Miguel Gardel

Posted on October 3, 2011


Two Brothers, Their Cousin and Me

I lived with three guys. Two brothers and the third a cousin of theirs. They were valets in the Wall Street area and worked hard. And at home they did a lot of drugs. Very heavy into it. They injected heroin through their veins to get high. They never said “high” in reference to the other drugs, like pot and cocaine, etc. They always said “high” to heroin. And I thought of “low.” You mean “low,” I would say to them, because it’s not to go high and reach for the stars but to go down lower in our self-esteem. They didn’t understand me. I got high with them on pot and coke and heroin but not LSD. None of us liked to trip. And we drank all the time there were no other drugs at home.

I wanted to get away from there. But these guys I considered good guys. Especially because they got me the job I had parking cars in Midtown. So what a dilemma I had! If I stopped doing the drugs, things would go out of whack and they would say, “You just made things go out of whack. You better straighten out or you’re out of here.”

I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I was grateful to them. But I found a girl and decided to move out. She was petite and thought me tall. I really wasn’t. I had a job and she liked that. I was older and she liked that too. She told me she was pregnant. I thought about it. She had messed around with one of the brothers and the cousin. And lastly with me. So that was another dilemma for me.

“So what are you going to do?” she said.

“What do you want to do?” I said.

She looked at me and then looked down at the dirty floor. We never cleaned the apartment. She had come up four stories. The guys weren’t home. It was in the afternoon and I was getting ready to go to work. I remained cool and sat next to her on the couch and asked her if she wanted to have an abortion. “I’ll pay for it,” I said.

She looked up at me. “I don’t know,” she said.

I looked at the floor and thought about the situation. I didn’t really trust her. “I’ll pay for it,” I said again. I didn’t mean to say it again. It just came out of my mouth. I was thinking.

She looked down and tapped one shoe with the other. I knew she wasn’t nervous, she was trying to act as if she were. I was about to decide something and stole a quick discreet look at her. I thought she was pretty with her soft doe eyes and curly hair. There was something vulnerable about her. It was her looks. The doe eyes. “I’m responsible,” I said. I meant I was a responsible person. “You can have an abortion or you can come live with me.”


We found an apartment way up there by Fort George Hill. We had looked for one all week in the paper. I had even answered an ad that said they could get you an apartment anywhere you wanted and you didn’t have to pay a fee. I went over to their office and the man behind the desk said, “But you have to pay forty dollars for the address book.” It was a scam and I knew it, but I paid and hoped it wasn’t. I felt had to get away fast from the two brothers and the cousin.

You could write all the addresses you wanted from the address book. There were only ten. “For sixty dollars I’ll let you have the one with twenty addresses,” the man said. “I’ll take this one,” I said. He asked me what neighborhood did I prefer. I told him. He gave me the book. It was really a thin cardboard folder. And he handed me a piece of paper with a tiny pencil. “Make sure you return that.” He pointed to the bitty pencil in my hand. I sat at a table where other people sat and wrote addresses. I wrote all ten of them. They were all in my neighborhood. When I returned the book I asked the man, “Why don’t you have the phone numbers. It could save a man some walking.” He flashed at me the smile of the con man. “All you have to do is go in and tell the super you came to look at the apartment.” The streets were real but all ten building’s numbers turned out to be fake.

I told her about it but she said not to worry. “I found one in the News.”


I bought a second hand bed and we moved in. Slowly we filled the small apartment with the essentials. Everything we owned was second hand. She didn’t work. She watched black and white television all day.

“Why don’t you go to school?” I said to her.

“You go to school,” she said.

I bought groceries but they went to waste. She said she was going to learn how to cook but she was never ready to start.

“Subway fare went up,” I said. “Soon we won’t be able to afford the Chinese-Cuban place.”

“So. I’ll go home to eat.”


Her father said to me, “If you couldn’t afford to feed my little girl why did you take her
from me?”

Her parents were old. They were older than regular parents. Her parents looked like grandparents. The kids told her so when she was a girl in grade school. She was ashamed of them in public because she thought they looked too old. But she loved them at home. Especially her father. He was a barber. A short, humble, and modest man. He was playful and said nice things to people. He played hide and go seek and other games with her. You couldn’t help but like him. He was a good barber too. He told anyone who’d listen that back in the DR many years ago he had cut Trujillo’s hair when El Jefe had come through La Vega. And one day in the barber shop a man said to him, “Why didn’t you cut his throat?” There was a confused look on his face. The man had to tell him it was a joke. “In politics,” the old man liked to say, “I’m neutral.” He was one of the barbers at Pinto’s shop on Audubon Avenue where they spoke a lot of politics. Everyone respected the old man.

It was the old man who told me her real age. She used to tell the brothers and the cousin and me she was 19 when in fact she was 16. “Underage,” the old man told me when I let him know we had moved in together. “That can get you in trouble with the police.” He didn’t know she was pregnant.

She had also lied about her name. Maybe not lied, she had made it up. She had told us her name was Teri. “T-E-R-I,” she had said. We assumed it was short for Teresa. But her name was Isabella. They called her Bella at home. And she had no middle name.

But I had fallen in love with her. And when her belly began to show I wondered if the baby would look like me or like one of the brothers or like the cousin. That was a dilemma for me.

She didn’t do drugs and didn’t have friends, but she liked to dance. We danced merengue at home. She was very good. And then she wanted to go out dancing and we went out a few times and enjoyed ourselves. Then she wanted to go all the time. “I can’t afford it,” I told her.

“Why are you so cheap?”

One night I took her to El Monki on 52nd Street. She didn’t care who was playing. It was Frankie Dante Y La Orquesta Flamboyan. It was salsa and she was very stiff at first. On the second number she was too loose. Loose, not slow. I told her to concentrate on la clave.

She looked up and said, “La what?”

She wasn’t clumsy, she had rhythm, but no discipline. She was flailing her hands and flapping her arms and elbowing to the beat.

“No,” I said. “Listen to the bass.”

“What bass?”

The place was crowded and we were in the center of the dance floor, one couple among hundreds. As the band sped up so did she, and I let her go “free form.” She liked the independence. But it was not real dancing. I decided to teach her and work from the inside.

I wrapped my right arm like a vise over her left side and back and wove my left hand fingers through her right hand fingers and locked down. She didn‘t resist. “Think ‘feet,’ but don’t look down,” I said. I squeezed her tight and swayed back and forth to the beat.

“I can’t breathe,” she said. And then she said, “You’re going to suffocate me.” I didn’t say anything. Now she was swaying rhythmically with me. We swayed to the beat, back and forth, back and forth, and then half around; around; half around; back and forth.

“Do you hear the bass?”

“Yes,” she said.

I loosened my grip.


We were sweating and her long curly hair looked uncombed and there was sweat on her face. I ran a finger through the beads of sweat on her forehead and kissed her on the lips. And we looked at each other. Everything was cool. We were still on our feet when Frankie Dante announced the last tune of the night.

That evening, I felt, we had accomplished something.


One day I came home from work and she wasn’t there. She had left a note: “I went to live with Daniel. Teri.”

Daniel was one of the brothers. I went to the Wall Street area to see him at work the next day. “Yeah,” he said. “She’s staying in my room. She said she didn’t want to stay with you. I don’t know what to do with her.”

“Do you want my apartment? I’ll sell you everything in it. I’ll take your room. It’ll be
cheaper for me.”

“That’s an idea,” he said. “I’m tired of living with those guys. That’d give me an opportunity to break away from the junk and all the shit.”

We made a deal.

I worked from four to midnight and had to get to the east side. I said goodbye. On my way to work I thought about the two of them living together and wondered if he’d be the one the baby would look like.


Miguel Gardel lives in New York and attended the City College and has worked at many things from janitorial to journalism. His stories and essays have appeared in Bilingual Review, Best Fiction, Red Fez, Pemmican, and other publications.

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