Stories by Emily Hoover
  1  Surge
3  Angelo Loves Tammy
4  El Brutál
5  Real Fun
  6  Tectonics of Time
  7  Some Kind of Saint
  8  Snitch
10  Reflections at Aqua Key West

  About the Author  |  |  Summer 2021 Fiction Issue


Though Angelo’s looks had always impressed girls, his green-blue eyes, brown skin, and curly hair had also tagged him, for as long as he could remember, as a target in the eyes of the law. So he would slip on a ball cap—to camouflage the ‘fro deemed “distracting” by school officials—and head out the door without once glancing at himself in the mirror. Even when he brushed his teeth, he kept his head down, away from the mirror, to avoid seeing himself for what he really was: trigueño. That’s what the light skinned Puerto Ricans called him, especially the nuyoricans, and that was when they were being nice. The non-Hispanic black kids didn’t trust him, saw him as some kind of shape shifting spy, and kept their distance. Among the mostly white poor in Eaton Park, Angelo was thug; if they caught him speaking Spanish, he became spic, wetback even though it made no sense. Tammy Collins was the only white person in Eaton Park to call him by his name, and that was before she moved away. Maybe her brother Daniel would have also, but Angelo realized now that he never gave Daniel a chance.

The Collins house had been vacant for two years. It smelled like smoke for almost a year after the fire. In Florida, everything sticks to the air. The torrential rain couldn’t wash away what happened, and its regularity only made the smell worse: wet tragedy instead of dry. Angelo had no choice but to face the Collins house when he left for school every morning because it sat directly across the street. He knew very well the charred concrete, worn by time and Housing & Urban Development red tape. He was probably the first in the neighborhood to spot the yellow demolition note thirty-one days ago. Angelo had just tucked the date and time into his mind and left for school unnoticed; he didn’t tell anyone about the note, not even his sisters Paola and Ariana, who still lived at home.

Though Angelo was pretty sure his parents knew about the demolition, they didn’t like talking about the Collins family because the oldest kid, Phillip, was in the mental institution for starting the fire. People said he did it out of rage because his father passed away shortly after getting out of prison, but Angelo’s mother always felt there was more to the story. Naturally, Angelo didn’t mention that today was demolition day to either of his parents, or that he planned to ditch after lunch in order to witness it. His mother, promoted to manager at Bealls since the company learned of the previous manager’s theft, would be working all day as would his father. Ariana took classes at Polk CC and worked at Harry’s and Paola was always with her boyfriend, Rommel, so Angelo knew he would be alone. He figured it would be like being the only person at the movie theater.

As he left the school cafeteria, passed the greenhouse, and walked around the graffiti-stained bleachers at the baseball fields, he thought about the live oak at the end of his road, how he had carved Angelo Loves Tammy 4Eva into its trunk years ago when he was still in elementary school. He wasn’t sure if Tammy was still in Lakeland or somewhere else, and he ran his fingers across the chain-link fence separating him from campus. It comforted him to know the tree would stick around even if his “love” for Tammy couldn’t withstand the embarrassment of her severely broken family. Angelo’s father had cornered him one evening when he returned from hanging out with Tammy at the park, saying that he wanted Angelo to find a nice Puerto Rican girl around the same age with a working father, “normal” siblings who weren’t gay or psycho, and a good name. This was days after what his father called “the incident” that occurred between Tammy’s brothers, Daniel and Phillip. Angelo was almost ten. They never spoke about it again and soon after, Angelo stopped sitting with Tammy on the bus. It became easier to avoid her when he entered middle school and rode a different bus.

Angelo walked, hands in his pockets, near the fenced-in yard of a daycare center, taking the shortcut because it was nicer, safer, than Combee Road. He was careful to keep the hood of his sweatshirt down, like his mother always told him, even though raindrops sprayed his head and face. The women nodded at him as they collected toys and children, urging them inside and talking of thunder. Angelo hoped the storm would not impact the demolition because he was already failing biology and couldn’t risk missing other classes. He preferred English, art, and history and was thankful he had those classes in the morning. He passed the gated trailer park where he gave Tammy her first kiss. Two streets and then he would be home.

An old white woman with hair even whiter crossed the street to avoid Angelo. He was used to this kind of behavior, of course, but it still stung. He tried to keep his chin up, even smiled at the woman carrying grocery bags, but she only quickened her pace. Angelo wished he could step out of his skin the way women stepped out of their dresses in old movies.

The rain stopped. Angelo was relieved. He saw a couple boys he recognized from school chatting on the corner, probably trying to sell their mother’s dirt weed or Tylenol from her medicine cabinet. Phillip was famous for this, for selling low quality drugs for high quality prices, and Angelo was pretty sure these also-ditching jitterbugs got the idea from him. He crossed the street, and it dawned on him that in a few years, nobody would even remember Phillip, still called El Brutál by some because of the incident.

The neighborhood had already changed some in the two years since Angelo had last seen Tammy: they built a subdivision where a particularly shitty trailer park used to be; they installed new slides at the park after some kid fell through and cracked his head open; and following the death of his grandfather, Angelo’s Tía Lourdes moved to Tampa, making his family one of the only brown ones left on his street. Angelo couldn’t wait for the summer; he looked forward to going to Tampa and working in his tío’s new store. He’d grown apart from most of his childhood friends, many of whom preferred selling drugs to reading or watching movies. After breaking up with his most recent girlfriend, Bernice, he wanted out of Lakeland for good. The anguish of being Angelo was overwhelming and he looked forward to being someone else—Angel, maybe?—for a little while at least.

He passed the live oak, his own sloppy handwriting from another time, and walked toward his house. As expected, no cars were in his driveway. Angelo also noticed a pick-up truck and crane in front of Tammy’s house, but no men with work boots, reflective vests, and hardhats. Angelo assumed they’d gone to McDonald’s or the Cuban sandwich shop off Combee and would be back shortly. He didn’t want to believe the rain had spooked them, so he went inside, opened the living room window, fixed himself a glass of sun tea with sugar, and read the library’s copy of The Catcher in the Rye, a homework assignment from his English teacher Mr. Perez. Few physical descriptions of Holden Caulfield appeared in the book; Angelo wondered if maybe Holden could look like him.

A half hour or so later, he heard an engine roar and some beeping and looked up from the book. The dump truck had parked half on the road and half on Angelo’s drainage ditch, blocking his view of the demolition. Four men got out in a sea of orange and yellow and approached The Collins house. Another man arrived seconds later in another white pick-up.

Angelo leapt from the couch, irritated because he hadn’t planned on watching the event from the end of the driveway. He wasn’t keen on being watched as he watched, but what choice did he have?

The roof, burned to blackness in the blaze, was the first to go. As the crane’s teeth shot forward, the trusses collapsed, submitting to gravity. Angelo’s stomach was in knots, but when the roof was gone, he felt a weight lifting from his chest. Next, he watched as the crane stuck itself into the living area, tearing away layers. The paint and aluminum siding fell away, as did the wall panels, wood framing and insulation, joining the pile of rubble on the ground. Most of the windows had been broken during or shortly after the fire, and the rest shattered with the help of the crane’s blunt, yet careful, force. Pipes and drains became exposed, as well as plumbing fixtures, cabinets, and flooring. It reminded Angelo of dissecting a fetal pig in biology, and he squirmed, just as he had when he got to the intestines. To this day, he had trouble eating pork—a staple in most Puerto Rican households—and he wondered if he would ever again look the same way at his own house, whole, after seeing Tammy’s in pieces. The other workmen sprayed the construction area with water, and the short one supervised the scene as the crane operator pulled the machine back.

The ordeal took a little over an hour, Angelo guessed, since the sun had barely moved. His eyes were glued to what remained: some foundation and a pile of unrecognizable grayish materials. Their neighbor Marsha approached the crane operator as he exited the vehicle. The neighborhood was eerily quiet, though Angelo knew high school would be letting out soon.

“Well, that was fast,” she said, chuckling. Her voice echoed in Angelo’s direction.

The crane operator removed his hardhat and safety glasses. “Sorry for all the racket.”

She brought a cigarette to her mouth. “Shoot. That’s fine, honey. Smoke?”

The crane operator shook his head. “Can I help you with something, ma’am?”

She tried to waft the smoke away, but Angelo saw that the cloud had surrounded both of them. “I just had a question. I see y’all have finished the tearing down part. How long is it gonna take you to clear out all the rest?”

“About a week,” he said. “At the most. Sorry to bother you.”

“Oh no. That’s fine.”

The crane operator walked away, nodding to Angelo as he joined the rest of his team.

Marsha made eye contact with Angelo, and he waved so as not to appear awkward or impolite. He had known Marsha for most of his life but avoided her and her house, even on Halloween. He’d once watched her slide her fingernails down Phillip’s shirtless back in an embrace after Phillip and Daniel cleaned the leaves out of her backyard.

But Angelo had never considered how the fire had affected Marsha, a friend of Tammy’s mom, so he stayed put as she crossed the street to join him.

“Well, that was something, huh?” She shook her head, gazed back at the remnants of the house, stepped on her cigarette butt, and bent down to pick it up.


“Kind of thrilling. Also sad.” She stayed bent over, staring up at him for a moment.

Angelo nodded. “I’m just glad it’s over. I’m tired of looking at it. Gives me the creeps.”

She stood. “I hear that. How’s your mama?” She touched his elbow with her fingertips.

“Fine.” He folded his arms across his chest.

“And the rest of your family? I ain’t seen your brother around for a while.”

“They’re okay.”

“And how are you, hon? Everything all right?”


“Listen: that teardown was pretty shocking. I know it got me all worked up.” She shivered, put her hands in the back pockets of her cut off shorts. “I see nobody’s home yet, and I was wondering if you’d like to come over to my house for a snack and some soda. I got Mountain Dew in the fridge.”

“No thanks.” Angelo tried to find words. “I have to finish reading this book.” He pulled Salinger’s novel out of the pocket of his jeans. “For a test tomorrow.”

“Of course.” Marsha nodded. “I admire a handsome man with a book in his pocket, Angelo. Let me know if you change your mind. I just bought some fresh ham from the butcher and reckon you might like some. There’s beer in the fridge, too, if you rather that.” She winked.

“Thanks again.” He backed away. “See you later.”

As he moved up the driveway and into the house, he realized that Marsha had used his name for the first time in the decade they had known each other. She had also complimented him, called him a man—and a handsome one at that. It felt more grown up than the afternoons he’d spent in the beds of girls he knew from school.

Angelo felt a current move through him as he sat on the pull-out couch near the window, watching Marsha bend over to pick up the newspaper at the base of her driveway. He liked the sound of his name on her tongue. The book lay on the empty cushion beside him. He left it there as he walked out the front door and into the sun.


  © Emily Hoover, 2021

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