Deep Roots, by Ed Rosick — Chapter One
Kevin Ciano got out of the shower in the cramped confines of his bathroom when the rat crawled onto his left foot. Misshapen front claws raked across his toes and he instinctively jerked away before looking down to see the creature—thin, gray fur, with eyes leaking blood—slowly moving forward. Without thinking, Kevin grabbed the creature by its long-scaled tail and smashed it onto the wet linoleum floor.
By the third blow the rat lay dead, its head a dripping lump of broken bone and brains. Kevin dropped the bloody mess into the wastepaper basket and made a mental note to take out the trash before he left for work.
That’ll teach me to buy bargain-bin rat poison. He washed his hands before drying off the rest of his six-foot tall sinewy body, moving into his bedroom to get dressed. Next time it’s nothing but the best for the little bastards.
Thin blades of early-morning sunlight worked their way through uneven metal venetian blinds that covered the window of his one-bedroom house on the east side of Detroit. Fatigued, Kevin looked at the clock on the nightstand next to his bed. 6:32 A.M.
He shut off the alarm which was due to go off in eight minutes. Beside the clock sat a 5 by 7-inch faded color picture in a cheap plastic frame. As Kevin started putting on a pair of worn but clean jeans, he glanced at the picture for a moment, at the smiling faces of the three people—an older woman dressed in a tie-dyed t-shirt and jeans in-between a lanky young man with long light-brown hair tied in a pony tail, which hung lazily over his bare left shoulder, and a petite, attractive, dark-haired young woman wearing a loose-fitting simple white dress that stopped midway down her tanned thighs. The young man had a tight smile as if holding something in, while the young woman beamed a joyous grin that could not be faked. Kevin stared at the photo for a few seconds more, then walked back into the bathroom to finish drying his hair.
As he started to vigorously rub his head with a towel, a sudden pinprick of pain in his right shoulder caused Kevin to flinch.
“What the hell?” He turned his head and expected to see an inflamed zit or insect bite. After all, the man had seen more spiders in the house the last four weeks than he had in his entire thirty years of life. However, it was neither a zit nor spider bite, but rather a raised area of skin the size of a dime on the front of his right shoulder. He cleaned the steam off the bathroom mirror and looked closer.
The lesion was a perfect circle, like a tiny bicycle tire implanted underneath his pale, freckled skin. There seemed to be no redness or discharge. Cautiously, Kevin ran his left index finger over the raised flesh. It was hard and devoid of any sensation.
No pain, no tingling. A small circle of nothing. Another piece of artwork to go with the rest. He briefly looked at his forearms, enveloped with a menagerie of prison tattoos and scarifications—concentric circles, jagged pentagrams, crisscrossing triangles, and other geometric designs— then looked away. They were forever a reminder of his time at Fairview State Penitentiary, of his dealings with Charles Readona, times that he wished with all his heart he could forget.
Kevin touched the lesion one more time. Probably an ingrown hair. Guess it beats growing out of my ears.
By the time he had finished drying his hair, the thought of the lesion had completely left his mind.
After finishing getting dressed in a white shirt and a simple, red-striped tie, Kevin sucked down a cup of cold coffee and made his way outside. The late September morning was unusually cold, and he considered going back inside to get a jacket, then dismissed the thought for fear of missing his morning bus.
Kevin looked up and down the block of Miranda Street for any two-legged predators. Except for three large raccoons working diligently to get into a garbage bag on the overgrown lawn of a boarded-up abandoned house across the street, there were no other living creatures in sight. He walked toward Lincoln Street where, four more blocks north, he would pick up a Detroit Metro bus for the six-mile ride to Woodward and Greenlawn and his ten-dollar-an-hour (cash only) job. He was almost at the corner when he came upon a fresh splatter of blood on the cracked sidewalk.
Someone must have gotten popped during a fight.
Kevin bent closer to the crimson puddle and flashed back to his prison time, sitting across from a fat, balding psychiatrist with bulging eyes and an enormous Adam’s apple, who would flash card after card of Rorschach inkblots.
“And what of this one?” the shrink would say in his condescending voice, staring over his too-small glasses at Kevin. “I don’t know,” Kevin replied, knowing that he should give some bullshit answer but was too tired, too damn defeated to muster up an ounce of energy to lie.
“And what of this one?” the shrink said again, mercifully holding up the last of the cards.
The inkblot was different from all the rest; while the others were pale blue in swirling patterns of unrecognizable shapes, this one was dark crimson with sharp edges jutting out from the center of a small shape that appeared vaguely feminine.
“Why is that one a different color?” Kevin had asked, staring intently at the Rorschach, like looking into the face of a long-lost friend while trying desperately to remember their name.
“What do you see?” the shrink asked, his voice rising in excitement.
“I want to know why it’s a different color,” Kevin said with more force. “What kind of mind game are you pulling here?”
“Now, Kevin,” the shrink had said, his voice back to its usual arrogance. “I thought we were learning to control that anger. You know it’s your anger that got you into this unfortunate situation, and it’s your anger that—”
Kevin slapped the card out of the shrink’s hand so fast it was like a magic trick. “You want to know what anger’s really about?” Kevin’s face found itself mere inches from the shrink’s. “Try spending twenty-four hours out on the block and you’ll learn more about anger then you could in school!”
The outburst cost Kevin a month in solitary.
A loud crack of a slamming door erupted in the air and Kevin was brought back to Miranda Street. He blinked hard and looked around.
Dark shapes moved behind the thick plate glass windows of a run-down one-story house to his left. Knee-high grass covered the lawn and dozens of empty beer and liquor bottles were scattered across the tiny wooden front porch that was tilted precariously on buckling supports. Just another illegal business transaction gone bad. He looked down at the blood, then back at the house. Kevin had learned in the joint to avoid the crack addicts and meth-heads. Both were unpredictable, psychotic, willing to do anything to get their fix. Everyone avoided them—the Aryan Brotherhood, the Black Warriors, the Hispanic Shorn. Everyone except Readona. The shapes moved again, and Kevin imagined the group in the house, cachectic men and women in various stages of dress, leering at him like hungry vampires, mouths agape in eager anticipation of their next meal, eyes watery and gums grey and decayed.
Kevin carefully stepped around the blood splatter and quickly made his way to the bus stop.
He had used the same bus for over a month and there was a different driver each time. Kevin imagined an entire warehouse full of bored men and women dressed in navy blue DETROIT METRO BUS DRIVER uniforms waiting each day to see if they were going to be chosen to drive the great unwashed masses back and forth along the streets of Motown.
The bus pulled to a stop a moment later and Kevin got on and dropped three quarters into the till. He scanned the seats—all empty except for an old white woman sitting in the second row, wearing a filthy pale green sweatshirt and jeans two sizes too big. She appeared to be having an animated conversation with a stuffed teddy bear she was holding close to her face.
“You need to sit.”
Kevin looked to his right: it was the first time a bus driver had ever spoken to him.
The driver, a large black man with hands the size of small hams, motioned with his head. “You need to sit,” he said again. “New policy. Some mutherfucker brought a lawsuit against the city last week for falling down and bruising his ass when he wouldn’t sit down when the bus started rollin’. Now none of us can drive without everyone sitting.”
Kevin turned to walk to the back and saw that the old woman had stood up and was holding out the teddy bear like a sword in her right hand. Kevin took a step forward and the woman snarled.
“Man, will you sit? She ain’t gonna hurt you,” the driver said. He calmly turned around. “Tisha, sit your skinny ass down and behave or I’ll throw you off my bus.”
The woman snarled once more at Kevin, then did as she was told.
Kevin walked by her but the woman totally ignored him, immersed again in deep conversation with her bear. He picked a seat in the back row and sat down.
As the bus started moving, Kevin finally remembered the dead rat in the trash.