A Short Story — 2/

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They forced their four boys to go to elementary and high school until they didn’t give a damn anymore.

“No school,” Betria shrugged. “All work then.”

San was too busy, too tired, or too drunk to have a say or care.

None of them went to college. One son moved down to LA and eventually started working for a law firm doing their books. Another got married at 18 years old and was in and out of the house until getting under the wing of the union, doing construction and electrical work for the city. The third brother followed suit. The fourth Henry Oldez, after high school, stayed put. Nothing in school interested him. Math, history, science, PE, art? No subject ever got close to broaching Henry’s mind. Nothing ever got close to planting a seed of intrigue in his mind. Henry only liked what he could get into after school. The people of the streets were his muse, leaving him with the tramps, the dealers, the struggling restaurateurs, the laundry mat hookers, the crooked cops and the addicts, the gang bangers, the bible humpers, the window washers, the Jesus freaks, the EMT’s, the old ladies pushing salvation by every bus stop, the construction workers, the guy on the corner and the guy in the alley, and the DOA’s. Henry didn’t have much time for anyone else after all of them. They were his people.

One cold morning, frost on the window and no birds in the plum tree outside, Henry stared at himself in the mirror. The light was off and the room was dim. Sunlight streaked in through the dusty blinds from outside, reflecting into the mirror and onto Henry’s face. He was short, 5' 2'’ or 5' 3'’ at most with stubby, skinny legs, and a wide, barrel-shaped chest. He studied his face, which was a ravine of wrinkles and deep crows feet. His eyes were sunken and small in his head. Long black hair cascaded down either side of his head, pouring over his juvenile inverted shoulders, nearly touching the tip of his belt if he stood up straight. Somehow, his pants were always one or two inches below his waistline, so the crack of his ass was always peeking. No one knew how long he had been growing it out for. No one knew him any other way. He would comb his hair incessantly: before and after a shower, walking around the house, watching television with Betria on the couch, talking to friends when they came by, and when he drove to work when there was work to be had.

Normal work, nine to five work, did not work for Henry.

“I need to be my own boss,” Henry would tell whoever would listen, most likely rolling a joint or planning a fishing trip with friends.

Henry loved to fish. Henry loved the ocean. Henry loved his definition of freedom, which he was constantly reshaping.

With that point stubbornly settled in place, Henry fell into becoming a handyman, a roofer, and a pioneer of construction. Betria, San or any of his brothers, really no one knew where Henry would get the jobs that he would get. He would just have them one day.

“Going to that job over in Emeryville,” Henry would announce to the house, which was usually just Betria and her army of street dogs.

“Going to that roofing thing over in Oakland.”

“Going to that guy's house in Vacaville. Be gone a couple of days.”

“Going south for a while. Few things I have to take care of down there. I’ll bring back some milk or something.”

And whenever Henry would finish a job, every time the complaints of how much they’d shorted him would come. After a little smoke, a little drink though, Henry’s mind would soon forget only to move on to the next one. It was a very strange routine but, it worked for him and Betria had no complaints as long as he was bringing some money in and keeping busy. With San gone most of the time, Betria was the head of the house. In truth, the boys were already doing whatever they wanted.

Mitchell Duran is a freelance writer. He earned a Master’s in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University in 2019. Find more work at Mitchellduran.com

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