Tasha says she never, ever – never! – raised her kids – Darius, who’s dead, and Isiah, who got shot in the face three weeks ago – to be criminals. I had asked her if either had run into trouble with the law. No, she said, shaking her head, no, no, no. I noticed her teeth, long snaggly things shaped like the rounded, prehistoric teeth of a long-extinct feline, interspersed in her mouth so sporadically, clumps of white protruding here and there like boulders. Her jaws are tight, she’s clenching them on and off and on again and grinning at me with half-shut eyes like she’s about to explode. Craig says she might have hooked up with some poor white trashy speed freak who’s started to hang around lately, feeding her the latest cocktails of bliss from the white side of the world. No, says Tasha, Isiah and Darius were good kids, good kids. Darius got slain down on 14th and Peralta a year ago next week, on October 7th at 10 A.M in the morning – 10 AM! – and it took the police 40 minutes to arrive at all and the whole time Darius just lay there dying, dying, dying, dead by the time they got there and the fire station was just a block away. But the fireman can’t come unless the police get there first, she says.
Old Tasha is familiar with how the city works, how to break its balls, bust it, milk it, fuck it up and suck it down, drain it of all its power. She shakes her head and the tears start spilling out and down her soft brown cheeks. So there it is. And now in the way she’s talking to me, calm and articulating wherever she can and maybe saying the things that she thinks I want to hear – that she’s a good person, that she loves her kids, wants what’s best for them, and she’s shaking her head and saying all this and then suddenly she’s laughing. Darius was shot down at 10 AM in the morning and he wasn’t even the target, he was just sitting or standing, she can’t be sure which, with the wrong set of boys at the wrong time and in the wrong place, and here comes a car full of the wrong kind of people and – ratta-crack-ratta-ratta-crack – down he goes in blood – and he wadn’t even the target — and it took the police 40 minutes just to get there, and the fire station is only a block away – a block! She’s laughing now.
“So much for aim,” she says, the kind of thing a kid says to impress a teacher, I think. She shakes her head. In her right hand she holds a cigarette away on the other side of the rotting banister and she shuffles her feet along the boards that make up the stairs, also rotting and tells me to watch where I sit because the boards are old, and her pink velour sweatshirt is open part way and every now and again when she gestures a giant scar in the middle of her chest rears up, an ugly, closed eyelid seared into her sternum and I want more than anything to ask her where she got it but I don’t. Next time, I think. Tasha says that for years she lived in the basement of the house, or the bottom floor, it isn’t entirely clear what’s what, until the old lady who used to live upstairs died and then she had to move out for a while. But Tasha doesn’t really want to talk about all that. She wants to talk about Ms. V. Ms. V who lives down the street, right there, in that big white Victorian house with the two windows in front and the black SUV parked in the driveway because Ms.V has always been her rock, her mother to go, her lean-to here in this neighborhood which is going to shit, with all the drug dealers running around and the kids who can’t walk home from school no more and the people who can’t sit out on their front porches no more – shit, I get nervous just sittin here like this – and the random men truckin around with their shopping carts full of cans and bottles which they’re gonna take to the recycling center down the street. Ms. V has lived here for years, longer than anyone and she’s the one Tasha goes to when she’s got problems, problems with her kids or her ex-husband Carlos, who’s just one of the fathers to her three sons gone, Darius shot down in the street a year ago, Tyrone sent to prison for armed robbery earlier this year and now Isiah shot in the face and gone into hiding and not even Tasha really knows where he is and even if she did she’s not going to say to me, who’s just come up on her front porch like this and started asking questions. Ms. V knows Tasha’s pain she does, she knows it because she’s probably lived through it herself, and because Ms. V, well, her name is Lavine but that’s all Tasha knows, is about the closest thing she’s got to, to, to a mother, you know? She’s all Tasha’s got. Well, except for Isiah, who’s gone now and she don’t want to bother him none until he comes up for air, and then he’ll be ready to talk and Tasha will be there for him. That’s how it’s gonna be, that’s how it always has been, and ain’t nothing gonna change that now.