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You Are My Sunshine

By Michelle Reale


I’m sitting on the front steps with the baby, minding my own business, waiting for Pedro to come home. I usually don’t come out because we’re renters in this neighborhood, and that's as good as being trash. That and the fact that my fiancé is Puerto Rican, and not really welcome in the neighborhood. Forget that that I grew up here, on the block. It seems like everyone wants a piece of us and not in a good way. My father was a bastard, that’s true, and my mother thought it was her Karma—although she never knew the word—to put up with his shit. Now they’re both gone and I’ve come back after some time, to live on Garibaldi Street, because it will always be the closest thing to home that I’ve ever had and I want my son to know the place.

We call my boy “Sunny,” not Sonny, because he is always so happy. His real name is Salvadore, the Puerto Rican version, not the Italian one. This was a conscious decision on my part. Pedro said it didn’t matter. His head is a bit big, but we are hoping that he’ll grow into it, like the outfit Pedro’s boss gave us when he was just born. It was for a toddler, but we put it on him one night anyway. His arms and legs got lost in the burgundy corduroy pants with the big cuffs on the bottom and the cream-colored acrylic sweater with a single navy blue stripe across the chest. Pedro, puffed with pride said, “Something to grow into, right?” Then: “Our boy will be a man someday!” Sunny is definitely his father’s son, if anyone ever had a doubt, and it’s pretty easy to prove: the large, brown mole on his left cheek is the same one that Pedro has on his right shoulder, only Pedro’s has some stiff, black hairs growing out of his. He calls it his “good luck charm” though I don’t see, so far that is has done us a whole lot of good, except we do have Sunny and we thank God every day for him, we sure do.

Next door, Angie comes out on her front porch and leans over the banister and lights a cigarette. I’ve got my cigs with me, right next to me in fact, but won’t light one with Sunny on my lap. I’ve got them there just in case. Sometimes ReeRee, Monica D’Angelo’s kid comes and sits with me and begs to hold Sunny, which I welcome so I can light up and have a smoke in peace. She’s an annoying kid and can be a little rough, so I watch her like a hawk. No ReeRee today, just Angie, blowing smoke, filling out her tube top like nobody’s business, hair crazy and wild. I look over at her, in the house attached to ours and she flicks her chin up which, for Angie, is as good as “hello.”

“Hey,” I say, kind of lame, because I keep my distance as much as I can. She lost a kid a few months ago when her husband, a mean trick with orange hair, beat the shit out of her. She doesn’t seem like the motherly type, but then again, neither do I. I just wish people could see what was inside of me and what is inside of Pedro and how much we love our boy.

Seems like Sunny is feeling the vibe and he starts to squirm and twitch, then he makes these mewling sounds, like he’s going to start screaming full throttle real quick. It’s hard to hold him when he’s like that. I start to look like I don’t know what I’m doing. I think that Angie might be laughing at me. I glance over and she’s taking a drag like her life depended on it, one arm holding the cig to her mouth, the other braced across her big stomach. She’s just staring like she’s in another world. I need a cigarette now, so I hold Sunny tight and shove one in my mouth and manage to light it. I keep my head up and take a few good puffs, before I take it out and lay it on the concrete step. I turn around and Angie is right next to me asking to hold my boy. She takes him from me before I can answer and the two are looking at each other and she’s not saying a word. I swallow hard, because he likes hair, and she’s got plenty of it: pitch black and all over the place. She doesn’t look like she’d take kindly to a tug on her locks. Sunny’s got big, chubby fists, nice and moist with drool. My cigarette smokes itself while I watch. I’m barely breathing. Angie and I stay out of each other’s way. Strange women shit, but I know my limitations.

When the ice cream truck comes rolling down the street, Angie asks me if she can buy the kid something. “He’s OK,” I tell her, and I sound kind of lame, even to myself. Before I know it, she’s down the front steps and manages to pull out a few bucks from the pocket of her shorts. A few kids gather around the ice cream man who looks like he’s about 17, pants half way down his ass and his boxers showing. Angie comes back with a small Dixie cup and a wooden spoon that looks like a tiny version of what the nuns used to paddle us with.

“Can I give him some?” she asks.

“I guess. He’s never any before, though.” I feel tense and begin to sweat, because it is definitely not in her nature to coochy-coo. But OK, first time for everything and all.

She shovels a few small spoonfuls into his mouth and he’s kicking his arms and legs as fast as they can go. Angie starts to laugh like I’ve never heard her laugh before. She throws her head back, and starts stamping her dirty feet on the concrete steps. I start to join in, more out of nerves than anything, until I realize she’s being mean. She stops feeding him and tries to kiss him on his lips instead. I pull him back a bit. I see a flicker in her eyes, which start to narrow. Sunny is watching the little Dixie cup and she’s lightly moving it back and forth, teasing him.

“Don’t,” I say as I try to stand up, but my boy is kicking hard, now, throwing me off balance. The street is busy, cars going up and down, the men, making their way home for dinner. The sun seems particularly hot and I’m slick with sweat. Pedro is late and I just want to get into the house.

Angie has lost interest in Sunny and starts to drink the dregs of ice cream in the wilted paper cup. She has some chocolate on her mouth and looks directly at the Sunny as she wipes her fat tongue over her lips.

Sunny crumples his face and begins to cry, the edges of his birth mark turning bright red.

Kids like that die young” I hear Angie say over her shoulder as she swiveled her hips back up the steps to her own front porch.

Later, from inside I hear Pedro’s small truck make the quick stop in front of the house. It’s dark inside and Sunny’s asleep on my shoulder. Pedro comes in and sees us on the couch. I pretend that I’m sleeping too, just for a little while, just to calm myself down a bit. Pedro comes over and kisses me on the top of the head, and then kisses Sunny on his cheek, lingering a bit. Pedro is happy now, because he’s humming “You are My Sunshine,” taking the stairs two at a time to get his shower upstairs. He’s always like that, so hopeful. As if there was a single thing in the world to look forward to.


Michelle Reale manages circulation services at a university library and is completing her MSLS in Library Science.  Her fiction and poetry have appeared in a variety of venues.
 
 
Photo Intimate courtesy of Soňa Psotová, Trnava, Slovakia.

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