I’ve always found my city strange. Too strange in fact, and am glad to know someone else feels that way. In support of your efforts and imagination, I thought I’d give you a small anecdote of a tragedy that happened when I was a young boy. Maybe this will inspire some investigation from you, lord knows it didn’t with the police. They gave up after a week.
My friends blood stained my clothes for days. And for the last five years I’ve been trying to find out how it got into the washing machine down by the corner Lus Grande Ave. So maybe in writing this I can recollect. I know deep down, somewhere beyond intuition, I know that it had to do with the Dalmation man. I just know it. It was Bradley*(me), Henry*, and Esteban*.
I was thirteen when Esteban died. We came to the Sarah’s Laundromat slow with our hands by our sagging pants. Belts loose and our pockets fat with quarters. Henry bumped the door with his shoulder, the bell rung above and the janitor threw a hiss at us with the broom in both his weak, blotched hand. Father time hated that fucker, hated him enough not to kill him. Just kind of preserved him in the place like a mummy, the yellow jump suit wearing old crane. Anyway. We ran past the bustle of machines, giant white squares possessed with fury and shaking past their bolted hinges. Henry dropped some coins on the floor.
“Your loss.” I picked them up and tossed them in my pocket and like always he’d start whining. Henry was younger, two years and almost two feet shorter too. He ran up to me, face tight.
“Give it back.”
“You drop it you lose it, those the rules. Right E?”
“That’s right.” Esteban came up to the corner. All the women rolling their eyes as we came up and dropped the coins on the joystock top. I reached for stools set by the arcade machine, dragging them and scratching the floor.
“Watch it.” The janitor raised his head, I mouthed a sorry. He faced the floor, cursing and sweeping nothing but dead flies and moths. Henry dried his sniffling nose and slouched in his seat, so I threw him a quarter. He caught it, smiling in seeming victory and went first. Not like it mattered. He’d lose first, and he’d run out in a few minutes and start asking for loans.
That’s how it always was. Saturday afternoons playing Street Fighter three. I went Ryu. Henry went Chun-Li because and I quote, ‘He liked how she kicked’, and it wasn’t because she’d given him his first erection. Oh no, of course not.
Esteban on the other hand, went Ken. And it was with him I’d have my rivalry. And it was with him that I really bothered at all to come here. Esteban with his oversized cap and his focused glare. It was a typical Saturday; the brittle red cheetos staining the floor with powdered mars colored dirt, our eyes pulsing and hot and the crumpled with their futile unfolding. Creak of plastic. The nagging strobe of dark oak fans above. Detergent scented spite.
“Fuck you, that’s cheap.”
“Get better, scrub.”
“Yeah. Get better, Brad.” Henry stuck out his tongue.
For thirteen year old boys this was heaven. Simply heaven. Frustration and champion glory and anger, all of it. I slapped the joystick, palms slick with sweat.
“Fuck this.” I said.
“You’re out of quarters.” Esteban smiled, the hat fallen halfway down his head and hung by his ear. He fixed it on his forehead. His spiky hair always rejected hats.
“You can borrow some of mine.” Henry leaned into me and smiled.
“Those are mine, you kept stealing them.” I reached out for his hand.
“Prove it.” He jumped back, the stool fell over. I chased him, his hands high in the air. “E, E, he’s gonna kill me.”
“Leave him alone. Don’t get mad just because you lost.”
“I didn’t lose, you’re just cheap.” I stood and faced him.
“You lost. You always lose, I don’t think you’ve beaten me in anything.” Esteban said. “Not once.”
“I can beat you if I tried.”
“Then try.” He smiled.
I licked the inside of my mouth, tongue rolling against horse teeth.
“Don’t act so tough, we all know you ran away when you threw some fireworks in Mrs. Lunas the other day. I was the only one who stood and took that suspension.”
“What’s that got to do with beating me?”
“You’re a pussy.” I pointed at him.
He rose and knocked quarters off the joystick table, they rolled beneath his feet.
“Am not.” He said.
“Are to.” I went. And I reached into my pockets, deep where I’d sown a little extra hole to keep my secrets inside. In it-a bundle of M80 fireworks.
“I bet you want put this underneath a car.” I said.
“Will to.” He grabbed them, eyes narrowed and held them up against the light like he was staring at a kind of forgery. “What car?”
“I won’t do it unless you tell me which car.”
An old lady sitting at the sides turned a gardening magazine, the coils in her hair falling down slightly as she looked up to us with exhausted eyes. We ran past her, out the door and looked down the street. Magazines, job postings, paper bags floated on thin black street. It went past the steel fenced homes, the streets were empty save for a white van some feet off the parking lot and a little further down.
“That one.” I pointed. There was no lettering to the van, and no discernable material within the small windows of the van. Mechanic? Repairman? Painter? Blankets lined the sides and the deep black tint of the windows blocked all vision from us.
“Got a lighter?” Esteban asked.
“Here.” I dug into my other pocket.
He stuck his chest out and breathed heavy and took the explosive and lighter and went down the street towards the van, low to the floor with wide steps as he approached the wheels.
“Is this okay?” Henry shook with both his hands clung to a traffic light post.
“Stop worrying.” I said. “It’s just a prank.”
As he got closer, Esteban shifted to his knees and took meek steps forward. He went around, to the side of the car nearest the sidewalk and fumbled the lighter in his hand. We weren’t far apart. I stood behind a fence, maybe ten feet from him. Maybe less.
“Hurry up!” I shouted. Esteban turned and stuck out his middle finger. He got one light, heavy wind blew it out, and rolled the flint again. Each click a curse from him, until finally he he had it. A full light close to his chest, the propane scented glow lighting him orange. He licked his lips and started the dragging burn of one end of the M80. Sparks flew out. I bent my knees, eyes wide. Henry started murmuring frightened nothings. And Esteban reached underneath the car, below the wheel, his hand working gently behind the wheel.
He screamed. Not loud and wild. Like a mouse trapped, a small squeak. Then went quiet, looking back to me.
“What’s wrong? Let go.” I said.
“Something has me.”
“Someone has me!”
The M80 rolled down the street. Esteban pulled his arm, it wouldn’t budge. And underneath the shadow of the wheel, I saw the hand. A white spotted hand coming out with Esteban’s, black and white, polkadot colored death.
To be honest, I screamed.
Esteban cried. Henry yelled. The M80 went off. With such a concussion that my ears went deaf for a while and though I opened my mouth, my voice was indiscernible. It was all one note of static beep. It returned, like my head rising from water. I fell and looked around. The van lit up and it’s alarm system blasted in bright, beeping anger. Other cars on the streets too, like a pack of dogs all howling. Each car in the drive through (not the side walk, there was no one there but that van, I know that). People began coming out of the Laundromat, out of their houses, stopping by the curve with their bike brakes.
The hand had let go. It slithered back to the front of the van. Esteban ran, his knees cut and bleeding.
And I just wish I got a good look of him then, because even now, I forget his face.
That’s all I can articulate right now, the rest of the memory though vivid seems fractured, the timeline messed up. I’ll try to remember every detail leading up to Esteban’s death.