A boy murmurs, crestfallen, his voice not yet changed. He stands with a man with postures like they might not know each other, definitely not family. It’s warm for January, dark for seven o’clock. The sounds are: high school kids clanging latchkey doors, dogs jingling their masters along, the helados truck playing its calliope siren, the grand traffic of La Brea, grandmothers calling the children to dinner.
The boy and the man stand like they’re stuck here outside this apartment gate, unsure, travelers despairing of a rendezvous at a darkening oasis. He’s a light-skinned boy, his knees plump and ashy, dorky in his basketball shorts and his mix of disappointment and failed bravery. The man wears a beanie and all black; he didn’t go to any job today. The tired sort of man with skin that will always be watched in businesses. As he responds to the boy he looks wearily up the street both ways without letting the boy see.
“You know she loves you, man. She buys you food, she buys you nice shoes, she takes you on trips.” The boy murmurs again, perhaps more hopeful this time, but now I’m past. No one is coming up the street with keys out, hugging and apologizing and blaming dead phones. Just the boy and the man, standing there hoping defiantly in the barred shadows of a gate.
God bless the tired men who heal these hurting boys, and god bless the boys who see love in a meal and a trip and basketball shoes that shine through the darkness all the way back to my own house.