First published in Bewildering Stories (2007) - read editor interview
Marisa watched the father and son playing soccer on the parched field as she approached the woman sitting in the second row of the bleachers. Marisa had learned the woman’s name was Damita.
“They’re a handsome pair,” Marisa said, sitting next to the woman.
Damita flinched, but didn’t respond.
“Your husband and son?” Marisa asked, watching the two males run down the field, kicking the black and white ball to each other. The boy wore blue soccer shorts with a white stripe and an L.A. Galaxy shirt. The man wore painter jeans and a white muscle shirt that showed off the arms and torso of an athlete. The boy had on a pair of new soccer shoes. The man wore Nikes, expensive ones like Teo used to wear.
“Son, yes,” Damita said. “And Raphael is his father.”
The two sat and watched. The laughter coming from the man and boy pierced Marisa’s heart. She wiped sweaty palms on her skirt and let the lullaby her mother used to sing repress the anger.
“Your son is about four. The same age as my Javier,” Marisa said. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of the boy who would have been five in November. Marisa willed herself not to cry.
Damita continued her silence.
“Raphael is the boy’s father, but not your husband?” Marisa didn’t need to ask this question. She knew the answer.
“He asked. I said no.” Damita looked at the stranger for the first time. Next to her sat a Hispanic woman older than she, with the same street-toughened face. The black mini skirt, low-cut, red blouse and purple pushup bra said whore; but the look on Marisa’s face as she watched the children in the park offered Damita a different opinion of this stranger. A white evening bag hung from the woman’s shoulder. “Raphael’s father was a drunk who beat him daily. I don’t want that to happen to my son.”
“Has Raphael ever hit your son—or you?”
“No, but…” Damita held the rest of the comment inside and faced the field.
“They look happy together,” Marisa said.
Unlike Raphael and his son, her boys rarely played together. Teo worked two jobs and liked to spend time with his buddies. He was just like his old man, a good husband and provider, but a lousy father.
“Are those gang tattoos on Raphael’s shoulders and arms? I don’t recognize them,” Marisa lied.
“He joined the Elm Street Bangers two years ago after he graduated from Westside High. Three weeks later his father was killed in an alley off east Main. The police never found who did it, but everyone in the neighborhood knew the Bangers were responsible.”
“Do you think Raphael killed his father?”
Damita inhaled a long breath and let it out before responding.
“I hope not,” she said looking at her watch.
“Luis. Raphie. We have to go. It’s time for Mass.”
“Can I meet them?” Marisa asked.
Damita looked at Marisa and shrugged. “Sure. Come on.”
After brief introductions, Damita took Luis to the restroom to wash his hands and face.
“Are you a friend of Damita’s? I don’t remember seeing you around.”
“No, I’d say I know more about you, Raphie.”
Raphael kicked the ball into his hands, but said nothing.
“I know a few of your Banger friends. I’ve spent time with Raul, Barto and Felix.” She stepped closer. “Do you know how much they talk after getting free booze and sex?” She rubbed a breast against his left arm, distracting him, as she reached into her purse. “They told me some interesting things. Like how you were the shooter at Jefferson Park that killed three rivals, plus a man walking his son home from school.”
“Yeah. So what’s it to you?” Raphael took a step back, weary.
“The innocents were my husband and son.” If I hadn’t had the flu, I’d be the one lying on the sidewalk dead, she thought.
Before Raphael could react, Marisa pulled the gun from her purse and shot him twice in the chest. She turned and walked back to the bleachers to wait for the police. She never saw Raphael fall to his knees and then on his face. She didn’t hear the screams when Damita came out of the restroom, her hands over Luis’ eyes.
As the sounds of the sirens closed in on the park, Marisa waited with the gun in her lap. The headaches, the tension, the rage were all gone. The police would finally know the truth; and when she pointed the gun at them, her ordeal would come to an end too. She’d already decided suicide by police was better than what the Bangers would do to her.