The Lunch Break
Literature & Art
Walking In The Parking Lot
The Suburban - Model
“We have found
…a way out
…We see it work
…more will be
NA Basic Text
Blood and Honey
A Short Story
By Gerry Merritt
Out the back door I go and let it slam. Mom’s not home or I’d hear her say Ira, for gad’s sake, don’t slam the door. I’m walking down the back alley between my house and the tracks. Creosote up my nose. Nasty stuff. I look one way and then the other and I see nothing but empty space. I trudge on down to the corner. I’m Ira. I’m on my way to meet my friend Joe. We have history. We go to San Joaquin Valley High School. Two more years and then what?
My friend Joe, he’s tall, like real tall, towers over me. Me, I’m short, mostly short. But, I’m faster than Joe. Joe’s Mexican, I’m white. My parents don’t care if I hang with Joe, my step dad says I should make friends wherever I am, but Joe’s Popi does. He says to Joe one time, why you hanging out with the white boy and ignoring your friends? Joe says let it go; Popi is just that way. No big thing. I dunno, but Joe says we’re good.
I’m almost to the sidewalk when I see that black Cadillac Eldorado sliding down the street on the other side of the tracks. It has black tinted windows, a low rider. Moves like a snake. On its belly. I know who those guys are. They don’t like me ‘cause of what I am. There’s an old rusted fifty gallon barrel lying on its side in the alley. I hunch down behind it. I tuck myself up real tight so no parts hang out the sides. I wait. I’m not breathing, not moving. I’m nothing.
I look over the rim of the barrel; I see no Eldorado. No problemo. There’s dust on my jeans, but my white t-shirt is ok. Never tell Joe about this stuff. He’d be mad at me for hiding. No way to act, he’d say. Why you ‘frade? He’d want to know. I’m not one of those white people who could pass in this town. Problem is, Mom’s from Wisconsin and my real Dads’ last name in Gunderson. My skin is so white I glow. Radioactive, Joe says.
I get to the sidewalk. The railroad crossing starts to light up and ring, right out here in the middle of freaking nowhere. The gates come down to block cars that aren’t there. Safety first, I guess. I don’t like warnings about harmless stuff. There’s no one here to see or hear this but me. The freight train rumbles on by, I look over my shoulder, checking out the graffiti. Spray paint anarchist and peace signs cover Cushion Ride – ATSF. I keep moving.
I see Joe coming down the street; he’s on the other side of the road. Joe swaggers. He juts he head up and lets it shine in the light. I like that. There are no trees on this street, no green, just dust, dirt and some abandoned cars. We don’t have cats or stray dogs. We do have buildings that are blown away brown; they rest side by side, stone cold flat. Some have porches. All have dead lawns. I got Joe, though, and that makes up for a lot of it. Joe sees me. I’m kinda hard to miss out here. I cross the street and walk toward him. I look out for the Eldorado.
“What’s up, homey,” Joe says. “What you ‘fraid of today?”
“Me?” I say. “Not afraid of nothing.”
“Ha,” Joe says. “I see you look up and down the street. What you think? Somebody gonna catch you? Take you away?”
“Naw,” I say. “You know, that black Caddy…I don’t like those boys, at all…not at all.”
“Yea,” Joe says. “Don’t you worry ‘bout that, ‘cause, you know …we’re cool.”
Joe and I walk down the street to the park. If that’s what you’d call it. It’s a hangout for the pimps and their ladies. Lots of black tar there too. Joe knows, his Popi told him to stay away. We walk across the street to go ‘round the park. We come up on a bus stop that’s got a nice bench to sit on, only it’s not a bus stop no more ‘cause the bus don’t come down this street now. Budget cuts, they say. Too dangerous for bus drivers with change boxes, they say.
“Light ‘em up, buddy,” Joe says. He’s pulls out a big fatty from his shirt pocket. That’s Joe, we gonna sit here in front of god and everybody and huff this J.
“Ya, where’d you get this here,” I say. I toke it up and let the hot smoke burn my throat.
“Popi’s asleep,” Joe says. I pass it to him, he inhales, and chokes.
“Ha. You took his dope again,” I say. “You’re one stupid Mexican. He’s gonna kick your brown butt.”
“Na,” Joe says. “He’ll be gone when I get home. Hey, who’s the stupid here? You and your super freak white ass.”
We smoke it down to a roach and Joe puts it in his cigarette pack. You know, he says, we’ll need it later. I believe we will, I believe ‘cause Joe tells me. There’s a lot I believe ‘cause Joe tells me. He tells me all the time.
We walk down the sidewalk toward the tracks. There’s no lights, no bells, no warning. Let’s go downtown, Joe says. He wants to meet some people, talk to some girls, hang out. Really, he wants to sell whatever’s left of Popi’s dope. I’m cool with that. Joe knows people downtown. It’s ok, he says, nobody gonna mess with you. That’s the way it’s always been. I hang out with Joe; Joe hangs out with the bros and hoes. We cross the tracks; I see it, the back tail lights, it’s going up the road fast.
Joe sees me halt, motionless, like a bird in a cage. He clenches both fists. I’m ready to run, run like hell, run fast. I can do that, Joe knows it.
“Slow down, there, buddy,” Joe says. “No worries here.”
“It’s moving away from us, now” Joe says. “We’re ok…ok now.”
I look at Joe, he laughs at me, I laugh, he shoves me, we run. Across the street, The Ciudad de Esperanza Second Hand Store has a big sign on the window: Sale – Going out of Business. On either side are boarded up windows.
Downtown isn’t much different from where we live, Joe and me. It’s got a bus stop, though, and stores that sell fortified; a few telephones for the dealers and a gas station. There’s the bar where Joe’s Popi hangs out. An old two-story building has a neon sign over the front door: Christian Mission to Save Our Souls. Every third letter is burnt out. Joe’s Popi says they’s too late, all the souls been saved down here a long time ago. We walk to the coffee shop. Joe turns down the alley. He’s got the roach and a cigarette. He squeezes a bit and then puts the roach inside the cigarette. Joe lights it up, takes a toke and hands it to me. I take a hit and hand it back. We smoke it down to a butt; Joe drops it in the dirt. I see it fall, a red glow, Joe steps on it, grinding it under foot.
A black kid walks up to Joe. Joe nods. The kid nods. We walk back down the alley, cross the street and to a garage. The kid lifts the door, we walk in. Gasoline and old motor oil. I stop a cough. I breathe slow. Joe and the kid stand close in a dark corner. The kid lifts the garage door, the light blinds my eyes. The kid looks one way then the other, he runs down the alley. Joe smiles, lunch, he says. I step out onto a piece of glass, it breaks under my shoes. We walk back up the alley.
It’s a small red box we walk into. Red chairs, red tables, red walls. We take seats in one of the booths; the waitress knows us; because we been here before, mostly, when Joe takes some of his Popi’s dope and sells it. We order burgers, fries and Cokes. We can see out the picture windows onto the empty street. The bar where Joe’s Popi hangs out is across the street, next to the closed Valley Barber Shop.
We’re looking at the bar when his Popi busts out the door; Joe slips down into his seat, but it’s too late. Popi knows where Joe is. He comes storming into the coffee shop. When he sees Joe he starts yelling and cursing him. Joe yells and curses back. Popi reaches for Joe, but then stops. Popi says something really harsh and then walks out of the shop. I don’t speak or understand Mexican. None. Nada. I don’t laugh, or talk. I’m still, watching Joe, waiting, waiting, waiting.
Joe looks over the table at me, takes a bite out of his burger; munches and then takes a drink of his Coke.
“The old fart was gonna punch me, man,” Joe says. “Good thing he didn’t, huh.”
I’ve seen Joe and his Popi argue. They yell at each other in Mexican. I always tell Joe I don’t understand any of it. Joe says not to worry about it; that’s just his Popi, he’ll get over it; anyway, we got lunch. I’m not gonna complain.
“Yea,’ I say. “He’s extra angry this time.”
“Stupid dope deal,” Joe says. “Popi’s getting blamed for a bad drop.” Joe looks at me. In those black eyes I see real fear, never see that before, this is way worse than Joe taking some of his Popi’s weed to sell to the black kids.
“What’s gonna happen, Joe,” I say. “Maybe we should leave.” The nerves in my head are starting to twitch. I feel my neck get tight. I want to run, to hide, now.
Joe picks up his burger and chomps away. Don’t worry about it, he says. Everything’s fine; let’s eat. So I eat my burger and drink my Coke. I look out the window. It’s true. There’s not a soul out there to be saved.
We’re done. Joe gets up and says thanks to the waitress, she throws a big smile and we walk out. Joe goes first; he looks one way and then the other. I step out behind him. I turn to say thanks for lunch, Joe. He shoves me. I hit the ground hard. I’m covered in glass. The black Cadillac Eldorado roars right next to my head. The waitress is screaming. I stand, the glass falls off; I walk, crunching, over to Joe. He’s on the sidewalk, face down. I see three tiny red dots in the back of his white t-shirt. When my step dad takes me out to the rifle range, he shows me how to aim a gun. You want to have a good pattern, Ira, he says. Three shots in the radius of a quarter, that’s a good pattern. I look at Joe’s back and I see the pattern, three shots in the radius of a quarter, a good pattern.