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  • Miami Don’t Know
  • Manuel Martinez (bio)

It’s the memory of falling off the wall that makes it so I can see things the way they really happened. It’s remembering that little bit of time I spent hanging upside down in the air with my legs pointing up towards the heavy clouds that makes it so I can tell what’s real and what ain’t. It’s God who made me fall, so when I remember looking up and seeing how those green pine needles were spread out against the sky, I can see things the way God sees them, but I won’t tell anybody about it because they’d mess it all up. Nobody ever listens. They just think about stuff however they want to, so I keep secret how when I close my eyes to look at the way the wall’s chalky-looking rock was slipping past my Sunday shoes, I can see everything that Mama and Daddy ever did, and it’s from feeling my head about to hit the ground that I know Daddy’s coming up here to get me as soon as the Shrimp Man dies.

I’m sitting on a piece of log that’s almost rotted away. The weeds in our yard are so high that from down where I’m sitting, there’s nothing to see but the weeds and the sky and the trees that run all along one side of the yard, and when I close my eyes and remember falling, I can see what Mama’s doing right now, can see her standing at her register at work, trying not to think about all the things she could’ve done different.

That store always smells like sour milk and rotten meat, and even though she’s been working there for the whole summer, she hasn’t gotten used to it yet. She sometimes won’t notice it when she’s busy, but when she’s finishing ringing somebody up and their groceries are in a bag and there’s nothing for her to do but wait for them to dig through their pockets or their purse to find the money that they’ve got crumpled up somewhere, that smell’ll get all up in her nose and even sting her eyes some. She’ll feel it get all on her skin too, and that’s why she takes a shower as soon as she comes home, and why she won’t buy anything at that store, even toilet paper or food in a can, because she thinks that smell can get through plastic and that it can seep in through her skin too. She thinks the smell in that store could make her sick, and so when the front door slides open and a fat, dark-skinned lady wearing bedroom slippers comes in, Mama breathes deep when that hot, fresh air blows in from outside.

The lady’s pants are slipping down on her when she walks, and so every time she takes a step, Mama can see more of the roll of fat that’s sticking out from under her shirt and hanging over the top of her pants. And there’re three dirty children following behind her, all of them sucking their fingers and all of them in a line and moving slower than their mother. It takes a long time for them to get through that door, so that air keeps blowing in on Mama’s face until she can’t hardly smell that store anymore, and she opens her mouth when she breathes so that she can get as much of that air as she can.

It’s quiet in that store, with nothing but the humming of the coolers and Mama breathing in and out and the slapping of that lady’s slippers on the tile of the floor. The children following behind her aren’t wearing any shoes, and their feet don’t make a sound while they’re walking through that space between the registers and the big windows with signs taped up on them. The sun’s shining through the yellow paper those signs are...


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pp. 159-163
Launched on MUSE
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