by Melissa Gutierrez
On the way to the Kings game we run into a woman in a short leopard-skin print dress and you want to know, of course, who she is. She’s at the corner in five-inch silver heels and any male within a mile could tell you in a second, but you, somehow, despite your growing up in south city, have no clue. She purses her pink lips at you and wiggle-finger waves—of course she does, you’re a sweet kid. The problem number one here is I don’t know what to say exactly, and problem number two is that I think her skirt is super cute. I’m hoping you and kid-naïveté will work together, that you’ll think that she’s just any other person on the sidewalk and do the non-judge thing kids do, but the world has already begun to make its mark on you and even you know, even now, those aren’t just any regular old heels. Is this my job? I think. Whose job is this? Whosever job it is or was, like other things, I understand isn’t the point around you anymore. The second CPS gets your name on some list or call log the rules they change, and suddenly you’re everybody’s secret project.
This, explaining new things of a certain nature, is and was my mother’s job. I remember a moment in a minivan outside a barbershop where little me asked innocently, “What’s abortion?”; recall another time in a Washington coast vacation home where I inquired sweetly, “What’s conceive?” My mom—I’m thinking of her closet full of Grandma’s hand-me-down shoes, cardigans in every color, two racks of floral blouses—taught me these things and now I try and teach you. It’s my mother’s doing, really, and if not her maybe then my dad’s sister or a late night long up with the internet or dirty dictionary page. And still it is in some small slant stretched way my mom whose taxes fund the state that funds this grant that got you in this program, so I can take you to an NBA game essentially for free. My taxes too, I guess, though with my entry-level salary I feel like that’s just drops in some small bucket, and you’re an ocean of a soul we’re trying to save.
When I see you smile at her, though, I realize we are getting somewhere. To save your soul, essentially, is to unleash it on the world in full. The opposite of a saved soul is a stopped soul—one not fostered, really, one not grown. You roll down the window yourself and I’m embarrassed that I’m scared—don’t I know by now that even a professional whore is just that, professional; that even me thinking thoughts like the ones I’m thinking is the brick and mortar and the drywall in a house of stark assumption? I want to live somewhere else, I’m thinking, as I watch you watch this woman, who turns her back from our car to stride over to another at the cross street and get in.
“Do you think she knows them?” you ask.
“She does now,” I say. It’s the most true thing I can say.
At the game we watch the half-time dancers and their abs like eight-packs of chicken breasts, but tanner.
“They’re so dark,” you say. The lights go out and then there’s glow sticks, strobe lights, the whole excited sports shebang. Then back to basketball, 108-97, home team wins, I find out later on the news, because we drove home early, because it’s Tuesday night and you’re in school and if you can rest enough you can have enough strength to do your dancing and your chores and all your homework, if you rest enough you can turn everything in on time and maybe get straight Bs, maybe even get a couple As, maybe apply to college, go somewhere a little far away, a little big, a little good.
Melissa Gutierrez is an artist and writer based in Northern California.