“You Inheritors”

Here is a piece I wrote for LOVE NAIL TREE during the spring of 2013. It was originally published here.

You Inheritors

Rebecca finds her mother in tears. They live in a tiny apartment where they eat rice, beans, and week-old bread for dinner most nights. Rebecca has two t-shirts, one pair of pants, and one pair of shorts. Her shoes have holes in them, as do every pair of her socks. She has never owned a new hairbrush. Mother weeps because of a note she has read. She pulls her daughter close and hugs her. There will be one train without a search, she says. Nobody is supposed to know, but this will be our chance. Mother is not crying out of pain or sorrow, but out of joy. The family will get to move to America after all.

Continue reading ““You Inheritors””

“Hamartia”

“We’re finally vacationing,” Mother said while drying off another dish. “It’ll be nice. A fresh break. We need those. Everybody does but especially us.”

Father was standing there, his right arm propping his body up against the counter. He looked calm, like it might not have been his plan after all, and that the surprise of vacationing really might have been something providential.

Scotty and Max had the hose running outside. It was summer, and after supper they still had plenty of light to burn. They were playing, but when Father stops hearing their laughter but still hears the water running through the pipes below the house, he knows they’ve returned to Mrs. Jensen’s hornets nest on the side yard.

“Alan, the boys are at it again,” said Mother with a sigh. She was placing dishes in their cupboards. “Well? Aren’t you going to do anything?”

Father spreads the kitchen drapes with two fingers and peers out. The lawn is glistening, the planters flooded. Mrs. Jensen’s clothesline is bare but he is pretty sure that has nothing to do with the boys. He finds the faucet down below and the bright green hose that is connected to it looks like a green rubber band pulled taught around the side of the house.
“No,” Father said. He lets the drapes fall back. “They’re boys. Boys do these kinds of things.”

“I understand that,” said Mother. “But those boys have the hose pointed straight at that poor old woman’s house. Who knows what could happen. She has that collection of pottery she likes to keep on the front porch. One blast of water and…”

“I know,” said Father quietly. He looked at the ground and took a deep breath. He lessened his grip on the countertop. “Just let them realize what their actions mean. They have to learn at some point, and better here than anywhere else.”

“Well I just don’t like them poking around other people’s things is all,” Mother said. “Just ain’t right.”

A voice from outside carried through the window. It wasn’t Scotty, or Max. It was deeper, older. A man’s voice.

“Who was that?” Mother said. “Sounds like it was saying your name.”

Father walked through the kitchen, into the dinning room, past the old leather chair, and pushed open the front screen door.

“Alan,” came the voice again. It was Mr. Davis from across the street. He was yelling and swatting the air.

Father could see a trail of water that went from Mrs. Jensen’s side yard out into the street, across the far sidewalk, and up onto Mr. Davis’ front lawn. There were three paper grocery bags laying sideways on the driveway. A head of lettuce rolled out onto the lawn.

“Alan stop them!” said Mr. Davis.

“Stop who? Hey what’s going on Jim?”

“Stop the boys, Alan. The boys!”

Father looked again at the trail of water and noticed that the hose was not taught as before but was detached and sliding quickly across the street. He ran through the front yard and into the street just as Mrs. Jensen, with the six o’clock sun in her eyes, was about to swing into her driveway.

Father gasped and felt the weight of the car lift him into the air. His right shoulder sunk into the windshield and he felt his body cartwheel over the rest of the car and fall like a burlap of bricks into the street in front of his house.

Mrs. Jensen, surprised by the sudden impact of something heavy on her windshield swung her steering wheel the wrong direction and scurried up Mr. Davis’ driveway, running over a bag of groceries and slamming into the back of his pickup.

By then, Mr. Davis was halfway down the street and still swatting away Mrs. Jensen’s hornets.

Father groaned. He looked at Mrs. Jensen’s car and tried to see if she moved. There was an airbag out. He tried to stand but felt a knife-like pain shoot through his right arm. He let it dangle, lifeless. Probably broken. He tried using his other arm and with the curb managed to stand, but when he tried to walk he felt more pain run from his right knee up the side of his body. He collapsed from the intensity. “Mary!” he yelled, and in seconds mother came running from the house.

At the sight of Father, Mrs. Jensen’s car, the hose water, and Mr. Davis, she stopped suddenly and glared at Father.

He looked at her eyes and then down at the grass below her feet. “I know,” he sighed. “I know.”

Tactile Tuesday: Context in Relation to Words We Can Touch

Wet.

Greasy.

Burnt.

Raw.

Bedroom.

When you read these words separately, what comes to mind? What comes to mind when you read them together?

Some words stand on their own, as these can. They are special, and they are to be used sparingly. Words like these can lead us somewhere, usually to an experience we’ve had, be it negative, positive, boring, etc. We may not think in single words like these, but when we read them we feel. We bring memories into stories, articles, and statements that weren’t directly stated. And who said we could do that anyway?

Well, nobody did. That is the power of words. They make us remember.

More often than tangible words that can stand on their own, though, are those we find formed in groupings of words (or, sentences). In written works, without the context brought by other sentences, paragraphs, and backstories, a word pregnant with tangibility will go unnoticed and won’t evoke the kind of emotion the writer is seeking to draw out (that is, if the writer is attempting to evoke an emotion at all). This means context is critical.

Any writer will tell you that context drives the way words are read, perceived, and experienced as a whole. Without context, certain words aren’t worth anything. They fall flat. They are empty.

Consider the way the otherwise simple words “slippery,” “sponge,” and “sweat” are used in the following paragraph and note the senses that are woken by their usage:

The heavy sun looms in the west when he wakes. His sleeping mat is slippery beneath his body and his brow is a sponge. His eyes are flooded with sweat. Waking to warmth sets him in a daze, and for several minutes he does not move, soaking under the soft blanket of humidity caught beneath the tarp above.

How have you experienced the way a word, or a word within a context of others, has evoked emotion from you? What did it, or they, do to you? Were they from novels, articles, blogs, a twitter feed? Please share!

In the future I hope to share more of my personal experiences with words, but I felt setting a foundation for those posts was necessary. Hope you enjoyed!

Free-flow Friday: Saturday Afternoon, pt. 1

I didn’t plan to get up for at least an hour. A nap, or whatever.

I heard Aaron come in. He is not hard to know when he comes home, always singing up the stairway.

I couldn’t make out the lyrics. He creaked to the top of the stairs and I knew that he was looking around at the top of the stairs to see if anyone was in the living room. There weren’t. Only me in my bed, still wearing my converse and jeans.

He came down the hall and peaked in.

I flipped around.

“Sup!”

He jumped.

I laughed.

“What are you… oh, I’m sorry, were you sleeping?”

“Just napping. Not feeling too sick anymore, just wanted to rest. I saw Lincoln. Such a good movie. Saw it with Proctor.”

“Don’t you just want to be Lincoln now?”

“The way that Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed him, Lincoln, reminded me so much of my dad. His mannerisms.”

“Yeah, and your dad has the same soft voice. High pitch.”

“Yeah, and the way he slouches. Just, my dad isn’t political or quick to correct anyone when they’re wrong…”

“And he doesn’t tell stories out of nowhere,” he let out a signature, boisterous Aaron Delani laugh. Shrill, with a tone of disingenuousness that still has a way of remaining sincere.

He was wearing denims with holes in scattered places. His weekend jeans. And a denim jacket over his yellow hoodie, and a somewhat matching yellow beanie that was rolled back past his ears.

“No,” I said quietly. “My dad doesn’t tell many stories.” I smiled and reflected, staring up at the slats above, cradling Delani’s bed. “So,” I started. “You didn’t get your donut did you.”

“No. What the hell.”

“I know.” I said. “I know, I was pissed.”

“You? No… I was pissed!”

“I think I know who did it too.”

He looked at me blankly.

“Okay, so,” I said, knowing I had his attention. I didn’t want to reveal the answer just yet. I let suspense fill the room. “Last night, I left the box in the kitchen. Everybody knew it was my box. Nobody would have, or should have touched it.”

“Right,” he said.

“Right, so we were all watching a movie. ‘Jumanji,'” I said, looking at him in the eye. “Now, afterward I went into the kitchen to look through the donut box. And do you know what I found?

“What?”

“Gone. Empty. Your donut stolen from right in front of me. In my own home.”

He laughed again, but softer, more concerned.

“So, Slavin…”

The Aaron Delani laugh bellowed into the room again.

“No no, it wasn’t him. After I saw that your donut was gone I walked into the living room. Slavin and Jared were still there. Everyone else had left. I announce to them that your donut was stolen and Slavin looks up at me and says that he might have a clue as to who took it. Go on, I told him, so he said that David, you know…”

“Yeah, wait, is he the guy in your writing group?”

“Yes.”

He grunted. “I never liked that guy.”

“Well wait, hold on, we don’t know for sure that he did it.”

“I know. I’m just saying that when I met him I didn’t like him.”

“Fair enough. So anyway, Slavin says that David is notorious for stealing people’s wine. Like, he takes people’s wine without asking. Which, he did last night by taking Tommy’s. Tommy just looked at Slavin like a victim. I could tell he was pissed. He kept barraging David with remarks and questions, and at the time I had no idea. I was thinking of ways to stick up for him. But the whole time he’d freely poured himself a glass of Tommy’s wine, like he lives here. Anyway, Slavin said that at some point in the movie David got up and went into the kitchen. Normal, right? Nobody noticed. I didn’t notice. About five minutes later he comes out licking his fingers.” I emulated licking my fingers.

“But we don’t know for sure.”

“Right we don’t, but that’s what we’re going on.”

We both stared into space for another moment.

He pulled out his phone.

I stared vaguely at the grayish-blue painted wall. I was still covered. Plenty warm.

“I just,” I continued. “I never took him for that kind of person, you know? He’s always so damn polite. He’s a great conversationist, always super polite and gives people chances to speak. Like in the writing group he’s never domineering the conversation or preferring only to hear one side or anything. Just a normal, polite guy.”

“And he is. That’s what I remember when I first met him.”

“But the jerk stole a donut from me. Your donut! Who said he could do that? Why would he do that? I was taken completely aback. Caught off guard, you know? I’m not angry with him, just shocked.”

“Well I’m angry that I didn’t get my donut.”

“Me too, absolutely. Angry at the injustice and shocked at David. I still can’t believe it.”

Another moment passed.

“Well,” Delani said, “I need some caffeine. Going to the Night Owl and then gonna take some pictures, then off to Buena Park for a birthday party for my niece’s friend.”

“A birthday party for your niece’s friend?”

“Her parents are good friends of the family. It’s not weird. Trust me.

“Okay.”

“Want to come? To the Night Owl for coffee, I mean?”

“Yeah, I ain’t getting any sleep any time soon.”

“Then you better get’cher ass up.” He laughed.

I threw the blanket away and stood up, straightening my pants and then reaching down for my belt on the floor. As I pulled it through the loops I thought about David again. I spoke out loud:

“It’s a good story you know? A guy I trusted, carpooled out to donuts with, sat in traffic, had a much less awkward conversation with than I thought I would. Found all of my good suspicions in his agreeableness to be confirmed. And then BAM, he steals a donut. The unexpected thief.”

Delani walked down the hall. It was four o’clock.

I followed and we ducked into the kitchen. The floors were bleach-white and the kitchen still looked like Marcella had just been by to clean. I looked at the donut box and flipped it open. Two half eaten donuts.

“Want the second half of mine? It was the same as yours, a umm…” I searched for the name of the donut, snapping my fingers and jogging my memory.

“Bavarian cream,” he said. “No, I’m good.”

I took a bite, the apparent cream from Bavaria bulging out as my jaw closed upon the baked dough. “You sure?” I mumbled.

He hesitated.

“Come on.”

He took the donut into his hand and closed his teeth over the donut. He set the remainder back in the box and stepped back. “Mmmmmm, God that’s so good.”

“Wish I could have given you your own. Sorry again.”

“Dude, it wasn’t your fault.” He looked at my red sweater. “You should get a jacket. It’s cold as a mutha-fugga out there.”

“Really? Even colder than in here? Even colder than the inside of the Whiting?”

He nodded, and I went into the hall and threw another coat on. It was denim, but a little different than Delani’s and I thought for a second about how it might look if we both wore denim.

Downtown with Delani: Brunch, Pipe Dreams, and UI terminology

Dream-traveler, Aaron Delani.

“Brunch?”

He nodded.

I’d never been to the 5 Cent Diner before, but my roommate Les had. He said it was the kind of place you go to get comfort food, and that probably a lot of people go there after partying the night before. Probably to get rid of their hangovers, he said. Les is a personal fitness trainer.

Delani and I walked one block west to Main and two blocks north just past Fifth. There were a dozen people meandering out front and I pointed at them and shrugged, knowing our impending wait.

Delani shrugged back.

We went up to the host and asked about the wait. The dining room was a scene out of a Hollywood film set in the fifties. Great red booths, signs advertising hot dogs for seventeen cents (and five cents extra for chili). Black and white photos. Black and white tile flooring.

I saw the host mouth “fifteen minutes,” to which Delani shrugged again and put in his name.

Outside we meandered with the crowd.

“Want to grab coffee?”

“Sure, but I just put in my name.”

“Yeah.”

The host walked out and called a name. No takers, only people looking around at each other. He went back inside.

“Well, we could get coffee here, I mean. We could ask them if we could get a cup while we’re waiting. They let us do that when I lived in Portland.”

“Oh yeah, that’s a good idea.”

The host returned and called another name. Still nothing. I looked at Delani.

“Okay, Delani, party of two?” The host was looking at us.

I tried not to make a face as we followed him inside. He sat us two tables from the door, and I sat with my back to it. A bus boy took our coffee order and a waiter straightened our silverware and rattled off three or four specials.

I nodded at him and said thanks.

“Good. My name’s Travis if you need anything.”

“What looks good man?”

“Wait, hold on,” Delani said. I gave a quizzical look and he removed his phone from his pocket. He unlocked it and opened up an app called Pro Recorder. He hit the red button, set his phone on the table, and locked it again.

 

He was telling me a story from the fire escape right outside the laundry room about a journalist named “Lulu” who worked for NPR. She had apparently followed a couple for three years. At first she caught them on the road while they were touring on bicycles across America. They were to be married shortly after the trip.

“And?”

“Well, I don’t want to ruin it for you.”

“Okay, well I’m going to have to listen to it.”

“Yeah, it was on Radio Lab. The latest one. You should listen to it.”

“I will look it up tomorrow morning.”

He hesitated, fumbling the contents of his pockets. “Okay, so basically later in her story the guy said he didn’t know if he believed in God, which caused rifts in their relationship. After Lulu caught up with them again, well…”

“Oh come on,”

“Okay, well the girl gave him back his ring. It was like a year or so later when she got this second part of the story.”

“Wow. Bummer for him. Gah, I can’t imagine.”

“Yeah, you should listen to the rest. But the whole reason I brought it up was to mention how much I love how Radio Lab uses real-life sounds, like cars driving by, or cash registers opening, or people talking.”

“Isn’t that great? It adds so much.”

“Yeah, it’s like we’re there. We are watching a story instead of hearing it.”

“It’s always been a dream of mine to record something like that. You know, write a story and splice it with sound-bytes. I wanted to call it Radio Drama, but I think people would get the wrong idea.”

“Dude, we can. We can definitely do it.”

 

I found myself talking like I knew there was a recorder on my voice. The room was loud. Forks hitting plates, servers shuffling chairs, orders being taken. It was perfect, and it was ordinary. Probably too loud for the recorder, which was perfect.

Delani got the corned beef hash and I got a sausage and peppers scramble. We ordered a helping of pancakes and watched the syrup drip along the butter oozing out the sides and swim around the plate. Travis casually returned several times, asking questions he knew the answers to and topping off our coffee. He made sure our food was just right. He was earning his tip, and I appreciated his effort more than we needed his service. Truth was that he could have visited us four times and our food would have tasted the same. Once to greet, once to take our order, once to deliver food, and once to drop the check.

 

Three blocks north, just before Second, we stopped off at Groundworks for more coffee and a quiet place to talk about my website. An old church with gargoyles loomed above from across the street. Its cleanliness and carefully tended overgrowth meant that, for downtown Los Angeles, it wasn’t a church anymore. In fact, it had become an events center.

I bought a double espresso and Delani bought another cup of coffee. We moved the umbrella outside above our table and settled in. Distant sounds of voices and car motors boomed across the buildings.

Delani brought out his journal, and when he did I wondered if his phone was still recording. It had been at least thirty minutes. Talking. Bill dropping. Payment.Walking further up Main street. More coffee being ordered. An umbrella moving. Two guys joking. Delani’s journal slapping the metal table in front of us.

We started in and Delani flipped a switch. Suddenly, I was either his client, or his pupil. Mostly, I knew I was his friend. He cared this much to get business-y. He explained user interface terminology to me like “site-map,” “platform” and “intuitive design.” Under his tutelage I nodded, and under the umbrella we drew up elaborate plans.

A “landing page” is where people go when they type in a domain name. Like when you type in “www.google.com” and get a field by which to search the entire world wide web. Imagine that.

“So,” He said. “How would you describe yourself right now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at what we’ve drawn here.”

I looked at boxes and words I’d scratched into his journal with his pencil.

“You mean for aaron green stories dot com?”

“Yes, but also, who are you right here and now? What do you want to say?”

“I am a writer living in downtown Los Angeles.”

“That’s perfect.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s all you need. Think more simply. People can navigate wherever they want on your site. But you can’t give it all to them at once. We’re designing a pathway. Give them too little and they won’t know what to do. They’ll just go check their email or type out a text. Give them too much and they won’t come back. They’ll go check their email and won’t remember to go back to your site.”

Building a website, especially for an artist, is a course in human psychology. Or so I learned.

Delani spoke my vision into tangible UI terms and turned my sketches into a palpable, realistic, and attractive website.

I had no idea any of this was necessary, but I knew something had to be done. As I writer, I knew my job was to write. But I also knew my job was to keep an eye out for people who would know how to market my writing. So far, nobody knew I was a writer. Part of me didn’t care if anyone ever did, mostly because I know I write to stay sane. I write to let a voice speak for an hour a day because, if left unheard, it would fester inside my chest like a campfire trying to burn its way out.

But I also wanted to write to communicate with the world. I wanted the stories I tell to be a drop in pond where seven billion people are swimming. I wanted it to ripple out in every direction: to the faithful, the angry, the poor, the lonely, the arrogant, the visionaries, the working stiffs, the bitter grandfathers, the lunatics wrapped in jackets. I wanted people to swim with my stories, and to leap out of the pond so high that when they would splash back into it they make their own ripples and waves.

A catalyst, perhaps, but it was simpler than that.

I wanted to convey a message to people, and I wanted them to care enough about the message to want to convey it out to people they interact with. And so on.

 

I had no idea that today, with my good friend Delani, would be a trip to the hardware store to purchase into my inventory the nuts and bolts needed to move my dream of sharing stories with people into action.

(Oh, Eccentric, You) – part one

     The tallest boy reached down and scooped up a handful of dirt. From the corner of my eye I watched as he slowly rose and began to move behind the rest of his chanting and prodding friends. The leader stared me dead in the eye.  His name was Dexter Villarosa, but he was known almost infamously as Stan.

     “You little tae; Ako pagpunta sa saktan ka!” he said. I did not move. “You’re going to remember this one.” As Stan took a quick step forward and began to pull back his right arm to bust me across the face a cloud of brown mist suddenly spilled into my sight. It burned my eyes. I reached quickly for my cousin, Bobby, who had be standing next to me. He was not there, and as soon as I realized a pile of boys were already on top of him I felt a crack blast across my lower lip. Within seconds Stan and the tallest boy, both of whom were my classmates during last year’s term but were held back a level because of poor grades, had tackled me to the floor. I kicked and swung at everything that moved, but when they struck me I did not scream. In fact, I did not even make a sound. I learned to fight at an early age from my older brother, and one of the things that I always remembered him saying was that making noises in fist fights only made you sound weak. But even more, not making a noise made you seem mysterious and unpredictable.

To be honest, I was more preoccupied with the thought of Bobby getting hurt than with my own fight. When I got a chance to smear some of the dirt from my eyes I peered over at him and saw him plant a foot into the gut of one of the boys. The kid screamed and fell backward. Just then the tallest boy kicked me hard in the ribs and I let out the kind of scream you release several seconds after you realize you have just broken your leg. It was bloody, and I could not help but to continue to scream. Stan and the tallest boy stepped back and looked at each other. Bobby’s perpetrators did the same. Everything was swirling around me. I held my hands like a wall over my ribs, and when I gently touched them pain shot up through my bones like nails through my hands. Bobby crawled over to me.

“Steebie, are you okay? What’s wrong–what happened?” His voice was shrill and it quivered at the end of each question. His lips were practically spilling blood down his face and his hair was matted and dirty. I could tell he had taken the beating of his life. My screams grew less frequent when I saw Stan and the gang running the other direction, back toward the schoolhouse and through the trees behind them. I lay, moaning.

“Steebie, where are you hurt? Do you want me to call auntie? Ano ang dapat kong gawin?”

“Get the doctor. I think I need a—ow!” I tried to turn over and I bit down hard on my lip to keep from screaming loudly again.

“Okay, okay. I be right back. I’ll get all of the doctors in Manilla, and the police too! Just stay there, Steebie!” Bobby ran off and I suddenly felt really alone. Tears were running down my cheeks from the pain and I tried not to move, not even to breathe, except if I needed to, and when I did I felt the bitter pain run through my bones.

In the wake of my inhibition, as I lay upon my back twenty feet from the cargo rail line in the alley behind my childhood schoolhouse, feeling the sun beat heavily upon my forehead and arms, I thought about shapes. I thought about how circles, triangles, and squares can be blended together to create images, and how every image, in two and three dimensions, can be reduced back down to simple shapes. In that moment I realized, at a core and fundamental level, how beautifully necessary, and even imprinted into our world they are. Like dirt, and air, and water, shapes have always existed, even before humans were around to see them. As long as something physical has existed, there has been shapes. I was pleased at this. Just then my head began to ache. My heart continued to race, and I was getting really thirsty when, suddenly, it all went black.

TABERNAS – part one

Steven ran quickly, making his steps nimble and quiet. He clutched the bag in his left hand and used his right to peel through the brush along the slope leading down and away from the buildings above. His mind was clear and his body moved steadily, like a machine. He believed completely in what he had done.

In the distance he could hear the blare of sirens from la policia. They were different than los camiones de bomberos, which emitted deeper and longer groaning rings that seemed to match the great size of their truck bodies. For a minute he stopped running and listened to them. His heart competed with their cries. He moved on and passed the water tower he grew up throwing rocks and sticks at with his friends. These days, none of those friends were still around. Most had moved their families away from Tabernas as a way to escape the incessant subjection overwhelming the city. The general belief was that the further away one could get his family the better. Stephen and his family were one of very few below the poverty line that remained.

Suddenly, he tripped. The black canvas bag he had been clutching went careening into the river at the bottom of the gully. It was a mighty artery of water, and it stood as the only lasting object in the great city with force and determination that was not also repressing those who relied upon it. It simply remained, flowing with power.

Steven panicked for a moment. He wiped away sweat from his brow and allowed himself to breathe out heavily to catch his breath. Then he quickly peeled off his jacket and dove into the river. The body took him instantly and he coughed loudly at the frigid chill that it ran through his body. He had grown up swimming in this river, and so with his head down with the same kind of determination found in the river, he swam toward the black canvass, now barely recognizable in the blackened sky reflecting down upon the water. He pushed down the river, moving at an incredible rate. Trees, rocks, and streetlights raced by above. Finally, he reached and felt the now sopping canvass between his fingers. Again he could hear the sirens above.

Forging across the river was never an easy task. To stand and attempt to walk across was foolish and futile on account of its tremendous force. To do so would mean certain death. Fortunately, its course throughout the city was generally quite smooth as most rocks and small boulders had been washed away in a great storm decades earlier. Steven knew he would be safe from these impediments and slowly edged closer to the shore. When he finally made it to the other side he looked up to the Northern hills to gather his location. It appeared that the river had pushed him close to a mile south. This was acceptable, and even charitable since he needed to get as far away from the scene of the crime as he possibly could. Jumping into the river was not part of his plan, but it made for a great getaway vehicle all the more.

Upon the riverbed, time seemed to drip from his hair and brow like water. He had to act swiftly. He darted up the embankment in front of him and made his way north-west into the night, taking back trails and paths known only to coyotes, and local boys like himself.

 

The sun was beginning to rise as he woke. The heavy oak tree above covered him from sight and acted as a suitable resting place before he would make the remaining five-mile walk to his village. He yawned and stuck his fingers in his ears to loosen dried water, and as he did he remembered the canvass. He swung around and parsed the earth and tree frantically. Panic began to pour over him again. He thought of his family, his mother, hermana, and abuelo who would be counting on his return. A small lump that had been working its way into his thigh all night suddenly reminded him of its existence and he shot his hand beneath his legs and welcomed the cool, damp canvass bag back into his possession.

“Aye Dios mío…” he whispered in relief. He gazed around quickly to make sure he was alone and then tenderly brought the bag into sight. He watched it for close to a minute, knowing its immeasurable significance. “El valor de esto es mas de lo que yo pueda comprender,” he quietly said.

The Spanish sun beat heavily upon his long, dirty black hair. Hunger seemed to turn on him and beckoned loudly with frustrated groans for appeasement. Thirst all but glued his throat shut and his head and body had grown quite weary. The canvass bag was indiscreetly tucked between his skin and front-right pocket. While quite apparent, he thought it was the safest place for it to be held. He walked with an awkward limp, and with time a rash began to form on his upper thigh where the bag rubbed. After a short while he desperately wished he could relieve the pain and reposition the bag, but he was out in the open and knew he could not dare the risk.

The vast Spanish desert laid dead and familiar before him. He watched los liebres jump quickly from their holes and into bushes to take cover from the heat. He thought about how this was a daily task for them and that if they could somehow find contentment in it—if they could manage to get by and continue to live and move, then he could too. As often as he could he ducked beneath bushes to try to hide for a few moments from the beating sun.

In the distance he could see a large group of buitres swimming in circles together in the air. Some made quick dives and then seemed to change their minds and swoop back into their circles. Whatever they had found had clearly not passed yet. It was not uncommon to see tens and twenties of these swarming above a single, dying carcass, all hoping to be one of the few lucky buzzards to land a decaying meal. As he neared he began to make out the appearance of the body. He expected a coyote, or even one of the buzzard’s own, but with each step he made out a more defined figure of a human body. The oddity of such a sight was surreal. He recalled the memory of his dying abuela when he was seven. His mother assured him that she would be waiting for him “en el cielo,” which he did not understand. Later that week he came home from school to see a tightly made bed with pillows and abuela’s knitted blankets methodically placed upon it. He never saw her again. As for a dead body, this was something he had never seen before.

As the body came more fully into view he considered simply moving past it. He feared that if it was still conscious it might notice the canvass, which was something that could not be risked. But the closer he came, the stronger he felt a sense to make sure the body was in fact dead. While keeping his eyes on the still, quiet figure, he slowed his step and deliberated with himself.

If it was dead, then his conscience would be clear and he could keep moving. But if it was not, then he knew he would have to help the dying soul. A deep sense of conflict rose up inside of him. If he moved past the body he could help his family sooner, but there would always remain the lingering chance, the haunting idea of a body laying pecked near to shreds whispering, Agua, por favor. He would hear it for the rest of his life. Fine, he thought. I must.

With reluctance he approached. Each step felt like the lightest he had ever taken, his eyes remained on the body, attempting to see if it stirred. He waited for the expansion of the chest, for signs of breathing.

It was a man. His jeans were dirty and tucked into his boots. His long-sleeved shirt was opened to the middle of his chest and a pool of blood had overcome his lower right stomach. The man lay still but his chest rose pathetically every few seconds. Steven took a deep breath as he came into yelling distance. He clutched the side of the bag with his right hand and then called out to the body.

“Amigo, estas vivo?”

No answer. He took a few steps closer. In so doing he made out the pale skin and complexion of the body. This is no Spaniard, he thought to himself.  “Hey! Are jou ‘live?” This time Steven’s voice seemed to rouse the figure. It let out a deep groan, which seemed to confirm to him that the man was cognizant. “Hey jou gimme an answer. Lemme hear jou say something’.” The body still did not respond. The thought of simply walking on crossed Steven’s mind again. The man still had not seen him, and even more important was that he had to keep the canvass from sight and conversation. He kept his eyes upon the man and moved over to a tree to sit and think things over again. He knew of a hospital a few miles west and considered figuring out how to drag the man there and then just leaving him collapsed outside so he would not have to be seen by anybody inside. Surely somebody would walk by and take him in, he thought. I would have done my part in getting him there. That is good enough. Still, the thought of not helping the man at all and simply walking on did retain its appeal. But leaving a man to be eaten by the buzzards did not sit well with him. I must do it, he finally decided. I must find a way to get this man to the hospital at least. Just then the body moved and let out a mouthful of mumbled words Steven did not understand.

Differenced

Across an old oak table,
over coffee and cakes
with legs crossed and eyes throwing back laughter like old friends,
I know I have come to his home at last and at least, alive.
But,
as I gaze around the room I see,
upon walls firmly fastened
and along wood floors steadily running that,
to my horror,
it is not safety,
nor comfort that lay over me.
No, not at all.
And I am
suddenly
quite afraid.
Thoughts are flash-flooding my mind
and I begin to panic,
blood-pumping to hide
and to quickly cover from the calamity.
Pressing back against the wall,
breath quickening,
armpits spilling with sweat like summer,
the room darkening,
walls shrinking,
perception shriveling like a plum mercilessly subjected to the burning sun,
and!
I realize in the wake of such fateful moments, now,
that simply arriving guarantees me nothing, and,
that calling his mine showed more about me than it did about him.
From across the table I found the train of his sight once more.
His old, familiar eyes watching mine,
and waiting.
And I am not sure why, or how, but
they felt like home.
Stop, he quietly said.
And I did.
Be, and rest.
Sitting up straight again in my chair and knowing I could trust him,
I did.
Time seemed to take me by the hand as a sweet companion and I realized, eventually,
that I knew.
I knew that I had come to be differenced,
to be split wide like wood by the swinging force of an axe upon my inhibitions.
And I knew that it had happened.
And suddenly,
my splintered cavities felt filled by something good,
and it seemed to pool up around me everywhere.
And something beautiful,
like love convinced by grace,
came over me too with beckoning allure.
And with time came truth, like rich vines,
patiently wrapping me together again, snug,
and outside me suffocating old veneers.
It is you, he said.  Just you that I want.
I was quiet.
And while you spilled your guts for your entire life to find something that would just last–
something that would not disintegrate,
nor dash to change its mind,
nor stab you in the chest repeatedly when it gathered the knife in its upper hand,
I watched,
yearning for you to loosen your grip, and
to reach out and take mine.