UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
M. FRIAS MAY
For your blues
If a man as warped as Dick Damone could thrive in a town like Clamore, feeding like a
pornographic vampire, surely, someone like Chet Armano, could get what he wanted.
And on February 7th, 22 days shy of his 28th birthday, Chet got the Mariachi’s guitar.
He’d come home from another blood-leeching dull shift at the Chevron Station. His
grandmother Rita hopped off the sofa as soon as he closed the door. “Well, what did the
She’d shrunk through the years, lost weight and some hearing but her eyes remained
maddeningly bright and Chet kept his sunglasses on, always. “The sheriff?”
She was wearing a silky smock thing that cut over silky baggy pants and Chet thought the
outfit was the same one he saw on a porn-looking lady at the station. She was driving a
56 T-Bird convertible. She had straight out tits and knew any guy worth his wad would
say it, “you got straight out tits, mam.” It was one of those blue moon moments when
every billionth minute something spicy happens between strangers and Chet and the lady
in the silky smocky thing exchanged fluids in the bathroom. And as Chet remembered her
huffing on him, he eyed his grandmother and nodded.
“The sheriff’s been notified,” Chet lied. “He wrote down everything you said was missing.”
“The books—you tell him about the books?”
“Yes,” Chet said, collapsing on the couch. “The books, the TV, the radios.”
She waved at Chet, her way of interrupting, though to Chet, it was like she was trying to
wipe off a wet mirror. “Did you mention to him that this thief is unusual?”
“What is the black market for books?” she asked.
“What does that tell you?” his grandmother asked. Chet grinned at her. “Dope is cheap in
***Grandma rightly suspected Chet dealt drugs in town from the station but it wasn’t as
much as she thought and it wasn’t something he liked doing. He’d been wandering
California since college and only returned to Rita and Clamore because he’d spent all the
cash Dick Damone had tipped him. Rita’s suspicion, correct again, that he was unsettled
and in a mood, was difficult to conceal. She didn’t know what kind of mood he was in
because Chet didn’t know either. All he knew was he had to find it and figured old town
Clamore, its decay of plaster and farmer’s values, seemed like the place to find it and he
found his mood in three people. Two were girls and one was the Mariachi.
The twins were legal now and it only took a whiff of them and a couple gnashing gazes at
their twitchy walks to realize he’d succumbed to Dick Damone Dementia. They were
both blonde, 5’7, wore their hair in bangs and kept their skin tanned and stomachs
exposed. From a distance they appeared to be proof that brains bleach in the California
coastal light and if you’re thinking, tail after a tequila and joint, and Chet was, then these
were your girls. They weren’t sisters by blood. Nor were they lame. Misguided, yes,
crazy, yes, and alarmingly in love with Chet. They liked the old in and out too damn
much. They talked about it. They drove up one night in a red Tundra, bleary-eyed and
pretty, and said, “Come on, let’s do it in the cemetery.” Their bravado irritated Chet so
much he skipped the cemetery and he pimped them to Dick Damone. As they fucked the
old man’s big cock, they learned something about themselves and Chet’s moods.
***One afternoon in January after a flash of silvery slanting rain, Chet stole away from work
because of the Mariachi. He was gritting out J.J. Cayle’s bluesy Cocaine, singing, “She
don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie, Cocaine.”
No one was around. Water was running in the street and Chet slipped a little crossing
over to the red-bricked bank where the Mariachi funked the song up with pain and
longing. It was beautiful, unexpected. Cocaine.
The sun burned through the swampy sky and lit the deserted block of concrete that Chet
and the Mariachi stood on, one admiring, the other jerky and fucking not caring who was
watching. The groove of the song, simple and sinful, welted a hurt Chet thought he had
When the Mariachi finished, Chet dropped a ten in the bush hat in front of the shaggy
musician’s boots and then, for emphasis, because he was moved, he clapped out the
“That was there,” Chet said, and the Mariachi eked out a stoic, “sure.” He was couple
inches taller than Chet, and looked heavier in his long johns, Pendleton, sweater, and
jeans. His dry dirty hair wagged in the wind like a horsetail and his Walt Whitman beard
disguised his age. “No, man,” Chet said, “I’m saying…”
“I hear you,” the Mariachi said. “I hear you.”
Chet’s zeal iced up. “It was great.”
“Just a song,” the Mariachi said, “Just a song.”
Chet backed into the street and into a puddle that soaked his pant legs.
“Careful,” the Mariachi said. “It’s deep out there.”
“Yeah, and so are you.”
The Mariachi toed up the hat with his boot tip and punched the bill out. “I don’t want
“It’s not mine either. It’s my grandmother’s. I live with her. She gives me lunch money.”
The Mariachi began picking the notes to Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind,” tilting his head
toward the sun and away from Chet’s sarcasm.
“That sucks,” Chet said.
Chet stepped up on the sidewalk, stooped and picked up his ten. The guitar looked like a
kid’s instrument against the Mariachi’s frame. It was a small-bodied Martin with
numerous chips and scratches. The pick guard was coming up and the word “woo” was
etched in the wood around the 15th fret.
“Woo, huh,” Chet said and the Mariachi’s face crinkled with annoyance.
“What did you say?”
“Woo,” Chet said, reaching toward the guitar.
The Mariachi pulled away. “Don’t touch it.”
“Woo, you got attitude.”
“Just don’t touch it.”
“You’re a fucking freak.”
“Yeah, Mariachi man, my opinion.” The thrust in Chet’s voice stopped the Mariachi’s
playing. “We going to fight?”
***Chet opened his eyes and focused on Rita’s soured wrinkles. “Are you going to sleep?”
“No,” Chet said, “I’m thinking.”
“How the wheel turns.”
Rita’s wrinkling deepened and Chet realized what it was about her that had
disappeared—her vanity. Sometime after 55 Rita started hiding her ass and cutting her
hair. She’d fallen in love with unsolved crime and forensics solving the case in an hour.
She ate peanuts and popcorn and drank ginseng tea with lemon-flavored vodka. Her
desire to work had fizzled to a few hours a day manning a register in a candle boutique on
the west end of town. She was now a person to be avoided and Chet knew this,
understood it, and petrified as best as he could when he was alone with her.
Like now, sprawled out with a stagnant smile, he tolerated her because she had tolerated
him, though the tolerance didn’t mean he had to be nice. And he wasn’t, and her
suspicion that he wasn’t nice was the only raw thing working for her. It was the only
thing that made it worthwhile coming home. Her suspecting that Chet was behind the
disappearance of her stuff riled them both, a lovely rile of hate and love.
“The wheel turns,” she said, “what does that mean?”
The smell of cheese enchiladas simmering in the oven distracted Chet. “Did anyone
“Oh, uh,” she hesitated, then scowled and Chet could tell by the lift in her wrinkles that
the girls had called.
“What time what?”
“What did she say?”
“Who?” Rita pulled out a piece of Kleenex and swabbed her nostrils. “I don’t know
which one it was.”
###After the enchiladas, Chet found the message from the girls’ in Rita’s bathrobe. On a
yellow post-it Rita had scrawled, 2100, ten acres dead. In the recyclables he found sheets
of legal pad and Rita’s attempt to decode the message that simply meant meet us at the
cemetery at nine o’clock. Her unbelieving anyone would hang out in a graveyard
prevented her from figuring it out. As he put on his long black coat, she said, “They’re
Chet sunk his hands into the pockets of his coat. Mag-Lite, condoms, lighter, pot, pipe.
He touched every item before he looked at his grandmother. “I know. Good night.”
Rita had left her Lodge Hill cottage after Chet had gone off to college. The duplex was
two blocks up from the post office on a wide part of Bridge Street that rose a curvy mile
through a forest of pines and narrowed and narrowed until it deadened at the graveyard.
The night sky was blurred with stars and once Chet passed the 100-year-old Presbyterian
Church and the tow truck yard the sky seemed lower and lightless and different shades of
darkness confronted Chet as he thought about his wild sweet tarts.
They knew about the birthday grandma Rita missed when Chet was seven. In a moment
of weakness, he had divulged pieces of his hurt and they ingested every crumb and they
promised something someday that would heal his little boy hurt. He wished he could
undo that moment of weakness but it was out and it was in their hands and as the light of
storefronts and sky receded from the street he warmed up to the unfriendly cold and
admired the way the trees seemed to lean his way, black, wind-bitten, swollen. A year
ago he would have drove up the hill and devoured their minion mentality like Charlie
Manson but the hour felt spacious, almost secular, and Chet tasted his enchilada bile as
the incline elevated and weird wafts of wind shook out the creaks and groans of a brittle
forest. There was nothing out there at this hour that could harm him. Nothing.
The sky appeared above him again, wide as a stream bed, shallow and glittery, the trees,
tall and bulky towers of iron filling out the roundness of the summit. The caretaker’s
name was Zack but everyone called him Squid, a thin, slouching, grubby, grinning man
in his thirties who’d lost a legal portion of his hearing in the first Gulf War. His residence
was a bunkhouse structure built on the left rim of the graveyard’s roundabout entrance.
His jeep wasn’t out front and, even if it was, Squid wouldn’t be the one phoning 911 or
rousting you with his nasally voice. Things that happened at the graveyard always ended
with Squid saying, “I guess, I was mistaken.”
Their truck was parked in the first turnout. Meek light from a strand of bulbs strung on a
sycamore tree in the center of the roundabout revealed the unhinged gate. There were
about 100 plots left and most of them were in this section, which, because it was for sale,
had more green, shade and care. In the fall, the afternoon sun scrapped across the hillside
here and lit up the hundreds of moths fluttering under the low limbs of scrub oak. But a
fuzzy darkness and a back-surging quiet enveloped the gate Chet pushed open. The trail
looped right and skirted the edge of the graveyard and wound around into a field of
headstones and markers of old timers named Fritz and Ethel. Chet listened, doubting the
girls could hold back their giggles, their vowing that he was in their tissue like a black
tide of lust. He smiled. Malevolent sluts—where did they steal that line?
“I’m here,” he called out. “Fi Fie Fo Fum and I’m going to smack your big fat bums.”
“Woo,” he heard, then a lower “woo.”
He tracked the sound. A light flared and fattened and in a few seconds the lantern
illuminated the girls under a stout tree with fanged limbs. They were standing twenty feet
straight ahead, wearing long red vinyl overcoats, high heels and malignant smiles.
“Happy Birthday,” Luna said while Sunny flung off her coat and modeled her outfit,
leather shorts, wide suspenders and skin.
“You know it’s not till the 29th,” he said, moving toward them.
Luna stepped in front of Chet, smelling of tequila and apples. In the glow her eyes looked
violet and her fingertips were cold. She dabbed up the blisters of sweat on his hairline.
“Did you know that your birthday falls on the fifth Sunday in February?” Sonny snuggled
up near his right arm. “Woo,” she said. “Woo.” Chet worked his finger under her leather,
trying to find his voice.
“Did you know that you’ll be sixty years old when your birthday falls on a fifth Sunday
in February again. Sixty years old. Woo,” Luna said, “that’s so fucking far from now that
it makes us sad.”
Chet was in and Sunny surged against his palm. “So fucking sad,” she cried. “So fucking sad.”
Luna gnawed on his cheek. “But we have something.”
Chet’s drone of pleasure threaded the graveyard. “Yeah, you do.”
“Something,” Sonny said, lunging against his knuckles, “for your blues.”
***For your blues. The line eluded Chet at the time but now it made him ache. It was three in
the morning and he still felt Rita was awake, like a cockroach on her back, wiggling with
suspicion and guilt and old lady madness. For your blues. He hadn’t undressed or even
taken his coat off. His zipper was still down. The back of his teeth hurt and he had trouble
getting air through his nose. In three hours he would have to be at work, nodding at faces
blanker than his. He leaned back in his chair and rested his sleepless head against the
wall, his eyes locking on the guitar case, a vinyl vintage one with a Grateful Dead sticker
on the front. That was the something they gave him. It wasn’t the sex, the nasty dance
they did among the dead. It was the guitar, the Mariachi’s guitar, and Chet didn’t doubt
he was open-eyed in his tent, unseeing anything ever again. They’d gone blonde and
oblivious of consequences. His girls had killed him or as they said, “we did him like he’d
never been done before.”
Chet flashed back to the cemetery and the girls giving him the present. He’d only had his
pants up for a few minutes when they said there was more.
“More,” he said.
He followed them to the truck, the air in the graveyard carrying the sound of their steps
crunching gravel. He was thinking they’d all pile into the cramped back seat, naked and
numb, smoke dope and get slippery and smiley all over again. The girls had bit him. They
had told him that this was the way they liked him, unplugged and raw and squinty. They
had something and Chet suspected a memento he would slip on his finger or hang around
his neck, something engraved and shiny and marking their unity.
Seeing the guitar case pulled out from behind the back seat was not something Chet
wanted to see. “What’s that?”
“A guitar, baby,” Sunny said.
“I ever say I played or wanted to?” His hoarse voice cut into their sly slutty incoherence.
“No,” Luna said, laying the case on the ground, unsnapping the latches and lifting the lid,
“but this is his.”
She went to remove it and he said, “Don’t touch it.” Luna jumped back.
“She won’t,” Sunny said. “Jesus, is that any way to act.”
There was no mistaking the folk-bodied Martin belonged to the Mariachi. Chet kicked the
lid close and scowled at the girls. “You touch it?”
They hung their heads and smirked and the meaning of their smirking seeped into Chet’s
mind. Luna said, “He gave it to us.”
“Yeah,” Sunny said, “for being friendly.”
The lie floated at Chet like a perfume and he inhaled it and shivered, remembering the
Mariachi grinding out the line, “Don’t forget this fact…Can’t get back…Cocaine.”
Chet dissolved the tension with his own smirk. “I’m sorry, I’m…”
“We know,” Luna said.
“And it’s okay,” Sunny said. “We won’t say anything if you won’t.”
“And don’t worry,” Luna said. “If it ever comes out, we’ll protect you.”
© 2006 Underground Voices