We quietly rode back to the bay area which had more ships docked with white sails. The town had grown since I had last left it. As we rode our horses through the muddy dirt streets of crowded San Francisco, it smelled of fresh wooden construction. More buildings were being erected for the city was booming with more people coming with dreams of finding gold. Near the wharf, a drunken sailor walking out of a ship that had been converted to a bar, fell off a gangplank. We rode pass a hill of horses with their wagons rolling down the steep muddied hill with them and men laughing and drinking out on the street watching. The sounds of piano and women’s laughter could be heard from the whorehouses. We stayed at the old Asian lady’s who was happy to see me and welcomed my brother. A few days later, we walked through the city to find the place to trade in our gold. But before we went, my brother could see his two young boys walking through the town following their elder brother. My brother caught the eldest one’s eyes and signaled to him. The boys ran up to him and hugged him.
“What is this?” my brother asked as he looked at his eldest’s clothes.
“It’s what all the rich men up the hill are wearing, pa.”
“You need to please people now…? You look fine with your old clothes.”
The eldest rolls his eyes. “When can we live with you?” the oldest asked. “You said when you come back, we can live with you. She’s not going to let us go now that’s she’s shacked up with the sheriff.”
“He don’t know what type of woman your ma is… and the company she keeps especially her relatives….bunch of thieves.’
His eldest remains silent.
“Who bought you all these gifts you’re wearing…? What is that family’s quote? ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you’ Those gifts they give you are not really freely given. Sooner or later, they’ll be asking for pay-back. You’re nothing but a slave for them…their cash cow if you ever make it.”
The middle boy’s eyes were red.
“What’s wrong with you boy? Why you crying for?” my brother asked. He takes his middle son off to the side, “What’s wrong with you? Tell me.”
The boy was quiet, then he spoke, ‘She found out you were back.’
‘Who…’ my brother asked and wiped his boy’s face, ‘Your grandma?’
The boy rubbed his eyes, nodded and spoke. ‘She kept trying to get me to make you meet us somewhere. There was a stranger that came in. No one knew who he was. She said it was her distant cousin. They wanted me to make you meet them some place.”
The boy started crying. The littlest one came over and hugged him.
The little one asked if he could have his dad’s socks. My brother took it off and gave it to him. “What are you going to do with it?”
The little boy smiled shyly at first then exclaimed proudly, “I’m going to tie it on my bedpost so you’re always there at night.”
My brother knelt down in front of his middle child, ‘You don’t worry about anything, ya hear me? Your pa is not afraid and you shouldn’t be either. He took some candy from his pocket and held it in front of them, ‘You know what these are?”
“Yes sir,” the two little boys exclaim.
“I give you these, you promise to read? He pulled a book out of his knapsack and said to his middle child, “Read this to the little one. It’ll teach you to be strong inside until we next meet.”
‘Pa you know ma don’t like them reading.’ the eldest boy sighed. ‘She’d rather them dance like monkeys and collect coins… You’re just going to get them in trouble.’
‘Of course she doesn’t, it’ll make you boys smart, and then she can’t trick you. Reading will help you have a mind of your own. You were meant to be free. You don’t owe that woman anything. She can take care of herself. Don’t let her hang that guilt over you. She never wanted you boys born. Only the fear of going to hell kept you alive.”
The kids nodded, smiled, and ate the chocolate fast, chomping it as if they had never eaten. My brother wiped their faces and hugged them and touched the shoulder of his eldest in gratitude.
As the boys kept looking back at their father as they left, I told my brother, “You’re going to have to let them go. They belong to her. They’re going to have her thoughts.”
My brother said urgently, ‘But I can give them a chance, can’t I – They’re half of me, for chrissake.’
“Well, do what you need to do and be done with it quick for they stamp out every fire of you inside of them.”
We walked and watched the boys and then we slowed down. The two men that had murdered the Spaniard were escorting my brother’s ex as she finished her shopping and irritatingly told the boys to come along. She was surrounded by her lady friends. My brother smirked, “She never did like them bitches, she always said they were competition.”
Categories: Elle Peyarre's Short Stories (fiction)