A chapter from the upcoming book Three Batos And One Chavala by Tommy Villalobos
Somos en escrito welcomes back Tommy Villalobos, one of the first budding novelists drawn to our cyberpages. After a long hiatus in a hideout in the High Sierra, he reappears with this chapter excerpted from a coming novel, full of broad swaths of barrio life and inimitable characters. Here's a quick glimpse, introduced in the writer's own words: “I’d like to give you a quick background of my story. It’s a novel, or novella, called Three Batos And One Chavala. It’s about a train trip from L.A. to San Francisco set in the 1930’s. I did research for that time period, including trains, terminology, dress, music, locations and geography. Three guys (los batos) compete for one Chicana beauty (the chavala) on the train ride. The story starts out in the East L.A. of that period and ends up in San Fran and Watsonville, with side trips back to L.A.. There’s a dominant tía involved, protectress of the girl, Samuela, who tries to trip up all suitors of her sobrina.”
Sandra made a twisted face because the encounter had ruffled her feathers and caused her great distraction, an interference of her concentration required to speak about meters and penta-meters in contemporary poetry. She sat down to review her lecture notes. The door opened yet again and Alicia popped in again.
“Señora, llegó otro.”
“This is outrageous!” wailed Sandra. “Hope you told him to go find another house.”
“No, también lo tire en la sala.”
“Is he a poetry critic from a magazine?”
“Not even close, Señora. He has shiny shoes, suit, tie and slick-back hair. He says his name is Alberto Pistillo.”
“Yes. He showed me something with his name, I guess, but I couldn’t read it since I left my lentes in the kitchen where I was cleaning the frijoles.”
Sandra walked to the door with the ugliest face she could imagine making, stopping at a wall mirror to look at herself. Satisfied, she continued on. Like she had just announced, this was outrageous to her. She recalled this apestoso, Alberto Pistillo. He was the hijo of Fred Pistillo, the one who was helping Joe Milago in trying to snag her little house overlooking the Pacific. He lived somewhere around here. This unwelcome visit could only have one purpose and that would be to talk about her house. She headed toward the living room determined to stomp out the Pistillo familia from her life once and for all.
Alberto Pistillo was skinny, appearing hungry for both food and love. He had dark, beady eyes and a pug nose, giving him the appearance of a desperate Pug Dog. In fact, he looked more like a Pug Dog than a Pug Dog did. He shocked diners in restaurants when he sat eating spaghetti and cream carrots. It seemed to them that he would prefer a small steak bone chased with a dog biscuit.
“Buenas días, Señora Westo.”
“Sit,” she said, keeping with the Pug theme.
Alberto sat even though he looked as if he would rather be petted. His beady eyes scanned the room, a wry smile on his mug, if I can use that word given his canine appearance.
“Señora, I need to talk with you alone.”
“You are talking to me,” said Sandra, waving around the room. “And as you can see, we are alone.”
“Where do I start?”
“I’ll tell you. No. The answer is No.”
Alberto shook visibly.
“Then you know?”
“That is all I know since I ran into Mr. Milago. He can talk about nothing but my humble casita. Your father talks about nothing else. And now,” Sandra raised the volume several decibels, “you show up to hammer my head some more. One more time, nothing doing. There isn’t enough money in circulation to let someone live in my home by the sea.”
“Then you don’t know why I am here?”
“You didn’t come to talk about my casita by el mar?”
“No, I didn’t come about that.”
“¿Entonces, por que diantre estás aquí?”
Alberto shifted his feet nervously. He moved his body as if were trying to get out of it.
“I like to mind my own business.”
“Really?” she said, to get him started again.
“I don’t carry chismes with just anyone.”
“I don’t make…”
Sandra was never a patient person. Or poet.
“Just let us accept all your character traits, and let us take it from there,” she said bluntly. “I am dead sure there are all kinds of things you don’t do. Let’s talk about what you can do about where you are now. What do you want to talk about, if I can make such a shocking demand upon you?”
“Your niece’s marriage.”
“My sobrina is not married.”
“No, but she is going to be. At The Little Chapel of Hope in Gardena.”
“I’m not happy either,” said Alberto. “I’ll tell you, and speaking for myself, I’m in love with her, too.”
“Nonsense as far as you’re concerned. But who is this other drip?”
“Felt that way for years. I’m one of those silent types, hiding in the shadows, liking a woman but never telling her or showing her my feelings…”
“Who is the snake who has ambushed my sobrina?”
“I have always been a man to…”
“Mr. Pistillo! Let’s also assume you have some good qualities. Tell you what, let’s not even talk about you anymore. You barge in here with a crazy story…”
“Not crazy. Facts. I heard it from a primo, who heard it from a prima, who heard it from an abuela, who heard it…”
“Will you tell me who the alley cat is who has tricked my niece or do I choke it out of you?”
“I agree that she is muddled, alright,” said Alberto, jumping at the opportunity to be agreeable, “and I think she should be marrying me. She is a fine catch. We practically grew up together and I loved her then and love her now. I’m sure she knows. But things sometimes don’t go the way you want them to. I saw a chance last summer but I lost my nerve. I am not a smooth and flashy man with a great line. I can’t…”
“Stop now!” said Sandra. “Hold your self-analysis for friends and family who would be somewhat interested. I want to hear the name of the worm my niece is NOT going to marry.”
“I thought I told you,” said Alberto, surprised. “Extraño. Guess I haven’t! Funny how you feel you’ve said something and haven’t. People know me as…”
“Whatever is the fool’s name?”
“Milago? Trimino Milago? The wild-haired son of Joe Milago I met at your father’s casa?”
“You have it. What a guess. You should stop it before it happens.” “Watch me.”
Tommy Villalobos, in his own words: “I am living a contemplative life in suburbia, which itself is something of a feat. Talk about an oxymoron. I am writing my silly novels and short stories about my working gente (and some who kinda work), and their sometimes entertaining attempts at love and living in our bicultural experience going way back before La Llorona, El Cucuy and them. I hope to make friends so I can steal more historias and chismes for my stories. I was born and raised in East Los, but I have wandered aimlessly since. I presently live near Sacramento in an undisclosed location known only to who knows who.”