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The Escape Artist pg2

Rachel Salguero-Kowalsky

 

I secretly thought that Haydee's family should cut her some slack. For one, she stuck around. She hadn't left her baby on a subway car, she hadn't left her husband when he took up with a waitress from the diner where he worked, or when he got fired for stealing from the cash register and never bothered to get another job.

I was surprised at how much blood could come from the nose. When Harrison's blow landed, Haydee's blood flew into the afternoon and seemed to hang suspended in the chilly air. People turned to look. It covered the woman's chin, mixed with her hair, and spilled out onto the lawn, onto the few early leaves already on the ground. She fell down at our feet and began to shriek. "Dante, baby, you get him outta here! You see who your father is? You see what he do to me?" Harrison had already marched back into the building.

A group of boys began to point and laugh. Haydee's dress was riding up; her cheap satin underwear showed yellow over the round of her buttocks. Dante stayed calm, sat still on the bench and looked down at her. I was the only one close enough to see how his ears turned red.

Haydee grabbed at Dante's jeans, blood on her hands. "Dante, baby, come and help me baby. Come and help me." She flapped around on the ground, making her exposure even worse.

I felt bad. I reached out to tug down her dress.

She slapped my hand away. "You little bitch!" she shrieked. "Get away from me!" This drew more laughter from the crowd. Faces began to appear at the windows.

Dante stood up, pulling me up too. He stepped carefully over his mother. "C'mon," he said.

We walked south down First Avenue to 96th Street, not talking at all. At 96th, Dante took my hand and we cut east across a basketball court, drunks sound asleep in the weeds, a couple kids kicking around a Coke bottle. At the edge of the court was the FDR, cars rushing by to more important places, few wanting to get off in Harlem. We crossed one lane of traffic, dodging cars from the on-off ramp, Dante taking his time. His sneakers thudded against the highway, his braids slapped against his back. When we got to a fence, he began to climb and gestured for me to follow. "Hurry up," he said. He swung his leg over the top and jumped down to the ground like a cat. I followed more carefully, clambering down step by step in the dark. We were underneath the highway, traffic going south on one side, north on the other. Three bulldozers and a dumptruck were parked there in the semi-dark.

Dante sat down and lit a cigarette.

I walked slowly down the line of trucks, brushing my hand over their cool edges, kicking each tire as I passed. Then I sat down on a bumper and lit my own cigarette. "Are you OK?" I asked into the dark.

Dante spit. "Yah, I'm OK."

I stood up and kept walking, ducking under long yellow necks, giving the metal sides a good bang once in a while. The machines were grimy from the city streets.

Dante's voice drifted back to me. "You got a mom?"

"No."

"Where she at?"

"Don't know."

"She died?"

"I guess so."

"Well, you're lucky."

I'd come to the end of the line, and stood facing the highway. Families went by, and people alone, and people together but watching the road. "Not lucky," I said.

I practically stumbled over him; he'd spread out his jacket and was sprawled at my feet, the tips of his toes jutting straight up to the sky. His eyes slanted beautifully into the sides of his face. I sat down next to him, pulled close by such extreme beauty, and cupped his cheekbones between my hands. "Not lucky," I repeated.

Rachel Salguero-Kowalsky majored in Comparative Literature at Brown University where she first began to write fiction. She has published short stories in the BDH Fiction Edition and Catalyst Magazine, and was Guest Artist at the New York Mills Cultural Center in 2002. She completed a residency in Pediatrics at Columbia Presbyterian, and now works in the Pediatric Emergency Room at New York University.

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