Bambo walked the mile to his home after leaving that shaky place and stopping to buy a Mad magazine, and he sat on the roof of his parent’s detached garage and hung his head and pictured the awful marks pink and red and destined for deep purple and black that he’d left on Carla’s smooth Latin skin, felt her thrashing and heard her cries and yelps that, lost in delusion, he had thought were gasps and bawls of ecstasy, he shook his head and tears filled his eyes and he felt them drip onto his pantlegs and blearily saw them cascade down the shingles beneath him, and seen through his flooded eyes the roof flowed like a scummy stream and he wondered why she hadn’t stopped him, and he wondered where were the curses when he was hurting her. He lit a cigarette and wiped his runny nose and eyes on the short sleeve of his teeshirt and he lay back on the roof and swirled in his regret and shame, how do you make up for something like that he wondered.
When affairs and relations in his little world got too hard or complicated for Bambo, he would simply enter the threefoot space between his parents’s and his neighbor’s singlestall garages sidebyside on a shrublined alley, traverse a pile of stacked twobyfours and planks blackened and halfrotted with age, mindful of the rusty nailpoints protruding upthrough some of them which he never bothered to remove, nor did he bother to turn the boards over, and he would clamber up a picketfence connecting two back corners of the structures and hoist himself onto the roof. He smoked and read magazines up there and baked in the summer heat and pondered, sometimes he cried too, over nothing, though usually he fought off the impulse, he was mortified at the thought that any of his friends would happen by and see him, he knew that would be the end of it all. And that was the last thing he ever wanted. But that was the thing he was thinking about now on this garage roof wet with his cascading tears under the hot blue sky.
All around him lay neat small rectangular yards, all of them nicely mowed with bushes and shrubs welltended and some with gardens full of variegated perennials alongside border fences and narrow walkways from house to garage. Often Bambo thought of this modest neighborhood articulation as a gameboard awaiting the next move, awaiting a move by him, browneyed Ronnie Bammelaur, Bambo to his friends, some move that would unite him with it, and not only with it but with the fine folks who shaped and manicured those yards and painted their houses and garages and kept that gameboard ready for his move, he had lived almost his whole life among those colorful properties but knew the names of only a few of their caretakers, for some reason he preferred to live on the fringe, sit on the roof, satisfied to survey his domain at his leisure and live his real life elsewhere, in the alleys and the hovels of the Heights where he beat up Carly making love a mile away.
He knew the end was near now, it would be all over soon, maybe in a couple of weeks or a week, or maybe tomorrow, the end of this part of his life with these sordid friends of his, these other misfits and dropouts and criminals like Brutes and Pauly and Carly and the rest, and the younger ones like himself waiting to drop out and hang fulltime with their models, try some stuff harder than weed, maybe blow some coke like Brutes or even slam some smack like Pauly once in a while. Pictures of smoke and joints drifted through his mind, Pauly sitting on the floor dazed his arm muscles hanging all around, baseball on TV, himself and CrazyJorrie and the younger girls happy with their weed and beer, George Carlin on some stereo gravelly voice and background laughter, a few of the older ones wandering in and out of the room, tough guys wearing jeans and bare feet, some already in and out of jail two or three times, Bambo’s mind raced, I don’t want to go to jail, I don’t want to hurt anyone.
Yo. Bambo. CrazyJorrie’s voice. He sat up, wiped his eyes, pretended he was wiping away sleep, fuckin A he said. The sun had dried the roof the shingles were searinghot. He heard the clattering of old boards and muffled curses, saw CrazyJorrie spring up the picketfence and his long skinny fingers grip the roofedge, saw his greasy head pop over the eaves and a leg swing up and land on the roof, fuck that’s fucking hot he said. In a moment he was sitting beside Bambo and lighting a smoke, damn he said, was wondering where you were, been calling here and around and no one knows where you were. I been here Bambo said. I thought so, his cigarette between his lips he ran both hands through his black shoulderlength hair repeatedly, it glistened and stayed put. So you’re in trouble.
Yeah, I guess so. I’m always in trouble, one way or another. Yeah. CrazyJorrie picked up the Mad and thumbed through it, snickering at the drawing. I didn’t mean anything Bambo said, Jesus I reall didn’t mean anything. He sat like a yogi, straight and lotuslike but with his knuckles resting on the hot shingles, he felt them heave a bit then settle down to shivers. CrazyJorrie reached over him and flicked his halfsmoked butt down into the yard, his fingers fumbled in his shirtpocket for another and he lit it with a match.
Hey Bambo, you know next November’s my birthday. Dude, I’ll finally be sixteen and I’m quittin school that day, he held up his open palm and Bambo smacked it with his, and I’m on my way to fuckin Nevada the next. I thought you were waiting for me Bambo said. He flinched as CrazyJorrie’s long skinny nose swung on him, CrazyJorrie looked at him with a wide thinlipped grin, dark flashing eyes, Dude he said, I can’t wait till next whatsit, March, April, I can’t wait that long, he breathed in smoke, I can’t be sittin around with those gooks all lit up all the time planning their next mugging or breakin, shit no. But I’ll tell you what though, I’ll get my ass out to Nevada and get on a ranch and save a place for you in the bunkhouse so when you get there you’ll have a job too. And I’ll teach you how to ride horses.
Fuck man I thought you were going to wait for me. Bambo scootched down to the roofedge, dangled his legs, he looked down at the picketfence, scanned the slowlyrotting boards for nailpoints, he sat mesmerized, as though something he knew not what was happening inside himself, he heard CrazyJorrie’s voice, I’ll tell you what dude, you better be careful, I hear Pauly’s really pissed.
What if I slipped off here and landed with that picketfence between my legs Bambo thought. His eyes widened. In a flash his mind separated himself from the roof and in less than a blink he was astraddle the arrowlike stake he had aimed for and his body exploded in pain and his bellow flattened grasses and shook windowglass around the whole block and he knew he’d be safe from Pauly now by god. And Carly too. And Carly would be safe from him too. He sat there staring down, it could happen he thought, I could do it. Of course he’d die he knew. It would be a grisly ugly death, bloody as hell he thought. But maybe not as bloody as he’d be after Pauly was through with him.
But he deserved it, after what he did to Carly . . . Hey Jorrie he said, you think it’s true what they say Pauly did to that dude in the john? He turned to see CrazyJorrie’s face, CrazyJorrie winced. Yeah I do, yeah he did it allright, I saw his bloody shirt, yeah but that guy never saw it coming did he Bambo said, he couldn’t even fight back, wouldn’t’ve made a difference CrazyJorrie said. Damn that’s bad Bambo said, then like a balloon released from piched fingers into aimless flight he sprang up and ran back and forth up and down the middlingpitched roof and smacked CrazyJorrie upside the head proclaiming let him come, let him, if he beats the shit outa me that’s okay, what’ll he do, he’ll just beat the shit outa me, he won’t fuckin kill me and besides, I’ve had the shit kicked outa me plenty of times, he can’t do it any worse than my oldman can, he’s beat the shit outa me a thousand fuckin times and I’m not fuckin killed yet. He stopped and squatted beside CrazyJorrie who had been following his manic pacing lke a stoned spectator an errant housefly, but you know what Bambo said, I’d sure rather have Carly beat the shit outa me, I sure would. If Carly beat the shit outa me I wouldn’t even try to fight back.
Well I’ll tell you what CrazyJorrie said, Carly probably could beat the shit outa you, I’ve seen her in a fight, and if you knock me off the roof with your crazyass running around I’ll beat the shit outa you too Bambo. Yeah yeah, Bambo looked at his hands, his long dirty nails, besides, like I said, it couldn’t be any worse than my oldman. The sonofabitch.
CrazyJorrie studied the shingles between his legs, hey he said, it’s only about ten months till we can take off for Nevada. Bambo sat down offered CrazyJorrie a cigarette, lit it and then his own. Gazing at CrazyJorrie, I thought you were leaving early and I’d catch up to you he said. Yeah well, I can wait, it’ll give me time to get some money. Credit cards. He looked up squinting at the blue sky. Screw it, I can wait.
Bambo later walks along the sidewalks of his neighborhood where the people, when they’re home, are friendly and neighborly, past the Sterling homes and the Sears Roebuck & Co. homess all built in the 1920s and the petunias and pansies and all the stuff that’s the same from day to day and wonders what he’s going to do about Pauly. He could maybe hang around these all too familiar and comfortable suroundings and hang with the kids his age here and not go anywhere near the Heights for years and years, or at least until Pauly goes to prison for a long time. He paused and lit a cigarette and he felt the sidewalk tilt a bit and then rock as he continued his walk, a small evergreen nearby seemed to reach out to him and he ducked, they won’t come over here he thought, they won’t come to this place.
But they’ll find me in the park he thought, he felt his chest shake as he walked, his head rocked, or they’ll find me if I go anywhere near the Heights, or he’ll find me in the schoolyard, waiting for a bus, no matter where I go, that’s how Paulie is, and then he’ll beat the shit out of me. If I quit them first and they see me maybe they’ll kill me, Jesus, but if I go to the Heights and let him beat the shit out of me, he’ll just beat the shit out of me and let me live, and he’ll tell me to stay the fuck away from the rest of the brothers and sisters, and then it’ll be over.
He turned a corner and headed in the direction of the Heights a mile away. The air was a bluegreen haze with bits of violet lurking behind it. He wished he had some grass and he wondered if Carly would let him under the covers again if Pauly beat the shit out of him.