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  • Erin M. Wright

Rich Hood Love - A short story

I sat in the back of the class, taking deep breaths before my presentation. I knew the story like the back of my hand, but I'd never presented it to a group of people before. I stood up and walked to the front of the room and began telling the story of how my parents met for my sociology class.

The moment my dad, Kaden James, was born into the world, he was special, or at least that’s how he describes himself. My dad was a junior at Silver Valley High School, an elite private school for science and math scholars. He was the captain of the debate team, an honor roll student, a master at coding, and just to make himself well-rounded he was a star baseball player. He met my mom, Flora, that year. She was a new transfer from a high school in a rougher neighborhood nearby.

The two of them met during their AP history class when the teacher paired them together as research partners. He said to them, you two should work well together. Both my mom and dad looked at each other’s skin complexion, knowing the real reason they were put together. They were the only Black and Brown students in the entire school. The teacher’s assumptions were wrong, my mother and father couldn’t be any more different from one another. My mom grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city called Crown Heights, while my father was raised less than 5 blocks from her, but his neighborhood residents included people like the city’s mayor, professional athletes, doctors, and lawyers. My dad took skiing trips on holidays while my mother worked extra shifts at her family’s taco shop.

As my mom recalls, she hated his arrogance at first. And my dad hated my mother, Flora’s confidence. They often competed with one another in school.

She raised her hand for every single question, and I don’t remember her getting one wrong, he reminisced. They were essentially forced together, simply because no one else looked like them. Kaden was once seen as an equal to his white counterparts, but when Flora arrived, that changed. He was automatically linked to her because she was the only other person of color in their entire school aside from the janitors.

The dynamic between the Los Hermanitos and the Day One Family has always been an interesting one. When they were fighting for rights and equality they stood together, but when after that they fought over the neighborhood - it’s another story. While most of you are living the American dream in Silver Valley, Crown Heights is truly the American nightmare the old overweight advanced modern history teacher explained. He continued, but we will hear more from Flora and Kaden during Kaden and Flora’s oral report next week.

My parents both rolled their eyes. Flora was irritated because she knew that Kaden knew nothing about her neighborhood, while Kaden was embarrassed to admit that he had family from there – even though his dad never spoke about being from Crown Heights. My dad had an interesting upbringing. My great-grandmother raised him because his dad was a busy businessman who was only able to spend time with him on the weekends. He owned a very popular concrete company. My dad, Kaden, never knew his mother, and his family barely spoke of her. All he knew was that she disappeared when he was four years old after dropping him off early one morning to his dad. Flora, my mother, lived in, the same neighborhood that my dad was born into, but was never allowed to visit - Crown Heights. Kaden invited Flora to his home, naturally, since his dad forbade him from entering the old neighborhood.

What do you know about my neighborhood? Flora asked Kaden with an exasperated tone as they sat on a plush oversized black velvet couch in an all-white room with a wall of complete glass that overlooked the city. Kaden sat back and rested his expensive sneakers on the matching black ottoman, took a sip of his sparkling water from a crystal glass, and didn’t respond.

She rolled her eyes in disgust and slammed her frayed notebook on the floor. You’ve got some damn nerve to think you’re better than us, she scolded him as she pointed to her small strip of a neighborhood - my mother has always been somewhat of a spitfire. My dad always says that’s partly why he fell in love with her. Kaden grinned with his model-like bright smile, Flora blushed, but quickly remembered she was pissed at his arrogance.

He replied I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disrespect you. I honestly don’t know much about where you grew up. I just know my parents were from there, but my dad caught a lucky break and started his own concrete business, my dad explained.

Flora stood still, puzzled for a moment. Everyone in her neighborhood called her and her grandmother the historians because she knew every single thing about their neighborhood from her research and stories her grandmother loved to share with her. My mom was always passionate about where she was from. Crown Heights was a popular and important place in the '50s if you needed anything and welcomed all people. Los Hermanitos could fix your car or tailor all your clothes, while the Day One Family would supply you with the best food, artwork, and served as protection for their neighborhood from corrupt cops. That's when my mother's neighborhood was able to co-exist and they weren't killing each other or selling drugs to the children in their neighborhood. It wasn't until the late '80s when a young ambitious member of the Day One family single-handedly introduced hard drugs into the barrio, as my mom referred to her community, while his family disappeared. My mother was confused about Kaden’s family history in the barrio. She had never heard of a successful construction entrepreneur making it out of their neighborhood with a son and that was a story that would be celebrated, not hidden.

What’s your dad’s name? Flora timidly asked as she feared the worst.

Andre James, but I think his friends from Crown Heights called him Silver or something like that. I saw it on an old jacket before with that name embroidered on the inside, but he said it was an old name he doesn’t go by anymore.

Flora was stunned. She took a few steps back into an oversized crystal vase that stood in the corner of the room, but luckily, she caught it before it crashed onto the perfectly white marble floor. Kaden looked at Flora. He wondered why she clammed up, maybe it was him talking about his dad, he wondered. He gently grabbed Flora and guided her to the couch. My mom sat down trying to gather her thoughts that were racing through her mind. She was almost certain that Kaden was referencing the current leader of the Day One Family, astonished at the thought of being associated with the offspring of a man who murdered family members of Los Hermanitos, she could barely take a breath. The ruthless killer that profited off Crown Height’s demise. The rumor in Crown Heights was that he was somehow involved with the disappearance of his longtime girlfriend.

What’s wrong, Flora? Why do you look like you just saw a ghost, Kaden asked. My mother was never good at hiding her emotions.

Flora didn’t want to say anything about his dad without being sure, so she tried changing the subject. Let’s just get going on our project, my she suggested.

So, the two began studying the history of Crown Heights. Flora explained the reason for the two gangs forming in the first place - for protection from the corrupt police. Back then the police would plant drugs in innocent people’s homes, pull over cars for no reason, and beat the passengers inside just terrorize the people of Crown Heights. So, the Day One Family, a predominately Black gang, formed to protect their side of the neighborhood, and Los Hermanitos, a predominately Latin gang, did the same. They worked jointly for a while until a young money-hungry man emerged.

Who? Kaden asked, he was intrigued by the neighborhood that his grandmother and father hid from him.

Flora decided that was enough. Look, I'm sure there's some more information online or something. Research it tonight and we can pick it up on Monday or something, she suggested. Kaden reluctantly agreed and walked her out of his family’s estate.

This part of the story is my favorite, I love hearing it from my father more than my mother because she's always been more modest, but I know this where they fell in love. The next day Kaden, my dad, showed up at a tiny light blue house with a patched roof in Crown Heights. It was Flora, my mother's, home. A woman with perfectly straight parted hair and one long braid that nearly reached the back of her knees opened the door it was Flora’s mother, my Abuelita. Abuelita remembers seeing my dad with a disheveled look. He was upset and it looked like he hadn’t slept the night before. My mom appeared behind Abuelita, surprised to see he was in her neighborhood and at her doorstep.

What are you doing here? Flora asked. She was shocked to see him, my dad recounts.

I did some research, but not online. When my grandmother went to sleep, I went to the attic and dug up some of her old things, my dad’s too. I found this. Is this the guy you were talking about? Is he still running the Day One Family gang? Kaden asked pointing to a picture of his father in the photo.

Kaden handed Flora an old folded-up photo of a young Black man throwing up the Day One Family gang sign with a beautiful young woman squatting in front of him throwing up a Los Hermanitos sign with her long freshly manicured black pointed nails. They both sat at the tiny kitchen table and quietly examined the photo. Kaden turned it over to show Flora the writing on the back. It read different sets, different people, one love. Silver and Ari forever.

That’s who you were talking about yesterday. Silver. That’s him. That’s my dad. He told me a while ago that was his nickname but didn't go by that anymore. And Ari is my mother, no one in my family talks about her much, he said. His once care-free attitude morphed into a combination of confusion and anger. He's a liar. He's a fucking con artist, Kaden continued about my grandfather, Silver, whom I’ve never met. Flora sat there quietly and let him vent, she knew not to kick a horse while he was down.

What does your dad say he does? Flora timidly asked once Kaden seemed to calm down a little. My dad wasn't sure of what he did. Silver had always been very vague about his business when it came to explaining things to his son, Kaden. Uh, he travels a lot. He sells a special blend of concrete to construction companies all over the country. He only comes home on the weekends, well – some weekends, he recounted.

The truth of the matter was, Kaden’s dad rarely spent time with him. Kaden barely knew his dad, he knew his credit card number by heart but never spent more than 3 days in a row with him, my mom once told me. My mother never was one for sugar-coating much of anything. It may seem insensitive, but it is also oddly one of my dad’s favorite qualities about her. Flora grabbed two tamales out of an old, oversized pot on the stove and quickly dropped each one on a plate to share with my dad.

So, what do you want to do? We can do this project without speaking about your dad or I can tell you the truth about Silver and you can figure out who the hell you are, she asked while handing Kaden a fork.

He looked at the tamale, puzzled, it smelled good, but he wasn’t sure how to open it. He felt the same about the options she’d given him. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the truth about his dad, a part of him was satisfied with living as a clueless rich kid. He drew in a big breath and let out a long sad sigh.

I guess I want to know. My dad said as he stabbed the tamale with a fork. My mom laughed. You’ve got to peel off the corn husk first, then eat it, but be careful my Abuelita loves to add a lot of spice. My dad’s perfect smile appeared on his face when he looked at my mom and began to pull apart the corn husk and nibbled on a corner. For a moment, they enjoyed one another’s company.

Well. Do you want to know the truth? Flora asked as she finished the last bit of her tamale before finishing a cold glass of milk.

Kaden was trying hard to mask his discomfort from the spicy tamale. He replied, uh yea, I want to know.

Flora stood up and disappeared into the next room. A few moments later Flora appeared holding one side of her grandmother’s walker. My great grandmother (I also call her Abuelita) sat at the table examining my dad. As he recalls it, he was extremely nervous by the way she looked deep into his eyes. He said he felt like she was reading his soul.

You look like her, she finally spoke up after examining Kaden. Her voice was quiet but stern and she had a thick Mexican accent. Your mama was a beautiful young woman, I used to watch her as a baby up until she was a teenager. You have her eyes; they are bright and full of adventure. But that smile, that daring smile – that’s your papa.

Can you tell me about her? My mother. And about them? What happened? Kaden asked. My father is usually a jovial man, but the fear of not knowing his mother and his parents’ past showed. For the first time since they’d met my mother saw a different side of him.

Your mama was a special young lady, she was smart, everyone in the neighborhood loved her. Her father, your Abuelo, was the leader of Los Hermanitos at the time and he made a truce with the Day One family. It was a good time for both gangs. There was peace, jobs, and our community was finally coming together until Silver, your papa.

Flora shifted uncomfortably in her seat and looked at Kaden, who was mesmerized by her grandma’s words. Kaden urged my great-grandmother to continue the story about his father.

Kaden pulled out the picture he’d stolen from an old photo album he found hidden in his house. My Great Abuelita took the photo and pulled out a pair of bright red cat-eyed reading glasses from her homemade floral pouch attached to her walker. After a few minutes of taking in the photo, she began to speak.

Yes. Yes. That’s both of them, your parents. They had a fierce love, my boy, she remembered. They would daringly walk through the neighborhood holding hands, deep in love. They were like Romeo and Juliet of the Barrio. Your mother didn’t care that your father was a Day One Family member he convinced her that he was going to leave the gang and take her out of the neighborhood to Silver Valley, that’s where he got his name from, Silver. He was always obsessed with that part of town, the ritzy part of the city.

My mother felt the uneasiness in the room. My father’s face said it all. He was mortified because this was the first time anyone talked so freely about his mother since he could remember.

Are you ok? She lovingly asked. He nodded yes. He explained he was just shocked that he had no idea about his father’s past and how his grandmother refused to talk about life before Silver Valley.

What happened to my mom? Kaden timidly asked.

Flora’s grandmother looked at her and let her tell that story, a story that my mom had heard many times. Silver, your dad, was a hustler he could sell water to a whale. He knew to make enough money to get out of the neighborhood he had to do business with Los Hermanitos. At the time, the Day One Family began getting involved in the cocaine business because of your dad. Your grandfather, the leader of Los Hermanitos, was against it. Los Hermanitos sold marijuana that their extended family grew in Mexico, but nothing else. So, your father knew the only way to get Los Hermanitos in business with him, was to do it behind closed doors.

Flora’s grandmother interrupted. Wait, I want you to know that your father and mother loved you very much. They would parade you around the neighborhood. You were like a symbol of peace between the two gangs. Your dad and your mother unified Los Hermanitos and the Day One Family when they had you. You were from both worlds, you are the neighborhood.

Kaden took a deep breath. He was visibly uncomfortable. My mother grabbed my dad’s hand under the table and held it tight for support. I like to think that's when they began to like each other. My dad happily accepted her support as they listened to the horrific love story that created him.

Silver has always been a complicated man. He loved your mother, he loved you, but his love for money unfortunately was more important, my great-grandmother explained. Silver created a fake construction business that manufactured cocaine. At first, he sold it in this neighborhood, which caused destruction. Silver’s crew would sell, and your grandfather’s crew on the Los Hermanitos side would package and store it behind your grandfather’s back. It seemed like a good idea, a way to bring money into the neighborhood, but it was destroying it. He began making a lot of money. He started to expand his business into different parts of California.

My great-grandmother shifted in her seat, this part of the story was always uncomfortable to tell. My mom sensed that her grandmother wanted to stop, so she offered to take my dad on a walk through the neighborhood. Kaden didn’t understand why they abruptly stopped the story. He begged for Flora’s grandmother to continue, but Flora insisted they take a walk.

Come on, Kaden, give my Abuela a rest. I can finish up the story for you. Let's go outside, Flora insisted. Kaden unwillingly stood up and thanked Flora's Abuela for the food and kissed her forehead before putting his plate up and tucking in his chair. My mom always told me his manners caught her attention. She said she’d never met another 16-year-old with manners like him.

My dad helped my mom with her jacket as they left the little colorful house on the corner of the street. They began walking deeper into the neighborhood toward the cul-de-sac at the end. Flora showed him where his father once lived and his mother. She did her best to describe her to Kaden.

So, what happened? Did my grandfather find out he was having his gang package the cocaine for the Day One family to sell? Kaden intently questioned her as they slowly strolled down the street and he took in the neighborhood – what it looked like, the smell, and the people who passed by.

Flora was hesitant about where she would even start. Although he did not know his mother, he still had a relationship with his father and she didn't want to destroy that. My mom grabbed his hand and intertwined her fingers with his as a sign of comfort.

Well, your grandfather eventually found out about Silver doing business with his gang behind his back. Naturally, he was furious and needed to retaliate. He destroyed your father’s stash house. He would do anything for Los Hermanitos and he never wanted them to be in the drug game, so he did what he had to. When Silver, your dad, caught wind of his stash house being destroyed he didn’t do anything at first. But everyone knew that if you crossed Silver, the consequences will be high. He always went after whatever or whoever crossed him loved the most, he was ruthless in that manner.

Is that what happened to my mom? He hurt her, didn’t she? Kaden interrupted. Flora squeezed his hand tighter and guided him to the curb to sit. Kaden followed suit.

Ahem. Flora cleared her throat. Your mother was a photographer. She never went anywhere without her camera. The last time anyone saw her was late one Saturday night. She was headed up to the mountains to catch a few photos of the sun rising in your grandfather’s 1956 black Cadillac Eldorado Seville. He loved that car almost as much as he loved your mom, his daughter. She also adored the car, before your grandfather started his mechanic shop in the barrio, he worked in a garage that serviced luxury cars in Silver Valley. When he put in his two weeks’ notice, the owner gifted him the Eldorado Seville because of his hard work. It wasn't in good shape your mother helped him restore it. He had L.H. embroidered into the leather on the interior of the car. So, he trusted your mom with it. Before your mom left she dropped you off at that house right there. That was your grandmother’s house, Silver’s mom. Hours passed that morning, well after sunrise and your mom hadn’t returned. It was as if she disappeared along with the car. There were no reports of an accident, theft, or anything. There was no trace. No one could find her. Your father didn't seem to care much, but your grandfather was heartbroken. He stepped down as leader of Los Hermanitos and drank himself to death.

My mother always chokes up when she tells me this part of the story and my dad refuses to talk about it. She said Kaden slowly got up without a word and began to walk down the street to his car. My mother called for him, but he kept going. She always says it seemed as though he was in a trance the way his eyes were so focused as if he were on a mission.

He walked back to his house. It was empty as usual. Kaden’s dad was always out working and his grandmother often went to Vegas with her friends to enjoy the slot machines. Without hesitation, Kaden walked toward the garage. There were half-a-dozen cars neatly parked and perfectly detailed in a row. He rushed past them toward the back of the garage to a car that was covered. Kaden never thought to look under it before because his dad swore it was an old project that he never finished.

He hesitated before ripping the light khaki-colored sheet off the car. His stomach sunk and his heart jumped up into his throat. A 1956 Eldorado Seville sat there in pristine condition. He rushed to the driver’s side window to peek in the car. LH was embroidered in the dashboard on the passenger side. He cleared his throat to fight back tears, then peered into the backseat window. There was a camera sitting on the floor behind the driver’s seat - an old cannon camera. He tried opening every door, but they were all locked. Thinking like his dad, he took a chance and checked above the tires on the passenger side of the car. There it was. A single key was taped to the inside of the tire. He nervously opened the backseat door and grabbed the camera. He noticed a black duffle bag and took a peek inside. It was filled with 100 dollar bills. He refocused his attention to the camera. After a minute or two of close examination, he saw a speck of dried blood on the lens of the camera and his mom’s initials on the bottom of the camera. Feeling helpless, he fell to the ground with the camera cradled in his lap. Hot tears began to pour from his eyes.

Anyone there? Son, is that you? A voice over the intercom asked. It was Silver.

In a panic, my dad grabbed his backpack, jumped in the car, and prayed for the engine to turnover. Once it started, he opened the automated garage doors and sped off. He looked in his rearview mirror and saw his perfect home and father behind him. His future was ahead of him with my mom and a few years later, me.

I cleared my throat and gave a somewhat awkward smile to the crowd of people standing in front of me mesmerized by my family's trauma and love. An eruption of applause began, I blushed and took a seat in the back. I noticed my dad in the classroom window, standing in a perfectly tailored suit with a fresh haircut. He winked at me and left. That’s all I needed to know he was proud, maybe not of our family history, but me. Through all of the lying and pain, he had me and the least I could do was somehow make him proud. His history made me.

Short Story by: Erin M. Wright

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