By Ariele Silvas
Steven was awakened by a persistent tapping on his face. He never got to sleep in these days.
His eyes opened to meet a pair of hazel green eyes watching him. Fern was practically perched on his chest, her black-nailed hand slapping his cheek with urgency. She stared at him for a minute, watching him cross between the boundary of sleep and waking, before she delivered her profound message:
“You’re out of cereal.”
At least he had an important task to do today.
Steven listlessly stuffed a dry breakfast of oatmeal down his throat. Fern sat across from him, playing with his coffee spoon. The sleeves of tattoos running up and down her arms almost worked like a camouflage in the darkness. She looked so intimidating, but she was really so young; a little less than his own age. “You know that theater down the street? The one we went to that had black curtains instead of red? It’s shutting down. Did you hear it’s shutting down, Steven?” Her voice helped to soothe his nerves in the morning. “Nope,” he commented, stirring his brown slush around the bowl. “Guess the black curtains weren’t enough to save it, huh?” Fern was now playing with his coffee by picking up little puddles of it in his spoon and letting it drip down the cup. “I guess not. It was romantic, don’t you think? And it meant a lot to people around it too. It wasn’t just a theater, you know. Why do people always got rip down something that means so much to other people, Steven? Why do they, huh?”
Steven was buttoning his jacket up, the keys in his pocket jangling loudly. “Bring me back some sheets, won’t you, Steven? I’ve got to practice more with Rosario. I’ve got to practice if I’m gonna be a singer.” Fern was watching him leave, tracing the scars on her soft forearms. “Sure, Fern. I’ll can pick some up.” Steven replied dutifully, and Fern smiled. She tucked bright red hair back behind her ear. “Cool! See you later!” Steven shut the door behind him. “I’ll close!” he heard her yell from behind the door, and the lock to his apartment neatly slid shut. “Thanks,” he murmured, sliding his hands into his pockets and walking down the hallway. Rosario was singing her Spanish songs, but now, a smell of something delicious was filling up the building. Steven inhaled it deeply, but he would never ask her for some – they all knew she made it for Joseph.
Steven returned home late that night, only this time with a bag carrying a cereal box and sheet music. His steps were painfully loud as he climbed the stairs. It was always something he felt bad about, making so much noise, while everyone around him seemed to move about so quietly. When he made it to the top, Steven turned the corner to find Joseph huddled in a ball. His strawberry blonde head was buried in his arms, his whole person tucked away in a lanky frame. After a pause, Steven walked up to him. “Hey. You okay?” Joseph looked up at him then, his blue eyes ringed with red. “Yeah, man. I mean, not really. Think I’m having visions again.” His eyes left Steven’s and drifted out the window. “You know, I keep seeing lights everywhere…especially this one big one that keeps opening up behind me, but I can’t really see it, you know?” Joseph outstretched his needle-bruised arm to scratch it. “You know man, I really want to see my mom. And my dad. I really do. They can probably help me stop seeing stuff.”
The two were there a long time, one scratching his arm nearly to the point of bloodying it, the other looking at him in pity. “Hey.” Steven reached down to stop Joseph’s hand. “It’s okay. I know what you mean.”
Hours later, in the middle of the night, Steven worked on his screenplay, his desk illuminated by the roll-top lamp Rosario had given him for his birthday. There was no point in going to bed; Fern had been waiting for him with a cup of coffee, and Joseph was now a sleeping, blanketed form on his bed. So he wrote; his pen scribbled with constant pauses creating what he hoped would be something to help him at least eat for the next couple of weeks. At one point, he sat back, blocked for a minute or two on what to write next. That’s when he heard the footsteps from the apartment above him. They were slow, a pair of them, crossing the room in a pattern, and Steven couldn’t help but to smile a little. Sergio and Thea had to be at least in their nineties, but that never stopped them from dancing together every single night. They were a shy yet extremely sweet couple; Rosario had introduced them to Steven, and they had only smiled. They can’t speak English, you see, Rosario had told him. But Sergio had nodded a heartfelt nod while Thea grinned toothlessly. Their friendliness made up for their peculiar smell. But Steven would see them everyday. When he walked out in the mornings, he looked up to their third floor apartment, and Thea would be crocheting by the window. As soon as she would spot Steven, she would shout something to Sergio that brought him to the window, and they would wave to Steven together. He would always wave back.
It was a few days later when the knocking came at the door. Steven got up from his desk, still working on his screenplay, to answer the door. When he swung it open, no one was there. Catching on immediately, Steven closed it quickly, and the knocking started a few seconds later. Wasting no time, he yanked the door open and caught Richard with his knuckles in the air. Big brown eyes blinked at him, and the little boy collapsed in a fit of giggles. “Nice try, Rich. Have you got my weekly package? Do I need to sign something?” Still laughing, Richard shook his head and went scampering down the hall, his shoes flashing in little blue lights with his steps. Steven watched him go and closed the door again, shaking his head. At least Rich hadn’t snuck inside his apartment. Every now and then when he did, Steven would come home to occasional giggles coming from behind his furniture and peripheral-vision glances of a little brown haired head peeking around corners. He would play for days, eventually forcing Steven to ask Rosario for help in Richard-fumigation. She would lure him out with her baked goods, leaving Steven to a quiet apartment for a few weeks before Rich inevitably snuck in again.
Rejected. Rejected. Rejected. Months later, the screenplay that Steven had poured so much work into, so many late nights, was being rejected by every company and director he went to see. “Not what we’re looking for,” they would tell him. “But thank you for trying.” A few times coming home from these heart-wrenching rejections, Steven would consider going to the bar and drinking himself into a blissful, comatose state. Isn’t that what Faulkner wanted writers to do anyways? Or was it Hemingway? Whichever it was, he always knew he had to decide against it. The one time he had returned drunk to the apartment, crusted vomit splattered on his shirt, Rosario had found him. She called him stupid, a moron, an idiot, and something called a pinche cabron. Then she brought him into her apartment and nursed him through his hangover with warm broths – it always seemed to work.
Steven needed her now. He hated to bother her, but he needed to make his problems vanish. He stopped in front of her dark red door, knocking on it gently, and it opened nearly immediately. Rosario was a middle-aged woman, but she was beautiful. Her smoky black hair curled around her lean face that featured a once-broken nose, her black eyes capturing Steven’s. Over her shoulder, Steven saw Joseph sitting at her table with a mug in his hands. The young man gave him a little wave. “Rosario…” Steven looked down at his feet. “I don’t know what to do.” A slender, bruised hand grasped his shoulder. “Come in, Steven. Tell me. Tell your troubles to God and I.”
He had spoken with her all night. And to Joseph too, who mostly listened. And when he finished speaking, Rosario had taken his hand into hers and prayed for him at that table. When she spoke to God, Steven felt like she spoke his troubles away. He had never asked her about her religion but, after she had finished talking to God, he finally did. “Rosario. Does God ever answer? Does God make it right?” Rosario studied him with those slate black eyes and nodded. “God listens. He saw your struggles. He sees the struggles of Joseph, of Fern, of Sergio and Thea. And we all know Richard has no troubles, but God listens to him too.” I couldn’t help but smile. “God puts you through this for a reason, Steven. He’ll give you a sign when he wants you to understand it.”
It wasn’t a week later after that when Steven came onto his apartment building to find the white sheet tacked to the entrance. His soul nearly died. Plans. Modernize. Demolition. Within a matter of days, this would all be gone. And they, him and this little family, would be scattered across the city. Ripe for demons.
Write. Write. Write. This time, he never stopped. His masterpiece flowed and formed. He knew what he had to do. Rosario had gathered them all at her table when Steven told her. Fern was crying on Rosario’s shoulder as the older woman laid a hand on her head. Her other hand rested on Joseph’s arm as the young man rocked, tears sliding down his cheeks. Sergio’s round face was full of grief, as Thea wept into Richard’s fine hair. Even the little boy knew something was wrong, and he was silent. They spoke late into the night, and by the end, Steven knew what he had to do. Write. Write. His life, their life, depended on it. Write. The half-hearted screenplay melted away into something quieter but deeper. This wasn’t just for food on the table. This was for his family. Write, Steven, write. Fern and Joseph sat by his elbows, watching him work. Richard hung on Steven’s back, resting his little face on his shoulder. Write, Steven. Thea crocheted on his couch as Sergio unraveled her ball of yarn, their gazes filled with hope. And Rosario watched from his doorway, her eyes shining in the darkness. Write, Steven, write. This is for my family.
It took him three days without sleep. The screenplay was rejected twice before a theater company purchased it. Steven was paid in more money than he had ever seen, and the same night, with Steven leading the way, their family packed and left the home that would be crumbled in hours.
“Your key, Mr. Wright.” His new landlord, a veteran of Vietnam, dropped the piece of metal into his hand. He was friendly and chatty, and found Steven’s previous location of shelter fascinating. “You know, I didn’t know anyone lived in the old Myers building anymore. Thought it was too decrepit.” Steven shrugged. “To be honest, no one really did. Just me.” His landlord nodded. “Wontcha get lonely, son? Living there and here now all on your own?” But Steven smiled. “I’ll manage. I plan on keeping a family here, if that’s alright by you.”
Steven started a new screenplay that night, Rosario’s gift lighting up the desk. He could hear Sergio and Thea dancing in the bedroom. Rosario and Fern were singing on the balcony. Joseph was playing hide and seek with Richard, and was losing fantastically. And Steven wrote. For his family, and with his family, Steven wrote.
Ariele Silvas is a college student residing in Fremont, California. She has recently graduated from Ohlone Community College and is transferring to San Jose State University to persue an English degree. She plans to become a travel writer to explore the world and share its wonders through her writing.