'Veronica Street' is a novel of Los Angeles by Jenny Burman, serialized here at LA Observed. Read previous chapters.
Suddenly they were looking at her. She had lost her invisibility.
When she walked into the lunchroom, even with the hustle, the rush for the lines, eyes flashed and heads tilted, snickers. Girls who didn't know her name at Christmas holiday blocked her in the hallway, made her stop in her tracks, waiting to be shoved or taunted, then dispersed, laughing. "Did you see her eyes? Little girl thought she was gonna get fucked up!"
Lourdes' new best friend told Marisol that Lourdes wanted to fight after 6th period, in the alley behind Tom's Burgers. Where the green-gray restaurant slag puddled and rats schooled.
Throat tight, Marisol left early that day and walked all the way home on Sunset Boulevard, wondering--just long enough to state the facts to herself, in her head, as she avoided the cracks in the sidewalk--wondering what she had done. Her offense: For a few days she had kept to herself. She had gone to the botanica alone and didn't ask Lourdes, because Lourdes would not understand, especially that Marisol was spending $20 on liquid for a curse on anyone who messed with Uncle Eugenio's property, her property. Lourdes would have wanted to buy a burger at Toms. She was on free lunch and never had any money. To her, an after-school burger was like tickets to the Superbowl. And she wouldn't have known what to say about Eugenio losing his property. Her own parents had never owned anything--her mother stopped going to school after third grade. She could not read, in any language. Her father did not live with the family. But so many other people did. Marisol never knew who exactly lived in Lourdes' home. She never asked and Lourdes never explained why the place was always so full of people. Why her mother shooed the kids out, saying, "go play."
They had an unequal friendship. It started in the middle of a school day. Lourdes had stopped in place in front of her--in an outdoor hallway--one day, in fifth grade, two years earlier: "How come you know so much?" Marisol then stopped in place and stared back, not sure what she was being asked.
"Like when Mrs. Yoli asks everyone a question and then she asks you, and you know more than she's even asking about? It's like you know more than Mrs. Yoli."
There had been wonder in Lourdes' eyes, and pleading. Lourdes sat behind Marisol in class, probably near the back, and Marisol never had had a good look at her before. Now she took in the very light skin, pale brown eyes, the lightest brown--like they were almost a not even brown--and soft, lightish brown hair that had gone copper in the sun. Her face was round and full and there was a little pad of extra flesh around her neck, but she wasn't what Marisol's mother would call a gordita.
"I can help you with your homework," was all Marisol could think to say. But it was the right thing. A smile broke across her new friend's mouth and in her eyes.
Lourdes started coming home with Marisol after school. She admired Marisol's home, the armchairs that matched the couch, the fact it was a house and Marisol even had her own room, she admired the big kitchen, which was its own separate room and not crammed into a hallway to make more space. Hairstyles: she did up Marisol's hair in braids and pulled back tight, in ways Marisol would never be seen outside her own room.
Lourdes even tried to cling to Marisol's mother, who brushed her off gently and, when she was gone--often after dinner--back to her own home badgered Marisol about making more friends who were more like her. Still Lourdes tried to help Susanna with housework sometimes, and one time when she got a good grade, she showed it to Susanna, who made a show of being impressed. She steered clear of Frank, when he was home. She might have been a real friend, had she given Marisol room to breathe, and to reciprocate. But instead, for a year or so, she became the tolerated friend, who needed help with her homework, who called the house too much, who was always available.
An now she was hunting down Marisol, who was trying to lay low and get out of her way.
"Ooooh, it's Spoooky!" she called down the hallway. And her new friends laughed as Marisol tried to ignore them. "Why you running?"
The friend she tried to help had turned into a curse, personified.