Little, Emma Webster
[Trigger Warning: Domestic Abuse Mention]
Frankie’s thinkin to himself, Man, I need some new friends.
I mean, do you think poor Frankie stands a chance against this girl? No Way. It’s over before it starts. Frank knows it, she knows it, Frank’s friends Carlo and Binto know it, and whatever the fuck her friends’ names are, they know it too.
They’re all standin on Broadway in front of some Mexican dry cleaners, one in a dozen all up and down the cracked, filthy sidewalk. Ripped-up lotto tickets, pop bottles with faded labels, a pair of sneaks here, a pair of crusty sweatpants there. And everyone just ignores it, lives in and amongst it, living.
Fuckin downtown Aurora, Illinois, man.
And it’s sweaty as hell. I mean, Carlo and Binto are standin there in their stretched-out, soaked T-shirts, tryin to look tough, but all they can think about is how their dicks are stickin to the insides of their legs. And they’re tryin to shake them loose, but it’s like fuckin Velcro. And Gloria’s stupid friends are trying to be sexy for Carlo—because he’s the cute one with the biceps—and they’re leanin against the store’s window, with its neon-green sign shaped like a shirt and tie, burning in the middle of the day; all they can feel is their tan backs stickin to the glass, their skin practically takin the fuckin neon with them.
And fuck me, the whole time they’re standin there on the sizzling sidewalk with their Rocket Pops—red, white, and blue: summer colors—drippin down their arms, nearly fallin off the stick, little dots of color are soakin in the concrete around their feet.
But I’m supposed to be tellin you about Frank, this poor fuckin white kid—the only one there—and how Gloria’s smokin-hot sixteen-year-old body (she doesn’t look sixteen, man) is struttin her shit over to him as he stands with Carlo and Binto, and he’s used to Carlo gettin the attention, so what the fuck’s goin on here? She’s lookin right at him, and she’s smirking. What the hell is so funny?
And fuck me, man, no joke, she just sticks out that juicy tongue of hers and starts runnin it up and down Frank’s arm, sticky with Rocket Pop. She cleans him up. Licks him clean. And everyone—Carlo, Binto, Frankie, Gloria’s ugly friends, people drivin down Broadway, the fuckin cops, your mother, my mother—they’re all just watchin. And it’s like dead quiet now. Carlo and Binto were runnin their mouths at the girls earlier, talking a lot of shit, right? But Gloria, she shut them all up, stopped the whole city of Aurora. All Frankie can hear is her sixteen-year-old tongue wipin spit all up and down his fourteen-year-old arm, still holdin that Rocket Pop. Her eyes are starin right at him, but all he can see is the little beauty mark on her top lip. Then, just for good measure, she runs her tongue all the way up his wrist, up the Rocket Pop, lingers there for a second, and kisses the red end of it. Carlo and Binto nearly shit their pants. Gloria’s friends are just laughin now. Finally, after like an hour, she steps back, wipes her lips with her thumb, and says, “So, what do you say?”
And poor Frankie, he’s sweatin—his freckles are fuckin sweatin, man. He feels the wad of cash in his back pocket, thirty-five bucks, and he says, “I’ll do it.” You would, too, wouldn’t you?
Only problem is it isn’t Frankie’s money to spend, it’s his mother’s. And I know what you’re sayin: “His poor mother. What about the dress Frankie’s supposed to pick up at the cleaners? That’s why they were standin around on Broadway in the first place.” I know, I know. And you’re sayin, “His poor mother’s been lookin forward to the singles thing at Our Lady of Good Counsel, tickin off the days on the calendar behind the meat counter at the Dominick’s!” And I’m tellin you, I know this shit. But do you think Frankie’s thinkin about any of that when fuckin Gloria Gutierrez—the Glory Herself!—is slobberin up and down his fuckin arm?
Obviously not, because he drops that cash in a second: walks up Broadway to Foremost Liquors, all of them walkin behind him like he’s leading a parade or somethin, laughin because it worked like a charm; they were all in on it. Once Carlo’s big mouth blurted out that Frankie had a wad of cash in his pocket, Gloria stepped up, knew exactly what to do. Frankie, that poor bastard.
His neighbor, Harold, works at Foremost Liquors, and he’s twenty-two and pretty cool, so he gives Frankie five 40s, the bottles like sweaty cold bullets, the beer piss yellow inside. Five of those, six bucks each plus tax; do the math, man. That’s like thirty-three bucks. Frank’s poor mother.
So they head down to the river where the cops won’t see them, and they spend all day drinkin and yellin, and poor Frankie’s feelin like shit, cause he realized what he was doin the second Harold rang that shit up. But Gloria—he thought maybe this would be his chance to hang around her. Holding that 40 in her hands, the thing’s nearly as big as she is. But she’s busy with Carlo, who’s in middle school with Frank, but should probably be a sophomore except he’s too stupid to go to school. She doesn’t talk to Frank at all, and he just spends the rest of the day skippin rocks in the muddy Fox River, feelin like a sucker, sayin to himself, Man, I need some new friends.
It’s not fair. Frankie’s been workin at Gloria for months, all of eighth-grade year, in fact. She’s a freshman up at East High, while he’s at Our Lady of Good Counsel, walkin home after school with a backpack and a Catholic school shirt and tie, lookin like a kid. Walkin past East is out of his way, but he always does it because every once in a while, if he sneaks out of school a few minutes early, he can make it over there in time to see Gloria and her friends walkin across the grass to some old Lincoln that nearly shakes the earth with its bass. He figures the guy’s her boyfriend or somethin because he’s way cool and has tattoos all up his neck. They don’t have a dress code at East. They have a daycare. She always looks so good, wearin shorts that show off her ass. Frankie, like a loser, stands across the street stealin looks at her while hiding behind a tree, because he’s afraid people will give him shit for his tie.
But once summer comes around, he doesn’t have to wear his tie anymore and he can be a normal kid, finally, except that he’s just moved to the neighborhood during the winter after all the shit with his dad went down, and he’s white while almost all his friends are Mexican. He figured since Gloria is Mexican, she’d be more likely to make out with him if she saw that he’s one with her people or some shit. Fuckin Frank. You can’t be wise and in love at the same time.
Phillips Park isn’t far away from his house, and it has an aquatic center there. Big deal. It means there’s a pool that the entire city of Aurora has to share with each other. Even so, Frankie and Carlo and Binto would love to dive into that disease-infested water—at least it’s probably cold. They can’t afford the passes to get in, so they have to stand on the other side of the fence and watch like starvin animals or somethin. It’s pathetic, believe me.
But for Frankie, it isn’t even about the pool. He plays it like it is, but while Carlo and Binto are yellin shit at the people in the pool, Frankie’s starin at Gloria Gutierrez, who just happens to spend every day tanning by the pool. Does she even need to tan? Her skin is brown year round. Frankie doesn’t worry about it, because he gets to see her in a bikini. The poor bastard would just stare till his eyeballs dried out.
But anyways, before Gloria slobbed on Frank’s arm, they’d been at the aquatic center, all of them—Gloria and her friends by the pool, Frankie and his on the outside lookin in, just like every other day.
And just like every other day, Binto’s bitchin, sayin, “Fuck, man, isn’t there some other shit we can do?”
And Carlo punches him on the arm, sayin, “You got a better idea? I’d love to fuckin hear it.”
And Frankie’s just at the fence, hangin on it like his legs don’t work, his shirt stretched out at the neck, hangin nearly down to his nipples. And Carlo and Binto see this, so Carlo goes over and snatches Frankie’s wallet out of his pocket, sayin, “Better start payin attention, white boy, or someone’s gonna jack your fuckin wallet.” And he sees the green bills inside and opens it up. “Holy shit, man. What you doin with this much money?”
And Frankie snatches it back, feeling watched by the old people goin through the turnstiles. They’re wonderin what a white kid is doing with two Mexicans.
“That’s my mom’s, man,” Frank says.
“Fuck that,” Binto yells, tryin to sound tough, but he’s short and fat with a little curl of a ponytail on the back of his neck. Looks fuckin stupid, but he’s had it since he was five.
Carlo, who’s already had his growth spurt and is bigger than all of them, says, “Let’s get Harold to give us 40s, man. He’ll do it.”
“I can’t. It’s my mom’s money. I gotta pick up a dress for her at the dry cleaners.” And Frankie turns back to the fence and starts lookin for Gloria’s cute little brown stomach.
“The fuck’s your mom need a dress for?” Carlo asks.
“Yeah, what for?” Binto says, because he’s always repeatin Carlo.
“Some thing at Our Lady of Good Counsel,” Frank mumbles.
“Our Lady?” Carlo says. “She need a fancy new dress for church? She comin to school with us?” Carlo starts leanin on Frank’s shoulder, getting’ his bad breath in Frank’s mouth.
“Some singles thing. People come and meet each other.” Frank shoves Carlo off him.
“Meet each other?” Binto says, laughing.
Carlo starts laughing too. “Yeah, fuck that, Frankie. Don’t let your mom go to that shit.”
“What do you mean?”
“Frankie, you idiot. You know what happens at those singles things? Women go to look for nice Catholic men to marry. Guys go to look for a nice Catholic girl to fuck. If your mom goes there she’s comin back fucked by some guy.”
“Fuck you,” Frank says, punchin Carlo on the shoulder.
“It’s true,” he says, laughin. “When’s the last time your mom got any, man? Your pops got hauled off, right?” She’s probably beggin for it!”
Frank goes to punch him again, but just turns around and hangs on the fence.
“Man, you lookin for someone?” Binto finally says.
And he has no idea why—maybe it’s all the horniness buildin up in him—but Frankie tells ‘em, says he’s lookin at Gloria Gutierrez, and right away Carlo and Binto bust up laughin, nearly fallin over, and Frank’s face turns bright pink.
“Man, I know that chick,” Carlo says, laughin. “There’s no way she’s hangin around your white ass.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Frank yells. “But I’m still lookin anyways, so fuck you both.”
“Hey, let’s get her over here,” Carlo says, and without waitin he starts screamin “Gloria!” Screamin it like a madman, and Frankie’s tryin to shut him up, and Binto’s just laughin, ‘cause that’s all he ever does.
There’re probably a hundred chicks all lyin along the pool stacked up next to each other like logs, but when she hears her name bein screamed from way down near the entrance, Gloria pokes her head up, and her two friends do, too.
Frankie and Carlo can just barely make out her little body stickin up around all those other girls, but Carlo keeps screamin her name and wavin at her until she finally gets up and starts walkin over. Frankie turns to leave but Carlo holds Frank there with his huge arm.
Gloria’s shorter than her two friends, but it’s obvious she’s the leader, because they walk behind her.
“What do you guys want?” she yells as she’s walkin at them. Her voice is tough, like she already smokes too many cigarettes.
Carlo’s tryin not to laugh, holdin on to Frank, who won’t even look at Gloria.
“Hey, we got some cash, you wanna get drunk?
Gloria sees these three idiots standing on the other side of the fence, sweatin, their hair greasy, wearin hand-me-down shirts and sweatpants. And she knows Carlo and Binto from around, and she thinks she recognizes the white kid from somewhere, and she decides that there’s nothin better to do, so she speaks for her group and says, “Yeah, why not?”
And when Frankie hears that, he stops strugglin with Carlo and turns and looks at Gloria, who’s smilin at him through the cyclone fence. Who knows, maybe he’s got a chance.
But he doesn’t. Gloria played him. They all played him. Stupid white kid with too much cash in his pocket got duped into buyin beer for everyone, and now while they’re sittin on the rocks gettin drunk by the river, Frankie’s by himself kickin at dirt clods, feelin like he’s goin straight to Hell when he dies. His poor mother.
And then he gets to thinkin how unfair it is. How a girl like Gloria can get anything she wants—anything!—and all she has to do is shake her ass a bit. She’s probably been doin it her whole life. Thinkin how it’s not fair, how someone should do something, and as he’s thinkin this, he’s been tossin a dirt clod around in his hand, feelin how crumbly it is, and before he can even realize what he’s doin, he’s windin up like he’s tryin out for the Sox, and he wings that chunk of dirt toward everyone, watchin it fly, slow and wobbly. And then everything goes silent. It doesn’t even click until he sees Carlo runnin at him, sprintin fast as hell, and he only catches a glimpse of Gloria holdin her head, a little trickle of blood slidin down her face. And no joke, right before Carlo is on top of him, poundin the shit out of him, Frank says to himself, “Nice shot.” It doesn’t take long for Carlo to realize that there ain’t much fight in Frank. He lands a few blows and then tells him to get his white ass out of there and that’s that.
It’s a lonely walk home. The sun’s goin down now and he can feel welts on his forehead bulging up and hummin with hurt. The sweat on his skin is coolin off, givin him the chills. Or maybe it’s that he’s gonna have to tell his mom that he pissed her money away. They live in a small bungalow at the bottom of the hill over on Pearl Street. It’s just Frankie and his mom; it’s all she can afford. He comes in and he can smell meat cookin. Probably something Mom got for free from work. She gets the cheap cuts and cooks the stuff for hours until it finally gives up and decides to taste good.
She’s in the kitchen, sittin on the counter, watchin the flickering blue picture on the little television next to the toaster. Her hair’s up on top of her head, and she looks exhausted—bags under her eyes, deep lines at the corners of her mouth. She smells like blood from cutting meat all day, and her skin’s pale because she never gets to go outside.
“Hey, Frankie,” she says, not lookin at him. “Dinner’ll be ready soon.”
He nods and heads for his room, but she stops him.
“How’d it go with the dress?” she asks, her words chasing him down.
He stops and turns around. He’s crying. When did that start? Trying not to, but he is all the same, his head hurtin like hell.
“I didn’t get it, Mom,” he says, and he can’t look her in the eye, but he can feel the worry on her face, seein her son lookin beat to hell. He’s staring at every inch of that kitchen except her. The dirty tile, the oven with the crooked door, the cracked countertops, the table that has a phonebook from ’87 holding up its bad leg.
“I didn’t get it.”
“What happened to you?” She’s concerned that Frankie got mugged or something. That makes him feel worse, that now he’s worrying her. He thinks about just lying to her, saying he got jacked a few blocks away, that he did the smart thing and just gave the guy the money, but he got pounded anyway. But he can’t.
“I blew the money on beer. I got it from Harold.”
“Harold from up the street?”
Frankie nods. There’s a long silence and he looks up at his mom, and her face is stone cold. “So you got drunk and got in a fight? Is that what you’re tellin me?”
“I didn’t drink any. I only had money for Carlo and Binto and the others.”
“Gloria Gutierrez and her two friends.”
Mom hops off the counter and checks the oven, grabs some plates and starts setting the table. She lets Frank’s words linger in the air. This is what she does. Frank just stands there, never knowin if he should keep talkin or just shut up.
“So you like this Gloria girl?” she finally says, leaning over the kitchen table, the ceiling lamp close to her head.
Frankie shrugs. “I thought maybe I did. But she just wanted me to buy her beer.”
Mom nods like she was there.
“Gotta watch out for that. You gotta be meaner, Frankie, or every girl is just gonna take advantage of you. Sometimes you gotta be mean.”
“I was. That’s how I ended up like this.”
She gives him a long stare, waiting for him to talk.
“I was just thinkin, gettin all worked up and feelin shitty that I lost your money, and before I knew what happened I chucked a dirt clod and hit her in the head.”
“Is she okay?”
“I dunno. Probably. Carlo kicked the shit outta me and that was it.”
Then they ate dinner and didn’t say another word.
Later, Frank’s sittin on the couch watchin television, and Mom’s headin for bed, but he stops her and asks, “Why did you wanna go to that singles thing at Our Lady?”
“I thought it’d be fun,” she says, massaging her tired neck. “Maybe I’ll just go without the dress. No tricks, just me. Girls are all about tricks, Frankie. Don’t fall for them.”
And she turns to leave, but she stops and says, “You know what you did to that girl was wrong, yeah?”
“You saw the way your dad treated me. Part of it was my fault for not stoppin it sooner, but he’s locked up now.” She rubs at her watery gray eyes. You can’t think that sort of thing is okay. You can’t.”
Frank nods some more, feelin his Adam’s apple seize up at the remembered sounds of screams and breakin plates.
She heads for her bedroom door and says, “Oh, and you owe me thirty-five bucks.” Then she goes into her lonely bedroom and closes the door behind her, and Frankie thinks to himself, Man, I need some new friends.
About the Artist
Emma Webster, Stanford University
Emma Webster graduated in 2011 with a B.A. in art practice and has received numerous grants and awards, most notably the Raina Giese Award in Creative Painting. She has studied painting at the Slade in London, École d’Art Plastique in Paris, and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Most recently, she exhibited at the Oceanside Museum of Art.