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Trauma Plate


ISSUE:  Summer 1999

The Body Armor Emporium opened down the street a few months back, and I tell you, it’s killing mom-and-pop bulletproof vest rental shops like ours. We’ve tried all the gimmicks: two-for-one rentals, the VIP card, a night drop. But the end is near, and lately we have taken to bringing the VCR with us to the shop, where we sit around watching old movies.

Lakeview was supposed to expand our way, but receded toward the interstate, and here we are, in an abandoned strip mall, next to the closed down Double Drive In where Jane and I spent our youth. After K-Mart moved out, most of the stores followed, leaving only us, a Godfather’s Pizza, and a store, I swear, that sells nothing but purified water and ice. It is afternoon, near the time when Ruthie gets out of school, and behind the counter, Jane and I face 40 acres of empty parking spaces while watching Blue Hawaii.

I am inspecting the vests—again—for wear and tear, a real time killer, and the way Jane sighs when Elvis scoops the orphan kid into the jeep tells me this movie may make her cry. “When’s he going to dive off that cliff?” I ask.

“That’s Fun in Acapulco,” Jane says. “We used to have it on Beta.” She sets down her design pad. “God, remember Beta?”

“Jesus, we were kids,” I say, though I feel it, the failed rightness of Betamax smiling at us from the past.

“I loved Betamax,” she says.

I only rented one vest yesterday, and doubtful I’ll rent another today, await its safe return. There aren’t many customers like Mrs. Espers anymore. She’s a widow and only rents vests to attend a support group that meets near the airport. The airpark’s only a medium on threat potential, but I always send her out armed with my best: 36-layer Kevlar, German made, with lace side panels and a removable titanium trauma plate that slides into a Velcro pocket over the heart the size of a love letter. The Kevlar will field a . 45 hit, but it’s the trauma plate that will knock down a 12-gauge slug and leave it sizzling in your pantcuff. I wear a lighter, 2-panel model, while Jane goes for the Cadillac—a $1400 field vest with over-shoulders and a combat collar. It’s like a day-long bear hug, she says. It feels that safe. She hasn’t worn a bra in three years.

The State Fair is two weeks away, which is usually our busiest season, so Jane’s working on a new designer line we think may turn things around. Everyone’s heard the reports of trouble the State Fair has caused other places: clown killings in Omaha, that Midway shootout in Columbus, 4-H snipers in Fargo.

Her custom work started with the training vest she made for Ruthie, our 14 year old. It was my idea, really, but Jane’s the artist. The frame’s actually a small men’s, with the bottom ring of Kevlar removed, so it’s like a bulletproof bolero, an extra set of ribs really. The whole lower G.I. track is exposed, but fashion, comfort, anything to get the kids to wear their vests these days. Last week I had Jane line a backpack with Kevlar, which I think will rent because it not only saves important gear, but protects the upper spine in a quick exit. Next, I want to toy with a Kevlar baby carrier, but the problem as I see it will be making a rig that’s stiff enough to support the lad, yet loose enough to move full-speed in. We’ll see.

Through the windows, there’s a Volvo crossing the huge lot, and I can tell by the way it ignores the lane markings that it’s not the kind of person who cares about the dangers of tainted water and stray bullets. The car veers toward Godfather’s pizza, almost aiming for the potholes, and Jane sniffles as Elvis hulas with the wide-eyed orphan at the beach party. “Remember Ruthie at that age?” I ask.

“You bet,” Jane says.

“Let’s have another baby.”

“Sure,” she answers, but she’s only half listening. She really gets into these movies.

After Elvis is over, Jane makes ice teas while I drag two chairs out into the parking lot so we can enjoy some of the coming evening’s cool. We bring the cordless phone, lean back in the chairs and point our feet toward sunset. This time of day brings a certain relief because even in September, a good vest is like an oven.

There is a freedom that comes with doom, and lately we use our large lot to play Frisbee in the evening or football in the near-dark, with Ruthie always outrunning one of us for the long bomb. Some nights the Filipinos who own the water store drift out under the awnings to watch us. They wipe their brows with apron ends and seem to wonder what kind of place this America is.

Honestly, I’ve lost most of my spirit in the fight against the Emporium. When we opened, we were cutting edge, we were thinking franchise. Our customers were middle class, people like us; they still wanted to believe but understood that, hey, once in a while you needed a little insurance. Their lives were normal, but nobody went out on New Year’s without a vest. To buy a vest ten years ago was to admit defeat, to say what’s out there isn’t just knocking at the door—it’s upstairs, using your toothbrush, saying good morning to your wife.

As the sun sinks lower, we watch the first pizza delivery boys of the evening zoom off in their compact cars, and it’s a sight that hurts to see. These are high-school kids, most of them too poor to afford or too young to appreciate the value of a vest. I mean, they’re going out there every night as is, which makes them all the more alluring to Ruth.

People used to make excuses when they came in to rent a vest—vacationing in Mexico, weekend in the city, reception at a Ramada Inn, flying Delta. Now they’re haggling over expired rent-9-get-l-free coupons. Now they’re going to the Emporium to buy 16-layer Taiwanese knock-offs for 300 bucks. The Emporium is 24-hours, something I’m philosophically against: you should see the tattoos on some of those guys coming out of there at 3:00 a.m. These days people are making the investment. They’re admitting the world’s a dangerous place.

Across the parking lot, we see Ruth peddling toward us. She’s wearing a one-piece red Speedo, her training vest, and the Kevlar backpack. Her hair is still wet from freshmen swim practice. She meanders over, awkward on a Schwinn she is now too big for, and peddling big, easy loops around us, announces that she’s an outcast. “Only dorks wear their vests to school,” she says. “You’re killing my scene.”

It feels good though, the open-endedness of the day, the last light on my feet, being the center of my daughter’s universe for a few minutes. Ruth pedals then coasts, pedals then coasts, the buzz of her wheel bearings filling the gaps in our afternoon, and I almost forget about the Emporium.

Later, after Jane leaves to find Ruthie and take her home for the evening, I’m sitting in the shop when Mrs. Espers comes in. She looks a little down, is holding the vest like it’s made of burlap and I know the feeling: it’s been one of those days for me too.

“How was the support group?” I ask as I fill out her receipt.

“I’ve crossed the line,” she says.

“How’s that?”

“I’m not afraid of flying anymore.”

I’m not sure what this means in terms of her group, of whether she’ll no longer be needing my services, but you know, I say, “Great, congratulations.”

“I’m not afraid of anything,” she says with a certain formality.

“Wow, good, good.”

She pauses at the sight of her held-out receipt and shakes her head no. “I’m sorry, Bill, but I’ve made the decision.”

She says this and leaves, and I’m left thinking she’s decided to go to the Emporium to make the purchase. I figure some flying counselor talked her into the idea of permanent protection, but it is when I go to throw her vest atop the “in” stack, when I remove the titanium trauma plate that I know she will never wear a vest again. The shiny titanium is lead-streaked, and as I rub my thumb in the indention some bullet has made, I can still feel her body heat on it.

I float out into the parking lot and watch her red taillights disappear into the night, and know that she’s right, she’s free, that nobody gets shot in the heart twice. I stand in a handicapped parking spot, rubbing the titanium, and I lean against the old shopping cart bin. The faint laughter of distant gunfire comes from the direction of the railyard, and I look at the lighted windows of the few shops left in the mall, but can only see the darkened stores between them. In my hands, the bright titanium reflects the stars my 14-year-old already knows by heart, but I no longer have it in me to look up, to lift my head to the place of our dreams, Jane’s and mine, when we were 18.

I wander the mall, waiting for my wife to return, something which takes longer and longer these days. She gets a little melancholy now and then, needs a little space to herself, and I understand; these are hard times we’re living in. Leaving the shop wide open, I head for the Godfather’s. But when I get there. I’m confused because I see my daughter through the window, the girl my wife said she was taking home.

Ruth is leaned up against an ancient Donkey Kong machine, talking to a deliver boy on a backwards chair. She is wearing her training vest with nothing on under, you can tell, and this boy stares at the exposed plane of her stomach. She has her cheek against the side of the video game, chatting about something, while the boy subtly marvels at how the fine hairs around her navel hum pink in the neon beer light, and I am roaring through the door. I walk right up to my daughter and thump her trauma plate to hear the squish of a cigarette pack and the crack of a CD case. Out of the pocket that should cover her heart forever, I pull Aerosmith and menthols.

I grab her by the wrist. “Where’s your protection?”

“Jesus, Dad,” she says and starts to dig in the backpack at her feet.

The pizza boy looks like he’s about to pipe in, and I wheel on him, “Your parents don’t love you.”

“Dad, nobody wears their vests to school. I’m a total outcast.”

This is my daughter. This is the age she is at.

Jane eventually returns, finds me watching Cool Hand Luke in the dark store, and neither of us says anything. She puts her hands on the counter when she comes in, and I ask no questions about where she’s been. I place my hands on hers, stroke the backs of her fingers, and then turn out the lights, closing up shop a little early.

Lately we have taken to cruising late at night under the guise of R & D.We’ll pull the tarp off the 72 Monte Carlo her mom left us, the car Jane used to run wild in. It has the optional swivel passenger seat, black leather, that can turn 180 degrees. We grab the foam cooler and Jane swivels the seat all the way around so her feet are on the backseat and her head reclines to the dash, so she can watch me drive her wherever she wants to go. We’ll glide by the boarded-up Ice Plant where we once drank on summer nights feet dangling off the loading ramps. We prowl past by the Roadhouse with our lights off and count the Ninja motorcycles lined up out front. The cemetery these days is fenced and locked and a security guard cruises the old stadium in a golf cart, but we circle nonetheless.

Midnight finds us rolling through the waves of the old Double Drive In, the gravel crunching under our tires, the Monte Carlo’s trunk bottoming out like it used to, and all the broken glass, beer caps and bullet casings now sparkle like stars.

We park and sit on the warm, ticking car hood and look off at the Emporium across the street. We have his and hers binoculars, 7X40s from her father on our tenth anniversary, and we sit here, side by side in the dark, as we check out their customers. We train our lenses at the bright displays. Jane rolls her focus in and out.

“Is that Fred Sayles?” she asks. “By the baby armor.”

I focus in on him fondling the competition’s goods. “That son of a bitch.”

“Remember the night he streaked through the second feature?”

“We all turned on our headlights. The Day the Earth Stood Still, right?”

“Plan Nine From Outer Space,” she says. “Remember window speakers?”

“Remember high-point beer.”

“Nash seats.”

“Trunkloads.”

“Keys left in the ignition.”

“Mars Invades.”

We both look up.

II.

It is a moment near the end of things, a point at which, seated in a lawn chair amid the vast emptiness of a K-Mart parking lot, Jane is forced to reflect. Her husband is giving driving lessons to her daughter, who loops circles around Jane in the old Caprice they are now reduced to driving. The circles are big and slow, impending as Jane’s thoughts, which come to focus on the notion that Ruthie’s 16, and Bill should have taught her this a year ago.

The Caprice stops, backs up, parallel parks between a pair of worn yellow lines somehow chosen from the thousands in front of the closed-down discounter. It’s just like Bill, she thinks, to worry about lines when there’s not another car for miles. Jane lifts her hand and the sun disappears. In this brief shade she notices the moon, too, is up there.

Check your mirrors, she can hear Bill say, even from here, as he trains her daughter to always, always be on the lookout. But Jane knows Ruthie’s come to be on intimate terms with her blindspot. It’s one of the few things they share these days.

Behind her their small rental store is empty. These days, the final ones, he has a VCR running all day in the shop. Over her shoulder she can hear the melancholic coo of Jailhouse Rock— Bill’s choice today—and it feels like it is their whole history looming behind them: the mom-and-pop store, those liberal-arts dreams, their own let’s put on a barn dance notion of being their own bosses, here, in a strip mall. She has the cordless phone with her, but it doesn’t ring, has not in we don’t talk about how long, and Jane reclines some in the heat, points her feet toward the horizon.

Look out, Bill yells, you just hit a Volvo, and slaps the dash for effect, leaving Ruthie momentarily breathless: she swivels her head to see the chrome and glass she must have missed, but there is only 40 acres of empty parking.

The sun swoops low, Ruthie pedals off to junior-varsity swim practice, and no, Jane says, not The Treasure of Sierra Madre again. On the counter before them are two dozen bulletproof vests frayed to the point that they wouldn’t stop slingshots and 60 or 70 videos Bill got cheap when the Video-Utopia store closed three stores down. And here’s where we are, Jane thinks, between a chapter-11 pizza joint and a store that has made the switch from water to spirits. This is the place we arc at, around the corner from the drive-in theater where she and Bill spent their youth, a place she won’t oven look at because these days, even worse than hope, nostalgia is her enemy.

Bill shrugs his shoulders, lights a menthol, and pops in Vita Las Vegas, as if Elvis can soothe her anymore, as if Elvis wasn’t 187,000 miles away.

Jane begins to toy with the register, hitting no sale, no sale, a sound she knows can wound him. But Bill’s busy doing “R & D.” as he calls it. First he thought bulletproof teen wear would save the business, and he made Ruthie wear a “training” vest to school for two years to drum up business. Now she won’t take the vest off for her life.

Bill tuggs the straps of his Kevlar carrier, trying to simulate every force that could come between a mother and child. Then he begins stuffing the carrier with video tapes—Glint Eastwood, Annette Funicello, Benji—until, he seems to decide, the carrier takes on the mass and weight of a small person, and he is off on tonight’s R & D, running laps around the abandoned drive-in to gauge the carrier’s give and take, its ability to cradle a baby at full speed.

Now that he is gone, Jane unfastens the chest-crushing vest, and it smolders off her with all that body heat. She pinches the sticky shirt from her side, runs her hand underneath, over creases in the skin she knows are red. She wakes up some nights, thinking the oven has been left on. She can feel the coils glowing downstairs, but she won’t go check, she won’t give it that. Now she pulls the twenties, tens and fives from the till, for safety’s sake, she thinks, so she can feel the lightweight cash in her pocket.

Wandering, she strolls along the grit-worn sidewalk, stares at stars through holes in the K-Mart awning. This way it all looks black up there, the occasional star the rarity. There are bullet holes in the masonry between her and the old Godfather’s, and she stops to twist her pinkie in the lead-traced pocks. Mr. Ortiz, the Filipino who owns the liquor store, has started keeping a gun in his register, she’s sure. She hasn’t seen it, but there’s a weight in the cash drawer that nearly pulls the register off the counter when he makes a sale.

There was a day when she was scared of guns, when the vest store seemed like the right idea, a public service even. Jesus, they had really said that to each other. Though she has never touched a gun, she’s confident now she could heft one pretty handily, squeeze off a few rounds, rest it warm against her cheek and smell the breech.

Where the masonry meets glass, she thinks she gets a glimpse of him reflected out there, an aberration in the dark lot. Behind her. she’s sure it’s his arms glinting, racing nearly invisible in a sheen of black Kevlar. But she does not turn to be sure.

At the pizza joint, she sees through the window her daughter stretched across the empty bartop, drafting two beers into Styrofoam cups. Ruthie’s hair is still wet from j-v swim, and she wears loose-hanging jeans over her red Speedo. Now she’s got her trauma plate pulled out and is using it as a lipstick mirror, drinking between applications. This is something Jane has never before seen, Ruthie so loose with her trauma plate, and this makes Jane stop outside and stare.

There is a boy, one of those big Ortiz kids it looks like, and he and Ruthie are drinking hard and fast together. Jane looks at them for some time through the soap paint on the window, an interstellar pizza scene. Ruthie laughs, they drink, something is said to her, and she punches him hard. He thumps her back, there, in the chest, and then she’s holding him again, cupping his chin in the open throat of her palms, the Vulcan oven glowing behind them. She holds him, they dance three slow steps, he spins her. They drink, they laugh, they box each other’s ears, they drink again, laughing ‘til fine mists of beer shoot pink from their mouths in the neon light.

This is a careless spirit Jane has forgotten. As she sees them whisper, she remembers a time before Bill, and tries to read her daughter’s lips. Ruthie nubs her forehead against the jut of this boy’s cheekbone, whispering, and Jane almost thinks she can make it out—let’s make a break for Texas, her daughter might be saying, and I want my Monte Carlo back, Jane thinks. She imagines a car she will never see again, enters it under maroon T-tops, feels the rocking slosh of dual fuel tanks, smells the leather, hears the spark plugs crackle to life, and swivels in custom seats to see it all disappear behind her.

Later, after she has dropped Ruthie off at home, Jane steers the Caprice the long way back to the shop, where she will wait out the last hour with Bill before closing. He will want to make love tonight. she knows—Westerns always do that to him, especially The Treasure of Sierra Madre—and that’s okay with her. But there’s one stop she needs to make.

She slowly eases past the Body Armor Emporium, and just getting caught in its gallery lights is enough to draw her in. She’s been here before, enough times it would kill Bill to know. Inside, the lights are of the brightest variety, the walls white, expansive, always that smell like aspirin coming off the rows and rows of black nylon vests. Jane could care less about every vest in the world, but she runs her ringers down whole groves of them because unlike her husband, she feels safe in the arms of the enemy.

There is a tall man, older, with close-cropped grey hair and no-fooling shoulders he seems almost embarrassed of—a by-product of the joy of exertion—and he beckons her into the fitting mirrors where she sees herself in satellite view, from three different angles. For a moment, there are no blindspots and she is at ease. This man takes her measurements quietly, as he has done many times before— humming and storing numbers in his head—the little green tape zipping under his thumbnail as he circles the wings of her pelvis and cliffdives down to her pantcuffs. He is calm, confident, placing his hand warm on her sternum to demonstrate where the trauma plate will be. She closes her eyes, remembering a time when she still believed, feels his fingers measuring over, under the cups of her breasts—Jane inhaling—for the purchase she will never make.

III.

Let’s say you’re 17. Your mom checked out a while ago. Some nights she just disappears, the Caprice peeling out in front of the family rental store, and maybe you’ll see her near morning, standing out there in the parking lot, buzzed, taking pot shots at the giant drive-in screens two miles away.

Your old man’s a little wacked-out too. Let’s say you’re crashed out with Hector, both of you sleeping in the Home Improvement section of K-Mart, his hand over the nylon vest he again tried to remove tonight, and even though you quit the team, you’re dreaming you’re swimming the butterfly. Stroke stroke, dig dig, Mr. Halverson is yelling in the dream but you can go no faster. Hector is swimming under you, upside-down, telling you use your back, your cheat, put your shoulders into it, but it is useless because these are the parts of you that are always, always off limits.

So you’re sleeping, 3:00 a. m. say, when your dad rents a vest to some punk who uses it to rob the Filipino drug store two doors down. and after, Mr. Ortiz, Hector’s dad.stands waving his Colt .45 and saying he’s going to put a hole in your old man big as a mantel clock. And there is your father, facing him in a vast black parking lot. wearing an Israeli alz-hesjhad 48-layer combat field vest and he’s shouting come on, come on and get some. You watch this scene with Hector from the bankrupt pizza place, both of you curious if his dad will shoot your dad, and Hector tells you he’s heard there’s a smell when the hot bullet melts the nylon on its way toward Kevlar. Like a cross between Tanqueray gin and burning hair, he says, a green-black gum. You remember that Canis Major was wheeling overhead that night.

Let’s say that Pluto’s gone, that the little planet swings wide out day and never comes back. Your varsity swim coach is also your Advanced Placement Astronomy teacher, and in AP Astronomy, the boys never stop because yours are the only breasts that are a mystery to them. It’s a game they play, rapping on your titanium trauma plate when they pass in the hall, though you know the spirit of their fingers goes deeper, and you learn to put your arms up in anticipation. In class, the sun and earth are two white dots, while Pluto’s historical orbit, as Mr. Halverson calls it, races away with his running chalkline across four blackboards. Sometimes he lectures directly to the Kevlar outline of your chest. These boys have never seen Pluto, have never reached for it across a black sky, but they moan and wring their hands, as if they can feel its loss, just out of reach, as Mr. Halverson’s orbit line comes to a halt at the end of the black slate.

There’s nothing out there but starlight and locomotion. Halverson tells you at night swim practice. You think about this for 5,000 yards, back-stroking through the blue lanes, the steam rising off your arms to the batter-black sky.

And this is what you come home wet to, the place where you grew up: a hole in the wall behind a dumpster that opens into the dust-flashing cavern of a closed-down K-Mart. Here is where you learn to drive at 13, racing rusty carts full hilt through Automotive. Among the smashed racks of Entertainment is where Hector always waits for you. You first kiss in the room above, with mirrors that are really windows, lookouts over a discount wasteland. Through the ductwork, you can hear the non-stop static of your old man’s stupid movies. You hear him joking through the vent, endlessly joking. Always take a bomb with you when you fly on an airplane, he says to a rare customer, it’s safer, because the odds of there being two bombs on board are astronomical,

You’ve slept with seven boys in here, making love, they call it, for your sake, but you know better. Through the hole, into the dark K-Mart, they come, and you are waiting for them. But none ever fingers your ribs, strokes your shoulders, handles that hollow under your heart because every time one starts to tug on those Velcro straps you are in terror. That is your event horizon, Mr. Halverson calls it at swim practice, the speed beyond which you can no longer safely swim without changing your form, the point at which you must let yourself be taken by your own current. Safety is your enemy, he likes to say, and you know he’s right. In your own K-Mart you’re safe, vested, with 36 layers of Kevlar to help you take a boy’s weight on top of you. But in a Speedo, wet, leaning over the starting block, dripping on the springboard, it’s like being naked under floodlights, un-shouldered and alone. That’s what made you break the school record in the 400 Individual Medley last month—the arm-throwing terror of being vestless before the shouts of those who want the most from you. You took your little trophy—a golden girl, hands up, chest out—and quit the team.

Karen Coles, whose locker is above yours, is seeing Mr. Halverson. Everybody knows since she crashed his Volvo last week. But only you’ve seen the notes that have floated through the cracks into your locker, only you know that she veered on purpose, that she was testing what was between them when she crossed the centerline, that she was saying I love you even as the airbags blew in their faces.

Your father is different since Mr. Ortiz fired those warning shots in the parking lot that night. He tries to be even more happy-go-lucky, but there is a nervous edge to it, and you know that he is the one on the lookout now. He has bought a gun, a little silver number, your mom calls it, and she stores it under her end of the counter. You remember the excuse he gave, leaning down to you at 14: it’s for that one bullet, that one well-intended bullet, and after that the odds say you’re good. This is the line that made you cinch your Velcro straps and wonder if you’d hear the bullet coming. But now you wonder if deep-down, your old man isn’t disappointed Mr. Ortiz didn’t shoot for the heart. At home, you turn the oven on before climbing into bed.

It is the last of the warm days, the end of the semester nearing, one more ‘till you graduate, and Mr. Halverson has saved the best for last. black holes. For now, the black and the hole do not seem to concern him. It is a thing called the event horizon he describes, the line beyond which light is forever drawn in, and you know this is going to be his big metaphor for life, his contribution toward bettering your future, a lecture, you can tell, he has made before. He draws a big. easy circle on the board and asks everyone to reflect a moment on the point of no return. But you know it is a mistake to call it that because nothing ever returns, really. Orbits are only historical. You like the swim-team explanation better: call it a line beyond which you can expect only a change in form and high rates of speed, a point of sudden inevitability. You lean back in your desk, you foot looping big. easily drawing his attention, and with a rift in his breathing, he returns his lecture to an institutional mode, comparing the point of no return to drugs and drop-outs, to the joys of college learning and beyond. And we all know what happens in the black hole, he concludes, but his heart is no longer in it. You know those airbags were his event horizon.

In bed, at night, you sweat. You dream in shades of pink and green of gin and burning hair. In the morning, you, your mom, your dad, all eat breakfast in boxer shorts and bulletproof vests. Dad has a VCR set up on the table and watches Clambake! while your mom stares at her cereal.

You had been thinking about it this way: there’s a ring around the thing that draws you near—the palms of Hector’s hands, say, or your reflection in Halverson’s glasses—and to cross that line is to be taken, swept, changed. But today you see it different. Today, standing in the empty AP classroom, not wanting to believe the rumors that Halverson’s fired, packed up in his rental car and gone, you wonder where is your event horizon, where is the line beyond which something will forever be drawn to you. His handwriting is still on the blackboard. Binary star homework due Tuesday, is all it says, and he can’t be gone, he can’t be. Stupidly waiting under the Styrofoam-coat hanger model of the solar system you reach up and set it in motion. But the hand-colored planets swing too smoothly it seems to you, too safely Halverson would say, and plucking Pluto from the mix sets the model wildly spinning.

So it’s not just anybody waiting for you in the K-Mart after school, not just some boy grabbing you by the vest straps and pulling you to him, but Hector. It’s Hector’s drugstore heart thumping next to yours, Hector’s letterman chest against yours, Hector’s diveteam hips gaining on yours and you want to believe, you want.

Hector has his father’s gun, you your mother’s, and you will ask the boy you love to break the plate guarding your heart. Hector has a Monte Carlo and you’ve seen the movie Bullitt enough times in your dad’s shop that there’s a California roadmap in your head as clear as the grooves around Steve McQueen’s eyes, deep as the veins in Hector’s arms, but it is not enough. The line must be crossed. He’s ten feet from you, a parking space away. You hand him your mother’s silver little number. It will knock you down, you know, there will be that smell, but soon there will be no more vests, no more fears, only Hector’s fingers on the bruise he’s made, on your sternum, and the line will be crossed, the event set in motion, at the highest of speeds.

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