Rodrigo squatted on our three step stoop every morning, flanked by pit
bulls with wide black smiles puffing steam. I jogged down the steps,
leaned against a parking sign. Warmed my hands with my breath. Tugged
my crop top down.
"Girl, you gonna freeze." He peeled off his hoodie. Held the coat open.
I shook my head.
"C'mon, you can play with Salvador."
I sighed, let him wrap me in it. Smelled of cigars and dogs. "Thanks."
I gathered the sleeves up by my elbows, and followed him down the
piss-stained alley between brownstones, the dogs barrel bellies
rattling past the trash cans. His crooked garage stood in dead yellow
grass with newspaper-taped windows. Rodrigo whistled sharp, opened the
door. Yips and barks rose to a song and a herd of brown and white
huddled against our thighs.
Sallie sauntered up and I dragged my long bright nails through her tan
fur. "How much for her, 'Drigo?"
"I usually get two hundred, but..."
My brother kicked a trash can in the alley. "Celia! Get your ass out
here. Got a job."
Sallie barked, nose sighting on the sound. Rodrigo grabbed her scruff
to hold her back, snapping. "She's got thing for you pobrecita," he
I got my strut on and hit the street. My brother Ray had his arm
around a man in dirty jeans. I went and did the job in our room.
After I washed myself out, I got hell for the hoodie. Ray liked to
pinch and twist. Make me cry. "Why you hiding your goods for? No
wonder I gotta hunt down tricks."
"It's cold out there."
"You give him some for this?" Ray's face scrunched up. He tugged the
hoodie off, tossed it in the tub. Took out his scarred thing and
pissed on it. His nails dug into my wrist. Dragged me to the toilet
seat. "Show me why Daddy liked you better."
Mommy slept on the couch, her special juice staining her robe.
Cigarette dead between yellow fingers. That's when Daddy taught me the
shower game. Said he had to wash his dirty little girl before bedtime.
It was tingly. I didn't know better.
RayRay was older. He should've known. I woke with him sitting on my
flat chest, telling me to do it for him too. Rubbing me through my
jammies. "Do it, or I'll tell mommy and she'll hate you."
When I told Daddy about RayRay's games, he dragged him into the
bathroom and clipped Mom's curling iron to his thing. Made me watch.
Ray started wetting the bed, whimpering. Watching us through the
steamed glass shower door.
Next thing I remember is the fire. Choking on the smoke. Ray dragging
me out the door by my jammies. Foster homes after that. New Daddies,
same shower game. Ray found new sisters to show his scars. At sixteen
he dropped out and took me with him.
I knew the game was wrong. Not much I could do. Ray was bigger. Taught
me how to work. Said I was no good for anything else.
Had me a stash I kept in my tampon box. Ray wouldn't touch them, said
they were nasty. My money for doing extra for my johns, the things I
told Ray I'd never do. Things he wanted to do, that I told him made
him queer for thinking about.
Rodrigo drove cabs at night, raised pit bulls in the day. Raised
family dogs, who loved children and would die to protect you. On the
porch, he held a brindle male by the scruff. "Salvador. She's for you.
I tucked my wad of bills into Rodrigo's hand, and brought her to my
room. Poured her a bowl of water, and went back down, leaned on my
Big truck rumbled down our Ironbound street. Ray hung out the
passenger side, snapped his fingers, gave me his dead-eye smile. "Game
"He'll watch your truck." I walked up the stairs, rolling my hips.
RayRay and the trucker followed, the john whistling.
Time for them to meet my little sister.