Wednesday, May 18
At the moment when life as he had known it changed forever, Alex Morales was behind the counter at Joey's Pizza, slicing a spinach pesto pie into eight roughly equal pieces.
"I ordered an antipasto, also."
"It's right here, sir," Alex said. "And your order of garlic knots."
"Thanks," the man said. "Wait a second. Aren't you Carlos, Luis's kid?"
Alex grinned. "Carlos is my older brother," he said. "I'm Alex."
"That's right," the man said. "Look, could you tell your dad there's a problem with the plumbing in twelve B?"
"My father's away for a few days," Alex said. "He's in Puerto Rico for my grandmother's funeral. But he should be back on Saturday. I'll tell him as soon as he gets home."
"Don't worry about it," the man said. "It's waited this long. I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother."
"Thank you," Alex said.
"So where is your brother these days?" the man asked.
"He's in the Marines," Alex said. "He's stationed at Twentynine Palms, in California."
"Good for him," the man said. "Give him my regards. Greg Dunlap, apartment twelve B."
"I'll do that," Alex said. "And I'll be sure to tell my father about your plumbing."
Mr. Dunlap smiled. "You in school?" he asked.
Alex nodded. "I go to St. Vincent de Paul Academy," he said.
"Good school," Mr. Dunlap said. "Bob, my partner, went there and he says it's the best school in the city. You know where you want to go to college?"
Alex knew exactly where he wanted to go, and where he'd be happy to go, and where he would be satisfied to go. "Georgetown's my first choice," he said. "But it depends on the financial package. And if they accept me, of course."
Mr. Dunlap nodded. "I'll tell Bob Luis's kid goes to Vincent de Paul," he said. "You two can swap stories someday."
"Great," Alex said. "Your bill comes to $32.77."
Mr. Dunlap handed him two twenties. "Keep the change," he said. "Put it toward your college fund. And be sure to give Carlos my regards. Luis must be very proud of both his sons."
"Thank you," Alex said, passing the pizza, the antipasto, and the bag of garlic knots to Mr. Dunlap. "I'll remember to tell my father about the plumbing as soon as he gets back."
"No hurry," Mr. Dunlap said.
Alex knew they always said, "No hurry," when they meant "Get it done right now." But a seven-dollar tip guaranteed that Alex would tell Papi about the plumbing problems in 12B the minute he returned from Nana's funeral.
"The cable's out," Joey grumbled from the kitchen. "Yankees have the bases loaded in the top of the sixth and the cable dies on me."
"It's May," Alex said. "What difference does it make?"
"I have a bet on that game," Joey said.
Alex knew better than to point out the game was still going on even if the cable was out. Instead he turned his attention to the next customer, filling her order for two slices of pepperoni pizza and a large Coke.
He didn't get away until ten, later than he usually worked, but the pizza parlor was short staffed, and since Joey was cranky without his ball game to watch, Alex didn't think it a good idea just to leave. It was a muggy, overcast night, with the feeling of thunderstorms in the air, but as long as it wasn't raining, Alex enjoyed the walk. He concentrated on Georgetown and his chances of getting in.
Being junior class vice president would help, but he had no chance at senior class president. Chris Flynn was sure to win again. Alex had the presidency of the debate squad locked up. But would he or Chris be named editor of the school paper? Alex was weighing the odds between them when his thoughts were interrupted by a man and woman walking out of the Olde Amsterdam Tavern.
"Come on, honey," the man said. "You might as well. We could be dead by tomorrow."
Alex grinned. That sounded like something Carlos would say.
But as Alex raced across Broadway, fire engines and ambulances screamed down the avenue with no concern for traffic lights, and he began to wonder what was going on. Turning onto Eighty-eighth Street, he saw clusters of people standing in front of their apartment buildings. There was no laughter, though, no fighting. Some of the people pointed to the sky, but when Alex looked upward, all he saw was cloud cover. One well-dressed woman stood by herself weeping. Then, as Alex walked down the short flight of outdoor steps to his family's basement apartment, the electricity went out. Shaking his head, he unlocked the outside door. Once in the darkened hallway, he knocked on the apartment door.
"Alex, is that you?" Briana called.
"Yeah. Let me in," he said. "What's going on?"
Bri opened the door. "The electricity just went out," she said. "The cable went out, too."
"Alex, where's the flashlight?" Julie asked.
"Check on top of the fridge," Alex said. "I think there's one there. Where's Mami?"
"The hospital called," Briana said. "A little while ago. Mami said it's a really big emergency and they need everybody."
Julie walked into the living room, waving the flashlight around. "She's only been there two weeks and they can't manage without her," she said.
"She said they couldn't tell her when she'd get off," Briana said.
"Papi called while you were gone," Julie said. "He said everyone arrived safely and Nana's funeral is tomorrow. I wish we could have gone with him."
"I don't know why," Briana said. "Whenever the family gets together, you always find some excuse not to go."
"You'd better be nice," Julie said. "I have the flashlight."
"Use it to find the transistor radio," Alex suggested. "Maybe the whole city is blacked out." He thought, not for the first time, how much more convenient things would be if the Morales family could afford a computer. Not that it would be any use in a blackout.
"I bet it has something to do with the moon," Briana said.
"Why the moon?" Alex said. "Sunspots cause problems, but I've never heard of moonspots."
"Not moonspots," Briana said. "But the moon was supposed to get hit tonight by an asteroid or something. One of my teachers mentioned it. She was going to a meteor party in Central Park to watch."
"Yeah, I heard about that at school, too," Alex said. "But I still don't see why an asteroid would knock out the electricity. Or why Mami would be called to the hospital."
"The radio isn't working," Briana said, trying to turn it on. "Maybe the batteries are dead."
"Great," Alex said. "In that case, why don't you take the flashlight and get ready for bed. Mami'll tell us what happened when she gets home."
"It's too hot without a fan," Julie whined.
Alex didn't know how Mami and Bri put up with Julie. She was Carlos's favorite, too. Papi actually seemed to think she was cute, but that was because she was the baby of the family. A twelve-year-old baby, in Alex's opinion.
"Do you think everything is okay?" Briana asked.
"I'm sure it is," Alex said. "Probably a big fire downtown. I heard a lot of sirens."
"But Mami works in Queens," Briana said. "Why would the hospital need her there if the fire's downtown?"
"A plane crash, then," Alex said, thinking of the people pointing to the sky. "Remind me to tell Papi that twelve B has a plumbing problem, okay. And go to bed. Whatever the emergency is, it'll be gone by morning."
"All right," Briana said. "Come on, Julie. Let's pray extra hard for everybody."
"That sounds like fun," Julie grumbled, but she followed her big sister to their bedroom.
Mami kept votive candles in the kitchen, Alex remembered. He stumbled around until he found one and matches to light it. It cast only a small amount of light, but enough for him to make his way to the room he had once shared with Carlos.
Originally the two rooms had been the master bedroom, but when they'd moved in, Papi had built a dividing wall, so that the boys and the girls each got a small bedroom. He and Mami slept in their own room. Even without Carlos, the apartment was crowded, but it was home and Alex had no complaints.
He undressed quickly, opened the door slightly so he could hear Mami when she got home, blew out the candle, and climbed into the lower half of the bunk bed. Through the thin wall, he could hear Briana's Dios te salve, María. Papi thought Bri was too devout, but Mami said it's just a stage fourteen-year-old girls go through.
Somehow Alex didn't think Julie would go through that stage when she turned fourteen.
When Alex had been fourteen, three years ago, he'd thought for a couple of days about becoming a priest. But Bri was different. Alex could actually see her becoming a nun someday. Mami would love that, he knew.
Sister Briana, he thought as he turned on his side, his head facing the wall. My sister the sister. He fell asleep grinning at the thought.
Copyright © 2008 by Susan Beth Pfeffer
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