Author’s note: This piece is a bit of a departure from what I usually post. For those of you who are expecting to read about the Huskers or get a snarky list, feel free to check back soon – there is much more where that came from.
I saw the “Weekly Writing Challenge” on the WordPress Daily Post blog, and was inspired to try something new. The challenge (“1,000 Words, Take Two”), was to write a post based upon a picture. While not a specific part of the challenge, I also wanted to make this exactly 1,000 words, which it is (minus these ramblings).
I’ve included the picture at the end of this post so you can see the genesis for this. I’m curious to know if your mental image of the scene matches the picture that inspired it.
* * *
Marco was upset.
He groaned and drug his feet slowly as he sulked around the kitchen of his family’s tiny apartment.
“You can pout all you want,” Mama said, “but you’re going to get your ass out there and clean up that mess you made”.
“Mm-hmm.” Marco knew he had no choice. He gathered up a brush, some rags, and a variety of cleaners from under the sink, dropping them into the old blue mop bucket.
As he walked out the door, Mama called after him “Don’t you dare half-ass this Marco. I will walk by there tonight, and if it is not done to my satisfaction, I’ll drag your ass out there at midnight to do it again. You got yourself into this….”
The slam of the door cut Mama off mid-lecture. Of all the humiliation he’d received, this was probably the worst.
* * *
Marco trudged out onto the bright street, blinking away the early morning sun. As he approached the scene of the crime, his home for the next few hours, he cursed under his breath, “Goddamnit. The fucking tourists are out already.” He plopped his bucket down and set up shop.
Why did he do it? This was the question he could not answer. Yes, he wanted to fit in. Marco was tired of the teasing, the taunting, hearing “Polo!” called out behind his back as he walked the halls of his new school. Maybe if he could show that he was tough enough and cool enough and bad-ass enough to be one of the New Market Eagles, he could transform himself from an invisible face to somebody who is known. Somebody whose presence – in this school, in this city, in this world – MATTERED.
But was that really the reason? Marco’s mind wandered like the meandering tourists behind him as he set about his work, rhythmically moving back and forth, up and down, side to side. He thought about his old friends back home, about living in that tiny apartment above the Vietnamese restaurant that smelled like fish and feet, about seeing Lila again. Picturing Lila always made the pain go away. He missed her.
* * *
The clanging bell from the street car snapped Marco back into reality. He had been at this for almost an hour, but it looked like he had barely begun. Marco poured a bright purple liquid into the mop bucket.
Why did he have to do this? What difference did it make? Does Mama really think that if he served this punishment - “right my wrongs” as she always said – he’d suddenly be a better person? He’d leave a bad path for the straight and narrow? Did Mama think that he would fondly recount this story when he was elected President of the United States, became a judge, or one of the men in their fancy suits who never made eye contact with people who looked like Marco? The thought made him snicker with disgust.
On and on he worked. Knees aching, arms burning, a faint pool of sweat collecting in the small of his back. Hunger was definitely setting in. Marco could smell the street vendors setting up their carts. The aromas from the hotdogs, empanadas, and other treats filled the narrow street and bounced off the walls into his nose. Marco knew none of these delicious foods were waiting for him at home. Today was the 28th, and Mama did not get paid again until the 31st. Besides, Marco knew better than to take a lunch break before his work was done.
* * *
What was the worst? The absolute, rock bottom lowest point? Marco had been wrestling with this question too. Was it having to face Mama? Watching those stupid cops smirk as she lit into him, calling him “stupid” and an “embarrassment”? Serving this punishment? He still didn’t know.
Marco knew it wasn’t just the shadows from the tall buildings blocking the light, the yellow was definitely fading. His optimism slightly renewed, Marco attacked anew. But the blue…That blue was being a stubborn little bitch. He continued on.
* * *
Marco’s face flushed and his ears burned red. The people and the goddamn tourists continued to file past, suppressing their bemused looks and giggles at his expense. The one time Marco didn’t blend into the background was now, as he performed this humiliating and exhausting task.
And then he knew: the worst was the realization that his so-called friends bailed and left him holding the bag – literally and figuratively.
The worst was that he hadn’t actually done anything wrong. He had not helped to shoplift the paint. He had not defaced any public property. Hell, he had not even touched any of the goddamn cans. Marco was just standing there watching the other New Market Eagles tag that wall when the patrol car crept past the entrance to the street.
That is when the chaos began. Luis yelling “Cerdo!” – the Spanish word for pig – and running faster than he’d ever seen that fat bastard run. Hector thrusting the backpack full of cans at Marco – why did he take it? Sam, who was actually holding the paint, hissing “N.M.E.’s don’t turn on their own” as he bolted. The forceful shock as somebody – was it Tiny? – shoved him in the back.
Marco tripped on one of the steps, the backpack and cans flying everywhere, giving that damn cop enough time to pin him to the ground.
* * *
And so Marco kept scrubbing the wall. Kept cleaning up a mess he did not make. Made by people who were not his friends. On a building in a town where he didn’t belong. Just so the one person in the world who loved and respected him – Mama – would continue to do so.
The blue was still being a stubborn little bitch, not wanting to come off. Marco did not know it, but that blue would be there until the day he died, forever taunting him.