Skin in the Game

Skin in the Game by Sabrina Vourvoulias Read Free Book Online

Book: Skin in the Game by Sabrina Vourvoulias Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sabrina Vourvoulias
    I am at B Street and Somerset, headed for Zombie City. Or La Boca del Diablo—the Devil’s Mouth—as the Latinos in the surrounding barrio call it.
    Neither name shows up on GPS, of course, because maps are pure fantasy. What is real doesn’t fit on a grid. And Zombie City/La Boca del Diablo is real.
    The zombies, los vivos, the ghosts who live there—all real. Their hunger—real.
    It’s the city’s double-named portal to the underworld, and I’m headed there because I have some sympathy for its inhabitants. Because I know hunger. And because it’s my beat.
    *   *   *
    Not the Expected Fictions
    The zombies are all white.
    They take the subway to Somerset, cross the streets of the barrio, then climb through a hole in the railroad fence and scramble down under the Conrail tracks to get their ten dollar fixes of heroin.
    After shooting up, while their minds are swaddled in the wooliest moment of their drug, they pace the rails—wordless, aimless, brains on mute—until need turns them back around to do it again.
    Los vivos are Latino.
    Vivo means alive—as in the mothers, grandmothers, kids, comais, and compais who live on the streets above la Boca del Diablo. But it also means cunning, as in the drug dealers they are always assumed to be, and sometimes are.
    The zombies and los vivos coexist for minutes, hours, and sometimes days together: the dead white ones who pay not to see, and the living brown ones who can’t look away.
    And around them, flitting in and out of notice, the ghosts. They are black and white and brown, because homelessness may be the only thing in this city that doesn’t heed our segregated neighborhood lines.
    The ghosts pitch their tents at the edge of Zombie City and string wards and prayers from tarp to tarp. Better than any other resident or visitor, the ghosts know the truth. No moment of peace is guaranteed.
    *   *   *
    Stay In or Take Out
    Yolanda looks up at me, hands spread protectively over the bags of food in the trunk of her car. She always parks it at the same spot on the Richmond bridge above Zombie City.
    â€œAh, Blanca,” she says. It’s not my name, but what she calls me because I take after my father and pass for white. She’s Afrolatina, so the Boricuas and Dominicans call her morena. Or, when they want to slur, prieta.
    Spanish is so damned regional, even in the city. As a Mexican from South Philly, morena doesn’t mean black to me, and prieta is an insult more commonly levied at those of us with indigenous heritage. But I learned as soon as I got to the 24th precinct that I’d better adapt to the older barrio’s way.
    â€œSomebody been hassling you, Yoli?” I ask. The ghosts love her because she brings cooked meals for them every other day, but the zombies and dealers can get rough sometimes.
    â€œNo, of course not,” she answers, but I see her shoulders relax.
    I’m shorter than Yoli—shorter than most women in the United States because my mother is from Chiapas and my tatarabuela was Mam—but I’m big otherwise and all of it is muscle. Plus, I’m quick with my taser and the 9 mm. People know not to mess with Yoli when I’m around.
    â€œLa Isleta gave me some pork and yuca for today’s meals,” she says. “And McDonald’s pitched in some fries.” Yoli doesn’t have much to call her own, but she gets every merchant in the barrio to contribute food for the ghosts.
    â€œIt’s all still warm. Want some?” she asks. She knows I don’t eat while I’m on duty, but she asks the same thing every time we meet, because she’s got that gene that equates food with caring.
    â€œNah,” I say, even though my stomach is swimming with Dunkin’ Donuts black and nothing else to soak up its acid. “We got a missing person’s report, I’m just here to look for the

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