Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

024

Since her, I am a cultural Christian at best.
The bright spirituality of my youth, so vibrant, has waned through the years.
Petered out, as they say.
I don’t trust in God any further than I can see Him.
I see the Divine as the hope dangled before me like the proverbial carrot.
Prodding me onward, never to be satisfied with where I am.

An Unsettling Hope. Nothing more.

This diminutive spirituality of mine, I believe, is self-inflicted.
All the wrong in my life I can trace back to a singular act of cowardice.
A decision so selfish, so disgusting and perverse, I know full well that I deserve every ill that has come way because of it.

I abandoned a woman. Left her in a state of divorce, to her own devices, when she needed me the most. I committed this Cardinal Sin in full view of the sun. And now, only Night is left to me.  I had vowed before God to love her and cherish her, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Then I turned my back on her like some such dish at a buffet I no longer wanted. A dastardly deed if there ever was one and I wasn’t ashamed of it then.

I am now, utterly so.

Since her, all that I have loved has been unrequited. All my dreams looked upon, without the full bloom of experience. I have been on the outside, looking in. Like a phantom. The Odorous Act was insidious like that, like the loneliest little sin on the planet. A puddle in my path that to this day, I have not overcome.

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Cover Girls

She always tried to cover them, the scars of her former self when she was into cutting. Every shower revealed them. As she stood there, water dripping off of her, all wet and squeaky clean and free of the dust of the day, the irony was not lost on her.  At her cleanest the scars presented themselves to her.  At first she used what was convenient.  A long sleeve shirt or a piece of fabric she’d fashion into a cute little bracelet but she finally decided that her foundation made the best cover for the scars.  Wiping away a large swath of steam from the mirror, she mocked herself derisively: You’re an honest to God “Cover Girl.”

She’d often feel shame. Ashamed that she had let him besmirch all the pride her mother had instilled in her. But she was a mother now too and full of hope.  The kind of hope only a mother can have and she was determined to better herself.  Determined to be the best mother she could for Jamal like her mother and grandmother had done before her.  She assured herself of this, that nothing would stop her. But he had before and she feared he might again.  Only time will tell she thought to herself as she walked into the bedroom to clothe herself.

Maritza, her longest friend, was playing with Lil’ J in the living room and whatever she was doing filled her little apartment with his raucously joyous laughter.  Renita hastened her clothes on so that she might catch them in action; almost tripping as she made her way toward them.

“Watch this,” Maritza exclaimed, “watch this!”

She covered her face in a peek-a-boo fashion revealing herself to Lil’ J in a playful tone.

“Auntie Maritza loves you, yes she does!’

Her hands moved from her face to his belly in one smooth motion the length of the sentence like a skater on a rink.  Whether it was the tone of her voice or the poke of his belly with her fingers, or perhaps a combination of the two, the gestures sent Lil’ J into a fit of laughter, sudden and boisterous, that ended when she covered her face with her hand. And then again.

“Auntie Maritza loves you, yes she does!”

Laughter eruption.

This went on several times when Renita declared, “I’m going to the store now, M, want anything?”

“Auntie Maritza loves you, yes she does!” Her hand impatiently shushed the question away in a bothersome gesture.

“I guess not,” Renita said as she made her way toward the door adding: “I’ll be right back.”

Renita walked down the same street, coming from the same store, humming the same song. She was a creature of habit after all.  She was thankful Jamal wasn’t with her and that she had some time alone.  She was grateful for the space and that Maritza had agreed to watch him even if only for the time it took her to get back from the store.  This caused her to hum along with extra jubilation.  Melodies took on another form, she thought, when it was just her voice. No words. No music. Just her voice.  The notes seemed more real. More alive, like they had crawled themselves out of her own soul.

It was hot, oven hot, but she didn’t mind because stiff winds blew by her a brief respite at a time.  Hot air was better than nothing and besides, she told herself, at least it made the trees dance; entertaining her.  The heat of the asphalt crawled up her flats making the soles of her feet uncomfortably warm and sweaty.  She was approaching 2nd and Huisache when she stopped and sat on the one bench that remained there.  Smoking a Black & Mild, the one with the wood tip, she couldn’t help but think of the stories her father often told her.

In the 80’s this corner was the center of a thriving community with bustling streets.A restaurant here, a barber shop there.On that corner a night club that later became Hill’s Antiques and Collectables. A grocery store over there gave closure to the space bracketing it in as a hot spot of black wealth and entrepreneurship.  Her father was fond of calling it: Kingsville’s own Greenwood, Archer and Pine.  What the rest of the town called “Little Africa.”  King Star Baptist church was just up the street where her grandfather used to preacher and where he fell in love with her grandmother.  These were the days of a by-gone era. The good ‘ol days her father came to call them.  It all hardly seemed possible considering the current state of the neighborhood: graffiti filled red brick facades, broken down doors and windows. Trash piled up against walls left to fend for themselves.

When she returned home, Maritza had Jamal sprawled out across the floor on his favorite green blanket. She was thoughtful enough to keep the oscillating fan fixed on him.

“He just fell asleep,” she said.  His naps didn’t last long so they sat on the kitchen table to talk, music just audible in the background.

“So have you made a decision or no?” Maritza inquired with curiosity.

“I made the decision a long time ago, M, only thing left is the courage to follow through. I don’t know if I have that yet.”

“Well you know I believe in you Love. I know you can do this,” she consoled her punctuating the point with her finger on the table. She continued.

“I’ll help you in any way that I can. Come live with me for a while until you get back on your feet, you know, like we talked about.”

“I can’t do that, M, I told you already. I can’t risk bringing trouble to your place cause you know that is what’s gonna happen.  He’s not gonna just let me just walk away from him. He ain’t gonna let that happen. I know him, he’ll make this as hard as possible for me. And for you too. I can’t live with that. I won’t live with that!”

Maritza countered, “Harder than you have it now, living under his thumb all the time? Not getting to live your own life or make your own decisions?  From where I’m sitting, Love, you have it hard already! Can you live with that? Will you live with that?”

After some time, the intensity of their conversation subsided.

“Fuck girl, it’s hot in here!” Maritza indulged in the obvious. Can’t we turn the A/C on or something?”

“You know X-Jai won’t have that shit.  It’s bad enough he pays for my bills.  If we want A/C we’ll have to go chill at his pad. And besides, grandma paid my utility last month when X-Jai and I had that big fight. I’ve got to take it easy on her.”

Looking around to comfort, she clicked the fan in Maritza’s direction.

“Here you go, my Peach,” she said smiling.

“Just for a bit, Love. I got to head to work soon. I was late yesterday and got my ass chewed.”

“Don’t forget about you Sprite and Hot Cheetos, M, you’ll need your strength.”

“I didn’t ask for anything,” she replied. A big smile on her face.

“I know but that’s your favorite combo. You’ll want it later on at work. And here’s you Lone Star card too. Thanks again”

She sighed, her words escaping without courage.

“I’m flat broke again.”

“No worries, Love. I got your back. You know that,” she comforted her with a warm smile. Lifting her right arm in the air, she cocked her left shoulder and gave Renita her best solidarity fist.

Little Renita Jai

She had been called “little” since birth.  Her namesake came from her great grandmother, the grand matriarch of the family.  She was a woman so important, so revered that her name had been hers alone, kept from at least two generations. Hers alone, that is, until: Little Renita Jai.  Her birth was the stuff of miracles.  She was born premature, given a grim prognosis by all the doctors in the city.  Her parents were told that if she lived at all it would be at a ghastly price.  That she would never maintain a “normal life.”  Her eyes were malformed though she could see.  Her tiny arms were mangled and deformed. The shape a stick of Laffy-Taffy might take if left in the South Texas heat too long.  Her legs were bowed at the knees, so much so that it seemed they might have been a portal to another dimension or another time.

Her skin was so dark and mysterious, multiple shades of deep dark bruise purple, it made the night sky writhe in jealousy of her.  Her eyes, when they were open to be seen, were a deep eerie white. As white as pure sin after the Lord’s grace has washed it clean.  She was the scion of a proud African family that came to Kingsville very early, when dark folks were welcomed only for the labor they could provide.  They had settled in what was called “Little Africa” on the corner of what came to be 2nd and Huisache.  Her great grandmother among the first blacks to settle the neighborhood on land donated to the “town folk” by the venerable King family.

Little Renita Jai was not expected to live beyond a year.  And that year, they were told, would be a year full of heartache and medicine, doctor visits and costly procedures until finally what ailed her would prove victorious and take her fragile little life.Leaving the family with only bitter memories and gnawing questions of Why?

For all that, here she was at age four, a precocious little girl with dark curly hair, eyes a splendid moss-green and a smile as wide as Texas itself.  She still suffered the pains of her misfortunes, of course, because miracles never work out as we’d like them to.  in life, Lazarus never really rises from the dead, or Jairus’ daughter for that matter.  But here was little Renita Jai, alive and well despite all the wisdom of the learned medicine men.  She had just began learning to talk, a symptom of her mother’s insatiable need to read her stories at night.  All the classics too: Dr. Seuss, the Bothers Grimm, Aesop.  When she began to speak it was a little miracle in and of itself.  When she was able to put words together, enough to string sentences along toward a semblance of meaning, she told her mother about a recurring dream she ‘d been having.

Mommy, I dreamed of place I’ve never been. I was wearing a pretty dress with new shoes and my hair was up in a bow.  It was a big parking lot but there was no cars.  It was night-time and I was all by myself. A few lights were on but I could only see just so far into the distance.  And it was purple everywhere. Dark and purple like when I look out the window when you read to me and the train tracks go on for ever and ever.  I was scared because I could feel something was there in the dark. I could feel something was looking at me.  I call out to it: monnstro, monnstro, like I know the name of the thing that’s out there. But nothing happens.  Then there is a man who come out behind me and asks me why I’m all by myself in the dark parking lot.  He’s a good man, mommy, he asks if I need help.  In my dream, all I can do is point out into the darkness.  He asks me, “What are you pointing at, sweetie? Are you afraid of the dark, there’s nothing there I promise.”  All I can do is point out there into the dark place.  Monnstro, I say, over and over again but he doesn’t understand me.  “monnstro? what is that sweetie, what is it?”  And again I point.  “Do you mean, monster?  Is that what you’re trying to tell me?  There’s a monster over there?”  Then he walks a few steps closer to the dark place.  “There’s nothing out there sweetie.  Look, there’s nothing there. No monsters, nothing. You don’t have to be afraid.”  And then we hear it.  A loud noise, mommy. A very loud noise like a lion and a pig and a human all screaming together at once.  The man jumped toward me and pulled me behind him. He tries to protect me. All I can do is close my eyes real tight and cover with my ears with my hands.  Then I wake up

Her mother was rightly put off by the dream she heard. It was just a dream she said.  Told Little Renita Jai that dreams are mysterious things that happen to everybody.  Sometimes the dreams are scary but sometimes they are really good one too.  She consoled her with these words.  Throughout all your life dreams will happen to you. There is no need to be afraid of them.  She took her in her arms and showered her with affection, somewhat saddened that her precious daughter now had nightmares to worry about on top of everything else in her young life.  Little Renita Jai, sighing into her mother’s chest, asked her pointedly: Then why do I have this one all the time and not those other ones?

Little Renita Jai has regained much of the normalcy the doctors predicted she would never have. She outgrew those words a long time ago.  She has made something of herself. She can walk and talk.  She has friends and even a lover, all those things normal people have.  She lives in Kingsville, the place her great-grandmother came to as a young girl.  He mother has passed and her father too.  She has had a thousand dreams since then and a thousand nightmares too.  But this one, this dream, of her fragile little voice echoing in the night, “monnstro,” haunts her still.

A Powdery Nothingness

Genius visibly struck her as Maritza closed the door to leave.  She would take advantage of Lil’ J napping and finish putting her make up on.  Looking at herself in the mirror, and gently humming the Lauryn Hill that played in the background, she peeled her now-sweaty clothes off the mass her physique had become.  She tried to take hold of the fact that she was older now and a mother, not wanting to let her mind drift back to her younger years when she had mad booty.  Many more men looked at her then, with desperate eyes, like she had all the power in the world.  Even so it was not like she could give over to them anyway.  X-Jai just exploded when me looked at her.  It always embarrassed her but at least they looked.  It got to the point that he’d lose so often the men just stopped looking.  Or rather they did look, but they were older now and less attractive. Their eyes had gone from inviting to hunger, plain and pure, like they wanted one thing and one thing only.  Fixating on a remnant pimple under her left eye she softly hummed the first melody her ears deciphered.

“Renn?” a booming voice called out from the front of the apartment.

“Renn? Where are you girl.”  he asked with intensity.

“I’m in here, in the bathroom,” she said informing him.

X-Jai poked his head through the doorway, his eyes darting her up and down.

“Aren’t you ready yet? I told you we’d be leaving by six when I got here.”

“I know,” she said gravely, “I just have to finish up. We have to drop Jamal off at grandma’s house. Will you get him ready?”

“Sure, but hurry up. We gotta go Renn,” he said with typical curtness.  And as was his custom, he let off a sharp crisp snap of his fingers over the operative words of his sentences.  In this case: hurry up!

She peered into her eyes in the mirror. It was time to be strong. She had heard someone say on television that God did not want us to be happy. He wanted us to be strong.  And that was her mantra the last few months while she built up the courage to leave X-Jai.  Could she go through with it? Could she escape her former self and be brave enough to leave him come what may?  He heart pumped with great resolve. today was the day.  Today was the last day of her former life.  Any love she had for X-Jai withered long ago.  After the threats of violence became occasions of pain and sorrow, after the hospital visits became more and more frequent her love for him withered away into  powdery nothingness like the wings of a butterfly.  She could not stand it any longer. Not with Jamal around. She could not take him learning to be like his father. A violent and possessive man, full of jealousy.  She was tired of worrying. She was tired of being afraid.  And she simply did not want to think about X-Jai anymore.  Never again.

It wasn’t just that she was tired of the thoughts of him. It was that she had in mind another.  A man she’d met altogether elsewhere. Had not even told Maritza about him.  He was handsome, yes, but there was more.  It was his eyes, yes, but there was more to him than that.  It was the peculiar way in which he looked at her and saw all that which she could not see in herself, like her father used to before he died.  All the potential wrapped into her package he just intimated without a word.  And it was in that moment that she knew she loved him deeply because all of her insecurities solidified themselves within her, vast and immovable as the sea.

The Bell

Posted: February 19, 2013 in Fiction
Tags: ,

“It’s not the act of death that bothers me,” she said, “it’s the unanimity.” And she laughed as she said it. Sure, I thought it a curious place for a laugh and I told her as much. But she shrugged her shoulders in that familiar form and the irony of what she had said fell off of me like a meaningless insult. I went on telling her the story:

There is no real concept of hell in the Old Testament. It’s a rather ambiguous place called Sheol. It’s there the Patriarchs went after they died. When the Nicene creed reads Jesus descended into “hell” it probably doesn’t mean what we think it means.

She thought for a moment and asked, “so it’s kinda like when we say the underworld?”

Something like that; yes, I replied.

“Do you think maybe the Hebrews got the idea from the Egyptians; you know when…”

Just then, a knock broke the intensity of our conversation. We stared at each other, almost as if we had been caught doing something wrong; or perhaps it was that we hadn’t heard a knock at all. Then the jolting sound of the doorbell followed by a distant knock echoed through the hall into my room. It was the front door we finally surmised. I was halfway to the door when I realized it was a Fed-Ex delivery.

“Something from Amazon.com for you, sir!”

He was a tall pale fellow, rather lanky. His hair was styled to be messy and jet-black almost as if he had colored it the night before and the true color hadn’t taken just yet. Considering the myriad tattoos covering his arms, I thought it quite fitting. It seems early 90’s ‘grunge’ has yet to die out, I thought to myself.

As I signed for my parcel, it struck me that his jovial nature and the excitement with which he had presented himself was at odds with his styled look.

“Last name?” he asked.

Oh, Al-va-rez I retorted.

“Is that with an ‘S’ or a ‘Z’?”, he clarified.

With a ‘Z.’

“Cool man, thanks!”  he said, jogging away.

And before I could say anything in return he was in his truck and off to his next delivery. As I made my way back to my room, Ariana called out: “I’m over here”

I stopped mid-step and turned over to where she stood.

“What are you doing in the kitchen?” I asked.

“I figured I’d make us tea, what do you think?” she inquired, already knowing the answer.

“Sounds very refreshing!”

“Is that the book? Huh, Huh. is it…IS IT??” she inquired playfully.

“Yes, yes, yes and yes it is. It’s finally here!” I said matching her silliness.

It was a book of photographs I encountered while browsing Amazon.com. Very specific pictures. It was a collection of black and whites of two 3rd century catacombs from Jerusalem and Rome. Early Christians used the underground necropolis for burying their dead. Some say they also took refuge. Some say they even had fellowship there; that the earliest expressions of the Eucharistic Mass took its form in that underground world.

Whatever the case, they left their mark in wall carvings and in frescoes and mosaics. What was of interest to me was the specific manner in which they depicted Jesus, the miracle worker. Whether it was Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead or Jesus multiplying the loafs and fishes on the Mount of Olives, invariably these early images placed in Jesus’ hand a thing which can only be described as a magician’s wand.

I had become interested in the correlation of Jesus and magic after reading a paper called “Magic and Meal.” In it, the author, a former Roman Catholic Priest, expounded upon the sociological difference between a “miracle worker” and a “magician.” He had come to the conclusion that there really was no substantive difference between the two. It was a matter of semantic nuance.

His analysis across many societies had persuaded him that the only real difference, in whether a person was called a miracle worker or a magician, was the difference between official and unofficial religious practice. That is to say, within an official accepted religion the harbinger of wondrous deeds was called a miracle worker and within unofficial and unaccepted religious practice, the harbinger of wondrous deeds was called a magician. Or as he put it: “we” practice religion, “they” practice magic. “We” say prayers, “they” cast spells.

With the dark smell of brewing tea hanging in the air and the gurgling cadence of percolation breaking the silence of the room, I tore open the package. The book was not of an impressive size. A sure clue that the photos within were not heavily laden with text from an editor’s hand. A chamber from the Roman catacombs of St. Callixtus adorned the cover. The frescoes that bordered the ancient loculi were small given the size of the book but enough was revealed to tantalize. Seeing my excitement and taking advantage of my inattention, Ariana grabbed the book from my eager hands.

“LET ME see it!!” she barked as she ran off in a giggle.

Annoyed, I gazed at her making sure she noticed the offense.  But it took only a moment for me to realize, yet again, that such attempts at passive aggression were futile. She had always found ways to cast them aside by rolling her eyes, like a moody teenager.  But this time she perked up and looked back at me square in the eyes.

“What?” she asked with utter bravado.

“This book will always be with you; but me you may not always have,” she said as she turned again toward the book.

Then she halfway looked up again, and through her hair she flashed a muted smile, wanting to know if I had picked up on the gospel allusion. In fact, I had.  As I approached the sanctum of her remark, I noticed she was paused on a certain page. And gazing at the picture of the Cubicle of the Sacraments she asked pointedly:

“Isn’t it more important to study what they said of themselves rather than what we say about them? Of all the images they could have used to commemorate their dead, why these? A Shepard, a communal meal,” and she trailed off, quietly looking through the book.

As she pointed to the frescoes which surrounded the four loculi hewn into a wall she continued:

“I mean, even if you find anything approaching “Jesus the magician” in these pictures, wouldn’t that just tell you about the people who made the paintings rather than Jesus himself?”

“That is one of the aspects I’m curious about myself,” I replied, “either way, it’s fascinating.”

“Well you’ll have to do that on your own, I have to go,” and she cast the book aside on the couch.

Ariana mooned about the room gathering her things thinking aloud.

“These catacombs are from the 3rd or 4th century. Even if it could be shown that what Jesus held in his hand was, in fact, a magician’s wand and not, say, a walking stick; it would still be required to account for how far back the idea went.”

“Hence the book!” I announced.

“Good luck with that one geek!” she spat off in her pithy humor and left, closing the door behind her.

The Bell

South Texas is a place where memories linger. Legend has it that the flat land, where one can see for miles around, allow the memories of its people to wander for there are no mountains to guide them upward into infinity. I had often wished to be born elsewhere. Rome or Greece, I had thought, would be the best place to be born. It was so rich in history and memory that to walk the roads under the Parthenon or the streets along the Colosseum on any given night was to walk where ancient people had walked. And that had always struck me with a gong of romance. It was a far cry from South Texas to be sure. Our history went as far as the arrival of the Spaniard in the 1500’s. As impressive as that can be, it was eons away from those great city-states.

I had come to the Bell Library in Corpus Christi on the cusp of a memory. Years ago I had come with a friend, Juan Solizeno had invited me to peruse the family history section of “the Bell” as he had come to call it. He was particularly interested in a set of papers collected in early 1760. The Englehardt Papers preserve, in four journals, the travels of Daniel Englehardt, whose journey along the Rio Grande, gives us the first glimpses of the families living along the great river. He details a number of family names, local customs, laws and other information that had remained unknown until Englehardt’s journals were discovered in the 1930’s.

“Here it is.” mumbled Juan. “This is why I love the Bell, a 18th century collection cherished and preserved as if it were from the first.”

“Here put these gloves on,” he insisted.

I obliged and while he removed the journals from the safe-box, I imagined we were archaeologists viewing the documents for the first time in history.

“I want to tell you of the first time I encountered these journals,” he said mysteriously.

“I was 34 years old when these journals were brought here. I was teaching English at the high school when the city hosted the event in conjunction with the library. It was a huge deal when the choice was made to house them here,” he recalled, savoring the residue of the memory.

“I thought it would be a good idea to somehow incorporate these journals into my lesson plans. So I would read them an hour each day after school and find ways to use them.” He continued: “One day I came across this page.”

He pointed halfway down the page. The irony of primary sources struck me like a death punch. I could not read the handwritten text. My eyes were not accustomed to deciphering quickly the cursive handwriting of Mr. Englehardt. Noticing my struggle, Juan took liberty.

Allow me: “…some miles south of the River, encountered a most curious regional aspect. head of the household proudly boasts his family as first to bring the printing press to the region. A quaint little ranchito called El Solizeno. All manner of material printed by their nimble hands…”

I looked at Juan with a puzzled look. That is your last name.

“Yes. Yes it is. This is where genealogy became real to me.  I had always been interested but with this my curiosity soared! It was the start of a long journey. A journey I continues to this day.”

“You know it’s funny. I remember sitting on the porch with my grandparents, my aunts and uncles when they would tell stories about our family. Most of the time it was boring and I wasn’t interested but there were times I couldn’t help but listen. One such story was about el jacal abajo de la casa.  Way back, when our great-great grandparents lived on a ranch in Mexico, there was talk of a shed or a shack under the house.  The details about what was in there differed from telling to telling Some say gold and silver, others say precious jewels. Based on this Engelhardt account, I think it was books they stored there.”

My recollection suddenly burst,.

“What are you doooing?” Ariana asked in her stylistic playful greeting.

“I’m trying to find a book.”

True to form she added: “That shouldn’t be too hard here in a library.”

“No silly. I’m looking for a book I found years ago while here with a friend. It was my first time here at “the Bell” so I wandered. I came across an archaeological report about a site on the Gulf Coast, here in Corpus. I seem to remember the remains of a shipwreck found.  In my rush to take in the facilities I only quickly read through it. But I recall it stating that Roman denarii were collected and that it might be dated to Roman times. The only evidence of a Roman ship on the shores of Corpus Christi. But that’s all I remember, so, I’m trying to find it and read the full report.”

the Kingsville Underground (KU)

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Fiction
Tags: ,

“Only now do I understand the lonely hero who alone had waged war against the fathomless, elemental boredom that strangled the city.” 

–Bruno Schulz, Tailors’ Dummies

The cold night came as a godsend. In the middle of a marathon like summer, the heat blazing at will, a gift from the venerable kings of the city was given. They had summoned the favor owed to them from the great horizon with the mighty form of an ancient past. Standing tall like spires into the heavens, the kings called out in one loud harmonious voice to the four winds, beckoning the North wind forth. And because the favor owed to them was long overdue, the cold night wind fell on the town with a sort of vengeance. The winds blew leaf and other debris into whirling and chaotic dirt devils, the trees danced at the behest of mighty gusts; so mighty in some places across the city that when blown against some wall or other such flat edifice, the leaves were said to form sinister faces. This is how the Third Epoch befell us: as a soothing gesture before the fall.

He had always wondered what it would be like to peer out of a second story window, strike up a match and light up a pipe of smoke. You know, to accentuate a point; to summon drama and emphasis from the act alone. He rarely had anything that important to say, however. Being from a small town is like that; all the moxie in the world, but with a chance for bravery that is always either too early or too late. And with the state of the city before the fall (sexual scandals among the university elite, embezzlement charges brought against several county employees, one member of the business community involved in stealing monies customers had paid her for the grave stones of their loved ones) you would think there would be a lot for a hero to do. But his story is not that kind of story. And as some would come to say: Yuvàl ain’t that kind of hero. The Second Epoch ended innocuously enough: a blind man walked into a bar.

Yuvàl entered the Kingsville Underground (KU), paid the cover charge, and sputtered over to the bar where he ordered his usual drink: straight Crown on the rocks. Unlike the other early birds that mooned about the room, he was still and observant. He would strike up a conversation at will to anyone that would listen. This time it was Mel, the bartender.

“Can you believe this,” he said, “of all the days to forget my damned overcoat, I pick the day a stringent norther rolls through.”

“Mr. Yu,” offered Mel, “it shouldn’t get that cold tonight.”

Already hip to the routine, she placed the drink before him clinking the glass with a spoon.

He moved his arm in a most methodical fashion, almost inching his way forward, toward the glass. When his hand had reached the vicinity of the drink, Mel would take his hand the rest of the way. Once in his grip, Yuvàl had no problems sipping from it.

He retorted: “Not that cold?! Little one, have you been outside in the last hour, it was cold enough for an old man like me walking over here and it will be even colder when I walk home after Last Call,” adding at the end of the sentence in his best Tony M, “let me tell ya!”

“Maybe you’re right,” she said, “I’ll see if I can’t maybe find something for you. Do you need help to your table?”

“Not at all madame, thank you. But I will have another one of these at the table,” he said shaking the ice about in the glass.

He continued.

“Is anyone here yet?”

“Sure are,” said Mel, “Dino and Dominick are over at the stage setting up.”

He turned right, toward the stage, and let out in loud vulgar death metal grunts: “Dominick the Devil, where art thou?!”

Even before he could catch his breath Dino interrupted, already walking toward the bar.

“What’s up Yuvi Hall?! Bout time you get here. Want a shot?! I’m buying!” he said as he placed his hand on Yuvàl’s shoulder.

You bet your ass I do,” he fired back, “especially if you’re buying.”

Hell yeah! Two Jager Bombs, and one for yourself, pretty lady.”

The three raised their shots in the air carefully taking the time to clink the glass in Yuvàl’s hand.

To the KU and all that come here”

While this was taking place, Dominick begrudgingly assembled his drum set. Though methodical, having every little piece already laid out across the stage floor and labeled, he appeared haphazard and hurried. He was sweating and you could easily see he wanted to finish the task as quickly as possible. His eyes cutting back and forth from the equipment on the floor to the half assembled facade of the drum set on the stage. He clearly was not cut out for this part, he was thin and ibis like. He much preferred the fine tuning of the drums: the sound of the tom toms to get just the right punch and tone or the angle of the cymbals to attain fluidity and balance with his, as the band would constantly tease him, suspiciously short arms.

As the glasses were emptied and placed on the bar, Dominick walked up slowly, full of intentionality. Peering at the three he asked in a calm stern voice, knowing full well the answer: “Did you bastards just take a fucking shot without me?!”

The question sent Mel and Dino scurrying for a hiding place; she behind the bar pretending to work, and he, pretending to chat amidst the others that were standing near by.

Yuvàl stood his ground.

Bout time you get your ass over here, you dirty beast!” he said imposingly.

I gotta set my shit up man!” countered Dominick.

A blind man could set that shit up faster!”

I’d like to see you try bitch!” he spat back.

Allowing the pretext to dwindle, he and Yuvàl began to laugh raucously.

Continuing in quite a different tone,

How you been, Dom?!”

Dominick took a step back, raised his tatted arms in hip hop fashion and said, butchering an infamous Biggie lyric: “Beats, Bitches and Dro – that’s all this Nigga know.”

You ain’t big or black motherfucker, now help me to my table.”

Once at the table, the two began to speak of still more introductory things. It was them that had hit it off in the few weeks since Yuvàl had begun to hang out at the KU.

Dreams That Haunt Us

Posted: August 8, 2011 in Fiction
Tags: , ,

Dreaming men are haunted men.” Therefore, every man is haunted. And little girls too.

It is the peculiar aspect of dreams that haunt us, the I-know-not-from-whence aspect to them that causes them to stay with us. Sexual dreams gratify, dreams of wealth and prosperity excite us, dreams of health and well being entice us. But those are not the dreams that stay with us. It is the dream of the room at the top of the stairs, the one with the shadow just off in the distance, the dream of the face unknown yet wholly familiar; these are the ones that resonate and find a home within. In short, the dreams that come and call to us. The one just beyond explanation.

Our second tale is about Renita Jai.  A little girl haunted not only in life, but in her dreams as well.

Dreams That Haunt Us: Monnstro

Little Renita Jai. She had been called “Little” since she was born because she had taken her name from her great grandmother, the great matriarch of the family. A woman so important, so revered, that her name had been hers alone, kept from at least two generations. Hers alone, that is, until Little Renita Jai. She was the stuff of miracles: born premature, given a grim prognosis by the doctors. Her parents were told that if she lived at all, it would be at a ghastly price. That she would never maintain a “normal life.” Her eyes were malformed, though she could see. Her tiny arms were mangled and deformed, the shape a stick of Laffy-Taffy might take if left in the South Texas sun too long. Laffy-Taffy was her mother’s favorite candy, banana flavored. Her legs were bowed at the knees, so much so that they might have been portals to another dimension, to another time.

Her skin was so dark and mysterious, with multiple shades of deep, dark bruise-purple, it made the dense night sky writhe in jealousy of her. Her eyes, when they were open to be seen a deep eerie white, as white as pure sin after the Lord’s grace had washed it clean. She was a scion of a proud African family that came to Kingsville very early, when dark folks were welcomed only for the labor they could provide. They had settled in what was called “Little Africa” on the corner of 2nd street and Huisache; her great grandmother among the first to settle the neighborhood on land donated to the “town folk” by the venerable King family.

Renita Jai was not expected to live passed a year. And that year was to be full of heartache and medicine, doctor’s visits and costly procedures until finally what ailed would prove victorious and take her fragile little life. Leaving the family with memories and questions of “Why?” And yet, here she was at age six. A precocious girl with dark curly hair, eyes a splendid moss green, and a smile as wide as Texas itself. She still suffered the pains of her misfortune, of course, because miracles never work out as we’d like them to. In life, Lazarus never really rises from the dead. Or Jairus’ daughter for that matter. But here was Renita Jai, alive despite all the wisdom of the learned medicine men. She had just began learning to talk, a symptom of her mother’s insatiable need to read her stories at night. All the classics too: Dr. Seuss, the Brother’s Grimm, Aesop. When she began to speak it was a little miracle in and of itself.  When she was able to put words together, enough to string sentences along toward a semblance of meaning, she told her mother about a recurring dream she had.

~Mommy, I dreamed of a place I’ve never been. I was wearing a pretty dress with my new shoes daddy bought me and my hair was up in a bow. A purple bow. It was a big parking lot but there was no cars. It was night and I was all alone. The lights were on but I could only see so far into the distance. And it was purple everywhere. Dark and purple, like when I look out the window when you read to me, and the train tracks go on forever and ever. I was scared because I could feel something was there in the dark where I could not see.  I called out, “monnstro…monnstro,” like I knew the name of the thing that was there in front of me.  Then a man came behind me. He was a good man and asked what I was doing all alone out in the parking lot.

In my dream all I could do was point out into the darkness. And the man asked, “what are you pointing at? Are you afraid of the dark? There’s nothing there sweetie, I promise.” And all I could do was point out there. I was very thirsty too. When I could talk, I told the man “monnstro.” But he could not understand me: “Monnstro, what’s that sweetie? What is that?” I looked at him but he still didn’t understand me. And so I pointed again into the dark place. Then he said, “do you mean Monster?” And he walked a little bit to see if he could see something. And he said, “there’s nothing out there sweetie. No monsters. Nothing.”

That’s when we heard it. A loud noise, mommy. A very loud noise like a lion and a pig and a person all screaming at once. And the man jumped toward me to try and cover me. All I could do was cover my ears and close my eyes real tight. And then I woke up.

Her mother was put off by the dream she heard.  And told her that dreams are mysterious things that happen to everyone.  That sometimes they are scary but sometimes they are really good too.  And throughout all your life, she told her, dreams will always happen to you.  There’s no need to be afraid of them.  It was then that Renita asked pointedly, then why do I have this one all the time? And not those other ones?

Renita Jai lives and resides in Kingsville to this day.  Her mother has passed and her father too.  She lives her life with some pain and sorrow, as we all do.  She’s made something of herself. She can walk, talk and work; do all those things “normal” people do everyday.  All that which the doctors said she would never do.  Those words she outgrew long ago.  She has had a thousand dreams since then, and a thousand nightmares too.  But  this one, this dream, of her fragile little voice echoing in the night, “monnstro,” haunts her still.

Titular

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Fiction
Tags: ,

     The people of Kingsville are cursed. I mean this in the best sense of the word, too. They are burdened by a thing outside themselves; a longing for something more, an abiding spirit for elsewhere. A small town can do that, you know. It’s in everything, in everyone. It drips from the pores like sweat on any given day. And to quote R.P. McMurphey, “it ain’t up to [us].” It’s beyond us. And yet we make do. How you ask? By developing culture and communal good times? No! We are a non cultured folk. For as much as we want something “to happen,” for as much as we want something “to do,” when it comes down to it and something does happen, the turn out is nil. Just ask any musician, or any artist or an event coordinator, the turn outs are nil.

We thrive in the individual spaces where by we drink and, often, drug ourselves into intimacy. Dawn-lit restaurants where folks drink their coffee and eat their food, night drenched houses where friends engage each other, the incessant car culture: that hallowed space in which we cruise our lives away. And most especially at work. These are the truest expressions of life in the Ville. The places where utopian moments of the face-to-face are created to endure the mundane life of our town. We are forced rather “to be” than “to do.”

Our first tale comes to us from roofers, those all important souls envied by none. A tortuous job in stifling heat, a job had by a lead “strongman” with experience and authority and the young-uns who take orders and try their best not to get thrown off the roof.

TITULAR

Lucas looked up suddenly, holding his gaze forward just above the horizon. He placed the shovel on the surface of the roof and said aloud:

I’m taking a break, yo, I’m feeling titular.”

–You have gained a lot of weight over the last few months, you should be feeling the weight of them bitch tits you got going on, Erasmo retorted annoyingly,

–this is the fifth time you stop working.

With all the petulance of a spoiled child he could muster, Erasmo mocked him derisively:

— “it’s hot,” “there’s sweat in my eyes,” “I’m losing my footing,” “My hands hurt,” “I’m thirsty.”

Real funny, retard. Why don’t you try reading a book, yeah. Titular: I just got inspired with a title, yo,  for a song. And I ain’t about to work through that shit – I’ll forget”

–Inspired by what kid, the blazing sun?! We gotta finish this shit before Clifton gets back. This section of the roof’s got to be ready by tomorrow! Be inspired after work, homie, he cautioned with all the concern of an older brother he could muster.

It ain’t even lunch time yet, dog, we got all day for this shit. Check this out, I got a title for a song: Quaalude Kerfuffle ”

–You’re on Quaaludes, man, what the fuck does that mean?”

It’s about an argument right, an altercation between two lovers while on Quaaludes but because they’re so bombed they can’t do anything but laugh about it, yeah – I got a beat for it an everything.”

–And that’s what you don’t want to forget?! You trippin’ man, let’s get back to work already!

— I ought to kerfinkle you off this damn roof, motherfucker.

Lucas, by now begrudgingly persuaded, picked up his shovel and began tearing into the roof again, stopping for momentary breaks to wipe the sweat from his brow and to shelter his eyes from the powerful sun. About five minutes passed when he asked with feigned curiosity:

“Is it almost lunch time? I’m hungry like a wolf”

–Dude, stop again and I swear to God you’re working through lunch! I ain’t got time for this shit!

Relax, dog, it’s just a question, damn. Why you gotta get all Rosanne Bar on me”

–One hour man, that’s all we need if you shut the hell up already and work. O-n-e. H-o-u-r!

Ayight man, cool. Where we going for lunch?”

–Bitch, we ain’t “going” anywhere, didn’t you bring your lunch?

Uhh, no!”

–Well, guess who ain’t eating then…

What?! That’s fucked up dog! But you know what, I’m cool with that. I’ll work through lunch- but my work, Not this wetback shit. I’m gonna write lyrics for my song, yeah.

–Do what you want, bro, Quaalude Garfunkle my ass.

Kerfuffle. Get it right: Ker-fuf-fle!”

And so Lucas began. Mentally mapping various rhyming schemes, hooks and catch phrases. Hi-hat patterns and snare blitzes.  He’d often break into melody and dance on the spot sending Erasmo into fits of laughter.

–Dude, you ain’t right, he’d say.

Time flies when you’re having fun so before he knew it, Erasmo informed him about lunch.

–hey Snoop Dog, it’s time to eat. And I got your lunch right here, he said, holding on to his crotch.

I always knew you went that way Assmo! I just knew it, dog.”

Finding a place under a tree they sat under the blistering sun to eat.

–Here, I happen to bring extras today. You’re lucky!

Shit, you alright man. I’m hungry as fuck”

–yeah, yeah – like a wolf, I know

But I’m still gonna work on my lyrics though, if you’re lucky I’ll include you!”

They laughed with each other as much as at each other and began to eat their lunch. Raising their tacos to each other they shared in a moment of rest:

Cheers, dog”

–Cheers, man!

What Heat Hath Wrought

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Current Events
Tags: ,

I’m not one to point out the obvious but it is hot outside!  All over Texas, and much of the U.S. as well, the temperature is rising higher than the national debt or the ubiquitous student loan.  And there seems to be no respite in sight.  All over our nation, a dozen or more have died from the heat, from the elderly to the homeless.  I was recently informed by a friend, given his Farmer’s Almanac proclivities, that the first cold front came to Kingsville on September 27 last year.  And so I have chosen to mark that date on my calender…in hot pink…like a precocious, indulgent teenager marking her first sexual experience with “the one!”   But moodiness and indulgence of another sort: stories.

One of the enduring aspects of actual education I received in a college history class was when we read ‘The Decameron’ by Giovanni Boccaccio.  If you’ve not read that book, or parts thereof, I suggest you drop by the local 1/2 Price and pick up a copy of the MOFO (you’ll thank me later).  I will ever be thankful to Dr. Ferguson over at TAMUK for the formal introduction to the book, it deeply changed some stuff for me; or at least provided a healthy rearranging of literary things.  It is with that book in mind that I embark on daily stories to combat the ill effects high temperatures can have on the body and the mind.  And to keep me busy as I spend all the time I can indoors!