Paz watched too much television. I knew this was true when she told me she was a werewolf hunter. The destroyer of werewolves, she liked to say. Prima, she said to me, if you see a man with dilated pupils, a man who smells like mildew, a man with fingernails that are stained yellow and teeth that are uneven and broken, prima, if you see that man—run. Run! Because that man is a pinche werewolf.
I tried to get her to keep busy in other ways, reconnect her to reality, but she only complained. I don’t wanna write no letters to no soldiers, she said. If I can’t go to school, can’t even get a real job, then I ain’t doing shit for nobody.
She suffered from insomnia. Late at night when she thought everyone was asleep, she’d tune in to the local news station and follow each and every report about civilian violence. One time when I went to the market with her mom, I found out that Paz had been beaten less than a block away from our apartment complex. She’d been collecting empty cans and bottles when she came across a gang of homeless kids. And what did they beat her for? Her mother asked me. Maybe un dólar in pop cans? Ay, they’re just mad at the world. But everyone’s mad. Ojalá that the same thing don’t happen to you.
Paz didn’t know that I couldn’t sleep either, that I hadn’t slept since our neighborhood had been bombed and mi amá and I had to leave everything and move in with her family. My mother worked graveyard shift at the factory and she rode my uncle’s bike there and back every night. I worried a lot about her, so I pretended to sleep, keeping as still as I could in the bed Paz and I shared, breathing softly, fooling everyone except myself. Sometimes I felt like that bed was going to swallow me whole and no one would notice I was gone.
One night, just a little past midnight, I heard Paz leave the apartment. I hurried to the window and watched as she went out onto the street, a heavy coat over her pajamas. Above her the moon hung full-faced but empty, like a quarter without George Washington’s profile, without God or trust or anything that meant nothing to us written on it. Paz held an object in her left hand; in the moonlight, I caught the gleam of a knife, its tip hidden within her coat sleeve. She turned around once, looking back at the building. I ducked and counted to five before popping my head back up again. Even after she disappeared from my view, I kept watching.
She returned a few hours later, before the sun rose, before Amá even got off work. Paz walked with a limp, her coat hanging off one shoulder. Seeing her hurt, I couldn’t pretend anymore, and I waited for her in the living room. When she walked through the door, she didn’t look surprised to see me. The front of her pajamas was stained with blood. She was missing a shoe.
Prima, I got one, she whispered, her eyes shadowed but triumphant.
I took the knife from her hand and rinsed it in the bathroom sink. The blood swirled sweetly pink as it vanished down the drain.
Take off your pj’s and put them in a trash bag, I said.
Ain’t no one gonna find me, she said. Ain’t no one gonna care I got ‘em. But she slipped out of her clothes anyway and bagged them up. I crept out of the apartment, making sure the hallway was clear before dropping the bag down the garbage chute. I helped her get to bed then, tucking her in like she was my own little girl, staying with her until she fell asleep.
As the sun rose, I returned to the window just in time to see my mother biking up the littered street. She pedaled sluggishly, veering left, right, and straightening again. To my delight, she threw out her arms and kicked up her legs just like a kid would. I laughed, until the bike wobbled beneath her and a man walked out from behind a dumpster, following her. But she steadied herself, ignoring him, pedaling harder, faster. I ran from the apartment and met her at the gate. Amá! Amá! She held me tightly, both of us acting like everything was okay.