This is what we did

This is the past that I created, the one I still think may be real:

We lived in a poor, jubilant village, crowded with colors and chickens and goats and children, and we all vied for attention and affection. There were loud voices from our fathers, who sweat through old lime T-shirts and black-market Wranglers. They worked meager jobs, and were paid with dirt and flour, black beans and strong coffee. And there were the lyrical demands of our mothers, who swept and sighed and shouted and cooked, and we adored them above all others. We did not know they were unequal, because nobody told us. When did this happen?

I do not know who decided that one was better than the other. Who reasoned that the men who worked the hardest were the least, and the women who raised their heads and their children were even less? This news did not come from us.

I would have been happy to strain my arms in a work field next to my father, or sweep the floors of a hundred houses if it helped my mother. That was who we were, this is what did.

I don’t know if my memory is real, or if this is something I read in a book.

We lived in a place of zesty skies and lime shadows. I think this is a real thing, but I don’t remember.


Vanity and legend

I have been looking for the moral code of the universe for a long time, and I have discovered that there is none. We are all rolling like hogs off a cliff.

Now, a man like Cándido, he will disagree with me, and he is a most agreeable soul. He will share his cigarettes and tequila, and he is a good listener. He avoids speaking nonsense, and I am often curious how his mind works. He knows my history with drink, because I am loud with it; it has become a part of my vitality and legend. “I used to be a drunk,” I will say, and you can imagine the bright lights and angels that greet that declaration. If there are angels, I further say, and if anyone gives a damn, I would weep for them.

I am one of many, one of six, and Cándido, he is our santo patrón, and I am our patron drunk. Oh, poor Luis, you may say, the drunk is the clown of the story, the clown who hides his tears in whiskey. I tell you this: save your pity and your piety, for I can be as cruel and foolish as you like, and I will still outrun your prophecies. You cannot save yourself if yourself does not demand it. A wise and judicious man told me that, and do you know what? It was me. Ha! And so I defied all expectation and defied the whiskey, because I still care a little for what is left of my soul. Did you know that in the time it takes for the rope to uncoil, it takes less time to wrap it around one’s throat?

You see? I am loud with it! Did I not tell you?

Cándido, he will sometimes share his drink with me, and it would be impolite to refuse him. I think my friend understands much about the rope, but I do not ask him. I know he would not say. He is a thoughtful man, Cándido is, perhaps more so than I.

(A work in progress)

The creational rain

I have not been so familiar with house shoes as I have been for these past seventeen days. It is impossible to walk barefoot across my kitchen without feeling unclean. The floor is sticky and gritty from the rolling, breathing rain. The water that spills from the Rio Pardo pours across the corduroy rows of the cornfield, flattens them, then churns the soil into runnels of muddy syrup.

It has been a creational rain, and I fear what it will bear. I fear the diseases that may live in that water, and I dread the chance of an unholy baptism should my children fall into it.  I worry about the cholera it may bring, and the mosquitoes it will tempt.

We are worn by the blankness of this rain. It has been a cortina that clings to our windows, and it fills my days with worry. Each day fades into another, each with the same blankness and the same worry.

We play card games, and I sing them the childhood songs I only half remember, and I try to teach them my Spanish. If the rain stops, they will forget my language, and I will forget the songs I sung to them. There is a sadness to this that hurts me throughout, this forgetting of things that will one day drown us.

This night, and every night, we will wear our shoes to bed, and we will shield our eyes with our arms, and we will listen to the rain shout at us. And perhaps we will sleep. If the rain opens all our doors, it will already be too late for us to run. 

I have not been so familiar with house shoes as I have been these past seventeen nights.

The storm

We sit cross-legged on the scatter rug and listen to the rain peck at the windows. The water fractures itself against the screen and it draws patterns I want to trace with my fingers. We have a box of candles on the kitchen table, for when the dark comes back inside. She leans into me whenever the rain turns loud, and her face is solemn and so still. Outside, the wind carves itself into the hickory trees. She can’t hear me offer up comfort, so I lean back into her. We listen. We wait.

The Motel Fatigado

Oh, honey, there are shapes beneath these roads. They push me and they drag me, and, God help me, I’m yoked to every mile. I’m numb to the drizzled headlights and smudged taillights, the curves, the swerves, the nerves of bumper-to-bumper, the mathematical sinew of the overpasses, the poster board landscapes, the flat hallucinations of the Alpha and Omega.

Oh, and sweetheart, the construction, the obstructions, the crazy and the caffeinated, they want to pour their horsepower into the concrete while I’m steering left-handed, trying to pry the goddamn plastic lids off the goddamn Styrofoam cups, and honey, I always spill the hot coffee on my fucking wrist.

These have been my nights and days since you left me.

And then I came upon this place: a slender space beside the swagged shoulders of an unmarked highway. I recognized the tarnished ancianos who were waiting for me. There were six men and a woman, and they were sitting in a straight line on the sloped walkway of the Motel Fatigado. A flat line of hands rose to guard eyes against dust and sun. They studied my silhouette for a moment, then resumed their pinched slouches.

An old man dismounted from his chair and approached. He was wearing a shredded straw hat and baggy jeans. His shirt was a clean button-down, a faded antediluvian white. He could have been an Old World priest soliciting confessions. More likely, he was tired of sitting.

“You have el bagaje? Suitcase?” he asked.

I nodded.

He pulled a packet of folded tissue paper from his shirt pocket, and offered me a cigarette. He told me that Room 8 was vacant and clean. He did not ask me my name. I accepted his tobacco, and he lit it with a wooden match. His hands were narrow and veiny.

He said his name was Cándido, and the woman was called Melancholia. “The new guests always ask about the woman,” he said. “You see her? The beautiful woman who sits among the dogs? She is clean-handed. You understand? Inocente. She knows magic. You prey on her, you will leave with bruises.”

I nodded.

“Sit with us,” Cándido said. “Melancholia keeps plastic cups in her room. We have tap water and tequila. Perhaps there is ice. I will introduce you to the others.”

I declined.

The man on the other side of the door

This is a place of unremarkable geometry, of hand hewn beams and reclaimed cabinets, of cotton curtains and poplin tablecloths.There are stout lines built around her silly feminine froth. You might savvy her girlish moods: the bright New Orleans yellow in the hallway, or maybe the baby doll figurines on the bookcase. But don’t forget, this is my home, and it is a place of unremarkable cruelties. 

There are stains in my study that look like ketchup, but are not. There are sudden movements that turn on all the security lights.There is a smell that is barely masked by the nine dollar dirt that feeds her windowsill herbs.

I’ve heard all these sounds before, but this one is closer, and I know why. There is a man on the other side of the door, limping, wet from the chase. He beats on the glass with the heel of his hand. I turn on the porch light because I know. I’ve been expecting him for twenty years, back from a time when my life was fraying. He took the left road and I took the right. I don’t want to see him now — for us to see each other, really — but his t-shirt is torn from armpit to belly, and I swore to him. He is older now, of course he is, but his eyes still show his fury, and mine have turned soft and careless. 

Richard,” was the only word he had to say, and I knew it was time.

The good girl

Compelled to stir the ashes, of what was cruel, what was unadorned. And still I reach for those extinguished minutes and years, and walk into the smoke, shoulders broke, bending to grief’s provocation, aroused by what could have been.

Elani was the most gifted of us, but it was hard to watch her subtract herself from happiness. She was the good girl, the kind girl, the quiet girl who leaned into the shade of a river birch while others swung from ropes and imprinted the water with their thrashing bodies.

She was not destined for great things, and she did not pursue them. The current ran deep, and she found comfort in her aloneness and sandpapered memories. She had no quarrel with pain. She reconciled it as the great truth of life, and saw strength as a punch in the belly, holding back the yelps, damming the tears behind waxwork eyes.