Fade to Black, by Marangelis Figueroa

Today was my birthday. After a long awaited time, I was finally seven years old.

Everyone was by my house—abuelo, abuela, my cousins, Tia Maria and Tio Pedro, and my favorite person in the whole wide world, Tio Miguel. I was always with my Tio! We did a lot of things together. We’d go to the stores, the park, the movies. I think I was his favorite niece. He didn’t treat my sisters or anyone or my cousins the way he treated me. I always got the best of everything. Since today was birthday I knew that my best present was the one that Tio Miguel was going to give me.

I was sitting in my room watching TV when someone knocked. “Come in,” I yelled. The door slowly opened and it was Tio Miguel. “Happy Birthday, sweetie,” TioMiguel gave me a big hug. “You’re growing up so fast.”

“That’s what mami and papi said this morning.” I spun around slowly so that Tio Miguel could see every single detail of my new dress. “Do you like it?”

“I love it!” I could see Tio Miguel’s eyes scanning every part of my body. He was in a trance; catching every detail like it was the last time he was going to see me.

“Tio, what’re you looking at?” I asked curiously. The smell of his cologne sat in my room.

“Uhh…nothing. You just look real pretty, mija. But umm, I’m gonna go umm…help your parents downstairs.” TioMiguel gave me another hug, but this one was weird. His hands were a lot lower, and he was hugging me a lot tighter. I was so close to him that I could almost see the individual fibers on his shirt in the sunlight that shown through my window. 

The moon streamed in. It was a school night, and I was sleeping in my bed. I could smell the scent of my freshly washed sheets under my nose, and I could hear the hooting of an owl outside. The house was completely silent. Mami and papi had gone to bed early, leaving me alone to finish my favorite cartoon. Ever since I turned 10, I was able to stay up a little later than usual.

A knock on the window.  My heart stopped. I pulled the blanket over my face. This was the one thing that I was scared of most: being kidnapped in the middle of the night. Mami had always told me to keep my window locked after she saw all those stories on the news about kids being taken through their windows. I couldn’t breathe. I was too scared. I didn’t want to move. Another knock—harder this time.  I slowly lowered the blanket and lifted my hand. A third knock. I opened my eyes, not really wanting to see who or what was out there at this time of night. One eye, almost open.  A

fourth knock.  I let out a sigh of relief. It was only Tio Miguel. I pushed off my blanket and walked over to the window. What was he doing here this late? I thought to myself. I tilted my head towards my clock and took a quick glance. It was after midnight. I unlocked my window and as I slid it up I could feel the grain of the wood against my fingers. “Tio, what’re you doing here?” I asked.

“I came to get you.” He responded with a loud whisper. His shirt was old and the picture on it was almost faded. His hair, styled with gel as usual. He had on his khaki cargo shorts and flip-flops. I could smell the cologne that he usually had on—so much that I could taste it in the air.

“Where are we going?” He kept peering over his shoulder. I looked at his eyes. There was nothing behind them. They were empty. He was fidgety and kept tapping his thumb on the window ledge.

“Haven’t you ever wanted to see where I live?” The way he now spoke was different than usual. It was thick and pleading. He grabbed my arm and was practically pulling me outside with him.

“Now? I have school tomorrow and what about mami and papi? They’ll be looking for me. And what about—”

“Dammit! Will you just hurry up and come on!?” His tone was direct as he tightened his grip on my arm. “Don’t worry about anything. I’ll take care of it. Just come on!”

I stood in shock for a few seconds. Tio Miguel had never gotten frustrated at me

before—maybe at papi, but never me. “Should I take a jacket?” I didn’t want to make him any more upset than he already was.

“No! Just come on. Hurry.” I could tell that he was growing more impatient. He looked over his shoulder every second it now seemed.

“Okay.” I climbed out of my wooden window and into Tio Miguel’s arms. I saw trees waving in the darkness. I could smell the smell that occurred after it rained. Crickets were chirping and chirping as our feet rubbed against the wet patches of grass. I got into Tio’s black car and together we sped off into the dark night.  The car was old, but it was still in very good condition. I liked Tio Miguel’s car better than all those new and fancy ones. The car was comfortable and clean. The seats were covered with an antique looking fabric; it looked old, smelled old, felt old, it was old. Whenever we went driving in his car, he’d always tell me stories about what had happened to him when he was younger.

 The day was hot and sunny. It was one of those days where all you want to do is stay inside in the air conditioning. I had a red tank top on and a pair of shorts. I wanted to stay home and watch some marathon that was airing on the TV, but Tio Miguel had asked me to go run some errands with him. I didn’t want to, but I always loved going places with him.  We got into the car. I could barely breathe with the thick, hot air in the car. The beads of sweat began trickling down my backside. Tio Miguel had started up the car and I quickly rolled down the window, exposing my wet skin to the summer air. We pulled out of the driveway and he started telling me one of his many crazy stories.

“Ya know,” he began, “I got this car when I was sixteen. And you should’ve seen your abuelo when he found out that I got this car.”

“What’d he do?” I asked as we went over a speed bump.

“He smacked me so hard in the face. Ay Chihuahua…”

“Why?” My hair blew in my face as I turned to look over at Tio Miguel.

“’Cause I got this car behind his back. I wasn’t even supposed to be drivin’ let alone have a car.” He laughed.

“Tio, would you ever do that to me if I ever got a car without papi knowing?”

“I would never hurt you, mija. You know that. I love you too much.” He grabbed my hand and kissed it. We were now waiting for the red light to turn green. The air was still. In the silence, he put his massive hand on my thigh. I felt uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to move because I didn’t want to distract him from his driving.

The car stopped. We must’ve been outside of his place. The sky was a dark piece of paper that was dotted with many little stars and a moon. I had no idea where I was. I’d never seen this place or these buildings before. My hands were shaking and hadn’t stopped shaking. I was very alert, maybe a bit too much. Tio Miguel unbuckled his seatbelt and I jumped.

“What’s wrong?” Tio Miguel asked me.

“Nothing, Tio.” I said as I tried to remain calm. “I’m fine,”

“Ya sure? ‘Cause I can take you back home if you really want to.”

“No, no, no. I’m fine, Tio. Really. I’m…fine.” I took a deep breath and attempted to relax my nerves.

“All right. Come on then.” He opened the door and stood in front of the car. I didn’t move until he made a frustrated gesture for me to get out of the car.  I unbuckled my seatbelt and cautiously opened the car door. I put each foot on the ground and could feel the pieces of gravel rubbing against each other underneath my soles. I got out and closed the car door. A loud THUD echoed around the area. I walked up to my Tio and

he put his arm around me as we crossed the street. He held me close—closer than usual—and firm. It was weird. I tried to move away, but his big, muscular hand and arm blocked me.

The place was silent except for police sirens, and the noise of garbage being looked through. I saw guys standing in groups along the sidewalk. They looked like the kind of people that were always getting arrested on the show, “Cops.” I saw some homeless men and women digging through the garbage cans as we passed the alleys. I saw barely-clothed women standing on almost every corner, walking up to every car that stopped. The neighborhood was filthy and had a distinct odor; garbage was everywhere—on the ground, in the street, and on the side of buildings. Most of the buildings were old and rundown, and the place where windows should have been were covered with pieces of wood or cardboard. The entire neighborhood emitted a smell that made me want to stop breathing entirely.

We walked inside a building that reflected the neighborhood that it was in. The carpet was ripped in the corners and the color had long been gone from all the years of abuse it had endured. The fluorescent lights on the ceiling kept flickering on and off against the hunter green walls. Paint was chipping off the walls and there were places without any paint on them at all. The walls were thin. I could hear movement inside almost every apartment as we passed them. The doors of each apartment looked as if they could be broken down with one simple punch. They were wooden and old and the numbers were made of stickers that you could get at any department store. Suddenly we stopped at a door that was all the way at the end of the long, dark hallway. It was labeled room number nine with one of the cheap sticker numbers. Tio Miguel took out a single key, which wasn’t attached to the key chain where the rest of his keys were. He never separated his keys—they were always together. It looked as if he had rented the room for just that night; more like some cheap motel than an apartment.

Tio Miguel opened the door and he let me go in first. When he got in he shut the door and closed all of the three locks that were on the door: the chain, the bolt, and the lock on the doorknob. I took a couple of steps inside and looked around the room. The floor squeaked. The room was as dark as a room could get. There was absolutely nothing in the room except for a small, wooden chest and a bed. Had anyone been living in it? It had the smell of a nursing home—stale urine. The smell of mold lingered, making it hard to ignore. The windows were old and broken; plastic and pieces of wood were the only things that attempted to keep the cool air outside. I heard music blaring from down the hall. Some kind of rap or hip-hop song. There was a lot of bass to it. How could my Tio live here? In this dump? Either he liked living here or this was all he could afford. But how could anyone really like living here? I turned around to look at my Tio, who was still standing by the door. There were tears in my eyes as I looked at his. Soulless. Empty. Anger.

“Tio? What is this place?” My voice trembled.

“Come here,” he stretched out his arms and moved me by the bed since there was no place else to sit. We sat on the bed, and he gave me a hug. His cheap cologne filled my lungs like every other time he hugged me. His hand made a circle pattern on my back as he tried to comfort me. My tears came down and stained his shoulder. He whispered something in my ear, but I couldn’t tell what he said. It was soft, almost romantic. His fingers teased my hair as he ran them through it. I could feel his temperature rising beneath his shirt. His other hand found the hem of my pajama shirt and lifted it slightly, exposing the small of my back to the cool draft from what was left of the window.

I lifted my head from his shoulder, intent on breaking this hug. I was stuck, again. My

heart began to beat faster and faster. I could feel the sweat gather at my brow. He loosened his grip but still held me close. He put his big hand against my cheek and wiped what was left of my tears. He looked at me. The look in his eyes made me feel uncomfortable. His hand hadn’t moved. It stayed there until he leaned in and his lips touched mine. This wasn’t like him. I tried backing away. He wouldn’t let me.  He got on top of me and I felt my breathing almost stop from his weight. I squirmed and tried to get myself out from underneath him. He began to frantically take my clothes off, leaving

me completely exposed. The air was suffocating. He took off his shirt, tossed it across the room carelessly. I scratched his back. Pulled his hair. Punched his arm. Tried to scream.

“Stop!” I managed. “STOP!” I tried wiggling my way out from under him again. A slap—straight to the side of my face. The room blurred. My face was hot and burned where his hand met my skin. I tried to make him stop once again only to receive another blow. He kept hitting me; harder every time. It became harder and harder to get a new breath. I could hear the bassy tune from down the hall get lower and lower. The smell began to fade. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t make it stop. The room started to fade and get black.

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