I Fought the Goat and the Goat Won
Excerpt from The Nope Game and Other Stories by Javier Loustaunau
As all my fans should know, my biography came out last week, chronicling my early days as a line cook all the way up to owning a small chain of restaurants before the TV show and all the cookbooks. Still this book is incomplete without me leaking this unpublished chapter against the wishes of my editor and my publicist. They refused to let me put it in the book, as it would ‘harm my credibility’ and ‘ruin my image’ but I swear this story is true, it is the last thing I think about when going to bed and often the first thing that comes to mind when I sip my coffee in the morning.
It is the reason I became vegan, the reason I eventually opened a vegan restaurant, and the reason I am an ambassador for veganism as both as a lifestyle and as a political statement. This is a story about the last time I ate meat, and some of you will see it as a metaphor, a lark, a publicity stunt, or a strange flight of fancy. Some of you will think it is some punk rock burst of creativity, brought to you by the guy who created the ‘smoked vegan brisket’. On brand with my weird TV show and my weird sense of humor. “I wonder what he was on when he dreamed this up?”. However, you choose to view this, know that I believe it is the literal truth.For context, this takes place in the mid 90’s, when I was a fresh graduate from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and every day I was applying to and being rejected by some of the hottest or most prestigious restaurants in New York. Intellectually I was interested in French Cuisine, but my heart was not really into it, I honestly did not know what I wanted to do with my life beyond cooking. To make ends meet I took a job at a Mexican place, not a mom-and-pop burrito shop but an actual honest attempt at fine dining before anyone really knew what Mexican food was except for Rick Bayless and Diane Kennedy.
Shit, I had no idea what to expect. I only applied because I figured it would involve opening cans of beans and stirring big batches of chili con carne. I’m not embarrassed to say I did not take the cuisine seriously because back then nobody did. The place was actually very popular, and the Chef went on to have some success of his own. I will refer to him as El Patron for the remainder of this chapter. I know in a book full of name-dropping it is odd that I do not mention who he is; but he does not want to be associated with this story. It is the reason he fired me and has not spoken to me in years.
He did hire me for my first professional job though, to help out in his restaurant. After a month of washing dishes and performing menial tasks like carrying boxes and cleaning up, he said I was ready to do prep work. This involved showing up at the crack of dawn and breaking down and cleaning all our meats, peeling and chopping all our vegetables and getting several stations set up for the day. I had no idea how to make Mole or Pipian or any of the sauces that made this place popular, for now my job was just to slice and dice and clean.
One morning I nearly had a heart attack when I opened the walk-in freezer. Hanging from a chain in the middle of the tiny, refrigerated room there was a skinless goat, staring at me with two big round eyes. It was horrifying for some reason. I had gutted and cleaned endless fish, shucked oysters, broken down chickens and butchered sections of pigs but… God damn that goat game me a fright and it did not go away either. I looked away from it as I reached half my body into the freezer grabbing for a large crate of vegetables. I heard the chain creak softly and when I looked next to me the whole goat had rotated slightly, meeting my eyes with it’s own dead eyes again.
I shut the walk in and just felt sick and panicked. The adrenaline from being startled was not wearing off, it was instead intensifying, into a full-blown panic attack. My heart was racing, and I had to repeat to myself “it is just meat” in order to stop being paralyzed and start moving about the kitchen again. I had been successful in retrieving my first case of veggies so I started to prep them, trying not to cut my trembling hands in the process. Every few seconds I would get a flash of that goat’s skinless face in my head, with it’s deep dark eyes staring right at me. It had a ghastly smile, probably the result of being all muscle without lips or skin. The whole thing just haunted me.As I finished dicing up the last of the carrots, a certain dread overtook me… I realized I had to go back into that walk in. I laughed a little, it was silly how scared I was of the damn thing, and then I realized El Patron might be expecting me to break it down. I felt a sudden chill go through my body… there was no way I was butchering that thing. I reached into the walk in for another crate of veggies, barely seeing anything through my squinted eyes. My arm touched the cold flesh of the goat and I recoiled, then panicking I snatched the veggie crate and shut the door spilling several zucchinis and onions inside the walk in and on the floor of the kitchen.
As I sliced up onions, I felt my whole-body jerk in reaction to a loud thump in the walk in, surely a vegetable I had left behind rolling off the shelf and onto the floor. There were a few more loud thumps over the next minute, and then a loud CLANK of something hard hitting metal. CLANK! And I was startled again, almost cutting myself. It was unsettling, but I just really did not want to open the walk in unless I had to. A few more clanks interrupted my work, and I was finally ready to move onto cleaning chicken and trimming steak so I worked up the courage to open the walk in freezer again.
It took a couple of tries to actually move my arm, to actually turn that handle and get it open… and when I did there where vegetables strewn about the floor and a couple of sauce containers were on their side and leaking… but the goat was completely gone. Only the chain was left behind, swinging gently, reminding me that I really had seen what I had seen earlier. I just crumpled, sitting on the floor dumbstruck, staring into that walk in unable to do anything. A million explanations raced through my mind: it is a prank, I have lost my mind, my drink last night was spiked, somebody moved it while my back was turned, I am not alone here…
CLAK CLACK CLACK CLACK. I heard hooves on tile, somewhere near the restrooms or the front of the restaurant. I hid behind my prep station, with a knife in each hand. In my head, I was mocking myself for being so afraid of something so implausible, so surreal. The clickety clack would come and go, appearing and disappearing in different parts of the restaurant, but never in the kitchen. I steeled myself, and slowly peered from the side of my station.
My gaze was met by two deep black eyes, staring back at me from a skinless face. Its tongue hung limply from one side of its mouth, and it was perfectly able to stand on its four skinless legs. I freaked the fuck out; my knives went flying and by the time I heard them clang onto the ground I was already taking shelter inside the cramped walk-in freezer. This situation was not much better though, it was pungent with leaking chili sauce and cold and cramped and dark and I knew I could not last long in here. The smell made my eyes well up with tears and those tears felt cold, like they could turn to little icicles. When I heard the beast slowly clickety clack away into the seating area and I sighed relief.
I left the walk in slowly, surveying my messy surroundings but I saw no sign of the goat. Once again, I retrieved my knives and prepared myself to escape out of the back of the restaurant. My feet would slip and slide as I left footprints of chili sauce like dark drying blood. I was moving as slowly as I could, all the while clutching my knives and listening for any movement. I made it past the sinks and was almost out the back door, but I looked, and the goat was in the corner across from me. I screamed “What the fuck are you?!” at it. It made a grunt that turned into a sort of loud screech and it came at me, full force.
I held my blades before me, eyes closed, trying to swing at the beast. It must have leapt because I felt a strong punch right in the gut, and it sent me backwards falling and knocking over a trash can. It’s face was inches from my face, and I distinctly heard it say in a low growling voice “Yo soy el Nagual” before everything faded to black.
I would awaken at the hospital that evening, panicking until a couple of nurses held me down and one came running with a syringe. “No, stop, I’m OK now, I’m OK” I yelled and they backed off, giving me some space to breathe. Fragments of what happened that morning came rushing back to me, at least what I could remember, whatever I was able to jot down later would eventually turn into what you are reading now. At that moment, I was just experiencing an intense euphoria, of knowing I was safe. As you might imagine they said I had experienced some sort of psychological event, likely a nervous breakdown from stress and lack of sleep. I had been partying a lot, and I had been broke, but honestly stress never really factored in, at that age I felt invincible.Then El Patron came in and stared at me in silence for a minute as he composed something in his head. Finally, he said: “I’m glad you are OK, I really was worried. I also hope you understand that you can’t come back to my restaurant, I could forgive you but the doñas who actually make the sauces and tortillas would never feel safe again with some crazy person or drug addict around. I just pay the bills, the doñas really run things and they are scared of you. But I did bring you something, because hospital food sucks. It is birria.”
He poured some warm broth and meat out of an insulated container into one of the bowls we use at the restaurant and from a second container he added some diced onions, oregano and a couple of lime wedges. When chefs are concerned but do not know what to say, they communicate with food. I am the same way, even now. I slurped some broth and it was amazing, I instantly realized I had not eaten since the previous day. I devoured the food almost crying in gratitude and relief and sopped up the remaining chili tinted red grease with a tortilla.
“This is possibly the best thing I’ve eaten, what is it?” I asked. “Birria is goat stew, with chilies and clove” he replied. Just like that, I felt it coming back up, and for a second time that day I humiliated myself before el Patron by making a mess. That really was the last time we ever spoke to each other, even though we would often get booked by the same shows filming back to back episodes. I developed a revulsion and full on phobia to meat, and that fear and disgust fueled my desire to innovate in the space of vegan cuisine. It is why you have never seen me as a judge on shows; I tell them I have too many food allergies to be a judge. It is why I was able to ignore the bad reviews and bad press while I built up my career, those things never scared me. Bankruptcy never scared me. Scandal never scared me. The only thing that ever scares me anymore are the memories of having to take animals apart, and thinking of El Nagual.
Javier Loustaunau was born in Los Mochis, Sinaloa where he lived until his 21st birthday. Shortly after 9/11 he decided to move to the US to work for a while, taking a break in his studies as a biochemical engineer. Instead he worked his way up from restaurants to banking, from banking to operations and is now a data analyst in the HRIS and Insurance field. He is a published author of poetry and prose, specializing in short scary fiction. You can find his work on the NoSleep podcast and in the anthology Monsters We Forgot. Purchase The Nope Game and Other Stories.
by Armando Gonzalez
Fernando was in the living room, sitting on the couch and watching T.V. He was watching iCarly, a show he knew he would get made fun of for watching if he ever admitted this to others at school. Although he had already seen the episode where Carly finds out the cool, hot kid likes to collect peewee babies, he wanted to watch T.V. because he did not want to get a haircut.
He had done everything that morning very slowly. He took a slow shower and let his thoughts wander. He did this often, and liked doing this because in part it was relaxing, but he felt there was some other reason why he liked doing it but he could not figure out the reason. Of course, that morning when he took a shower, he really let his thoughts wander so far beyond himself that it was as if his mind was slowly leaving his body, so that when his thoughts eventually returned back to him, he felt like he was in someone else’s body that just so happened to be called Fernando. He would annoy parents when he did this, most particularly his father, who wanted to avoid using too much water for the fear that the landlord would tell him something. Since he always locked the door, his father would have to pick the door lock with something that looked like a small metal cane.
When he went inside, he would tell Fernando, “Cuando no vas usar el agua, apágalo.”
Fernando would just say, “Okay.”
Fernando had done everything he had to do that morning. He had even brushed his teeth. Now he just had to leave the house, go over to the beauty salon that was about a block away, and get a haircut.
His mother, who was in the kitchen washing dishes, began to call him, “¿Fernando, qué hora es?”
“Son las tres.”
“Ya se está haciendo tarde. Vete a la peluquería antes que tu papá venga, o se va a enojar.”
He went into the kitchen where he knew the semi-wrinkled ten dollar bill would be, waiting for him on the kitchen table. He picked it up and looked at it. He looked at Alexander Hamilton’s hair, which was a wig, but Fernando was unaware of this. Although he didn’t really like the way Hamilton’s hair looked, Fernando was jealous because his hair looked longer than his. He wondered for a short time why it was that men back then were able to have long hair but now had to have short hair.
He said goodbye to his mother and started heading over to the beauty salon, slowly walking. But it didn’t matter how slow he walked because it took little to no time to reach the beauty salon. He stood in front of the beauty salon and hesitated to enter. He touched the tips of his bangs. It wasn’t long or anything, about medium length size to be exact, but it got long enough for his father to tell him to get a haircut. He knew that he would have to get a very short haircut and would be angry the whole day. He also knew that if he didn’t get the haircut, his father would get angry at him and would force him to get one. It didn’t seem like there was any room for compromise. He did not like fighting with anyone, especially grownups. He felt adults for the most part knew more than him, but sometimes he felt adults were just as clueless as him.
He finally went inside and went towards the glass counter. On the glass counter there was a yellow legal pad with a list of names crossed out and others that were not. It was the sign-in sheet. He picked up the black pen next to the yellow legal pad and wrote his name.
Fernando walked towards a chair and sat down. It was a Saturday, a popular day to get a haircut, and just after noon, so the wait was going to be a little longer. In the beauty salon were mothers who had brought their children to get a haircut, one that was presumably going to be short. He saw men there, too. They looked like they were by themselves and all had short haircuts. The men who sat in the beauty styling chairs were getting their hair cut and looked like they enjoyed having short hair. Some of the hairdressers, who were mostly women, had a variety of haircuts. Some of them had long hair, medium hair, and even short hair. Some of them even had their hair bleached or dyed another color like red.
There was one gay hairdresser, or at least he appeared so. Fernando noticed that most men, if they were not in any kind of hurry, did their best to avoid having their hair cut by him. His father told him once, after he had his hair cut done by the gay hairdresser, that he thought that that man was weird.
The beauty salon had gotten more packed since he walked in, and now every chair was taken. With so many people the hair salon had now gotten hotter. One of the hairdressers went to turn the air conditioner on, but it was going to take time for the place to cool down. Fernando decided it was probably better to wait outside, even if there was a chance he would not hear his name called out. He just wanted to get out.
Fernando got up from his chair and waited outside. There were two men standing outside, too. He leaned against the wall of the beauty salon and as usual began to get lost in his own head. Across the street was the field of the middle school he would soon attend next year. From what he understood from movies, middle school was usually not a great time for most kids. He wondered what he would be like when he was in middle school. He had typical middle school self-conscious thoughts: Would he be popular or unpopular? Cool or uncool? Outgoing or shy? Smart or dumb? Funny or unfunny? Interesting or boring? Mysterious or unmysterious? Handsome or ugly?
Regardless of these thoughts, Fernando fantasized about having a good time. He was also getting to that age when he started to notice girls sexually and how he liked being around them a lot more than most boys. He thought of having a girlfriend, but then he wished he had not thought of this because he did not know whether he was fit to get one. He felt boyfriends had to be strong enough to get into fights. He did not feel he was this kind of strong.
Maybe I am strong in other ways, he thought.
Just then a hairdresser opened the door.
“¿Está Fernando aquí?”
The two men looked at the hairdresser. Then the two men and the hairdresser looked at Fernando. Since he was lost in his own thoughts, it took him a couple seconds to register what was going on.
“¿Qué?” said Fernando.
“¿Usted es Fernando?”
He was about to say yes when the thought of being strong in other ways occurred to him. In the moment he was driven by emotions instead of reason.
The hairdresser said okay and went back inside.
Fernando immediately regretted what he had done. His heart was beating fast. He tried to calm himself down and thought of going back inside and telling the hairdresser that he had misheard, that he was in fact Fernando. But he was too ashamed to do even that. In reality, there was nothing to worry about. If he had simply gone back inside and told the hairdresser that he was in fact Fernando, she would most likely think nothing of it. But this was a big deal to him, as it was the first time he had ever truly done something for himself.
As if he was no longer in control of himself, Fernando’s legs began to slowly walk away from the beauty salon.
He was walking on a sidewalk, unsure of where he was going or what he was doing. He came to a crosswalk and pressed on the traffic light button. As he stood there waiting for the white walking man sign to come up, he began to think where he should go. All he knew was that he did not want to go back to the beauty salon or home.
Am I running away? Fernando thought. No, I can’t be running away. I have nowhere to go. I only have ten dollars…But it feels like I am running away.
The white walking man sign came up. Fernando walked to the other side of the street. While he thought about where he should be going, he mindlessly walked straight ahead, as if turning right or left would be wrong or be too much effort.
He arrived in a part of the city where there were many homeless people on the sidewalk. Some of them were either sleeping on a piece of cardboard or a mattress. Others were leaning against the wall of a dollar general store, thinking who knows what. It did not matter if one wanted to walk to the other side of the street because they would be there as well. Fernando had no choice but to walk on another street in order to avoid them altogether. He decided to take a right.
But even when he made a deliberate effort to avoid them, he saw one coming his way. He was a lanky homeless man with a blond and entangled, stiff beard. He had long blonde hair that looked like it had not been washed for days. Fernando wondered what his parents thought of his having long hair. He was shirtless but had a shirt hung around his neck like a shemagh. Fernando tried hard not to make eye contact with him. When the man finally got next to Fernando, he asked him if he had any change. He smelled extremely sour, so it was hard for Fernando not to make a disgusted reaction.
For a split second Fernando thought about giving the ten dollars to the homeless man because he felt sorry for him. He remembered what his father told him about homeless people, that they were all lazy people who didn’t want to work. He decided against giving the homeless man the ten dollars. Maybe if he had a dollar he would have given it to him.
Fernando shook his head. The homeless man, with a blank expression, said nothing and walked away.
Eventually the sidewalk ended and he was now facing a street divider, which to him almost felt as if it was demanding Fernando to make a choice, to either go left or right. Since he still had no idea where he should go, he thought it best to go somewhere where he can rest so he can think about it better. To his right he saw a McDonald’s. He thought McDonald’s would be a good place to rest and walked towards it.
In the McDonald’s he walked towards a table near a window and sat there. Once again, Fernando had to think about what he was doing.
Do I ever plan to go home? he thought. I know I have to go home at some point. But I still haven’t gotten a haircut. I know my father will get angry with me and probably force me to get one. There is still time to go to the hair salon to get a haircut. As long as I come back home with shorter hair I don’t think my parents will care too much if I come home late.
Fernando looked out the window for a while, staring at nothing in particular. He understood the simple fact that boys were supposed to have short hair and girls were supposed to have long hair, but at the same time he did not understand.
So what if I do have longer hair? It’s not the end of the world.
He touched his bangs.
Why does it matter so much to my father that what I am touching is a little long?
For some reason, Fernando had the strange feeling that someone was staring at him. He looked up and noticed that a woman, who was sitting with a man and two boys, and was a table away from Fernando, was staring at him. He assumed she was the mother of the children and the man sitting next to him was her husband and the father of the children. When Fernando made eye contact with the mother, she looked quickly away. Fernando thought nothing of this. But he then noticed other people, other parents, and even the cashier, were giving him stares too, as if he was strange looking. Their stares creeped Fernando out.
Do they know I didn’t get my haircut? he thought despite knowing how such a thought was nonsense.
Then he knew why. He was the only child in the McDonald’s who was all by himself. The other children were probably with parents or an older relative. Fernando thought maybe they thought he was homeless and was perhaps watching other people eat, although he did not exactly have the look of a homeless child. He felt his face grow a little hot. He wanted to leave as soon as possible. But, as soon as he got up to leave, he felt his stomach grumble. He was hungry. He remembered he had a ten dollar bill. His hands trembled as he took the ten dollar bill out of his right pocket. There was Hamilton once again with his long and white wig. This was the bill he was given to get a haircut, but now he was thinking of using it to buy something to eat at McDonald’s.
At first he was reluctant, but he realized that as long as he did not spend more than five dollars, he would still have plenty of money to get a haircut because it was exactly five dollars. But he wondered what his parents would think when he didn’t give them any of the change back.
I can say that after I got my haircut, I got the sudden urge to eat something at McDonald’s, thought Fernando. He figured it was such a simple reason that the worst that could possibly happen is his parents telling him he should have let them know before he went.
Fernando went to the cashier and ordered himself two cheeseburgers and a meal. It was $4.89. He now had $5.11. Just enough to still get a haircut. He ate his two cheeseburgers and fries and small coke without feeling too much guilt.
After he was done eating, he decided it was probably time to go home. If he still wanted to get a haircut, it was his last chance, that is, if he did not want to be dragged by his own father to the beauty salon. Images of his father yelling at him and grabbing him by the shoulders formed in his mind. He no longer hit Fernando, but nevertheless, he was still afraid of him. Even though he knew others would find this a little silly, to Fernando, yelling and hitting almost felt like the same thing. He asked someone in the McDonald’s for the time and she told him it was about to be three. He started to feel anxious again. He walked quickly out of the McDonald’s and planned on going back to the beauty salon.
He stood in front of the beauty salon. The place was much more packed with people since it was now later in the afternoon. He entered again, this time with shame, and avoided eye contact with any of the hairdressers that might have seen him enter the first time. When he walked towards the counter and looked at the names written on the yellow legal pad, he saw his own name was crossed out. He wrote his name on the yellow legal pad again.
He looked around to see if there were any empty seats. He saw one, but it was between two seats that were occupied with people, an older man with a grown out buzz cut to the left and an older woman to the right with a long ponytail.
When he went to sit down on the chair, he noticed how fast his heart was beating. He started to wonder what his parents were thinking. The thought formed in his head that his mom was probably thinking why their son was taking so long to get a haircut. He could picture his mother being worried at the moment and his father either driving home from work or having just arrived home. He could picture his worried mother telling his father that Fernando had not come home. His father would most likely get furious. “¿Cómo que no ha llegado? La peluquería está muy cortita.”
He was shaking now. He wanted to get his haircut right away. The walls to his right had pictures of men with combovers, tapers, undercuts, buzz cuts, short spiky hair, spiky quiffs, fades, etc. He didn’t even bother to look at any of them because he thought maybe if he got the shortest haircut that his father would not be so mad at him.
“Fernando,” a hairdresser called his name.
Fernando stood up immediately and walked over to the hairdresser that called his name. Luckily she was not the same hairdresser that called him the first time, or that would have been embarrassing. The hairdresser was a short, skinny Mexican woman who had a pixie haircut with highlights. She led him to the stylist chair. He sat down and looked at himself in the mirror. He had an overgrown hairstyle and, at most, his fringe barely passed his eyebrows. He secretly wanted to have long and flamboyant hair like a male anime character.
Only after the hairdresser put the hair cloth on Fernando did she ask him: “¿Cómo quieres tu pelo?”
Although he was feeling anxious before about his dad yelling at him if he arrived home late and without a haircut, Fernando did not respond right away. The hairdresser stared at him and asked him again.
Fernando told her to give him a short haircut, a number four on all sides.
Just then, his father came into the beauty salon. Fernando could feel someone staring at him, hard, to his left and turned to see his dad standing near the entrance. His father, while looking noticeably angry at Fernando for taking such a long time to get a simple haircut, at the same time had an expression on his face of approval. He walked over to where Fernando was seated.
“¿La lista de gente era larga?”
Fernando nodded his head.
“¿Qué tipo de corte de pelo vas a agarrar?”
“Un número cuatro en todos lados.”
“Eso está bueno.”
Fernando just looked straight ahead and said nothing.
“Voy a estar sentado. ¿Okay?”
Fernando nodded again.
The hairdresser reached into a counter drawer for the hair clippers and turned it on. As soon as he heard the buzz, Fernando went stiff, and suddenly he remembered once again what he had told himself earlier in the day which made him run away for a short while: Maybe I am strong in other ways.
When the hair clippers got near his hair, he moved his head away, which surprised the hairdresser.
From where he was seated, he heard his father yell “¡Fernando, quédate quieto!”
Fernando did not listen. Without having to think about it, he got off his chair and made a run for the door. When he got near the door, his father, who was so caught off guard by what was happening, had to register what was going on, and because of this, he had lost a second or two that would have enabled him to grab Fernando. This resulted in his father’s failure to catch Fernando, as he only managed to snatch the hair cloth off him.
He ran as fast as he could without ever looking back. His father kept calling out his name. Without looking both ways, Fernando ran across the street to the middle school’s chain link fence. Cars honked at him and the wheels of cars screeched on the pavement and people yelled things at him, mostly in Spanish. He did not have a second to think where he was going to turn when he got near the chain link fence. He turned right. Soon after he made the turn, he almost ran into a short Mexican lady selling flowers to cars. He kept running straight ahead. He no longer heard his father calling out his name. Either he was too focused on chasing him or he had stopped chasing him.
Now I’m going to get it, Fernando thought.
About an hour or so had passed since he last ran away from the beauty salon. He was back to running away, except now it felt much more official. Whereas before he was scared enough of his father to return back to the hair salon, now he was too scared to even go back home. He had no idea what he was going to do now. All he had in mind was to be as far away as possible from his home.
By now he was walking by the Santa Ana riverbed. He stopped walking and looked down at the riverbed, which was bone dry. He decided to walk down the riverbed, where he could hide easily and sit down in some shade under the overpass. There was a homeless person sleeping at the very bottom of the riverbed and using a black backpack as a pillow. He had a blanket, coated with some dirt, wrapped around himself. Fernando made sure to avoid stepping on any broken glass bottles or any sharp object. The place smelled like piss and shit. Fernando sat down on an incline. And once he did, he realized just how tired he felt. Altogether, he had been practically walking the whole day, and because he felt very tired, he thought of absolutely nothing. For about half an hour he simply listened to the cars pass him from above. Occasionally people on bikes would pass by him and some would look at him with a concerned face.
Despite how dirty and smelly the place was, just listening to nearby sounds and sitting underneath the overpass was extremely peaceful for Fernando. It was something he didn’t know he needed.
However, he got the sudden urge to take a massive dump. The McDonald’s had finally wanted out. He had about three options: he could go back home, find a nearby place with a restroom, or take a dump where he currently was. Fernando knew he was too tired to walk long distances, so the first option was out. Besides, he didn’t want to face his father, at least not yet. He wanted to do everything he could to avoid the last option so he tried hard to think of restrooms that were nearby. He noticed there was a park next to the riverbed, so he figured that was probably his best option.
He walked slowly to the park so as to not let the poop come out. He got near a lake in the park which smelled of duck poop and saw a young looking couple sitting on a bench and thought about asking them where the nearest restroom was. Once he got closer, he realized it was two women who were sitting very close to each other, almost like they could kiss each other on the lips at any moment. Fernando was slightly uncomfortable when he saw them, but at the same time he didn’t really care if it was two women who were sitting so close to each other, he needed help, so it didn't matter who it came from. Also, by this time he really had to go to the restroom and had no time to be picky. When he got near them, he said, “Excuse me.”
Both women turned their heads around to look at him. They appeared to be hispanic. The one on the right was wearing a septum piercing. Fernando noticed that they smelled like something but couldn’t identify what exactly the smell was though. For him, it neither smelled good or bad. He noticed their eyes were very red, too. He had never smelled marijuana before. They also didn’t look like those kinds of women, the kind to get close to other women. They had long hair, wore tight jeans and both spoke in feminine voices. In a few words, they basically looked and sounded like normal women.
“Hi,” the one sitting on the right said. Both smiled and laughed a little more than was necessary. They seemed pleasantly surprised to see a child, all by himself, approach them.
“Do you guys know where the nearest restroom is?”
Both had to think for a few seconds. Then the one on the right pointed with her finger in a direction and said: “If you keep going that way, you will see a dirt track. There is a public restroom right next to it.”
As Fernando walked over to the public restroom, he heard the two women talking silently and laughing. They were probably talking about him.
Once he saw the dirt track, it was easy to find the public restroom. When he entered the public restroom, he noticed there were no doors for the toilet. There was just a wall to cover yourself on one side and that was it. He was scared that someone might walk in on him while he was taking a shit, but he had no time to worry about that, so he walked over to the toilet and sat down and did his business. He wasted no time.
After he was finished, it dawned on him that, once again, he had no idea what to do next. He figured he needed to find a place to sit down and think for a little, just like he had done when he was at McDonald's. He saw a ledge nearby and walked towards it to sit down, which was in front of the dirt track. He watched people jog. When he noticed how golden the people’s skin appeared, he realized that it was soon going to be dark. It was going to be dangerous for an early adolescent like him to walk the streets during the night when different kinds of people came out. He thought about how this might be his first time ever walking in the dark.
Fernando’s stomach rumbled. He was getting hungry again. The thought of buying food with the five dollars he had occurred to him. If anything was going to force him back home, it was going to be food.
Suddenly, the idea of buying a bus pass occurred to him. He remembered that he passed by a bus stop near the riverbed. He knew the one-day bus pass cost five dollars from the times he took the bus with his mom to places like the pediatrician when his father could not take them. If he took the bus he would definitely be able to get home before it got fully dark.
He walked over to the bus stop. When he got there he noticed that there was no one sitting on the bus bench. He chose not to sit down because he did not want anyone to sit next to him, especially since it was getting late.
It didn’t take long for the bus to arrive. When he saw the bus coming he saw on top of it bright orange letters which read “Golden West Transp Center.” He took the five dollars out of his pocket before the bus pulled up next to him. For a second he thought how it was a little funny that the money he was given was used for anything but a haircut. Who knew what his father would do to him when he arrived home with no money at all? At this point though, Fernando was tired and hungry and just wanted to get home, so he sort of didn’t care what his father did to him anymore. It was a bit of an amazing feeling, to not care at all anymore, he thought.
The bus pulled up next to him, the doors opened, and he got in. He inserted his five dollars into the fare box. He felt like the bus driver was staring at him, but he chose to ignore this feeling. Few people were on the bus. He sat on the seat all the way in the back on the right side of the bus, which was right next to the window. When he looked out the window, his mind wandered. He had many thoughts, and they went deeper than usual, almost like he was at home showering again. He expanded on a thought he had earlier, which was why his father wanted him to get a haircut so badly. Of course, he was not a stupid child. He obviously knew that his father wanted him to have shorter hair so that he looked more like a boy than a girl. But what amazed him is the fact that this simple thing of having longer hair, which was really nothing to get upset over, was something that made his dad uncomfortable, like he was a child like him, who was uncomfortable with the dark.
Although he felt that he was becoming less and less scared of his own father, he still wanted to avoid a harsh clash with him, as hopeless as that sounded.
What can I say to my father? Fernando questioned himself. How can I convince him that there is nothing wrong with a boy who wishes to have longer hair?
The bus was getting close to Main street, where he knew he had to get off. He thought of staying on the bus until he knew what to say to his father. Fernando thought and thought, but it seemed like there was just nothing he could say to convince his father that long hair was just as good as short hair, regardless of whether you were a boy or a girl. He knew his father was a very stubborn man and wanted things his way. He vowed to himself to never be like his own father.
He pulled on the yellow string to get off at the bus stop on Main street. As the bus stop wasn’t that far away from his home, he decided to walk the rest of the way home.
The walk home was a quiet one. He did not walk fast. There didn’t seem to be any good reason to do so other than to make his parents worry one less minute. He couldn’t imagine his father being worried about him at the same time being angry at him. He just couldn’t for some reason.
As he walked home, he passed by a church called Saint Anne’s. He looked at the bell tower and wondered what it was like to ring the bell. Fernando was not very religious, but he was not entirely against religion either. He had some questions about religion, whether one needed religion to be happy. Anytime he had a question like this, his mother always insisted that you did need religion to be happy, as if this wasn't obvious enough to Fernando that any free moment she had, his mother would devote that time to praying. Or when his mother would be in the kitchen cooking dinner, meanwhile she would have her phone on the kitchen table playing loudly some YouTube video of a catholic priest giving a sermon. In stark contrast to his father, his mother was a lot gentler and timid. He remembered once he asked her what it was that made her want to marry his father. Besides some other characteristics, the first thing that came to her mind was that he was a very hard worker. Fernando wasn’t sure if being a hard worker was something he liked enough in a person to want to want to marry them, but he understood.
He was now standing below the green Old Mcfadden and Main street sign. In just a few more steps he would be home. He stood below the street sign for a few minutes, getting himself prepared for his parent’s reaction. It was eight thirty p.m. Once again, his heart was beating fast. All kinds of thoughts about his father were going through his head. It was easy not to care when he was away, but now that he was a lot closer to his home, all his worries came back to him and he felt the tension in his shoulders, as if someone were squeezing them.
He started walking. He was scared but he continued to walk. As he got closer to the front window, he saw lights coming through a gap in the curtains. They were home. He walked up the red steps towards the black steel door and knocked on the metal screen. He heard footsteps. The knob of the door turned, the door swung open and before him stood his father.
The next day he was at the beauty salon again, this time with his father standing by his side. His father did not say anything to him when he arrived home. But the next morning he gave him a short, but assertive and even threatening sounding lecture.
“Ese si quieres quedarte en esta casa, necesitas obedecer lo que te digo que hacer. No quiero que vuelvas a correr porque solo te digo que te cortes el pelo.”
“Pero nada más es pelo.”
“¿Ese nada más es pelo, por qué no te lo cortas?”
Fernando only nodded his head and said okay, making little to no eye contact. His mother stood by, saying nothing.
“Vamas ir al peluquería. ¿Estás listo?”
He nodded his head.
So there they were again, in the beauty salon. His father told the hairdresser to give him a number three on all sides of his head.
“Por fin ya se va a cortar el pelo,” the hairdresser said.
“Sí, ya era tiempo.”
Both the hairdresser and his father chuckled. Fernando did not chuckle.
The hairdresser took the hair clippers out of the drawer and started. It was an easy haircut and of course no scissors were needed. It didn’t really matter where she started. She started on the top. Fernando saw his father in the mirror, with his arms folded, and with a satisfied look. He could have killed his father right there and then. He had all the necessary emotions boiling inside of him.
Armando Gonzalez was born in Santa Ana, California and continues to live there. His parents migrated from Mexico and met here and married. He has no schooling in creative writing, and “Haircut” is his first published story. He is Mexican American/Chicano.
Rinconcito is a special little corner in Somos en escrito for short writings: a single poem, a short story, a memoir, flash fiction, and the like.
Pictured is an open cannister of Scho-Ka-Kola, a caffeinated chocolate produced in Germany starting around 1935 and distributed to many German soldiers during World War II. The protagonist of “Out of Range” recalls widespread starvation in the years following the Spanish Civil War, coinciding with World War II, and a fortuitous encounter with Nazi chocolate.
Out of Range
by Olga Vilella
It happened sin darse cuenta apenas. One minute, Josefina Corrada was the exceptional mujer she had always been. A responsible professional. Puntal of the eight o'clock Mass de San Aloishús, even in the worst snowstorm in February. A mother who never disappointed. And the next day, she consigned everybody to hell.
“Se me van a hacer puñetas, todos. Y el que me esconda las llaves, me va a oír.”
Which is how she came to be waiting for Dr. Haddad, that day. Maybe she should send la familia that funny meme of the cat. Pa’l carajo…a mí nadie me manda. Even Joey, the only among her relatives she could stand these days. But el guaifi seemed to be down.
Certainly not to Josie, there was no reasoning with Josie lately. When Josefina thought of her eldest, she had to ask los cielos what sin was she paying for in this life, to have been saddled with such an ingrate of a daughter. Who never called, unless she needed something. Trite, trite, and verging on the caricature, but oh-so-true.
A flash of memory sparked in Josefina's mind. She blinked then, assaulted by a draught of icy air and un recuerdo. The pinkie finger in Josie’s left hand, curved slightly inward. The dedo that was a replica of her own. And then she closed the screen pa'quick. No thinking of la Josie. La que me va a armar cuándo se entere.
Swipe screen left. Not for anything Josefina was the only one among her friends that Twittered and Instagrammed and Facebooked and TikToked. A brief smile lifted the corner of her perfectly drawn mouth!--Cherris-in-de-esnow de Reblon—with the next image popping up in her head. A circle of silvery heads, jostling around, whenever she showed las amigas how to get on? in?—maldito inglés—social media. Yet again.
A small whoosh brought her back to her surroundings. Another blast of frigid air fell on her shoulders from above, like a shower at Varadero Beach Club, on a morning in August. Dios mío, ese aire acondicionado me va a matar de pulmonía. Y esta camilla.
A little face, all eyes, peered then from around the curtain of the cubicle. An orangey tube—¡cómo el presidente!—was poised firmly between his lips and a bag dangled from a grubby paw. ¡Un Chito! Food from the gods. Now forbidden by Josie. The sight made her stomach rumble, not for the first time. Josefina tried her nicest smile. Kids usually responded to her abuela charm, but this one was not parting with one curly bit.
El niñito left quickly, but the curtain of the cubicle had parted long enough for Mrs. Cou-rra-dah to catch a glimpse of a group in scrubs planted around the nurses’ station. Call me “mom” one more time, anda. See what’s going to happen to you, mija. Will you look at the size of those culos? People are really unattractive these days.
“Body shaming, grandma.” “Don’t call her china, grandma, she’s Korean.” The list of her many social sins clacked like dominoes in her memory. Swipe definitely left.
But Joey’s gently reproachful face, a caramel Mater Admirablilis, refused to budge, once invoked. “Grandma, be nice. I love you, but be nice. Te quiero mucho,” repeated to signal no bad intent, pronounced in that cute gringuita accent of hers.
Joey, tan bella, mi niña. Joey qué no salió a su mamá, that’s for sure. “If those people are Italian, I’m china. Coreana,” Josefina spurted out loud, almost choking, on a breathy yelp.
Look at the time, caballero. Deja, que estos van a trinar cuando yo termine con el presidente del hospital. ¡A mí! Qué me hagan esperar a mí, Josefina Corrada, la primera doctora hispana de Jersi Sity.
But the memory of her granddaughter’s brown eyes still hovered, stubbornly, before her. It was getting late. And Josefina was so tired. And more shook up than she had thought when the car stopped spinning. Tired, hungry, in need of reviving. “Latte with an extra shot,” she heard Joey order in that papery hoarse voice of hers. Even Joey, even her.
“Un café con leche, mijo. Cargadito.” These days, saying those words, en español, felt like an act of resistance. En español, like it or not. Café con leche. Y tu MAGA que te la metes por dónde no te da el sol. Besides, calling out for a café con leche at el Estarboc also conveyed, loudly she hoped, what she thought of people willing to pay más de cinco pesos for a latte. Café con leche, guanajos.
“Well, dear heart. It is a fallen world,” as Catalina always repeated, while dusting her bolster of a chest. She knew las niñas would worry about her when she didn’t show up. But she was also sure they went ahead and ate. At this point in their lives, not one of her friends was going to delay ordering lunch because one of them didn’t show up. They would never eat.
Maldita vejez. ¿Quién te prepara para esto? ¡Nadie! As if there were any medical textbooks that could prepare you for the indignities of old age.
The carefully calibrated contempt in the voice of los jóvenes at the cellphone store. The looks of disdain when you don't put away your wallet fast enough. As if they were never getting old. As if. As if. That movie with la rubita de Beberli Jills. How they had laughed, she and Joey, escapadas, both of them. “No PG-13 movies for her until she's old enough, mom.” As if Joey didn't hear worse every day in school, so guanaja.
I wonder what's taking Dr. Haddad so long. Had she been in her right mind, she would have refused the ride to the ER. What had she done instead? Let them wheel her, in while making un chistesito. And not even a good one. “What happened to la ambulancia de los guapitos?” At least, one of them—dominicano by the looks of him—had laughed. “Lady, that's the next crew. And they won't be here for a while.”
“You think you’re really funny, don't you, abuela?” As a matter of fact, yes, she thought she was pretty funny. Even Joey turned on her these days.
For nearly seventy years, she had been a good girl. Not anymore. ¡Se acabó! She was now primed for war. Ready a dar guerra like the warrior she had once been. The buena hija who told her father she was going to medical school during that lunch, so, so many years ago. Dios mío, cómo se puso, loco furioso.
Contrarian, contrarian, cómo eres, Enrique used to say. The faces from other days of conflict crowded the small space around the gurney. Her father hitting the lunch table with a fist, the afternoon she told him Enrique was coming to talk to him. Certainly, she was marrying him. And she was moving to La Habana con él. Y mamá, llora que llora. Why couldn't she understand? She left México con papá.
Igualitica, igualitica que tu padre, Enrique used to say. David Juño, cerrado cómo un puño. The man who refused to ever go to el paseo once the war was finally over. “Cara al sol/con la camisa abieeeertaaaaa.” Somebody would intone the anthem of the Nacionales in the middle of la Alameda and the crowd would pause, as if paralyzed. Shifty eyes taking note. Black shirts and a sea of raised hands, saluting. An arm lifted, stiff like a gravestone, like el Caudillo's, meeting Hitler in Hendaya.
Not that don David had any use for the other side. Not after what they had written on the doors of the apartment building in Madrid. “Muerte al dueño de este edificio.” And Lelia's daughter dying during the siege. She died of a pneumonia, they said. We knew it was hunger.
“Recuerda, Pepiña. En este pared, unos españoles asesinaron a otros españoles.” Y el hambre por todos lados. As many maids as any house would want, to be had for a pair of alpargatas and their keep, during those years of darkness. Niñas, niñas todas. And then the years of that other war. Grey uniforms, all over the city. The whole of the province, all of Galicia, was overrun by them. On leave from the German submarine base in El Ferrol, la tata Rosalía would whisper, moving away from their Nordic raptor eyes. And Amelia, all blonde trenzas and blue eyes, pretending she was a refugee. “Kinder, kinder, schokolade.” After all these years, those words remained fresh in her memory, as bittersweet as the taste of that chocolate long gone.
Better make sure next time Joey took her to el Cosco she bought enough garbanzos. And a big bag of those small Esniqers.
“My dear colleague, what is this I hear about you still driving?” El doctorcito Haddad. Here we go....
A native of Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, Olga Vilella is currently at work revising Los que llegaron, a historical novel based on the unsuccessful attack by the English to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1797, a work that seeks to upend Caribbean notions of race, religion, and ethnicity.
A Walk on Luna Street
by Kim Vázquez
Flora didn’t remember falling asleep, but she must have because she was suddenly startled awake by someone calling her name. “Flora.” She heard it again and looked around. It sounded like her brother’s voice calling out to her, but that was impossible. He had been dead for over thirty years.
Voices drifted down from the roof where the rest of her family was watching the sunset. And Flora put her hand on her chest, forcing herself to relax. That’s all it was, her family calling to her. Her mind was playing tricks on her, making her believe she heard her brother’s voice.
Flora looked over at the stairs that led to the roof. Maybe she should have gone up there after dinner. One of her favorite things was sitting with her son and grandchildren to watch the sunset. And if she were with them now, she wouldn’t be sitting here thinking she had heard the voice of a ghost.
But she had been tired and wanted to relax on the couch and enjoy the warm evening breeze. Besides, she had seen enough sunsets in her life. At ninety-six, she earned the right to do what she wanted. Flora had spent her whole life working hard, and she was tired, so tired. And that’s what she told her son earlier when he tried to insist that she join them on the roof.
“Flora, vente.” She heard it again. It was louder this time. She wasn’t half-asleep, and she was almost positive that it was Antonio’s voice. “Except he’s dead,” she told herself.
The setting sun streamed through the large wooden doors that led to the balcón, and a memory of Antonio waiting for her came with it. He was in front of the house on Luna Street where they had grown up and sounded a little annoyed as he called out for her to hurry. Papá was forcing him to take Flora with him and his friends to the movies, and he was not to let her out of his sight.
Papá always made Antonio take Flora with him. Antonio might not have liked it too much, but Flora loved it. And as she ran down the stairs to meet him, she smiled. After the movie, she would get him to take her for ice cream.
Antonio complained, “Te tardastes mucho.” He told Flora she was slow and he didn’t like being late. But he always said the same thing. Then Antonio would smile. And it was always the same sly smile like he knew something that she didn’t, a secret she would love.
The sun had almost set, its light was a deep orange, and it covered everything in its glow. Flora felt almost like she was in a dream as she pushed herself up and stepped onto the balcón. She wanted to see where that voice calling out to her was coming from even though she was half-blind and wouldn’t be able to see too far.
Sure enough, there was no one on the street. Flora was sure of it, and she wasn’t surprised.
“Inventos míos,” she mumbled under her breath, and for a second, she wondered if she was starting to lose her mind. Or maybe she was just tired. She had been tired a lot more lately. She also had been thinking about the past a lot more.
That’s what it was, Flora told herself. She was letting her memories get to her. She took a deep breath and shook her head. Then she told herself to leave the past behind, where it belongs. Those times are over and gone. She headed back to the couch, then looked up at the ceiling and said a little prayer just in case she was losing her mind. “Que sea lo que Dios quiere,” she mumbled.
“Mami, ¿estás bien?” She heard her son call out from upstairs.
“Sí,” she called back. “I’m just tired,” she thought to herself as she grabbed one of the throw pillows she had made off the couch next to her. A thread was loose, and she tried to see where it was coming from but couldn’t make it out. Maybe tomorrow she’d sit at the sewing machine and fix it. She hadn’t done any sewing in a while because of her lousy eyesight.
And that was a shame because sewing was her lifelong trade. Gracias a Dios, she had learned one. It saved her when her husband took off with another woman, leaving Flora alone and afraid in New York to raise two young boys by herself. But none of that mattered now. It was over. She had survived and had even come back to Puerto Rico.
Flora stretched her legs out. She should go to bed, but her exhaustion was overpowering. She felt it in her bones. Besides, a part of her enjoyed the warm breeze coming in from the balcón. It made her feel safe and comfortable. There was always a lovely warm ocean breeze that made its way down Luna Street in the evening, and she had loved it since she was a child.
She closed her eyes and felt her body relax. Just then, her brother’s voice called out again. This time she jumped up quickly and practically ran to the balcón. She surprised herself with how fast she was able to move. She looked out at the street and saw a man standing below. He waved at her. And he seemed familiar, but she couldn’t see his face clearly.
“Flora vente.” The man called out, and Flora was sure that it was Antonio’s voice.
The man waved, and Flora stood frozen to the balcón’s handrail. She had a feeling in her chest that made her want to go downstairs and see the man, but a voice in her head was telling her not to go.
Flora decided to ignore the voice in her head and go with the feeling in her chest. She called out to her son, “Vengo ya,” and rushed out the front door. Usually, Flora held onto the handrail tightly as she made her way down the stairs, but this time it was almost like she was a kid again. Her steps were steady and confident. She smiled and went faster.
Flora stepped onto the sidewalk and looked around for the man, half expecting him to be gone. He stood on the corner and waved to her. She squinted, trying to see him clearly. A breeze made its way down Luna Street and brushed against her skin. She felt refreshed, almost invigorated. The tiredness she had been feeling before was gone.
He was leaning against the wall waiting for her just like he used to do. The closer she got to him, the clearer her vision. He had the same angular face she remembered, and his hair was dark and messy.
Antonio smiled at her, “Por fin llegastes.” And it was the same smile he had always had. Like he knew a great secret that Flora was going to love.
Flora stopped and looked up at him. “¿Cómo? How are you here?”
His eyes sparkled like she remembered, “I was waiting for you. Te tardastes mucho.” She smiled at him and felt the tears filling her eyes. It felt like he had never left.
“Vente,” Antonio held his arm out so she could grab ahold of it, and she looped her arm through his.
“Mami, ¿estás bien? Flora heard her son’s voice calling out to her. It sounded so far away. She turned to look behind her and felt an ache in her heart.
Antonio looked down at her and patted her hand to reassure her. She nodded, “Que sea lo que Dios quiere.”
Then she turned back and smiled. She was ready for her walk on Luna Street.
Kim Vázquez grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to New York to study Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. The lack of representation and diversity in children's books drove her to write a middle-grade Latinx mystery that she is currently querying while she works on another. She's had various articles curated and published on Medium, including “Green Plantains and Memories of mi Isla” and “An Afternoon in la Plaza del Mercado.” She's also had a short story, “The Lady in White,” published by the Acentos Review.
A Quiet Night on the Boulevard
by Jacob Teran
The block was not as active tonight. Olympic Boulevard is one of the gateways to enter our urban domain known as South Sapro Street and, on this night, it is absent of travelers and hostile combatants.
You can hear the last metro bus making its way down the Boulevard to the depot drop off—final destination. A long day of picking up hard workers, tweakers, cholos, and dropping them off to where they need to go.
Neither juras pass by with sirens, nor local tweakers roam the block looking for a potential vehicle to break into, just, the calm and quiet sound of the wind and train that makes its presence known to our barrio. These nights seldomly visit my barrio and when the sweet sound of silence makes its way to Sapro, the tranquility is always welcomed.
I am in my messy room of my mom’s 2-bedroom apartment that I have not cleaned for days, lying in bed. I can feel the temperature drop from my open window as the smell of rain and burnt cannabis roaches permeates my room. I slip on my already tied DVS skating shoes, grab my hoodie, and make my way out into the abyss of my barrio.
I head to the local Valero Gas Station to pick up a blunt wrap to indulge with my homeboy, Iggy. A light haze of cool droplets penetrates the dark sky making the lonely night that much colder. The smell of wet asphalt is refreshing with each sloshing step that I take. The local Valero was the place to buy a 3-pack of some cheap beer if no one was in the mood to go to Superior Market. The fluorescent lights beam blue and yellow, and read, “Valero Gas Station” with the “o” turned off or perhaps, dead. The people inside know me and even though I am still a minor by age, they never card me when I buy a pack of frajos, especially blunt wraps.
As I make my way back on the wet asphalt of the Boulevard, I can smell and hear all sorts of familiar elements that ignite my senses. Across the street from the Valero was Cedar Ave. Someone was always washing their clothes on the corner of Cedar and the Boulevard in the evening. An old steel clothesline is engulfed with colorful socks, white t-shirts, and blue jeans. Probably a small family since I always see a group of three to four kids playing in the street just before the sun sets. The scent of Suavitel Fabric Softener always reminded me of my Abuelos in Boyle Heights, as their neighbors used a similar product for their clothes.
The next thing I immediately notice is the fresh scent of cannabis burning nearby. It must be the homies from my block congregating at Cheddar’s pad since he lived two houses from the corner of Cedar. The thick skunky aroma of indica burning in the street at night always felt like I was home—a comforting feeling. Suavitel and marijuana were the telltale signs I am home.
Between Cedar and Sapro, an area on the Boulevard, is where I feel the most alone as I walk. As I walk pass Cedar, I look to the left side of the Boulevard stretches to its desolate side of abandoned buildings bathed with graffiti. To my right was a long fence of white wood that closed off the side of an apartment. This wooden canvas is marked “SLS,” for SAPRO LOCOS, the acronym for the locotes on my street. Other times, they were crossed out by the rival barrios in the surrounding area and down south of us, passing the railroad tracks, beyond the Boulevard and away from the domain of Sapro.
The spray on walls, scribes on windows, markings on wooden fences, trees, light posts, and curbsides, are all voices without faces that speak. A language that only people that live here understand.
I walk under the streetlight between Cedar and Sapro, probably the most remote section of the Boulevard where peculiar occurrences would take place. In this desolate part of the Boulevard, voices could be heard with not a single person around, tall, shadowy figures have followed people only to disappear in a blink of an eye, and the streetlight itself would flicker violently when someone walked under. I could never account for the first two things that homies and neighbors have spoken of, but the streetlight flickering, that was real. Probably some glitch with the wiring under the asphalt, but, whatever rationale could explain, it always made me feel like some ominous entity was following me.
I walk under it tonight. It does not flicker.
I pass by the streetlight and eventually the Cliff to walk across Sapro to a dark grey Astro van. I could see the radio’s light slightly brighter as I approach the van’s sliding door. I knocked on it twice before opening it to be greeted by my homeboy, Iggy,
“Fuckin’ Guill! Finally! Ah Ah! Ah!” Iggy’s laugh was always amusing. Iggy or Iggs, always sounded like his laugh was backwards.
“’Sup G, was’ crackin’?” Coming into the van, we shake hands.
“Nada güey, posted trying to get faded. ’Sup with you? Where da bud at?”
“Shit, I thought you had it.”
“Lying ass vato! Ah! Ah! Ah!”
I pop out the grape flavored swisher I bought from Valero as I come in slamming the sliding door after me.
“Firme! Grape will go good with this shit.”
Iggy starts cutting up the swisher with a dull razor as I begin to break up the sticky indica from the baggie I was clenching since the odd streetlight. Iggy hands me a ripped Home Depot cardboard he used to dump out the tobacco from the swisher. Bone Thugs’ “Resurrection” is playing in a CD player he installed for his mom’s van’s radio. The music suits the quiet night and the session we are about to have. The dank bud begins to stink up the van with a skunky aroma as I break up the sticky flower that sticks to my fingertips.
We start conversing about the extracurricular activities that have been making the block hot: South Siders and Veil Street have been coming through our block and hitting up their placas in our area. A few tweakers from a few blocks away stealing the vecinos’ recyclables. Really typical mamadas that occur in our barrio. Sometimes we laugh about it. Sometimes we get into heavier conversations.
I hand the cardboard with the potent shake I just broke up to Iggy, “Trip out G, isn’t tonight quiet as fuck?”
“Fuck yea, Guill…but…” Iggy licks the wrap’s end to seal the blunt, “…it’s firme, I like nights like this. Don’t you?”
“Yeah, it’s just trippy,” I kept looking down the Boulevard from the second-row window of the van. Usually, a suspicious car or jura patrolling would pass, but nothing.
Iggy hands me the lighter, “Do the honors and spark it up, Guill! Ah! Ah! Ah!”
I light one side of the blunt and roll it around slowly as if I’m hot roasting a pig, making sure the cherry got an even burn. I take a couple of light hits as if I was smoking a cigar to get the cherry just right. As the smoke enters my lungs, I can feel it spread throughout my chest making me want to cough. I hold it in and exhale through my nostrils, feeling the euphoria of both weed and Krayzie Bone’s lyricism.
Iggy is chain-hitting the blunt and seemed like he forgot I was in the session with him. He looks halfway towards me from the driver’s seat, “…Guill, I wanna tell you some shit that some OG told me a while back. This vato was a firme ass foo, a real one. The shit he said was the truth dog, palabra, and I still believe this shit to this day.”
I looked at Iggy thinking ahh shit, this foo is faded. “Handles, G.”
Iggy put the blunt down to his chest as it continues to burn, “And I don’t give a fuck what anyone says, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise either. You gotta believe this shit, Guillermo. You’re gonna have foos try to press you, call you a bitch and all that…but fuck that.”
I was thinking, Iggy is never going to get to the point, “Yeah Iggy, handles, I hear you foo.”
Iggy turns as much as he could to the seat behind him where I’m sitting, “You don’t got to be from nowhere and still be G wid’ it. A lot of foos think you gotta be from somewhere to be hard, claim a hood, get into mamadas and put in dirt, and all that bullshit, but chales, güey.” He pauses and takes another rip from the blunt.
“Escucha güey…Just be you dog…and that’s keeping it gangster.” A bit of mota and street wisdom Iggy shares as he takes one big rip and lets out a huge cloud of smoke that makes him start choking and laughing.
Iggs passed the almost finished blunt back to me as he was coughing all over the place. “Damn, foo, you aight, haha!” “Hit that shi…that shit…Mem…” Iggy kept coughing and all I could think about was why he was telling me this.
I sit there as Iggy is coughing his lungs out and felt this was the most genuine thing my homeboy ever told me. Growing up in the hood, I always thought I would eventually get jumped in the hood when the time came. But what Iggy just confided hit me profoundly. I couldn’t stop thinking about it during our session.
We kill the blunt and hear a few of Iggy’s primos coming back to interrupt our private hotbox. Fuck. Who is this? There are a chingo of us on the block and whoever comes to a session either has weed or none.
“Eeeeee, look at you scandolosos right here,” Iggy’s primo Fat Boy always loves putting people on blast.
Iggy looks up and blasts back, “fuck you dick, where were you when I hit you up earlier to blaze it?” Fat Boy smirks. “Don’t even trip, I share my shit homie, not like you assholes,” Fat Boy starts opening up a bag with his own weed that he had.
Looking to me, Fat Boy laughs, “’Sup Memo, where’s all da bud at? You and Iggy are straight holdouts.”
I smirk and laugh. “Dick, you foos had your own VIP sesh, so Iggs hit me up. Got ends? Still have some leftover yesca.” Fat Boy ignores me as his brother Scraps and Cheddar come through pushing themselves in the van talking mumbling and complaining that Iggy and I were smoking without them, although they just smoked without Iggy and me.
“Hey dick, my Jefa is gonna come out trippin’ with all you foos in here being all loud and shit,” Iggy always snapped when unexpected dudes came, even if they were his primos.
“Don’t even trip, my Tía loves me,” Fat Boy said as he was breaking up some of his bud nudging me for the cardboard with the leftover bud on it.
“Not you fat ass, you’re burning the spot,” Iggy capped back as he was looking for a track to play on the van’s CD player stereo. Scraps, Cheddar, and I all started busting up laughing from the exchange between Iggy and his primo, Fat Boy. DJ Quik’s “Pitch in On a Party” surrounds the van’s speakers as the van gets louder and I kept thinking about what Iggy told me.
Fat Boy looked back at Scraps and Cheddar, “Shut the fuck up turkey and you too cheddar.” Fat Boy’s hermano Scraps was chubby like Fat Boy, but shorter. Everyone called him “Turkey” or “Danny DeVito,” which he hated. Cheddar had pretty poor hygiene when it came to his teeth. He never brushed his teeth, and the result made his dientes look like picante corn nuts.
“Dick, you’re fucked up,” Cheddar shakes his head.
“You’re a scandalous vato too, ‘Gay-mo,’” Fat Boy looks to me. The homies would either call me “Guill” or “Memo,” short for Guillermo. Other times, “Gay-mo,” because it sounded funny to them, and I also hated it.
“Just be you dog,” I pat Fat Boy hard on the back of the shoulder.
“Fuck, let’s go finish this shit out in the front of your pad Fat Boy, you burned the spot.”
“Fuck it, let’s bounce then,” Fat Boy said as we all get up to leave the van.
We all walked to the front of Fat Boy and Scrap’s pad. Their mom was asleep, so we had to creep and crawl if we didn’t want to get kicked out of the yard. Fat Boy and Scrap’s oldest brother Beaker wasn’t home either, probably getting all pedo with some lady that he would always say he was going to marry but then break up with weeks later.
We all post up on the bed of Beaker’s 1987 El Camino, laughing quietly, talking about how cold the night was. We start packing bowls from Cheddar and Scrap’s weed pipes and begin a new rotation. Iggy’s stomach was bothering him, so heads to the restroom. The four of us, without Iggy, sit in the back of the El Camino getting faded as the night continues to get colder and quieter.
Suddenly, a car comes out the cut from the corner of the yard where we are posting up, on the Boulevard. Fat Boy and Scraps lived at the corner of our street and had thick bushes that made it hard to see who was walking or driving by, especially at night.
* * * *
We then see four shadows running around the corner of Fat Boy and Scraps’ pad outside the fence. The moonlight was our only aid in seeing through the darkness. One shadow stood at the corner keeping trucha, while one other dude stood outside of the gate. The other two shadows came up to us in front of the fence where we happen to be sitting.
“Where the fuck you from, Ese?! This is big bad Southside Greenwood Gang! Fuck ‘Scrape’ Street!”
The bald shadow brandishes a .45 cuete and points it to each of our stunned skulls. All of us with our sweaty palms open, shield our chests, afraid and frozen in an already cold evening. The nefarious shadow, only three feet away from the silver diamond-shaped fence that separates us, stands fiercely. The streetlight reveals his inked face, a black spider web trapped his entire face with the center of the web starting from the shadow’s nose. Eyes as black as obsidian, stabbing us with his soulless glare, listo for anything.
“Hey dog…we’re from nowhere…we don’t bang. I live right here,” Fat Boy being the oldest of us speaks, shaken up, choosing his words carefully. The shadow looks at him with disdain and then all of us. He points his cuete at each of us asking us individually if we claimed Sapro Street. With our arms raised, palms open, not knowing what to think or do, we deny because we are in fact not from the hood, yet.
“I don’t give a fuck! You’re caught slipping out here! This is Southside Territory! Fuck Sapro Street! Bitch ass levas! The spider webbed shadow looks to his homeboy for confirmation to off us right then and there. The shadow raises his less dominant hand and cocks his cuete. Coming back from the restroom, Iggy comes out to a situation he was somewhat familiar with.
The second shadow by the fence gate sees Iggy and hails out, “Who the fuck are you?! Southside Greenwood Gang, ese!”
Iggy opens his palms towards the second shadow, “Hey, I don’t bang dog. I live right here in the back, this is my Tía’s pad. These are all my primos, we’re just right here burning some bud. My primos are kids G, they ain’t soldiers. We are family right here.” Iggy being much older than us already knew the street lingo—along with his street intellect and rhetoric, Iggy’s response disheartens the shadows.
Although this was a typical night in my barrio, we never had a neighboring group roll up on us like that. This night made me realize the brevity of life, the choices I make and the words I choose influence what can happen next. Iggy’s words echoed in my mind and made me realize a lot of shit—life is short and can be taken in an instant. I want to change and do better, but it’s difficult when you have no direction or positive influences. But Iggy made me think and that was perhaps one of the most impactful things someone ever told me.
The dude with the cuete throws up his insignia, claims his hood one last time so we could all remember it, and dashes off to the car with the other shadows and drove off into the abyss.
The rain never came but the smell remained…Some fuckin’ quiet night.
Jacob “Jake” Teran is a proud Chicano living in the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles. Jake is a 2nd generation Chicano who was born in Montebello, Los Angeles, east of Los Angeles. He has published one short fictional story at his community college at Rio Hondo College and a master’s thesis for his graduate program, where he obtained his Masters Degree in Rhetoric and Composition. He is currently teaching composition to several departments in two colleges that include indigenous and Chicanx literature. Jake currently lives in the San Gabriel Valley where he is working on a novel based on his experiences growing up in his barrio that deals with gang lifestyle, drugs, violence, and finding one’s identity in a chaotic concrete jungle.
by Shaiti Castillo
Listen to Shaiti Castillo perform "Garden People"
My grandmother would tell me about the little bug people that would roam her garden back in her small pueblo deep in México. This was only when Mamá wasn’t in the room because she’d scold her from spreading tales of brujería in a house that worshipped God. Even as the disease ate away at what was left of my grandmother’s brain, her stubbornness had continued to grow. Rooted deeply within her like an oak tree. I would trade cups of cafecito for tales of the little bug people while Mamá was out running errands.
“Who were they?” I would ask in a whisper, as if Mamá would barge in at any moment and catch us exchanging sins.
“They didn’t have names. They didn’t speak either.” She would reply. I’d sit there patiently, processing the information before asking another question. Time with her was precious. The more questions I asked, the more lost she seemed to get.
“How do you know they weren’t just normal bugs?” I’d ask. She would sit there for a moment and take a small sip of her hot coffee, surely burning her tongue.
“Because they looked like people.” The answer was simple, but it wasn’t enough for a curious child like me.
“How so?” The slight tapping of my feet against the tile floor exposed my growing impatience. She didn’t seem to notice.
“They had faces. Eyes, a nose, a mouth…” She would go on to list general anatomy. I bit my lip.
“Bugs have faces.” I interrupted and she stopped speaking. Then a hoarse laugh escaped her thinning lips. It was an unpleasant sound, like tv static. Her childhood spent working in factories had caught up with her lungs.
“Smartass,” She said just loud enough for me to hear in her thick accent. It caught me by surprise.
“Nana!” It was my turn to scold her. She never cursed, always said it wasn’t very lady-like.
“As I was saying,” She paused to let me settle down. “They had faces. But not bug faces. They looked like you and I. Except they were little.”
She slightly pinched her fingers together to show me an estimated size of the bug people. I nodded.
“They had the body of the bugs, but they all could stand on two feet. Like you and I,” she explained, pushing herself off her seat. I scrambled next to her in case she fell but she swatted my hands away. She set down her mug and proceeded to put her hands on her hips. Stretching her back just a bit to stand proudly. I couldn’t help but giggle at her display.
“How’d you find them?” I asked as she slowly sat herself back down. Retreating back to her caffeine.
“They were stealing,” She shook her head in a feigned disappointment. “I had planted some sweet grapes for the summer and I caught them in the act!”
“Maybe they were hungry, Nana.” I said in defense of the bug people. It’s not a crime to be hungry.
“That is no reason to steal.” She sighed. “I forgave them, of course.”
“Then what?” I began to grow eager. This was the most I had gotten out of her in a while.
“Then we became friends. I would visit them every day after work and bring them whatever I had left over. Even if it was a few beans.” She smiled to herself. “I would make them little chairs and tables out of sticks and leaves I found around the yard. I would sew together little dresses using paper magazines. I left them gifts, and they would leave me some as well.”
“What did they bring you?” My hands were resting under my chin. Eyes wide like an owl at midnight.
“Random trinkets they would find. Shiny stuff. Sometimes it’d be silverware, sometimes jewelry. Sometimes it’d be a coin or two which made a big difference at the time.” Her smile grew, but stayed closed. Her wrinkles stretched themselves across her face, but the glossiness in her eyes brought a sense of youth.
“Then what, Nana? Where are they now?” I jumped up a little in excitement which startled her. She dropped the mug and it shattered across the floor, spilling what was left of the brown liquid. She stayed silent.
“I’m so sorry! Be careful and stay there while I clean it up, there’s glass!” I stood up immediately. She sat there, unfazed. I slipped on the sandals that were beneath my chair and stepped out back to grab the broom. When I slipped back inside, Mamá had made her way into the kitchen.
“What happened?” She let out a dramatic breath. Throwing the groceries she had carried inside onto the counter. She ripped the broom from my hands and began to sweep. “¿Estás bien, Ma?”
There was still no response from my grandmother. She sat there, frozen in time. Her frail hands still shaped around the non-existent mug.
“What did you do?” Mamá turned to face me and I stuttered. “Her mind is very fragile right now, you know this.”
“I didn’t do anything, I swear! We were just talking.” I aimed to defend myself but the weight of guilt sat itself like rocks, heavy in my stomach. I had asked too many questions. “I’m sorry.”
My grandmother spoke a few words for the rest of the day. Simple responses that would please Mamá. I had refrained from speaking to her in fear of only hurting her more. She would trade sweet glances and small smiles with me over dinner. Her way of letting me know things were okay.
That night I joined my grandmother in her bed. The window was open and it let a cool enough breeze in that encouraged us to be under the covers. I laid my head on her shoulder, adjusting my weight so as to not crush her feeble body. We laid there in silence as we usually did. There was a full moon out and the sound of crickets chirping lulled us to sleep. As my eyes grew heavy and my breathing became steady, she spoke.
“I’m going to die,” She faintly said. My eyes became watery saucers at her sudden statement. When I gained the courage to look at her, she had already fallen asleep. Her eyes were closed, thinning lashes falling over her cheeks. Paired with the same small smile she had given me earlier. To her, everything was going to be okay.
She didn’t wake up that morning. The doctor said she had died peacefully in her sleep and that in her position it was the best way to go. I stood at the doorway as Mamá wept at the foot of the bed. A blanket had been thrown over my grandmother’s body as we waited for someone to take her.
My puffy eyes looked out the open window. The sun was bright and it was a beautiful day. Something that my grandmother would have appreciated dearly. She hated sad events. The sounds of chirping crickets had transitioned into the chirping of sparrows. Light and airy.
At the corner of my eye, I noticed a pop of color. I tilted my head in curiosity, walking over to hover over the windowsill. Sitting there were two red grapes. Perfectly ripe and gleaming. I looked up to the sky and smiled.
"[L]o perdí todo. Mis amigas, mi falsa relación romántica y mi dignidad. Al menos todavía tenía a Frida."