Ruby Martinez
A Death in the Family

There is a low humming noise emanating from the train tracks. I turn to see if it is my train home. A small beacon of yellow light shining at the white horizon, charging towards me. It slows to a crawl so it won’t over-shoot and miss the platform. The door slides open, releasing warmth, burly conductor strolls out bellowing to all potential commuters to go aboard. I can’t help but find it a little strange he insists on yelling since I’m the only life form on the entire platform. I tiptoe past the conductor, slip aboard, plop myself on an empty seat and close my eyes. The bright lights in the train bother my sensitive eyes.

The darkness is oddly quite soothing...soothing enough to lull to me to a seldom-felt state of relaxation. As I nearly slip out of consciousness and drift off into a comatose sleep, my cell phone rings, interrupts my rest, and seems to be able to reach decibels that only a rock star can envy. I don’t feel like speaking to anyone, so I’m just going to have to put up with that damn noise till whoever is calling finally gives up. Minutes seem to drag on for years and that fucking ringing won’t stop! I pick up to see who the hell is trying to pester my existence; it’s my mom calling to see if I can make it to her house this evening.

Hello, dear, she said, odd, her voice a little softer and lower than usual.

I manage to force out an audible Hi, Mom.

Are you able to come over this evening?

Gee, uh, I’m not too sure if I can Ma.

But you have to! Today officially marks the 20th anniversary. You can’t make a little time? It is not like your sister ever visits —

Yeah, I know Ma —

You’re my eldest child and that means —

Yeah, yeah, I know what it means...I’ll be right over.

I want to say hell no and fuck off but can’t, don’t have it in me. At the same time I feel like I have an obligation to keep; as the eldest child, to assist the parents as much as possible and besides it’s not like I can just leave her alone today. I tell her that I am coming over and that I am looking forward to praying with her for three hours.

Today marks the oh-so-special twentieth anniversary of my father’s death. I know it sounds pretty cold of me to not really care about the day of my father’s death to regular people but they got to crawl into my shoes and walk around in them for a while to understand. When I was about six (my sister was only a year old at that time) my parents were hitting a rough patch in their marriage. There was not domestic abuse going on or that one of them was cheating, it was none of that shit... it was a little more interesting than your typical divorce case.

My father was this salt-of-the-earth type of person. He was a large man, who preferred to dress in this simple yet casual style. He usually wore a pair of clean yet faded jeans and a dark colored t-shirt. His face was hard, chiseled but softened every time he smiled (which was a lot by the way) and his hair was like onyx. He had a ruddy complexion almost sunburnt from years of manual labor, hands like sandpaper. He was not a particularly educated man but he did read a lot, and there was a quote he obsessively told people...still remember to this day what it was. It was by Oscar Wilde, Who, being in love, is poor? You see, my father was a really friendly guy, caring, loyal, compassionate and all that nice shit. If fact he was the kind of person that would give you his shirt off his back if you asked for it but he had one major flaw. He had the possibly most shit sense of judgment of people’s character. So it was pretty normal for him to make friends with the wrong kind of people. On top of all that, his two brothers were local king-pins in the heroin drug trade; if you’re curious, they were not the kind of people to just leave the family. In reality it was quite the opposite, they came over as often as they could humanly possibly could.

From what I can remember, they came over nearly every other damn day. They rolled into town, they dressed themselves like a pair of colorblind 1970s pimps, drove in their souped-up muscle cars, blasting loud music from stereos as if trying to make the whole fucking town aware that they were arriving. They came with their entire entourage, bearing gifts for everyone in the household, as if they were using the gifts as a way to buy off my parents’ love and respect. My dad was too nice to tell them to leave since after all they were family’ and in his head family has to stick together no matter what. As for my mom, no matter what they decided to bring her, she never accepted anything...I mean anything. Not the crimson red Porsche, or the bouquets of extremely rare and pricey flowers that were flown in from best black market greenhouses in the world, or the two million dollar yacht with her name painted on it, not even the pair of pink diamond earrings that were the size of grapes. Her brown eyes simply glared at them with pure hatred as her doll-like face contorted into a deep-set frown. If my uncles tried to push a gift onto my mother, she would go into a frenzy, throw the gift (assuming it was something that could be held in your hands) right into their faces, screaming obscenities at them.

If my memory serves me correct, this was a very normal interaction between them till my uncles finally wised up and treated her less like a friend and more like a serious threat to their lives.

My two uncles would typically stand on the porch with a mound of gifts and try to serenade her with what I like to call pimp dialect.’

Hey there bodacious fox.

Hmm girl, you lookin’ super fly.

Yo sweet thang, we brought you a little somethin’-somethin’.

We got some bangin’ gift for you in the car.

At this point my mother would stare at them with a look that would even make Death itself shit bricks. She’d step down from the stoop and daintily walk up to them.

Listen here, I’m not fox or sweet thang, I have a fucking name! But for you two... you are only allowed to refer to me as Mrs! You got bitches. Then she would take her razor-sharp cooking knife from under her shirt and yell even louder. The next time you treat me like I’m one of your hoes, I will cut your nards off, shove it down your throat and gut the both of you in front of the police station! I will happily do time in federal prison knowing I managed to make pork chops out of two little piglets! Now leave my house, alight, bitch ass hoe. Shortly after that she stood on the porch and sharpened her cooking knife as my uncles scurried off to their cars.

On occasion she would vary her insults; from gutting them like pigs, to bustin’ caps in their asses, to mashing their skulls on the walls till the white meat shows... though I will say that her favorite line was definitely: I ain’t accepting anything bought with no fucking drug money you bitch ass hoe! Shortly after she said this, she stormed out of the house, taking my sister and me with her to church.

The rare moments she choose to stay in the house with them, she hid in the kitchen with my baby sister, feverishly cooking, my guess is to burn off some energy so she wouldn’t do something a little crazy like beat my uncles to death with a frying pan or a cast iron skillet. Meanwhile I plopped myself on the couch to stare at these curiously dressed weekly invaders. They drank, ate, and chatted among themselves in languages I didn’t know or they discussed things that I did not understand... at the time. Now I know that smack is slang for heroin, men in blue is cops, the Big Brother is code for the particularly aggressive federal agents and when they said roach they were not referring to the insect but to the stub of marijuana joint. Although I didn’t know it at the time, their entourage was made up of local tough guys who were employed as hired muscle, three guys that looked like they should be working for the Feds rather than drug lords, there was a drag queen that preferred to be called Cha Chi and the women were either classy strippers or the lower end escorts... well no matter how you looked at it, those women were some flashy bitches who also had a strange love of big hair like what Fran had on the Nanny. Thankfully, the adults ignored me for the most part except to either give me some expensive gift I never asked for or to ask me to get them a beer.

Apparently, my uncles would from time to time pressure my dad to transport some coke or illegally attained guns. So this naturally caused some friction between my parents, especially after my mom was nearly a victim of a botched hit job (rumor has it the hit man had poor eyesight). They decided to separate for a while, I was about eight at this time, my sister turned three when they separated. Okay so it was my mom’s idea, can’t really blame her though, ’cause after all, who wouldn’t be pissed the fuck off when they were nearly shot by a terrible hit man? The thing was that my mom thought it was okay to use my sister and me as a sort of way to blackmail my father. To sum it up, what she said was, If you want to fool around with your trashy brothers and be friendly with all those sluts that is fine with me! But I am taking the kids to my parents’ house till you decide whose side you’re really on. By the way, you are not seeing the kids!