UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
M. FRIAS MAY
Here I am.
Front seat of a Suburban I donít own and a little kid Iíve met twice and never spoken to is sitting next to me. We are both watching his mom, Pinky, talk to a man in a wheelchair at the
The kid and I are waiting for her to get a room. Itís hot, and the air conditioner is laboring and the Suburban is angled so we can see Pinky and anyone else looking our way. A man in boxers is looking our way. Heís leaning on crutches and standing in the open doorway of room number 10, talking to someone inside the room and about 50 feet down from him is an open gate and a circle of squatting Mexicans rolling dice by the pool.
Itís a little after nine and Iím usually heading west over the pass. I sometimes stop at Peteís for a pizza slice and by eleven Iím taking my medicine and reading myself to sleep with War and Peace. I canít lie and say I havenít imagined having a woman like Pinky but imagining and having are different drugs. And when the real drug kicks in at a pink stucco stop like the BarMar, and youíre a recovering, unregistered sex offender, you better be ready when the real drug kicks in.
But Pinky isnít. Sheís telling a story with her hands and her ponytail is swishing. Sheíd gone in to get a room for an hour and her and I were going to finish what we started awkwardly in the back of her Suburban. I donít know how it escalated to biting and cussing so quickly. She had a shopping cart full of groceries and was standing next to it telling her kid to go ďget in the car.Ē He did and she resumed talking about her passion: rescue dogs and finding homes for them. When I was bagging her groceries, I noticed her 20-pound sacks of dog food and asked what kind of dog she had (180-pound great Dane) and the next thing I knew Pinky got friendly. And when I told her, as we were walking out, that Iíd recently lost a dog and was shopping for another she bumped into me and muttered, what kind are you looking for? I started in about my untrained hyper barking Jack Russell and said I wanted something small and obedient and thatís when she told her kid to get in the car. She climbed into the back of the Suburban, apologized for the clutter, moved a gopher trap and smoothed out a coarse blanket. With her round cowgirl behind straining the seams of her Wranglers, she said, when do you think youíre going to be ready?
I climbed in and sniffed the wedge between her pockets while she arched and bucked her butt into my face. I stopped that business with a ringing slap to her ass and thatís when we heard the kid call out, Mom.
She sat back on meósweet and sweaty. Itís okay, baby. Itís just that rat, I think. Iíll be right up. She kissed me, hard, and between kisses and bites, she uttered, I got a friend for you, Pops.
Mom, the kid called out louder and she got mean around her mouth. Iím not going to tell you again. She climbed out and so did I, uncomfortable, excited. She asked, putting in the last bag, you think any of this will spoil in an hour?
I shook my head.
What about two?
If you get some ice, I said. I donít see a problem.
She turned and I followed her. I slid in next to the kid and he moved over and looked out the window. She backed out and I could see Kentucky, the produce manager, locking the front door to Colomboís. He said that Pinky was the mistress of an oat-sowing Saudi who recently bought a thousand acres east of San Miguel. Kentucky said sheís dangerous.
And the kid, I said, what about him?
What kid, he said, summing up the kind of ride I had with the tormented toe-head. He didnít say a word as we cruised south down Ruble Road, past gas stations, liquor stores and old storefronts with new paint and signage. Her hand was on my thigh and she had a long strong thumb and I expected her, any minute, to turn down one of the numbered streets and drop off the kid with a friend. But she didnít. She eased into the BarMar, its lime green Ďacancyí sputtering in the dim.
She jumped out, saying, Iíll be right back.
That was a while ago.
Then the kid and I rise up out of our slouches when Pinky leans forward and signs something. All right, Iím thinking, this is it. She straightens up and starts talking again. A minute ticks off. The kid scratches the back of his neck. I canít stand it anymore. I click on a cab light.
Whereís your dad? I say.
Working, he says.
Here, in Paso?
Hong Kong, the kid says and scratches again.
Wow, he must be important.
The kid turns a little and looks me in the eye. Heís busy.
With important stuff, I bet.
He sells insurance.
I bob my head. Everyone needs that, right?
The kid shrugs. He emails twice a day.
No kidding, I say, noticing Pinky doing a little jig in the BarMar office.
She turned it off, the kid says. Three months ago. He takes a breath, scratches again. I can smell the pomade in his hair. So, what you do up there?
Yeah, but itís too hot past ten so we stay inside. The bitter in his voice shuts me up and I start feeling bad for the kid, feeling Pinky might just beat him silly if I get out and leave.
The kid coughs. She does Yoga and she does it with the door locked. I look into the Barmar office and Pinky has her hands on her hips, spine arched. Yoga, huh?
Yeah, he says, and she makes me eat mushroom port-a-potties.
What, he says.
I know, he says. I was making a joke.
Well, it was funny.
His eyes turn tiny. Iím special.
I know but I didnít want to make a big deal of it. I could tell by the way you stood by your mom in the store and didnít ask for anything that you were something else.
He takes in what I say and then this weirdness darkens his freckles. I got a gun, he says and sets his right boot down on the floorboard. His body stiffens. I winged one last week, he says, looking up.
With a pistol, I say. Wow.
No, I got a rifle. Momís got a pistol with a clip and she shoots gophers. They ate up her garden. He taps the glove compartment. She keeps it here. Do you want to see it?
Itís in his hand before I can answer, a 9mm Luger he points at me. He tilts it in his hand. Whoa, I say. Be careful.
The safety is on. See.
I canít right now because the cab light flickers. I glance toward the office and Pinky is flashing tits to the man in the wheelchair. I look back at the kid and heís trembling like me.
You know what sheís going to say when she comes back? I shake my head. Stay in the car. Thatís what she always says. Stay in the car.
His finger is on the trigger, off, on, and he doesnít care heís pointing at my face and throat and crotch. She goes in, he says, and swallows a blob of mucous. Promising to be right back.
Hey, I say, relax. Iím not that kind of man. I swear. I wouldnít make you sit in the car.
Liar, he drones and I push back against the seat. His eyes are closed and I slam mine shut, anticipating the gunshot and I canít yell his name because I donít know his name. Then, I hear a rapping on the window, see Pinky smiling, fresh lipstick on. Open up.
Cab light flickers, brightens again.
The kid puts away the Luger and snaps up the door locks. She climbs in, smelling of cigarettes and Lysol, and squeezes my thigh. Sorry I took so long but the manager in there used to date my sister and Ö She whispers in my ear. I told him I had his daddy out in the car and I was goingÖ She grabs my package.
Weíre in 9, she says, putting the car in gear. Itís got two rooms. You donít mind if Rowdy comes in, do you? He doesnít like sitting out in the dark. She parks and grins at the man on crutches lingering in front of room number 10.
Rowdy, she says, thereís an ice machine in the office and the manager said we could use one of his ice chests. Go through the groceries and get out all the refrigerated stuff and put them in the ice chest and donít give me that look or I wonít buy you any damn ammo.
Rowdy gets out and slams the door.
Better holster that attitude, she yells and sighs. Heís gifted, you know. One hundred and sixty IQ and all he wants to do is read comics and shoot guns. I had to take him out and home school him because he bores easily and bothers the girlsÖ
She gets out and says, Be a love, watch out for Rowdy. Iím going to shower.
The guy on crutches gestures a hello with his big forehead. Heís about my age but beaten down with bad luck. He has on Buddy Holly glasses that magnify watery red eyes. I then notice he has a fake right leg and his good one is hairless, pink and calloused.
Nice family, he calls out, flicking his cigarette and pulling out the one behind his ear. Got a light?
Donít smoke, I say, and look away. Rowdy is dragging back an ice chest, sassing me with his gifted evil eye. He looks taller, older, and meaner.
Nice looking boy, the gimp says.
Yeah, I mutter, and watch Rowdy tear through the bags and slam the frozen food into the ice chest. My neck crimps watching Rowdy make noise. Itís hot, just under a 100 and I know itís not going to cool off before the mosquitoes arrive.
Heís a spirited one, huh?
I face the guy on crutches, wanting to borrow one so I can beat the hell out of him and Rowdy.
Want a beer? He asks and I almost take one but I hesitate. Thereís moaning filtering from his room and I canít tell if itís animal or human.
I know, he says, you donít drink but if you change your mind I got the High Life in a sink full of ice and I can put my pants on if thatís bothering you.
I donít say anything and he flashes bright yellow teeth and squints when Rowdy drags the ice chest across the gravel. Your boy sure isÖ
Heís not my boy, I say and the gimp says, Grandson, huh? And that fine packaged woman, your daughter? He doesnít wait for me to answer. I seen her come in and I got to tell you that life, in those jeans, donít show up often around here and when it does, you got to admire it out loud and I hope you donít take offense for me admiring.
Impossible but his teeth look more yellow and his eyes redder. No offense, I say, looking down, wondering what part Pinky is scrubbing in the shower.
Just passing through? He asks.
I donít know.
Well, later on, he says, tossing a matchstick at me, grinning. Once you get settled, I can give you a little tour of things the city donít talk about much. Like all the locals that got a look at James Deanís dead body after that messy crash in Shandon. I heard a few lucky ladies lifted the sheet and had a look at his privates and I heard they werenít real impressed. I mean, he wasnít packing like Dillinger or that crazy Russian Rasputin but who is, right?
He paused, and looked inside his room. The moans had been escalating. Thatís Flo in there. Fell asleep in the sun this morning wearing her itsy bitsy and the poor cow is hurting. He raises his voice. Okay, baby, Iíll be right there. He squints at me. Even her damn tongue got burned. How in the holy hell that happened I donít know but sheís thirstier than shit and the only thing that seems to quench it is the High Life. He grins. You sure you donít want to come in for a cold one?
Rowdy intervenes, whistling like a smoke detector gone off. He has a soda in his hand. I walk toward him and he shows no fear. Hey, keep it down. People are sleeping. He whistles a final few bars, growls, so.
I pat him on the head. Thanks for icing the stuff.
He kicks a chunk of gravel. I didnít do it for you.
I know that. You did it for your mom and I want you to do me a favor and tell her I had to take off.
He looks up with panic. Where you going?
I got to get back to work. Truck comes in an about an hour and I got to unload it and stock the shelves.
Iím sorry, he blurts out.
Oh, that, yeah, that was funny.
So you knew it was a pellet gun?
Sure, I lie. I figure you were just letting me know itís not fun being her son all the time and I can understand that, sort of.
Sure, itís not like she picked you out of a litter of pure breeds.
You sure you canít tell her yourself?
I shake my head.
Iíll be good. I promise. Iíll pretend you like us.
Pinky drifts out of the room wearing a little towel and a business smile. Glad to see you getting along so well with each other. Rowdy, get my laptop out and see if you can locate that pound that has all the little dogs.
Rowdy walks toward the Suburban and Pinky beckons me with a finger. Out of the corner of my eye I notice the gimp is back and leering at Pinky. I step up to her and say, that man over there on the crutches thinks youíre my daughter.
Oh, really, she says. That interest you? Me being daddyís little girl. Is that what you like? I can smell the apple in her wet hair. Look, I say, unsteadily, I donít know if Iím ready or not.
Is it Rowdy? Did he act up on you? ROWDY.
No, I say. Heís fine.
Rowdy shows up and Pinky waits for him to look into her eyes. He knows sheís boss. You find that site?
That Chihuahua still available, the one named Dude?
Yeah, he says. Till five, tomorrow, then.
All right, she says, get yourself a snack. Weíll be right in. Rowdyís glance at me is a begging one and I donít know if I can take much more.
When you said you were looking for something small and obedient I thought of Dude. Heís a Chihuahua and heís over in a pound in Merced andÖ
She holds up her hand and apologizes, her right blue eye wet and twitching. Iím sorry but itís like killing fields over there. Thousands and thousands every year and when you saidÖ
Her pause is dramatic: tears, welling tits.
Iíll take him.
Pinky smears my face with kisses. Heís perfect and I know youíll love each other and donít think itís unmanly to own one because Mickey Rourke, the actor, he has a house full of Chihuahuas and I donít know anyone whoíd call Mickey a sissy.
She places my hand underneath her towel. Letís put a deposit down and then weíll go play, okay?
I walk beside her, my hand on her flank and my eyes on the gimp stiffening outside room number ten. I have yibble in my brain and my heartís firing strange. Rowdyís playing video poker when we walk in. Rowdy, she says, and he brings up a screen of the tiny bios of tiny dogs scheduled for execution. He looks side-eyed at us. What?
You know what, she says. Rowdy blushes and so does Pinky. I ease my hand off her ass. She wants to hit him and he knows it and he keeps his head down and docile. Her mouth parts with a threat that rolls off her lips. She takes a breath. Rowdy, she says. Tell them we found a home for Dude. She looks at me. Right?
Right, I say and Rowdy sighs. Whatís his name, mother?
Pinky squints, big girl cute. What is your name, Pops?
Thatís right, she says, pointing to my nametag. Says right there. Her face knots up with confusion. Web?
Short, for Webster, but Ruebenís fine.
I like Rueben. You like Rueben, Rowdy?
He shrugs. I guess so.
Well, be polite and show Rueben what Dude looks like and while youíre doing it, Iím going to rinse off and when Iím done Rueben is g oing to take a quick one before he goes back to work.
She disappears. The kid enlarges a photo of the dog I just saved. The dogís head is shaped like a furry triangle. I can see only three legs. The kid goes to a guideline screen.
That dog has only three legs?
So, the kid says. That mean you donít want him?
I hear Pinky calling my name. No, I say. It doesnít mean that but I never had a dog with three legs.
Didnít just happen, Rowdy says. Dude has had his three legs for a long time.
Thatís good to know.
Pinky calls out my name again and I turn and donít look back. I do remember the front door was still open and Iím sure the gimp in room number ten was lurking outside with a cold High Life. But I didnít mention him in my first statement. That one was spare. I donít know what youíre talking about. Never seen them in my life. I donít know why I didnít register.
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