The Canyon

Scenes from the Scott Homes -- the mamas, the kids, the babies, the fight for dignity, the pall of despair

As to the Tenant Council, she was noncommittal. "Sometimes I've got a mind to just resign," she said. "My council just can't work together, and HUD ain't helping neither."

Before long Ruby was limping around Scott on her swollen foot, circulating a petition calling for Tammy and Perry to be removed from office. Both did so in June, with few regrets. Ruby spoke of running for president herself or recruiting Miss Annie Love. "She wasn't half as bad as people say," Ruby said.

North Shore
A week after the Fourth, Moses went to visit his mother at North Shore Medical Center, along with his friends Cookie, Boojay, and Angel.

"I been here," said Angel, moving through the sliding glass doors into the cool, clean lobby. "I been here and to Cedars and to Jackson."

"I been to Cedars, too," Moses said. "Cedars got more floors."
"Jackson," Cookie said. "Jackson the biggest."
At the front desk, Moses spoke to the candy striper softly, shyly, in a patois that twice forced her to ask him who he was visiting.

"I been all over this place," Angel said, standing in front of the elevator. "This where my mama stay before she came home to die." Cookie and Boojay were long gone, tagging after Moses, who had sprinted off to find another elevator.

The exact nature of Doris's condition had been described by her friends and neighbors as "bleedin' in her head," by which they meant that she had nearly suffered a stroke. Seated at a small table beside an adjustable bed, the foil remains of Hershey's chocolate kisses strewn before her, Doris looked unimpressed. She unwrapped another kiss and daintily popped it into her mouth, pushing aside a mug of iced tea and a small salad still wrapped in plastic, her intended lunch. A TV set suspended above her blared a sitcom.

"Where my money?" Doris said. Moses produced two scrunched twenties, which Doris snatched, the plastic tubing for her IV whipping furiously. She unfolded the bills and straightened them, then folded them again and placed them under her portable phone, while the children watched in a three-card-monte spell. "Get me two sodas," Doris said.

Moses ran off with a twenty in his fist. The room was air-conditioned and the floor was shiny. "I keep the television on all through the night," Doris said, giggling. "She don't bother me none." Across the room lay an old woman with a sign above her bed that read, "Seizure warning." Her chin rose just above the covers, dark and gnarled as petrified wood.

Moses reappeared with two Styrofoam cups and a napkin, which he held to his lip. "What the fuck this is?" Doris said. "I wanted it in a can. This shit's all watered down."

"Tha's the way they do it," Moses answered.
"Muthafuckers try to keep me from getting any sugar, but you know I'm gonna find a way," Doris said. "Where my change?"

Moses dabbed at his mouth again, this time with the collar of his grubby Miami Heat shirt because the napkin had bled through. "What happened to you?" Doris said, counting her change and lining up her sodas in front of her.

What happened was that Moses's older brother had socked him in the mouth before Moses left the house, putting a hole through the bottom of his lip and leaving a purple bruise on his chin.

"I'm gonna get my brother to make that boy suffah," Doris said, a proclamation that seemed to lift her spirits.

Again she reached for her money, straightened it, handed Moses a five. "Gotta save some of this. I still need to get you school clothes." Moses, who had flunked the seventh grade, nodded disbelievingly.

Cookie and Angel and Boojay were busy playing with the remote control. They zapped the screen and the room fell silent, save for the gentle bubbling of a machine next to the bed. "That's for oxygen," Doris said. "That shit tickles my nose."

Moses wadded up his bloodied napkin and threw it toward the wastebasket. He nodded to the others that it was time to go, and they bolted from the room, spilling into the elevator and gobbling the candies Moses had bought while fetching soda for his mother.

Doris did not say when she would be back. And Moses did not ask.
Ghost Town
All around her, children were laughing, darting across a giant lawn, munching on hot dogs and cotton candy. Ruby was crying, the drops falling off her cheeks and disappearing into the green of grass.

"They say I almost got two kids drownded," Ruby said. "They say I let 'em wander off from the camp. But they was too many for me to watch. And then that lady who direct the camp, she start screamin' and cussin' me. She ain't got no right to do that, has she?"

Ruby sat at the edge of Gwen Cherry Park, the huge open space a few blocks from her house. Julius was seated beside her giggling at nothing, drawn by the sudden flare of Ruby's imbalance perhaps, or by the simple fact that he was less likely to get punched in her proximity. Nearly all the children of the Scott Homes were out to enjoy the free food and rides offered by the private management company the county had paid to oversee Scott.

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