I’m wearing makeup when I walk into the chapel — that expensive shit that thickens your skin by a centimeter. These tattoos have made me more black ink than brown skin — an ‘MS’ between my eyebrows, dead brothers and sisters wrapped around my neck. The hollows drawn onto my temples, nose, and cheeks emaciate me.
The chapel is empty. You can hear nothing but the muffled hiss of cars and wind pushing trash across hot asphalt outside. This is a good time for confession. Everyone’s busy on Thursday afternoons. And since no one is here, I roll up my sleeves and unzip my jacket halfway, exposing the black ink I never bothered to conceal—the thorned roses, a wolf, the outline of my bones.
The confession booth takes up the only corner of the chapel that isn’t peppered with bullet holes. You can tell by how when you close yourself in, there are no holes in the mahogany to let light in. Inside, it is cool and dark and endless like something beyond sleep.
I check my phone. 11:58. Confession starts at 12.
Light footsteps scrape across gritty wood. The door to the booth beside me opens, closes. He sits. Then, the screen between us slides away and a lattice of light falls into my booth.
It’s like God is pouring over you.
“Forgive me, Padre, I’ve sinned.”
“Go on, Leo.”
“I’m going back to Lupe.”
I’m not sure.
“He came to me last week, and he... They’re my family. You don’t leave family.”
“Have you told Andy?”
I swallow hard. “Yes.”
I’m much younger when I meet Andy, haven’t gotten my tattoos to show I’m with Lupe yet, so people from other neighborhoods still try to jump me.
It’s just me and him at the bus stop. It’s dark out. He’s wearing one of those good shirts and a watch that flashes in the sick amber of the streetlight.
He holds himself as delicate as the razor tucked beneath my tongue, hugging his elbows as he leans against the bus sign. He looks around, checks his watch, doesn’t seem to notice me.
I spit the razor and press it to his neck, tell him to give me his wallet.
He hands me his wallet.
He hands me his watch.
He hands me a few fives from the breast pocket of his good shirt.
He takes me to a diner.
We talk about God and his new job teaching at the high school down the street. He’s from Ohio, and he wants to reach out to kids in the Barrio. Well, he talks. I wait for him to start something.
He never does.
Over the next two months, we trade things. He teaches me the Ten Commandments. I teach him how to get extra gas in his car for less. He teaches me Matthew, Luke, John. I teach him which colors to wear at night and where to hide jewelry so he doesn’t stand out. He teaches me how all sin is equal in God’s eyes. I show him how to clench a razor between your fingers when you’re jumped, how to hide a limp so when you walk away you don’t look like you’ve lost.
My lessons scare him. He hides it behind slow nods and high chuckles. I don’t think he realizes who I’m trying to protect him from.
“Lupe gave me a second chance,” I tell Padre. “Said if I did what he told me to, I’d be family again.”
“You have a family here, mijo. Everyone loves you. Jorge, Amelia, and Gloria still want you to play Sorry with them, you know.”
“I want to, but—” I fear this god more. “—Lupe’s dangerous. These people are dangerous.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
“I already have.” I suck in a breath. I need to confess. “Andy...”
I came here to confess. Don’t be a coño. Confess!
“Andy’s not coming back here.”
Coño. Just say it.
“Padre, are we really punished for our sins?”
“Leo, what have you done?”
“I can’t come back here again.”
Padre’s calling after me as I head for the exit.
You’re not supposed to cover a fresh tattoo. It needs time for the swelling to go down, time to heal. Still, beneath this brown skin mask, my cheek stings with a fresh tear.
Spring, 2017 Issue