Arriba! Pa' bajo . . .

They told me the Devil killed my uncle Jesus. My older cousin Fátima told me, “The devil shot our father in the basement.”

My aunt Religiosa had seven daughters, Eunice, Fátima, Judith, Mary, Magdalena, Novena, Ruth, and Sarah, and they lived in a house on Cornelia Street in Bushwick. They were very poor, and every time they came over my father told us to watch them. They always came over like a swarm of mosquitoes moving like a hurricane like the Tasmanian Devil. When they were gone, our whole apartment was a mess and we had no pork chops, no Yoo-Hoos, no Ring Dings.

Anyway, my other cousin Novena, told me the whole story about her father.

One day their father, who she said was a very, very good man, was in the basement in their building. And he was there at night, just being a good man, a good father. And then behind him, out of the darkness, the Devil appeared. She said he had tiny black beard, a shiny bald head glistening, sharp horns, feet like a goat, and big, yellow teeth. The Devil likes basements, she said, because they are the the part of a house closest to Hell, which everyone knew was underground. The Devil probably popped up right out of the dirt floor or came out from that dark, dark spot behind the boiler, she said. There was probably a little door back there that went straight to Hell. That’s where the Devil came from and took out a gun and shot their father in the back.

Later, in the winter, the landlord made my brother Rafael and I go down to the basement, since Papi didn’t live there or else he would do it, to turn on the hot water. I stayed close to my brother, knowing that the Devil was hiding down there, waiting to jump out from the darkness, waiting to kill us.

One time it was very hot down there, and I wanted my brother to hurry. He was in a hurry, too. But he bumped into the lightbulb hanging from the low ceiling, and the light went out. We were it black black darkness. We ran for the wooden stairs. Just as I was going up, I looked down once more and saw two red eyes staring at me from the floor.

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