I knew for weeks before he finally told her. His teeth gave him away.
I’d never seen them before, then one day there they were. Every time he walked through the door. It reminded my mother of the man she’d met as a teenager, a man in love. When he walked out the door, she was making us dinner.
I followed him, leaving my mother in a pool of tears and tomato sauce. I followed him all the way to his new home; a five story walk up on a street with no streetlamps. She opened the door, Graciela—desgraciada—a girl just two years older than me.
“Hey girl,” she patted my arm, “Aren’t you the chick who did those bomb ass braids in math class?”
“Well hook me up then, bitch! I have spin class in the morning,” she brushed her bare midriff then patted her ass, eyes on my father,“gotta keep things tight for my Papí.”
I turned around as he mauled her, setting my suitcase down in a tiny closet stuffed with a chair and a twin mattress on the floor. I counted the thuds against my wall: uno, dos, tres hijas, quarto, cinco, seis, siete mentiras, ocho, nueve, diez, once, doce años casados, trece, catorze, quince años tengo yo, dice y sies, dice y siete años tiene ella…a grunt, that made my skin crawl ended the thudding.
A few moments later Graciela appeared in a threadbare robe.
“What do you say, girl? Hook me up?”
She let down her hair, and it cascaded in loose, glossy waves, curling under the silhouette of her breasts. She sat down in front of me, and I could smell father, acrid and stale like something out of the basement.
I pulled the comb from my suitcase and set about untangling the knots he’d woven into her mane. My fingers moved quickly.
“That’s a little tight, homie, ease up,” she laughed as I braided from the hairline to the crown of her head.
“It has to be like that,” my voice sank into the ugly floral wallpaper.
Pulling tighter, I kneeled to gain leverage. Let me be clear with you: I knew exactly what I was doing. Just like I knew what he was doing when he came home dancing and baring his teeth.
I saw the first few strands of hair plucked out of her scalp.
“Damn homie, alright, you’re doing that Kardashian braid shit, get it then. I wanna stay fly.”
The skin along her widow’s peak was tearing, but she was too flooded with her own sex and power to even feel it. I dragged the blood along her hairline and continued to braid, reaching the nape of her neck.
I pulled her hair into a bundle and wrapped it around my fist like a tourniquet, leaning into her ear.
“Graciela, do you know what your name means?”
“Yo back off me man, what is this” she squirmed, blood trickling down her forehead.
She could feel it now, hot and sticky through her robe. I tugged, not even very hard, and her scalp slid back, exposing white matter and steamy blood.
“It means Grace of God,”
I twisted and pulled my arm back so hard it slammed into the wall behind me. She dropped in front of me, her flimsy robe exposing everything she’d already given up. I could hear my father snoring in the other room as I stepped over her body and out of the closet. I don’t think my feet touched the ground the entire walk home.
“Por DIOS muchacha, I thought you were gone forever.” My mother hugged me.
Her short hair was graying and a little wiry, it smelled like pepper and coffee. She took a look at me, at my hands dotted with blood and took a step back.
“What did you do? WHAT DID YOU DO?”
She wasn’t used to seeing my teeth, either.