Saturday, November 7, 2009
We apologize for our absence... we are listening to everything you send us. Things have been busy around 'the office' so we have had little time to concentrate on Lo-Fi. Please accept our apologies and understand that we will be back soon. You are our greatest influence. Please don't abandon us.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Today we have a story from Adam Moorad called The Wanna-Be-Singer-Songwriter. It's a quick little tale about romance on the road. Check it out!
On the side of the road the Wanna-Be-Singer-Songwriter felt like it was Christmas. He pointed to his license and told her his picture was taken a long time ago. She stood there behind her badge. Cars passed. It was dark outside. She handed the license back. She smiled and said her shift was about over.
She said she was against marriage. She twirled the straw in her margarita. The Wanna-Be-Singer-Songwriter agreed under the assumption that it was what she wanted to hear and she said that was good. Marriage is forever, he said.
A waiter ran by with is arms full of hot plates and she said that someone must be hungry.
They ate their dinner prepared by people who were working the country illegally. She looked the other way. The Wanna-Be-Singer-Songwriter said he used to be in love with a Hispanic girl. She got quiet then asked him how long ago that was. A long, long time ago, he said. Do you still love her? she asked. He said it wasn't real love, that he was young then and is older now.
The waiter wore a button-down shirt and toreador slacks. He spoke broken English and asked if they would like to have another pitcher. Beads of sweat rolled down his cheeks as if he had just eaten and mouthful of tamales. He left. The Wanna-Be-Singer-Songwriter looked at her face. He made an expression and she laughed.
She covered her mouth as she laughed and he told her she covered her mouth. He asked her what was so funny. She was more talkative that before and was getting drunk. He pinched her arm and said she cleans-up well. She said the same and said she was getting tired. The Wanna-Be-Singer-Songwriter asked her if he could write a song about her and if he could put her name in it.
A real song? she said. She said she thought that was just a line he likes to use to get out of speeding tickets.
He said she was right, that he always did. He said she had him figured out. He asked her if she was mad. But can I? he asked. I only will if you let me, he said.
She said it was fine and brushed the bangs from her forehead. The Wanna-Be-Singer-Songwriter said it will be a song about a policewoman and he'll play it for her on the guitar. So you can play guitar, she said. A little, he said. Is that your job? she asked. Sort of, he said. She said that she works for the city with a radar gun, that she writes speeding tickets to people who look less cute. He looked at her. She laughed and covered her mouth. And they rode in her squad car to his apartment.
And they made it. The Wanna-be-Singer-Songwriter asked her if she had ever been to the rodeo. She said no and she asked if he had a song about that too. He said something like that.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Christian Ward brings us today a poem called Floods. Enjoy the wonderful imagery and wordplay.
The streets have become flooded
with our childhood dreams.
Puddles blend into
astronauts, paving slabs, firemen.
Artists wash the pavements
in a sea of colour.
Our adult selves, thin as spindles,
watch from behind netted curtains,
holding each other as the houses
slowly move towards an ocean
of someone else’s making, bodiesquivering like fish desperate for water.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
“I gave my kid AIDS,” Mike says. Sitting alone in his pick-up outside the health clinic, he says, “Not even born yet and I killed it.”
He looks at the creased photograph of Kaycee wedged beside the speedometer and twists his wedding ring around on his finger. He grips the steering wheel with both hands and the shaking moves up into his forearms. A few thick raindrops pop the windshield, leaving puckered shadows on his face that slide down in dark streaks.
Closing his eyes, he leans his head back and squeezes the wheel. He swallows over and over against the nausea in his throat.
Last night, Mike wasn’t sick. Not that he knew of. He’d have been hard pressed to tell you what HIV or AIDS even stood for. He knew people got it and that they died, but he never knew any of them. Those people, they were a world away, on the other side of CNN best he could tell. Last night, what Mike was, was thinking about his new job on Monday. He was thinking about the camping trip this weekend with the guys. Tossing and rolling, he draped his arm over his wife, who’d taken a home pregnancy test earlier in the week that came back positive.
He’d never even heard of antiretroviral therapy or CD4 cell depletion. PNAP or contact retracing.
With the rain starting to click faster on the hood, Mike looks in the seat at the yellow folder filled with information—contact numbers and Websites. Support groups and financial assistance forms. Fifteen minutes ago, he’d gotten the first lesson in a class that would last the rest of his life.
“Positive,” the health counselor told him, her eyes the wide type that say things without saying them. She’d said more, but what he heard loudest was that one word.
And she was going on about a drug treatment called HAART. About behavior modification. But this lady across the desk saying something about the prolonged suppression of viremia, she was wrong. He didn’t get tested for this. People who hear the things he was hearing, they got tested because they were worried. They suspected. He just needed blood work for his new job as cook at Azia’s Gourmet.
Mike smiled, closed one eye, and said, “My name is Michael Ahrens.” Leaning forward, angling his head to see the file, he said, “A-H-R-E-N-S. Ahrens.”
And this counselor, she kept staring at him, those wide eyes not blinking. Tiny vessels webbed pink over the whites. After a few seconds, his hands started to tremor.
Looking out the office window, through the half-drawn blinds, Mike could see his truck parked outside. See the camping gear piled in the seat—his sleeping bag. A duffel bag with a couple changes of clothes and a water cooler icing down a case of beer. Behind that, the road dipping and twisting out of town to where the campsite was. Storm clouds were sliding and clawing over each other.
“Mr. Ahrens,” the counselor said, “I need you to tell me about your wife.”
And Mike looked at her. His mouth went gummy, and he started swallowing in tiny bursts. His skin pricked and shifted. Lost connection with his insides.
He opened his mouth. His voice broke and the counselor looked down and blinked. “No,” he said, no breath. Chin twitching. “I’m Michael Ahrens.” He rubbed his face hard. “I can’t have AIDS—”
“You don’t have AIDS, Michael,” she said. “You’re HIV positive—”
“It’s wrong,” he said. His voice high, he said, “I want another test.” He said, “I don’t use needles.” His hands palmed out mime-style, he said, “I only had sex twice before Kaycee.”
And yes, he knows it only takes once, but he used protection.
And yes, he knows condoms aren’t a hundred percent, but Jesus….
The counselor, she said, “I know this is difficult.” Crossing hand over fist on the desk, she said, “But it’s important we find out where you contracted the virus.”
Contracted the virus, Mike repeats, almost laughing. His eyes quick-blinking and snapping around the room.
The counselor said, “Could Kaycee have been infected before?”
“Not possible,” he said. “I was her first.”
Soft and serious, her eyes fixed on him again, the counselor told him, if that’s the case, they should assume it was contracted through one of the previous partners. She said they’d have to be contacted and informed of the situation. “They could be spreading it unknowingly to others,” she said.
Bouncing his knee, Mike’s face started to hurt.
The counselor thumbed through his paperwork and said, “Says you don’t have children—”
And Mike slowly leaned back, mouth wide, eyes wider. He put his hands over his face and pushed hard. Thought: if you’re gonna cry, this is the place. Now’s the time. And he did.
The counselor dropped the folder back on the desk.
After a minute, his hands still covering his face, he finally caught his breath and his shoulders stopped twitching.
Outside his hands, the counselor said, “How far along is she?”
He bit down hard, his teeth rubbing, jaw popping. Two positives in one goddamn week. The best news followed by the worst. Watch your step, son, he could hear his father telling him, walking through a wheat field when Mike was a boy. He’d said the same thing when Mike got his first car. When he went to college. Whatever you do, just watch your step.
Opening his eyes, Mike could see his wedding ring, enough light catching it in the dark of his cupped hands. He slid them away. “Six weeks,” he said.
The counselor opened a yellow folder and placed a stack of pamphlets and papers inside. She told him he should be aware that HIV can be vertically transmitted. That, being so early in the pregnancy, a lot of mothers choose not to have the baby under these circumstances.
And she told him more.
As if he could really hear it.
Something about being required by law to inform his wife and previous partners. About PNAP and CNAP—Partner/Contact Notification Assistance Programs—as an alternate method of doing so. “If you’d rather not tell them yourself,” she said.
God closes one door, He opens a window to jump out of.
She talked about more treatments. About support groups. Before he left, she said, “Michael, we’re way beyond where we were fifteen years ago. It’s incurable, but it’s highly treatable.” Standing, handing him the yellow folder, she said, “I’ve seen people live healthy and happy lives for several years.” Her eyes bulging, she said, “HIV is not a death sentence.”
Mike took the folder and left, keeping his head down as he passed through the waiting room. She’s wrong, he thought, and everything she told him was just a fancy way of saying, “The End.”
Because it is a death sentence. A murderer gets the death penalty, he may sit on death row for ten years, but everyday’s a countdown to the chair.
Still sitting in his truck, the rain sweeping hard against the side of the door, Mike stares at the window of the office he’d been in. Wondering if that lady, her eyes wide and white and unblinking, was in there right now, telling someone else what she’d told him. That you’re living with this disease, not dying from it. He palms his throat and cups a hand to his mouth. Cracks the window, letting the rain slip through on his face.
It’s funny, but the moment you hear the news, you can feel it. The disease, you can actually feel it running through your veins.
Watch your step, his dad’s saying.
On the dashboard, his cell phone lights up and vibrates in a half-circle. The screen says SHAWN and Mike’s stomach cramps. He lets the ringing stop, and a couple seconds later, it buzzes again. “Hello,” he says, his fingers blurry.
On the other end, there’s loud voices and blaring music. “Mikey!” Shawn says. They’re at the campsite. They’re drinking.
“Yeah,” Mike says, but his voice shakes.
“Where you at?” Shawn says.
Mike says he’s on his way.
“You finished?” Shawn says, and another voice gets close to the phone and screams: “So’s your dick gonna fall off or what?” then pulls away, laughing.
Mike pulls the phone from his ear and puts a palm to his forehead.
He can feel a cough coming. He feels the fever and nausea.
He tries to fake a laugh.
On the other end, the guys are still laughing. “Your brother-in-law,” Shawn says. He says, “He says to get your ass down here and help us with this beer.”
Mike doesn’t answer. Hangs up and switches the phone off. His brother-in-law, Kris. His best friend since grade school and Kaycee’s older brother. Mike looks at the office window again and thinks about walking back in. Asking how you tell your best friend you killed his little sister. Will PCRAP handle that for you, or do you just go up and say, Sorry? Just: Oops!
He puts his finger to the window and traces a worm of rain down the glass. There’s no way to hide this. Some secrets closets can’t hold.
Starting the truck and throwing it into drive, he pulls onto the highway headed toward the camp, thinking about taking the wrong step and falling straight the fuck through.
Mike turns onto the dirt road leading back to the campsite. He sees the bonfire glow above the trees. He’s been killing beers the whole ride out, and twice he missed the turn. Thinking about Kaycee’s face, about the shock she’s in for, he drove five miles past each time. Somewhere along the way, it got dark and the rain stopped.
He lets the truck creep in low and turns the headlights off, in case he decides to turn around and run. Let the doctor’s handle it all. Just escape and pretend none of this ever happened.
Cut his losses.
Getting closer, he hears the muffled music and stops, throwing it into park. How do you do this? How do you go up and fake it, pretend you’re not dying right under the skin? How can you face them? Face Kris?
Mike and Kris, they go back. Summer camp and peewee football. Puberty and girls. And if there’s one thing about Kris, it’s that he always got the girls. In high school, he averaged more leg a week than Mike had dates in a semester.
But he’s never had an STD in his life. No scares. No knock-on-woods.
Now, Mike can just see it. When it all comes out, it’s what you’d expect, best friends or not. Bang a thousand girls and dodge the bullets, that’s fine. Sleep with two and get the wrong one, you’re a dirty piece of shit. And look what you’ve done to his sister. To her baby.
He balls his fist tight until his hand loses color. It starts to vibrate, and he slams it into the roof of the cab. He does it again and again, until his wrist buckles and jams. Until dust and chipped foam drop down into his hair and in the back of his shirt. He looks at his knuckles, the skin flaked and peeled back. Blood forms and pools up. Slides over the side.
There it is, he thinks. All mixed in. Get to know it like the back of your hand.
Mike wipes his hand on his pants and slides the yellow folder under the seat. He grabs a beer out of the ice cooler and kills it in a few swallows. Tossing the bottle out the window, he throws the truck in drive and pulls forward, around the trees toward the fire.
“Bout fucking time,” Shawn says, walking up with a couple of beers in each hand. His hair and clothes soaked, a large mound of mud caked around his feet, he says, “What’d you, get lost?”
Kris is holding a stick jabbed through a hot dog in the fire, turning it over every few seconds. Parked behind him, his new RV, the front door standing open. Music blares from somewhere inside.
Holding out a bottle, Shawn says, “Cerveza?” Mike gets out of the truck, bubbles it empty. Squinting, Shawn says, “What’d you do to your hand?” He reaches for it and Mike pulls away.
“Don’t,” he says.
Kris walks up in nothing but a pair of cut-off shorts. He’s choking a large bottle of vodka. Taking a drink, he looks back at the camper and says, “So bro, there she is.” He says, “You like?”
Mike nods and tries to smile.
Slurring, Kris says, “Well, mi casa su casa.” He takes another drink and says, “Unless you fuck mi casa up, then it’s su ass.” He throws an arm around Mike’s shoulders and says, “Glad you made it.”
Mike pulls away. Grabs his cooler and walks toward the camp, the guys following.
Kris’ stick is still in the fire, and when he picks it up the hot dog is crusty black and flaming. “Glad the chef’s here,” he says. “I’m hungrier than a motherfucker.”
Shawn sits by the fire while Kris gives Mike a tour of the camper. Mike doesn’t talk, keeping his bloody hand in his pocket.
Outside, Mike opens another beer, kills it, and Shawn says, “You came to goddamn drink.”
Mike sits down and hiccups. Inside, Kris spins the dial on the radio, finds “Take On Me” by Aha and comes out laughing. “Remember this shit?” he says, stumbling. Dancing. He squats beside Mike, singing the high-notes into his bottle.
Mike reaches out and takes the liquor from Kris. And he keeps drinking, taking large swigs of vodka. Chasing it with full beers in a couple swallows. He tries to picture the alcohol mixing with the virus in his blood. Two poisons in battle.
Lightning whitens a thick cloud, and thunder grumbles.
Kris and Shawn, they eat burnt marshmallows and drink and talk. Mike sits there, hands on his knees, head down, smiling and nodding whenever they look at him. Answering whenever they ask. Pretending to be there. To be alive.
Kris talks about this girl, Mitzi, he fucked three times last Saturday. How she sings Madonna songs when she comes. How she’d do anything, and he means anything, after a four-pack of wine coolers.
Shawn says he wants to fuck Keira Knightley and Asia Argento. He says, “Till my dick falls off.” He says, “And Jessica Alba, Jesus Christ!”
Kris says he’d fuck anyone in Hollywood. “Even Kathy Bates.”
Mike gags and belches. He says, “That all you guys talk about? Who you’d bang and how?” Taking a long shot of Vodka, it runs over the corners of his mouth in a frown. “Fuck’s sake,” he says.
Kris says, “Dude, the fuck’s wrong with you?” Laughing, Shawn says, “Old lady ain’t pregnant a week, already got your balls in vice grips.”
Mike looks at Shawn and thinks of slamming his fist into his face like he did the truck. He thinks about mixing a little blood with both of them, level the playing field. Then they can sit around and talk about fucking girls all night. See if that heightens the conversation.
Instead, he gets up and staggers to the camper bathroom. He washes his hands, red then pink in the sink, and cups water on his face. Looks at himself in the mirror. His eyes are mapped red with lines and he sucks his cheeks in. Like death’s supposed to look, he thinks.
He slips his cell phone out of his pocket, turns it on, and calls Kaycee. After a few rings, the voice mail picks up. It beeps and he says, “Hey. It’s me.” Still staring at himself in the mirror, he says, “Just calling to say I love you…”
His voice lowers and breaks. His chin tremors and his face goes tight.
Slurring, he says, “…I’m so sorry.” He says, “I swear I didn’t know.” He hangs up and turns the phone off again.
Going back out, he takes another shot. Then another.
And Shawn’s going to a party next Friday.
And Kris has another date.
They’re gonna do some fishing. They ought to buy a boat. They all should start a business, a restaurant.
Always talking. As if Mike could hear them.
Mike looks at Kris, bites until his jaw knots and pops, and takes a drink. Right now, he hates him. This lottery winner of life. This prick who walks through rainstorms missing Every. Single. Drop.
Mike looks away, thinks of Kaycee. Reading baby books and telling friends the good news. Getting wet when she’s not even in the storm.
Watching her steps while she’s being stepped on.
Thing is, he knew something like this would happen. Since he was a kid, he could see God pissing all over his life. Whether it was a loss of faith or a faith in loss, the world was just so goddamn predictable.
Staring at the flames, his eyes half-open, Mike says, “I got AIDS,” but it’s under his breath, and they don’t hear him. Rain begins to click on the camper roof and hiss in the fire, sending up mouse-tails of smoke.
And they should all take a road trip. Maybe Vegas or Miami. Just get away for a while. Do a little scuba diving. A little gambling. A little jet skiing.
Mike cocks the vodka bottle over his head and shatters it in the fire, the flames sounding like a box being stomped. The momentum sends him face-first to the muddy ground. And he starts to vomit.
Kris and Shawn jump back, saying, “The fuck?” Saying, “You’re acting like a dick.”
Mike’s stomach pushes hard up under his ribcage. It’s loud and violent, and he can’t get his breath. His eyes bubbled in tears, it keeps coming up. On another day, it’d be the alcohol. But now, he knows what it is.
And this is everyday.
He finishes. Coughs and spits. Shawn and Kris are standing over him, backlit by the fire into silhouettes. Trying to get up, he tips forward, his hand slipping through the vomit. It covers his fingers. His wedding ring.
The silhouettes reach down, trying to help Mike up, and with his forearm he shoves them back.
“No,” he says. “Get back, you stupid fucks.” He says, “Don’t touch it. You fucking stupid?” He gets to a knee, twists, and drops down on his ass and elbow.
Kris and Shawn, they look at each other, at Mike, writhing on the ground.
“Just don’t fucking touch it’s all!” Mike says, and his voice cracks. Starting to cry, he says, “You’re so fucking stupid! How could you be so stupid? How?” He lowers his head, puts his hand to his face, and screams, “How could you be so stupid?”
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Again, the telephone in the kitchen rang, and this time Rudge answered it in time. "Hello."
"Hello. This is Libby Mathabane. I don't know if you remember me or not but your sister introduced us at the Greek festival last spring."
"Oh, right," he lied.
"Anyway, what I called about is your pickup truck. I'm on my way to your cabin to claim it and I was wondering if you need my address to send me the title or is it inside the truck?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, lady," he said in bewilderment. "My truck isn't for sale."
"I know that. I understood you were giving it away."
"Come again?" he blurted.
"That's what you said in your ad."
"The one in the Courier this morning."
"I didn't place any ad there."
"Well, someone did," she said as she looked again at the "Open House" ad in the paper that she had circled with a red pen. "It says you have been forced to sell your cabin and all your possessions there, including the pickup, are free for the taking."
"That's preposterous. I'm not selling my cabin."
"Well, that's what it says."
"I can't believe it."
"If I were you, I'd get out there as soon as you can before everything's gone."
He did not reply, he was so stunned by what he had just been told by the woman.
"And I'd call the sheriff's office too."
"Yeah, I'll do that."
"Whoever did this to you ought to go to jail."
For a long moment, after hanging up the phone, Rudge just stared out the window as if in a trance then he grabbed his keys from the breakfast counter and rushed out the door to his car. Usually it took him a good forty-five minutes to drive to his cabin but he hoped he could make much better time this morning. He had to, he realized, or else scarcely anything would be left when he got there.
"Damn it!" he screamed, racing past a slow moving panel truck. "Damn it ... damn it ... damn it!"
He just could not believe this was really happening to him, thought he was caught up in some weird dream until one of his back tires clipped a curb and he bit the tip of his tongue. His mouth suddenly felt on fire. He wished he could stop to get a drink of water but he didn't have the time and pressed his foot down on the accelerator pedal.
About half a mile from his cabin, heading in the opposite direction, was a grungy station wagon with a mattress strapped across the roof. Immediately he wondered if it belonged to him but knew there was no way of telling so he kept on driving. When he got to his place he saw several cars parked outside of it and a man and a woman coming out the front door, their arms stacked with dishes and lamps and silverware.
"You can't take those things!" he shouted as he stormed out of his car. "They're mine!"
The couple ignored him and continued on to their SUV.
Quickly they put the items inside the trunk then turned and headed back to the cabin.
"This is my property and I want you to leave now!" he screamed, striding after them.
Another guy, breathing heavily, then staggered out the front door, cradling a coffee table in his bulging arms.
"What the hell do you think you"re doing?" he demanded.
The guy, puzzled, stared at him but did not say a word.
"This is my house. You can't come in here and take my things."
"The ad in the paper said I can," he snorted, staggering past the incredulous Rudge.
"It's not my ad," he snapped, grabbing one of the table legs. "Now put this back where you found it."
"The hell I will. The ad said whatever is here is free for whoever wants it and I want this table."
Rudge, seething, struggled to pull the table out of the guy's arms but it wouldn't budge despite how hard he pulled. Then, all of a sudden, the guy let go of it and spun around and clipped him across the side of the head with the back of his hand. He went down at once, groaning in pain, and the guy then picked up the table. He reached out for it again but the guy kicked away his hand.
"You want something you get it yourself, buddy. You don't take what I've got."
Dozens of people were still rummaging through the cabin, despite Rudge's frantic demands that they leave, when a deputy from the sheriff's office pulled up in his cruiser a little after nine o'clock. At once, Rudge introduced himself as the owner of the property, and though he didn't have his deed with him, he did have a photograph of himself standing in front of the cabin with two of his nephews last winter. He also told him he was the one who called his office for help. Deputy Bolton wasn't sure whether to believe him but decided not to allow anyone to remove anymore items from the cabin until someone with more authority could examine the deed. A few people protested his decision, showing the "Open House" ad to him, but all complied with it if somewhat reluctantly.
"So how do you figure something like this could have happened?" the deputy wondered as he wound a spool of security tape around the cabin.
"I've no idea. All I know is, I sure as hell didn't invite people to come here and take whatever they damn well please."
"You figure this was some kind of prank?"
"I just don't know."
"If it was, it was a mean one all right," he said, continuing to string the tape. "They clean you out pretty good?"
"I haven't had a chance to figure out what all was taken, but I suspect it's a fair amount," he said disconsolately. "I just can't believe no one would stop after I told them who I was and what they were doing was stealing."
Turning his head aside, the deputy spit out a stream of tobacco juice. "If folks think they can get something for nothing, they're going to take it even if they don't need it."
Rudge, devastated, stared blankly at an overturned lantern that the deputy had prevented some agitated woman from hauling away in her car.
"What you should do now, sir, is make as complete a list as you can of all the things that were taken from you. You never know, but we might be able to recover some of them. And you should also make a list of anyone you can think of who might be behind this."
"I can't believe anyone I know would've done this to me."
"Well, sir, you'd be surprised what so-called friends can do sometimes."
Though it took a while, Rudge was able to provide the sheriff's office with a fairly complete inventory of all the items taken from his cabin, but he had a hard time thinking of anyone who could have placed the "Open House" ad in the paper. Deputy Bolton was convinced that a hoax as malicious as this was done by someone Rudge knew in retaliation for something he did to the person.
"You cross some folks badly enough you're likely to be crossed yourself," the deputy told him just before he left the cabin.
Rudge was fifty-five years old so he had some strenuous relations with more than a few people in his life but he could not imagine he had offended any of them so gravely that they were willing to commit a crime to get back at him. As a result, when he gave Deputy Bolton the list of missing items, he did not include a list of possible suspects.
"You're sure you can't think of a single person who might have done this to you?"
"Not yet, but I'm still giving it some thought."
"Well, you keep thinking, sir, because I'm sure someone who knows you caused you all this grief."
He did come up with two possible suspects but he didn't mention them to the deputy because he thought he should speak with them before he got them involved in the investigation. One was an old flame, Charla Cummings, who became so furious when she discovered he was seeing someone else while he was living with her that she cut up half a dozen of his dress shirts and spread them across the hood of his car. Another possible suspect was a neighbor he had wrongly accused of stealing library books. He bought a couple of atlases from Crocker at a yard sale and noticed library stamps on them and notified the director of the local branch and, sure enough, the books were listed as missing. His neighbor, however, had proof that he purchased them from someone else so he apologized profusely for his mistake but Crocker never forgave him for accusing him of the crime.
The first one he telephoned was Charla, late one night after one too many beers. He had not spoken to her in a couple of months when she asked him to return the key to her apartment.
"Hello, kiddo. This is Harvey."
"What do you want?" she asked coolly.
"I called to see if you heard about what happened at my cabin over the weekend."
"Why do you think I'd be interested anymore in anything having to do with you, Harvey?"
Quickly he told her about the spurious newspaper ad and all the people who responded to it and took things from his place.
"So am I suppose to feel sorry for you? Is that why you called so you can have a shoulder to cry on?"
He took a deep breath. "No, not at all. I was just wondering if you might have left something in the cabin the last time you were there because, if you did, someone probably has it now."
"You must have me confused with some of your other lady friends because I was there only once, if you remember, and that was six or seven months ago."
"What you're really calling for is to find out if I'm the person who placed the ad," she said after a lengthy pause. "That's right, isn't it?"
"It did cross my mind."
"You bastard. You really think I'd risk going to jail to get back at you? If you do, you're wrong because I put you out of my thoughts a long time ago."
"I thought I should ask," he replied meekly.
"You did, did you? Well, as far as I'm concerned, you deserve every bad thing that happens to you. And, believe me, if I'd known about the ad, I would've been at your cabin taking everything I could get my hands on."
*Rudge had intended to call Crocker right after he spoke with Charla, but his conversation with her was so withering he decided to put it off until the following evening. Then he put it off to later in the week because he wasn't in the mood to listen to someone else denounce him. Curiously, the longer he took to call Crocker, the more people he thought of who had enough of a grudge against him to place the "Open House" ad. He was surprised. Only a few days ago he could not think of one person who might have done it now he had come up with several candidates. The thought of calling each of them mortified him yet he knew he had to unless he chose to give the names to Deputy Bolton to call. Then, of course, they would detest him more than ever he knew.
Before he got around to calling someone other than Charla, however, he was notified by the deputy early one morning that the people who perpetrated the hoax had been arrested in a neighboring county. A man and a woman were caught trying to sell three stolen bicycles, one of which belonged to Rudge, over the internet.
"It turns out they've placed ads like this before to cover up their theft. Their name is Rockove. You know them?"
"Well, I sure was wrong. I really thought the ad was placed by someone you knew because of something you had done. Revenge is the usual motive in pranks of this kind."
He sighed, cradling the telephone against his left shoulder. "I don't know anyone by the name of Rockove."
The deputy chuckled nervously. "If it's any consolation to you, it's nice to know that you haven't crossed anyone enough to cause them to pull a stunt like this against you."
He did not reply, wondering if that was really the case. He had rankled a lot more people than he had ever imagined until Deputy Bolton asked him to compile a list of possible suspects. He may not have committed crimes against them but he certainly had hurt them. Probably each one could have placed the bogus ad, might even place another one some day.
The deputy, before hanging up, said he hoped Rudge would be able to recover some of his possessions but now Rudge didn't much care if he recovered anything. Maybe he deserved what happened to him, just as Charla claimed.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Today we have a great story about the life of a young rapper by Nick Sansone. Engine engine number nine, on the NY transit line...
By Nick Sansone
In high school I had a friend who wanted to be a rapper. We were seniors, both of us still reasonably unacquainted with failure and therefore capable of pursuing our fantasies with conviction. PlayStation being my lone passion at the time, I hoped to be a video game designer.
My friend was good at what he did. In our junior year he won second place in the battle of the bands contest put on each Fall by area schools. He finished behind a four-person punk ensemble whose vocalist sang through his nose, and who (badly) incorporated the harmonica into the act, really stretching the limits of the term “punk music” in a very offensive fashion, at least to me. The following year my friend placed first. He beat out several other gifted musicians and about a dozen more tone-deaf dilettantes. For his victory he received a two-hundred dollar gift certificate to a music supply chain, which he used to buy the cheapest wireless microphone they had in stock, and then he pocketed the difference, spending the rest, as best as I could tell, on weed.
Rightly he felt encouraged by his success. He applied to several music colleges, most of them up north, with the vague idea that he would go there under the auspices of training for the trade of, say, a sound engineer, and instead wow his classmates with his lyrical prowess and become somehow famous. I thought this was a bad plan, but I kept it to myself. I had learned over the course of our friendship to let his schemes play out to their natural conclusions. (Around this same time I sent in applications to several two-year tech schools that offered degrees in video game design.)
Towards the end of senior year my friend turned eighteen, now old enough to compete in a freestyle contest held each Wednesday night at a club downtown. He entered several weeks in a row. Each Thursday morning in class I could tell how he fared the previous night; he was lethargic and gloomy, and he kept his head planted on his desk for most of first and second period.
Up until that time he called himself D-Light. He had performed under that name in the battle of the bands, and he sketched out elaborate logos in a composition book during fifth period geometry, using the public-school-property protractors to draw intricate and flawless lines. He said he was deciding which one he wanted to be on the cover of his first CD.
However, after his consecutive defeats, my friend thought he should change his name. During his matches, he told me, his opponents used it against him, calling him things like “Sunny D-Light” and “D-Slight” and “D-Light-in-the-loafers” (a withering line, he said, that his opponent managed to rhyme with chauffeur). He needed a handle less open to ridicule.
“How about ‘orange’?” I suggested at lunch one day, probably thinking about a glass of Sunny Delight. “That word doesn’t rhyme with anything.”
“What?” my friend said. He looked betrayed, as though he felt I didn’t understand, or care about, the seriousness of his dilemma. “How exactly could I use that word in my name and not have it sound completely stupid?”
I knew little about rap—in fact I still know little about it; ska and punk was always more my scene—but I did understand the importance of a persona. (The lead singer of The Dead Kennedys would not be nearly as memorable if his stage name wasn’t “Jello Biafra.”) I apologized. Then, trying to be supportive, I said: “I always liked your old name. It suits you.”
“Makes me sound like a pussy.”
We were both silent for a while.
“Nothing rhymes with ‘silver,’ either,” I said eventually. “Or ‘nostril.’”
The next several weeks my friend skipped the club competition. He deliberated a succession of aliases—all of which were better than my suggestions—and he practiced in front of his mirror, trying out new lines with each new name, noting his favorites in the same composition book that bore the endless incarnations of his fantasized album covers. And at school, during lunch, out by the benches in the courtyard, he tried out those lines on other kids who liked to perform for the attention of girls. Many of these kids were the same ones my friend whipped at the battle of the bands the past two years.
Shortly thereafter my friend and I got responses back from the colleges to which we had applied. I was rejected from my top schools because of poor math scores (I had yet to learn that algebra figured heavily into video game design, or technical design of any sort for that matter). I was, however, accepted into one program in digital arts that was run out of a local theme park, and the admissions adviser promised that my low scores would not be a huge hurdle because they taught remedial courses and provided tutorials to help me catch up. “Just make sure your tuition is paid,” the adviser had advised. My friend, he was more successful, but equally dissatisfied. He was offered a seventy-five percent scholarship to a university in the state capital, but was unanimously rejected from his top choices as well. I tried to console him. “It’s cold in the north east, anyways,” I said.
It was then that he told me he intended to go to New York. He assured me that that was where all the industry bigwigs were. Maybe he would try out for MTV or something. Normally I would have ignored his plans and waited for reality to sink in, but I found this to be a dangerously boneheaded move. “Does your mom know? Because I bet she’d smack you if she heard you were turning down free money.”
“I’m an adult,” he said. “Besides, I got a savings. I need to be where I can get exposure.”
The next time my friend entered the nightclub’s freestyle competition I had also turned eighteen. It was just after graduation; we were both preparing for after summer, me for the little technical school located at the theme park, and my friend for New York, where he had a cousin who would let him stay at his place until he got settled. In order to be encouraging, and with the half-formed idea I could talk him out of going up north, I accompanied him to the club. I could see he was nervous. He gestured wildly as he drove, and his voice quavered, his words piling up in miniature collisions as he spoke. Though, even had I been less deductive, I would have caught on to his nerves by the time he dry-heaved in an alley a block from the club.
“Every time I do that,” he said.
“You should stop.”
The bouncer stamped our hands with a big X so that the bartender would know not to serve us alcohol. He collected my ten-dollar cover charge (my friend got in for free since he was in the competition), and we went inside, walking towards the dazzling array of strobe and laser lights. The bass from the massive speakers compressed my chest and obliterated all other sounds. Women in skimpy outfits gyrated with each other on raised platforms. My friend went backstage, and I staked out a spot in a booth with a good view, of the stage not the platforms.
That night I smoked heavily from a pack of six-dollar cigarettes I purchased at the bar. I was excited to be old enough to do it in public without the fear of the police showing up and messing with me. My friend was in the third pair of first round competition, going against a man probably twice his age, a gigantic Puerto Rican who called himself Big Z; “like snooze, right?” my friend asked when the emcee pointed the microphone at him. The crowd oohed, Big Z scoffed, and the tightness in my stomach relented for the moment.
My friend went first, and, while I thought he performed masterfully, delivering several cutting shots about his opponent’s weight and speculated incapacity to view or reach his penis, Big Z, when it was his turn, mowed down my friend in a merciless assault of rhymed insults. I winced. The emcee solicited the audience for applause to determine the winner. It was not even close. I could hear my own voice above the polite applause from the others in the audience, and the lack of support soon cowed me into silence.
“You kicked ass tonight,” I said when he joined me in the booth after twenty or so minutes. I gave him a cigarette. “Fuck what these idiots think.” I swept my hand towards the people in the club.
“Thanks,” he said. His voice sounded small and broken. It was then I attributed his delay to crying. On stage the emcee was reintroducing the first-round winners before commencing with the second part of the competition. “I got stomped.”
“You have all summer to—” I said, then hesitated, unsure how to complete the thought.
“Not all summer,” he said. “I leave for New York in a couple of weeks.”
“You still plan on going?”
My friend was quiet.
We left the club before the final round, though Big Z made it in the top two, and I pointed this out to my friend in a misguided effort to cheer him up—no shame in being beaten by the best, or some such platitude.
“There’s always shame in being beaten,” he said.
We hung out together a few more times over the next couple of weeks, played some gratuitously violent video games and smoked weed. After that I didn’t hear from him, and I didn’t bother to call. I assumed he was in New York.
In August I started the two-year technical school and stayed enrolled just long enough that I was unable to get a refund when I dropped out, having discovered that design was all math, and way over my head. The following semester I matriculated to the local community college to see if I could find a career more suited to my skills, whatever those were.
A few months into my first semester at the community college I got a letter from my friend—an actual, physical one—and enclosed inside was a flier for his first show. He had scored an (unpaid) gig at some small venue as an opening act with a couple of people he had formed a group with. The return address was to his campus mailbox at the state university.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Today we have a poem from a first time contributor to any literary magazine, Matthew Amos, about someone who is not at their best.
Chris had asked her if he “should stay over”
She told him it upset her that he asked if he “should”
like he was obligated to
She was trying to lie as still as possible
every movement of her body she could feel herself shifting
between her legs
it made her shudder uncontrollably
to vomit out her organs
to heave and heave
until all of her insides came out
She felt tainted,
inside and out,
like a glass of water invaded by a few drops of black dye
the darkness twisting and spreading throughout her
its long fingers stretching to tickle her in a torturous sensuality
She sat up straight
kicked off her covers then curled her head into her knees
and wrapped her arms around her legs
She wanted to do something
anything but lie there in her bed, helpless
Sarah thought about turning on the tv, but didn’t
She grabbed her jeans out of their crumpled heap on the foot of her bed
covering her legs sheltered them for a second
Friday, July 10, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
This story doesn't need an introduction: just know that Brant Goble writes an excellent poem about how things are.
Black Friday on Long Island: A Comedy
by Brant Goble
This is the music—
the green hum
(Cue lights, flickering on)
chorus of mumblings and broken speech
(Awaken the zombies with the hollow eyes)
rattling locks—shake and bang
(Roust a couple watchmen, armed with clipboards and halitosis—
God knows we can't afford any better)
(Throw back the bolts)
Let a few in first
(the lithe ones, with slit-snake eyes
who can slide past the titans with their slack jaws)
but not fast enough
Show the frenzy and the flying fists
(Call all the extras—envision raging breadlines or Eisenstein's battles)
Rumble floor, rumble
as the crowd breathes in—
(a giant thing, heavy and weighted with cold and sleep)
All bodies, now pressing, pressing
(bones and clothes and marrow turned liquid)
Man falls, tumbles, thrashed, and trampled
(commanding a scream to curdle milk or pierce a heart through
were any available)
Warp the metal, break the frames, tear the hinges off
(The doors become accordion)
All leap for the heavens as they burst through
towards a sea of shiny things and happy, happy noise machines
ecstatic, orgiastic, at the thought of ephemeral pleasures
and even more shit to become obsolescent
of the carpet of meat that once had dreams (and hope)
and the babe-not-yet-in-arms
(as blind and blank as its vessel)
beneath their feet
Send in stooges with polished badges—
rendered impotent and red-faced
(even they've been discounted here)—
unable to disburse the savage masses
but promising to watch the replay
“There will be justice for this—we'll have every foot that tread through here”
(but be damned if we look any higher)
Today men will die over childish things
(men who live amongst angels and sunshine)
And boys will smile (with glassy eyes) while they empty
clips (for a few hours longer) into flesh
in the name of their God
in a city that can't keep the Bombers at bay
This comedy's too dark for my tastes
with the players all method, all feeling too much
to be self-conscious or ironic
and the aisles aren't laughing
Who authored this farce
with its tired puns and low blows
this opera for beggars and billionaires
with greed and air and vitriol
between their ears?
What is this thing?
This is the season of the Son of Man
and all the world's adorned with plastic crucifixes
Monday, July 6, 2009
Today we have a poem by Jennifer Ethington. It's a very cool reversal of traditional gender roles. Speaking of which, if anyone is going to the bakery could they pick me up some real gender rolls? The ones with cinnamon sugar please.
Ode to a Young Man in a Button-down Shirt
You make me want to do things that are stupid
Driven by primal things
That dirty bastard thing called “urge.”
I want to grind on you in uncatholic ways
Make you realize just how expert you are not
I want to hurt you
And not care if you enjoy it
I want to hear a knock on my door
It’s you on the other side.
But you’d be stupid
To think you’d walk away easily
You are blissfully unaware of the knot
You are hurtling toward
Thinking you can save me
From what? Myself?
You mistake love and lust
One for another.
You’ll get caught up, little boy
You think you can just amble in,
But one foot at a time
You’ll get stuck
Until you’re ensnared and can’t move.
Or maybe you’re stupid enough to think
I am the one who couldn’t walk away.
You fail to notice that I’ve been in control
I’ve played in ball games bigger and harder than this one
And I’ve conquered the field, Babe Ruth-style.
See, I play to win,
I don’t need the game.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
One Five A.M. More
Above the gray-moor pave and par-decent folk,
across finicky airs, both the natural and the man-made,
and in hardnesses beneath crisp motions,
near dead pansies from a truck-bed drop,
persistent blood and ostensible living.
Most eat tension, pissing better, paychecking as by zip-line,
to fidget up routine's hem before elasticity sets on,
and have the days rude hard, a happening of sensual activity,
and ruddy deep.
If the waist opens to expel its foal, this life is by its own banks
accusatory, obsessive, expulsions and inhalations
in the core like a love.
I know this nature has a fuck to it, a sensibility you can taste,
and I, too, breathe on the grey-moor pave,
as the grit crawls up my thighs and the whumps land down,warmly taking me for senseless
So check it out at http://www.dzancbooks.org/creative.html, and while you're there look at some of the great books that they put out!
Friday, July 3, 2009
You live like a pig, and other love songs.
- Coolio: Gangsta’s paradise.
And maybe we are living in a gangsta’s paradise, that’s if gangsta’s love to live in filth, with dirty socks and underwear strewn across the floor, mixed up with the weekend papers, beer cans and ashtrays. Let’s be honest, this is a gangsta’s embarrassment – it’s disgusting. No, I don’t think I’m overreacting. Well, you better watch how you talking, and where you where you walking, or you and your homies might be lined in chalk!
All I’m saying is tidy up. Another thing I’m saying is that gangsta’s know how to sort out recycling, so don’t throw those beer cans in with the normal rubbish.
- Millie Smalls: My Boy Lollipop
My boy Lollipop, you make my heart go giddy up. And when I say heart I mean mouth. And when I say giddy up I mean the fridge is empty. So why don’t you lollipop your shoes on and go to supermarket and buy some food. I honestly don’t see why food shopping is my sole responsibility. We both have jobs and earn salaries, so we should both buy food. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect we share the financial burden of being sugar dandies.
- The Teddy Bears: To know him is to love him.
To know know know him is to find him grossly negligent of basic hygiene. It’s also to be sick sick sick of him. I’m talking directly to you through the bathroom wall. You’ve probably already guessed that I’ve just found out you forgot to flush the toilet, and it revolts me. What’s wrong with you? I’ve seen TV shows where cats can flush the toilet, and you’re a grown man with hands. Look, I’m not interested in talking about it; I just want you to deal with it. And I do, and I do, and I do.
- Ike and Tina Turner: Proud Mary
Big wheel keep on turning, violent anger keep on burning. Why am I so angry? Because I’ve discovered that you spilt red wine over my laptop and now the laptop is dead. Didn’t you think I’d notice? That I was going to sit there with red wine pouring out through the keyboard and not notice? How am I going to work for the man every night and day now? Yes, I am serious - until you replace this laptop it’s going to be you who’ll be worrying ‘bout the way things might have been. What? You can’t afford to replace my laptop? Then it looks like, as usual, we’re not going to do things nice and easy, because when it comes to respecting other people’s possessions we never do things nice and easy.
- Frank Sinatra: My Way
I did it my way, as in the normal way, as in I washed the dishes. Your way, leaving the dishes to crust together in a heaped pile in the sink, is a shit way. It makes me want to roll myself up in a big ball and die. No, I don’t care if that lyric is from That’s Life, it’s all Frank Sinatra. You’re missing the point completely. Listen, if you don’t stop I’ll show you exactly where my vagabond shoe is longing to stray.
- Womack and Womack: Teardrops
Okay, we need to talk. Whispers in the powder room have informed me of the state of the kitchen. The stench of something rotting reminds me baby of you. Overflowing bins, next time we’ll be through. We’ll be through, we’ll be through, (take the bins out), we’ll be through, yeah.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
THE SINGING BUTLER
A waltz under dark skies, on slick, shiny tan earth. Lovers roam the grounds whilst servant borne umbrellas stave off rain drops from the black, rolling, sheets above. Shadows paint short lines in the ground, proof of a sun, piercing through the afternoon gloom. All stand in black or white but one; a rose in a bland garden of activity, she swirls in bloom around her partner, completely relaxed and free. In contrast to the standard bearers around her, in a silent tango, in the vast, damp wasteland
Friday, June 19, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
First of all Glen is going to Minnesota, wish him luck and bug him about not writing anything lately. Also, there are a bunch of new stories up at 50 to 1, a collection of 50 word stories and 1st lines of stories. Broadset has posted an interview of Maryann McFadden (an author of two books). Keep updated on that blog too, I hear that they're going to interview Ben Greenman soon. And if you don't know who Ben Greenman is, click his name and look at his stuff and laugh your ass off. In a good way.
There I think I gave you enough to keep you occupied at work for a minute or two.
Quick poll (answer in the comments) Would you subscribe to a lo-fidelity twitter account?
By Michael Lee Johnson
no sugar or cinnamon spice,
years ago arthritis and senility took their toll.
Crippled mind movies in then out, like an old sexual adventure,
blurred in an imagination of finger tip thoughts−
who in hell remembers the characters?
There was George her lover near the bridge at the Chicago River
she missed his funeral, her friends were there.
She always made feather light of people dwelling on death.
But black and white she remembers well.
The past is the present; the present is forgotten,
Sometimes lazy time tea with a twist of lime.
Sometimes drunken time screwdriver twist with clarity.
She walks in scandals sometimes she walks in soft night shoes.
Her live-in maid smirks as Gingerbread lady gums her food,
false teeth forgotten in a custom imprinted cup
with water, vinegar, and ginger.
The maid died. Gingerbread lady looks for a new maid.
Years ago arthritis and senility took their toll.
Yesterday, a new maid walked into the nursing home.
Ginger forgot to rise out of bed,
no sugar, or cinnamon toast.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Also, the plans for Lo-Fi 4 are in the works with the Broad Set Collective doing a collaboration and featuring a writer! Be sure to stay posted on what we're doing.
Today we have a poem from Howie Good called Autumn Sonata. I'm really diggin on the flow and images. Very cool stuff Howie!
When the tree, in high dudgeon, suddenly
pushes through the polished wood floor,
and the congregation of small scared birds
disbands in confusion,
when the deaf despise the hearing,
and the night janitor at the Museum of Mad Ideas
wipes with special care
the shatterproof glass under which
Hitler’s voice rages,
and I shed my coat on the ground
and lie down beside her,
as we curl gratefully into each other,
what is real is whatever isfaded, or broken, or falling.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Also, if you've contributed to lo-fidelity and have one of your other works published elsewhere, feel free to tell us about it, we'd love to tell everyone!
Thursday, June 4, 2009
50 to 1 has restarted! If you don't know about it, here's some information from the about page:
an ezine that posts only 50 word stories and first line inspirational sentences that are meant to get the reader hooked into the rest of the story. By limiting our readership to these conventions we hope to liberate them from the terror of writing a short story or a novel and get more stories out into the collective unconsciousness and share the experiences that make us human.
If you have something to say in 50 words or in 1 sentence, please submit it! Also, don't forget to bookmark the site so that you can see the other cool stories that are up there.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
When he was little, Javier Echeverria claimed to have a disease that made it impossible for him to hold it, so he would take it out and urinate whenever he had the urge. In the street, on someone’s porch, in the middle of a park, it happened everywhere. He may have been making up the disease part, but he stuck by his act. We thought it was hilarious when adults caught him peeing on their steps or their walls or their bushes—and went nuts. The little waterboy. He even got a nickname out of it: Regasón. Eventually, he got cured somehow, or decided to give the whole thing up on his own, supposing that it was all just an act. Either way, the name stuck. Even when he was in his forties we still called him Rega.
Rega’s grandfather had been a cacique in a little village just north of Jalpa, you know, down in México. Rich, cruel, and wily—according to what Regasón told us—he came to own several plantations spread over a wide area that had once been cattle country. His laborers were treated little better than slaves, and when the revolution of 1910 broke out they had their revenge. His house and crops were burned, and he and his family were forced to flee. He eventually ended up in the United States, where he ran a dry goods store that failed shortly before he died. After the grandfather’s death, Rega’s father found work in a cotton ginning plant as a laborer, and sold off the remaining merchandise from the store to a couple of Lebanese brothers who were just getting started in the mercantile trade. Rega’s father, Don Ulises, the humble laborer, was a fanatical admirer of Franco and Salazar, and supported sinarquismo in México with small but regular contributions. There were rumors that he had been questioned by the FBI during the war on suspicion of being a German sympathizer. His resentment of the Mexican revolution and the effect it had had on the family’s fortunes ran deep. He never made much money, and Rega was forced to leave school at the age of fifteen. He went to work for the railroad.
I really didn’t see Rega much when he was still working, but word got around that he made good money as a cop for Southern Pacific during those years. He had an accident, and went on disability, but by that time he owned his own house and had four sons. When he started coming around again he was a fat, balding little man—no taller than five-foot-three—roughly my age, that is, in his mid-forties. He was dark as any Indian, but would claim to be pure Vasco. He certainly had the oversized square head which I had come to associate with Vascos, and his grandmother’s maiden name was Ugarte. Of course, many people are ashamed to admit that they are even part Indian, so the truth of his blood was known only to him.
He’d come around the old neighborhood mostly to see Coques, who’d been his best friend when we were kids. Sometimes he would go and see Florencio as well. He was Coques’ older brother. Florencio had married when he was just sixteen. By the time Rega, Coques and I were in our mid-forties, Florencio—we called him Flor—was a full-fledged wino. He used to hang out with some other winos, sitting in the shade of a wall across from the Quality Food Mart, yelling, “Hey Leandro,” at every guy who walked past. All of the winos thought it was funny that Flor called the guys Leandro. He had delicate features and small hands, and his skin was like a baby’s even after years of hard drinking and roaming around in the sun. And then with that girly name—well, I was always expecting that when he finally drank himself to death, or got hit by a bus, we would all be in for a surprise. You know, like the surprise at the end of Grande Sertão: Veredas, which I have to admit I read in Spanish because I don’t know Portuguese, and the Spanish translation is supposed to be the best. Some people just start dressing up their girl and treating her like a boy for kicks, or vice-versa, and it sticks. Maybe they have their reasons.
Our neighborhood—the one that Rega had grown up in, and the one that he had left for a new house on the far Eastside that was poorly built but very affordable—was still my home, and the home of a lot of the guys that we grew up with, Rega and I. That neighborhood, rows of red brick bungalows shaded by Chinese elms that nobody bothered to water or trim, neglected lawns overgrown with feral vines and stubborn weeds, existed on the edge of a faded downtown that the city had outgrown. It was slowly being encroached upon by the spillover of disreputable commercial enterprises. There were plenty of offices without any outward sign of what was going on inside of them, and shady warehouses used to store merchandise of less than legitimate provenance. Ours was the neighborhood that you went to if you needed fake immigration papers or cigarettes without tax stamps. There were also some parasitic social service agencies, always flush with money, but they didn’t actually provide services to anyone but their own staff. Everybody had a con, it seemed to me.
Anyway, Rega would come around, and I’d see him standing out there with Coques, talking to Flor, who would be sitting in his wino spot with his hands shading his eyes, like an effeminate monkey, looking at them, his quart tucked between his legs, and every once in a while yelling, “Hey Leandro,” at some guy walking by. I’d wander over to visit with them, taking a break from my writing, and listen to Rega tell us about his family history or his neighbors on the Eastside or the things he saw when he was working for the railroad. Rega had all kinds of stories about his family, especially his grandfather. He had been Someone, that grandfather, a kind of legendary monster in his salad days—the brother of Pedro Páramo, if you know what I mean. Nothing like my grandfather, a Welsh immigrant who settled in Pachuca and built a cottage and worked for the coal mines. That Regasón, he came from people who could wrestle with the devil!
On one occasion he was showing Coques and Flor something. He had taken it out of his pocket just before I joined them, and at first I thought it was a knife. When he let me have a closer look at it I saw that it was a little flute or whistle made out of a hollow piece of bone. It was yellow and looked just like a segment of turkey leg bone. I was turning it over in my hands, feeling its clean smoothness and the little reed and finger holes that had been carefully carved into it, when Rega said to me with an air of importance, “It was made from a human bone.”
“Ay, ay,” Coques said dismissively.
“Hey, I’m not making this up.”
Flor raised the quart of malt liquor he had been drinking out of a paper bag and saluted a young man who was passing by. “Hey Leandro,” he yelled.
“¡Cálmate, mamón!” Coques said to him.
It was hot standing out there, even in the shade of the wall. It belonged to a warehouse that was being used to store counterfeit Sesame Street toys that some Korean guys were selling wholesale. They left the winos alone, so as not to draw attention to their operation.
I handed the bone flute back to Rega. He put it in his pocket.
One of the winos was opening a new quart. He held it out to me. “Bautizalo,” he mumbled, wheezing. I took a swig and handed it back to him.
“Okay,” I said to Rega. “¿Qué ’s el cuento?”
Rega was ready. A born storyteller, that one.
“My father, you know, he was born when my grandfather was already in his fifties, so he only heard about what happened. He didn’t actually witness it himself. My grandfather had come way down in the world, so he used to love telling about the days when he was so important that he could be a total bastard and nobody could say anything.
“They’re calling him to breakfast, even though the sun is barely peeking over the soft, scrubby hills. He just got back from being out all night drinking with friends. He walks toward the door of the house, past the dusty cypress and two planets of foliage—the sapodillas—wondering what they have prepared for him. He used to eat fragrant strawberries when he was a student, learning arithmetic and reading in Guadalajara, but now it’s beef liver and tortillas and rice. Maybe he could get the cook to grow some melons, or someone could bring him peaches. He has his golden key out (carrying it makes him look like St. Peter), but no, the door is open, the heavy wooden door of this sturdy brick house in the campo, with the huge veranda, just outside what could be called the proper precincts of the village.
“He nods to the young man guarding the door with a rifle and breezes into the warm, stale air of the sala, and on to the dining room where four places are set. His wife is seated at one of them: a soft, exotic beauty— my grandmother—looking more Moorish than Vasco, with dark skin and black eyes. He takes off his gray felt hat, which matches his gray suit nicely, and leans over to embrace her, a chaste embrace. She is younger than he is, though he is by no means old. His thick mustache is still black, his hair is full, and though he is portly he gives an impression of strength. As he seats himself an old woman, one of their most trusted servants, pours his coffee from a pewter service. No sugar, no cream. If he wasn’t so tired he might ask for a little whiskey. In a small basket full of ripe zapotes that sits on the table is a single pear—rare, fleshy, firm, blushing like a fig; he takes it, cuts it in half with a knife and hands a piece of it to his wife. She takes a small dish and places it carefully in the middle. The servant takes the other half and places it on a plate for him. He cuts away the core, like a surgeon, and divides it into several parts that he proceeds to eat with a fork.
“Little son-of-a-bitch, he’s sitting there eating his pear, with his beautiful young wife, when two of his men bring in an old man, worn black by years of laboring in the fields. He is hatless, with a thick mat of white hair, and his gnarled hands are tied with a tough rope. The old man’s clothes are soiled, and there is a deep gash across his forehead.
“He doesn’t speak until he finishes his pear. Then he looks straight at the old man, and asks him, ‘Are you the father of Cipriano Ortiz?’
“The old man just stands there, saying nothing.”
“Hey Leandro,” Flor yelled at a kid with a shaved head.
The kid raised his arms, and yelled, “¿Qué, puto?” back at him.
“Pinche Leandro,” Flor mumbled to himself.
Rega looked annoyed at the interruption. After a moment, he took up the story where he had left it.
“He looks at his men. One of them nods.
“‘You know what to do,’ he says as he reaches for his coffee.
“After they finish him, they bury him in a pit of cal. That way only the bones will be left.
“Almost a year later, and he’s sitting on the veranda of his house, in a nice wooden rocker painted sky blue, smoking a fat cigar and watching the crows gather in the sapodillas. Wiping his fat, sweaty face with an embroidered handkerchief, he wonders when the rains will return. Drought lies over the land, and the streams and waterholes have dried up all the way to Guadalupe Victoria. He hears the sound of horses. There are twenty armed men watching the place, especially the clay hills to the north where volcanic bombs lie strewn about. He’ll have to hire at least thirty more soon. The number of bandits is growing; he doesn’t know how many of his own workers have joined them—defections are increasing every day. The sun is high in the sky, but the roof of the veranda throws enough of a shadow to cover the brick wall that the chair is leaning against. It’s early afternoon, and he’s just had a chicken smothered in gravy, and white rice and frijoles en olla, and he’s letting it all sit for a bit before going back to work. He’s chewing some Black Jack in addition to the cigar. Somewhere, inside of him, the son-of-a-bitch is vaguely aware that he’s developing a toothache in one of his molars. He’s too fond of sweets, and loves a cup of chocolate, no wonder he’s getting fat. What’s he to do? He has to live. And that thick gravy, who can get enough of that?
“He sees two horses ridden by soldiers in uniform. One of them is leading a mule with a tether. A young man, dressed in white cotton trousers and a collarless red shirt, in chains, his head bowed, is mounted on the mule. They are riding toward the house. He smiles.
“As they rein up in front of the veranda, in a cloud of yellow dust, the soldier with a captain’s insignia hails him. Both soldiers dismount, and the corporal helps the young man in chains down from the mule. He shuffles his bare feet as the soldiers pull him by his arms toward the man sitting in a rocking chair. The young man stands there, in front of the delicately carved posts of the wooden veranda, his bare head bowed. He looks like a starved bird.
“The son-of-a-bitch stands up to face the young man—who is still being held under his arms by the soldiers standing on either side of him—and gestures with his cigar.
“‘You look like hell, Cipriano Ortiz. If I were you, I’d at least get someone to cut my hair and give me a shave. When was the last time you washed your face? You must be tired of eating snakes and lizards. What’s wrong? Your men couldn’t drive off a steer from one of the ranches? You weren’t expecting us to be ready for you, but we’ve known what you were up to ever since you shot Don Felipe. We knew you’d come to ground eventually. There’s no water in the north, until you get to the barrancas. There are old Indian settlements, but I don’t know how they survive. I guess that they’re a lot smarter than you are. But you already know that. All that matters is that now you’re waiting for the firing squad. I asked them to bring you up here today because I wanted to see for myself the man who was making all the trouble. Can I offer you a cigarette?’
“Without taking his eyes off Cipriano, he takes a cigarette case out of his coat pocket. He’s still wearing the gray suit. The case is gold-colored and inlaid with mother-of-pearl, something his wife picked up for him in Zacatecas. He extracts a fragrant American cigarette and puts it in Cipriano’s mouth. Cipriano spits it out.
“‘Well, I see you don’t want to smoke. Suit yourself. Let me at least offer you all something to drink. And then you can water the animals over there.’ He gestures toward the corrals, and crushes the cigar out on the slatted wooden floor of the veranda with his boot.
“Then, before turning toward the door to call the maid, he adds, ‘Hey, Cipriano, I met your father a while back. He said you played the chirimía. I thought that you might be needing one to play while you wait for your date with the angels—or maybe it’s the Other Guy you’ll be meeting soon. I hope you like it, the chirimía, I mean. I had it made especially for you. Your father may be hobbling around in hell because of it, but I’m sure he doesn’t mind. After all, it was he who raised such a clever boy.’”
A guy was sitting in a black Trans-Am in the parking lot of the Quality Food Mart playing the radio. Chico Che’s “Tons Que Mami,” blaring through the neighborhood. Hah! Just the other day Josie was complaining that nobody listens to that kind of music anymore. She was saying that everybody just wants Norteñas, which she derisively calls “that tuba music.” Flor had fallen asleep, and was lying on the pavement with his arms outspread and his mouth wide open, snoring loudly. His four wino companions, sitting in a line against the wall like prisoners, were almost there as well.
“No, Rega,” I said to him, shaking my head, already turning back toward my house. “I just can’t believe it. It’s just too much. Like that disease you supposedly had when you were a kid. No, man. I don’t buy it. Take your flute and your story with you back to the Eastside. It’s just too weird.”
Rega put his hand on my shoulder.
“Think about it, bro. Cipriano is sitting in some little jail, watched over by the soldiers. I think he’s playing the chirimía that my grandfather gave him. He’s playing his father’s favorite song, the one that welcomes San Sebastian’s festival. On the day he is finally brought before the firing squad, he tells the captain to take the flute back to the son-of-a-bitch since he won’t be needing it anymore. My grandfather keeps it, so he can brag about what he did to Cipriano and his father. But Cipriano, he doesn’t care. He plays that little flute in spite of what my grandfather has done. He knows he’ll have the last laugh. My grandfather, his house is burned to the ground by Cipriano’s men. He flees México, and never sees his village again.”
Flor, crucified on the pavement, stuck out his tongue and moaned. He seemed to wake for a moment and looked around confusedly. I was still skeptical, but shook Rega’s hand in a friendly way. I nodded to Coques, with an ironic expression on my face, but before I was able to take my leave, Flor managed to say something.
“Hey Leandro,” he whispered in a voice of infinite weariness, before sinking back into blackness.