Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When hair sticks to the floor this way, resisting the broom as Tavi sweeps, it means that the client’s sweating heavily, that the barbershop’s too hot, although the man growing warm beneath the nylon cape doesn’t complain. The beads of perspiration thicken on his face and drop—signs of suffering—but he remains silent, surrendered to the barber who has to notice and hand him a towel eventually, maybe even suggest what he will not: Turn on the fan, open the window.

“Open the window, Tavi,” Donato calls out as he shapes the fade. The client’s shoulders react: Relief is near.

Tavi opens the window because the fan isn’t working. The shears, the clippers, the lathering machine will be all the music this afternoon. The boom box isn’t working, either. The television hasn’t worked in years and stares blankly from the corner of the room. It’s the shop’s only useless mirror, although Tavi can see the bright window’s miniature version on the screen, his stick-thin body bending down to let the airplanes in.

“Let the airplanes in,” his father says at home, meaning “Open the window.” Both at home and at work, opening the window lets in the same noise. Home is less than a block away. LaGuardia not far from the neighborhood. The neighborhood right under the path each airplane takes to the landing strip.

Tavi wants to greet the first airplane, but then Donato says, “How’s that?” And the client answers, “That’s fine. Thanks, man.” Another buzz cut completed, another wipe across the chair damp with sweat.

“Tavi,” Donato says, pointing to the seat.

Tavi rushes over, reaching for the rag stuffed into his back pocket. From the corner of his eye, he catches the brief exchange of money, the handshake, the client posing in front of the mirror one last time before he heads outside to charm the world.

“Come-mierda,” Donato says when he pockets the money. It means the tip is low.

Donato yanks the boom box cord out of the socket and wraps it around his hand like a bandage. “I’m going to get this piece of crap fixed,” he says.

“What about the fan?” Tavi asks, and then immediately regrets it.

Donato glares at him. “Just keep the window open,” he says. “I’ll be right back. If a client comes, sit him down on the goddamn chair. Coño.”

Donato walks off with the boom box beneath one arm, the other reaches for the cigarettes. Tavi sticks his head out the window and watches him turn the corner. On hot summer days like this no one’s out on the streets and men are least likely to come in for a cut.

Across the way, the old woman with a wrap around her head props a pillow on the sill and leans on it. She’s keeping watch over the street as well. For one brief moment she makes eye contact with Tavi, but quickly moves on. She has seen him as many times as he’s seen her. Nothing new here.

Tavi wishes his father could do the same at home. The reason Tavi lets the airplanes in is because his father can’t come out. The wheelchair’s too heavy for him to maneuver, so he sits in the kitchen with enough food on the table to get him through the day, until Tavi comes home to take him to the toilet. It’s like taking care of a cat that will look after itself for extended periods of time. The small television on the counter keeps him entertained, even though most of the time his father just dozes off. In case of an emergency, the phone’s within reach; the shop’s number on speed dial. If it weren’t for the back pain he’d rather stay in bed all day.

If it weren’t for the stroke, Tavi’s father might still be cutting hair at his old shop instead of sending Tavi over just to get his son out of sight. But Tavi takes his job seriously anyway. It’s the only place he ever gets to go.

The shop door opens and a man walks in. “Are you available?” he asks.

Tavi’s too stunned to speak.

“Okay,” the man says to himself. “Are you all right, buddy?”

Men are not supposed to be this beautiful. Or rather, beautiful men don’t come into Donato’s shop. Usually kids with acne, multiple piercings, and tattoos on their napes. Usually old men with weak dentures, who have been coming in for so many years they still remember the previous barber, Tavi’s father, and ask about him. Usually the random man in his forties, like the one who was just here, who walks in on impulse. But not men like this with perfect lips and perfect skin, the cheekbones and eyebrows perfectly matched and even. Tavi runs his tongue along his crooked set of teeth.

“Donato will be right back,” Tavi says, shaken out of his spell.

The perfect man nods his head.

“You can take a seat,” he says, motioning to the barber’s chair.

The perfect man nods his head again and sits down. He considers himself on the mirror and then notices Tavi staring. He turns around. “Octavio,” he says, holding out his hand.

“Yes,” Tavi says, extending his own hand. “But everybody calls me Tavi.” He’s embarrassed suddenly that he’s still carrying around the nickname the old men gave him when Tavi was the unfortunate son of the barber who lost his wife when his son was only 5 years old.

“That’s funny,” the perfect man says. “I meant, my name’s Octavio. But I guess yours is too. What a coincidence, right?”

Tavi freezes again. Octavio and Octavio, like the matching pairs on a domino tile. Tavi, with the scent of tonic and disinfectant; Octavio with the scent of cologne as strong as solid wood, his skin taut and glowing with the pores of an athlete.

“When’s your birthday?” Tavi asks.

“What?” Octavio says. He lets out an uncertain laugh, but then adds, “July 12.”

“Mine’s on July 21,” Tavi says. His eyes widen.

“And what does that mean, that’s we’re like twins or something? Crazy.”

Before Tavi can explain what it means, Donato comes back, excited to have a client waiting on the chair. He comes up to shake Octavio’s hand and swats Tavi away. “Give the man some breathing room, will you, Tavi? Sorry about that, muchacho.”

“Nah, it’s cool,” Octavio says. “We were just shooting the shit. It turns out we have the same name, and that we’re born in the same month. I think we’re twins separated at birth or something.”

Both men burst out laughing. Tavi reddens. But then Donato says, “Tavi, go dig out some more neck strips, will you? I’m running low.” The business at hand continues.

Some clients shut their eyes during a cut, others keep a close eye on the barber’s job, and still others let their eyes lock on any movement they can catch through the mirror, except those who come in wearing glasses. Those men are usually near sighted and stare helplessly into space. Octavio is the eyes-shut type, though he keeps a conversation going with Donato the entire time.

“So do you think De la Hoya’s really going to hang up the gloves for good, or is he bullshitting again?”

“Who knows? Well, he can always go back to that singing career he put on hold.”

“Coño, I hope not!” Donato says, and they laugh.

Tavi suspects Octavio keeps his eyes shut because he’s getting looked at. Octavio is the perfect man; he should be used to it. The shape of his head is perfect. His hairline is perfect, the backs of his ears—beautiful, symmetrical ears, not alien looking appendages like on most men—perfect. Every once in a while Octavio opens his eyes and notices Tavi. This excites Tavi, getting noticed by the perfect man.

“Tavi,” Donato says, waving him over.

And then an airplane coming in stops Tavi in his tracks and he rushes back to the window. The magic of the engine cuts through the sky loud and long. It will not be ignored.

“He’s never been on one. Can you believe it?” Donato tells Octavio. “Thirty-five years old and never been on one.”

Octavio doesn’t respond, though he probably understands the code. Donato’s telling him that Tavi isn’t like normal men. Even if Octavio has never been on a plane either, it’s not the same as Tavi never being on a plane. Perhaps Octavio never goes anywhere by choice, but Tavi, he never will.

“Tavi, go get me some water from Chong’s, will you?” Donato says. Tavi is devastated that he has to leave on an errand. To Chong’s, of all places, where the pace is slow and where hardly anyone hurries in or out.

Reluctantly, Tavi takes the five-dollar bill from Donato and walks out into the heat, away from Octavio. He glances back one last time and sees the perfect man sitting there, becoming more perfect still each time the razor caresses the surface of his perfect scalp.

Out on the sidewalk he considers walking faster, but the heat’s holding him down. The old woman looking out the window follows him with her eyes all the way to the corner. Chong’s.

When he was younger, Chong worked the register himself, but then he grew old, and then he died and then the bodega was sold to the Koreans, but everyone still calls it Chong’s. The Koreans don’t care. They didn’t even bother to change the name on the sign over the awning.

“Go get me a pack of cigarettes from Chong’s,” his father used to say. “Go get a beer for Emilio.” And Chong would hand over the cigarettes and beer to little Tavi without any money changing hands.

Tavi’s father would take care of the debt eventually.

That was a different time, when kids could be entrusted with chores like those. When a man like Emilio could sit on the extra chair all day and everyone knew he wasn’t waiting in line for a cut. If he ever needed a cut, Tavi’s father simply walked over and clipped the sideburns, which were the only parts that grew anymore. Now Emilio was dead, and so was Chong.

Tavi walks in and out of the bodega, heads back to the shop, but by the time he steps inside, Octavio’s gone. Tavi stands there with his armpits damps, a row of salty beads over his lip, which he sucks into his mouth. The crumpled cape over the chair looks like a cocoon that has just released its butterfly. Tavi has the urge to hold it, smell the ghost of the perfection that has walked away.

“Here’s your water,” Tavi says, begrudgingly.

Donato takes the water with one hand. With the other, he slaps Tavi across the face.

It takes a minute for Tavi to orient himself again.

“What are you, a pato?” Donato says.

For a second this confuses Tavi. He hasn’t heard the word in a while. Puerto Ricans say pato. They mean maricón, what his father would say, because he’s Mexican. “Maricón! Puto, mama-huevo!” every time Tavi had to bathe him.

Pato: quack-quack. Fag, the kids say.

“Why did you keep staring at that guy? You were making him nervous. He’ll never come around here again,” Donato says.

The severity of the statement sinks in. Octavio will never be back. He has lost his perfect double. It stings more than the slap across the face.

“Go home and check in on your father,” Donato commands.

Tavi wobbles out of the shop and heads left. The old woman across the way is also gone. The window gapes out onto the street like a toothless mouth.

When he enters the house, Tavi expects to see his father asleep, but he’s wide awake for a change.

“What did you do this time?” his father says without turning away from the television screen.

Tavi doesn’t need to answer. It doesn’t matter. It’s just another day he has disappointed his father.

“All this shit on the news,” his father says. “Makes me want to roll the chair to the middle of the street and be done with it.”

Tavi turns off the television, clears the table and without having to ask he guides his father’s chair to the bathroom, where he will help him onto the toilet and wipe him clean after he’s done. When Tavi gets closer to his father, the odor of urine and rancid breath assaults his nose, kills the last traces of Octavio’s scent.

Tavi’s father wants scrambled eggs for dinner. He’s limited to soft foods now that most of his teeth are gone. When he still had a full set and the paralysis was new, Tavi’s father bemoaned the fact that he never taught Tavi how to cook, that he spent most of the evenings swatting his son out of the kitchen. For many years afterward, Tavi taught himself through trial and error. Mostly error, which his father threw off his plate for Tavi to clean.

“Put more mayonnaise on it,” his father says as soon as Tavi places the plate in front of him.

“Cholesterol, Papa,” Tavi says.

His father reaches down to the plate, and then splatters a handful of scrambled egg at Tavi. He started doing this when he could no longer spit.

Tavi lets the egg run down his shirt as he sits to eat.

“Anything exciting down at the shop,” his father asks, taking a spoonful of egg.

“The boom box broke,” Tavi offers.

“Goddamn Donato,” his father says. “He pushes the buttons too hard.”

They eat in silence after that. His father chews with his mouth open and licks his lips clean when he’s done. He then belches, farts, and belches again before slumping down on his seat like a deflated balloon.

“I wonder if Emilio’s coming over to play dominoes,” his father says. “Goddamn Donato, the boom box.” He’s sleepy. He becomes disoriented when he’s sleepy. Tavi rolls him over to the bedroom.

His father’s body feels weightless now. Or maybe Tavi has done this so many times that it’s like breathing, no effort at all. He lifts him up to the bed, stretches his legs out and pulls off his sweatpants. The underwear is slightly soiled, but Tavi will wait until tomorrow to change him, just in case he wets the bed.

Tavi expects his father will play dominoes in his dreams, resurrecting his old playing buddies—Emilio, Rorro, Santi, and sometimes Chong, who used to live a few doors down. All of them reaching into the center of the table to mix the tiles, the sound of bone striking bone. The sound of bone scratching wood as they claimed their playing pieces. And then the faces pairing up, the domino snake coming together inch by inch. But now the domino box sits neglected like a closed coffin, buried in a drawer somewhere, because Tavi’s father is the only player left.

Back in the day they stayed up until midnight or until someone’s wife sent a death threat of “get back home or else” to one of the players—whichever came last. They all had sons, but none was interested in coming over to play with Tavi. They all had daughters and all of them were afraid of him. Loco Tavi, Looney Tavi, Lelo Tavi. So he sat around mostly, just watching the game, startled whenever one of the men slapped a tile onto the surface too hard.

Once in a while one of the men would take pity on him and hand him a dollar, tell him to go buy himself a candy bar. But as soon as Tavi grew too old for candy bars the old men ignored him, except when they needed him to fetch a beer from the fridge.

Since Tavi can remember, his life has been constrained to this block. Even the school, where he flunked three times and was able to drop out as a 16-year-old eighth-grader, was less than a block away. The only time he ever moved beyond the block was when his father had the stroke, and Tavi had to sit in the hospital waiting room until his buddies arrived.

That night was also the only time he didn’t sleep at home. He slept at Emilio’s house, in his son’s room. Donato was kind then, embracing him in the dark while Tavi cried for his father. And then, years later, when Donato took over the shop, Donato stopped loving him. A decade of lovelessness.

Tavi pulls the covers over his father and backs out of the room, closing the door. He goes all over the house and closes every window. It’s time to keep the airplanes out. What a surprise then, when he gets to the south window facing the back street that the young people own when the day ends. It’s Octavio, standing under the streetlight with two kids in front of him.

When Octavio suddenly looks back, Tavi blushes but doesn’t hide. Octavio motions to his cohorts, who turn around and snicker.

“Hey, Tavi!” the black kid says. “Come here.”

Tavi’s body spasms. In all these years of watching the young men congregate he has never been invited. He has been teased, whistled at, and a few times they threw rocks or empty beer bottles in his direction, but never this.

The other kid, Santi’s grandson, waves. “Come here!” he commands.

More snickering. Octavio smiles his perfect smile, his teeth sparkle like jewels.

Tavi looks over at his father’s bedroom. The door is shut. The old paralytic is out and won’t wake up, even if he pisses on himself. Suddenly his heart starts to beat faster. He’ll go outside and join the guys.

Something new moves through his body, as if he’s pumping different blood. It pushes him out the front door that much quicker, and before he realizes it he’s standing a few feet away from Octavio and the two kids.

Octavio nods. Tavi recognizes this nod. It is friendly, it is beautiful. He gets closer.

“Hey, Tavi,” Octavio says. “I didn’t get to say good-bye earlier.”

“Good-bye,” Tavi says, and the kids laugh, Santi’s grandson covering his mouth with his hand.

“Yeah,” Octavio says. “Anyway, I was talking to Darryl and Manny here, and we were thinking about going on a little trip.”

“To Brooklyn?” Tavi says. The kids mock him, but Octavio protects Tavi, shushes them.

“Actually, to the islands,” Octavio says. “Ever been to the islands? To the D.R.?”

Tavi shakes his head. His father only longed for Mexico, a country he left long before Tavi was born, and which he never returned to.

“You want to come along?” Octavio says. “We’re flying there.”

Tavi’s struck numb by the magnitude of the moment. Not only might he leave the block, he might even leave the country. By plane. But it’s the possibility of keeping Octavio’s company that overwhelms him the most. This is too much for him. He feels as if he’s just gotten slapped across the face again. He stumbles a little and this only incites more laughter.

“I have to go home now,” Tavi says.

“Okay,” Octavio says. “But think about it. It’s a weekend trip. Meet us here tomorrow by 6 if you want to come along.” Octavio stretches his hand out and Tavi takes it. It’s the perfect arm and the perfect hand. Octavio is the perfect man. Tavi walks back to the house, euphoric. Not even the cackling from Darryl and Manny can bring him down. When he gets home he immediately runs to the back window. Octavio’s still there with the two kids. It’s not his imagination, it’s real. The invitation’s real. Even when they don’t turn around to look at him the rest of the time they stand under the streetlight, he believes it happened.

When Octavio and the kids walk away eventually, Tavi feels the pang of abandonment, so he lies down on his bed and presses his fists to his chest. This is how he coped during recess all those years, when no one would ask him to play, when he wanted to play but was denied entry into the circle of friends. The only time he stood at the center was when those circles of laughter were circles of ridicule: Loco Tavi, Looney Tavi, Lelo Tavi.

Tavi rolls over on his fists, giving his back to the memory hovering above him. Octavio will protect him. Octavio will stop the teasing. Octavio will bring out the Octavio in Tavi. A familiar stirring in his pants makes him grind his hips into the mattress.

Tavi still feels high the next morning as he dresses his father and props him up on the wheelchair. He hums while cooking breakfast.

“What the hell happened to you last night?” his father asks. “Did you finally get laid?”

“Actually,” Tavi says. “I got invited to the D.R.”

His father laughs. “You? You don’t even know where the fuck that is. Or what the fuck that is. Who invited you?”

Tavi shakes his head proudly. “A friend.”

“You have a friend?” his father says. “I see. What’s his name, Rockefeller? Rockefeller’s taking you to the D.R. on his private jet? Is that it?”

“Say what you will, Papa, I’m going.”

His father’s mouth drops. “What the—you’re completely out of your mind. I know you’re stupid but you can’t be this stupid. How the hell do you think that’s possible? You’ve never even been on a plane before. You’ll have a heart attack before it even takes off. Do you realize how terrible it is to ride an airplane?”

Tavi stops in his tracks. He hadn’t considered that point. “What does it feel like?” he asks.

“It’s like getting shot through a cannon,” Tavi’s father says. “And you better pray that the plane doesn’t splatter you all over the runway when it lands.”

A chill runs through Tavi’s veins, but he refuses to let his fear show.

“Do-do-do you want some more eggs for breakfast, Pa-pa-pa?” he says in a dry voice.

“No,” Tavi’s father says. “I don’t want you to be late to the shop. You go on and yank this nonsense out of your head. You’ll get hurt.”

Tavi shakes nervously the rest of the morning: at home while he’s setting his father’s lunch and adjusting the television; at work while he’s cleaning combs and shaking the neck dusters.

“What’s the matter with you?” Donato says. “Open the window, will you? Before it starts to get hot in here again.”

But Tavi doesn’t want to let the airplanes in. So he hesitates.

“Open the goddamn window, coño!”

When Tavi opens the window, the noise of a plane flying overhead floods into the room, knocking him down.

“Carajo, what has gotten into you this morning? Are you on drugs?” Donato nudges Tavi up with his foot. “Get up before someone comes in and sees you lying there like a tecato.”

Tavi stands up and stares down at his feet.

“What’s the matter with you, huh?”

Tavi rubs his eyes. The gesture softens Donato a bit, so he asks again, lowering his voice this time: “What’s going on, Tavi? Someone’s been mean to you?”

Tavi shakes his head.

“Then what? Come on, let’s have it. I don’t have all day.”

“What does it feel like to fly?”

Donato furrows his brow, and then just as quickly he stretches it open in amusement. “Now who would be cruel enough to put something like that in your head?” he says. “No use worrying about something that’s never going to happen, Tavi. No use worrying about it.” Donato shakes the capes off and begins to fold them.

“Does it feel like getting shot out of a cannon?” Tavi persists.

Donato rolls his eyes. “All right. If I tell you, will you promise not to bother me the rest of the day?”

Tavi nods.

Donato sighs. “Well,” he says. “It tickles the stomach a little bit, especially the first time around. But it’s just like riding in the backseat of a car going fast.”

“Like on a bus?” Tavi says.

“Faster,” Donato says. “Like maybe an ambulance. It’s bulky but it gets somewhere fast. And it’s safe because nothing gets in the way.”

“And how about when it lands?” Tavi asks.

“Just like coming to a red light with plenty of warning. No surprises there either. There. Are you happy?”

Tavi nods.

“Good, now get to putting all these things away, I’m going to get a cup of coffee.”

For the rest of the day Tavi’s satisfied with Donato’s answers. But a strange sensation still gnaws at him about why his father would want to keep him from going on a trip. And then it dawns on him: because Tavi takes care of him. If Tavi leaves, who will take father to the bathroom? Who will make his eggs in the morning?

The day goes by quickly for a change. Tavi keeps to himself, which pleases Donato, and all the while as he sweeps hair and wipes off razors, Tavi comes up with the perfect plan to fly away to the D.R. with Octavio, the perfect man. The plan is this: to leave someone in charge of Papa for the weekend. He’s got it all figured out.

When 5 o‘clock rolls around, Tavi doesn’t even bother saying anything as he walks out of the shop before closing time, and neither does Donato ask for an explanation.

“You’re home early again?” his father says as soon as Tavi comes in. “Don’t let me find out you’re getting in Donato’s way. If he stops paying you, you stop eating.”

Tavi rolls his eyes.

“Don’t you roll your eyes at me, faggot. I’m still your father.”

Tavi grabs his father’s wheelchair and jerks it away from the table.

“What the—”

“You’re going on a little trip too, Papa,” Tavi says.

“A trip? Where? Where are you taking me? Let go of me,” his father says, flinging his arms back. Tavi dodges the knuckles. When they get to the bed, Tavi’s father tries to resist even more. “It’s too early for bed! It’s too early for bed!” he protests. But Tavi doesn’t put his father to bed. He brings his father’s body down on the floor.

“You’re crazy! Someone, help! Help!”

Tavi bends down and covers his father’s mouth. “Quiet, old man,” he says. “Look. You let me go on this trip or I will never come back—and then who’s going to wipe your ass?”

The threat calms his father down.

“Where are you going? What are you going to do with me?”

“I told you, I’m going to the D.R. for the weekend. And you’re going to the hospital.”

“The hospital? No, don’t send me to the hospital. They’re mean to me there. They won’t take good care of me there.”

“Just for the weekend, Papa,” Tavi says. “I promise.”

“Please! Please!” Tavi’s father begs, letting go of tears this time.

“Stop it!” Tavi says. “You owe me, Papa. You owe me good, and you know it. Don’t think I don’t know about the money you get from the government.”

“And how else am I supposed to take care of you?” his father stammers. “Your mother abandoned us, you know. Drunk herself to death. Even drank when you were still inside of her, which is why you were born a retard.”

“I’m not a retard, Papa,” Tavi says. “It’s because you never let me go anywhere.”

“There’s nowhere to go,” his father says. “Where do you want to go?”

“To the D.R.”

“Don’t be an idiot! Pick me up!” His father bangs his fists against the floor. “Can’t you see someone’s playing a joke on you?”

“No one’s playing a joke on me!” Tavi says. “Shut up!” Tavi raises his hand and his father covers his head in protection.

“Now you just lie there,” Tavi says. “It’s my turn to enjoy some time with my friends. So you better keep your mouth shut for a change. You better not tell the ambulance people that I put you on the floor. Tell them that you fell, that I’m out of town. I’ll come to the hospital and pick you up when I return. Will you do that for me, Papa, just this time, pretty please?”

After a brief silence, Tavi’s father closes his eyes and nods in resignation. Tavi leaves him there, the door propped open so that the paramedics can see him right away as they come in. He then goes to his room and packs a few items—an extra pair of shorts, a shirt and socks. His toothbrush. And then he goes over to the cupboard beneath the sink and pulls out his father’s cash box. He spills everything into the backpack. If this is going to be the only time, it might as well be a good time. He already sees himself in the D.R., wherever that is, standing underneath the streetlight that pours over Octavio like a rain of gold. And Tavi will be the envy of all the other kids on the island.

Next, the call. He clears his throat, picks up the phone and dials 9-1-1.

“Hello,” he says in the raspiest voice he can muster. “I’ve fallen off the bed. I need help, por favor.”

The dispatcher asks him to confirm the home address. Yes, that’s correct.

“And please hurry,” Tavi pleads.

His father keeps his head toward the open bedroom door and simply watches wide-eyed as Tavi runs back and forth.

“The ambulance will be here soon,” Tavi says. “Remember: play sick.”

Tavi looks at the clock. It’s still early. He steps out of the house and is about to run to the back street to meet up with Octavio, when suddenly a pang of guilt stops him. Perhaps he should wait for the ambulance to show up, to make sure he sees the paramedics take his father away to safety. He scurries over to the side of the house. By the time he presses his body against the wall, the ambulance sirens announce its arrival.

Unlike what he’s seen on television, there doesn’t seem to be much of a rush here. The paramedics take their time walking up the steps and walking in. Minutes later, Tavi’s heart stops when he actually sees the gurney get rolled out of the house, his father strapped tightly to the metal frame, an oxygen mask over his mouth. His father looks more frail among the able bodies that surround him. Tavi thinks his father spots him as he’s hoisted up into the ambulance, so he jerks back. No, he couldn’t have seen him, not that far away. The lifting of his hand, the twitching of his fingers, just so, could have meant he was waving good-bye to the house, not to his son, who was standing just out of reach.

Tavi looks around for signs of Octavio and nothing. It’s already 6 o’clock. Two minutes pass, then another two. That’s when he spots Manny, Santi’s grandson, walking out of his house. This is it, he thinks, but then Manny starts to bounce a basketball on the sidewalk. And then his cell phone rings and he sits down on the steps, both feet rolling the ball as if he’s got nowhere else to be.

Tavi attempts to wave at him, to let him know that he’s waiting, that he’s made it, but Manny doesn’t see him. Tavi’s afraid to yell because the ambulance is still parked in front. And then Manny goes back into the house, leaving the ball to roll on its own for a few seconds before it stops cold at the fence. It simply sits there and will likely stay there all evening, motionless and without life. Empty house, empty street, and Tavi the lonely black line on la cajita, the domino with the two expansive blanks. Another minute passes, then another.

Suddenly everything speeds up: the closing of the ambulance doors, the paramedics climbing back into the cabin, the driving away. And that’s when Tavi hears it: an airplane flying above him, a harsh, invasive noise that collapses the entire sky on top of him. That’s his airplane. He missed it. Octavio has gone off to the D.R. by himself. And now his father, too, is flying off without him.

The siren cries out again and this disorients Tavi. It’s like another slap on the face and all he can do is run out and chase the ambulance down the street, calling out, “Papa! Papa! Papa!” while the old woman, who leans on her comfortable pillow on the sill, shakes her head as she goes along for the ride.



Rigoberto Gonzalez

Rigoberto Gonzalez

Rigoberto González is the author of eight books, most recently of the young adult novel, The Mariposa Club, and a story collection, Men without Bliss. The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, winner of the American Book Award, and The Poetry Center Book Award, he writes a Latino book column for the El Paso Times of Texas. He is contributing editor for Poets and Writers Magazine, on the Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle, and is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers—Newark, State University of New Jersey.

Comments are closed.

In memory of Kurt Brown

Please consider donating to /One/