You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover by Jason Morales

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street art on concrete wall under bridge, bike on sidewalk

I remembered seeing men in white paint over the black graffiti on the concrete near the newly furnished playground in 2015. It once read “R.I.P. Sleepy.” I stood near the trailer parks across the playground while some other folks joined me in watching.

“I bet he was no good anyways,” the old lady said while shivering because the wind blew harder. She wrapped her stitched blanket around her tighter. “At least some of the trash is gone now.”

I remembered how we first met and how his gang’s territory reached over to the park in 1999. It was a park and I was a kid and I wanted to play on the swings, so the peril never occurred to me as I set foot on the playground mulch. The gang didn’t like me on their turf and pulled out a knife. I remembered my friend with that knife. He went toward me, knelt down, and stabbed me with the handle. Everybody in the back winced since he made it look like he got me while his hand gripped the blade. It all happened in a flash, but he wiped some of his blood on my shirt and signaled me to cover my stomach with my hands. As he turned his back, I snuck into the blackberry bushes and raced home. I threw my shirt in the trash when I got home and covered it with bunched up paper towels so my mom wouldn’t worry. My skittish feeling vacated my body as I saw my friend out my window later that day by some picnic table behind my apartment. I grabbed Kool-Aid out my fridge and snatched two sippy cups out the cupboards as a thank you. He shrugged me off at first, even told me to stay away, but I never let up. I just waited by the picnic table for him anyway. I slowly nudged the cup closer to him each time. He finally gave up and begrudgingly drank my thank you. We swapped stories, him more than me. Learned he ran away from his foster home. Questioned whether everything he said was truthful. Flabbergasted him when I said I had never been to a library before, so we went for the first time in my life where I read Spot the Dog. He handed me a copy of Goosebumps. I shook my head because I didn’t want nightmares. He laughed in my face. I remembered him telling me to not judge a book by its cover. We read the book at the kiddie table where it made your knees uncomfortable. The day I moved away, he told me to visit someday. I remembered years going by and I never once went back to the picnic table, so now all my memories of him are being erased by the men in white who painted over my friend in 2015.

But I never said a word to that lady, or even tried to stop the men in white. I just walked back to my Nissan Altima and cried as I drove back home. All I thought about on the drive back was how I should’ve told off that old lady and taken the paint rollers away from those men. Instead, I stirred up some Kool-Aid and poured out a cup for him. Maybe if I make Kool-Aid enough times, he’ll forgive me for letting that lady think he was only trash.

I’m so sorry, Sleepy.

Meet the Contributor

Jason Morales flash essayJason Morales is a Guatemalan graduate of Central Washington University with a degree in Creative Writing. He is currently “doing” comedy in the Chicago area when he isn’t distracted by the clouds that catch his eyes.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Scrambled Squash

  5 comments for “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover by Jason Morales

  1. Your tribute is heart rending and even though full of pathos not a bit sentimental. I had to go back to your first sentence to get the full tragedy of his life. Erased twice. Just beautiful writing — will look for other stories by you!

  2. Thank you, Jason, for humanizing Sleepy’s life. No one knows why he chose a sad path. Bless you for having compassion and gratitude. We need more writers like you.

  3. The writing from this man is simply beautiful. The way the words flow together make the imagery of the content come alive. I was transported. I need more works from this talented author!

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