By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Ruby, framed by the doorway, Onarius drooling at her feet, shook her head at what the young mama did not know about appearances and politics and the play-acting of constituency:
Burke was up for re-election.
Cookie and Boojay and their friend Moses stood in front of the Dumpster across from Ruby's place. There were four of them scattered across the green metal, perfectly round and flared inward like the beginning of a funnel.
From time to time a fly would crawl into or out of one.
"Hoo-boy, some boys came round here and shot that shit up," said Richie from his place on the porch. "Was some girl that set some boy up to be kilt. So these niggers come by all shooting up and everybody dove behind the Dumpster." Hearing no one object, Richie cracked a gap-tooth smile.
"One over there," Moses said. He pointed to the door of a unit directly beyond the Dumpster, and the boys headed over. They peered respectfully at the hole in the middle of the door, which was orange and metal.
An old woman appeared at the window. She was in a bathrobe and smelled of liniment. "Sounded like someone was gonna bust the door down," she declared. "That bullet could have put a hole in me."
Back at the Dumpster, Cookie and Boojay took turns counting the bullet holes -- "one-two-three-four" -- over and over until Moses interrupted.
"Five," he said, and pointed to the lady's door.
"Oh yeah," Boojay said. "The lady."
Waiting for Bettina
Sue was waiting for Bettina, who had been due back hours ago from the hospital with her new baby. "I ain't ready to be no grandma," Sue said. "'Specially not for no Bettina. That girl's still a child herself. And you know who's goin' to have to take care of that baby." She paused to inspect her elaborately painted fingernails and yawned.
At 40, Sue prided herself on her figure, the finest on Ruby's row and one she managed to display even in a loose-fitting bathrobe. "I just hope that fat boy shows up like he supposed to," she said, meaning the daddy. Sue had been pregnant nine times by her count and had lost seven of the babies.
From time to time a friend or relative stopped by to see if Bettina was back yet. Sue would shake her head no from her place on the couch.
It was funny, she mused, how being a grandma got you to thinking. As she sat and waited there in her darkening apartment, where she could see only outlines, she wondered, for instance, not when Bettina would get home, but if her eldest child would ever leave home.
"I left home at about sixteen and I had Bettina when I was nineteen. I was married to her daddy for a year and a half. It could have worked, I think, if he hadn't started beating me. My son's daddy wasn't something I wanted to deal with either, 'cause he hit me worse. Kept me like a prisoner, you might say. Wouldn't let me sit on the porch or nothing. He was the only one that had me scared, honestly. I didn't go to no police."
Instead Sue had started drinking and snorting cocaine. "If I didn't have money, I had friends that would supply me where I worked at. Or guys I went with. Coke made me feel good for a while, but sometimes if I snorted too much, I'd stay awake for days. Then, when I slept, I would sleep and sleep. It was a hard thing, because I wanted to keep my family together, didn't want they daddies to get custody, or HRS."
Sue finally got clean three years ago after being arrested on drug charges, but by that time her son was dealing.
"He used to bring the drugs here into the apartment and package them and go out to sell them. He dealt from my porch and it got to where I could smell the reefer in my room. I told him either him or the drugs got to go. One night he come home high and he pushed me into a table."
On that night Sue did something lots of the other mamas talked about: She went to the police and filed charges against her son.
"I wanted him to get into recovery. At the same time, I knew I had a lot to do with his problem 'cause I indulged my kids. I used to give them a little sip of beer 'cause I heard beer would get rid of worms. He work at a restaurant now. I'm not sure what he do. But he got to wear a full uniform."
It was pitch black now. Sue tapped the remote and clicked to the channel with the time in the corner. "She shoulda been home by now," she said, then picked up her keys and walked off to find a ride.
She didn't return for several hours, and when she did the report was delivered in huffs: "That boy never even showed up. So who you think has to coach Bettina? I had to stand there and look at that baby being born, and that is something gross. To watch your own child go through that."