Mercedes and Vega were doing what they normally did in their sixth hour class, Pre-Algebra with Mrs. Braxton; they were passing notes back and forth. They’d start with one sheet of paper and jot a note, then pass it on and jot a response, and then it would pass back. It started off with Vega this period,
“You got a date to the dance?”
“No,” was Mercedes’ response.
“Has anyone asked, have you asked anyone?” Vega followed up.
“No. Well, except Lawrence, but I told him to get lost. And when he wouldn’t leave me alone, I told him his mom was gay. That seemed to do the trick. That tard smells like feet.”
Vega held the note for a while this time, stewing over her response. She fiddled with her bleached hair, that used to be black or brunette or something. It was red last week. She was always doing bizarre things with her hair, and sometimes her lip ring coordinated with her hair color. Her piercing was on the left corner, lower lip of her mouth and was turquoise today. She finally scribbled something and waited for Mrs. Braxton to face the chalkboard. It read, “You going out tonight?”
“Like I ever go out on Friday nights. What would I do? Whatchya got in mind?”
Vega wrote the following upside down and on top of the page, “You can’t say anything to anyone, but I’m taking you to Auschwitz tonight. Tell your mom we’re going to the mall or a movie or something stupid.”
Mercedes read the last response by Vega several times, then she pencil-circled Auschwitz?
“You coming or not?” Was all that Vega replied with.
“Sure,” Mercedes tossed her brown hair over her shoulders, as it fell down across her face while she wrote, “What about you—you gotta date?”
“I’m not going, the rents decided to go on a family trip that weekend. Dumb rents. Going to visit my aunt and uncle, I hate ‘em. All we do is sit around and play board games until the time is up, and then we come home. That, and my rents are always going on and on about when they were kids and how they did this stupid thing and that retarded thing. It’s gay. Can you get the Nova?”
It was a few minutes past eight; the sun had just decided to call it a night, and then Mercedes pulled up at Vega’s home in the Nova. It was gray, probably had color at one time, but time had not smiled on it. And the Mastersons rarely had enough money to get by, much less to spend pimpin’ the family clunker. It was a 1976 Nova Coupe, not the best year by any means. Not the kind you saw gangsters cruising in, either.
Mercedes was only fourteen years old, but her mom was single and had a hard enough time keeping things in line as it was. To remedy having to transport her two children to and fro all the time, she decided instead to teach them how to drive when they turned thirteen. Obviously, getting caught meant getting busted pretty bad. Or if you were really unlucky, you got raped—the cops in Babylon were known to take physical bribes for traffic violations quite frequently.
Unfortunately, to her dismay, an argument had erupted over the dinner table between her and her brother Johnny. He was two years her senior, and a junior in high school. He already had plans to be taking the Nova for the night. As is often the case, neither of the teenagers once considered whether their mother would need it. She didn’t of course; she had become a recluse and a workaholic for the sake of her children. Eventually, Mercedes resigned and finished a light dinner, per Vega’s strange request. She then slyly slithered into the living room, snatched the rabbit’s foot key chain and crept out the door. Johnny came running out moments later, as she was backing out of the driveway to their mobile home. He was screaming at her and managed to slam his fists down on the trunk as she peeled out of Granger Trailer Park. As she watched Johnny give up in her review mirror while going 45 in a 25, she twisted the radio knob over to the oldies station that was playing Disco in honor of its 20 year death.
After picking up Vega, lying to her parents and stopping for a pop with the money Vega stole from her dad, they were heading out of town. Vega still refused to tell her anything about Auschwitz.
“What is this gay music you listen to, anyway?” Vega inquired condescendingly.
“It’s Disco,” Mercedes cranked the volume up a little more; “You’ve never heard it?”
“PUL-LEEZ,” Vega grabbed the knob and turned it back down, “You drive, and I’ll DJ.”
Naturally, Mercedes just had to cut eyes at her when they turned onto a gravel farm road, “I fought for the Nova tonight and you’re taking me to a stinking rodeo, aren’t you? I hate you.”
“No,” Vega was laughing hard, “Not a rodeo, dude. Far from it.”
The sun was fast asleep now, and dark had veiled its face. There was little to see, just some gravel on either side of a patch of grass in front of the headlights and grass on both sides of them. It was either drive on the two white lines or drive in the grass. Beyond the grass on either side were trees that gave way suddenly, revealing an open field that the road cut a path through. In the distance to the left, were cars and a bonfire of sorts.
“Oh, even better,” Mercedes mocked, “A hayride.”
“Shut up and go park over there.”
Obeying properly, she drove into the field and parked three rows back from the firelight. It was a short walk, filled with more mockery. That soon stopped though when they passed through the hay bales, not the small rectangular ones but the big round ones. All around were familiar faces, but in different lights. Jocks, preps, rebels, nerds, geeks, the band, the choir, thespians—every clique from high school was represented in the shadows. They were all gathered around in a circle; in the middle of the circle were a huge bonfire and two boys. They were both lying on the ground; one was slowly crawling towards the fire as the other rolled over from his back and onto all fours. He rose from the ground, stammering as he did. They were fighters, this was Auschwitz and it was a fight club.
“I’ll be right back,” Vega said and then quickly vanished into the crowd.
Mercedes tried to recognize the two boys, but the shadows were too harsh. The boy now standing, having gained his balance, turned and faced the boy on the ground. He looked down at him and screamed something unintelligible and charged. The boy on the ground reached the fire and grabbed a log from the fire and spun over onto his back, jabbing the scorching hot log into the charging boy’s stomach. It burned straight through his shirt and straight to his torso. Screams were heard from both boys, and the boy that charged fell. The other threw the log back into the fire and rose, holding his now burned hands. Another boy entered, this one she recognized as Luke Preston, “And the winner is… Masterson!”
She recognized him now, it was hard to do so before, but now she could see that it was Johnny. He raised his arms in victory, the crowd cheered and he unwittingly zigzagged towards her. They bumped shoulders and she looked him the eye, “Hey, bro.”
He stopped, squinted and mumbled, “Whore.”
With that he zigzagged away into the crowd and Vega returned with two plastic cups, red ones. They were filled with beer, and it hit the spot for Mercedes. She hadn’t had a beer since dad left; mom had cracked down on the drinking in the family. Like that was going to make everything better. Nothing makes anything better, she had determined, you just find new and imaginative ways to deafen the pain. To distract.
Mercedes and Vega walked with their beers outside of the hay bales. Mercedes looked into the distance and up the hill, at the top of it laid a grand house that was all lit up. It was a beacon of light in the night. She turned to Vega and gestured with her beer and an index finger, “What’s up there?”
“Oh, that,” Vega started, “That’s the Johnston’s home.”
“Yeah, from a distance,” she explained, “Down here, in the dark, you’re respected for your accomplishments. Up there, in the light, it’s like high school. It’s all about status. You have to either have money or be part of the team.”
“Come on, Vega, let’s take a look.”
“All you can do is look, because up there everybody is better than you.”
Mercedes’ eyes were reflecting the light of the house as she stared sternly at it, “No one’s better than me.”
Vega laughed and took the last swig of her beer, “Now you’re starting to sound like a jock.”
Mercedes turned and looked at her, “I’m going up. You coming or not?”
“I’ll stay in the shadows, thank you.” She turned and became a silhouette instantly; and reentered Auschwitz and became one with the silhouettes about her.
Mercedes tossed the red, plastic cup and the remainder of its contents to the grass and started up the path that leads to the house. As she got closer, the path illuminated. Two guys came running up from behind her and bumped her out of the way; they were laughing and spilling their beers. One guy had a bong, and it was clear that the other guy wanted a puff. She smirked a little when she determined that if the house was high school, than surely the path she walked was its hallway.
The closer she came to the house; she could hear the thumping of pop music.Probably pop rap, that’s what all the jocks and preps were getting into lately.Pop wasn’t what it used to be, that was for sure in her mind.Her heart was in awe as she gazed upon a lovely home, a ranch style home with a long deck and balcony that stretched all around the house.The side closest to her, as she came up the hill, stretched out over the hill.It was like Caesar’s private box, from here he monitored the gladiators below and either gave the thumbs up or the thumbs down.She walked up a few steps onto the deck, and as she passed a half open window she verified that the music was indeed pop rap.Caesar was not in his thrown, a white rocking chair.She came around to the front of the house and decided she could live here forever, anything would be better than Granger and the stench of trailer trash—but this, this was heaven on earth.She opened the southern-style screen door and it quickly spanked her on the way over the threshold.
She passed a dining room; it was eloquent beyond anything she’d ever seen. There were preps and jocks gathered around its table. They were drinking things, smoking things and cutting up. Suddenly one of them shouted and gestured with his arms to silent everyone. Their eyes slowly slid up to the tops of their lids and their heads cocked in the northern direction as well. They were looking at the chandelier above the table; it had diamond links and candles in it. It was vibrating about aimlessly, and you could hear muffled sounds of moaning coming from the floor above. The preps and jocks burst into an uproar at the perversion that was transpiring upstairs. They clapped and shouted back, they began to root and egg on the private matter above them. She continued on past the perverts and entered the kitchen. The floor and countertops were both finished in marble; the cabinets were white and blinding with beauty. The pots and pans hung above an island in the middle of the kitchen, they were glistening with cleanliness. She could see her face in a frying pan and she smiled.
The sound of a toilet flushing became evident when a door opened around the corner on the opposite end of the kitchen, and from that door appeared Cooper Johnston. When he saw her he stopped, and anger became him, “What are you doing in here?”
“Came up for a dump,” she said, “And now that I know where the bathroom is, I think I’ll do so.”
“You can take your dump in the woods,” he came towards her, as he passed the pots and pans he batted a pot with his left hand and left smudge marks on it, “Now beat it.” He spoke directly into her face, he smelled of beer and drugs. For an instant, she got the munchies. He bumped shoulders with her and went on into the dining room.
She then noticed something she’d only seen in catalogues—a marble bread roller. She walked to the edge of the counter where it lay and picked it up, it was heavier than she imagined and it was more gorgeous than the pictures she’d seen of it. On the corner of her eye, she saw the bathroom door slowly swinging open more. She sat the bread roller down and entered the bathroom and did her business. It was a simple bathroom, just a place to get the job done right between the kitchen and laundry. She came out and reentered the kitchen; at the other end was Cooper. He had the perverts from the dining room standing behind him, “I told you to do your business in the woods.”
“I know.” She defied him both with actions and words now; she stepped around in front of the edge of the counter.
“You need to learn to listen.” His eyes were locked into hers; he reached with his hands, unzipped and unbuttoned his pants.
Her eyes stayed on his, “Put it in your pants, Perky.”
He slowly moved in towards the island, and then around it and towards her. The perverts filed in on both sides of the island, but they all kept behind him—not daring to cross some invisible line of authority that obviously existed. He stood in front of her now; she could smell his breath again. She leaned back away from him and against the counter. She rested her hands behind her back and atop the cold, marble countertop.
“Make your move,” she said. They sat there in silence still, no one moving. No one talking, only breathing. But even the breathing was quiet and kept to a minimum. The tension was as thick as bread and any action would be the knife to cut it. Their eyes were still locked in on each other.
“Boo,” he whispered and then lunged at her, pelvis first.
She quickly grabbed the bread roller behind her and kicked him in the knee, knocking him back a step. She slid the roller off the counter and followed through with the momentum, gripping with two hands and hitting him in his manhood with her hardest golf swing. He screeched loudly, like a virgin, and fell to the floor. He cupped his privates with his hands and she could see that he was bleeding. She held the roller out with one hand, aiming at the perverts, “Anyone else want some action?!”
The perverts, without speaking, parted and made a path to the hallway. They were the Red Sea, she was Moses and the bread roller was her rod. She walked through and the only sounds in the house were being made by Cooper on the floor and the dirty blonde that ran by up the hallway crying. In the hallway, she saw the dirty blonde run straight through the screen door, knocking it off its hinges and she fell onto the porch but quickly recovered and leapt off into the grass. Outside Mercedes watched as the dirty blonde ran down the rocky driveway, she was barefoot and over time she began to limp but it didn’t slow her down any. Mercedes pulled her cell phone from her jeans and speed-dialed Vega; with her right hand she tossed the roller into the bushes.
“Sup?” Vega answered.
“Meet me at the Nova, we’re bustin’ outta here.”