SEE NO EVIL
Todd yawned one of those ear-popping yawns. He turned over and felt his sister's soft hair against his arm. She was a brat, but she always looked sweet when she slept. He yawned again and his human nature kicked in. He felt his body waking and he opened his eyes. The bare mattress beneath him felt strangely comfortable, but the view of the pitted, stained ceiling was more like home. His blanket was thin, and cool air flowed in through the cracks in the walls.
Lana stirred next to him. He lay still until she was fast asleep again. The sun cast a shadow from his parent's room, and he quietly slid off the mattress and looked for some clothes. In the corner of the small room stood two dirty boxes. In these, neatly folded, were all the clothes they owned. Todd grabbed a pair of pants and slid them on.
The morning outside was beautiful, but he only wanted to stay in the dank apartment. The beige walls were water-stained and the roof leaked in when it rained. Everything was moldy and smelled of rats. But, this terrible place was home and here they were all safe.
"Why are you up so early?" Lana asked as she sat up. Todd cursed under his breath.
"Go back to bed. I'm just off to find a job." He tried to sound sweet and convincing. All he needed was for his mother to find him leaving.
"But, uh, Daddy has a job. And I know that he says you're too young." Lana began to get up, and Todd handed her a torn-up bear to get her to go back to sleep.
He sat down and waited till she was breathing slowly again with her eyes closed. Todd grabbed a sweatshirt and pulled on his socks. He went out into the hall to find his shoes.
Mom and Dad were sleeping arm in arm. The tiny window reflected a halo of light down upon them. Todd wanted nothing to do with the poverty they provided. He'd never been to school, but they were sending Lana. He turned his back on them and bent down to tie his shoes. The laces were shot, so he tucked them in the flimsy leather. His dad often did the same thing Todd was about to do, and he resented having to bring himself to this. They needed the cash though.
Lana would never know. He'd make sure of that. He swallowed a vitamin after he combed through his unruly hair with his fingers. The small mirror on the wall reflected green eyes and a face that looked older then he was.
Good, he thought. They wouldn't turn him away if he looked older. He spun on his heels and went out the door. It creaked in the wind. The stairs in the building shifted under his weight. When he reached the last step, he waited for his heart to stop pounding.
He had to look and feel tough out in the street. He slammed open the wood door and turned out onto the sidewalk. The trash in the street was thick, but that was nothing new. Todd usually went right towards the store and his friend's place. But on this cool morning he turned left, going deeper into the slums. He strolled past cardboard homes and dumpster toilets.
The sun was bright as he walked, and it reflected off the tall buildings. The brilliance blinded him, so he kept his face down, watching his feet. Just now, his mother was waking Lana, for the second time.
* * *
Lana loved how sweet her mother always smelled. Nothing smelled good in her room, but Mama's smell was comforting. She felt the blanket pull softly away from her.
"Lana, dear. It's time to get up. You have to go to Mrs. Rilley's today. Come on pumpkin." Her mother sat her up. Lana rubbed her eyes. As she blinked herself awake her mother lifted her off the mattress. She just stood there stunned by the prospect that it was morning already. "Now, dear. Let's find something nice for you to wear. Hmmm. It really is nice that Mrs. Rilley teaches you. I hope you will be able to write someday. I never could," she mumbled with her head deep in a box searching for a pleasing outfit among the rags.
"Mommy. I'm tired. Mrs. Rilley is a mean, old . . . " Lana was interrupted by her pajamas being pulled off.
"Now, now. Put these on. Come over to the mirror. Let me brush your hair." She pulled on the long skirt and wrestled with the sweater. Lana tried to speak, but her mother was violently brushing her tangles.
"I, ooh. I was trying, ahh, to . . . ouch." She stopped, flustered. Once her hair was a less matted version of its old self, her mother turned her around and looked approvingly at her.
"I'll get your vitamin. We'll have food again soon, but for now you just swallow this." She walked out of the room and began talking to her husband. Two days ago he had come home pale and sweating, and her mother knew he was sick. She told the children he just needed rest.
"Here's your shoes. Put them on. I'm sure Mrs. Rilley will have something for you. Say goodbye to your Daddy." Lana waved, and her mother led her down the hall and out of the apartment. The door creaked closed behind them.
The door at the foot of the stairs looked smaller than before, but Lana thought that maybe she was growing. The darkness of her building made the sun outside seem harsh. Her hand was safely in her mother's and they started forward. Her mother talked about a world she had never seen, and never would. She talked about cafes and diners, malls and shopping centers, plays and movies. But, Lana looked only at the things around her. The sun made everything stand out. She had only known the box-homes and trash in the streets. She wanted to play, not learn anything.
"Mom. Why can't I go down Trawe Street? It looks nice."
"No. That street is not for you. You aren't allowed there, ever!" Her tone scared Lana, and the last block was traveled in silence. When they reached the steps of Mrs. Rilley's row house, Lana knocked.
The old woman hobbled to the door and Lana's blood ran cold.
"Have fun, honey. I'll come get you after noon. Bye." Her mother left her stranded with the old teacher, and Lana was about to run when Mrs. Rilley grabbed her wrist.
She was wrenched inside the house and ordered to sit at an old oak table. "You sit here while I get some paper and we will begin our lesson." Her voice cracked in her wrinkled throat. The room was clean, comfortable, and warm. Lana disliked the order and heat. She felt far from her world.
Lana looked out the window and wondered why her brother got to have fun. The sun was bright and it reflected off the polished table. The brilliance blinded her and she shaded her eyes over her work.
* * *
Kara slowly retraced her steps back to the apartment. The kids were growing up too fast. How could she even support them? Her husband was getting sicker each time he went, and that wasn't helping. Her mind overflowed with worries.
The door of the building was heavy and she suddenly felt tired. Lana was so full of life. Maybe she would eventually even have a daughter who would be able to get a job and get out of this place. But, with every step she climbed, the joy and hope leeched out of her.
She was back at the dank door that never shut right. When she went in, she looked closely at it, searching for a way to possibly repair it, but there was none to be found.
Loud coughs and gags came from her room. The window in there was half-broken, and the sheet over it never kept the biting wind out. That's why he was always sick, she told herself, but the truth still gnawed at her brain.
Kara tiptoed into the kids' room, and folded Lana's clothes carefully into her box. She left Todd's strewn about the room. Kara couldn't deny the matronly urge to make the bed. The mattress reeked, but it always looked better when the soft blue blanket was tucked neatly around it. She began humming to herself as she wiped the mirror and fixed her thinning red hair. In the hall was a small shelf, and upon it, solitary, was a bottle of lotion. She put some in her hand. It smelled like flowers and real life. For a moment she was a Fifth Avenue princess. Furs, jewels, everything a person could want.
Loud coughs broke into her daydream. Her husband wheezed, and she went in to find him propped against the rotting wall. She had never seen his face so blank and pale. His once piercing green eyes now looked rabid and worn.
"Is Lana off to Mrs. Rilley's? She sure is growing." John tried to smile, but a cough made him lower his head between his knees. Kara's face showed her terror.
"My . . . Why, yes. She really loves Mrs. Rilley. She's doing a world of good for her." Her voice shook, but she choked back her tears. "You feeling better?"
"Fine. Yes. Never been better in fact. It's just a cold. I'll be back to work in no time!" Kara grabbed his arms and shook him.
"No. I won't let you. You can't go back there. I need you here." She began to sob as she blurted these words. John reached out to her and she rested her head against his chest.
"I'll be fine. Todd and Lana and you need the extra money. I think we'll be able to get a better place soon." His body was filled with tremors from his coughs. She only cried.
"By the way, where did Todd go?" He managed these words before he was stifled by another fit of wheezes. Kara wiped her eyes and thought for a second.
"I guess he left early to spend time with those friends of his. I never know with that boy!"
John nodded. Then, with her help, lowered himself down on the mattress. She adjusted the pillows under his head.
"One more time I'll go. Then I'll always be home with the kids, and I'll be the best dad," he mumbled as he got groggy again. "One last time. It'll be good after that." His eyelids shut from their own weight, and he slept.
Kara kissed his forehead. She knew the truth and her tears flowed. The sun was bright as it streamed in the window. It reflected off her tears and she hung her head.
* * *
Todd thought the apartment smelled bad, but this place was worse. The air was filled with the smells of all things human that other humans weren't supposed to know about. The crowd around him was milling in lines.
He was new here. The trip down Trawe Street had frightened him enough, but what lay inside this office was something only the darkest part of a soul should see. The corpses around him lived. From the way they looked they must have come here too many times. As the line slowly inched towards the desk, he lifted his eyes from his feet to see around him.
A woman with one eye, and the other sunken, flashed him a toothless smile. Her right side was bandaged at the hip and it oozed puss. She was a regular. Others eyed him suspiciously. Todd didn't have a scratch. He was new, and they could all see it. In their eyes -- or eye -- was hate. Some had envy for him. They all wanted to know why he had stooped to their level. Could he really be that desperate?
Todd looked away. These living corpses didn't need to know his business. He saw the man taking information at the desk and he wanted to be done and gone. The crowded room closed around him. The hazy lights made his eyes water, and the smell gagged his throat. The damp in the gray room made him shiver, and his fear made him shake. Only two more in front of him and he would be at the desk.
Did he really need to do this? His sister shouldn't have to live in a dump. He knew his parents could have cared less, so it was up to him. But something deep inside him made his stomach stir, and he had the feeling that what he was about to do was wrong.
He thought of turning back, but he was at the desk facing a red-faced clerk. The man looked grouchy as he made notes, but when his round face surveyed Todd, his eyes brightened and a smile disrupted his pudgy cheeks. The man was well-fed, he was even plump. Todd hated how he looked at him, like he was a ticket to a huge meal.
"Name?" he grunted.
Todd returned the grunt.
"Good, good." The fat man seemed extremely pleased. "Method of payment?"
"I'll take cash. Or coin." Todd's mind filled with images of everything he could afford. The fat man saw how uneasy the people were behind Todd, so he filled out his card quickly.
"Okay, son. Be back here at ten tomorrow. You'll be paid in the afternoon." Todd snatched the card and turned away. The hazy lamps reflected off his dark hair and made him look very alive against the backdrop of death.
He didn't feel alive, though. His mind blurred the things he had just done. Todd would come back tomorrow. He could hide it that long.
* * *
His first intuition was that something was wrong.
The door to the apartment shook with the sounds of loud voices. Todd was used to an eerie silence, but these new sounds made him uneasy.
He cautiously opened the door and tiptoed down the filthy hall. Lana and his mom were in the parents' room. He could hear their raised voices through the paper-thin walls. Todd assumed they were just having another fight about Lana going to Mrs. Rilley's. That brat didn't appreciate it. Todd wished not to get into it, so he slipped quietly into the doorway of his room.
Through the vent he could see the sky begin to cloud up. He grabbed a bucket and put it below the opening to catch as much precious water as he could. He flopped down on the mattress and pulled out the card.
Thunder rolled in the distance as he skimmed the dirty piece of paper. It looked official, but his heart sank as he read the amount he would receive. It wasn't enough. Maybe if the first time wasn't so bad he would go back again. Only twice, and that would be all.
The raised voices in the other room sounded more like tears. Todd hated to see his sister beaten, but maybe this time he could stop it or take it for her. He folded the paper slowly and slipped it in his pocket as he entered the other room. The first thing he saw was his father laid out quietly on the mattress. His face was stone, and the deadly intensity of his eyes made Todd's stomach knot up. A pool of blood and bile lay splattered across the sheets.
Kara grabbed Todd's shirt. His eyes were still fixed on the dead figure he once knew as his father. "Todd. They killed him. He went again!" Kara's sobs made her voice choked.
Lana sat on the floor in innocent disbelief. "You! You left. How could you? He's gone! How can we ever live now?"
Todd put his arms around her. She only pushed him away. "You brat," she yelled with a force that stung his soul.
"Mother, I went. They will pay me. We can get money." He tried to sound sweet and reassuring.
She bit deeper into him. "You what! You'll let them have you too? You're a loser, just like your father!" Kara pushed him down.
"Don't talk about my daddy that way," Lana piped up.
"You can die, too. Todd, she'll go with you!" Kara drove her index finger into his chest in an effort to intimidate him. Her tears had stopped and now the only thing flowing was rage.
"No. She's too young. It will hurt her too much. Mom, don't make me do it!"
"You will. I don't care if you like it or not." She hit him with incredible force with the back of her hand. Kara never touched Todd. But, she had lost it. Suddenly she fell in a heap onto the floor and began to rock back and forth. "Take her. Take her!"
She chanted these horrible words over and over.
Lana looked around in disbelief. "Mommy?" Todd put his finger against his lips and signaled her to be quiet. He bent down and lifted the girl into his arms. Todd took her into their room and laid her down on the mattress.
"Listen, Lana. It's just the two of us now. Mommy is sick and Daddy has gone away. No, don't worry. Tomorrow I'll take you with me. Just close your eyes now. Hear the rain? Just listen to it. The sound will help you sleep." He tucked her in and climbed in too.
Her quiet breathing tortured him. Why didn't he just say no? Her youth would be lost.
He couldn't handle this. Lana knew nothing of how the world really was. She'd never seen hate, or murder. Her eyes had never gazed upon the dying in the streets. Why should she ever have to know about the darkest side of people?
He did, that's why. She never cared about what she had and if she threw away the good things she should at least know about the bad.
He lay awake for hours listening to his broken mother's voice. "Take her. Take her."
When Todd finally did sleep the rain stopped and the sun rose again over the city. The sun was bright as it flowed through the vent. It reflected off the drops of rain and painted a beautiful rainbow high over the dark slums.
* * *
Lana's little hand sweated in his. He constantly had to pull her along with him. Once they had turned down Trawe Street, Lana wanted only to gawk at the creatures around her. Todd regretted each step down the filthy sidewalk. In every shadow was another beggar, or thief, or worse. Lana was a child, and each of her small steps down the filthy street exposed her to another evil. Todd dragged her along and stood tall. He pretended to be proud of what he was doing, but his heart failed him.
The sun made Lana's curls look as pure as gold and the people in the boxes would have killed her just for that hair. When they reached the office they both watched their reflections in the broken glass. She even giggled, seeing how her tiny frame was distorted by the cracked window. They waded through the trash at the door. Lana looked up at the sun and squinted. It was almost as if she knew she wouldn't see it fully again.
Todd pushed her into the dreary place because a crowd had begun to surround them. The sunken faces sickened Todd, but Lana looked on them with pity. They moved quickly to a line.
This line was different than the one he had waited in for hours. They came right to the desk. Todd presented his card to the man. They talked, but Lana cared only about the place where she was trapped.
Everyone looked like corpses. The lights were blurry and hurt her eyes. The cold dampness made her want to shiver. But she suppressed it. Every smell sickened her empty stomach. But her brother was there, and he kept her safe. And, he always would.
The two stopped talking and Lana felt herself being dragged away. Another tall man took her hand. She cried out to her brother.
"Don't be afraid," he said. "When we're done I'll be right back at your side." Todd tried to sound as wholesome as possible, but his lie crushed him. Lana smiled at him and silently vowed to do as he said. Todd disappeared through a shadowy doorway.
She went into the same kind of room. It was dark except for one light above a bed. The scary man lifted her onto the bed. He grabbed a large needle from the dirty table next to him. She felt its prick. The light was blinding her.
She began to feel light-headed.
What was going to happen? Her heart raced and she wanted desperately to run. She wanted to be outside, in the sun.
When she tried to move, nothing happened. Her limbs were cramped from the injection.
Another man came in the door. He was dressed differently. He wore a coat. It might have been white once, but now it was yellowed and stained from use.
Lana felt like she was going to pass out. She struggled not to, but it was like walking into the wind on a winter's day. As if in a dream, parts of the two men's conversation reached her ears.
"We can get good money for the ones from this kid," the assistant said, an evil glint in his eye. "Should we start?"
The other man raised a scalpel and cleaned it.
Lana's eyes felt tired, so she closed them.
"Which first, the right eye, or the left?"