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Innocent One


All the drugs were stowed under Avivit’s bed. “Why do we have to hide them here?” the young girl whined. “Why can't we hide them under Jimmy’s bed?” She dove under her pillows.
     “Shut up,” her much older brother hissed. “All we ever hear from you is what you don't want.” His rancid breath carried a heavy smell of liquor.
     “If you care so much go complain to your mother,” her father told her. “You know not to disturb us when we’re on a job.”
     Avivit pulled her blanket around her and got out of bed, leaving the small, dimly lit room. She found her mother at the kitchen table, sitting beneath the bare light bulb, counting cash next to a half-empty bottle. Avivit noticed this. Her mother must be sad.
     “What's wrong, Mommy?” she asked.
     Her mother turned her tired eyes towards Avivit. “Oh Av,” she said, “what are we going to do? Even we can't postpone the landlord forever, and if your father’s deal doesn't come through, Guy’s cronies will be after us.”
     Avivit climbed up onto her lap. “Don't cry. Look what I saved for you!” She reached into her pajama pocket and handed a nickel to her mother.
     “Thanks,” her mother said, and put the nickel in her pocket.
     Just then, the front door slammed open, and they both jumped, then turned towards the door. But it was just Avivit’s older sister, Vickie. Vickie was, as usual, wearing a lot of makeup and looking extremely wired up. “Mom,” she said, “the van is downstairs! The guys will be coming up any minute.”
     Avivit turned around to see Mom. She touched a few fingers to her forehead, then briskly put down Avivit and stood up. “I've got to go warn Osborne.” Avivit watched her go and then turned to Vickie. “How come Guy is always trying to get us?”
     Vickie looked down at her with mixed disdain and sympathy. “Because Daddy has a deal with him and right now Daddy isn't paying up. Ugh, as if I didn't warn him.” She cussed loudly and locked the door. No sooner had she bolted it than a noisy pounding began, shaking the door and rattling the window panes of the rickety apartment. It sent a tremor of fear all the way from Avivit's feet to her brain.
     “Hey, open up!”
     Vickie, ushering her younger sister into the other room, yelled something back to them that Avivit decided was not nice.
     In the room, Daddy and her brother were just finishing up their job. Mommy was looking extremely displeased, and Jimmy, Avivit’s other brother who was only a few years older, was sitting on his bed with wide eyes. As soon as the sisters came in everyone filed out except for Mommy. She tucked Avivit into her bed. “Pretend to be asleep, you two,” she said, “and don't come out until we say.” Then she and Vickie went out, turned out the light, and shut the door. Total darkness surrounded Avivit, she gasped and hid under her blanket.
    She heard her father opening the door. She heard loud voices and unkind things. She heard the sound of a fist and the sound of a body hit the floor. She heard Jimmy whimper nearby. She heard her father shout something, closely followed by the pounding of more feet running into their apartment. And the fight began.
     All Avivit could do was wait and listen. She had heard the sound of fights before, it was not a noise she liked. As it was escalating, a new sound cut through the air, one she had never heard before. It was shrill and seemed to go around and around in circles. More feet pounded up the stairs, and Avivit could hear the chaos of everyone trying to leave the apartment; the banging of the windows, and the metallic ring of someone smashing into a banister. The apartment door was banged open again, and for one moment there was total silence. Avivit cautiously eased herself out of bed. Then one, two, three shots rang out sharply and she sprang back in. The new voices yelled and there was the sound of a scuffle, then some metallic clicks. “Alright, come on, you aren't going anywhere tonight.” Avivit was simply too curious to stay in her room anymore. But she wasn't prepared for what she saw.
     The whole apartment was a mess, furniture knocked over, a couple smashed bottles on the ground. Several men and women in all black stood with notebooks, guns at their sides, and badges on their shirts. A few were crouched over Vickie, who was lying on the floor in a pool of blood, coughing.
One of the men spotted Avivit and crossed the room to her. Avivit shrank back against the wall. He crouched down. “Don't be afraid. I'm not going to hurt you. Do you live here?” She nodded.
     “Do you know who she is?” He gestured to Vickie.
     “She's my sister,” Avivit whispered.
      His face softened. “Who else is your family?”
     “Daddy...Osborne, and Mommy, Vickie, and Jimmy.” Together they worked out who each person was. Daddy had been arrested, Vickie had been shot by Guy’s cronies, but not badly, and the people found Jimmy in the back room.
     “Given the circumstances,” the man said, “it’s unlikely they'll hold your mother or sister for long. We’ll rehabilitate them with you in a few months.” He picked up Avivit. “You're all going to have a new home.”


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