June 4, 2004

La Esquina
arte de la comunidad

CNU Mambo

A short story by Michael Cheno Wickert


4:27. Wednesday morning. Oldies on the clock radio that his abuelita gave him for his sixth birthday. From outside he is framed in by the window, creating a piece of movement slow and rhythmic against the Navajo white walls, casts a menacing shadow. Mario’s pumpkin-pie colored, two by four legs move only slightly, sometimes bending at the knees without his feet leaving the floor, hips move back and forth, but not really back and forth. Maybe a little side to side, but not really that, either. His hips just kinda move, taking his torso with them, guiding the iron in his right hand as it passes across his khakis, pressing in razorblades protected by Niagara Brand Extra Heavy Duty Starch. He holds the iron up to give it some steam, swaying it in the air for a second in harmony with the song on the radio, doing the Cholo Dance with his ironing board. His right foot lifts off the ground for the first time in minutes as he repositions himself, flips his pants over to the other side, caresses them flat, looks at them close with love in his eyes, close enough to kiss, just to check for perfection. No chance for a double crease tonight, baby.

His sharp khakis lay helpless upon the tabla that supports its weight and silently tells the iron, “Come on Mami, give me your steamy love.”

The iron responds with a well paced, sultry, “Tcshhhhhhh,” which is to say, “Oh yeah baby, here I come, I’m hot and ready.” Mario’s right hand lands the plancha onto its runway with one smooth motion, not stopping until just before the one-half inch cuff. Mario does this in time with the music, never missing a beat on the AM oldies station, jamming The Flamingos, “I only have eyes for youuu, weee, shabop shabop.”

“Yeah baby, I could only have eyes for you, ‘cuz if I ever looked in the wrong direction, you’d probably pop ‘em both out and leave me for blind,” he says to himself, laughing.

Yeah, A. M. oldies, not some 1970’s funk, no Stylistics, no disco, no way, no how, not for him. If you ask why, he’ll say, “Man, why would I wanna listen to that shit? For the memories? Memories of my father beating my mother to a pulp because he was drunk? Beating her so bad that when I was five years old I picked up my wiffel ball bat and started hitting him so that he would stop hitting her. Man, you really want me to remember that? You want me to remember the night I first realized that baseball bats are for more than just hitting baseballs?”

Mario passes time in secret meditation, safe from the world outside, guarded by the spirit of his dead grandmother that lives in that radio. He feels her presence in the room.

And so the night morning continues quiet except for the low songs. Especially here. Bringing back memories of before he knew the ocean. Of cold Christmas mornings. Of his little brother. Of Extatlán cerros and ranchos. Things that give way to memory. Things that led to this place. Memories of starch and ironing for hours. Memories of dancing so close with a young girl, blood rushing. Memories, as he stands there now, plancha in hand. Framed picture. Solitary.

Sweat drips from his forehead. Paint drips. Blood from the soul. Spirit. Free will. Purgatory. Where is the confessional of fire? Where is the sin-free trusting party to which he can plead his trespasses?

Paint drips from the canvas cover onto the floor. Paint swirls. Hidden images wanting to be found, screaming in their darkness where danger lurks. Back past the realm of consciousness, past the images and into pure emotion. Back where the screams are so real they sound fake.

Where EDEN doesn’t have his own grave or tombstone.

Where DOOM is stuck in a wall.

Where the nameless cholos roam upon the wind searching for revenge on their murderers.

Nicotene stains on his fingers, coffee breath, and the hope that someday he might find comfort. “When will my savior come?” he asks the madrugada disc jockey. “When will she come and remind me to forget?”

Caffine, nicotene, and you.

“We could walk together. I could cleanse my soul in the moonlight and be reborn in the sea to the rhythm of the tides,” he says to the no one that has become everyone in his small box apartment.

He sees them, the no faces gleaming at him through cracks in the kitchen wall. He catches a slight glimpse of her and rushes forward in the darkness. But it becomes apearent that what he sees is not the treasure of his dreams, nontheless it takes his breath away. She is a song as much as a ghost, and for her he dances. For the presence of nothing more than a reflection of someone in some dirty window to tell him he is not alone.

It is early, in the time before automation.

Not even Mario knows why he is awake but the last two times were no better. They too were slight in their own way.

Yet this is three. Three the number of enlightenment. THREE. THREE. THREE. Three days, three nights, three lives, three dates, three people, three shots rang out, three bells told their story. THREE SIMPLE WORDS. Three children played a game, three syllables, three names, three times. Three years and Mario knew he was clean, but never free. Three wishes. What would they be?

Caffine, Nicotene, and YOU! One wish would do.

For three he rambled onto four and finally to the dawn that would ultimately break him. It would bring interruptions to the music and make her fade into daytime shadow and await him again in closets and cupboards. Mario could not stand the terrible thumping and clanging that turned to one horrific rumble. It made his heart pound fast just to think about how happily the beautiful night was executed for the sake of business, school, family, friendships. How could she sacrifice herself so willingly? All he ever wanted to do was make her laugh. Instead, he stands frozen creating a poster for a film that will never exist. He wavers. Closes his eyes. Crashes into the beach wall.

Caffeine, nicotine and you.

He walks with the hunters of the dawn. He witnesses the attempted assassination of the rising sun; he willingly takes part. He squeezes the trigger and misses. He deliberately walks into the line of fire and survives. He becomes self inflicted. Stone. Metal. On the horizon where he meets the dawn. When so called friends of the night run in terror. When they are no longer assassins. To live under the cover of darkness, hidden, secretive. Eye of enlightenment. Bathing in steam. Wedging into the crease. Up through the pores. It is immutable understanding floating around to the slumber sounds and dreams of all night long.

Copyright by Michael Cheno Wickert, 2004

Return to the Frontpage