Ricardo Cortez Cruz

     In the ghetto, only the twilight world enables us black people to stay up, but my girl, who ain't shit, has managed to live a Disneyfied life twenty-foe seven. So she picks up the receiver of a pay phone in darktown and, while entertaining herself by playing with her cents/sense, pretends that she's chit-chatting with some copper

      copper can alter self-esteem she says influence matters that deal with blood address exhaustion and sexual imbalance copper is a strong conductor of raging energy she says

      I'm going to tell you straight, man. Do you smell me?

      In reality, here's what's really happening: Shouting that some ho named Mary is shot, Girl is trying to dial 911 which she then informs me is a joke. Like no one can see through her story, Girl comes up with this excuse how a john crushed a forget pill and slipped it in her coke, and now she can't remember anything about her Friends & Family. She slams the pay phone against the glass (Ma'am, you have no voice -- I am unable to hear you, a male operator says) and staggers out of the booth on 125th Street, leaving behind her calling card. The next caller is a fat lady from the opera, and she enters singing out of fear and clutching her precious pearls and two dimes and a nickel. Thank you, the tackhead says, dread in control. She stares in disbelief at the crack inside the booth. Wearing two sets of earrings and an overwhelming amount of metal jewelry, the lady looks like the perfect eyewitness for television news: a black magnet with nappy hair and a rope stuck around her neck that costs more than a month's rent in the projects.

      It's getting real scary now, Girl says. Somebody is going to get hurt tonight. The wind is calm, at least momentarily, the way it do when a twister is approaching. In a fury of panic anxiety, Girl is talking yin-yang about the fact that few people dare to commit crimes in stormy weather. Screaming at the moon, she is fussing and cussing how the night looks so sedate. The stars are brown like they are full of coffee and collapsing and shooting, Girl says. Bending down in the middle of the intersection, she draws a picture of Virgo the virgin to prove it, several cars and land roamers swerving to miss her. Girl shakes involuntarily and spits out a Sugar Baby. It's a bad habit, she says. Plus, bad caramel/karma, she mumbles, spitting and walking incessantly, then unexpectedly bursts into a sprint and charges up the stairs of a local crack house to confront the madame and draw up the problem for her.

      Looks like you haven't finished connecting the dots, Mary says, quite contrary in a room of her own filled with innocent, unsuspecting clients watching her as she slowly moves back away from the window where the view of the street is as clear as it is when looking into a crystal ball. With a large tit hanging outside of her black lingerie as if it wanted to feed the multitude, Mary sticks her ashy hands into Girl's face to push her away. Then she opens a door to show Girl her closet, a pile of skeletons in there. If you still want me, get in line, Mary says, grabbing a tube of Vaseline Intensive Care and touching up her opening. Kissing Mary; it is obviously strange that her lips are constantly puckering. These customers are staring because they are into dominatrix and would give anything to have this dame as their mistress, I whisper to Girl. Mary is responsible for the silence of the lambs, and she knows it. Putting away an off-brand cigarette, Mary nods out while talking, her eyes shut, using cocaine as a local anesthetic, reconstituting it, her sack mouth free basing and vomiting candy from Whitey's dick, a line of powder sugar in-between her breast implants traveling to her navel as she does the twitches.

      She's the biggest trick in Harlem, one of the customers blurts as if he finally couldn't take it any longer.

      Mary plunges into a burned-up, hard, sofa-bed, performing "Black Ass Blues" and then telling us that we give her fever, forcing herself to sit upright while biting down on ice chips. She is having a baby. At first, Girl insists that I get back. Get away, she whispers. But then, she grabs my arm so I won't go. When I raise my middle finger, it's time to make a move, Girl whispers. Until then, don't do a god damn thang.

      Don't worry, I reply. It's always sad to see people who are willing to do anything for sex. As their mistress, Mary starts teasing her customers by repeating "Don't try to fuck me," the high gloss smeared around her lips hypnotizing the men, their big heads erect and still. Only the customers can tell her to stop (the "safe word" is "green"), but they are too caught up in the game. A small group of customers appear to have run themselves ragged making interplanetary missions, and Mary momentarily rises up and pushes them to the outer limits, then lies back down again. While up against the wall, they've got crooks in their legs and their body language signifies how ruint they are.

      A mix of wine and spittle left in a glass on a wooden end table beats the rocks while John Coltrane wildly improvises in his late stuff. Shortly afterwards, he quits. Smoking bright red and orange suits from Wall Street rush over to the stereo and press "play." They give taxicab confessions to one another and speak until their minds are at ease. The roaches feel pretty. A few white men with their hair slicked back step past the sofa-bed and the exposed, burnt coils which rise like black, deadly Cobras; these dudes nervously look over the window ledge, one of them prying into Mary's bread on the sofa-bed while the rest point to all of the bright lights outside, the traffic on the street moving slowly and carefully. There are lots of pregnant pauses. Even Girl stops for a moment to check it all out, witness girlfriend's jive-ass act.

      O' Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in black

      Mary is throwing out a whole lotta smack, saying a bunch of mess, dipping her fingers into another virgin drink, with the nerve to nosy into Girl's affairs as she talks out the side of her neck, everything coming out in drug use.

      Cain't you naggers see I'm dyin' anyway, Mary screams. How is it you are able to treat me so bad. Why you keep wanting to fuck me. Ain't you had enough.

      Possessed with multiple personalities, Mary likes passing for poor Southern white trash because the money from black men is better this way and white men will protect her. As proof of miscegenation, she spits some black minstrel shit, Girl slippin' and slidin' tryin' to keep her balance as her leftover Sugar Babies drop to the floor and crawl around her tall boots and then just lie there.

      This is a rip-off, Girl whispers. We try to stay cool.

      But in the mean time, Mary continues to look sneaky, quickly covering her breasts with a pillow of feathers like she's an angel. Then she starts having another baby.

      Got silver buttons, buttons, buttons, all down her back

      Two Afghans hide the spread of Mary's hips. Niggas are gossiping next to Girl, and the nearby white clientele seem to be believing the hype, their fingers putting pressure on their money, trying to make a nickel cry. She uses that wool to stash her booty and skinny legs and knots, somebody claims. She a part of the blue vein circle, another body says. She'll do you for anything, as a freebie, or simply for a little white powder which she uses like talc to keep herself from sweating.

      I am pro-life! Mary suddenly shouts. Except in cases of brutal rape and when childish women don't even know how to take care of themselves.

      You better recognize! Mary cackles, evilling, coughing up dark honeys, her voice all Butch, sounding like an abusive man telling Girl where to put her periods, warning her for the last time that thing between them is over.

      Say you found another love, love, love, instead of me

      I'm out, Girl says, very hot. Aren't you hot, she asks me.

      Girl strolls to the window and points to the head hunters on the avenue/street/strip. I don't care what you do to them, she says, just be good to me. She grabs my hand while Mary resurrects Coltrane to do "Psalm/A Love Supreme." Whatever there is between them, I know it's deep. Girl gives me the sign. With my free hand, I pick up a dying roach that was in a blue ashtray and manage to steal it before we split.

      Look, ho, it's been cold in here for quite some time now! Mary shouts, breathing in and out, trying to rest on the sofa-bed. Sex dominates. That's why I got these two Africans all over my coochie, you buckwheat, Shaka Zulu-lookin' unkept heifer!

      As we exit, Mary spreads herself out on the sofa-bed, moving her lips again. Don't come back until you get some balls! she hollers. As soon as we get to the stairway, Girl steps on a sanitary napkin that says "Stayfree" and freezes for a minute to get herself together.

      Tell you what I'm gonna do, do, do

      Suddenly, she charges down the steps, and I have to fly to stay up with her. We're walkin' real fast now, Girl steamin'. Twenty dollars ain't much for oral biz'ness but it's mine! It mine! She screams.

      Then she wraps her arms around me. I'm strapped and trippin', my weapon poking this Girl. I got this bomb in my pocket, and I'm salivating, chewing Extra gum while Girl is busting my bubble. She puts her tongue in my ear and starts asking me questions about my gun and if I'd be interested in doing some shooting.

      I'd be interested in doing a lot of things, I tell her.

      Can you lick a bitch? Girl asks, coming on strong, quickly squeezing me to make me hard.

      Drop it, I tell her. And I pull away from her a little bit. Cause I consider this nothing more than a date with a professional girlfriend. But I keep hoping for something more.

      Motherfucker, I hope you don't want that mummified stuff, Girl says.

      I don't want nothing mothersuperior, I tell her. Then I come back with the blunt, putting my black gun in her grip which tightens almost immediately, and I tell her to smoke it.

      Whatever, she says. Like all of Mary's customers, this is just another game to her posing in front of me out on the street she breaks down kneels in the wind of rusty tailpipes gently blowing me her face the color of charcoal several cars honking demanding us to keep moving and that's when I suspect that Girl's juices really beginning to flow and I dream of having her

      (Bang, bang!) Pop, pop! I'm dreamin' of going home like a shooting star. Even the crazy way that my gun speaks --pop, pop --is nice cause I don't know who my real daddy is. Girl and I, we show niggas love. That's dope, spectators say. It's only reason they care. You see, in the ghetto, drugs practically take care of themselves. Ecstasy is everywhere in the city, says a smalltime pusher running as a Robocop suddenly comes running toward us, but right now this is the best deal.

      Girl is staring at me like something something just ain't right. I need a little drinky-drink, she says.

      I get a lump in my throat and a weird desire to cough up some money.

      It's difficult for me to directly speak out. I start discharging warm fluids like a machine gun firing in spurts.

      You're coughing, says Girl, cover your mouth.

      And just like that, people become, wild, frantic, so I reach out to her in order to try to give her Mary's Indonesia before we also break up or, even worse, find ourselves scattered among the crowd. Don't touch me, she says.

      I'm gonna set you free!

      Near some barred-up stores stuck together like chain gangs, and by Mary's sweat shop and a row of people -- some stopped cars stringing themselves together as the red lights are flashing on 125th Street, Girl has shot one of Mary's male customers, an innocent bystander on the corner.

      Apparently, she also hit another man who was riding shotgun in a creme-colored Dodge Dart playing "Oh, Sheila" -- the driver, a male companion, is screaming at the sight of blood. And, a child is down as well, dropped from her elbow. By an iron rail and steam vent, the child is crying to some copper that she can't move or feel her arm.

      Girl bolts like a chicken. After slipping on some blood and landing on her wrist, she takes my gun and hurls it into a trash can, but even her black eye liner keeps running.

      Girl knows that the gun might have several bodies on it and/or that it might be used against her. If anyone finds it, I'm dead, I hear her say, just before disappearing.

      Mary's customer is down on the sidewalk talk, crawling a couple of feet toward a filling station, an enormous crowd of onlookers smoothing over the trail of violence, then forming a search party to help look for the killer while children are dancing and singing shoo, turkey. Other niggas stand outside smoking cigarettes and threatening to boycott the city unless they are allowed to fish out the murderer themselves. Cops shout and tell them to get back, waving off the nets. There are puddles and fires and black butts everywhere, Girl hopefully long gone by now, trying to act like Citizen X.

      The rest of the scene is one big downer, full of slow-em-ups, the same old story. The man begins taking himself a dirt nap, amphetamines slipping out of his shirt pocket like they know he ain't gonna make it, people in the hood ripping and running, turning into the lynch mob, tearing valuables from everybody in sight in an effort to get anything that they could get. Struggling, the man worms through smoke like a Sudanese newborn baby trying to save himself from Death and The Devil. He weeps all the way, but his eyes blink just once. Can't we all just get along, he asks (cause, you see, even when we are sad or dying, black people love to talk in cliches and repetition). His hands are extremely dirty, covered with eczema or some kind of leprosy. A fire burns some of his money nearby with the smoke before carrying it to the dead to spend in a future life. For heaven's sake, I am the messenger, a silk peddler! he says, calling out to Allah before rolling over, the life in him slowly fading. This black-on-black crime has to stop! he shouts, grabbing my hand -- giving me a vision of Girl's injured wrist tingling and discolored as if washed in Selsun Blue and as if she might lose it. He repeats, I am the messenger, grabbing my hand, then letting go, his saliva dripping to the ground while the children in the backdrop now sing if he hollers let him go. Perhaps realizing that this is nothing more than the usual baptism into pure, random street violence, he whispers a prayer, saying now I lay me down to sleep, then lifts his big head up to the sky, and at first I think he is playing with me. When I was in school, I learned that the average person blinks 15 times a minute. He blinks only once. Breathe, I tell him. But, by God, his brefs have been shortened. He squeezes my hands, begs for hue-man compassion.

      Now I know that turning my back on a bleed is a ghetto thing, but I just can't get my mind out of the ghetto.

      And that's all I have to say about that.