smile now by Mark Enriquez

the shoes dangling from the power line were my baby sister’s, a memorial, tossed up there next to the wooden pole that had caught the other stray bullets. beneath the tiny pair of high tops, i stood on the side of the street, balancing on the edge of the gutter and wondering how it was so hot that night. way over one hundred degrees, and no sun. i said, “what if we’re dead, and this is hell?”

pancho stood up from sitting on the curb. “you don’t ever talk and this is the type of shit you bring up? come on, man.”

greg grinned and said, “yeah, like, what if we’re all downhere, just waiting to be born again, and shit.” he reached behind his ear and pulled out a joint. greg puckered. he set the spliff on top of his stuck out lips then bounced his eyebrows and widened his eyes. he brought his hands up to twist the ends of the puny joint with his fingertips like it was a handlebar mustache and he was a cartoon devil. i should have smiled.

pancho hit my chest with the back of his hand then motioned down the road. two women wearing bikini tops strolled arm in arm, thighs jiggling with each step. their jean shorts were cut off high enough so their front pockets hung out. one of the women noticed we’d spotted her. she sucked her teeth and reached up to adjust her graying ponytail.

greg let the joint fall from his mouth to his hands, and glanced over his shoulder. the woman’s expression softened for a second as her hand fell to rest, palm flat, over the stretch marks on her belly. her friend whispered and they both cackled. greg snapped his head back at us, scowling like, say something stupid, i dare you. he stared us down, waiting to see if we had jokes. we never did.

pancho shrugged and turned away from facing greg. he looked up in the direction of my sister’s shoes, shaking his head while staring into the orange light of the streetlamp. i took a pull from our forty of budweiser, staining to stomach the warm beer.

my lips stuck to the bottle and made a suction noise as i dropped my head. i wiped my mouth with my forearm and passed the brew to greg as a civic pulled up to a stop sign on our block. the headlights were off.

pancho stepped into the street, sticking his chest out to accept any challenges, and i looked over to the scars on the light pole. greg stood, gulping beer, with the bottom of the bottle pointed to the soles above.

the car made a wide left onto our street and ran up to the curb, coming straight at us. the beer sloshed behind me and greg’s shoes scrapped the gravel as he stepped away from me and pancho. the car fishtailed back onto the road, and i stained to see past the glare on the windshield.

i heard pancho. “this fool.”

behind the wheel my cousin jesse grinned, bringing a bottle of ninety-nine cent wine to his lips. he pulled up, rolling down the window. he reached out to shake hands. on the passenger seat was a screwdriver and the car’s ignition.

greg walked over and rested his arm on the roof, then leaned in to turn on the headlights. “you might need these, you big dummy.”

jesse’s head cocked back and exhaled deep. he said, “you don’t even know, greg. i can see straight into everything. the world is light, brothers.”

jesse lifted a bag of dried desert buttons.

another car turned onto our street and stopped by the warehouse a block over. the pair of ladies walked out from the shadows of the doorway. one of them leaned down to talk into the passenger window.

greg looked over, mumbling. he stood straight like pancho stood up to strange vehicles, and greg, with a grunt, launched the bottle at the car. it fell short, shattering and crashing onto the street. One of the whores flinched, startled, then flung her hands out in a shooing motion like an upset mother, screaming, “conyo, greg. leave me alone.”

greg yelled, “forget you.”

the car drove off.

greg walked to the passenger side of the civic and looked over at the working women who should have been home, praying for their sons, like a descent mother. he sneered and clenched his jaws, then got into the civic, slamming the door.

jesse looked at me and said, “what’s wrong with your face, primo? looks like your eyes are melting.”

if i’d been hallucinating too, i would have seen my cousin as a reaper.

greg lit the joint in the car and barked, “come on, homie. get me the hell out of here. Fuck this whole barrio.”

pancho stepped towards the car. “greg, you take the wheel, homie. he can’t drive.”

“yeah, you drive, greg.”

jesse said, “don’t worry, guys. you’ll see us again.”

they left us.

the car started and stopped down the road like jesse was learning to drive, lurching forward and falling back, then jumping forward again, then sped off. i walked to the center of the road and faced the taillights and wondered what i looked like to greg in that rearview.

i should have waved.

i looked up to my sister’s shoes, seeing them that night alone on the line for the last time.

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