Sometimes authors come into your life when you need them the most: When the world becomes a bit darker; when the days drag on for too long; when ice cream has lost its sugary spark. Suddenly, a writer presents herself into your world and you are instantly cured. Jenny Torres Sanchez is this literary healer.
Her novels “The Downside of Being Charlie,” and her most recent, “Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia” combine humor and heart to combat death, growing up, and change in new, original perspectives with a massive side of music.
YARN is beyond pleased to share with you an original short story, “Push Up” from this master of words. You will never see ice cream the same way again.
By Jenny Torres Sanchez
Chanchito’s pops got cuffed and hauled away today. The whole neighborhood saw it. But, s’nothing new. We used to seeing cops. We used to seeing our parents dragged outta here, heads all pushed down . . . not ’cause they’re ashamed but ‘cause those cops just like pushing their heads down like that, like they trying to make ’em sniff their own crotch. But don’t matter. They’re gone for a while, but then they usuallys come back. Usuallys.
What’s different ’bout this particular time is that Chanchito’s dad pushed him down on the concrete so hard he busted his nose and all this blood came spilling out and seeping into the concrete. I saw it, the whole thing, even as I pulled my baseball cap over my face to make it look like I wasn’t watching ’cause that’s what we do, pretend we don’t see. It was crazy blood spillage, not like you’d think for just a busted nose, but like when Kiki’s brother was hanging out in front of the bodega and all us were playing ball in the street and some bullet just came out of nowhere, just whizzed right past me, and whispered something in my ear before going on and exploding into Rodolfo’s thick, tattooed neck. That was something.
Anyways, Chanchito’s dad didn’t even care that all that blood was pouring out of him like that, ’cause when Chanchito started squealing and trying to get up, his father kicked him real hard on the ass, like he was trying to score the winning goal in the fucking World Cup or something. And he called him an old pig, which was fouler than foul ’cause even though we all call him Piggy in Spanish, it’s cool, it’s his nickname, chancho viejo is a whole other mess. What that really means is you’re a good for nothing piece of shit—just a dirty, smelly, disgusting, useless, old boar. That’s what chancho viejo really, really means, especially when someone says it the way his dad did, all ugly like with spit flicking outta his mouth. Anways, that sent Chanchito crashing on his already wrecked face, that sent fresh squeals to our ears. But, even so, he got up and ran down the street to his tia’s house, blood sliding all over his face. Ain’t nothing like fear to light a fire under your ass.
See, that’s why nobody likes Chanchito’s dad. Other dads get hauled outta here all the time, but when they bust somebody up, it’s no seven-year old kid and it’s definitely not no sucker move either, you know what I mean? Not even Toro would mess up a little kid like that and Toro, well, homeboy is ice cold.
When the cops got here, Chanchito’s dad did something I’ve never seen no dads around here do. He started crying. And I saw Toro and his boys laughing, calling him a little bitch and . . . they’re right, but still . . . why’d he have to cry? Why didn’t he just tell the cops to go to hell or suck his cock the way the rest of them do? But he didn’t say nothing; he just cried and he kept shaking his head back and forth. It made me feel like twice as bad for Chanchito. One, for the fact that it was his dad sitting there looking like a little bitch in front of the whole neighborhood—which was the perfect kind of ammo that later on, years even, when lil’ Tony, or El Chino, or Pedro were pissed at Chanchito, they could pull that little grenade out their ass and pull the clip. Hey everyone, remember when Chanchito’s dad cried like a little bitch? People ’round here don’t forget shit. And, two—because maybe, I don’t know, just maybe he was crying ‘cause deep down, like where a bullet might go—through that greasy plaid shirt and his dark, thin chest, through layers of whatever other junk we got under our skin, and inside that small, dark, pulsing heart of his, maybe there was a tiny bit of love there for Chanchito. And that made all of this worse.
It’s not like we’re stupid. We all knew Chanchito got hit all the time, I mean, it wasn’t just his pudgy little body that earned him his nickname, but also those squeals we would hear coming out of his house before he shot out running to his tia’s house. We knew what went on behind those closed doors; just like we knew that Mari, Don Checo’s daughter, was shooting up or snorting something behind their closed doors, like we knew that she got the stuff from behind Toro’s closed doors, and just like everybody knew why Mama came out from our closed doors wearing sunglasses, or extra dark lipstick, or borrowing my baseball caps to help hide her face. Nothing behind closed doors was secret around here, but we all pretended it was, and nobody got involved in what was going on behind anyone else’s doors. It’s just the way things were. But this was different. This happened outside, for all us to see, and for a minute, it made it impossible for us to go on pretending.
That blood all over Chanchito’s face made me burp up some of the greasy tacos I’d had from the bodega earlier. I’m not a wuss or anything, but something ‘bout Chanchito sqealing like that, running down the street with blood gushing outta his little hands, made me wanna cry. I know I’ll hear his voice—that high-pitched screech—and see his face all busted up like that, right before I fall asleep tonight, tomorrow, maybe forever. Maybe it’s ’cause he’s only seven. Maybe it’s ’cause his blood, it’s not like Toro’s, or Kiki’s brother, or the dads and moms around here, all thick and dark and ugly. Chanchito’s blood was red, red, red—the brightest red I ever seen. If I had a needle right now, I would prick my finger . . . ’cause I don’t know if mines would be thick and dark or bright and pure.
I heard the sirens way before one cop car screeched to a stop in front of Chanchito’s house and the other one, along with an ambulance, stopped in front of his tia’s house. One cop went around to the back and the other banged on the front door before Chanchito’s dad finally opened it. I looked back and forth between the two houses, watching everything over the heads of everyone else who came out to watch this instead of Wheel of Fortune. The cops started asking Chanchito stuff while the medics worked on his face, but he just cried and shook his head to whatever they asked. It was Stephanie, Chanchito’s older sister, who finally told them what happened. Some young cop came up to her and asked her a bunch of questions. And something about him, the way he looked at her and talked all soft, I guess, made her crack, made her bust open just like Chanchito’s nose. Even from here, I could tell she told him the truth. I should’ve felt bad for her, crying like that, the words bubbling out of her mouth so she nearly choked on them, but in that moment, I swear, I hated Stephanie more than anything. Maybe because she narked. Maybe because it was this white guy who got her to tell the truth. Maybe because I’d tried for months to be extra nice to her. Or maybe because she was doing something I could never do. Who knows? Who cares?
Then, while we all watched, she stood there and yelled at her dad, said all kinds of things to him and shook her finger in his face and everything. And since he wouldn’t dare do anything in front of her cop guy who had a gun, since she knew they’d be taking him away in cuffs, since he only ever picked on Chanchito and never on her or her mama, she made a big show of it. It was a spectacle; she looked ridiculous. I guess she had every right to do it, but still . . . she didn’t have to. And really, it was Chanchito who had the right to do all that stuff, not her.
The guy who questioned Stephanie walked over to Don Checo and asked him something. Don Checo shook his head and said he didn’t understand, even though he did, and went inside. The cop looked around like he was looking for someone else to interview but then everyone who’d been watching all of a sudden got very busy. Abuelitas and mamas got up to make dinner while through tight lips, they told little kids to get inside. I knew I should go inside too, but I couldn’t. The cop studied me for a minute, but then just kinda waved and smiled, even though I gave him a hard look. Stephanie came up to him and told him something else. I shook my head. It’s like she’d been waiting for this chance and she wasn’t gonna let that guy outta here until she told him everything. I hoped she only told him her business. The cop listened and wrote a couple more things down. I waited for him to look back my way, to walk across the street and ask where my father was. I wondered if he would bust Don Checo’s door down first or Toro’s. I waited for him to call for back up before busting up the shady business that went down in the backroom of the bodega. But none of that happened, so I guess Stephanie kept her big mouth shut about the rest of us.
Just before the cops were done, some lady in an ugly-ass suit showed up. She talked to Chanchito and Stephanie and their tia for a while. For a minute, I thought she might take them away like they had KKK, who we called that ‘cause he was the whitest Latino boy any of us ever seen. He left a couple months back. Some other lady, not this one, came out to check on him and found out his Mama had just took off one day. You shoulda seen the way that lady’s eyes bugged out when she looked around the neighborhood, at all us, the way she shook her head before getting in the car and driving away with KKK. Anyways, I don’t even know why they took him. Boy was cool, and seemed like he was doing just fine on his own. But whatever.
Anyway, this lady looked tired and bored. She talked to the tia before telling her she’d be back to check on things in a week. That young cop went to talk to her after that and I could tell he was mad, but the lady just shrugged it off and told her that’s the way things are and to let her do her job.
When the lady left, the cops left too with Chanchito’s dad in back of one of the cruisers. But before he went, the young cop came up to Stephanie, looked her in the eyes, and told her something I couldn’t hear. The way she stared at him—no tough girl chola attitude, no rolling of the eyes—was weird. I knew right then that Stephanie would probably have a thing for young, white cops for the rest of her life. Maybe she’d marry one, live in a nice house on the other side of town, looking in some blue eyes, searching for this guy here. And then maybe whenever she’d see one of us, she’d shake her head like that lady who took KKK away. Or maybe, she wouldn’t even see us ‘cause she’d never want to remember that we were real.
The cops drove off, slowly, maybe looking around for someone else to bust, since they were already here. Soon, they were gone and there were still a couple of hours left before dark. Kids came out to play; smell of food cooking filled the air. This was the time, at least when someone didn’t mess it up like Chanchito’s dad just did, that we could pretend we were normal. When we could pretend that we weren’t afraid of the dark.
I saw some kids start getting all crazy, start yelling ice cream, long before I could hear the ring of the truck’s chimes. The little white beat-up ice cream truck that came every afternoon rolled down our street—ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring. Some of the kids were already running outta their houses and back down their stoops with change in their hands. Those who didn’t have any money suddenly started tying and untying their laces or picking at rocks with sticks, pretending they weren’t dying inside, like their mouths weren’t watering for a lick of frozen sugar or sweet cream.
Me, I had some change in my pocket from lunch. I thought of getting a Push-Up pop. Maybe the sweet, tangy orange sherbet would get rid of the grease I’d kept burping up since seeing Chanchito all bloody like that. A Push-Up up always seemed to make everything okay, at least for the five minutes it took to eat it. Stephanie and Chanchito came running out of their tia’s house, Chanchito all bandaged up, but smiling wide. Stephanie bought him a purple popsicle and opened it up for him the way moms do. Chancito slurped on it. I got up, the chimes ringing, ringing, ringing, promising five minutes of happiness if I got an orange Push-Up. Stephanie looked at Chanchito’s purple popsicle. My hand wrapped around the four quarters in my pocket.
“Steph,” I called out to her, as she started walking back towards their tia’s with Chanchito. I pulled the change from my pocket, “Here,” I told her.
This stupid image flashed in my mind as I stood there—of Steph and me leaving here with Chanchito, watching the whole neighborhood blow up behind us in slow motion like they do in movies, and us not even turning back to look. Just walking away from it all and going to live somewhere else. It seemed so easy, I almost thought it could be.
But then she looked at me, rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“No, thanks,” she said.
I watched them go, the change still in my hand, feeling stupid. I looked around to see if anyone else had seen, if any of them could read my thoughts, but most of the kids who had ice cream were too busy to notice me. The chimes rang louder. I’d just get one for myself, then.
Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring. I watched the ice cream man hand a cone to the last kid in line. I could still make it over there in time.
Ring, ring, ring, ring. The little kid with the ice cream cone ran to his front stoop while the ice cream man got into the driver’s seat. Ring, ring, ring.
The truck jerked forward as the ice cream man put it in drive. I could still run over there and he’d put it back in park. It started down the street. All I had to do was wave my hand, right now, just hold out your hand. He can still see you. It drove past me, slowly, ring, ring. Still, I could still wave him down and he might see me in his rear view mirror. Ring.
I shoved the change back in my pocket. Stephanie and Chanchito didn’t sit outside; they went right back into their tia’s house. I watched the kids licking Firebombs, ice cream cones, and Mickey Mouse pops with chocolate ears and bubble gum eyes—no one got a Push-Up. No one got a push up. I turned, went inside my house, and closed the door.
Jenny Torres Sanchez lives in Florida with her husband and children where she currently writes full time. Before the publication of her debut novel,”The Downside of Being Charlie” and her second novel, “Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia,” Jenny taught high school English for several years. She credits her students for inspiring her to write young adult novels.