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april davila

New Fiction


by April Dávila

      It was raining the day Laura got fired. I was sitting on the couch, watching the Laker game and rocking Jamie’s cradle with my foot, when Laura trudged in, dropped her fat purse on the orange shag carpet and said it, just like that. “I got fired.”
      The drops on the window kept their steady beat as Jamie’s tiny face screwed into a knot and she let out a squeaky wail.
      “Well?” Laura said.
      “Well, shit.”
      “That’s all you have to say?” I heard her knees crack as she bent down to pluck Jamie from her bed. “She needs a diaper,” Laura said, her tone accusing.
      I reached for my cigarettes.
      On the porch I lit a smoke and zipped my jacket up against the cold wind. The storm drain at the end of our street was backed up and as the water crept higher, the whole block looked like it was sinking. I’d only been in Los Angeles a couple of years, but this seemed to be how it went—a whole lot of sunshine, then just when you were getting used to the warm rays, a flood of nasty sewage water.
      I wasn’t surprised she’d gotten fired. She’d been complaining about work since Jamie was born, saying how she barely made enough to cover day care, and wouldn’t it just make more sense for her to stay home with the baby. I kinda figured it was only a matter of time before she found a way to make it happen. It wasn’t all so different from how she’d gotten knocked up a few months after we talked about how we weren’t ready to have kids.
      I stared out at the rain and thought about what I might say to Laura, but every thought I had led me in circles and brought me right back to well, shit. Selling electronics at a kiosk in the mall didn’t make me enough to support all three of us. If she stayed home with Jamie I’d have to get a second job. I studied the warped boards of the porch hoping to think of some missed detail that would change the situation, make my life into something more than it was, but nothing came.
      I heard the sound of slurping footsteps and looked up to see the dude from next-door plodding toward me across the soupy lawn. He told me his name once, when I first moved in with Laura, but really, I wasn’t paying attention, and we’d been neighbors all this time so I’d of felt weird asking. He came over a few times a week to bum smokes. Usually I gave him a hard time about it, cigarettes being so expensive and all, but right then I was happy for the distraction.
       “Hey,” he said and looked up at me, shifting on his feet like he was nervous about something.
      “Hey, dude,” I said, and shook a cigarette from my pack to give to him. The guy always looked sickly to me, skinny and kind of hunched when he walked. He had thin, greasy, grey hair, and dark circles under his eyes. He was about ten years older than me, but the sweet little piece he lived with couldn’t have been more than eighteen. I sometimes wondered what she saw in him.
      He took the smoke with a little head nod and stepped up onto the porch to get out of the rain. We stood there, smoking, looking out at the flooding street. I leaned against the house, feeling tired, but he just stood stick straight, arms folded tight, flicking that smoke every two seconds. His left foot was tapping, but not to any rhythm I could make out. Water splashed from a hole in his left shoe with every hit against the old wood.
      “It’s Josh, right?” he said, still staring out at the rain.
      “Marvin, dude,” I said.
      “Sorry, Marvin.”
      “Well, Marvin, I have to ask a favor,” he said. “I don’t have any money, so I can’t offer to pay you, but if you can do me this one favor, I promise never to bum another smoke off you ever again.”
      He had my attention, but I kept quiet, just waited for him to keep talking.
      “I need a ride. The VA hospital.” He kept on, “it’s only about four miles, shouldn’t take more than half an hour round trip.”
      “Right now?” I asked. I knew he didn’t have a car. I’d seen him and his girl walking up and down the street, waiting at the bus stop, carrying groceries. Still, it was cold out, and wet. I hated driving in the rain, and besides Laura and I were kinda in the middle of something, even if I didn’t know what I was supposed to say.
      I stared at the back of his head, thinking why in the hell I should go out of my way for this guy.
      “You’d just be dropping me there,” he said, and then he paused. “Also, I might ask that you tell Georgia where I am when she gets back from work.”
      Now that was a little more interesting. Georgia was the kind of chick I always thought I’d end up with. She was tall and kinda graceful, and when the sun shone she wore thin little tank tops that made it hard for a man to keep his eyes off her. I’d often wished she smoked so she’d come over and bum a cigarette. I’d thought about lighting it for her, the way her little pink lips would wrap around the tip of it. It seemed real unfair that this old guy got to sleep next to that every night, while here I was, so much younger and with all my hair, stuck with Laura. There was nothing graceful about Laura. She was more what you’d call sturdy, with thick eyebrows and clothes that fit a lot better before the baby.
      “Georgia’s her name?” I asked him.
      “Yeah, she doesn’t know I’m going.”
      “So I’d be breaking some bad news,” I said, taking a second to think about how I might console her.
      “Yeah,” he said.
      “And you ain’t got nothing to offer except that you’ll stop bumming smokes?”
      He turned and looked me in the eye. “Please,” he said, and then he looked down, “I don’t have anyone else to ask.”
      Well, shit.
      “Now?” I asked.
      He just kept staring down at his feet.
      “Yeah, okay,” I said, “just let me get my keys.”
      Laura glared at my cigarette as I stepped inside to grab my keys. Baby girl smiled up at me with those big beautiful eyes, and a single brown curl fell onto her forehead as I ducked out.
      “If you go past the store get diapers,” I heard Laura yell as the door fell shut behind me and the sound of the rain swelled up again, plunking on the metal hood of the car.
       “You know where we’re going?” I asked as I sunk into the driver’s seat.
      “Yeah,” he said, and took one long, last drag of his smoke. He tossed it and got in the car.
      “You don’t need nothing?”
      “No,” he said.
      Setting the windshield wipers on high, I headed out toward Sunset. In the passenger seat, dude’s foot started up again, tapping away at some spastic beat. He shifted in his seat, over and over, crossing his arms, uncrossing, crossing ‘em again.
      “Left here,” he said.
      “How long you gunna be gone?” I asked. “I mean, what should I tell Georgia?”
      “I don’t know,” he said and got real still. “Just tell her I’ll call her at work tomorrow.” Then he was quiet for a second. “Make sure she doesn’t come see me. If she comes to see me they’ll put her back in foster care.”
      I stared out at the wet road, the windshield wipers slapping back and forth. A bum hunched against the rain and pushed a shopping cart loaded with crap. My hands were cold. “She’s your daughter,” I said.
      His foot started tapping again. “Yeah.”
      Well, shit. The rain pounded the roof of the car.
      “Turn here,” he said.
      I turned and drove past the garage where Laura was working when I first met her. My old Honda needed new brakes. She smiled at me that day. I drank watery coffee in that waiting room for three hours, just staring out at the traffic and listening to the way she answered the phone. Her voice was low and sexy. When she leaned over to show me where to sign the bill I caught a whiff of lemon that I would later come to recognize as her face lotion. Before I left I asked her to dinner and she said yes.
      “Left at the light.”
      I still needed to figure out what to say to Laura.
      “Just a little further,” he said, then finally, “stop.” I’d never noticed the building before, but there in small letters it said Department of Veteran Affairs.
      Dude got out, and just as he was about to close the door, he turned and said “I…” but then he just stood there, rain pouring down, not saying a word.
      “What?” I said. It sounded a lot meaner than I meant it to, but damn it, it was cold out and he was just standing there, letting it rain in my damn car. I tried again, “wassup?”
      “Thank you,” he said quickly and shut the door.
      I looked him in the eye through the fogged up glass, then nodded, and pulled away.
      On the way back home I thought about my options. It didn’t seem like I had many so I figured I’d start looking for another job. Laura could stay home with Jamie. It was probably best. I thought maybe I should propose, finally make an honest woman out of her. I even considered trying to find a ring, but I didn’t have the money for that kind of thing, so I stopped at the grocery store for a six-pack and drove on back toward our street. As I rounded the corner I saw Georgia walking in a faded old green coat, her skinny legs bare under the dark blue skirt of her uniform. I slowed so I wouldn’t splash her as I drove past and coasted into my driveway, hoping Laura wouldn’t hear as I set the parking break.
      Sitting in the car, I opened one of the beers and watched Georgia hesitate at the edge of the small lake that had formed over her front lawn. When she continued on to her front door the floodwater danced around her footprints.
      Raindrops splattered on the windshield. My breath fogged up the glass. I finished my beer and opened another. Laura walked past the window, wrapped in the warm orange light of the kitchen and bouncing baby Jamie in her arms. She didn’t see me. She was a good woman, and I always figured she could do a lot better than me. Parenthood seemed like a whole lot of trouble for something I was bound to fuck up sooner or later.
      I put a beer in each pocket of my coat, and sloshed over to the little grey house next door. The lights were on here too, but somehow the place looked cold. A few drops of rain fell inside my collar and hit my neck, like little scratches. I knocked.
      Georgia answered, and I could see that a layer of water had seeped under the door and across their carpet. They didn’t seem to have much furniture at all. She was shivering. She looked up at me with big brown eyes and a wet curl stuck to her forehead.
      “Hey,” I said, “I’m Marvin.” I pulled a beer from my pocket and held it out to her.

                                                                                                * * *

      I looked out at the rain from behind the glass doors of the café where I worked. When I first got the job dad used to pick me up after my shifts, but since we had to sell the car it was either walk or quit, and my measly tips were the only thing keeping food in our bellies.
      I sighed and ducked my head as I pushed through the glass doors. The hollow thumping of the raindrops on my dry shoulders was soon replaced by the sharp sound of wet on wet. My jacket was faded and worn. The fabric quickly soaked through and hung heavy. I shivered. My shoes sloshed.
      Small pools had accumulated around the storm drains on Glendale and as the cars drove by the water sprayed up in fierce waves. I walked in the mud, just off the sidewalk, to avoid getting splashed. I turned the corner onto Fletcher and the freeway overpass loomed before me.
      When I reached the bus stop, I looked up. This part of my walk had become a ritual, the part where I paused to consider mom’s last few minutes of life.
      Even when I tried not to, I imagined what it must have looked like eight years before, when the white Corolla broke free of the guard rail above and came crashing down like so much weighted fate. The driver’s heart had seized during his daily commute, and sent him careening off the overpass. Dumb, stupid luck. No one to blame. But that didn’t stop the lawyers from trying. They flocked to dad like crows, pecking at his grief with words like wrongful death, liability, and negligence.
      That was when he’d fallen away from me the first time, when the VA had stepped in and I’d spent three months in a game of cat and mouse with my foster brother. The cat won almost every time. I never told my dad about the initials carved into my hip, or the polka dot scars left by the heated top of a lighter. I never let a word leave my mouth that might upset him. I only made him promise I’d never have to go back.
      The rain hit my face and tickled my eyelashes. I couldn’t see the cars above, but I could hear them. Their tires on the wet pavement sounded like zippers.
      I curled against the rain again and followed the road down toward our house. The water ran over the concrete in a thick layer until it reached the backed up drain at the end of the cul-de-sac. Ours was a small home. Years ago I had drawn it on construction paper with bright crayons at Allesandro Elementary, but now the paint was worn, the grass a muddy spread. No more Cornflower Blue behind the Fern Green lawn.
      Pausing at the edge of the enormous puddle that had grown up around the house, I noticed an oil-slick rainbow, dancing across the surface as the drops continued to fall. I fumbled for my keys and unlocked the door. The swirling slop of the drain spillover had seeped underneath it and formed a layer throughout the house. I turned a circle in the room, thinking I should do something to stop the water, but there was nothing to be done. The flood had already invaded, and as long as the rain kept falling, things would only get worse.
      My feet made a wet, slurping sound on the carpet as I moved into the living room. It smelled like rot. Bits of dirt and leaves were washed up against the walls.
      “Dad?” I called.
      I took off my coat, peeling the cold material from my body. Once upon a time I would have hung it on the back of a chair in the dining room, but we had sold the table and chairs about a month ago. Selling things had helped us make ends meet since Dad’s unemployment ran out. First it was small things like my stereo, then bigger things like the dining room table, the couch, even our bed frames, leaving just our mattresses on the floors in the bedrooms.
      The emptiness of the house seemed oddly ominous. My throat tightened. I walked to his room. The door was slightly ajar. I pushed it open. Nothing.
      “Dad?” I called again.
      The bathroom door was shut. I knocked on it, but there was no response. A familiar fear clamored up my spine as my hand fell on the doorknob. The creak of the hinges seemed to scream out into the silence of the room as I forced myself to open it and look. It was empty.
      Once dad recovered from the shock of mom’s death, he collected me from my foster family and we found a new normal, just the two of us. Things had been okay for years, until one morning when he just wouldn’t get out of bed. I asked what was wrong, but he hid his face in his pillow. He yelled at me when I turned on the lights. Finally I left him there.
      Days went by, then weeks. He only got out of bed to go to the bathroom. I brought him fast food and left it in greasy bags by the side of his bed, but he never ate any of it that I could tell. I knew there were people I could call, like the counselors at the VA, but I was so afraid of going back into foster care. I figured I could handle it. I could take care of him until he snapped out of what ever had him stuck.
      By the time dad got up, showered and went back to work, his boss had written him off as dead and hired someone else. He moped around for months, and eventually applied for other jobs, but nobody was hiring. Soon the depression overtook him again and he retreated back to his bed, staring up at the ceiling all day. The unemployment checks held out for about a year, but when they stopped coming things got tough.
      That was when I applied for the job at the café. We argued about it. He thought I should focus on school, but I wanted to help. I knew not having money was hard on him and I wanted to bring home some cash. I did my homework, showed up on time for my shifts, and waited for him to get better.
      “Dad,” I yelled again as I walked to the kitchen. My voice echoed off the orange Formica countertops. We’d sold off any appliance that was easily unplugged and transported. On the counter, resting with strewn take out wrappers and junk mail, sat a black box about the size of toaster oven. It was my father’s safe. The sight of it nailed my feet to the floor. “Dad?” I said again, this time just a whisper.
      I had seen the safe before, in the back of his closet. When I was younger I had asked him about it, thinking it must be full of secret treasures. It was a fire safe, he told me. No rubies or pearls, just papers he would need if the house ever burned down, like the deed, insurance papers, that kind of thing. These items held no interest to me, and so I had left it alone, but now, here it was, looming on the kitchen counter, with my father no where to be found.
      It had a small dial on the front of it, but as I moved closer I realized the door was ajar.
      “Dad?” The water rippled around my feet. I shivered.
      My hands shook as I opened the door of the safe. The old hinges creaked.
      At the front, there was a picture of my dad as a young man in front of a shining, new, black Ford Escort. Then a photo of him in his Marine uniform—it must have been just before he left for Iraq—with his hair buzzed and an easy smile on his face. Behind that was a photo of him with my mom. Her hair was long and brown like mine, but she had bright blue eyes. She wore tight jeans and a blue sweater and was standing next to a sparkling green river in a place I didn’t recognize. There was a photo of her pregnant, holding her enormous belly. Then a snapshot of a fat, brown-eyed baby I had to assume was me.
      Behind the pile of photos I found a twenty-dollar bill, then a fifty, then a ten, then more. I looked around, for what I didn’t know. The tightness in my throat spread into my chest and I could hear my heart pounding. I counted the money without pulling it from the safe—one thousand and sixty-four dollars and some loose change. It was more money than I had ever seen in one place. Then, at the very back of the safe, I found a crumpled white piece of paper. In my father’s shaky scrawl there was just one word, at the top of the page: Georgia. I turned it over, then back again. Tears welled up in my eyes and the shaking in my hands moved up my arms into my chest. I was sobbing before the tears even fell.
      A knock came at the door.
      I wiped my eyes with the palm of my hand and crossed the living room, still holding the sheet of paper. My feet sent small waves of brown water across the floor.
      It was the guy from next door. Standing in the middle of the lake that had grown up around our front step, he looked as if he were floating. He had on a thick blue coat, and he squinted against the rain as if it was insulting him. His black hair shone like a super hero in a comic book. When his breath billowed out in front of him in the cold it smelled like cigarettes.
      “Hey,” he said, “I’m Marvin.”

                                                                                                * * *

      It was raining hard when I left the pawnshop. Fucking rain. I buried my hands in the pockets on my old jeans and walked home as fast as I could, trying to decide what I was going to tell Georgia. I’d only gotten a few dollars for the silverware and that was going to be a problem. Why hadn’t I sold the curtains? Could have gotten maybe twenty dollars for the curtains. It didn’t make any sense to sell the silverware. She would know I was hiding something.
      When I got home I was struck by how bare it looked. I had sold off our belongings so gradually that I hadn’t noticed how stripped down the place had become, but my dirty footprints drew attention to the dents in the linoleum floor from where the legs of the dinner table had sat for fifteen years. A dark patch of carpet marked where the couch had been for even longer. Selling the table and the couch had been easier to explain because I’d gotten a good price for them. Our poverty had been the perfect cover, but I didn’t know what I was going to tell Georgia about the goddamned silverware.
      The stereo had been the first to go. It had to. I dreamed that I had gone into the bathroom with the slick black box in my arms and found Georgia in the bath. I looked her up and down, taking in her small breasts and her tiny patch of pubic hair. Without my even realizing, she had grown into a beautiful young woman, so much like her mother. I stood for a moment, just staring at her.
      Then, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, I plugged in the stereo and tossed it into the tub. Her naked limbs danced and splashed while I stared. The terrible sound of her convulsing woke me and I smelled burning. For weeks I couldn’t stand the sight of her stereo, the red lights on the front of it taunted me. I kept the door to her room closed, as if the thing were possessed and would jump up at me when I walked past. Then I realized I could sell it, which I did without even asking her. Kept us in ramen noodles and frozen burritos for a week. We needed the money.
      I had long ago stopped paying the phone bill, the cable, the credit cards. I quit smoking except for what I could bum off the guy next door. I tried to look for work, but I was just so damn tired, some days I couldn’t get out of bed. The only thing that drove me from that dark room where the nightmares.
      The dining room table had to go after the night I woke up with the feel of its wooden leg still clutched in my hand. The couch I sold after I forced the cushions over her face, smothering her time and again. I put every penny in the safe for Georgia.
      I thought if I could just kept selling anything dangerous I could make it to her birthday. It was only ten more weeks. Once she was legally an adult I planned to check myself back into the psych ward at the VA hospital. As soon as she was eighteen I wouldn’t have to worry about child protective services coming and taking her away again. I had promised her I wouldn’t let that happen again. But then the spoons. Fucking spoons.
      From where I stood in the middle of our empty house I could see my mattress through the open bedroom door. A familiar exhaustion pulled at me. I thought about sleeping, but the filthy water was creeping toward me across the carpet and I knew I was out of time. I wasn’t going to make it to her birthday. The rain was falling hard outside. Georgia would be home soon. I’d have to tell her about the spoons. Pressure was forcing its way up my gullet. Bits of leaves and dirt crept toward me on liquid legs.
      How would I explain the spoons?
      Two dollars. Two fucking dollars from the pawnshop. I dragged the safe from my closet and dropped in on the kitchen counter. It seemed to laugh at me, with its one wide eye and toothless grin. A few quick turns of the dial and I tossed in the two dollars and change from my pocket. It was all I had.
      I thought I should explain. I needed to explain. I owed her that. I found a blank piece of paper in her room. When I picked it up I imagined dragging the edge of it along her face and wondered how many paper cuts it would take to bleed a person to death. The pen was even worse. A thousand ways to kill with a pen.
      I wrote Georgia. There were so many things I needed to tell her, but the words wouldn’t come. How could I possibly explain the sensation, the weight in my heart, as I knelt on her head, tore off her shirt, and dragged the spoons hard between her ribs, one after another, scraping the flesh from her body, the long red gouges on her side expanding and contracting with her muffled screams. Then coming to, standing in the kitchen with spoon in hand, unable to tell if it had been dream or reality until I searched the house for her body.
      The pressure in my chest was unbearable. I threw the pen against the wall. I couldn’t breath. I opened my mouth wide to suck in air and held the counter to keep upright.
      Through the window I saw our neighbor step out onto his porch and light a cigarette. I hurried out the door and across the soaked lawn. My feet left deep imprints that quickly filled with muck.
      “Hey,” I said. This guy was the closest thing I had to a friend, and I couldn’t even remember his name.
      “Hey, dude,” he said, handing me a cigarette.
      I took it, stepped up onto his porch to get out of the rain and looked back at my house. It was old and needed a coat of paint, but it was paid for. If Georgia could lie low until her birthday she wouldn’t have to go into foster care. It was only ten weeks. She could do it. It could work.
      I had to get myself to the VA hospital. They would help me there. They would keep me from hurting Georgia, even if it meant locking me up for the rest of my life. I didn’t care. All I had to do was get there.
      “It’s Josh, right?” I said, taking a wild guess.
      “Marvin, dude,” he said.
      “Sorry, Marvin.”
      “Well, Marvin,” I said, taking a deep breath, “I have to ask a favor.”

April Dávila is fifth generation Northern Californian, transplanted to Los Angeles five years ago. Despite her initial skepticism, this crazy town has proven to be an amazing place to grow her career as a writer. She is currently working on her first novel, and blogs about the process at

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