“…the ruin of many a poor boy, And God I know I’m one…”…a chapter of firsts, and further exploring the unknown…

There is a house in New Orleans they call The Rising Sun

And its been the ruin of many a poor boy

And God I know I’m one…–The Animals “House of The Rising Sun”

Sunday. Morning. November 29, 1992…

     With one swift glance from her, I was cursed, and Cynthia made sure of that.  She let Carlos deal with the ‘Beast,’ last night, after a whole day spent at the debate tournament in order for us to sneak off to my apartment as quickly as we could, hoping no one would notice, and truly, not really caring if they did.  Waxing crescent, as the moon was, provided very little light through the window; so, we made due by lighting a candle on the floor and listened to a collection of music I’d collected on the way back to Texas—Dusty Springfield, The Animals, Muddy Waters, and the like—off the speakers, with the volume set on low, from the increasing obsoleteness of a Sony cassette player.  And we spent the night exploring the silhouettes of our skins, the tiny flickers of the flames reflecting in our eyes to show us the way. 

     We held on to each other far longer than the struggling moon, and the waning glow from the dying wick of the candle knew what to do with us.  They left us to the Sun to sort things out, and settle the scores of our wanton curiosity while the morning slowly crawled through the blinds of my apartment window.  Her head on my chest, her breath against my skin, I found myself lost in the playfulness of my fingers slowly twirling her hair.

      “You never told me that dream of yours,” she turned to face me, resting her chin against the protective shield of my rib bone, and smiling as her fingers continued to explore the rugged landscape of her newfound love.  “That’s okay,” she continued, “some other time, I know.”

     “Did you know,” she continued, “my brother embarrassed the hell out of me yesterday.  So bad, I’m telling you. But in a way, it kind of worked out, huh? Cleared the way for things?”

     “That still doesn’t forgive the shit you pulled Friday night,” I told her.

     She stayed quiet, unsure of whether any explanation would do, and for my part, I don’t think it would’ve.  I got up from the bed, subtly forcing her off of me, and leaving her to her silence and contemplative gaze at the burnt out candle. 

     “I usually like to drink coffee, right about now,” I broke the silence, deciding to let things be.  “You wanna cup?”

     Cynthia got up from the bed, and met me at doorway.  She grabbed my face and pulled me in to kiss her, passionately trying to forget the subject had ever come up.  When she pulled her explorations away, she locked her eyes on mine, and mouthed her pouted words, “I’m sorry.”

     “It’s alright,” I told her, though I was lying. “I think it’s the best we could’ve done, under the circumstances, y’know, Mando and all of that kinda mess we’d have caused.”

     Cynthia smiled.  She wrapped her arms around my waist, and looked up towards me; eyes still unsure about what to make of her intentions staring back at her.  I smiled it off, and led her to the kitchen where I made us both the first of our coffee cups.    

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Envy and the memory of the waterfalls…Raven & Enrico Chapter Excerpt…

ENVY AND THE MEMORY OF THE WATERFALLS

     We headed back to town, leaving the night’s moments safely tucked away in the isolation of the waterfalls.  Raven, her head leaned safely against my shoulder as I drove, and all I could think of was the want to take things further with her.  Not away, she didn’t need rescuing.  She needed to know how close she came to realizing true love, and how no matter how much she pushed, and fought-tooth and nail-against the plans of destiny laid forth, it could not be something she could experience with Carlos, and that, perhaps in her plight to do so, she could somehow discover it in me.  In the few months that had passed, the idea of taking any further steps to any future plans between Cynthia and I, were thwarted by my growing affection for Raven, and my curiosity towards her views on life, love, and everything in between.     

     Unforgivable circumstances.  My rage for Carlos was seeded in my envy of how Raven looked at him, smiled at him, waited for him unconditionally, until he felt things were right, or things would be more perfect for them to be together.  Confused, I found myself wondering why my envious thoughts had grown much stronger than the rage I had towards the tide of rumors and innuendos circling the walls of Movies 6 that he and Cynthia were seeing each other behind my back.  There were nights when Cynthia should have been with me.  Nights where he’d left his lingering scent on her for me to find the next day. On her mouth where we kissed, on her skin I’d laid myself upon, and the places behind the nape of her neck where she’d beg me to nibble on until she convulsed in the lustful pleasures of knowing so many had tried before, and so many had failed to take her to the heights of exhausted satisfaction.

     At any other time, or moment, perhaps in some place where Raven had never existed, I could let those emotions get the better of me.  Instead, they swarmed my every thought, every want to be with Raven. How her mistreatment at the hands of Carlos, beckoned me to take action.  Bestowed upon me was the feeling that I’d found myself in the grasps of unrequited love once more, and it burned in my stomach to no end.  

     In the rising dawn peaking through my rearview mirror, I envied how strong she was in her resolve to not let her growing feelings for me lead her to places she felt were places she couldn’t come back from. She was at a place where being with Carlos, was still important to her, and I begrudgingly had to abide by those emotions because I was still with Cynthia.  As the Sun continued to creep in, so did the flood of realities that surrounded us. That is to say, the warmth of her head on my shoulder was not the warmth of a night spent making love by the banks of the waterfalls.  It was a warmth that came from a growing appreciation that she felt she had found someone else “in this damned world,” she rasped, that understood Raven for being Raven. I could no longer say I envied Carlos. I only came to realize, I hated him. .  What he was taking away from me was not Cynthia, screwing her behind my back.  What he was taking away was my opportunity to fall in love with Raven, and her to fall in love with me. The way she had fallen in love with him. 

Forgetting the Past In the Subtleties Of A Dance

Chapter Three

Enrico

FORGETTING THE PAST IN THE SUBTLETIES OF A DANCE           

     And so, there you are—the lights of the Cuatro Esquinas Mighty King Stadium glowing in the dark beneath the near full moon this cool night in November. And so, there we are—standing underneath the deafening buzz from a hometown crowd cheering, mouths agape with excitable pride. The roars. The idea that for once in a long while, this shit hole town had something to celebrate. And so, there they are, can they see what’s going on between us? Can they for once, understand something is going on? Or is it something invisible? Something ‘they’ don’t want to see, and so, we may as well blind ourselves from each other. And so…

“What the hell are you doing, Dude?” interrupted Mando, as he stepped on the balcony to join me. You see, the thing was that the Movies 6 crowd definitely seemed like a tough group to break. I understood that right off the bat when the guys introduced me to everyone as soon as we arrived at Eddie’s party.  I got a few cold stares, and not so warm welcomes.  So, in order to make an already awkward situation, less awkward, I decided to spend a few minutes to myself out on the hotel balcony.

I stopped the tape mid-sentence, and explained to Mando, that I’d gotten into the habit of recording things on a mini tape recorder. “Sometimes, I can’t keep up with my thoughts when I’m trying to write shit down. Nasty habit I picked up in New Orleans, I guess,” I told him. “At any rate, this helps me get these thoughts out as fast as they come, then I’ll just transcribe it all later.”

“And that works?” he asked.

“Sometimes it does, and sometimes it just reminds me of all the crap I’m better off not wasting my time writing down,” I replied.

“You were talking about the stadium lights, huh?” he took a space next to me on the small balcony and rested against the iron railing.

We both looked off into the distance at the stadium lights hovering over Cuatro Esquinas, a city only a few miles away from the hotel in McAllen. A seeming lifetime ago, the memories and experiences that left us with the scars of our youth still so fresh and raw in our hearts. Scars we still weren’t fully capable to let go of, and wanted none of that healing sense of closure to mend it either.

“Yeah,” I told him, “Looks like this year’s team got into the playoffs, eh? Playing this late into November, and all.”

“I guess so. I don’t follow much of that anymore. Not since we graduated,” he replied.

And what a stellar year that was for us. It all started with our championship football season. A championship season the city had gone without for a little over ten years. The seemingly endless drought that had become a monotonous humdrum existence full of false hopes, and dull realities that planted itself in the very foundations of a city that was always wanting more than what was realistically possible.  It had been an era that, for too long, had been fueled by all of the “next games,” and “next seasons for sure.” Empty promises that over the years had quickly gone from full on battle cries to quieting whimpers among the dwindling optimists still left in the community. When we arrived, we were a mix of optimized talent and raw power that wore down our opponents Friday night after Friday night for those few months in the fall of our Senior Year–1990.

“How about you, Harlem Globetrotter?” asked Mando offering up a cigarette,

“You ever give that place a second thought? You ever give her, a second thought?”

“Who?” I asked. I knew all to well who he meant.

He snorted as he lit his cigarette and handed me the lighter. “Yeah, right,” he said, “who?”

In truth, of course I had. The tiny pink paper heart she’d placed in a small envelope, and had Sonya give to me before I left Cuatro Esquinas, the morning after our high school graduation, was the tiny pink paper heart with her name, Ruby, signed across the front of it.  It still traveled with me, tucked safely in my travel bag, as I went from town to town across Texas, along the Gulf Coast, and back again. The same tiny pink paper heart I’d cling to in moments of my own madness, despair, at the thought of never experiencing that sense of losing myself in the grasp of someone’s eyes again, her eyes I’d hoped; no matter how far I roamed from this place I had to call home.

Certain things like the stadium lights, and certain moments like those that the cool winds of a late November can conjure up, made my feelings about her unbearable.

“Yeah,” I confessed, “Every once in a while I do. I was thinking, though, since I’m back in town and don’t have any real plans of leaving again any time soon, I may look her up. Maybe something can come out of it, y’know?”

Mando shook his head. “Nah, don’t bother. She’s moved on.”

I asked how he knew, and he said, ever so matter-of-factly, “because I helped set her up with someone, and it seems like they’re really hitting it off.”

His name was Marcos, and he was a fellow Pre-Law student friend of Eddie’s, he explained. Mando had taken a class with Ruby, in college, and as part of a study group they had to interview upper-class senior Pre-Law students. Eddie and Marcos were Mando’s obvious choices, blah, blah, blah. Halfway through his explanation, I lost interest. I, honestly, couldn’t give a ‘rats-ass’ about the rest of the details as I puffed each drag of my cigarette faster, and faster—exhaling the increasing rage out into the cold night air.

Basically, the gist of the whole scenario that played out in my head while Mando’s mouth moved in a painstakingly slow drawn out explanation was this: my ‘best’ friend introduced Ruby, the one who got away but I so hoped to reconnect with, to this mangy dog of a Pre-Law student friend of his and his brother’s. Meanwhile, I’m just supposed to patiently, quietly, and understandably take drag after drag of this cigarette, then swallow all of this maddening bullshit from someone I thought of as a ‘brother?’

“Well, there goes that, huh?” I exhaled.

Mando swung his arm and slapped me on the shoulder, “Meh, don’t worry about it, Bro. She was out of your league, anyway.”

Mando lit another cigarette, but couldn’t stand the cold night air any longer. He offered his cigarette to me after only a couple of drags as he bitched and complained. “I’m going back inside,” he told me as he slid the balcony door open, “Hey, everyone! No worries, he’s not a ‘jumper,’ he’s just out there over thinking things.” I heard the Movies 6 crowd laugh when Turo cried a drunken and hearty, “Animo, bro! No se me aquite!” and the door slid closed behind Mando.

I turned the balcony chair around to face the window, and turned my back to the stadium lights in the horizon. I recalled for a drunken moment, the final time Ruby and I stood face to face under the glow of those stadium lights on graduation night, and how she could drown out the rest of the world for me—all of the nonsense of those teenage trivialities crashing around us– with only the sweetest of glances from her wondrous green eyes. I looked up at the palm tree by the hotel window, admiring its leaves only slightly swaying in the deadening chill of the cold night breeze, and exhaled.

“Fuck this,” I said to myself, “I’m going back inside.”

         When I walked back in from the balcony, I tried my best, once more, to get along with the Movies 6 crew congregating in the bedroom. The majority of the crew seemed lost in a mishmash assortment of over-stimulated, and immature banter. The scene just wasn’t there for me, even though Mando and Turo advised me to lower the intellectual bar, so to speak, so I could fit right in.

I got up after a few minutes and went down the hallway towards the kitchenette for another drink. Maybe, also, to squeeze my way in to the next card game that Cynthia, Carlos, and David were playing when I first arrived.

David Sanchez didn’t seem to be the talkative type when I met him. He was Eddie’s friend from Cuatro Esquinas, though we hadn’t met until this night. There was something to his quiet aloofness, as though, he’d seen more than he was readily willing to admit. And, thus, his face seemed aged beyond his twenty-one years.

Carlos Trevino was the highly sociable type. He seemed like the type of guy who could make friends with a rabid hyena. The sorta person that didn’t shy away from cueing in on a person’s nuances. Carlos had opened the door to the hotel room, and I greeted him with a guyish, “Hey what’s up?” when Mando introduced us. He lowered his voice to replicate mine, and said, “Doing great, Johnny Cash, how are you doing?” He is that guy.

Cynthia Barrera only looked up from her card game long enough to give me a fake smile, and quick “Hey,” when we were introduced. I still didn’t know what the actress, Yolanda Andrade, looked like, but I could only say that Mando’s overall description of what Cynthia looked like were fairly accurate. She was pretty in the way college types are pretty, in that bookworm-ish sort of way. Which fit perfectly, of course, with what seemed to be her claim to any sense of notoriety among the Movies 6 crowd. She was a third year Senior at The University of Texas, in Austin. “Not third year as in she’s been a senior for three years,” Mando introduced, “she’s not stupid. What I mean is, she’s graduating after only attending college for three years.” I got the picture, and realized she had no real connection to Movies 6 other than being very close friends with Carlos. It made me wonder what her type was doing hanging around with this crowd. Moreover, why she’d be dating someone like Mando–two personality types that really shouldn’t mesh, in my opinion.

Once I got back to the kitchenette, I couldn’t find the bottle of vodka, or Cynthia, or Carlos. I asked David, shuffling cards as if there were another game coming up, whether he’d seen them–or the bottle, for that matter.

David remarked that Carlos and Cynthia had taken the bottle to one of the rooms in the back. He wasn’t quite sure if they’d joined everyone else or if they had gone into another room by themselves. I told David, they definitely weren’t in the room where the rest of the crew was. David didn’t reply; he just shrugged his shoulders and kept on shuffling the cards quietly.

“Something I shouldn’t disturb, you think?” I asked after a few seconds of staring down the hallway impatiently.

“Not that I know of, but anything’s possible with that little Chief,” David replied alluding to Carlos’ all-too-capable of intentions. I couldn’t care less, either way. I was just thirsty, and the night was still fairly young. So, I left David in the dining room area playing solitaire. He was looking increasingly bored with everything. I could relate.

I found Cynthia on the bed, laid on her stomach, with her head rested on a pillow. Carlos was sitting knees to his chest on a sofa chair pulled up close to the bed. They were watching CMT, and, “Waiting so edge-of-our-asses on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s, I Feel Lucky, video,” Carlos sneered.

“Man, we should’ve just gone to Cadillac’s instead. At least I’d have access to more beer, you know?” he added.

“Why don’t you just go get some more? Here are my keys.” Cynthia pulled her car keys from her skirt pocket and tossed them on Carlos’ lap. “And just leave me alone, I want to wait for the video.”

“Can I sit here?” I gently interrupted, before sitting down on the bed anyway.

“Sure, plenty of room,” smiled Cynthia.

“Or you can come sit on the sofa chair,” Carlos looked annoyed. “I’m about to leave in a sec’, anyway…uhm, what’s your name again? …Humberto? In vitrio? …” Carlos continued sarcastically. He grinned as he adjusted the loose FOSSIL watch on his wrist.

“Stop it,” ordered Cynthia intently watching the television screen.

“Enrico,” I told him seriously.

“Right, right,” he smiled.

“And you are, again? …Carlick? Car-looch? …” I tried smiling back while snapping my fingers and pretending I didn’t remember his name either.

They both laughed.

“It’s Carlos. Right, right,” he replied. “Uhm, looks like we’ve got ourselves a live one here, Cynthia.” Carlos got up and took Cynthia’s keys with him.

Cynthia could only shake her head, “That’s what you get for being so bad…you deserve it. I’m telling you.”

“Do you want anything?” asked Carlos.

“Uh, yeeaahh, beer,” replied Cynthia sarcastically.

“Yeah, I know, smart-ass,” Carlos said, “what kind?”

“MGD’s,” she said, “Y ya, vete! You’re starting to annoy me.”

Carlos blocked Cynthia’s view of the television screen. He gyrated his bone thin frame from side to side. Cynthia reached up and slapped him on the ass, “Ya! Stop it, before I get that bottle of vodka on the dresser and stick it up your butt, Dude.”

Carlos just laughed as he walked out of the room.

“How ‘bout you, Enrico?” he asked. Carlos poked his head back in, “any requests?”

“Small bottle of orange juice, if you can find it,” I replied, “otherwise, don’t bother, I can just drink it straight.”

I noticed they both looked at each other astonished. Carlos pointed me out to Cynthia, and mouthed the words, “Live one,” as he left. He returned only a few seconds later, “Hey, uhm, I just got a page from the ‘Beast’, all 9-1-1, and stuff, what should I do?”

Cynthia buried her head in her hands and sighed. She shook her head in frustration, and looked up at Carlos. They scrunched their faces at each other, most likely thinking, it was probably not a good idea to bring the ‘Beast’ to the party.

“You know…” she sighed, “I love him to death, but…not tonight you know?” Cynthia continued to shake her head from side to side. “There’s just too much going on, and I don’t want to bring him into all of that,” she pointed in the direction of the other room where all of the Movies 6 crowd was hanging out, “just so we have to–”

“Babysit? Yeah, I hear ya’. I gotcha toots,” Carlos added.

“Yeah…does that make me bad? Anyway,” Cynthia shook her head, “So just, no, I don’t want to deal with him tonight. Not here, at least.”

They came to an agreement, though, that in order to appease this ‘Beast,’ character, they’d surely have to take him out at some point during the weekend. Cadillac’s Pool Hall was mentioned, and agreed upon, for the following night. They seemed to know that the ‘Beast,’ faired better in a pool hall setting as opposed to running amok in what appeared to be a more low-key social one.

Once all that ‘mess’ was cleared up, and Carlos left on a beer-run, I got up from my corner of the bed, grabbed the bottle from the dresser (along with an empty cup– Carlos’ I presumed), and poured myself some vodka, just as Tanya Tucker’s, If Your Heart Ain’t Busy Tonight, came on the TV. Cynthia silently clapped her hands to the beat, and mouthed the lyrics. She agreed to have me pour a cup for her, adding that she didn’t know too many people who could drink liquor straight out of the bottle.

“That’s dangerous territory, Dude, but here, give me one anyway,” she said as she handed me her cup.

“It’s not my first choice,” I told her. I handed her cup back to her, and sat back down next to her on the bed. “Hope that’s not too much?” I added, “Cheers!”

She coughed as she took a few sips, “oh, of course not…is there any other way?”

“Oh, God, don’t you just love her voice,” she said. Cynthia closed her eyes, and swayed her head to and fro. She became lost in the song, yielding to the power of the moment, and of the drink.

“Do you dance?” she asked, as she suddenly sat up on the bed.

“Not to this stupid shit,” I replied.

She smiled mischievously, put her cup down, and got off the bed. In an instant, she stood in front of me, danced in place, and mouthed the lyrics, “Then all of you/ Might fall in love with/ All of me.” She grabbed my wrists uninhibitedly, and led our arms to sway to the rhythm from side to side, “Come on, silly, before the song’s over. Besides, what do you dance to if you don’t dance Country? The Nutcracker?’”

We both laughed.

She twirled herself around; the hem of her blue dress skirt swayed with every step. I finally gave in to the moment as well, grabbing her hand with mine and placing my other hand around her waist. In the limited space of the bedroom, we finished dancing to the song. Neither of us wanted to look at each other as we sat back down. We were lost in one of those…nervous types of glances. The nervous types of glances, where two people are afraid of acknowledging what had just happened in and around them. We could only convince ourselves that we were just two people who got lost in the music for a moment.

Cynthia sat beside me. All we could do was share those nervous smiles, those slight laughs that seemed to make her cheeks blush with drink and despair for treading in places we both knew we shouldn’t be headed.

“So,” she finally whispered as she turned her soft smile towards me, “World Traveler, huh?”

 

 

Funny thing about being introduced by friends, they tend to ‘over-exaggerate’ a person’s character. I was far from being a ‘world-traveler.’ In truth, it seemed I’d been more of a ‘wanderer,’ really, if nothing else.”

“They do tend to ‘exaggerate,’ don’t they?” she replied.

Both of us broke the awkward nervous glances, and smiles that followed our quick dance around the room.  Actions, perhaps, turned into the silent filled afterthoughts of doing something we may have regretted. It was only a dance between acquaintances getting to know each other a little better, right?

“See the thing is, as I grew up, I never really had anything going for me. Not anything ‘concrete;’ or something I could say Hey, y’know what? I want to do THAT, you know? I really only had a vague sense that I wanted to be a great writer.”

I took a few more sips of the vodka, and continued, “My senior year kind of cemented those thoughts. I’d lost chingos of weight over the summer before. After that, it just seemed as though I was being watched. Watched by everybody,” I sipped.

“You know, where once, I was that weird kid in the corner, who watched Batman, and carried around a notebook and pen wherever I went,” I continued, “suddenly, I was invited to all the parties, got noticed by all the girls, and all that. I don’t want to make Cuatro Esquinas seem like a shallow place to grow up in, but it amazed me how something so simple as going from being a gordo to a skinny kid could change a lot of things.”

“Losing all of that weight, working out to get in shape for football season, led to a whole set of experiences that gave me this sorta inflated sense of confidence, you know? When I graduated, after all the crap I went through with the guys, and all of that, I thought I was ready to go out and explore the world. Never really thought of myself as the college type, I’m not stupid, y’know? It’s just that the kind of intense focus I felt I needed for four more years in an educational setting…screw that, y’know?”

Cynthia listened intently.  Something I was not used to hanging out with the guys. Something I never seemed to get from anybody else until that point, either.

“Can I ask you something?” she asked.

“Sure,” I sipped, “since I haven’t bored you enough.”

“I get the whole thing about gaining confidence to go out in to the world. I get the whole thing about how certain experiences made you feel like you didn’t want to go to college, and all of that,” she shook her head, “but, Dude, where’d you get the money to travel?”

We both laughed. It did seem absurd that an eighteen-year old could go out to wander the world without any type of financial backing, or money set aside from a job to go do anything other than go to college.

“Here’s the thing,” I told her, “during Spring Break of my senior year, there was an incident,” I air-quoted. “And it seemed that I unknowingly did a very big favor for a very influential someone. As a result of that big favor, I was paid accordingly.”

I sipped on my vodka, “That’s how I did it. That’s how I found myself traveling the past year and a half.”

“Someone?” she remarked. “Must have been quite a someone,” she air-quoted as well.

“Cuatro Esquinas is filled with some interesting characters, Cynthia,” I told her as I let a smile come across my face as I looked at her.

“Apparently,” she replied. She shook her head slowly.

We sipped our drinks for a few moments; the country music videos still played in the background.  Then, she smiled, and asked, “So, where exactly, did you go?”

“All around Texas, some places in Louisiana, you know typical tourist in New Orleans…”

“Riiight, with the beignets, the lattes,” she interrupted, laughing and mocking as she did.

“Yeah, right, exactly,” I smirked, “exactly.”

“Anywhere else?” she sipped.

“I made my way to Florida, past Tallahassee, and into Orlando,” I replied.

“You went to Disney World?” she asked, as if she was replaying in her mind those championship commercials that played on television: the ‘You just won the World Series, where are you going now?’ sort of thing.

“That wasn’t my intended destination, it’s just that…when I was a freshman in high school, our Science Club took a trip to Disney World. We rode on a bus all the way to Florida, and, I don’t know, there was just this great sense of being on the road and traveling by bus somewhere. I guess I wanted to relive that feeling, you know? I’d been in New Orleans for a couple of months, and found myself at the Reunion Café on Bourbon Street, remembering the trip to Florida. I decided why not leave my car in NOLA, hop a bus, and head out for a week or two. Then, come back to New Orleans to finish the writing I had started,” I told her.

She looked at me quietly for a moment as I continued to sip on the cup of vodka.

“You went to Disney World,” she finally laughed. “You went to Disney World by yourself? Oh, you are a ‘hoot,’ Dude, seriously. On a bus no less!”

She cackled as she fell back on the bed. Her hair, and her body, playfully relaxed in the drink. “M-I-C…” she chuckled, “K-E-Y…”

“Screw this,” I said to both of us. I got back up and walked over to the dresser for another drink. I offered to get her another one…

     “Nooo, Dude,” she replied as she sat back upright. “That’s enough for me. I’ve got an early wake up call tomorrow morning.”

“Doing?” I asked.

“Volunteering at a UIL Tournament here in McAllen,” she replied looking bored at the prospect.

“Well, look at you. You’re quite the busybody yourself, aren’t you? Finishing college in just three years, from THE University at that, volunteering in academic tournaments. So what’s your story?” I asked.

She looked down on the edge of the bed and smiled as if what she’d been through had a romantic inkling of an adventure gone awry, as if her own world was a mishmash of this chingadera and that, as well.

“I don’t know how much of a story it actually is,” she began. “I’ve just always been drawn to a more academic way of life, you know? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude,” she smiled as if to think that I’d pegged her as such, “it didn’t start off that way. You know, I had my rebel days, and my rebel ways in junior high.”

“Don’t we all,” I added.

“Exactly, right?” she replied, “so then, I got into high school and things just…changed. For the better, you know? I still think I’m a bit of a rebel, but it’s so much more interesting to me to be the type of person who’s constantly wanting to learn new things.”

“I guess that explains the earrings then, huh?” I asked. “I’d noticed them earlier when we first got introduced.”

“What do you mean?” she asked as if I’d discovered something about her she didn’t want to reveal so easily.

“You’ve got this whole conventional vibe going on, you know, with the dress, and the hat with the sunflower pinned to it–toda Roseanne Cash-looking, you know? And of all the things you decide to accent that whole vibe with, I don’t know, I’d expected pearl earrings, or tiny hoops or loops, or whatever your type does to match things up, not, you know, skeletons? A rebel ‘touch.’ Subtle, I’ll admit, but…yeah, it’s there somewhere,” I said.

She sat up and smiled, rubbing the ends of the tiny silver skeleton earrings dangling from her earlobes, “I got these at an office party last year…at the Governor’s Christmas party.”

“You got those skeleton earrings from the Governor? Damn, I’ve read interviews about her; she’s got her own rebellious tastes, but, wow, that’s really something,” I shockingly replied.

“No, silly,” she said, “They’re not from Ann Richards. They’re from a coworker in the state office where I worked last year.”

Cynthia explained that she had grown tired of working as a checkout girl at Fiesta grocery part-time, and decided to look for an opportunity more attune to what she’d been studying at UT: Government and History.

“I was lucky,” she continued, “my roommate had worked at the office the semester before and put in a good word for me.”

“Hmm,” I reacted, “wow. Not so good a word, though.”

“What do you mean?” she asked curiously.

“Well, here’s your roommate working at the Governor’s Office, knowing full well you’re working at a grocery store, why didn’t she get you in while she was there, you know?” I remarked.

“No, no, she’s a sweetheart,” she replied, “I wasn’t looking to work anywhere else at the time, so she didn’t know I was unhappy working at a grocery store.”

“Suit yourself,” I told her, “whatever helps you sleep at night.”

Cynthia reached over and kicked me on my leg and laughed. “You are so bad, I swear,” she said.

I took a few more sips of the vodka, and by then Mary Chapin Carpenter’s music video was on. Cynthia did very little talking during the video. She chose to listen, and rock her head from side to side. Her lips silent and singing along the same way she’d mouthed the words to Tanya Tucker’s song a few minutes before. Cynthia was a fan, and I had to admit, Carpenter’s songs were growing on me as well. And so was Cynthia.

“You should try vocalizing it, Cyndi, don’t be shy” I told her, “I can barely hear ya’.”

“Oh, uh-uh,” she blushed, “Hell, no, Dude. I can’t sing worth a crap, and you’d only laugh at me, I know you would. I, soo know you would. You’re so bad.”

Cynthia stopped watching the video for a moment, and turned h

er smile towards me as she rubbed her lips together tightly. She seemed so suddenly self-aware, so self-conscious of what I’d assumed had come so naturally to her.

“Y’know,” I whispered, “I’d think you’re a good singer.” I leaned over playfully, softly bumped my shoulder against hers, and she couldn’t help but keep smiling.

“Yeah,” she whispered back, “you think I would be, huh?”

“Well, let’s give it a shot,” I said in a curiously contemplative nod. “I mean, what do we have to lose, right?”

At that moment, the room, the crowd, and the music from the television—nothing seemed to matter anymore. All could I see, and all I could feel, was Cynthia’s smile leaning in to mine, “Come on, Cyndi, let me hear you sing.”

“Okay, Hot-Shot,” she told me, our lips readily closed in on one another, “I will.”

That kiss opened the door for the next few moments. Moments filled with the explorations when and where two people devour the curious longings for one another. It was a means that journeyed further beyond the limitations of our flirtatious banter. We thrust ourselves full throttle into the more lustful yearnings that our twenty-year old bodies could no longer hold back from.

At some point, Cynthia abruptly stopped and ordered, “You get the door, I’ll turn off the lamp.” As we both got up from the bed, I to lock the door, and her to turn off the only light in the room besides the glow of the television screen, I watched as her tousled hair and disheveled dress were the only foreshadowing identifiers in the mix of our madness that marked the wild wonders still yet to come…

A ‘One Last Adventure’ For The Would-Be Kings of Cuatro Esquinas

Chapter Two

 

Enrico

 

A ‘ONE LAST ADVENTURE’ FOR THE WOULD-BE KINGS OF CUATRO ESQUINAS

 

Friday, November 27, 1992…

      We drove along a desolate highway past the countless rows upon rows of the winter season crops of the Rio Grande Valley. Headed south for the border in a Black ’88 Cougar, Turo, Mando, and I– The Would-Be Kings of Cuatro Esquinas– decided not to drive into Mexico. It was a wiser bet, we agreed, to walk across the International Bridge into Reynosa, Mexico, instead. Safety above reckless abandon was key in our twenty-year old minds. Gone were the more adventurous yearnings of what seemed to have been of the utmost importance to our collective wasted youth, when being seventeen along the border meant getting to discoteque row on a Friday night as fast as we could to pay a five dollar all-you-can-drink cover charge, and dance and drink our way long past midnight, and into the stinging light of a rising dawn. Our main objectives at the present moment: to enjoy some afternoon drinks, then, make our way along the cobblestone streets consumed with the diesel fueled wintery air of Old Mexico, and find the most cheaply priced bottles of liquor… haber que pasa, let’s see how it goes.

Passed the mercados with its rows of colorful pinatas hanging from the rafters, down through the sidewalks filled with street vendors selling ‘mystery meat’ tacos and elotes, to the restaurants crowded with patrons of the less adventurous palettes ordering strips and pieces of the cabritos skewered, and spread-eagled over the open flames of the kitchens, we arrived at our destination and walked inside an old hangout of ours, The Imperial Piano Bar. A quick stop to reminisce and catch up.

Instantly, we were struck that the once joyous, though subdued, ambience of the bar had now given way to a darker, and more somber tone of the room’s dilapidated existence. Where once, the bar was impeccably filled with an air of Fabuloso scented floors, our senses were now overwhelmed with the stench of mildew bouncing off the dusty fabric of the wearing walls, and the tattered upholstery of the faux leather booths. The once polished Steinway Grand sitting atop a stage planted in the middle of the half-darkened room, a once upon a time centerpiece where weekend revelers amateurishly tried their hands at Chopsticks, or Piano Man, had now been roped off and took on the tortuous look of a rotting museum piece: something meant to be remembered, but no longer sustained the beauty or energy to do so.

“Go get the first round,” ordered Mando, as he made his way to the restroom still hidden in the back right corner of the bar, “I gotta go see a man about a horse.”

As Mando disappeared into the shadows of a dark nook down the hallway, Turo headed towards the opposite end of the bar on the left, back across the empty lounge chairs, and found a booth next to a glass cage that looked like a half –emptied atrium.

I ordered three Cuba Libres, and three shots of Tequila from an aging and bored looking bartender who sat behind the counter reading a day old issue of El Sortido, the Spanish-language newspaper known for it’s reporting of the crime syndicates that slowly overtook this otherwise peaceful city.

“What happened to Chango?” I asked trying to break the silence of his consternated look while I looked back at the glass cage. The last time I had visited the bar, a year and a half earlier, the glass cage famously housed a very entertaining, and spirited spider monkey with a penchant for flipping off underage gringos and pinches guercos from the Texas side of the border. Unruly revelers who’d heartily sit and imbibe whatever concoction could hold the most tequila.

“To answer your question”, the bartender looked up from his newspaper, and told me with words from a raspy voice strung out like molasses, “there was this one gringo ‘teenybopper’ who decided the monkey was hungry.” The bartender grabbed the cleanest of looking glasses from the shelf, and began to fix our drinks.

“The kid had ordered a jumbo shrimp cocktail for himself and his other gringo friends,” he continued, “then, took one of the shrimps, and tossed it through the trap door on the corner of that glass cage back there.”

He nodded towards the glass cage, and shook his head slowly, as he continued working on our drinks.

“The shrimp we use to line the rim of the glass still have the shell,” the bartender placed the cheap bottle of rum back on the wooden shelf behind him, “so you still have to peel the fuckers, tu sabes?”

“Este pendejo didn’t bother to peel it. Once he tossed it through the trap door, Chango sucked the whole thing down in one gulp, and choked to death. Pues, ya sabes, he was a monkey. He didn’t know any better. You ever see a monkey choke to death?” the bartender asked, his voice grew increasingly agitated.

I shook my head, “Can’t say that I have,” I told him.

“Yeah, well, me and about five pendejo college kids on Spring Break, saw it. And it isn’t pretty,” he responded as he finished stirring our drinks.

“Poor thing,” he continued, “wailing, and flailing his arms, and pulling on his tail. You know they don’t turn blue like us, so at first no one really understood what the hell was going on. I just thought one of these stupid kids must’ve tossed a Roche pill inside, Chango must’ve swallowed it, and then just went ape-shit crazy.”

Nombre. Within a good minute and a half, little guy just slumped against the glass with his tiny claws grasping at the world outside for something,” he paused, “or someone to help him cough up the shrimp.”

“How long ago was this?” I asked.

“Just a few months ago, this past Spring Break. These College Fucks,” he shook his head in disgust, “pa’ pendejo no se estudia.”

“They didn’t even have the common decency to come clean, man,” he said. The bartender’s face, with eyes emptied and hallowed, was still bewildered over the image of the spider monkey’s horrendous and violent death. “They just stood there laughing and giggling all guilty-like. I ask them, ‘what the hell happened?’ but all of a sudden, none of them knew any Spanish besides Tequila, Senor, uno, dos, tres, por fah-bore.

Then, the bartender got quiet. He tossed the bar spoon in the sink behind him, and practically tossed the tray of drinks in my direction in pent up frustration. On the shelf above the sink, and something I regrettably hadn’t noticed until then, was a carefully perched and faded Polaroid of the bartender and Chango, in happier moments with the letters, ‘QEPD,’ haphazardly scrawled on the bottom.

     Que En Paz Descanse. Rest in Peace. 

     I decided not to press on, so I grabbed a few dollar bills from my pocket and set it at the bar. He grabbed them by a fistful and made the sign of the cross as he turned his back to me and sat back down on his wooden stool without so much as a ‘thank you.’ The recent memories still fresh in his mind, I supposed. A long lost friend who hadn’t been gone long enough as to numb the pain, those strained emotions that one human being regretfully mourns for something he once so dearly loved.  I grabbed the tray and headed towards the booth where Mando, and Turo had been waiting impatiently.

“What took so damn long?” said Mando, “I could’ve gone and distilled it myself by the time he got around to it.”

I said nothing as I passed our drinks around and had a seat.

“So, Enrico, how’s it feel to be back in the Valley?” asked Turo.

“Being back in the Valley is one thing,” I replied, “being back in that shithole of a city, Cuatro Esquinas, is a different story altogether.”

“Oh, give me a break,” said Mando, slapping my shoulder, “I’ll put that ‘shithole,’ as you put it, against any city out there. Remember, that’s where we came from. We made that place our own.”

“Don’t remind me,” I told him, “but in a way, I guess you might be right. At least I found a place to stay for a while.”

“Where are you staying?” asked Turo.

“My cousin is letting me crash in his apartment for a while since he’s out of town for a few months.”

“And after?” asked Mando.

“Cross that bridge,” I replied, not really sure whether I’d stay in the Valley long enough to worry it.

Mando nodded silently, and raised his glass as we continued.

El Nerd,” added Turo, “came through for you, eh?”

“Yeah, at least until he gets back,” I said.

“From where?” they both asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” I replied, adding that El Nerd was not someone who divulged too many details and would only offer help when he knew he could come through for you. Either way, it didn’t matter to me. I just needed a place to stay as soon as I could find it. I only had to appreciate the sentiment, on my end, regardless of his past transgressions against us, The Would-Be Kings of Cuatro Esquinas.

We continued sharing small talk mixed in with a few uncomfortable silences between friends who had not spoken for well over a year. We each took turns looking around at the bar taking our time to get used to each other’s company again.

“You find a job yet?” asked Turo, after a few moments.

“You got money for the next round?” I snapped back, “Why?”

“Yeah, I got money,” he replied sheepishly. “Been working at the movie theater for the past couple of months. There’s going to be an opening in a couple of weeks on account of Mando’s brother, Eddie, going away to college.”

“Here! Here!” added Mando as he toasted his brother’s accomplishment. He slammed back the last of his Cuba Libre, smacking his lips with approval. “I’ll get the next round. Be right back,” he said headed towards the bar. “AAGGH,” he muttered, “stinks to high-heaven around here.”

It was no mystery that Mando would be so proud of his older brother, Eddie. Eddie Martinez stuck around the Rio Grande Valley long enough to finish up a Pre-Law degree at the local university, The Pan-American, and was now accepted into Law School in a place somewhere other than here. This shithole.

I’d been in places other than here, myself, and could only envy Eddie’s newfound freedom into the great ‘Other,’ and only wished him the best in his new adventure, and the hopes that he find the means to never return.

     It had been a year and a half since I’d been around Turo and Mando. Nothing about the past hour or so of hanging around them, though, had convinced me that too much had changed around Cuatro Esquinas. We were once very close friends and our main adventures took up the bulk of our senior year in high school.

Arturo had always been Turo, stocky-built, Indio dark, and more than able to hold his own against anything, or anybody. He lettered in football for two years in high school, and of the three of us who’d shared offensive line duties for the Cuatro Esquinas Kings, he was admittedly the most talented. He wasn’t a shy person, but preferred to listen in on conversations and toss in his two cents when needed. If not, then he didn’t. In other words, if there weren’t too much to say about anything, well, Turo wouldn’t say anything.

Mando was the shortest, physically, of the three of us, and seemed in retrospect, to have his hang-ups about it. Not a short guy by any means, but Turo and I clearly towered over him. He more than tried to compensate for his stature, though, especially when the three of us used to hang out in high school. Be it at a football game after party, a holiday dance, Friday nights in Mexico, Saturday nights cruising 10th St. in McAllen, you get the picture, you were sure to find Mando ‘dressed to the nines,’ as they say, with his jet-black hair slicked back with gel or mousse, always giving the impression that he was freshly showered, clean-cut: the All-American homeboy. Image, externalities, and what other people thought they knew about you, was the only thing that mattered to the Mando Martinez.

Mando also seemed to be the most apprehensive about spending time together again. I could only attribute that to his finding his own path since our days in high school as a current junior in college majoring in Biology. As a consequence, Mando must’ve lost all romantic notions about the things we’d been through our senior year, and the lessons we seemed to have learned coming out the other side.

I couldn’t very well blame him, though. Being gone for a year and a half from anywhere near the border had jaded my sensibilities to a certain extent as well. And I still wasn’t completely comfortable with jumping right in to any of the old habits the three of us had started out with so long ago. We each had our reasons for having done what we did our senior year, but then, the adventurous tales of The Would-Be Kings of Cuatro Esquinas, is another story altogether.

“What do you think?” asked Turo.

“About?” I replied.

“About the job,” he said, “think you’d be interested?”

“I just might,” I told him.

At that moment, Mando came back to the table with three more Cuba Libres, and three more Tequila shots.

“Well, don’t get your hopes up,” added Mando, “it’s a fun place to work but the pay is shit. If you can find something else, I highly recommend it.”

“Besides,” he continued, “you’d be replacing my brother, Eddie, so you’d be going into this adventure trying to fill some pretty big boots. The people that work at Movies 6 think the world of him. Not the kind of situation the Great Enrico Sebastian might like from the jump, you know, bottom of the totem pole and all that.”

“Does it matter?” I asked.

“Normally, it wouldn’t–” Mando took his shot and ordered me to do the same, “hey, andale, take your shot too, bro, I’m not flying solo tonight.”

“Normally, it wouldn’t be,” he continued, “but this is the movie theater we’re talking about, and they have their own set of rules.”

“Own set of rules?” I asked, “Movies 6 is a corporate theater, isn’t it? You can’t make your own rules in a corporate gig.”

“Man, you have been gone from Cuatro Esquinas, for a while haven’t you,” replied Mando.

“True that,” added Turo, as he swigged his shot in one quick gulp, and grimaced at the after taste. “We rule the place. As long as shit gets done, everyone’s happy. Fuckin’ A!”

“Would-Be Kings-Style!” Mando laughed, as he slapped my shoulder, “So glad to have you back, bro. You’ve been gone too long, Enrico.”

“Here! Here!” added Turo.

We raised our empty shot glasses to each other.

“Hey,” said Turo, “out of shots!” He slammed the shot glass down on the table, “Be right back. I got this. Round three!”

Mando and I laughed as Turo stumbled through the empty tables, and headed to the front where the bartender had only begun to wonder what we were all about.

“Anyway,” said Mando, “it’s my brother’s going away party tonight, and like I said the people that work at the movie theater have their own set of rules when it comes to, uhm–yeah, pretty much everything. So I feel I’ve got to give you the heads up before we get to the party.”

My knowledge of Movies 6 had, until then, been customer based. I didn’t know the people that worked there. In fact, Eddie had only begun to work at Movies 6, about a week before I had left the Valley. I used to frequent the place on Saturdays to watch movies as a kid, and later on as a lonely teenager stuck between popularity and ostracism. Growing up as I did, I would spend the entire day having only spent money on one ticket, then found a way to sneak into another movie, and then another movie without ever getting caught. I loved the place. It’s look and feel with an old movie-house type of environment; a throwback ambience to what I imagined to be the more romantic movie theater experiences one might have had decades ago. It was much different from the commercial movie-plexes that popped up over the years in McAllen. And, it sure as hell beat anything anyone was willing to build in Cuatro Esquinas. I found it strange that there would be anything deeper to that ambience. When Mando spoke about ‘own set of rules,’ I thought, ‘what ‘rules?’ Didn’t they just do things as simple as serving concession snacks? Clean the place up a bit? Run the shows? Sell the tickets? Keep a half-assed eye on kids like me to prevent things from running amok?

I didn’t think about it for too long as Turo returned with another round of Cuba Libres, and another three shots. He seemed a bit confused as he kept looking back at the bartender who by then was giving us the type of looks a bartender gives when he’s about to call the cops.

“You know what, gents? I think we better head out of here after this. This guy seems pissed about something,” said Turo.

“Oh yeah? And that’s because I tipped the fucker! No wonder this place is empty!” I replied loud enough for the bartender to hear me. His face continued to sour as he turned away.

“Anyway, here are the drinks and the shots,” Turo continued, “Shots! Shots! Shots!”

Mando started to laugh uncontrollably at Turo, but found enough time to stop and pick up his shot glass.

Orale, ok, ok,” he said, “this one is for my bro…not you guys, my actual brother…AND his party tonight where I have vowed to bring five bottles of the finest liquors Mexico has to offer.”

“And where are we going to get these bottles?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied, “I saw a farmacia just down the street from here. We’ll try there.”

We all laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. For my part, I suddenly realized my apprehensions about coming back to Cuatro Esquinas, and the Rio Grande Valley, might very well be unfounded ones. I just needed to shake off the cobwebs, so to speak, I supposed. After we finished our drinks, and readied to leave the bar, Turo took a sudden interest in the empty glass cage.

“Hey, guys,” he said tapping on the glass as if trying to conjure up something to magically appear suddenly, “didn’t there used to be a monkey in here?”

“Yeah,” Mando and I replied.

“What happened to him?” he asked.

“Don’t ask,” I replied.

We headed out the door, without so much as a cordial Adios to the bartender, and walked down the cobblestone sidewalk towards the farmacia on the corner. The sights and smells of Old Mexico continued to take hold of our heightened senses. Those lights, the sounds: dusky streets, honking cars, children crying–hungry and starving, mothers begging—cupro-nickel savior coins (silver colored nickels, dimes, quarters: American made, American dreamed), men selling garlic ropes that stave off the cursed evil-eye, or Ojo, as the orange-yellow blaze of a setting Sun only just began to surrender its fleeting brilliance to the engulfing violet shades of the impending night. Colorful, and magical, it was something that the buzz from the rum and the tequila could only begin to quantify.

 

 

Although Mando was intent on keeping his promise to Eddie that we provide the ‘finest liquors,’ for the party, the farmacia, as it turned out, was not the place to do it. The only bottles of liquor we could find were stacked behind the checkout counter, and the prices for each were too much for our tastes. Heartfelt promise, or not, we were in and out of that farmacia empty-handed, as we made our way back passed The Imperial, and further down the street towards a curio shop we’d remembered from our days in high school.

Once we arrived, and tucked our heads down beneath the hanging piñatas at the entrance, Turo was like a bloodhound: zeroing in on our kill as he scoped aisle after aisle of the shelved liquor bottle section of the store in order to lock the best deal on prices we could find. Mando grabbed a hold of my arm for a moment, and signaled me to hang back, preferring a much slower approach to Turo’s methods, I thought. I didn’t know it had more to do with what Mando wanted to ask me.

“Say, Enrico,” he began, “I need a favor this coming Monday night.”

I slowly began to put my guard up, no longer wondering why Mando kept me close as Turo kept his distance from us.

“Alright,” I said, “but why are you only asking me?”

“Because I work Monday night, that’s why,” Turo said from two rows down.

As a general rule of our friendship, we came to realize from the onset that while it was ideal to take on the gang mentality of going on adventures, it was never realistic to expect we’d three would always be around for each other. Thus, we came up with the Odd-Man Out rule. It made no sense to adhere to such a rule this long after high school, but I decided for the sake of getting reacquainted, I’d stick with it, for old times sake, as they say.

“Okay, Mando, what is it?” I relinquished.

“I need a third wheel,” he began to plead.

“No. Nope, nope, nope, I still haven’t forgotten about the last time I did you a favor like that. Hell no, done with that shit,” I replied, and tried to make my way to the aisle Turo was in.

“Oh, come on, Dude, we’re not in high school anymore. It’s different this time around. Plus, that favor was under a completely, I mean completely, different set of circumstances,” Mando continued.

“I had to get a tetanus shot when all was said and done, Mando.”

“Yeah, but at least I paid for the shot, didn’t I?”

“AND, I had to miss school during a VERY important week,” I remarked.

“Dude, come on! You’re still hung up on that whole Ruby-bit?” he protested.

“No, Mando, I’m not still hung up on the whole ‘Ruby-bit.’ I’m just saying that when I do favors like this for YOU, things don’t end up very well for ME.”

We quietly walked the aisles for a few moments.

“Please?” Mando made a final plea coming across his aisle into mine.

“Alright, fucker, but you’re lucky I’m not doing anything on Monday night,” I gave up. “So, any special requests that goes beyond just sitting around, and looking pretty?”

“No, no, nothing like that this time around. I’ve just been seeing this girl for about a month now, and I want to keep her off my back. Sexually, that is,” Mando said as he looked at the bottles along the middle row of the aisle.

“Mando is saying ‘No,’ to sex?” I asked sarcastically. “How ugly is she?”

“No, Dude. She’s cute and all, it’s just…” he began.

“A visual, Mando, please,” I told him.

“She’s Mexican,” interrupted Turo.

“A-B, convo, Turo,” I ordered, “Mando?”

“Okay, you know that telenovela actress, Yolanda Andrade?” Mando began to explain.

“I don’t watch telenovelas,” I replied quite honestly.

“Dude,” Mando shook his head, “really?”

“He’s been gone from the border too long, Mando,” chimed Turo.

“Turo, mind your shit,” I said. “Mando, is this Yolanda Andrade good looking?”

“Yeah,” Mando replied. “But, you know, she isn’t knock out gorgeous; she’s just not ugly.”

“I’m losing faith in you, Mando,” I replied.

“No, no, she’s pretty. Both of them, and this girl I’m dating reminds me of Yolanda Andrade. Anyways, you’ll meet her tonight at the party, so you’ll see for yourself. I met her at Cadillac’s about a month ago.”

“Cadillac’s?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s a new pool hall, but that shit doesn’t really matter. What matters is this girl and I hit it off, and well, we hit it ‘on’ later that same night,” he said. “Been together ever since, but it’s getting to be…”

“Monotonous?” I concluded as I began to discover some things hadn’t changed.

     “And boring. And it’s,” Mando sighed, “it’s not just the sex, you know, I’ve never been that type of guy…”

     Turo and I stopped looking at the bottle labels on the shelves, and looked at each other knowing full well Mando was full of it.  Mando caught on to the silent exchange between Turo and I.

“Seriously, you guys?” Mando said irritably.

“Well, whatever, man,” I tried to continue, “If she’s not that important why not just drop her?

Mando seemed annoyed at my conclusions. “Hey, while you’ve been tripping out in the great unknown, some of us didn’t have to get out of dodge to “find ourselves,” he shook his head while his fingers air-quoted, “I’m in a different place now. I’ve been doing things the past year that have changed my perspective on life. For the better, you know?”

I couldn’t help but doubt this newfound perspective Mando was talking about.

“Turo?” I asked.

Turo at this point was squatted on the floor in the aisle next to Mando and I. He must’ve hoped the cheaper bottles could very well be on the bottom shelves. “Oh, now you want my opinion,” his voice seemed to echo from the other side, “now I can ‘C’ myself in, huh?” Mando and I remained silent.

“Ok, well, while you were gone, Mando broke up with a girl he was in a fairly serious relationship with,” Turo began.

“Since then he’s been on this sexual existential crisis, i.e. drought, and he feels if he drops Cynthia,” Turo stood up from squatting, “That’s the name of the girl he’s seeing now, by the way…”

     I stared at Mando while I listened to Turo, “The Yolanda Andrade-looking chick I’m meeting tonight?”

“Right,” Turo answered. “Anyway, he feels that if he drops her right now, without some other relationship to fall back on, he’s not entirely sure when he’ll get laid again.” A cardboard sign on the back wall of the store announced Botellas Grandes—Dos Por Uno, catching Turo’s eye. “Oooh, Elephant bottles,” he commented, “I’ll be over there.” With that, Turo slipped away towards the back end of the store, as I glared at Mando, once more.

   “Bad sex is better than no sex?” he shrugged. “Yeah, okay, whatever, character flaw, blah, blah, blah. Look, bro, it’s not like you’re doing anything else that night, you said it yourself.”

     Although this was true, I hadn’t planned on spending my first few nights back getting into the swing of things. I was fairly tired from the last legs of my travels that I felt I needed at least a week or so to regain my bearings. I thought about it for a few seconds, but relented as I saw Mando, for whatever ‘real’ reason, needed this favor.

“There goes my Monday night,” I told him. “Fine. What time and where?”

“Awe, cool, bro. We’ll be meeting at The Pub, around seven-ish, to watch Monday Night Football,” he replied.

     “That shithole is still open?” I remarked.

“Dude, what isn’t a shithole to you?” Mando looked at me wondering.

      “Voila!” Turo returned, “Elephant bottle of vodka, boys. We’re set!”

I asked Turo about the second bottle the sign promised we could get for free. Turo replied that it was clearly a bait-and-switch tactic. The ‘free’ bottles the store was offering were “no longer available.” One bottle is better than no bottle, we then concluded.

“Wait a minute,” I said, “Our boots don’t have enough space to fit that in, genius. How are we going to cross that?”

Turo stared and shook his head while he clung the bottle close to his chest, “There’s just no pleasing you is there?”

We paid for the bottle and asked the clerk where we could find the nearest restroom. She claimed the store’s restroom was out of order but said we could find one a few stores down the street towards the centro of the city. The road to and from the centro was dangerous enough while driving, let alone walking as we were. We found the nearest alleyway we could find, instead. Being the biggest, and tallest of the three left me the odd-man out once again. It was a matter of physics that we chose to hide the liquor bottle in my left bootleg. At least by then, the sun had set making it easier to look like I was the typical drunk tourist who just happened to have the strangest of limps as we made our way back across the bridge to Texas.

Although the bottle was a tight fit, I managed, but I couldn’t deny those final few steps to Turo’s car were painful. I felt a blister coming on as I made my way into the backseat of the Cougar, and could only wonder how long before I could get a drink again as my buzz was beginning to fade. It would feel like the longest twenty minutes to get back to the center of town—to the Casa De Renaissance Suites in the heart of McAllen, Texas. The Would-Be Kings ride again. I couldn’t help but smile at the rows upon rows of the winter crops in the Rio Grande Valley hidden in the darkness of an overcast evening, and the skyline lights of the twin cities, McAllen and Cuatro Esquinas, fast approaching.

 

Of Cold Introductions In the Winter of 2008

         Chapter One

 

Enrico

OF COLD INTRODUCTIONS IN THE WINTER OF 2008

 

There was no one at the door by the time I got around to opening it. All I could hear was the silent breeze of a November night rustling through the leaves of the Encino tree planted in my front yard. A dog barked in the distance, probably at an alley cat making the midnight rounds of the neighborhood trash cans in search of scraps to indulge it’s starving stomach in. I took a moment to look around, stepping over the sill to look to my left, and then to my right. Nothing.

The knock on the door seemed hurried; important to the point that I felt whoever was on the other side must have some sort of an emergency. I took my time, though, rising wearily from my leather chair to head to the front door, on account that I was busy fiddling with the ream of paper stacked clumsily next to my typewriter. An old fashioned way of doing things, of writing, but the snapping strokes on the keys seem that much more authentic on an antiquated keyboard than those on my laptop. The romantic leanings of my fingers labor to push the buttons down, you see. Each letter, forming words, and the sentences that follow. The pangs of love for a craft made that much more laborious.

Now, I shouldn’t have expected the box to contain anything special. Maybe, perhaps, it was a prank, a game of ‘ding-dong-ditch’ gone awry. The box was light enough when I picked it up and took it back inside the house. I expected it to be filled with scraps of newspaper, or half-hearted cutouts of construction paper, or, if teenagers are what I remember them to be, perhaps, a dried up piece of cat poop.

Twisting and turning the box curiously with one hand, the other hand closing and locking the door behind me, I made my way back to my study. I was intrigued by the way it had been so meticulously wrapped, and decorated. I placed it on the desk on top of the ream next to my typewriter, and took a few moments as I sat on my chair to contemplate the whole matter. No bigger than a standard shoebox, it sat under the light of the desk lamp quietly drawing me in to take a closer look.

Almost mockingly, it did, as the box slowly melded into the central focal point of my attentiveness leaving everything BUT the package a blurring mesh of nonessential madness. And even further complicating my growing confusion about this box in front of me, the cat-scratch like markings along the entire surface repeating, “The 6,”

“The 6,”

“The 6…”

The box was, no doubt, meant for me to pick up. The familiar meaning of the markings, I knew. And was reminded of a time long since past, when “The 6,” lent it’s meaning to the foundation through which I was part of something simpler, more innocent, maybe, but something I’d long since set myself on never returning to again.

Indeed, yes, surely, it was meant to be set, upon my own present belongings. Somewhere in my house, intruding on even the most mundane, and trivial aspects of my current life, to leech off of it, in some way—shape or form– from this point forward. But, what ghosts will let loose upon my opening the box? What soul-sucking fiends from the past will discover that I’m still alive in this world? My own vulnerable soul still left to be devoured by the thoughts, and emotions from the younger version of myself: the vagabond, the aimless wanderer. The want from those spirits to coexist with whatever its contents will stir in my memories, surely.

I could fiddle with my curiosity, no further. I reached out and grabbed the box from the desk, almost falling off my chair in the process. And, like a child on Christmas morning, I tore through the taping of the box’s lid. Once opened, I looked inside. There, stacked neatly–paper upon paper, memento atop memento–were the journal pages ripped off of a notebook’s spiral, and snapshot photos mixed within every other page or so. With a laugh, I gently flipped the pages of the yellowing paper scrawled with the aging ink of our youthful genius where we used to pass our time by adding our personal comments documenting a movie theater experience that spanned the time from one December, in 1992, until the following December,

 

1993.

 

Gently placing the stack back in the box, I took notice of one of the first pieces laid flat atop the rest of the box’s contents: a snapshot, a picture–a moment in time. A group of old and newfound friends sitting around a kitchenette table, and the memories came flooding back. I held the picture between my fingertips, and inspected it closely under the light of the table lamp, clinching a cigarette holder between my teeth in a nervous, and wondrous grin. There we were, Turo and I making fake gang sign hand gestures, Mando and Eddie in a brotherly embrace smiling from ear to ear, Carlos leaning over Cynthia, seated at the table, with one of his legs swung seductively across one of her shoulders, and Cynthia caught in the act of playfully trying to push Carlos aside. I couldn’t help but smile at what, I, Enrico Sebastian, could not begin to ponder what the future held for me from that point forward. The strange events of a night that skewed the path of a fate or destiny that I’d previously been on dawned the emergence of a newer, separate, and less traveled road. A tide of cursed ventures imminently approached. And, I didn’t even know it. Smiling, as I was, so youthful, still hopeful that everything I’d planned out for myself was well on its way to coming true. And what important effects did this night have on the rest of my life? If for a split last second decision, I’d decided not to show up? Had I decided to stay away from the Rio Grande Valley for another month or so, would I have entered back into the fray of all the falsities our culture clung so hard to: family, friendship, career, with such a zeal as to fall to the trappings everyone else had held so high upon a pedestal?

I rested back on my leather chair, into the quiet of the darkness, (except for the small illumination still burning atop a lonely writer’s effects), and tossed the picture back in the box with a sigh. In the quiet moments of half past midnight, my memory wandered—at my behest—to remember the night, fourteen years before, that set me down a path when which I so unexpectedly, but all to willingly, lost my bearings:

 

Friday, November 27, 1992…