Two by MICHAEL D. BROWN
disenthralled Presents: Two by MICHAEL D. BROWN Contains the short stories “The Bust,” “Dissidents” and an author bio. “The Bust” appeared in disenthralled issue #4 at http://disenthralled.net/issues/issue-4/ “Dissidents” is published here for the first time. Both stories are copyright©2010-2011 Michael D. Brown.
_____ Cover photograph, “Camouflaged Mechanic in Havana,” by Robin Thom, copyright©2011. View Robin Thom‟s gallery at http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinthom/
Edited by Walter Conley, with technical assistance by Paul Dutra.
disenthralled: a literary journal was created by Walter Conley. The presentation of works and all material not otherwise attributed are copyright©2011 Walter Conley.
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THE BUST Twenty-five minutes after taking the cutoff onto the new mountain road, Alvaro noted his brother‟s Stratus parked beyond the culvert. “Mi hermano,” he said. Omar was looking under the hood and their cousin Juan was apparently trying to help with some problem. We got out of the Chevy and walked over. A hose had broken. I haven‟t known the brothers long, but have observed Omar always drives fast. Alvaro remarked that although Omar has only been driving for five years, he‟s already killed three cars. “Y mi mama?” Alvaro asked. “Alla, platicando,” Omar said, pointing with the two fingers holding the stub of a cigarette. Señora Z was chatting with two women who were selling roadside tamales. A much, much older woman was hanging up wet clothing to dry on a jerry-rigged line. The women with the tamales were serious looking, but grandma smiled widely, toothlessly in our direction. Soon the señora walked back to her sons. She smiled at Alvaro in a supplicating way, as if to say she should have ridden with him, and though she would continue to suffer through the trip as Omar‟s passenger, his brother should assume the guilt for her discomfort. Alvaro offered a spare hose to his brother, but it didn‟t fit over the broken ends. Then Cesarin pulled up in his Suru with his cousin. He had some rubber tubing and we were soon on the road again. However, while the Chevy and the Suru were sticking close together, Omar‟s car was nowhere in sight. Then, as we rounded an outcrop, there they were, stopped again. This reoccurred twice before we were able to get to a gas station in San Cristobal which could replace the broken hose. At the mechanic‟s, the señora said something that I translated in my mind as “Time is money,” but noted that though we would be very late in arriving for the unveiling of the bust in Teopisca, it didn‟t seem to concern anyone greatly. As we came into the square, the townspeople were already gathered for the ceremony, but evidently the dedication had not yet begun. The señora‟s husband was dressed in his finest. His brothers and sister were in attendance. His mother was seated directly in front of the tarp-covered bust. She did not appear to be as old as the woman who had been hanging clothes, though she probably was older. She was not so wrinkled,
and still had teeth, but she was not smiling. She seemed to be awaiting the first view of the renegade patriarch, the philandering musician who had brought some glory to Teopisca, though he had bequeathed little to her or their descendants. Alvaro‟s mother did not get on well with her mother-in-law, and apparently was at odds with her husband at the moment. She merely waved to her in-laws and said nothing to him. Obligation had brought her to this place. And now it became obvious, only obligation had brought her sons, as Omar suggested getting something to eat, and Alvaro quickly agreed. Neither one greeted their father, although when I glanced back, he looked disappointed surely having expected an abrazo. Señora Z went to the family house to change while we went for a beer. Then she joined us rather than the celebrants and we went to have something to eat. It was only after the tarp had been removed and her husband was commemorating his father that she joined the group. She sat in a chair at some distance from her mother-in-law, and fidgeted with her tight little wristwatch throughout the proceedings. As a backdrop, musicians played several of the famous composer‟s marimba songs to show us that he was represented by more than just a bronze head. The after-dinner, the cena, was held in a big salon just off the zocalo. There were three groups of mariachis strolling around the tables at various times, and Alvaro‟s uncle played some of his grandfather‟s songs on the marimba. As I watched his mother and father dancing, he told me his uncle had a reputation as one of the best musicians in the area and had appeared on cable television. I went back to my hotel room when I started to feel nauseous from the smell of the barbacoa, but the party went on until five in the morning. Next morning, Señora Z rode back to the city with her husband in their van, so even though there were several cars going back, there were only two passengers to each. Over the sounds of Moenia, Alvaro asked me, “So, did you have a good time?” “Yeah,” I said, “Thanks for inviting me. Hey, I was glad to see your mom and dad made up.” “My father‟s kind of a big shot in Teopisca,” he said, “She sees him in a different light.” “Isn‟t he sort of a big shot in Tuxtla?” I asked. “Tuxtla‟s a bigger town,” he said, “It‟s all relative.” The drive back through the mountains seemed slower this time. I kept hoping we would pass the women we had seen the day before, however, as it was a Sunday, the roadsides were deserted. It took us hours to get back to the city, but I learned later Omar made it in about half the time, and although his car did not break down again, he did get a speeding ticket. His cousin Juan, who was telling the story, said, “Pinche güey, I thought I was gonna die coming back here.”
DISSIDENTS Fidelio Barkley sat at a table in the upstairs, open-air part of Eugenia‟s. He was wearing his one good suit which was a little uncomfortable in the warm evening air. In front of him on the table sat the remnants of his third café Americano and an ashtray with several butts of Marlboro blancos. The mesero had not come to empty the ashtray nor refill his cup in over half an hour. Fidelio knew nobody would approach him again unless he signaled for la cuenta. His scowling face kept them away. The funeral parlor was three blocks westward on Avenida Central. He could see it from where he sat. He could have entered and paid his respects and gone home already instead of sitting here lingering over coffee and cigarettes, both of which Doctor Mendez had suggested he avoid. His gnarled arthritic fingers were barely able to hold them in a decent looking way, in any case. Attempting to erase from his thoughts the image of Janice Claire‟s cold and shriveled body lying in state just there, three blocks away, with the inevitable implacable smile on her lips, which surely had not had to be arranged by the artful fingers of Don Amoro, Fidelio pondered the tintypes from the Revolution that lined Eugenia‟s walls. There was Zapata with a rustic band of renegades, and there was Villa. In one of the ancient photographs, a young woman stood, seemingly detached from the others as if she were not part of the group, but had only wandered by at an auspicious moment, to be immortalized along with those who were truly fighting for the cause. This young oportunista, for he decided she must have been, reminded Fidelio of the picture of his father‟s mother which was always displayed on the little table in the sitting room of the casita in Teopisca. His grandmother Petra—she of a similar dark complexion, a morena, who had defied her family‟s wishes and married an American, only to be deserted and left to raise her son, Fidelio‟s father, alone—had proved, by determination and constitution, to be the rock from which his family had gathered strength. Strength and prosperity, which later dissipated during the hard times of the „sixties, when Fidelio was attending university but had to leave to begin earning a living. For him prosperity had not truly been an experience. It was the stuff of family tales. When Petra died, and then shortly afterward, his father, some said from too much mother-love, Fidelio‟s mother became like a crazy woman. She was depressed all the time and acted irrationally, and within two years she also left him. At twenty-one, Fidelio was alone in the world. That was when he met Janice Claire. He was aroused from his reverie by the movement of someone coming toward him. It was Esteban. He recognized him immediately, as a flood of bad feelings swept over him.
“Fidelio, compita, how are you? We haven‟t seen each other in ages.” Esteban put his hand forward. Fidelio extended his. He was a little embarrassed to grasp Esteban‟s smooth pink ring-clad fingers with his own unadorned deformities. He was certain Esteban had detected reluctance and his condition in the flash of recognition though he displayed joviality. “My wife, Mara,” Esteban said, gesturing toward a woman seated a few tables away. She was lighting a cigarette. Fidelio nodded. She returned the greeting. They had never seen each other before. He imagined she saw him as much older than his fiftyeight years and might be reevaluating whatever Esteban had told her about himself. “Mentiroso,” Fidelio thought. Esteban was always a liar and a betrayer of friendship. He had used Janice Claire in the way she had thought she was using them, it was a game to all of the others in a way it had not been to Fidelio. At the time, he believed he loved her American demeanor, her boldness, her feckless involvement. Only when it turned out she had marginally involved herself, did he reconsider his affections. His reassessment was helped by the ineluctable visualization of Janice‟s chewed-to thequick nails raking Esteban‟s sweaty pink buttocks as he bucked and snorted on top of her the night Fidelio had come to visit unannounced. He disengaged himself from the group shortly after that night. He saw her again in ‟98 when the students were rioting outside and inside UNAM. She was, as he was that time, only an observer, too old to participate in any meaningful way. She had lost her beauty but she was still recognizable with that ferocious smile. She seemed so willing to shout and carry a banner but she held herself in check. Though so many of her amigos had been jailed or worse, she herself had never been undeniably implicated in any of the reactionary movements. Though it would not have surprised him to discover that she was on speaking terms with General Marcos. Across the distance, that day, he imagined an apology in her glance but then was unsure that it had even contained acknowledgment. Now she lay dead three blocks away from where he sat and the words, “I‟m sorry,” had never crossed her lips within his hearing. He looked up at Esteban with intensity, mustering all the menace he could in his gaze. “Have you been to view La Señora ?” he asked. “I was about to ask you the same,” Esteban said. “I couldn‟t, you see. Mara knows nothing of those times. There‟s quite a difference in our ages.” “To be sure,” Fidelio said. “Well, I‟ve got to be going.” “Will you tell me when next we meet, how she looked?” So he, too, must have backed away from the woman and her instigations soon after Fidelio had.
“I won‟t be able to,” Fidelio replied, “I‟m going home now.” As he paid his bill, Fidelio looked back at the sepia photos of men and women who defined his world and below them Esteban and his wife discussing items on a menu, the two of them oblivious to so much history.
MICHAEL D. BROWN is originally from New York City and now resides in southern Mexico, where he teaches English as a Second Language to teenagers. He maintains various blogs under the aegis of MuDJoB. He has featured numerous guest writers at http://www.mudjob.blogspot.com and his own work at http://mdjb.wordpress.com You can find out whatever he‟s up to at the moment at http://mdjb.tumblr.com/