Pure Strength is more dungeon than gym: wet floors, murky puddles, tiny mushrooms, soggy ceilings. Manny washes his face and peers at the red rims of his eyes, seeing the the bright fuzz of his youth in Mexico City, buttercups of houses in favelas full of diesel and sun.
He hears his daughter’s name.
“-and she just moved back in with Manny seven months ago, he can’t keep an eye on her for more than a few hours!”
“No shit, no shit!”
Manny fantasizes: storm out, slam the man’s head against the locker until it caves like a rotten watermelon. Instead: storm out, slam the man against the locker. Old fires burn Manny’s blood. He’s naked, leathery skin dripping.
“You got something to say?”
The man’s friend laughs louder, buckles over.
“Be cool, man, be cool,” the man says.
“What were you saying? About Gabriela?” Manny hopes they can’t hear the hope. Because he wants to know what his daughter is doing since she moved in with him in the summer. At night, he hears the heavy click of the door, the yelling of her name from the street below. He smells her when she comes home, tumbling genie of perfume and cigarettes.
Victor Kutznetsov, owner of Pure Strength, flings open the door. He is one solid brick of oily hairless tanned muscle, the proud hardened points of his pecs sticking out through his tanktop.
“Ramirez!” He clucks his tongue. “Don’t break community. Or at least do outside.”
Manny’s brain is short-circuiting, sparking with lightning. His daughter, at sixteen, is turning into her mother: lovable uncontrollable explosive. Trouble.
On the way out, he sees a skinny white man with stubble on his face signing a contract. Upon seeing Manny, the man mumbles, drops the pen, and flees the building. Victor rises his eyebrows. Manny looks down and realizes he’s clenching his fists, rocking on the balls of his feet in his Timberland Boots.
“You talk community, but you’re signing up all these types.” Manny crosses his arms.
Victor shrugs, his eyes tracking the spandexed buttocks of a slender blond woman as she trudges on an elliptical, form rising treading air.
Rosa Ramirez always is always the brightest person in the room. Since a child, she’s been fascinated by flowers of all shapes and sizes and colors and, over the years, has tried to become them. She remembers flowers from her village, flowers for each life she has lived, through tangible florescents: her hair is an alarming shade of licorice red dyed wetly from an infomercial kit, triangular reading glasses are iris blooms painted by shaky aged fingertips (the same hand that had brought to life landscapes with such miraculous talent on canvases for decades, recreating lush gardens dusty roads gold hills with gold meadows roses so many roses and bronzed sandstone stucco homes), her billowy dress (sewn on the machine chattering on a red shirt for the teenage girl in corner) is as blue as sapphires refracting light and flutters with the breathless swishes of the ceiling fan, beaded chain clicking on the blades in rotation.
“Your father works hard and you should respect him,” Rosa says through a mouthful of sewing pins. The sewing machine makes her voice jackhammer, a dry rasp echoing on the folds of first letters.
“But he can barely provide for me! For you!” Gabriela moans from a chair beside a stack of magazines that is taller (and older) than her. She picks at her boxy gray winter jacket in disgust. “This is his jacket I have to wear! Would you ever wear something like this, Grandma?.”
Rosa chuckles, plucking a pin from her mouth and guiding it through the sleeve of the t-shirt. “I would make my own clothes, instead of whining about my father.”
“I have too much schoolwork to do that!”
Rosa stiffens. Whispers have bitten her, mosquitoes of rumors droning among the paneled walls stained glass polished pews bronze Jesuses of Bushwick’s Iglesia Pentecostal De La Profecia.
“The way I hear it,” she says, chewing on the pins, “you have too many boys, not too many assignments. One boy in particular. And…” She fixes Gabriela with a withering stare until her granddaughter looks down at her feet, the kicking sneakers just barely scuffing the floor.
And Rosa tries not to cry.
“No one can provide for us like ourselves.” Rosa looks back at the t-shirt for her granddaughter. The seams are crooked, so she grabs not a seam ripper but a strange neon green device known as an “Open It!”, something she bought when an oil-slick blond man interrupted her soap operas where the women ended up with gorgeous dark-eyed men muscular and patched with just the right amount of hair.
Ever have trouble with those tricky plastic packages (black-and-white scene of frustrated woman attempting to peel anonymous houseware from said package) for toys, tools, hair dyes, or more? Well, the OPEN IT really opens it as simple as ONE TWO CUT! (color scene of victorious woman slicing into said package) And that’s not all! The OPEN IT is a bottle opener, a box cutter, a screwdriver, and a lot more! It’s the OPEN IT!
“No one can provide for us like ourselves,” she says again, digging the OPEN IT into the seam. “Especially as we get older and must deal with the consequences of our actions.”
“Grandma?” A word wavering like water.
Thunder on the other side of the heavy apartment door: “Rosa! Rosa, open up! Gabriela? Tell yo grandmother to open this door!” Sound of paper crumpling. “This is your last chance!”
Mrs. Ramirez looks up from her sewing machine, over the half-finished layer in front of her. She pulls one last time at the seam and it frays, splitting into tiny tiny threads gleaming. In the passing shade and dust motes of the ceiling fan, she sees the twinkle at the loose ends shooting like stars, light rotating over the dusty baby grand piano in the corner missing six teeth like the endearing grin of a small child, the dented birdcage with a towel half-draped over it, the framed photographs yellowing behind foggy glass. As her gaze swirls to the vibrating door and Gabriela, precious mistaken doomed Gabriela, Mrs. Ramirez bursts into tears, spitting out the two sewing pins to reveal bare, naked sound.
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