La elotera swung by the brown condos, the ugly ones by the 101 freeway in So Cal, flanked by decaying but still fragrant eucalyptus trees. It was night as she figured that was the best time for her to make a sale. Her shopping cart with dual blue Igloo coolers and a shiny aluminum tamalera pot rising like Medieval towers from its interior squeaked into the noisy complex stifled with chants of playing children and tamborazos of ranchera music.
Two squeezes from the rubber ball from the horn attached to her carrito salute the complex and the murky night. A gust of wind quivers the leaves of the eucalyptus trees, making a resonance like a flow of a river. The aromatics of the suddenly alive leaves smell like Vicks VapoRub. It opens the tamaleras nostrils, expands her lungs. She inhales deeply.
La elotera opens the lid to the cheap swap meet tamalera pot liberating a vapor of sweet corn scent that swirls and embraces the complex in a heavenly fog like a kiss from the marine layer. The familiar smell of boiled elotes attracts her first customer.
A cholo, todo pelón, wearing a Dallas Cowboys E. Smith 22 jersey, with two purple bullet holes to the dome materializes like a Vegas show hologram from aside a dry manzanita shrub embedded in crusty cracking soil. The cholo stagers towards her like a drunk. La elotera sees the entity approach but doesn’t seem frightened. She seems pleased and welcomes the pelón with a smile. Her first sale of the day!
“¿En qué te puedo ayudar joven?” the older elotera asks the spirit as she irons her brown checkered mantil with her hands. Pues, she is a classy lady.
“I can’t rest. I need something to go to sleep,” complains the cholo with his brains blown out. La elotera can see his tired white eyes floating in a sea of black like lifeboats waiting to be rescued by the Coast Guard.
“I have something that will help you rest,” she responds in English. She reaches deep into the tamalera pot, pulls out a steamy white and yellow corn on the cob. The vapor expelled from it swirls and rises to the heavens like a serpent in retreat. The elotera slaters the corn with mayonesa using her wooden pala, sprinkles crumbling white cheese all over that stinks like patas. All while twisting the palito she jabbed at the bottom of the sweetcorn. She then spritzes the corn with artificial neon yellow butter from a farting blue plastic jug, sprinkles earth red chile piquín until the elote is covered with a red furry blanket.
“Ya mérito, mijo,” she tells the lost soul. La elotera reaches for a mason jar with a sticker of the Virgen Maria on one side and La Santa Muerte on the other. She tightens the lid with the tiny nail size holes to make sure the valuable greenish-black powder inside doesn’t spill out. She sprinkles some of the unprocessed-looking emerald powder onto the elote and hands it to the cholo ghost. He takes a bite.
Three miles away in the neighborhood beyond the tracks, the vatos Sleepy and Chato are sitting in rusted lawn chairs drinking cheap beers and listening to ‘80s style corridos on their ‘80s style boombox. The big grey ones with twin woofers in the front and a cassette deck serving as the hocico. The grease from their too full grease collector on their grill steadily drips grease to the dirt, accumulating into a thick viscous puddle. That is unless the wind carries a rouge drop here and there to the neglected lemonade grass.
“Hey, carnal. You’re burning the tri-tip,” warns Sleepy lazily pointing to the flare-up charring the piece of meat. “And you’re going to set the grass on fire, just like the carne.”
“What grass foo’?” Chato unzippers his fingers from on top of his head and displays the backyard with a flat hand like a model from the Price is Right. “Y la carne está bien. No pues que you like it well done.”
Suddenly the back gate explodes open in a squall of splinters and rusted bolts. “Get the fuck down,” barks a gabacho cop with a nervous trigger finger. He points his Glock at the brothers, nervously alternating between all four of their concha bread eyes. Four more swat officers rush in like Clint Eastwood from Dirty Harry, .40s in hand. One of the police officers tosses the back door breaching a battering ram onto the dirt. It rolls and knocks down the BBQ. The mesquite embers splash out like neon rubies when the asador hits the ground. The tri-tip lays in the yellow and scorched grass like a slaughtered rhino in the African savanna.
“We’re taking you guys in for murder,” says the lead swat officer holstering his hand cannon. The brothers get zip-tied by the wrists and are taken away to an idling Ford Explorer police car. The detectives that figured out who were the perps watch from their Crown Vics a block away. Cigarette smoke rises from the half-open windows like a grey aura. It gets swept up by a gust.
Back at the brown complex, the cholo is finishing his corn. He is so into it; he doesn’t notice the white goo building up in the corner of his mouth like yeso. He takes his last bite of the corn.
“Man. That was the best corn I’ve ever had,” he says yawning widely like a lion that has cemented his future cubs with his pride of pussies. “I feel sleepy now,” he tells la elotera. He raises his arms into the heavens, begins to stretch his thin torso. El cholo begins to fade and turns into dust. His powder conforms to the laws of the wind and is swept up in the gusty breeze. La elotera sees his purplish blueish particles fly between the dancing eucalyptus trees, twisting and dodging bug-eaten leaves. His hue shoots into heaven like blue smoke from a vape.
“Ojalá que ya puedas descansar, mijo,” la elotera whispers starring at the crescent moon. She sees her next customer materialize from under the stairs of the crumbling second floor of the complex. An older lady, not too old, with a cord around her stretched-out neck, a swinging plancha at the end of it like a pendulum, walks up to la elotera. Her tight black leather pants let go of a chirrido every step she nears la ex curandera turned corn entrepreneur. Her round and too big for her small frame tits hit her chin like dribbling basketballs.
“Hola Doña.” She kisses la elotera’s bony, spotted brown, and loose-skinned hand. “¿En qué le puedo ayudar?”
“Mi marido. Ya no me quiso and cheated on me. Look at my clothes.” She raises her arms and whirls like a slutty amateur ballet dancer. The plancha almost bangs la elotera in the hips when she twirls. “He wanted me to dress like this. Like a hoochie. He stopped looking at me the same way. He didn’t touch me the same. Y yo ya estaba harta y cansada.” She cups her hands, places them on her face, and wails into them like an Irish banshee.
“No llores, criatura,” says la elotera. “Eres preciosa. You should never have to change who you are. Y menos por un puerco.” Like an ‘80s homicidal movie killer, she busts out with a huge chef’s knife from underneath the shopping cart and the blade shimmers like platinum in the sharp moonlight. She reaches into the pot; pulls out a sweaty elote, begins shaving the kernels of the cob with the blade too big for a viejita. The kernels tumble into a short but wide Styrofoam bowl. She wields her trusty wooden pala in the direction of the mayonesa jar and drops a big spoonful of the white oily condiment into the white bowl. She farts out artificial butter again from the farting blue bottle. Following her method to a tee, she sprinkles stinky pata cheese on top. But this time reaches for a Ziplock baggy containing crushed red hot-Cheetos. She sprinkles some of the jagged neon-red rocks on top. One last ingredient. She sprinkles some of the emerald powder gingerly on top of the esquite she lovingly constructed for the older fox. Wha-la, her pièce de résistance.
“Tome,” she says handing the resented lady her esquite. She takes it in her right hand, grips the plastic fork with her left, tight. The nails on her thumb and index finger bleach to white from the death pinch she has on the fork. She begins to scarf down the esquite like she hasn’t eaten a meal in a lifetime.
Meanwhile on the other side of town, at a grimy motel where the rate could be paid by the hour or the day, lays her husband on a lumpy mattress with its fitted sheet unfitted. His half-naked mistress sits on the edge of the bed with her arms behind her back hooking her bra back up.
“That felt incredible,” says the cheater laying with his hands behind his head as an extra pillow layer. “When can I see you again?” The sancha gets up and sparks up a cigarette next to the window overlooking the freshly repaved parking lot. She stares at a rouge cheeseburger wrapper kite in the gusty wind.
“Hey. Is that your S-Class on fire?” she casually blurs out pointing at a car engulfed in flames with her smoldering menthol frajo. She takes a long puff of her cigarette como si nada pasara.
“What!” the cheater roaringly shouts out. He lunges the sheets clinging to his sweaty body like saran wrap, jumps up from the bed as if a compressed spring on the mattress was liberated from the weight bearing down on it from above. He runs to the window. He sees red-orange and blue flames ravaging his interior. The flames flicker with tormented life. “My car!” he yells gripping the last few hairs he’s got on his head with his shaky fists. He pulls them out. His sancha takes another menthol drag, como si nada pasara.
The cheating husband runs out of the motel room tying his robe to make sure his wrinkled balls don’t make an appearance. He stops dead in his tracks upon walking outside to the parking lot. He can’t believe what he’s seeing. Between red flashes and the buzz of a neon sign advertising vacancy, he sees his adult son holding a red plastic gas tank. His daughter hugs numerous road flares. She waves to him with a road flare. The S-class blows up in a spectacular release of kinetic and chemical energy behind them. The bubbling hood lands in front of the cheater. A tire rolls by minding its own business.
“That’s for mom,” says his son with savage eyes. They are more alive than even the fire.
“I hate you,” spews his daughter with a scowl. “Mom killed herself because of you. You bastard!”
Meanwhile, in the complex’s courtyard the fork the neglected fox was holding falls through her grip. It lands in the dirt. The mayonnaise and butter concoction on the fork is like a magnet to the pebbles of dirt que se comportan como nails. The lady with the plancha around her neck begins to dematerialize. Her aura turns into floating spheres that in-ribbon la elotera for a moment, go over her head like a flyover from the Blue Angels at a ball game, and disperse into the heavens.
La elotera has enough time to check her cell phone when a señor walks up dragging his feet. He’s wearing a tan cocodrilo suit ready for the baile. He floats through a tirade de empty beer bottles and decomposing couches and mattresses with yellow stains left for dead in the complex and trash.
“Señora,” he cries bringing his hands together as if rezando El Padre Nuestro. “I need your help. I can’t stop thinking about my daughter’s quince and the father daughter dance I’m going to miss.”
“Ya ya, joven,” responds the old lady to the ghost of a gordito, ya middle-aged señor. His chaleco can barely contain his Mexican beer belly.
“I will give you something to calm your thoughts and guide you to the light.” La elotera fixes up an elote, but not a normal elote. A blue one. She puts the usual fixings on it but instead of putting chili powder on it how she usually does on corn on the cobb, she dredges it with crushed Taquis. She sprinkles some of her emerald powder on it but this time before handing the specter the mouthwatering elote, she hands him a pickled jalapeño. A dark green veiny mean-looking motherfucker. Cosa de maravilla!
“Toma,” she says handing him the jalapeño. Then the elote. “Take a bite of the chile first. Then the corn.” She turns her back on the ghost in the cocodrilo suit, begins rearranging her messy carrito, confident the elote will do the trick.
“Oh, shit this thing is hot,” dice el specter, fanning his hand towards his burning mouth trying to induct oxygen from the cool night. He makes duck lips, sucking in air like a vacuum.
“It’s supposed to be hot. To get all the endorphins going,” says the elotera leaning on her now organized carrito with her elbows.
Dela is nervous about her quinceañera dance. Her dad was her pillar of granite, her cheerleader, her guiding light. Y ya no está. “You were supposed to be here to dance with me, dad. You promised me,” she mutters starring into her glossy eyes in the mirror. A door bursts open from behind her. A lady wearing a purple ruffled cocktail dress sticks half her body into the dressing room. Dela wipes the tears from her cheeks and chin. Sniffs a little.
“We’re ready for you, mija” the lady with the ruffled dress announces to the down quinceañera. She shuts the door gingerly. Dela pulls down her white princess dress that keeps riding up. She takes in a deep breath, grudgingly gets up. She heads for the door of the salón’s dressing room, steps out, and shuts the door behind her.
“Your attention please, ladies and gentlemen,” announces the spiky orange-haired DJ. “Your aplausos to the pista, por favor.” The chatter fades to a whisper. The lights go black except for a spotlight in the middle of the dance floor. “Tennesse Whiskey” bumps out of the JBL speaker set up by the DJ. Dela and her chambelán, her older brother, begin their choreographed walk towards each other, like marching soldiers. The fog machine makes them look like they’re floating on wispy clouds. They reach each other and Dela’s brother takes the lead. He holds her by the hips, she puts her arms around his neck. She begins to cry.
“No llores, Delita. I’m here like I promised.” Dela lets go of the hold she had on her brother’s neck and shoves him in the chest.
“You mother fuc...,” she begins saying but is unable to continue her tongue-lashing because before her eyes are not her skinny brother but her deceased thick father in the tan cocodrilo suit they had picked out together for her day of transformation from a girl to a woman. “Apa,” she half whimpers. She rushes to her dad and hugs him; he picks her up and spins her around as he used to when she was only to his knees.
“Un aplauso para la quinceañera y su hermano, por favor,” the obvious DJ advises the uncaring crowd. “Que bonito. ¡Que bonitas memorias!” Dela rests her head on her dad’s shoulder.
A beam of light resembling the glare from the transporter in Star Trek begins to dematerialize the man in the cocodrilo suit enjoying his elote. A police officer rushes into the courtyard with a beaming flashlight that punctures the dark of the night like a knife versus skin. What was left of the spirit gets skewed away by the coned LED light of the flashlight. The half-eaten elote falls to the floor.
“What are you doing here?” the jura questions la elotera with the tenacity of a junkyard guard dog. He shoots his beam of LED light at her face. Then without letting her respond, illuminates her shopping cart with Medieval towers. “This place is off-limits. This is a crime scene. Can’t you see the crime tape up?” He shines his light on a unit with yellow crime scene tape tacked to the door. “What are you doing here? This place has been abandoned for years.”
The elotera grips the rubber handle to her carrito tight. The playing children’s laughter and cries and the tamborazos of music fade like a distant memory.
“No hablo pitinglish,” she says, looking into the blue of the cop’s eyes. “Well, it don’t matter. This place is off-limits. Get your cart and get out of here before I give you a ticketo,” he acts like he’s filling out a phantom ticket in his phantom ticket book with his phantom white right hand,” for not having a seller’s permit.”
“Sí, sí,” the elotera responds, shaking her head up and down like a bobblehead. She begins to push away from the center courtyard. She looks around the complex and there are broken windows and tagged-up walls and empty syringes and sliver spider webs and a few abandoned rusting shopping carts with tall grass growing from between their steel mesh. The cop finds the half-eaten elote and holds it from the palito. He looks at it, scrutinizes it.
La elotera stops at the end of the abandoned property. She looks back at the brown condo complex. She sees the bouncing white light from the cop disappear and reappear behind the corners of the dead complex. She takes one last deep Vicks breath and mumbles, “All cops are assholes.”
Chicano. Lisiado. Storyteller. Enrique C. Varela hails from Oxnard, California, the land his parents immigrated to from the state Guadalajara, Jalisco, in Mexico. He holds a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Writing minor to accompany it like a solid friend. Two of his short stories have been published in Chiricú Journal & The Acentos Review, respectively. His upcoming memoir, twisted: Tales from a Crip(ple) is slated to be published by Between the Lines Publishing in the coming year. He is beyond excited. His ethnic background is Mexicano. Though his skin pigment tells another story.