Javi said the only thing worse than a junkie father was a faggot son. This was near the beginning of the end, after one of my brother’s marathon binges out in the world; a week or two before he took the bus to Georgia for basic. His friends carried him home from the bars off Commerce, had him slinking around Houston like a stray. Since Ma had taken to locking the door it was on me to let him back in.
At first, she hit him. Asked was he trying to kill her. Was he trying to break her heart.
Later on she took to crying. Pleading.
Then, months later, came the clawing. The reaching for his eyes like a pair of stubborn life rafts.
But near the end Ma just stared. Wouldn’t say a word.
Javi sat on my bed when he told me this. Smelling fresh like he’d just been born.
I asked what he meant, and he looked at me, the first time I think he’d ever really looked at me before.
He told me it didn’t matter. It wasn’t important.
He told me to go back to sleep.
Ma’d planned on leaving the restaurant to all of us, but then everyone else split and it came down on me. So I slice and I marinate and un-sleeve the meat. Pack it in aluminum. Load the pit, light the fire. The pigs we gut have blue eyes. They start blinking when you do it, like they’re having flashbacks or something, but after nineteen years of practice one carcass just feels like the next.
Way back when, Ma made Jan responsible for that, for prepping the beef with paprika and pepper, for drowning the carp with the rest of our voodoo, but then my sister met her white boy, Tom—working [End Page 126] north Alief construction, way the fuck out of East End—and he stuffed enough of himself inside her to put her in bed with a kid. Which brought our staff to two. Just me and Javi.
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Neither of us gave a shit about cooking, but we both cared about eating. So Ma had us wrapping beef in pastries, silverware in napkins. Javi taught me how to dice a shrimp without getting nicked. He plucked bills from pockets, cheesing like his life depended on it, and, since he was already nineteen, I followed his lead, wholly obdurate, until Ma finally caught me with the fifties in my sock.
For which Javi took the blame. Ma leered him down a solid ten minutes before she told him to leave, to pack his shit, to go, to never come back. And he did it.
Joined the Marines. Sent postcards from brighter venues.
Now it’s just me in the back. Packing aluminum in paper bags. Setting the ovens to just under a crisp. Ma pokes her head in when there’s time—the one thing we have too much of—just to ask me if I’ve got it. If everything’s under control.
And the answer’s always, always no.
But of course you can’t say that. [End Page 127]
Come morning I’m in the kitchen around eight. Ma’s counting bills, twisting rubber into bundles.
Good night, she asks, and I say, Yeah, same as always.
She’ll nod like she knows what the fuck I’m talking about. Ma learned about suspicion from my father, from lies he’d wooed her off the island with, but then he left for a pack of cigarettes and she gave up snooping entirely.
We don’t talk about where I go most nights or how I get back, ever, so I head to the freezer to handle the prep.
Beef’s fairly quick. Fish too. Chicken takes the longest. We douse them for a week or so—just drown it...