The wild light of dusk laid everywhere, permeating the gaps between buildings and forcing itself high across the bowl of the sky so that one felt weighted down with all the colors, filled in with the sun’s last stand on this face of the earth. He’d left his uncle in his office closing down the day’s accounts and nursing a beer sacked from the small fridge he kept below his desk. He fingered the small sheath of bills he’d received and thought of nothing than getting more somehow. Why did he need the money again? He thought, but couldn’t recall beyond that one always needed money, that above all else it was the lubricant working at all turns of life. Maybe, if he could find Talia at home, he could hit her up and then go to Zoom-Bi-Aye a to hear the reggae band and find some smoke, maybe find a girl. He knew Talia would throw him a fuck, but she was busted. That’s why she always had some money for him, because she was in love with him and had a job, but he’d rather stay horny than lay with her. He’d done her in for a couple times, but it was out of pure desperation and he wasn’t that hard up yet. The few times he’d just flipped her right over anyways, couldn’t even stay hard looking at that horse face of hers.
He tossed the Styrofoam cup of Nescafe over the break wall into the foamy water where it bobbed on a plume of the off-yellow spume with the other detritus, put his hands inside his thin coat against the wind and set off up the rails between the old marina and the outer highway. His anger at his uncle boiled around with his admiration for him; it was difficult slurry to stomach let alone understand. He’d gotten something off him in the end and that’s what mattered, he reassured himself, but couldn’t shake the feeling that the jig was up with his uncle too, like his mother, that somehow he’d abused a trust that want quick in the mending. Fuck it, he made mantra, he would get out of the city soon.
The sea took on a steely gray as a cloudbank passed overhead with its pregnant, distant thunder accompanied by the frigates and vultures riding the thermals it shed. The boy felt the pressure of the low system and quickened his step against the rain that was sure to come. He felt like a chimera, a fakery amid the real stakes of the living vortex, playing a false role in a game of chance where dice are the bones of the earth and skin is sky stretched off towards infinity. His hurried steps became their own circadian rhythm beat out on the sidewalk a cumbia of want and waste, mocking his own shattered internal tempo; nervous and concerned with unhappy things like money and addiction. At the roundabout intersecting the port road and Niño Hernan, he paused again to eat, this time at a ubiquitous hotdog stand. This is all I’m going to eat on the other side, he championed to himself, hotdogs and hamburgers like a real American, fat and fed, happy on the processed and faked – a comfortable part of the simulation, disregarding effect or early demise at the self-hands of imbibed preservatives, mummified from within the gut and sanctuary of the unseen intestinal snake shed shell and tail eating whilst advising apple slices to the fig leafed immortals soon to be cast out to the streets under a steel sky saying rain. He would fit in without the language, be comfortable in a closet-like room of someone’s overly partitioned suburban nightmare, and succeed in the greatest cons of them all, the con of himself into believing the dream that either never existed or had come to pass in all its monstrous glory long ago. He would find a way to make it happen, even if it meant killing. He would kill to get there, kill himself or kill the world.
After three hotdogs wrapped in bacon he felt better about the whole situation, and wiping the relish from his mouth corners he handed over a third of what his uncle had given him and started off again, this time up an alley that bisected Zaragoza. That was the problem, he surmised, you couldn’t make shit here in this place. A third of his wages for a few lousy hotdogs and people expect you to make a family here, a life of some sort out of these pittances doled out usually by relatives, even loved ones, that purport to support but in reality drag you deeper into the cycle of this country of cowards. That’s what he thought now, all of us cowards made thieves and liars by the reproductive virus of education and national identity, complicit in our own demise like a child roped into shoplifting and left to take the brunt when the store clerk’s mitt clamps down on the shoulder and the accomplices scatter for the safety and freedom of the dispossessed.
The hotdogs rumbled in his stomach and bile rose in his throat as he continued his self-composed hard time, slamming is steps down the sidewalk and glaring at everyone he passed. Fuck it, he thought, everything is broken so he’d break it more, contribute his birdsong to the hymn of destruction and waste that’d become the patria. He’d find Talia and get her dough, maybe stick it to her for the sake of it, just to bind her closer to him, to enslave her further, to ensure she’d be there when he needed her. The inspiration hit him then like a brick to the forehead. That’s it! He could fleece the crossing money for the coyote from her. She made bank at her shitty work, and he knew she’d been saving up for some fantasy wedding to a man she’d never meet. She’d have it hidden away of course, keep him from it, and even guard its secret stash place with everything she had. She was a good little woman who knew how to squirrel money like any old ruka, but he’d get it out of her. He hoped he’d have to beat it out of her, you know, just to go through with it like he’d thought so many times when he’d see her and she’d be wallowing in her over and lust for him. He could hope, and he did, fantasizing it out to the last grasps and words of ‘there it is, over there.’
He’d have to get the money like that; there was no other way. A couple of weeks before an opportunity had presented itself for him to sell some information he had on some people, what they’d done and why and to whom, but he’d turned it down flat. Of all the bad shit anyone had ever called him; he’d never been a rat. He’d been picked up a few times, held at the station, spent some nights in the jail – even enough to have his friend come and drop off some smokes for him (guy even brought a couple skin mags which he’d ended up pawning off on some of the longer stay gents for more smokes and a toot or two) – for petty shit which he never felt sorry for, and he’d even done a couple bigger jobs for which he’d been promptly screwed over for, but through all it he’d never turned rat, never stood on the balcony and yelled, as they say. He wasn’t that guy. He’d rather die than be that guy, and knew people who’d oblige or had been obliged upon for just such kind of behavior. No, he thought, I’d never turn, even for a lump. Better to get it off the sheep than turn against the pack, dogs have to run together. That’s how he thought of himself then, as a predator amongst prey, a divine righted maniac amongst the foolish and rich, a hydra amidst single-headed lollipop people, quicker than them and hungrier too. The boy liked to think of himself as very ready, as his uncle used to call a certain brand of criminal, though he didn’t color it with the same negative connotations. The boy imagined himself privy to the ululations of a deep program below world crust, embedded in the dynamic magma of a realm beyond the ken of normalcy, only reachable by the honed reactionaries of an age old yet nonetheless studied constituency whose job or calling seems base and specious to the frail mainstream, but whose arrangements bank against a coming fall from which none except the most ready will be spared. If they wish to raze this land, the boy considered, I would meet them in the ruble with my frame and poke intact, and with knives drawn against their scrawny necks.
He decided to part with a little bit more of what he’d gotten off his uncle in order to procure the bus uptown to the slightly more favorable neighborhood in which Talia lived with her parents, who he hoped weren’t home. Not that they would stop me from getting it over on her, the by assured himself, but I don’t feel like leaving the old man in a pool just right now. Better to be in and out quick so I could be done and back before Tino gets off from the bar. He hoped to score a beer or two with Tino as he was shutting down the kitchen. Then again, if he was going to go for the whole walk with Talia like he’d planed, maybe it would be better if her bosses were there, probably had a lump lying around he could pry from them if he lay in hard enough. Then again, her old man had been a dock hand in his day and though wouldn’t present the boy with any problem should it come down to it, he probably would have to get messy with him before he divulged anything worthwhile. Worth the risk either way, the boy considered, and started out of the alley up Zaragoza to where the bus stop stood crooked against the relatively planed sidewalk.
The bus’ hydraulics screeched and the suspension bucked as he stepped and the driver started off before he had both feet on the first of three steep steps leading up to the bus’ compartment. The seats were taking so he stood with a hand loosely propped against the overhead rail, his bicep flexing as he compensated for his own swaying weight as the bus meandered at break neck velocity through the serpentine causeways of the city’s south end. Talia lived all the way on the other side of the city, passed the tourist zone and marina out towards the bull-fighting arena. As the bus passed the central market, the majority of the people disembarked and he grabbed an empty seat near the front. He took to staring out the window looking for pretty girls and generally zoning out to the urban rhythm of the route, swaying with the constant lull and push of the buses’ worn shocks, the patterned hiss of the hydraulic breaks, and the smell of the diesel burning from the limitless tailpipes, escaping into the mid-level stratus of the pedestrian sphere. He always felt at ease riding the bus, better than walking, and although routinely pined for a car, he kept that notion in the column of things that would be his once he got his due.
The boy felt owed by the world. For what, he asked always to remind himself; for the pain and suffering, for the magnesium light of abuse, underhanded snipes of footless angels who never have tread the earthly wastelands, and for the shame of being. The boy saw life as a reason to hate, a reasonable irk against every living thing one could possibly encounter, as if the world had already succumbed to entropy and laid in permutations of post-post-apocalyptic nightmare landscapes of fused slag and agents shedding selves in shattered mania. He’d heard that the previous generation had been all about peace and love. Well, he thought, so then my generation is all about hate. Who taught us? It doesn’t matter, he concluded, grinning against the sun through squinted eyes, we know in our deep heart of hearts that hate is the new way.
He watched he city roll by outside the dingy window glass and marveled at the changes he could hold in comparison to his memory of these places. The new strip malls and shopping centers, the changing names of storefronts, shifting facades of some old buildings gutted and remodeled, the widened streets, the new skate park, the old theater being torn down, the abandoned veterans hospital burned to a skeletal framework with carbon black latticework still standing amidst the crumbling wreckage, the insectile towers of the new condos which lay empty still since the economic crisis started and the retirees never came – the English billboards with smiling old white people now gone faded and sun bleached, the new color mocking the faux coral of the buildings themselves, speaking to the dream differed. Too much gawking and the boy shut his eyes against the rolling, endlessly unfolding landscape as it began to make him nauseous. He rubbed his sockets with open palms and took to staring at the textures vinyl of the seat upholstery. He looked out once more to gain his bearings, realizing he’d ridden past the stop that would put him off near Talia’s neighborhood, and instinctively grabbed for the stop chord which had generally been removed from the buses some months ago, replaced with little red button switches embedded in the hand rails every few feet. He got out of his seat and found one of the buttons, but it made no chime when depressed. “Stop!” he yelled, “Stop here.” The bus driver glared at him but directly pulled over and he disembarked with the same half-jump he mounted with, the bus raring away before he was fully on the ground. “Fuck your mother!” he shouted as the bus reentered traffic leaving him in a cloud of diesel exhaust at the side of the road.
Backtracking to the entrance to Talia’s neighborhood he passed the entrance to one of the newest gated communities built within the last couple years with the armed guards standing outside their small towers, the whitewashed stucco of the twelve foot security wall topped with razor wire, and the cookie-cutter houses snaking neatly along the cul-de-sacs sprawled inwards amid landscaped lakes and grassy hillocks. In there’s some of the only grass in the city, the boy reflected, probably use half the areas groundwater for the sprinkler systems, and you’d wonder if they ever take note as they pile the brats into the luxury cars that they live right next to the city’s biggest slum. Probably not, the boy surmised. Who’d care to think about stink when you live amongst the roses, and while the stark contrast festered affronting urbanites riding past these gates and thoroughfares on their daily commutes, castle dwellers don’t notice the stink of town because their walls are so high. It is only when the plague rotting bodies are catapulted over the parapets that one could hope to reach those who’ve used their wealth to separate further from the sweaty source of their success.
Talia’s neighborhood lay on the other side of the compound, in a fairly respectable enclave raised out of an old tract of communal grazing land gone swampy after developers dredged the neighboring canal to fill in the swamp occupying what now was the private compound. Funny how landscapes change, the boy mused. How, when he was a child, another canal lay behind his house where he and his brothers used to swim and play, routinely hauling out the café clams and stranger mollusks buried there for their mother to steam up with some chili sauce. Now though, the city stretched off beyond their house for another few kilometers, and beyond the neighboring town now teetered dangerous close to being engulfed by the ever-sprawling metropolitan area. Fine by me, the boy clinched, let them stack up their city until it choked them with their own stench, their own garbage filled in for a foundation held together by the amassed effluvia of transcendent generations mutating in the dim dawn of a world torn from within itself, shrieking air devoured by the crushing silence of space in which it spins apart.
He rounded down the first side street he came to, pausing to look at the tile of the corner house. The pattern mesmerized the boy as he saw it cascading in on itself for what seemed like an eternity. It reminded him of walking through a mirrored hallway where you could glimpse your body replicated ad infinitum albeit fragmented along a decreasing meridian diagonal from your vantage. Once he even saw a drawing where men walked cattycorner stairways leading back on themselves as if on appointments to meet each other, or they were the same man walking the same stairs in different times or worlds, destined to meet back up at some point or moment of convergence, some singularity naked and obscene in the exacting light of the point where beings of the same hewn converge. What light would it emit, he wondered, or what darkness towed in on ochre wings burnt out like a lace gusset donned in flames, extinguishing slowly through the frames of day broke eyes soured to the salty face of the sea. He wondered if the city would be that in the future, a stair to nowhere on which walkers strand themselves amongst others, never talking to break the disparity of their liminal orbit, never shot through with the gleam of their own futile romp through the trenches of existence, laughing at the cosmic joke we’re all stranded inside. No, he thought, there would be no perfect-hinged landscape such as that city in his head. Everything moves with its own fatal force upon an unknowable axis and to think up a future structure is to kill off the very mind you rely upon to navigate the wet work fugue of waking life.
He could see Talia’s house now and the rusted out, flat bronze Oldsmobile of her father’s sitting out front on bulging tires, its roof baking in the sun sending quavering heat haze up into the air like slowly undulating fingers or tentacles of some abyssal dweller. Good, he thought, the old man is home. Now I’ll really get paid off. No more of her skimpy hand outs and pouted leers, I’m going to take that old man for what he’s got and walk out of there proud and ready to hand over for a pass across that river, out of this hell and into the land of freedom. That’s how it would go too, he rehearsed to the loamy street air shot through with sea tang, smooth as the silk shirts they sold down at the market with designs down the front and price tags beyond his depth or pocket. He couldn’t remember if Talia’s brother was grown yet. He was always at school when he’d come by before, and the last time he saw him he thought he was nothing but a squeek pressed about the walls of the house by the passing of adults, an inconsequence at best. Nothing to worry about then because he knew the old man would be a pushover. Only have to deal with Talia’s crazy ass first, he ruminated spitting in the dusty gutter as he shuffled along towards the car fronting the single story blocked out building with the fleur-de-lis iron railings on the windows and the prominent bougainvillea choking out the left armature of the squat front wall.
At the curb out front of the small house he paused and replaced one of his thread worn sneaks, cuffing his jean leg as he rose to survey the sparse, weed laced lawn fronting the main walk. He decided to go around to the side and see if he could peep some into the windows, see what was what. At the adjacent low brick of the stucco wall separating Talia’s from the neighbor’s lot, he came up on the window right off and peering through the slant where the inside curtain curled away he could spy Talia’s father sitting at the table reading a paper with a cigarette dished out next to him smoldering in the half light cast around from a mirror-walled skyway cut into the ceiling above them and fitted with a dirty front of plastic glass. He bent around some more trying to scope out Talia’s whereabouts when he heard a voice from behind him, sharp and curt. “Hey! What are you doing here?” He turned and faced her then, hands shooting for his pockets involuntarily, eyes coming up from beneath the concrete to meet hers as they already shot through with a nice mix of surprise and loathing. “I told your ass not to come around here.”
“Hey Talia. I was just walking by. I thought you might be home.”
“Like hell you were just walking by. You live way out from here you don’t think I know. You’re here because you want something. What? Money? What? I haven’t got shit this month. You stole from me two weeks ago and my dad needed some dough to keep the net going. I have to pay for my little brother’s cell phone too, that fucking punk, so no I don’t have anything for you. Get out of here too, before they see you.”
“Your brother has a cell? Since when, isn’t he a kid?”
“Manuel, a kid? Listen, I don’t know what the fuck you expect here, but you need to get out of here.” She moved back then and the boy reached over, taking up her arm by the soft fleshy part above the elbow, squeezing it hard.
“Ouch, you bastard I’ll…”
“Don’t yell. Oh no, don’t yell my love,” the boy crooned. You’re going inside with me and introduce me to your father. Its time to pay my dowry.”
“What? You fucking asshole let go of me!”
“That’s right, you’re going to tell him were getting married and we need money for the wedding.”
“Your fucking crazy you know that, you’re…” He squeezed harder and she gasped high with the intake of breath, rolling her eyes about in her sockets, and lolling her head from side to side. He could feel her nerving herself up, steeling to do some action against him so he twisted her elbow back up towards her ear and bent down to her ear.
The shot came as he did so, although he did not hear it.
For a moment he still held Talia up in an awkward position, still had her in a chicken wing with his neck turned down so his face bent towards her ear. Half way down his back the T-shirt was shreded, tendrils of it mixed with blood and stuff from inside. A chunk was missing from his back where the blast hit him, and there a mixed up stratigraphy bloomed downwards like a crevice in the earth. Talia’s brother stood with the shotgun hovering slowly down in his hands, his boyish face set in a tight line. In a quicksand her father slammed open the screen, stumbling outside in his foul socks with a look of uncomprehending horror mounting all his features. Talia began to move backwards away from the boy, freeing her arm in a swim motion that pitched him forward off his last up-reaching axis. He hits the ground with a warm thud, turning slightly so his face tilts upwards toward the sky, towards Talia’s face. They look at each other then, for the first time, and her scream fills the cool night, erasing it in an instant like a bolt of lightning whose flash hangs sizzling in the air.Tags: fiction, Short Story, the breadman, violence, youth, Zev Gottdiener