Read an Excerpt
The Brooklyn housing projects were deserted as Eva
Patterson took a shortcut through the buildings, trying not to get drenched in the pouring rain. It was unusually cold for early fall, and all she had on was the corduroy skirt and Salvation Army sweater she’d been wearing when Rasheena kicked her out of their tenement apartment, but the temperature was the last thing on her mind as her eyes scanned the crime- ridden buildings in search of a safe place to go.
“Sheena, please . . .” Their neighbor Iris had butt in on the earlier drama as Rasheena cursed her daughter out like she was a grown woman. Iris had puffed out her cheeks and held her breath between tokes of weed. “Stunt, stop fuckin’ trippin’. Eva’s a good girl. And young as she is, I know you ain’t . . . putting her out in the . . . street this time of . . .
It was a GreyGoose night, and Rasheena drunk was somebody altogether different than Rasheena high. The high Rasheena would have been sitting in a corner somewhere. Getting her nod on and leaving Eva the hell alone.The drunk Rasheena had stood over her daughter giving her a grimy look that said Eva could kiss her ass.
“What?!?” Rasheena had turned to Iris. “Fourteen is grown!
Sheeit . . . my ass was on the ave gettin’ tricked when I was twelve. Who the fuck took care of me?”
Rasheena slurped a mouthful of Goose straight from the bottle, then chased it with a long swig of cranberry juice and explained. “Look, I. If you lie you steal, and Eva is a thief. A
goddamn thief. There’s two things I ain’t ’bout to watch in my own goddamn house. My duji and my dick! Ya feel me? Eva grown enough to fuck with my man and dabble in my shit?
Then she grown enough to let the doorknob hit’er in the ass on the way out!”
“Well damnnn,” Iris toked the blunt and muttered under her breath. “Y’all the ones who got her started on that shit in the first place . . .”
Eva had just sat there crying inside and looking forty instead of fourteen. She had tried to dip in Rasheena’s stash, but she’d been sick all day and couldn’t go out and make no money. Eva hated stealing from her mother. These days she hated taking anything from anybody, but she had a hungry monkey on her back. And Iris had it right. Eva wasn’t responsible for putting herself on the gutter path to drug abuse, but neither did she have what it took to get off of it. She hadn’t gotten a hit all day,
and just thinking about having to get out on those cold streets was enough to bring her jones down even harder.
“Don’t worry I got you,” Eva’s stepfather Jahden put his hand up to his mouth and whispered. He winked and grinned as Eva slunk into the tiny room she’d once shared with her cousin
Fuego, whose street- translated name was Fiyah. Eva missed her cousin real bad. But Fiyah’s mother had gotten out of rehab a couple of years earlier and he’d gone back to Harlem to live with her. Even with all the grimy things they’d done together
Fiyah was down for her through thick and thin, and Eva wished she could have escaped to Harlem with him.
“And don’t you take a damn thing outta here that I bought you!” Rasheena screamed from the kitchen. Eva sighed. The only thing she was interested in taking from the room was the most important thing.
Jahden grabbed her thin arm as she headed out the front door.
“Hold on, baby. I said I got you.” A mid- level drug dealer,
Jahden specialized in pushing smack while most trap boys were busy trading that rock. His hand slid around Eva’s narrow shoulders then fell to the small of her back. Eva stiffened as his fingers crept down the lump of her ass and massaged her cheeks. A cold sweat broke out all over her skin. If my real father was here Jah wouldn’t be touching me like this, she cried inside.
This nasty pervert woulda been bodied by now. Eva bit her tongue, trying not to throw up. Jahden liked to cold sex her.
He would do things to her that Eva’s young body just wasn’t ready to handle. There was no end to his twisted demands, and earlier in the day he had forced Eva to sit on the floor and watch him fuck Rasheena from the back while Rasheena got in
Iris’s pussy at the same time.
“Check me out, Eva baby!” he had panted as his ass cheeks gyrated and pumped like a steam engine. Eva shuddered. Her mother was rotating her head in circles and lapping nookie juice like that shit came in thirty- one flavors. Jahden laughed at the look of revulsion on Eva’s face, then screamed on her as she closed her eyes and tried to escape the horrible scene playing out in front of her. “Bitch open ya goddamn eyes! You betta be a student and pay attention, dammit!”
Eva had just sat there and cried. She was traumatized and sickened. She wanted to stick a knife in Jahden’s neck. The same way he’d stuck a fearsome needle in her neck a year ago and turned her into the scared, humiliated shell she was today.
Although Rasheena had starved her child almost to skin and bones and done things to Eva that even the lowest dog- mother would never consider, Jahden was the real reason her life was so fucked up and Eva hated him for it. Every other day she’d promise herself that she’d kick dope cold turkey before she let him rape her or get her high again, but her greatest fear had become her greatest joy, and Eva was helpless.
Rasheena, who had held Eva down the first time Jahden shot her up, and who had then stood by and watched as her boy -
friend busted her young daughter’s cherry, had been acting real jealous. She got mad whenever it looked like Jahden would rather fuck Eva than fuck her, and she put her foot down and demanded that from that day on Eva had to pay for her skag with cold hard gwap just like every other fiend- head customer.
Desperate, young Eva had taken to the streets to earn her drug money the only way she knew how. On her knees and on her back. She’d been beaten by strange men, raped, stabbed,
and almost strangled. She had cried out to God for help, begging to know what she had done to deserve such a dark, treacherous life. But as usual, there were no answers for Eva. There was only more destitution and misery. Only fear and more pain. And right now, standing next to Jahden while he rubbed all over her ass, she was hurting. Real bad. Hurting and scared.
Seeing the disgust on her face Jahden grinned and reached in his shirt pocket. He passed her a tiny foil- wrapped package and squeezed her fingers when she tried to take it.
“I got what you need, baby girl.” He cupped his dick and licked his lips. “See how cool I am? Tonight I’ma let you get it for free.”
Eva burned with rage, but he was right. She feared what he had, but she needed it too. She snatched it greedily and fled.
Downstairs, Eva’s nose was runny and her entire body ached. A deep pain gripped her as she was leaving her building,
and it wasn’t just from anger or from her mother’s cruel behavior.
Rasheena had once been a top clothing model for a highly successful designer, but these days she was a common needle fiend who put her man, her drink, and her drugs way ahead of her only child. She had also been an extremely beautiful and intelligent black woman who could have gone far in life. Tall and shapely, with skin the color of brown sugar, she had wide eyes, stunning lips, and hips like sweet chocolate milkshakes.
Back in the day she used to be known as the finest chick in
Brownsville, but a fast life and a series of grimy men had proven more than Rasheena could handle. She’d traded her exotic beauty for one too many heroin trips, and these days she scrambled with the low- life Jahden because he not only paid her rent, but he also kept her head right.
Having a junkie for a mother was bad enough, but the drunken rages Rasheena flew into always cut Eva deep. Juiced,
Rasheena would wrap an extension cord around her fist and whip her daughter until Eva’s skin split open and she passed out from the pain. Eva’s starving body was a canvas of thick,
ugly scars and fresh bruises that she’d picked until they were oozing, infected sores. Her stomach, ass, and back would be so cut open that her wounds bled through and pussed over and glued her undergarments to her skin. Her arms and legs had their fair share of crisscrossed cuts and welts too, but Rasheena had learned to chill on those areas after the school social worker got on her case and told her she’d make sure her black ass got locked up the next time she saw Eva with a fresh belt mark.
It was hard for Eva to admit that she would rather see her mother mainline heroin than guzzle vodka and gin, but that was the way it was with Rasheena. Besides, Eva understood duji. She respected that shit. Liquor was something else though. A smack head could find any old corner and cop a quiet nod, but a drunk usually got loud and abusive. Drunks liked to bully the weak, and that was Rasheena to a tee.
Eva dodged rain puddles and hunched her narrow shoulders against the cold. It was after midnight, and the sixteen- story concrete towers of Howard Houses Projects were a mixture of illumination and darkness. Rain curled Eva’s silky hair and drenched her down to her bruised skin. Shivering, she tightened her grip on the tiny package she’d gotten from Jahden,
then ducked her head and moved down the walkways as fast as she could.
She was close to building 420 when the same pain she’d felt earlier slammed into her again. This one hurt so bad it snatched her breath and doubled her over in her tracks. She tried to pant quick and deep and get past it, but the agony clawed at her gut and she fell to the wet ground, busting open a partially healed sore on her knee.
“Please, God,” Eva begged. Her nose was running freely now,
and she was totally sick. “God, please help me.” Rainwater mixed with tears fell into her mouth. Eva was scared. She felt like a train had hit her and she needed to find someplace safe fast. The wind screamed and she clenched her fist tight, holding on to her precious package. She crawled over to a seesaw and rested her cheek on the painted wood. Her knee throbbed and her stomach felt pressurized, like she needed to take a real big shit.
Eva fought the urge, and as the wind screamed all she could think about was getting someplace dry where she could get herself right. She was a young girl but experience had taught her what would happen to her if she went up in one of the regular drug dens to do her thing. Like a lot of chicks, she might come out of one of those joints either raped or beaten, if she made it out at all. She gripped the small square of foil in her fist and pressed on. She was alone and afraid, jonesing in the night, and moments later she stood staring up at the windows of building
420. She knew people there. Her girl Sherri from junior high lived on the third floor with her crippled grandmother. Eva had come up on the streets with Sherri and a real cool dude named
Reem Raw, a true friend who would fight any niggah in the street who so much as looked at either one of them wrong. But
Reem had moved up to Harlem, and Sherri . . . Eva gazed at her friend’s window where a light shone from a bedroom. She saw movement. She took a step toward the building, but then remembered. Sherri was clean now. She’d washed her hands of all the shiesty things she and Eva had done together. Eva moved closer and the curtains fell closed. A shadow retreated from the window and the light went out.
Friendless, Eva glanced around, searching for a spot. She was tempted to take her chances and run up in a project stairwell and get right real quick, but on a night like this there would be more predatory winos and pipe heads on the stairs than there were people living in the apartments. She would probably go into a nod and come out of it dead.
A large basketball court was on her right and a parking lot was on her left. Eva thought about breaking into a parked car, but she didn’t have the strength. She didn’t have the time neither.
Suddenly she thought of something better.
Drunk Mister James.
Drunk Nasty- Ass Mister James.
Clenching her silver package, she scurried along the side of building 420. Her sleeve scraped against the building’s rough brick exterior. She hesitated at the mouth of the ramp that led down to the underground laundrymat and decided to take her chances. Sometimes Drunk Mister James was too lit to lock up on the weekends. Closing time would come and go, and the old man would be off, who the hell knew where, sipping on his cheap wine.
With her dope safe and dry in her left hand, Eva’s bony fingers skimmed the rain- slick banister as she descended deeper down the ramp. Step by step, terror crept over her. Pitch blackness waited for her at the bottom, and probably a piper and a stray cat or two as well.
“Oh . . . my God . . . please help me,” Eva moaned. Another pain seized her and she almost peed right there. She pressed her knees together, feeling hot and nauseous. Like she needed to shit and throw up at the same time. Determined, she moved deeper down the ramp, the wind kicking her in the ass. If she could just get someplace dry, she would be all right. She didn’t really care about the pain. She lived with pain on the regular. It was the dope sickness that was killing her.
A sudden surge of vomit splashed at the back of her throat and Eva flung herself down the ramp. Her jones was riding her
bad. Desperation wiped away her fear and she was ready to fight. If something bad was waiting to hurt her at the bottom of the ramp then it better be jonesing harder than she was.
She stepped deeper into the darkness and stood before the closed door. Her hand slipped on the wet knob as she twisted it frantically. She almost couldn’t believe it when the door swung open and she was inside an empty foyer that was as big as her apartment. She was greeted by the smell of bleach and laundry detergent mixed with the moldy aroma of rank old piss. Drunk Mister James was a lazy ass. The Housing Authority paid him to keep the place clean and swept up, but even in the dark Eva knew the walls and pipes were covered with years’
worth of residual lint particles that spewed out of the ancient clothes dryers.
She walked into the main room holding her hands out in front of her, willing her eyes to adjust to the lack of light. The shadows were still as the wind raged outside, and Eva’s eyes darted over the large, spacious room. The project laundry was supposed to be used by the residents only, but Eva had been coming over here by herself since she was eight. She used to envy the project kids as she watched them from the fourth- floor window of her raggedy tenement. They had plenty of heat and hot water over there. And windows that closed all the way in the winter. Eva’s apartment building didn’t have a laundry room or much of anything else, so she would venture across the street and through the tall buildings to use the project laundry that
Drunk Mister James ran. Rasheena didn’t even have to make her do it neither. At the age of eight Eva knew it was either cross the street so Drunk Mister James could sneak her in the storage closet and feel her nubby titties to see how big she was getting,
or walk around in dirty clothes every day.
The far left wall was lined with fifteen front- loading wash-
ers. At a dollar fifty a pop and ten minutes of lukewarm water,
they were just another ghetto rip- off. Three large wooden tables stood in the center of the room. People often fought for folding space on these tables, and Eva’s eyes had adjusted well enough to make out several towels and shirts and other items that had been discarded or left behind by their careless owners.
On her right were the clothes dryers. Eight of them. They were jumbo. Industrial- sized.
Eva approached a middle dryer and pulled the metal handle on its large Plexiglas door. She stood trembling and wet as she gazed into the giant blackness. Her sickness rose again, and Eva leaned forward. Pain throbbed in her lower back and there was no room in her head for thought or fear. Every fiber in her being needed this. She climbed into the dryer and settled her small frame between its grooves. The metal was cold against her wet skin. Her teeth chattered as she scooted backward,
pushing herself deeper inside.
Eva sat cross- legged. She uncurled her fist and gazed at her fearsome package, then reached under her shirt and into her dirty bra. She pulled out the plastic baggie containing her works.
Excitement surged through her the moment she held it. Her skin was slick with anticipatory sweat despite her rain- drenched clothes. She took off her panties, then removed the belt from her skirt and looped it around her bruised upper thigh. The bulging vein and scabbing track marks in her groin didn’t bother her. Nor did her hunger pangs. Neither did the warm liquid that had begun to seep from between her legs. She took out a spoon and hummed as she flicked her lighter, then cooked and made her preparations. Fast music played in her head and her stomach cramped again. Hard. Eva ignored it and held the thing she feared out in front of her. She flicked the tip with her middle finger.
Anticipation had her head spinning. Soon she’d be in a place where there were no beatings, no hunger, and no pain. She withdrew the plunger then pressed it back in slowly. Liquid dribbled from the tip. Wrapping one end of the belt around her hand, Eva bit hard on the other end and jerked her head. Yanking it tight. Drool slid from her mouth and trickled down her chin. She sat there, head bent and gap- legged. Straining against the belt, Eva slapped the crease between her pelvis and her thigh. The sound echoed in the darkness as her body yearned.
It was gonna feel sooo good. Her fear was turning into joy, and it was beautiful. The sharp tip glistened silver. She pressed it into her flesh like a pro, piercing a worn vein.
Pure love shot through her. Her skin was on fire and her nipples tingled. Eva pumped the plunger in and out, sending pleasure waves from her vein straight to her brain. She rode those waves until her mouth went slack. The needle fell from her hand and her chin dropped to her chest. She had no idea how long she stayed like that. Nodding. Emerging briefly from the fog, just long enough to pick at the pus- filled sores on her arms and legs, and then dive back in again. Eva’s lips spread in a half smile. Music was in her head. In her stupor, she danced. She felt happy there. Safe. Eva would have loved to stay in her nod forever, but a pain so bone- grinding and graphic moved through her midsection that it blew her high and sent a scream flying from her lips.
“Mommy . . .” she moaned, loosening the belt as a huge gush of water soaked her lower body. Eva was gripped in a tide of pain that arched her back and ripped at the soft area between her vagina and ass. She patted her pussy, horrified as a hard mass bulged right there inside of her.
What the . . .? The mass was forcing its way out. Making her push. Eva gripped her thighs and fought with her pelvic muscles. She pushed down three times and screamed into the darkness. Four pushes later it was in her hands and she lay back in the dryer, moaning. She could hear it, but she was too scared to look. Minutes later another wave of agony tore through her.
Eva cried out and pushed again, then got freaked out by the hot glob of tissue that just seemed to roll out of her.
She panicked. Crawling over everything she’d just pushed from her body, Eva jumped out the dryer and staggered over to one of the large folding tables. The back of her skirt was saturated and a trail of fluid splattered the floor behind her.
Shock tried to paralyze her, but her panic was too great.
“Oh shit, oh shit . . .” Eva cried out, her fear- filled words mingling with the small cries coming from the clothes dryer.
She grabbed a discarded shirt from the table and pushed it between her legs. Her mind raced. Where in the hell had this thing been hiding? She was too skinny to hide a damn baby!
She touched her stomach. It hadn’t even gotten big! Her period?
Shit, she shot so much smack she couldn’t tell you the last time she’d had one. She had started her period at thirteen. Jahden had started getting her high and messing with her even before that. Eva held on to the table and took deep breaths, trying hard not to freak out.
The soft cries were becoming demanding.
Shut up! The noise was killing her. It sounded like a kitten was in the dryer. The mewing was pitiful and it scared the shit outta Eva and added to her confusion. What if I just leave it there? Ain’t nobody gotta know it was me . . .
She crept back over to the clothes dryer. Her heart was jumping around in her chest and her head was spinning. The crying was louder, making her dizzy, like she wanted to black out.
Run, stupid! Get the fuck outta here! Don’t nobody hafta know!
Eva peered into the clothes dryer. Arms and legs waved in the air as the baby wriggled, naked on the cold metal. It was a boy. Eva’s hand found the door handle. She pushed against the dryer door . . . closing it. The baby’s cries grew fainter.
Seconds later she flung the door open again. Eva reached out for it despite the voices that were screaming out warnings in her head. The baby was slippery in her arms. Soft and small. It was hers.
Eva wrapped everything in the abandoned towels from the folding table. Drunk Mister James would be opening up at daybreak. Saturday was the busiest day of the week. Plenty of project folks would be lining up to fight over the washing machines,
extractors, and dryers.
Holding tight to her bundle, Eva stumbled weakly back to the folding tables. She had just lifted up her knee when a wave of exhaustion washed over her that was more draining than anything she had ever felt before. Crying, Eva scooted her weary body onto the table. She curled up with her baby cradled against her chest.
Outside, the rain had stopped but the howling wind still screamed through the project buildings. Eva was bleeding bad and she knew she didn’t have much time. Just for a quick minute . . . she told herself, holding her baby close. She was weak and her young muscles felt like jelly. I’ma rest just for minute. In tears, Eva kissed her baby’s forehead and slept.