For the rest of my life, I’ll never be anything but The One Who Left Mom Alone in the Car That Night. It’s like landing on the “bankrupt” wedge on Wheel of Fortune—no matter how well you’ve played the game, one bad spin undoes it all. I’ll never be Selfless Angie Who Took Mom in When No One Else Could Be Bothered or Sweet, Patient Angie Who Put Up with Mom’s Bullshit While Everyone Else Lived Their Best Lives—just Stupid, Careless Angie Who Left Mom Alone in the Car in the Wrong Neighborhood at 2 A.M.
In my defense—how’s that for the title of my memoir? In My Defense: The Angie La Rosa Story—I thought the 2 a.m. thing would work in my favor. Who the hell goes to QuikMart at two o’clock in the morning? And anyway, what could happen in three minutes?
I know it was three minutes because that’s the deal I made with myself: three minutes, not a second longer. Long enough to stretch my legs and buy one of those enormous 89¢ fountain pops you can only get at places like this. We’d been on the road since 7 a.m. because Mom couldn’t get it through her skull that her yearly trips to Boca weren’t a good idea anymore. There’d be consequences for drinking a quart-and-a-half of Diet Coke, but I’d been running a cost-benefit analysis since Kankakee and I decided I’d take the hit.
I was at the counter when I heard the first gunshot. At first, I didn’t panic. One gunshot is a question mark. But then the gun went off again, and that’s when I knew it was bad. If one shot is a question mark, a second one is a period. Sorry, Angie, you’re fucked. Full stop.
Through the door, stomach in my throat, mouth full of battery acid, and the first thing I saw was my mother. Why couldn’t you have just stayed in the car like I told you, Mom? The second thing was the man who’d just ruined my life. The last thing was the blood. Three things, in that order: Mom, man, blood.
“Jesus, Mom,” I heard someone say. Oh, right—me. “What the fuck did you do?”
Mom held the gun at her side as casually as she’d carried her orthopedic shoes on the beach last week. She used one foot to turn the body over so I could see what was left of the face. “Frank Marino’s oldest,” she said. “He recognized me, kitten. The little bastard went for his phone as soon as he saw me.”
Sure enough, there was Frank Junior’s iPhone on the pavement, a few inches from his stupid, dead fingers. Mom had broken every mob rule in the book when she dropped the dime on the Marino family six years ago, but things had worked out like she wanted: Frank Senior was in prison, the Marino family had imploded in his absence—backbiting shits, every one of them—my family had slid into the void they’d left in the local hierarchy of killers and thieves, and Mom had finally gotten the retirement she wanted. (It turns out the feds are disturbingly good at helping old ladies who turn state’s evidence fake their deaths.) Everything was fine until I had to stop in the old neighborhood for my Diet Coke fix at the exact moment Frank Junior decided what would really complete him was a gas-station burrito. Fuck me.
I couldn’t see the clerk through the window, but I had no doubt she’d already called the cops. For a few seconds I fantasized about driving away and leaving my mother in the parking lot for the police to deal with, because fuck them too, but then Mom was snapping her fingers at me and I slipped back into my default persona. Angie Who’s Forty-Two Years Old and Still Does Whatever the Fuck Her Mother Tells Her to Do, at your service. Mom shooed me into the driver’s seat, and we were back on the road before the first blush of blue light tinted my rearview mirror.
Jesus, Mom. Why couldn’t you have just stayed in the car?