A Chronicle of “Barnia”

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Fiction
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Mr. Maldonado

It seems like a crossroads of existence and for a small town it might as well be.

You know, for a place like Kingsville which is ripe with paradox (a curse-of-a-small-town nestled within the largest ranch in the world) their lives seem so mundane. That is if by mundane one means lives broken and perplexed, triumphant and forward looking, overworked and under paid like the rest of the world but in the microcosm that is small town living; taking what this life gives and making anything out of it, whether the best or the acceptable. I have the lot of seeing them everyday in this endeavor.  It’s my job.

The frantic mother, always late, hurrying to buy breakfast for her kids before school; the still sleepy student who, in frustration, informs me that he still can’t remember Avogadro’s number for his Chemistry quiz in 30 minutes–Red Bull, please!  And Anna: sweet, precious, efficacious Anna, every time I see her I can’t help but hum the chorus to Rod Stewart’s Some Guys Have All the Luck which tugs my heart into a platonic oblivion.

And then there’s Mr. Maldonado.

I  have often sat in judgment of his drinking habits which start bright and early as the dew.  He drives into the Party Barn with his fingers raised in a “V” which is his sign letting me know he wants two Bud Light scuds.

Dame dos, he says, making sure I’ve gotten his order right.

Sometimes he springs for Camel Filters, always in the soft pack. He is always joking. Most times, shit he says is not at all funny but I’d like to think he jokes anyway just to have a reason to let out his raucously big laugh; a laugh fraught with all the character that years of cold beers and cigarette smoke have given him. A laugh as deep and varied as the insistent wrinkles on his face. My judgments often take the form of snide remarks held within myself. Thoughts like, ‘ah, yes, the breakfast of champions’ or ‘are you on a liquid diet or what?’ and I indulge in little victories. I’ll never forget the time my judgment came to a stark halt when, as usual, he drove in;  his grey Toyota Camry sporting a spare tire.  The lack of “the signal” became obvious only later.

Como estas, sir? Dos? I asked.

Si dame los dos.

As I plunged my hands into the icy water that held the beer, he solemnly informed me: Se me murio mi vieja a noche, his voice cracking along the fault lines of his sentence structure.  It took a few seconds for it to register: No pendejo, this is no joke.  And his words brushed cold upon me like the water that surrounded my hand.

Apenas vengo del hospital, he tells me.

I look at him wondering if I should say anything at all or whether to let my silence speak for me and just listen.  And really, what could I say that has any semblance of meaning. All I can think to say is what I’ve heard my mom and countless elder relatives say at news like this: pero como? It turns out diabetes had struck its interminable changes upon yet another soul.

No se que hacer ya;  voy a tomar hasta que muero yo tambien.

He followed this foresight with a rather shallow laugh, like he was half joking. But the tears in his eyes told a different story.  Commerce is cruel in times like this, you know.  With such emotion hanging in the air refusing to be denied or supplanted or overlooked, the price of his purchase lingered like the proverbial white elephant in the room, oh-so-ready to burst the bubble of poignancy he had created:  $4.52, sir…

Ten, aqui tengo unas pesetitas.

He continued,  pos, que le hacemos? Alla vamos todos, he bleakly surmised.

That’s true, I offered. I’m sorry to hear about your wife Mr. Maldonado. Que descanse en paz, eh.

Ojalah que pueda, era bien repelona mi vieja.

And there it was, like a gritty refugee breaking through the tyranny of grief, his laugh. His BIG raucous laugh. His grand laugh.  His I-miss-her-so-much-I-just-wanna-fuckin-die laugh. It was morning, about 8:30 am, and the cars where stacking up behind him.  The morning rush had overtaken ‘the Barn’ and not even the death of  the cherished one could stop that. And so with polite acceptance he bid farewell and drove away.

It seems like a crossroads of existence and for a small town it might as well be.

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