The Everyday by Mario Perez

We’re taught to lie prone on the ground when we hear gunshots. Wait till the count of one hundred and then it will be safe to get up off the floor again. I follow protocol the second I hear the POP!POP! dropping the controller and ducking under Henry’s coffee table. The floor is shaking like a garbage truck is rolling through. I curl into a ball and cover my eyes. Two more blasts erupt, they are so close my body jerks with each one. After I get to one hundred I peek out from my fingers, but don’t see Henry. He is poking his head out the window with his mouth open like a chicken looking up at the rain. It was a twelve year old kid on a bike, he keeps saying, a bike-by. It isn’t long before the police come asking questions, the ambulance comes to pick up the dead kid, and eventually once the night settles people gradually place flowers where he got shot. I leave around dinner time. Henry watches me as I pass by his gate. He looks at me like he’s looking at a corpse. There are a few blood stains still stuck to the concrete sidewalk. I press my foot into one, but it doesn’t go away.

 

O

 

Tuesday starts like any other boring Tuesday. I’m sitting in Algebra class half-awake as Mr. R. cycles through equations on a projector. With each click it’s as if he is showing us slides of his boring vacation. Everyone else is diligently scribbling into their notebooks. I copy Nancy’s notes in exchange for helping her with her Spanish homework so I’m less inclined. I’m just about to doze off when a paper football clips me in the forehead. The people next to me chuckle like a laugh track in a crappy sitcom. I’m about to hit it back into the crowd when I notice something written on it. READ ME in red. I open it up. One line is written inside: SAVE HENRY. I give the room a glance, but there isn’t anyone looking my way. That’s when I realize Henry isn’t in class either. Actually, I haven’t seen him the whole day. It isn’t uncommon for people to miss class. He might just be sick. I peer at the note again, wishing it gave a few more details. Stuffing the paper into my pocket, I decide to close my eyes. When I wake up the class is empty. A bit of light is filtering from the outside through the blinds, landing on my chest. It feels like I am behind bars.

 

O

 

The living room is smoldering like a hot box. I try ringing Henry, but no one is picking up. My moms made frijoles and chorizo which is my favorite. She asks me about the shooting at Henry’s house, but I tell her I didn’t see anything. She asks how Henry is and I tell her he is fine. She has those huge mom eyes that net you, the type you like to see when you’re feeling really low. We huddle together on the couch with our plates and watch the news. Another kid got shot three blocks away from where we live. His name is Ernesto and he went to my school. The picture they use of Ernesto is one of him lounging against a padded wall in gym class. He’s wearing our school colors and a broad smile that shows beneath the tiny hairs that are starting to come in. Ernesto’s bowling ball head catches the eye first, but you could spot some bodies hustling over a basketball in the background. Henry is going up for a layup. He’s wearing the same shorts and his lanky arms reach out desperately for the rim. I’m covered by his body, but you could just make out my frame. Ernesto was shot at 10 pm on the corner by a stray bullet of a car. Moms shakes her head like she is trying to get flies out of her thick red weave. I know what she is going to say. One thing the moms don’t get is that it isn’t the outside that did them wrong, its chance. Chance doesn’t care where you are. It’ll find you either way.

 

O

 

Henry isn’t in class Wednesday either. I skip out the backdoor during lunch and stroll over to his house. It’s so hot the buildings look like they are melting into the ground. Even the cars on the road drag along the streets with their exhaust shooting out dust. Henry’s block is empty, which makes sense because everyone is probably working or in school, except gangbangers. The gate is open so I kick up the stairs and knock on the door, but no one answers. I peer through the open window. All the furniture is gone. The inside is completely bare. The walls are empty. I climb in and peek through the rooms. It’s like examining the inside of a carcass. There isn’t even a trace that anyone lived here before. I plop myself cross-legged on the floor in the front room and recall staring into his television playing video games. We both loved Goldeneye. The idea of a single British man taking out all the bad guys with only a pistol appealed to us. We both promised to reveal to the other if we became spies later in life. A loud snap startles me from the outside. It’s only a car exhaust coughing up the block. I step back out the window, fumble down the stairs, and take one last look at his home. The flowers placed by the spot where the kid got shot are already wilting. The blood on the sidewalk is gone though.

 

O

 

Moms is pacing the living room when I finally get home. At first I thought it is because I skipped school, but it is luckily about Renzo. He hasn’t come home in two days. This is normal. Renzo told me he felt like a caged animal when he stayed at home. I’d see him sinking into the carpet smoking a joint when Moms was not home, staring blankly at the ceiling as if a film was playing up there. I’d ask for a hit, but he’d never give me any. He is the fuck-up not me, that’s what he always says. Moms keeps brushing the bourbon curtains aside and asks me if I’ve seen him or heard from him. The sun is collapsing into the crowns of the apartments. A few kids are tossing a football outside. They’re shouting for the other to go long go long. They want to see just how far the ball could go. I watch one of the kids cock back his arm and fire it high above the ceilings and into the cloudless summer sky. The other two kids scramble beneath the shrinking shadow trying to be the one to save the ball before it hits the floor. Moms asks me to go get Renzo. We both know where he is.

 

O

 

I kick through the neighborhood on my skateboard. The cars are starting to pile up on 18th Street. There are many grumbling faces as the cars inch closer and closer to the intersection. At the corner I spot three girls from my school passing out fliers to the pedestrians filling in from the warehouses just beyond the train tracks. Their names in order of hottest to coldest go Rachael, May, and Diana. Rachael is in my English class and she catches me by the arm as I veer by. She’s wearing a white shirt with Henry’s squared mug on it, grinning like a guy who just took the best shit. I took that picture, it was right after he farted and we both laughed uncontrollably the entire time—I peed myself a little. The words SAVE HENRY rainbow above this image in multicolor. Rachael has on loop earrings and black lipstick. I hungrily yank the flier from her paws. The ground is shaking a bit, maybe because a truck is tumbling by. All it says is that he is missing in bold letters, that’s it. It has been only two days and not only is he missing, his entire family is missing. I prod Rachael for more information, but she doesn’t know any more than I do. She tells me that he was shot and rushed to the hospital and the family had to move into the hospital because he is in a coma. May shakes that off and says that the family got scared after the shooting the other day and left the neighborhood all together through a witness protection program and now they’re in Guatemala with a distant cousin. Diana spouts out that they are both wrong and it was aliens. We all squint at her, but she persists saying that a UFO came down and abducted the entire family. It happens all the time she stammers. I am a mixture of anger and confusion. If something really did happen why wouldn’t his family contact me? They ask me what I know, but I am speechless. I roll off and can feel their bitter glances, whispering that they thought I was his best friend. A bunch of SAVE HENRY fliers are stuffed into the garbage bin outside the supermarket. Above them are empty coffee cups, candy wrappers, and beer bottles. The girls’ voices carry beyond the block. I put a hand over my eyes to see if there are any objects in the sky. I just see planes.

 

O

 

Renzo is exactly where I thought he would be. He’s wearing a baggy white shirt and black jeans. There are guys next to him wearing the same thing. They all mean-mug the people that pass as if they were guard dogs, snapping and snarling. Renzo is lanky, tall, and has gold-rimmed glasses. We all have glasses. Moms has the worst eyes and handed it down to both of us. I’ve been wearing glasses pretty much all my life, but always wondered what the world would look like if my eyes were perfect. Would it look the same? Night slowly swoops over the entire city. The street lamps pop on, coating everything in a milky haze. I don’t want to stay out too late so step over to the boys just as a cop car screeches onto the sidewalk. Two cops come out of the car with their hands gripping the pistols clipped to their hips. They are pointing and shouting at the boys, telling one of them to get on the floor. I hear that, get on the floor now, they spit. Renzo drops to the concrete with his hands behind his head. One of them digs a knee sharply into his back. Renzo lets out a brief cry and says what the fuck. They throw back his arms, cuff him, and then hoist him to his feet. His glasses launch off his face. He looks different with no glasses on. We lock eyes in that moment before they throw him in the car. He sees me even without his glasses and shakes his head, mouthing no, stop. I didn’t realize my feet were pedaling forward as if I could save him. Instead I freeze and watch them drive off. His crew sit back on the stoop and wipe at their sweaty foreheads. I know what they are thinking: thank god it wasn’t me. I pick up Renzo’s glasses, making sure not to look at the gangbangers who were probably eyeing me even though they know who I am, and hop on my skateboard. The wind is at my back. I feel like a sail.

 

O

 

Moms is passed out on the couch as I get in. I Love Lucy is beaming into the dark living room casting grainy shadows over her face. It’s the one where she works at the bakery and then something goes wrong on the conveyor belt forcing her to have to eat the excess of chocolates piling up. At first she’s giddy, but then it becomes too much and she’s brought to tears. I examine the black and white world and wonder what type of violence exists outside Lucy’s apartment building. Maybe kids are getting shot there too. The buzzing of the phone interrupts the silence I hurry to it so it won’t wake moms. A vacant voice garbles something on the other end. The reception is bad. I ask if it is Henry, but I can’t make out a response. It sounds like a babbling brook or a duck choking. My chest hyperventilates and I try to understand what is being said, but I can’t. I can’t understand. I quietly ask them to call back tomorrow and hang up. Furtively, I sink into the living room carpet near moms and finish watching the show. I mute the sound. Moms and I have watched this episode multiple times and it always ends the same.


Mario Perez is a south side kid from Chicago who got lucky and escaped the city in his mid-twenties. He has been abroad ever since, but the city constantly stalks his memories. The only way for him to relieve the pain is to write. The city is where it all started and where it will all end for him.

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