“…The yearning to be rescued is stronger than anything I’ve known, yet I know it’s a lie, deep down. I know it’s up to me, but the circumstances of my life are too greatly negative, too overwhelming for me to conceive of properly. All I feel I can do at this point is to default to what people of my race and station in life do, with a slightly different twist—a finger lifted, a can of spray paint lifted, a note written, at once dark with desperation and light with hope…”
Excerpt from Simi Vega’s journal
Simi’s mother, Mrs. Vega, called me yesterday and assigned me to the task of going through her only daughter’s mail. Mrs. V has seen a lot of hardship. Her boys had all been shot and killed, one way or another, and her husband was an alcoholic bastard. Piss-poor as she is, she probably had to steal a quarter to make the phone call, but whatever…somehow she managed it. She was still all messed up and crying during the whole conversation, like she’d just barely found Simi in her room, dead.
Simi has been buried now for three days short of a year, and Mrs. V hasn’t wanted to deal with her mail. She told me on the phone that she’d barely been able to go through her things, and that Simi’s journal practically killed her, even though she hadn’t found any answers within it, just vague hints of hints, mostly confusion, nothing solid. It was obvious Simi was careful about what she put down.
Mrs. V told me that she couldn’t bring herself to tamper with the United States mail, but that’s beyond lame. Not only can she not read English, I suspect she has a hunch, like I have a hunch, that Simi’s mail will bring it all around. And I suspect Mrs. V is gun-shy after the journal and all, and she’s scared shitless to know the real truth.
I guess she called me because I was Simi’s man then. Mrs. V liked me, liked the idea of me with Simi. She thought I had my shit together and maybe could take her daughter out of this slum, out of the drugs and violence and away from her abusive father. Little did she know I pimped her out sometimes when I was low on dough.
But Mrs. V’s an alright lady, so today I showed up at her falling-down apartment building and rang that familiar buzzer. I’d only passed by there a few times since Simi’s funeral and the place seemed to dive down worse each time. More thugs than usual hung against the grim exterior, dealing. I knew them and they knew me. One look at them, one look at me, and the order was established. They knew I wasn’t crazy enough to come here alone and they weren’t crazy enough to fuck with me.
While I waited for Mrs. V to answer the buzzer, I looked through the glass door, through to the mailbox area, and there were those pink letters sprayed on the wall, “Take me with you.” They were still there, still held within them Simi’s ghost. I could feel it through the glass. And that time after the funeral when I actually touched them, they about burned my fingers, Simi was so much in those letters, a tortured soul in the godforsaken realm of limbo, Purgatory, which might as well be Hell.
I jumped when Mrs. V buzzed me in. Jesus! I opened the front door and readied myself to pass the mailboxes, the pink letters. Mrs. V had told me she’d been trying to get Maintenance to remove them for six months now, but for some reason, “…those assholes won’t do it! They leave them there just to torment me!” But now I for sure knew why those letters were still there. Maintenance couldn’t remove those letters. Simi wouldn’t let them.
I gave the pink letters a nod as I went by, ignoring the goosebumps that sprang up screaming all over my body. They were still creeping me out as I began to climb the stairs, but they lessened with each floor, as did the light seem to lessen. The staircases were barely lit and so were the halls. The fifth floor hall to 506 was even worse, with maybe only one bulb still good.
I rapped on the grubby, paint-chipped door. Mrs. V. was breathing right there on the other side. I could hear her. Then I saw her eye darken the peep hole, and I heard deadbolts slamming open and chains sliding and slapping against the door. Finally the door creaked open, cautiously. Only one chain, the biggest, strongest one, remained.
When Mrs. V saw that it really was me, she closed the door quickly and slid the Fort Knox chain back. I heard it pop the door. She hurried me inside and locked the place back up. She hugged me, hard, her tear-drenched face soaking a place on my shirt. We had a nice little surface conversation on the way to Simi’s room. Then I ruined it.
I don’t know why I asked how she was doing. It was obvious. “Not good, Jax, not good,” Mrs. V said.
Since it was too late and I was into it now, I asked her, “You seeing someone about this whole thing, Mrs. V? You know, like maybe a support group at Our Lady or something?”
“Nooo, Jax…I…I can’t…” Mrs. V broke down crying again, and I was eternally sorry I pushed it. And I’d begun to catch that smell. Of Mrs. V going down. The smell of death. Mrs. V had it. Simi’s death was wasting her away and she had nothing else to live for, really, so I backed off.
Mrs. V stopped at the door of Simi’s room, wouldn’t go in. She nudged me forward and pointed at the puny table Simi used as a writing desk. The way Mrs. V talked, there was a bucket-load of mail, but here before me were only ten to fifteen letters, maybe twenty, tops. “Is this all?” I asked.
“Yes,” is all Mrs. V would offer.
I picked up the letters and started to stuff them into the pocket inside my jacket, but Mrs. V screeched, “NO! No, Jax! Nothing leaves! Nothing must leave her room!”
Mrs. V was really freaking me out but I kept it cool and just said, “OK, so you tell me. How do you want to do this?”
“Sit down right there, boy. I’ve put a letter opener nearby. Do you see it?”
I looked around. “Ah, yeah, I see it.”
“Good,” Mrs. V. said. “Now open the letters and read them. And tell me of anything unusual. I have to know if it was on purpose or just a mistake…”
I felt like a pawn in a stickup. I sat down. “Right, Mrs. V, I understand,” I said as I began slitting all the envelopes open, being careful to keep them as I’d found them, in chronological order.
The first couple of letters were nothing. But then I hit it. A letter from a guy, Scott Allen, apparently the postman for this building. It had arrived two days after Simi’s overdose. Scott apologized for not being able to meet Simi that day, said they needed him pronto at his new post and had flown him to Tucson that morning, but that he’d be back to Dallas to get her the next chance he could get. “I wish you had a phone, my love,” he’d written, “but like you once told me when I discovered the pink letters, ‘There’s romance in old school and it’s never too late to go back.’”
That two-timing bitch, I thought to myself. The rest of the letters were him still apologizing, then him being worried, then freaked out, then he wrote that he was coming out here. If he came, I have no idea. Mrs. V would never have buzzed a stranger up.
Mrs. V had grown impatient. “What, Jax? What have you found?”
“Aw, nothing, Mrs. V, just that she was seeing another guy behind my back,” I said.
Mrs. V gasped, “Oh, no! I’m so sorry, Jax! Come here, baby!”
I got up and went to the door where Mrs. V stood. I kept my head down, in sorrow as far as she knew. I wasn’t ready for her to see my eyes, else she’d know. And I let her hug the crap out of me. She needed someone to mother and who am I to begrudge one of my own in need? We had something in common, pain from Simi.
While she was hugging me, I told her, “It’s OK, Mrs. V. Simi’s happiness was all I cared about.” And then I finished it. I could feel it that I had no choice. I kept on lying like a big dog. “But hey, Mrs. V, good news… This dude she was in love with? He’d got a great job out of state and they were writing back and forth until he saved up some bigtime dough and could ask your permission to marry her. He wrote something about being sorry Simi was having trouble sleeping. So it’s just as I thought, Simi didn’t mean to die.”
Mrs. V was ecstatic. She squeezed me hard one more time before releasing me, then she grabbed my face, kissed it hard and raised her eyes and hands to the heavens babbling prayers of thanksgiving in Spanish. She danced into Simi’s room singing and rejoicing, “My daughter lives in Heaven and I can live now, in peace.”
I said goodbye to Mrs. V and headed back down the stairs. As I passed the pink letters, I felt nothing. And I just shrugged and shook my head as I plowed through the front door back out in this fucked up world of thugs and saints, demons and angels. I guess it never is too late to go back…
ABOUT THE PHOTO
This photo, link http://www.flickr.com/photos/dhyasama/485546222/, was found at dhyasama’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dhyasama/. The pull was very strong. And dhyasama posted this under the photo: “I saw this spray painted in the entryway of a rundown apartment building. It’s moving to imagine the story behind it.” Indeed. Later on, I’ll be posting a comment to this photo with a link here to see what dhyasama, who makes a point to say “I’m male and taken,” thinks about the story I came up with. Don’t worry dhyasama, my eyes are on someone else : )
Missalister’s “Ave María,” copyright © 2008, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#142 – Late.” Click here for more on prompt #142 from other Sunday Scribblings participants