[What follows is an original piece of fiction I wrote some years ago, previously published in Conceptions Southwest, per the citation below.]
In my mind I know what’s waiting at the top of the steps. I always know. Still, I take them, slow, careful, aware of the sickened creak that the weathered boards make under my weight. Once I reach the top, every time, I try to stop myself. Turn back, I say. Don’t walk down that hall. Don’t look through that doorway.
Every time, my feet disobey, carrying me to the room at the end of the hall. A sliver of pale dusk sunlight gasps its way through the crack made by the slightly open door, spilling onto the dull wooden floor. I step cautiously to the door, the light warming a slice of my face, blinding my right eye. A breath, a moment of nauseous realization, a splinter in my finger as I nudge open the door. Then there’s the blood. The sick warmth of the room, the way it crawls, stinging, into my nostrils. My father, barefoot, slumped over his shotgun. I imagine the vacant, listless look in his eyes, just before he hears it. Click–
I found him a week before my tenth birthday, but in the dream I am as I am now–26, sagging shoulders, a belly that crumples on top of itself when I sit. I am rarely shaven, my hair sticks at odd angles that I don’t care to smooth down. I wonder at my own fate, how it might resemble his, vacant promises to myself when I think of my son. He came when I was twenty, living with his mother more out of comfort than genuine affection. I used to write to him often, sending candy or a toy car when I could, but the letters started coming back a few months ago, the mark from the post office in dull red.
I always wake with the click.
* * *
I count the change in my pocket, adding it to the crumpled bills, and the lady hands me a burrito wrapped in white paper, damp with its warmth. Outside I expose an end and bite deep into it, tasting almost instantly the heat of the green chile and the smoky flavor of the carne adovada. It makes my mouth water, and for a moment, it will calm the churning in my stomach.
As I finish my meager lunch, I spot Hefty down the street, waddling his way toward me. He’s dragging something, I can’t see what. His name is Jeff, but on the street we call him Hefty, mostly because of his weight and partly because he thinks himself the boss, always trying to order everyone around, as if he had a reign on the desperate freedom these streets bring. Shit, he hasn’t even been out here that long. I wipe my mouth with the crumpled wrapping paper and push myself with a foot off the wall, giving Hefty half a wave.
Hey Fano, he calls to me, his breath heavy. Why don’t you help me with these?
I see now he’s got two fat, worn tires in tow on a wiry rope, scraping along the sidewalk. Get them yourself, pinche gordo, I say with a smile before moving to help him. What the hell do you need with two tires, anyway?
You never know, he says. We bring the tires to Hefty’s spot down the alley, rolling them behind a grimy dumpster near his folds of bedding.
You get any big tips?
I chuckle, shaking my head. Business slow today, jefe, I say.
* * *
The first time I saw Lucia was at my cousin’s graduation party. It might have been my party, too, but I gave up on school a long time ago. I remember–she catches my eye as soon as I step into the soft yellow light of the den, a haze of cigarettes and mota hanging in a dome over the circle of tattered furniture. She sits on a couch in the corner of the room, between Alejan’s girl and some kid I don’t know. Her smile warms the room as her brown eyes meet mine.
I look quickly away, searching the room for Alejan, asking him where I can get a drink.
A week later I see her again as I leave the construction yard where I work. In the lazy afternoon light I get a better look at her, able to notice the soft earth tones of her skin, her long eyelashes that don’t need makeup, her full pouty lips. She walks up to me as I beat the dust from my faded jeans.
Hey, she says, and I turn to face her, squinting at the sun as it halos her form. Alejan gave me directions, she tells me. He said I should meet you.
I smile to mask the discomfort I feel. He should have let you catch me at a better time, I say, gesturing at my filthy clothes. But what I really mean is, I’m not prepared for this.
She follows me home, and after I shower and change I drive her to Beto’s on the other side of town. A real hole in the wall, but they have good carne asada and cheap beer. Her warm eyes and her subtle, earthy scent make me forget myself for a moment. A month later we live together. It’s a year, though, before I tell her about the dreams.
* * *
I knew something was wrong, she says. Why didn’t you tell me sooner? She lies on the bed next to me, propped up on one arm. I see worry in her soft eyes. Her tiny hand strokes the dampness off my cheek.
I didn’t think it mattered, I say, turning on my side so I don’t have to face her.
It matters to me, she says, wrapping herself around me and pulling me close. It matters if it affects your sleep, if it affects us.
It won’t, I say. It hardly ever happens. I turn and nestle myself into her neck. I try to breathe her in deep, let myself relax in her arms. She holds me close, runs fingers through my hair and along the base of my spine. I feel like, maybe, it’s all that I need. Until she tells me about the baby, a few months later, it seems that it is.
* * *
Hefty goes off to catch the bus to Old Town. They don’t know me there, yet, he says. Better for business if they haven’t seen you hanging around too much.
I wander listlessly after he’s gone, the harsh noon sun beating down upon me at an angle that makes no room for cool shadows. Eventually I return to the alley, sit atop the dumpster, and stare into the dusty crevices between the bricks of the wall, the scent of decaying trash and stagnant water stinging my nostrils. After some time Nico saunters up, a toothy smile painted across his leathery face.
Who put the feather in your ass, I say as he nears me, bobbing his head to a silent tune. He doesn’t answer, and he doesn’t need to. His pupils and the blood-strained space around them tell enough.
Idiot, I say, shaking my head. That shit’s gonna end you.
* * *
Later I check my box at the post office, knowing I’ll find nothing, but hopeful just the same. I keep the box because it’s the only thing I haven’t lost in my life, and because I know if Lucia ever wants to find me, this is the only way she’ll know how.
I remember when she left, taking Benicio. I am gone, on my monthly trip to the unemployment office. I come home to find the empty bones of the apartment, cleared of our few possessions, only the piss-stained mattress lying defeated in the corner of the muggy room. I stay in the apartment for another month and a half before the landlord changes the locks.
It takes me a couple of weeks, but I finally badger Lucia’s new address out of her mother.
This is for the boy, not you, she tells me over the phone. Not much of a father is better than no father, she says and hangs up.
I send Lucia a letter, just to see how things are going. I only half expect her to write back, so I’m surprised to find a postcard from her almost two weeks later. On the front is a photograph of a deep green mountainside pierced by a waterfall, its billowing jets of white water frozen in free fall as they plummet into the misty haze below.
In the short paragraph on the other side, just below the Denver postmark, she tells me about Beni. He’s never been happier, she writes. Don’t worry about visiting, it says, just above her curvy signature. It’s the only letter I receive.
* * *
I hear it–click–and then she’s there, her hand upon my face, her eyes sharp, concerned. She wipes her fingers through the beads of sweat on my brow.
You went there again, didn’t you, she says. You found him again.
I can’t help it, I tell her. My sleep takes me there.
It’s happening too often, she says, sitting up. It’s affecting us, now. Pale blue moonlight peeks through the blinds and fragments her face.
A cry starts up from across the room, and she leaves the bed to check on him. She’s right. The dreams aren’t just inside me anymore. They make this place dark.
Soon the crying stops, and she crawls back next to me. I want to look at her, to see into her through her eyes, but I can’t make myself move. I want to say I’m sorry, to tell her it will stop, I’ll make it stop, to tell her I’ll be better for her, for Beni. I lie next to her, silent, until her breathing takes on rhythm.
* * *
The afternoon crawls, a long, vast nothing. I collect change for a while off the Interstate exit, offering the legal notices section of the paper for a quarter, a dime, whatever beat college kids in their rusty pickups and old ladies peering over the steering columns of their long, sleek town cars decide to spare. This is all I have today, I say with a shrug, and they trade change for the folded paper, tossing it behind seatbacks and rolling on with pitying half-smiles.
Eventually the sun falls to the horizon, sinking into distant mountains with rays of gold-piercing, shadowy building facades. This time of day always brings waves of yellow sickness to my stomach, like eating a bad egg. I turn my corner over with a nod to Jacob, carrying as always his bucket of wilted roses, and trudge toward Central. I count out change for a pint of Dark Eyes at the corner store on 3rd, and the clerk hands me the bag, the condescending darkness on his face unmistakable. I’m the first one to the alley–for most the night is young, but the day has been enough for me, and I’m ready for the warm blanket of drink, ready to walk the short night hallway once again.
© Ryan Scott Sanders and Dharma and Belligerence: Mad Rants from a Free-Range Buddhist Hooligan, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ryan Scott Sanders and Dharma and Belligerence: Mad Rants from a Free-Range Buddhist Hooligan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
This work of fiction was previously published as follows:
Sanders, Ryan S. “Click.” Conceptions Southwest Vol. XXVII (2004): 107-110. Print.