I was prepping the bull for a ride by looping a belt around its testicles when Walter from the Mission put a call into Mom, said her brother Richard was in trouble. I wash my hands. I use more soap. We drive through the night. We get to LA Mission in time to squint through the smog hanging beneath the sun in the sky.
He won a scratch off ticket and used old ways to celebrate. Walter says. He was the inspiration behind me becoming a counselor, he quits, and you can place bets on whose next…
The early morning sun cooks the pavement, rising heat waves kick up the rotten stench of vomit from a night of withdraws, a night of getting lucky, and a nightmare of morning sickness. I plug my nose how I’d hold a rat tail – wishing I’d remembered my gloves.
Selfish men bring out wolves when they’re bored. Mom says.
On the sidewalk, a woman in blue sweats kicks a shopping cart. She has a dirt devil vacuum in her hand, she holds it up, pretends to suck in the clouds. Vroom Vroom, she tries so hard. Newspapers and plastic grocery bags bounce against the curb. Bright colored tents line the sidewalk like a children’s train at an amusement park, some are covered by blue tarps. Rain is coming.
Bad weather brings out the worst in people.
The soap of Jesus can’t clean these streets. Mom says.
When I see Richard I’ll tell him where to find you.
Four hours later, Richard knocks on our hotel door. He throws his arms wide for a hug. The crooks of his arms got scabs, purple and burgundy like mashed raisins. He clicks his tongue. The saliva in his mouth is gone, scraped out by spoons. Tears fall from Mom’s eyes to her chin then become lost between her face and the floor. Richard drops his arms, jackknifes in the doorway, stuffs his hands in his pockets and fumbles. Mom lifts him, hugs him. Her jean jacket wrinkles up against him. The scabs crunch, shift, and peel apart.
Who called? He asks, wriggling away.
Mom clings to his elbows. Richard wriggles more. The ceiling fan boxes the harsh vinegar around the room. She pinches his scabs and twists. He yelps. Blood drips on the yellow carpet. The a/c kicks on. It breaks their focus. Mom lifts her hands to show – her palms out toward Richard – there’s blood on her fingers dripping over the life line.
Take this. She opens her purse and somewhere inside, pills shake in a bottle. She pushes a folded twenty out towards Richard. Change, she says and with that he is erased through the doorway.
We leave the deep red sky behind us and roll out under black storm clouds heading back home. The air cools off. We prepare for the storm, lock up the animals in the barn, but leave the bull in its pen. The bull kicks its hooves and snorts. It shifts its massive shoulders, sending waves of muscle rippling over its ribs to its ass. Its horns reach away from its head then turn a corner forward at the tips. With the belt still wrapped around its testicles, a swamp of moisture drips down, collecting into a small dark pool on the red dirt.
The bull snorts under the pressure of the belt and the bad weather approaching. I unlatch the gate – it swings open and bangs against the wood fence. I wash my hands. I use more soap. The bull won’t leave. It stands next to my room all night long, breathing out two soft white streams from its nose, steaming up my window just standing out in the rain. Soon I’ll need more soap. After that, I’ll need new hands.