All of Rodriguez’s stories in his first collection, The Boy Without a Flag, are set in the desolate and destroyed South Bronx of the 1970s and 1980s, when cheap strong heroin was everywhere on the streets, apartment buildings succumbed to arson and accidental fire, and America’s poorest congressional district (located next to the richest) literally looked like a war zone. Elba is a teenage girl wanting a normal courtship. “Danny took her to the empty lot on Fox Street. Their sneakers struggled over jutted bricks and crackling wooden beams while a red sun splattered the sky and filtered through gaping windows.” Two years later, Elba is a mother in an almost empty apartment, abandoned by her parents and young husband, trying to drown out the sound of the crying baby. The scariest thing in this story isn’t anything that you read; it’s what you don’t read, what you imagine will happen.
From The Boy Without a Flag (Milkweed Editions), originally appeared in Story Magazine, November 1999.