Read Out of Darkness Online

Authors: Ashley Hope Pérez

Out of Darkness (8 page)

BOOK: Out of Darkness
13.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“You're right,” she said. “We're nice and dry. It rained before, remember? When we first got here.”

“It feels different at night,” Cari said. “A good thing.”

. Now come to bed.” Naomi lifted the blanket up for her. Cari crawled back under the covers and snuggled close.

“I like that you still call me that,” Cari whispered. “
. That's another good thing.”

“Just when it's us, okay? Go to sleep now.”

“And Wash,” Cari said. “That makes
. Three good things.”

Naomi stroked Cari's hair. Even with her eyes closed, she knew the exact moment when her sister fell sleep, knew it by the little sigh that came just before her breathing turned steady.

Naomi held her sister and drifted toward sleep. She should have known it could go bad, what with the prayer and Henry's hand on hers, and inside that the dark kernel of before. At first the dreams were just numbers and words and bits from science class. Then came something about her Spanish teacher, whose black button eyes stared from under her prickly gray eyebrows. In the dream, she spoke to Naomi in accented Spanish without moving her mouth. Then she rode a bicycle ahead of her, leading her toward a door at the end of a long hall that was at the same time the door to the bathroom in the little Houston house where Naomi had lived with Henry and her mother. Then pink tile and his hand on the lock and
Just like you're making butter. That's all you have to do. You can keep your mama safe
and her heart in her throat and no words coming out.

She awoke trembling and terrified of finding him there. Naomi leaned her face against Cari. The nape of Cari's neck was warm and dry, and Naomi thought hard about staying safe, staying just this side of sleep where there would be no dreams. She lay listening to the rain slap against the roof until it began to sound like
nope nope nope nope nope
, and she took some comfort in it.

◊ ◊ ◊

Escuse, aye juan tu fin amen namad Henry. Es mi papa.

That was how Naomi's brain, still keyed to Spanish, stored the words her mother sent her with when the second disaster came just after Naomi's seventh birthday.

For the record, Estella had actually said, “
Vete a buscar a Henry en el icehouse. Di
, ‘Excuse me, I want to find a man named Henry. He is my papa.'”

Under normal circumstances, Naomi would have protested that Henry was not her father and that she didn't know the way to the icehouse. But the situation was not normal; her mother spoke to her from the floor of the bathroom, where she crouched, hand up under her dress. Already, bright red drops stood out on the pink tile. She'd called Naomi back a moment later, telling her to bring a towel. She couldn't ruin another dress, she said.

Naomi pressed a towel into her mother's hand. Then she turned and ran, out of the house, down the steps, and along the cracked sidewalk. She ran until by stupid luck she found herself staring at a wood plank sign printed with the words White Oak Icehouse.

It was not a house at all, nor was it made of ice. It was just a sloping building covered with corrugated tin panels hammered together. It had a regular door on one side and a big garage door on the other. The garage door was open, and inside Naomi could see shelves with cans of food and tin signs advertising Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields. A small shack was attached to the side of the building, and a few picnic tables and benches were scattered under the shade of two elm trees.

Three men sat together at one of the picnic tables, but Henry was not among them.

There was a heavy-breasted woman behind a bar in the garage and a lean yellow dog who lay drowsing by a pan of water, his ears twitching in sleep.

Naomi moved toward the woman. As she walked, she repeated the words her mother had given her to say.
Escuse, aye juan tu fin amen namad Henry
Escuse, aye juan tu fin ... Escuse...Escuse...

“What ya need, honey?” the woman asked. Her hair was the color of carrots and her teeth were very bad. She was wiping the metal counter with a limp rag.

Naomi knew she had been asked a question but did not know what it was. She tried to force her lips to form the words her mother had told her to speak, but they sat like lead on her tongue. She studied the milky streaks on the counter, hoping for a miracle.

The woman came from behind the counter then. She leaned down and took Naomi's hand. “You can tell me.”

Escuse, aye juan tu fin amen namad Henry, es mi papa.
” The words came out in a rush. Naomi trembled with the expectation of failure. But the woman gave no indication either of understanding or of confusion. Instead, she pointed over at the group of men. “You know any of those fellas?”

Naomi shook her head.

“Then it must be Henry you're looking for.”

When Naomi heard the name, she grabbed the woman's sleeve. “Es hem,” she said, nodding in case the words hadn't come out right.

“You wait here. Let me see if I can raise him, darlin'.” She folded her towel into a wet square and moved off behind the shed in the direction of a little white house on the next lot.

Naomi took a step toward the sleeping dog, and for a moment she thought about stroking his floppy ears, but she did not want to disturb him. He whimpered softly, then his legs began to twitch and move.

The woman came back with Henry. His hat was askew, and he was still buckling his pants.

Another man called over to him, “You give old Mona somethin' to moan about?”

The other men laughed, but Henry ignored them. He looked at Naomi. “What're you doing here?”

Naomi stared up at him. She realized her mouth was hanging open, so she pulled it shut. But she could not bring herself to speak. Her mother had given her words to ask for Henry but no words to speak to him once she found him.

She swallowed, remembering her mission. “Mami,” she said, “Mami.” She could tell from his eyes that he understood, and he took off running toward the house, leaving her behind.

◊ ◊ ◊

It was the second miscarriage in less than six months. Something was not right, the doctor said, and he cautioned against another pregnancy. When Estella miscarried a third time, the doctor spelled the consequences out more plainly: “Another pregnancy could kill your wife.”

Naomi stood listening at the door to her room as the doctor and Henry talked in the hall. Naomi's English was getting better, but she did not know what was meant by “abstinence,” “substitution,” “self-care,” or “prophylactics.” Whatever it was made Henry very angry. “She's my wife, dammit, a man's got a right,” he said.

◊ ◊ ◊

Naomi had loved the bathtub in Henry's house. It was the first porcelain tub she'd seen outside of the movies. In those days before the crash, Abuelito and Abuelita had had a nice house, but they still took their baths in a galvanized tin tub. Henry's bathtub was big enough to float in without touching the sides if she pulled her knees up. She liked to lie there, drifting, until the bathwater turned frigid and her mother called her out.

Sometimes at night, she would sneak out of bed, creep down the hall, and curl up in the tub. She didn't dare run the water for fear of waking her mother or, if he was home, Henry. But with her cheek pressed against the cool white porcelain she could swim through imaginary waters and sometimes fall asleep.

She was there when Henry came into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. She watched as he placed both hands on the wall beneath the mirror and pressed his forehead against the glass. A moment later, one of his hands slid down into his pajamas. It was like some small creature was trying to escape from his throat. His hand moved fast. His body jiggled. He kept his forehead against the mirror and his eyes closed. Then he grunted once and seemed to shudder all over. He stood there for a moment more, a sudden slackness in his body. Then he held his hands under the water before walking back out.

That time, he never once looked at her. She would never know if he followed her into the bathroom or if he had somehow not noticed her.

◊ ◊ ◊

Even as a child, Naomi was not a heavy sleeper. The first night Henry came into her room, she heard the door open, heard the footsteps that were too heavy to be her mother's. And anyway Estella never woke up at night, not now that the doctor had put her on sleeping pills to help her rest.

Naomi lay as still as she could. She knew he was standing there, looking down at her.

Then the footsteps went back toward the door. She waited a moment, and when she thought surely he had gone back to bed, she opened her eyes and gulped in a breath.

Henry was staring right at her. He grinned. “You thought you fooled me, but I fooled you,” he said. “I knew you were awake.”

He closed the door behind him and locked it. He had put locks on all the bedroom doors the week before. When Estella asked him why, he said simply, “It's how a house should be.” She hadn't protested.

Henry came to the side of her bed and pulled back the covers. Naomi sat up quickly and scrambled backward.

“Shh,” he said. He took one of her hands in his and squeezed it. “Come on over here.” He pulled her to her feet, close to him.

He shifted in his pajamas, and the part of him that made him a man stuck out, reddish purple and frightening. She had never seen one before except on a baby. This was different.

He lifted her hand to his mouth and licked it. Then he lowered her hand down and closed it around the hardness. His hand moved hers. His left hand gripped her shoulder, pressing her head tight against the hard, flat plane of his stomach. She watched her hand move back and forth like it didn't belong to her. In the distance, she heard the train pass. A moment later, the thing leaped. Henry's whole body shuddered, and a hot mess lay across her palm and between her fingers. Henry wiped himself quickly with a handkerchief. Then, never letting go of her shoulder, he urged her toward the door. “Come on,” he said once it was open. He walked her to the bathroom and then guided her hand to the sink.

“There,” he said, rinsing her hand and patting it dry. “All better.” He walked back to his room like he had merely gone to get a glass of water.

In the morning, when her mother asked her what was wrong, Naomi smiled a bright, false smile and said that it was nothing. Henry, sitting across from her at the table, raised his eyebrows at her over the top of his coffee cup and smiled. “She's a good girl, ain't she?” he said. He winked at her as if he were promising to keep her secret rather than commanding her to keep his.

◊ ◊ ◊

The fourth pregnancy took, but it also took away what strength Estella had left. As her belly grew, she seemed to shrink. Her skin turned translucent. The twins came early in a rush of blood that slowed to a trickle but never stopped.

Naomi was in the room when her mother died. The babies lay curled on Estella's chest, their small bottoms rising and falling with her breath. Then there was no more rise and fall. The babies began to cry, but Naomi could not move. Tia Cuca came in, murmured a prayer, and scooped the twins up. “Get him,” she said.

Henry was in the kitchen, his head in his hands. Naomi tugged his sleeve. When he looked up, there was a flash of something, then his face reddened. He stood up suddenly, knocking the chair over. She backed out and went to her pallet in the corner of the living room.

Naomi sat on the blankets with the tip of her braid in her mouth and her doll tucked under her arm. Henry did not look at her when he walked past.

A moment later, Tia Cuca came out of the babies' room and motioned to her. “
,” she said.

Naomi crept over and looked. The twins were nestled into each other, asleep. Beto's head was tucked in under Cari's armpit.

“There are many things to arrange,” Tia Cuca said, laying a hand on Naomi's shoulder. “The priest and ... the body. Henry is not able right now. You will watch the babies,
Just until I come back. Then we will talk.”

Naomi didn't need to be told. She felt safest in the room with the sleeping twins. She did not want to see her mother's empty face, her strange swollen body drained of color. She did not want to be out in the part of the house where Henry was.

She curled up on her old bed, wishing she had brought her doll Nana with her, but too afraid to go out of the room to get her. She slept for a while and dreamed strange sounds, tearing and something that wanted to be music but wasn't. The opposite of music. There was china falling, too, and a thudding sound. Then she opened her eyes. The sounds were coming from the living room. When they stopped, Naomi opened the door just wide enough to see out. One of her mother's dresses lay on the floor of the hallway. She eased her head out a little farther and saw a shattered bowl, the one her mother had used to serve Henry's mashed potatoes. She saw the caved-in, splintered wreckage that had been her mother's guitar.

Naomi could not keep herself back when she saw what else was broken. She ran into the living room, tears already welling up in her eyes. Naomi did not speak. The doll's head was shattered, and the sand that had filled her body spilled onto the floor from a rip across her back. Black curls dangled from bits of broken porcelain. One blue eye stared up from a pink shard.

She had lived through Nana for two years, had imagined her life with other dolls, a life of giggles and talking and holding hands.

Tears ran down the end of her nose. She couldn't speak.

“Crying for a doll?” Henry scoffed. “For a doll when—” his voice cracked, and the twins' cries rose behind him. “Do something, dammit,” he said. There was a sob in his voice.

She grabbed the guitar case and the closest bit of what had been Nana. She ran to the twins' room and shut the door.

The twins were wailing, their fists thrashing. Naomi picked up the tin of powdered formula the doctor had brought a few days before when he had said that her mother's body was too weak to produce milk for the babies.

BOOK: Out of Darkness
13.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Exchange by Carrie Williams
The Killing Ground by Jack Higgins
God and Jetfire by Amy Seek
The Laughing Gorilla by Robert Graysmith
Project Enterprise by Pauline Baird Jones
Queen Of Knights by David Wind
Valley of Silence by Nora Roberts
2040 Revelations by Robert Storey