Second Place, Baltimore Review Short Fiction Competition


                                                    Berto's Duty


             My sister Angela stands on her cracked driveway holding her latest baby and watches me check the supplies in my trunk.  Diapers, wipes, 500 count box of latex gloves, weight lifter’s belt.  Angela glances at my gear and a corner of her lip lifts in distaste. 

            “Hey, Berto,” she calls,  “when you gonna get a real job, stop wiping old folks’ asses?”

            “We’re both ass wipers, Sis,” I say, lifting my chin at the baby who’s hunting through Angela’s brown hair for her gold hoop earrings.

            “Yeah, well at least this one’s mine,” she says, uncurling the baby’s fingers from her earring.  “And I got my own place.”

            I know she’s not trying to make me feel bad for crashing on her couch between clients.  She’s just showing me she’s got something.

            “And I’m going to mine.”  I smile, glad to be leaving her squashed tract house with its smell of hot lard and baby powder. 

            Six days away from my work and I feel like the stuffing’s come out of me.  I start changing back into Bertito, the youngest boy, kid number three of five, the odd one out.  I start disappearing again into the sprawl of my family.  I’m glad to be heading to a stranger’s house where people don’t know a thing about me, where someone’s looking at me with fresh eyes.  Okay, so that first look worries them a bit.  I don’t look like someone you’d pick to take care of your dying parent.  Ex-con, gang member, you might think looking at me.  But I don’t mind waiting out their doubt that a person like me is the right one for the job.  They’ll see. 

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