temples jerked left to right. “Let it go,” I said to myself.
I lifted the cup up and with two fingers and shoved his junk to the side. I slipped his billfold out and three bindles innocently slid out. “Dang, he was holding,” I said. I pocketed them. Tonight, would be a good time at the Kinney SRO but I would need some clean works for sure.
I began to hear the wails. Distant. Maybe three to four minutes away. I never liked sirens they usually made me freeze-up but when I flipped open the billfold, I stood up and as my lap disappeared. I dropped it. “Fuck! Fuck!! Fuck!!!” It was my younger brother Francisco. Furiously, I picked up the shoes with the socks stuffed in them and his wallet. I headed toward Corbin Street. The po-po would be entering from the other side. When one-way streets actually worked.
We hadn’t seen each other in a few years. Moms said he had been throwing hammers for a living out in Benicia. He had got mixed up with a speed-freak TL girl. Her name was Gina or Jeannie or some white girl name. Moms said she didn’t understand it so it must have been really good sex. “She played him constantly and eventually reported him to his parole officer. She told him he hit her. Typical!” Moms remembered. He ended up with 120-day violation.
As I turned onto 30th Street, I remember I had received one prison letter from him in June or maybe July. He said he was trying the AA thing and went to class every day. He said it was going to be different this time. In his two pager, he had asked for my forgiveness.
By the time I hit the Excelsior and turned left onto Persia, Francisco’s words seeped back in, “Jesus, accept my apology. I have used your name countless times to avoid the cuffs. I knew I had warrants and you didn’t. Two years ago, I fucked your girl and gave her the drip. I am sure you were applauding soon. I am sure there are other things but I can’t remember right now. I can’t wait to see you again and hopefully we can grab some beers. Please Forgive Me.”
I entered the walkway where I had been dragged out of so many times before. As I stood there, I took a deep breath and knocked. “Who is it?” she said. “Moms, it’s me, Jesus, your son.” I thought, your only son. “Wipe your feet,” she yelled. I looked down at her doormat. It read, “Welcome Back, Did You Forget The Booze?” I rubbed my new sneakers back and forth and lifted up each sole. I said to myself, “clean as they’re going to it.”
Vincent Calvarese was born in Walnut Creek, California and has worn many hats in the Bay Area–barista, salesperson, journalist, graphic designer, union representative, deputy sheriff, homeless advocate and published writer and poet. After a long educational hiatus, he returned to City College of San Francisco in August 2017. He states he had become a lazy writer. His poetic work Grief was published in Forum in December 2017.