Twitch climbed the stairs and shrugged through the door that hadn’t been locked in the daytime for as long as he could remember. Nana locked the door when she went to bed, and unlocked it when she got the newspaper in the morning, sure as sunrises and sugar. To no great surprise, Uncle John was sitting at the long wooden island that had long been the pride of the kitchen.
Uncle John was parked in the stool purchased just for him, a wider base and a small platform to rest his leg, at the end of the wide countertop that was closest to the stove, leaving him within stretching distance of anything on the front burners, but not an absolute obstruction to either cook or other passersby. It was one of the three or four places his uncle was ever close to comfortable since the event that had left him with the mangled remnants of a left leg and hand that he had refused to talk about for the entirety of Twitch’s life, despite frequent, creative, annoying, and even cruel inquiries for the majority of Twitch’s childhood.
That was before Twitch had earned his nickname and he learned what it was to have something about which you could not speak, and had to pass over in silence. Before he cultivated a jovial, flamboyant persona for the express purpose of not having to talk about such things. Like the entire thing could be a joke, and you don’t talk about a joke, because explaining it ruins it, so no one asks.
That was the goal, anyway. Worked more than it didn’t, as best Twitch could tell. Fools were fools, though, so he still got asked every couple weeks. It was amazing what a persistent, one-eyed, stare could do to a person. But it was in those moments, when he was remembering all the reasons not to kill the fool who hadn’t gotten the message, that he was in awe of his uncle’s restraint in the face of his own persistence as a child.
In pretty much every other area of life he felt almost the opposite of awe, so he didn’t begrudge the man moral highground in that small regard.
Twitch shrugged out of his bag and dumped it on the other end of the island from his uncle and saw around the huge floral centerpiece that where an enormous cola and deck of playing cards sat on every other day was an old and faded black and white photo of two smiling couples, men in crips military dress and the women in shimmering evening gowns, the ornate frame showing hints and flecks of the underlying metal through the well worn white paint. Twitch flopped backward to lean around the corner and saw the age-shielded space on the wall by the door where the painting had hung for every other moment of Twitch’s time in this house.
“Lookin’ f’Nana?” Uncle John asked, “Sh’sleeping, so we gonna talk. About time you learn’d ‘bout your own fandamily.”
“Still gotta cook so go righ’ ahead,” Twitch unzipped his bag and withdrew the box and jar purchased down the hill and shuffled past toward the stove. His uncle’s chair swiveled to track him.
“Y’cooking drugs in this house?”
“Dinner for Nana when she gets up. Y’go’ shit to say or what?”
Twitch plucked a pot from beneath the counter, reached over to grab some butter and the milk jug from the fridge, and began to array his materials before him, not too dissimilar from how he began the endeavor of which his uncle had accused him. The tug at his cheek was somewhere between a smirk and a sneer.
Uncle John repositioned the frame so it rested facing Twitch with a suddenness that he didn’t quite manage to arrest before it thwacked back on the wooden surface.
“Y’know who these two are?” Uncle John wagged a glove wrapped finger in front of the photo.
“They’s fou’ people ‘ere,” Twitch replied, grabbing a glass container and stepping over to fill it at the faucet beneath the window looking out the side of the house.
“Don’ be a smartass.”
“One’as Nana’s husband, an’I go’ no idea ‘bout that otha brotha.”
“That otha brotha is the reason he met Nana, y’idiot,” Uncle John didn’t hide the sneer in his voice and on his face, but then that had never been his way with Twitch, “He’s the reason Nana’s husband survived to have kids, an’ the reason he got this house! He the reason you exist! You don’t know shit, an’ that’s why we need’a talk.”
“Ain’t we talking?”
“Shut it.” Uncle John jabbed a finger toward the pair on the left, “This man got yo great grandad, my grandad, through the war, an’ settled both our families on’a top o’these little rolls of hill.”
Uncle John spun his chair around a bit more, and leaned to reach over Twitch’s shoulder and point out the window to another sprawled house atop the next rise.
“We been righ’ here e’er since, making Nana no’jus’ one’a th’oldest resi’ents o’Seattle, but one’a’em what been ‘ere’a longest.”
Uncle John spun back to face the island, slumping forward onto his forearms as Twitch stared across the short dip in the land at the house that crowned the next neighborhood over.
“Whose house is’at.”
Uncle John didn’t look up from his hands, one wrapped in black leather but still smaller than the other to a noticeable degree. The curled leather wrapped fingers batted away their ungloved compatriots who began enumerating the man’s forthcoming list.
“They’s Nana, the Chin brothers, that ol’bitch top a Queen Anne.”
“Whose house is’at.”
“An’en they’s Mama Deams, been sitting on that hill as long as Nana been atop this’un, to the fuckin’ minute, ‘cause they men lef’a army on’a same damn day and bought houses on’a same damn day and took they women to show ‘em the land on’a same damn day, so’s they coul’ wave o’er at each other as they explained that this way they families could look af’er each other here in Seattle for forever.”
“Who’s Mama Deams?”
“What you need to know is that she this man’s wife,” Uncle John jabbed his finger at the left of the picture, “and this man” as he jabbed at the other side, “promised that his family woul’ look after they family.”
“So who th’fuck in this family then?” Twitch turned away from the window to attend to the water on the stovetop, which was beginning to boil.
“Wall, Mama Deams and Nana each had a couple of kids, an’en some of them went an’ had a couple, so they’s a few,” Uncle John lapsed into the pseudodrawl he affected when he was feeling smug.
“You gonna get aroun’a tellin’ me why I need’a know any’a this shit today?”
“‘Cause I got tired’a waitin’ f’r Nana to tell you an’ you need to know some things.”
“Well, ‘cause one’a Mama Deams kids was an import’nt man to a lot’a us, but you ‘on’t care about that shit. Y’on’t give two shit’s about how your world came t’be, an’at’s fine. Chi’ren is as chi’ren does. What you should care abou’, ‘ough, is’at man’s kids, Mama’s grandkids.”
“Yo’ generation.” Twitch devoted half his eyes to scowling at his uncle while the other half supervised the later stages of meal preparation.
“Yup. Ha’ two boys, they joined the movement when I did, stood righ’ at my damn side when’is happened,” Uncle John waved at the leg he hadn’t spoken of in Twitch’s whole life, “Two o’my best friends in the world, an’ they had a pair’a sis’ers, as well.”
A chill ran down Twitch’s spine in stark contrast to the steaming heat washing over his face. He set the pot on the back burner and dialed down the heat before planting his hands on either side of the stove and leaning into the still rising waves of heat that battered the skin of his face.
“Who’re their sisters?” Twitch asked in the same voice people used with a doctor who emerged from surgery without a smile.
“Well, they’s only one lef’ now. H got th’other,” Uncle John shook his head, staring through the wooden countertop into the past, “An’ growin’ up we jus’ called ‘er Soft Sophi, Lil Sausso follo’ed us e’erywh’re, like our lucky charm. Guess that luck run out, but when her brothers went down she stopped being so soft. She left the movement an’en straight cut ‘er way to the top’a ‘is little group’a hoodlums o’er by the water.”
Uncle John waved a loose hand toward the south, and Twitch’s stomach tightened. His knuckles whitened as he squeezed the edge of the counter.
“Columbia City Crew, led by,” Uncle John drew the word out inviting Twitch to answer, but without any of the jovial taunting from earlier.
“Threece. Fuuuuuuck,” Twitch slumped.
“Three-cee,” his uncle confirmed, “an’ given your current company…”
“Suck a puckered asshole you couldn’t’a told a brotha…,” Twitch drifted off under his uncle’s not harsh stare. When would have been early enough? Before he became friends with Big? What, 6th grade? Or before his mom died and his spine had been wrapped in the hot lead of the ricocheted bullet?
Middle school had been miserable, not yet used to the sudden jolts and jerks that his body would throw at him, Twitch had fallen in the public areas of the school more than once in the first few weeks, and once down the stairs even. No one had helped. They had stood, pointed, laughed, even. Big had transferred in from California halfway through the year, a year older and already connected to the LA crime scene. Pretty much became the baddest kid in town at once.
While everyone else either mocked or avoided Twitch, Big had reached out, befriended the boy and even brought him into the street life. Twitch had been by his side from the moment that he founded the northwest chapter of the bloody organization, stood by him through the hard early years when they had to prove they had what it took to carry the banner, helped him grow to the point that they were now at the top of the local heap.
Well, close to the top. Fuck. Threece was a legend, and not just a local one. When Twitch opened his eyes again, one stabbed an accusation at his uncle.
“Wasn’t my choice,” Uncle John spread an open hand in a half shrug.
“Made it yo’choice now,” Twitch heaved a deep breath, “Fuck. I gotta think about some shit.”
Twitch opened the jar and shook the crumbled bacon into the mess of cheesy bent noodles, stirring them in with a long wooden spoon that he then used to scoop the mixture into a small bowl, which he dropped on the island in front of his uncle as he twitched out of the kitchen.
“Yeah you do,” his uncle agreed as he dug into the pasta.
As Twitch stormed up the stairs toward the room which was his no matter how often he came, and no matter where else he might wander in this world, he discovered within himself the smallest nugget of envy for the boy that he had taken under his wing. While Twitch loved knowing that no matter the chaos of his life out on the streets, he always had this place, waiting for him, he now found himself musing for the first time that there was one benefit to not having such a place.
A place came with a history, after all, and a history always came with complications.