Archives for category: fable

Still Genesis 4: 1- 25

Cain Destabled

“Nod” — a tuneless song (thanks, JC)

Well, you wonder why I’m marked and walk this way,
Why I never work a job more than a day,
And why my laughter sounds like someone else’s moan
Well, there’s a history to the scars that I have borne.

I wear my marks for the poor and beaten down,
Living in the hopeless, hungry victims’ side of town,
I have them for the prisoner who misunderstood her crime,
But stays because she’s a consort of her times.

I wear the mark for those who never read,
Or listened to the words the Maker said,
But I heard the words he spoke with love and charity,
Back then, you know, He was talking straight to me!

And I’m doing what I can in tattered clothes,
As I walk on rocks and feel them in my toes
Though I’m haunted by the wicked sound of skull bone being cracked
Every time a person shouts at me “Get back!”

I wonder if my questions will get old,
Unworthy me or a universe so cold?
I wander Nod just fixed on what there might have been
If a judgment never came to Mom or two young men.

So, I wander for the women who have died,
Believing that the Lord was on their side,
I wander for another hundred thousand castes who cry,
Never told or knowing why they’re cast aside.

But words won’t make things right, that much I know,
Like Mother’s ambushed innocence or Abel brought so low,
And not until I justify what is wrong and what is right
Will I ever see my shadow as my light.

Oh, I’d love to sing a rainbow every day,
And know that there’s a fairness to the game that’s being played,
‘Til then I’ll wander solo, scarred image on the sand,
‘Til God’s a little fairer, I’m the bitter, angry man.

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Still Genesis 4: 1- 25

Cain Destabled

“Nod” — a tuneless song (thanks, JC)

Well, you wonder why I’m marked and walk this way,
Why I never work a job more than a day,
And why my laughter sounds like someone else’s moan
Well, there’s a history to the scars that I have borne.

I wear my marks for the poor and beaten down,
Living in the hopeless, hungry victims’ side of town,
I have them for the prisoner who misunderstood her crime,
But stays because she’s a consort of her times.

I wear the mark for those who never read,
Or listened to the words the Maker said,
But I heard the words he spoke with love and charity,
Back then, you know, He was talking straight to me!

And I’m doing what I can in tattered clothes,
As I walk on rocks and feel them in my toes
Though I’m haunted by the wicked sound of skull bone being cracked
Every time a person shouts at me “Get back!”

I wonder if my questions will get old,
Unworthy me or a universe so cold?
I wander Nod just fixed on what there might have been
If a judgment never came to Mom or two young men.

So, I wander for the women who have died,
Believing that the Lord was on their side,
I wander for another hundred thousand castes who cry,
Never told or knowing why they’re cast aside.

But words won’t make things right, that much I know,
Like Mother’s ambushed innocence or Abel brought so low,
And not until I justify what is wrong and what is right
Will I ever see my shadow as my light.

Oh, I’d love to sing a rainbow every day,
And know that there’s a fairness to the game that’s being played,
‘Til then I’ll wander solo, scarred image on the sand,
‘Til God’s a little fairer, I’m the bitter, angry man.

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A boy of nearly thirteen was following a beautiful woman. He didn’t concern himself with why he was trailing the woman; she had emerged from a building and began walking in the boy’s same direction a little ahead, perhaps twenty feet. This alone placed him in the position of a follower. Yet he had passed his original goal, the magazine stand between the corner bar and the Cuban market on Flagler Street, in order to continue on this new path. The magazine would be waiting for him another time but the beautiful woman would be gone any moment, perhaps into another building, perhaps into an automobile, apartment house, restaurant, anything, and she would be gone probably forever. So he took up the trail.

Of the woman personally, he knew absolutely nothing. She was a complete stranger. Even the attraction which he felt for her was a novel thing. Sexuality was still an obscure curiosity to him, not a driving force, and the word sex itself never entered his head. Yet the attraction was surely physical if he did not know her any other way. The young man accepted this to himself, but more in the way that a traffic accident is a physical attraction, or dogs mating.

She held her face aloft in the slight breeze which danced on the golden brown hair and produced a lion’s mane effect as it swept the shoulders clean, then regilded the blue collar and back. It was a heart-shaped face with a straight nose and slightly flaring nostrils, dark, perhaps brown eyes and clear, tanned skin. She was dressed in a royal blue skirt and short-coat with a light blouse beneath. The blue skirt was long, stopping inches below the knee, with a lengthy but not at all indecent slit which allowed leeway for her legs nearly to the middle of her thigh. Her heels were of medium spike with delicate straps. This much the boy took in on the first sight and accepted just as quickly. The clothes were probably expensive but it made little difference to him. Her left arm swung freely with her steps while the right was kept curled about a small, black, clutch bag. Her demeanor was confident in the passing crowds. She at least knew where she was going, the boy at one point thought.

At times he became possessed of the notion that the skirt held the woman quite snugly. It was the snugness of fit that enticed on these occasions where he found himself wishing to know the feel of such snugness, to be that close to her moving body. The impetus moved him sometimes so much that he would hurry his steps to come within ten or twelve feet of her  and remain so until he suddenly felt he might be invading her space and cause her to turn upon him as though an intruder. Then he would slacken back to a safe twenty feet and wonder at this boldness with such an utter stranger.

At one point the woman stopped altogether near the end of a block and began reading a colorful wall poster announcing the upcoming Calle Ocho festival where El Espuma would be headlining. The boy was at a loss what to do, for to pass her was unthinkable and to simply stop and wait was a potential embarrassment. People were coming and going when he paused and, with a sudden inspiration, fell to one knee and rapidly snatched the string of his shoe in order to retie it. This he did, tying slowly and with one eye on the woman glimpsed between the movement above him. She started forward again unexpectedly and he was forced to hurry the knot and chase through the crowd a bit to catch up to his twenty-foot distance. He became impatient with himself now and began questioning his motives.

What would he gain by all this? What could he gain? Was gain what he intended or was he merely following something mysterious as he had when he used to play at being a spy in the street? Would he tell anyone of his lark or would he keep it secret? What was there to tell? Why was he following her this way?

It never occurred to him to wonder who the woman was; she was simply there before him. Perhaps knowing that she was a local secretary or bank clerk or salesgirl would have changed things. Then he could leave off the chase and pick it up whenever it was convenient for him to wander past her place of occupation. But she had no occupation as far as he knew, and no existence beyond this moment. The feelings of confusion and attraction were not unpleasant but were bewildering nonetheless. He would have to quit soon anyway as he was getting too far from home. Still, he kept on.

It was growing later and later in the day and the woman was moving further and further away from where the boy should be, and he was moving with her. His feet moved faster or slower, placing him closer or at more of a distance from her without his considering the process of walking. At one point they passed a churros y café wagon where medics were loading an old man on a stretched into the ambulance. The rolling red and blue lights seemed celebratory somehow to the boy. He had been a pedestrian his entire life and there were still years of walking ahead before he became empowered with the horses of an automobile. So walking came naturally and unthinking. Except that he considered how far he had walked this day and how similarly far he would have to go to return.

It had been a long straight stretch along Miracle Mile and the hypnosis of he walk, the personality within he movement, held him deep in transport, when she stopped again, this time at a bus bench. He slowed to a crawl and forced his gaze down to the sidewalk to await this new development. The woman stood behind the green bench while the young man covered ten feet of the distance between them. She peered down the road then at the bench, as though inspecting the planked seat, and finally stepped from the back of the bench to sit upon it, crossing her legs to the knees then smoothing the cloth of the skirt in her lap. The slit of the material inched along the muscle of her left leg and seemed to draw the boy on. He came forward slowly, uncertainly, but decidedly. He stepped toward the bench and stopped alongside, flinging nervous, watchful glances about the thinning crowd and down the busy street. Then he looked at the woman.

She met his eyes with an indifferent but pleasant nod, perhaps a slight movement at the sides of her glistening lips was even a smile. The young man smiled nervously and looked at the bench seat beside her. She slid to the side without changing position to allow room for his small body. He sat, mute. At least, he thought, this bench was for buses going back home again. He decided at that moment no matter what the woman did, whether she rose and continued walking or remained, he would await the bus home.  He was so close to her now that the faint odor of her scent wafted into his nostrils. It was a scent perfectly matched to his image of her. He kept his head down, as though scrutinizing the pavement, and only with quick, uncontrollable snatches did his eyes examine the cloth and skin of her legs. He felt a little stunned by her nearness. Her elbow touched him as she searched within her bag and he started as though from a nap or trance. He drew every breath as though it were important to savor the air around. His hands lay limp and clammy on his lap. The traffic hurried past.

When the bus appeared he was again startled. She rose to meet it and waved the driver down with her free arm. She was standing so close he could have reached out and touched her hips. She was so close that his breathing stopped, then started in rapid succession. They were a snug pair at that moment and he would have been willing to sit there a good long while. But the bus pulled up and the doors folded apart and the woman stepped up the first, second and third steps, the space between him and her expanding. He was so dazed by it all that he nearly forgot to get on the bus. It was not until the woman was seated that the boy jumped up and over the entrance steps, paid his fare and recovered himself standing with one hand on the cold, chrome rail to absorb the pull of the vehicle’s acceleration. In another few seconds he moved down the aisle, passed the seated woman toward the front of the bus and found a seat for himself well to the rear, some twenty feet back, beside an elderly gentleman.

The young man sat with a bare notice of the old man, who greeted the new passenger with a warm though not forward smile.

Buenos dias,” the man said.

Buenos,” the boy replied without meeting the man’s eyes.

The air of the bus was cool and smelled somewhat of diesel. The scent of the woman was gone from his nostrils but its effect lingered like liquor. He strained occasionally to see the back of the golden brown head, then settled his body for the ride. He glanced at the old man beside him who peeped over the top of the small newspaper he was reading and nodded to the young rider. The old man was all right, he decided. It was all right. Everything was all right now and he would be home soon. He even still had the woman with him in a way for now. How long she would be with him he couldn’t say, nor did he care to ponder it.

Things remained quiet in him for a short while. He was calm in his thoughts as if resting from the experience of being so close to the beautiful woman. Soon, however, he began feeling somewhat lost, not physically but emotionally. He was tangled, as though the future might be unpleasant. His eyes returned to the older man for assurance and found it in the folding away of the newspaper and the open “Hello, young man,” which the elder offered with a Spanish accent as an invitation to chat. The boy nodded and said “Hello,” almost in a whisper.

“What’s new in your world today?” asked the gentleman.

“Nothing,” replied the young man as though he were perhaps hiding a truth.

“Oh, my,” said the elder. “This can’t be. In the life of a young man like you every day must bring something new. You wait and see if it doesn’t, verdad?” With this, the man chuckled and passed his eyes along the street beyond the bus window. A minute went by between them in silence before the man added, “Yes. It is an old world full of new things. There are novelties enough for the ages.”

It was old people’s talk, what the man was saying, little sentences with big, unfathomable ideas behind them. To the young man it was dull rhetoric. But for the fact that something new had happened to him this day. Having the old man ask about it made the boy want to speak of it like an adult.

“I was going to buy a magazine,” he offered.

The old man turned another smile to him. “Were you?” And what kind of magazine would it have been?”

“Space stories. But I didn’t buy them.”

“Oh, ho, a change of heart?”

The young man smiled now. He felt he could trust this elder. It would be safe. Without pointing he said “Did you see the lady who got on with me?”

“The pretty one? Yes. Is she your sister?”

Blushing, the young man shook his head. “No. I don’t know who she is but I’ve been following her nearly all afternoon. That’s why I didn’t get the stories.”

“Been following her all afternoon, have you?” Why, may I ask?”

The young man said nothing a moment, then answered. “I don’t really know. She is so pretty. I mean, maybe I’m in love with her.”

He had expected the old gentleman to laugh at this, to snatch the boy’s innocence and devour it with laughter as so many grown ups would. But this did not occur. Instead, the elder nodded with a serious expression, almost solemn, and his eyes moved along the heads up front to the full golden hair.

“It is a serious thing, this love. You have chosen a beautiful woman and that in itself could be disastrous.” Then he chuckled good-humoredly and tapped the folded Diario de las Americas against his leg.

“Why do you say that?”

“Oh, I mean nothing by it. El amor is a ticklish subject, like religion. We can approach them but we cannot directly address their essence. One must be careful what one says. Just you be sure that I know what you are feeling. I am old but I’m not dead. And you don’t recover from love, like religion, until you are well dead.”

The young man blinked at the words of old philosophy and wondered if he shouldn’t now remain silent. The old man was in a world of his own. The old eyes betrayed a new, restless inwardness and the young man would just as soon end the conversation before being eased out of it by the deep thoughts of the grown-up.

“Oh, I loved a beautiful woman once. She was nothing like your lady, but she was a beauty even so. Hermosa. Carinosa. Bellisima!” His eyes grew small, making his face look even older. “That was a long time ago now, in another land, mi pais, Cuba. But through time and distance, she’s still with me.” He turned his face fully to the young man. “I hope you recover from yours sooner than it has taken me with mine.”

The young man smiled and said “Oh, I’m going home now and everything will be all right. I’ll probably never see her again. I’ll be all right.”

Again the newspaper tapped the old leg. “I’m sure you will be. The world is full of new, wonderful things for a young man to become immersed in. Surely, you will forget her in no time at all. No time.”

“Yes,” the boy continued. “And I can get the magazines I wanted tomorrow.”

“Yes. Tomorrow, certainly. Back to the routine like nothing ever happened.” The old man’s words seemed no longer directed to his companion but to himself, with a soft tone of sadness in them. “You will be alone again, without her, and you will be all right. She will be nothing more than a pleasant memory. You will have loved her and lost her as they say. And none the worse for it.”

The two sat in contemplation for some minutes, so deep that they almost missed the woman rise at a stop and step to the curb from the idling bus. The boy looked up first through the window past the old man.

“She’s going,” he said with a groundswell of emotions he had not expected: longing, fear, surprise, relief and other strong but not fully formed feelings.

The bus pulled away from the beautiful woman with the golden hair and the old man nodded.

“Yes. She’s gone now. Ella se fue. Se ha ido. Forget her,” he said, drawing a crooked finger across the edge of his glistening right eye.

 

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One day the next week, the dark-skinned Nicaraguan neighbor woman from down the hall stopped me on my way to work.

Senor Sorrow,” she said.  “My hija Mita cannot obtain an entry visa into the country.  I must bring her here.  In my country she will surely die.”

“Do you need money?” I said, reaching into my pocket.  “I’ve got some on me now.  And if you’ll give me an idea of how much…”

She smiled and put her brown hand on my wrist.  “You are a saint, Senor Sorrow.  No, I need no money.  My sister needs an American husband to gain entry, residency.  I need you to marry her.”

Now I smiled and almost laughed, except that I saw she was serious.  “But I’m a husband already,” I said.

“Yes, you have a lot of experience.  That’s what told me to come to you.  You have already got two wives, so why can’t you be a husband twice as well?”

Here was another of those simple truths as subtle as a flying mallet.

“But the government,” was all I could think to mumble at the moment.

“All they want is the name of an American citizen,” she said.  “In Florida, Immigration don’t spend much time on prosecuting bigamy.  That’s another agency.”

By the gods, she was serious!  And she knew how to get it done.

Within three weeks my new bride Mita was living with her sister down the hall.  She acquired a job somewhere quickly and gave me half her earnings bi-weekly, not that I asked for it, but her sister insisted.  I lived with Cordelia and the children.  Caramela and I were still meeting in unusual public places.  I don’t know what drove Caramela to surprise me in elevators and hallways.  Perhaps I was so willing.  Perhaps she was too wealthy and crazy with it.  Sometimes it seemed she was the man and I was the woman being chased; but I didn’t complain.  And Mita, though not a beauty, was ardent as any blushing bride.  We used her room in her sister’s apartment.  She would strip naked slowly before me with the most excruciating look of shyness on her face.  She took my breath away.  Sex was a feast of gluttony and spent energy.  Cordelia didn’t know about Caramela; she thought we had broken off completely.  And I hadn’t told either about Mita.  They were accustomed to my visiting neighbors.  I was content with the women’s ignorance.  Looking back I realize I was something of a predator in those days, disguising it as benevolence.  But can you blame a man for gorging?  Especially a man never too good looking at any stage in his life.

The next April Caramela caught Mita and me in the stairwell petting Mita’s swollen belly.  Caramela was haughty and indignant.  Mita kept her hand on mine on her firm round pregnancy.  She smiled at Caramela.  It was awkward and I felt a shiver for the future.

The following week I was out in the courtyard with my nine-year-old son.  He was taking in the wash.  He would unclip each piece of clothing and bring it to his nose and take a deep breath.

“Seagulls,” he would say, or “Geese,” naming the birds that had flown past overhead by their scent that had come down to settle on the fresh wash.

I was always astounded by his ability, though I secretly worried that this kind of talent could make no money.

“Bobwhite,” he said.  “Sparrow, Cordelia.”

I looked into the sky for this last bird.

“Look out for Cordelia, Dad!”

The stick end of a heavy broom caught the side of my neck and dropped me on the spot.  Cordelia stood over me waving the weapon.

“I just talked with the tax man, you cretin.  You stupid, lazy bastard come mierda.  He told me that your children aren’t yours.  You never filed for them.  They’re nobody’s tax credits!  What am I going to do if they audit me these last couple of years?  You son of a bitch,” she said in a sort of horrified whisper.  “You were supposed to be different.  But Caramela and that Nicaraguan puta.  You cheating, lying, lazy cara culo.  If I had a knife.  You were supposed to be good.”  She hurled the broom down at me and left the apartment, taking the twins with her, but leaving the cows and goats behind.

Mita’s baby was a boy, very dark, with pronounced almond-shaped eyes unlike both mine and Mita’s.  I asked her sister what Mita had done for a living back in their homeland.

“She was a prostitute,” her sister said.  “She still is.  You didn’t know, Senor Sorrow?  Oh, my, yes.  I taught her about you Americans, how you want power and you like subservience.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She makes good money,” she said.  “She makes a good wife.”

“But the baby isn’t mine,” I said.

“Practically none of your children are yours, are they, Senor Sorrow?” she said.  “Why don’t you ever see the obvious?”

“What do you mean by Americans?”

She smiled and walked back to her apartment.  I felt dizzy.  What my neighbor had said was true; most of my children weren’t mine.  No, none was.  What I think I had wanted was for my wife, one of them at least, to be mine.  The children would be then simply an inevitable consequence.  But, no.  My children were Oriental, dark, light, Latin, perhaps Australian, and more than I could have ever sired on my clumsy own.  Yet we all seemed the better for our family.  How does a person judge these things?  Where does one start and stop?

When she arrived home the next day, I told Mita not to give me any more of her money.

“But it is your money,” she said in English.  “You use it to do good.”

She handed me the Oriental baby.  It was small and squirmed in my arms and I loved it without questioning.

“You are my husband, Sorrow,” she said.  “You only I do not charge.  You only I care for.”

I took the baby to Cordelia’s abandoned apartment and my children.

When I got home from work a few days later there was a government notice on my door.  My children had been taken into custody of the State.  The paper declared me to have neither natural nor legal claim to half my children, and the heritages of several of the other half were undocumented enough to warrant an empowerment over the entire group under suspicion of my having broken some law or other.  It was true, as Cordelia had discovered, that I had never been able to complete all the legal paperwork involving my family.  There was just so much of it and it didn’t seem at all relevant to reality.  I pulled the notice from the door and stepped into the empty apartment.  One of Cordelia’s cows had broken into the patio door and was standing in the middle of the living room switching its long tail.  I sat in a chair and reread the government’s declaration.

“Mita was arrested,” my neighbor told me from the open doorway.  “She will be deported soon.”

I was stunned.  The children were gone in a new and brutal way.  I cringed that they were living beneath bureaucratic regulations.  They had become orphans right under my nose.  And Mita, who was not so different a wife than Cordelia after all, was now so much the worse for having known me.  I picked up the phone and called Caramela.

“It’s been quite a while, Sorrow.  You’ve changed,” my lawyer friend said the next day as Caramela and I settled in chairs before the big desk.  “You used to be giving all the time.  That was your trouble.”  He waved his big hand in front of his face like at a buzzing fly.  “But now you’ve changed.  Now you want things, eh?  What are you here for?” he asked.

“I want to get my children back,” I told him.

“You see?” he said.

Caramela rose from her chair and pulled on my shoulder.  “We can find a different counsel, Roberto.  You don’t have to take this.”

He pointed a finger like a gun at Caramela.  “This your wife?”

“No,” I said.  “Caramela, please sit.”  She settled into the chair again.  “My wife left me.”

“Yeah, I heard,” he said.  “She left you clobbered on the ground when she found out your kids weren’t legal deductions.  Nice parenting, Sorrow.  Broom fights and tax fraud don’t go over well in custody court.”

“But he has another wife he could use,” Caramela said.

The lawyer laughed loudly.  “That Mita woman?  I believe she’s already begun the outbound journey.  The INS is a vengeful group.”

“Please,” I said.  “I come to you for help.”

The lawyer stopped laughing.  His eyes rested on Caramela’s legs beneath her short suit skirt.  “Nice thighs,” he said.  Caramela shifted her position in the chair.  “Look, Sorrow, it’s like I already said.  You’ve changed.  You never asked nobody for no help or nothing.  People came to you for help.  That’s how you got those children.  You are like that children’s fairy tale character. He was a fool too. A big fool. But you, you are that guy cubed. What’s there to do about it?  That’s the world today. That’s your life.  You’ve already lived it.  You can’t get out of it all now.  Forget the children.  They’re gone into the system.  You took them as far as you could.  By the time a bigamist won a custody case in court those kids would be too old for college.”

Simple truths were falling all around me like light hammer taps.  I stood up with Caramela.

“We’ll contact another attorney,” she said.

“No,” I said quietly.  “He’s right.  There’s no use.”

The big man walked us to the door.  “That’s the spirit,” he said, smiling.  “Stop asking, Sorrow.  You’re a natural giver.  It’s not in you to take.”

“Forget him,” Caramela said as she tugged me out the office door.

Every day I went home to that empty apartment.  I milked the cows and goats and poured the milk down the toilet.  The ghosts of my children, of my wives, the ghosts of a family that would never again be together haunted the whole building.  The ghosts smothered me. To say nothing of the livestock.  It seemed I had hurt people my entire life, despite good intentions.  And there was no making any of it better.  I soon became desolate and depressed.

On the last night of June that year Caramela rolled over to face me after one of our lovemaking sessions.  She kissed me strong on the lips and said “Roberto, I’m a man, un macho.  I have wanted to tell you for a while now but I couldn’t.  Still, there it is.  I was a man.  I had myself surgically altered to be a woman.  But now I want to go back.  I want to take care of you as a man.”

“You’re a man?” I repeated.

“Yes, but I was altered into a woman.”

“But you’re beautiful,” I insisted.

“Thank you,” Caramela said.  “I was a handsome man as well.”

“You’re a man?” I repeated.

“You have been through a lot lately.  I can be stronger for both of us,” Caramela said, sitting up in bed.

The sheet fell from her, exposing her breasts.  She had beautiful breasts.  I told her as much.

“I could keep them for you if you’d like,” Caramela said.  “And just have the rest changed.  Would you like that, Robertico?”

I sat up and said “I’ve lost my children, and two wives.  And you want to be a man.  It was always my policy to build things on the square.  Build things to last.”  I flopped back as if I’d been smacked with a spanner.  “Join at right angles.”

In October, Caramela flew out of Ft. Lauderdale to Copenhagen to get strong.  I packed my things, left the animals, and moved into an unfurnished apartment.  I slept badly on a cot.  In the days I worked badly.  Frames didn’t plumb with doors.  Windows sat akimbo.  I didn’t care anymore about the perpendicular nature of my work.  All angles grew obtuse and acute at the same time.

One night a couple of weeks later as I lay on the wood floor, there came a knock on my door.

“Sorrow, what are you doing flat on your back?” a man’s voice called out.

“What should I be doing?  Somersaults?  How did you know I was on my back?”

“What other positions can you be in in an apartment with no furniture?”

“Standing.  Sitting.  I’ve lost my job,” I told him.  It was true.  I did bad work and the construction industry doesn’t lament the loss of a bad joiner.  “The door is open.”

It was the giant man, a constant drunk, who lived and raved upstairs.  He was holding a bottle.  “You’re a good man,” he said, “and you get nothing back.  Here, have a drink with me.  You should get back something, even if just once, as a symbol,” he said.  He raised the bottle to his mouth and swallowed until the liquid was all gone.  Then he dropped the empty bottle.  “After all, a moment and a life are not so distant cousins.  Doing a thing once isn’t so different from having done it all your life.  Go rob a shop.  It must be a large thing you do to cover a lifetime of charity and waste.”

“But what good would it be?”

“You need more drink,” he said, then turned on his giant heel and left.

My money went quickly on small favors to anyone who asked, and within three months I found myself in the street downtown near Bayside.  I had the clothes on my back and most of the week’s twenty dollars in my pocket.  I was not happy.

A voice from the alley called me over.

“Could you spare a dime?” the ragged man asked.

I was in no mood to give.  I pulled the money from my pocket and showed it to him.

“Get a job,” I told him, and pocketed the cash again.

“Give it up,” he said.

A shiver ran through me.  This shadow man had stabbed me with a knife.  I was stabbed twice in the chest but was still standing as though nothing had happened.  The man was staring into my eyes.  He was quiet a moment, frozen, the knife dripping with my blood.  Pain grew like a scream inside my chest.

“Here, take it,” I said, dropping the money at his feet.

He bent to snatch up the bills, then fled.  I took a few steps, and collapsed into a garbage can, pulling the contents down on me.  I fell asleep or unconscious and immediately saw Cordelia and Caramela standing over me.

“You dumb bastard. Bobo loco,” Cordelia said.  “The man asks for ten cents and you show him veinte pesos.  In Miami. It’s no wonder he has taken your life.”

“I got some bad advice from my neighbor,” I told her.

“You tried, Robertico.  At least you tried,” Caramela said, looking very mannish in a blue three-piece suit and tie.  Her blonde hair was now short and brushed to the side.  “You will be rewarded in heaven,” she added.

“It’s nice to hear you speak of heaven.  Is it good there?”

“How would we know?” Cordelia said.  “We’re still alive.”

“Am I really going to die now?  Here?  Talking to you two like this?  Am I going to become an angel with garbage all over me?”

Escuchame,” Cordelia said.  “When you die, now or later, the only thing you’re sure to become is a memory.”

“Your children will always remember you fondly,” Caramela said.

“Wherever they are,” Cordelia added.  “I guarantee I’ll never forget you.”

I felt like smiling but there was no physical sensation of muscles moving in my face.  “Am I dead already?” I asked.  “Is the suffering really over?”

“Suffering?” Cordelia repeated, her voice rising as when she has taken offense at a remark.  “You don’t know suffering, Sorrow.  Only a woman truly suffers.  You men bring misfortune on yourselves, then call it suffering. We women suffer your mistakes.  We’re not as big as you.  We menstruate.  We drag ourselves around pregnant for nine months after lovemaking you men consider no more than a good rut.  We give birth, bleeding screaming childbirth, only to see our children grow into their own private hell of suffering.  You men watch. . .”

Cordelia kept speaking but her words faded with her image.  They were gone.

A deep pain gripped my chest.  Way up in the buildings’ corridor of sky there were angels circling.  I believe that almost every soul becomes an angel.  So much is twisted and diseased on this earth and the pressure of corruption is so insistent that it would take a miracle to pass through life unscathed.  In this wicked place a miracle like that appearing in public would be beaten quickly and nailed high to something as a warning to other miracles.  There are plenty of nails, nine inches long and three quarters thick, and a hammer on hand to drive them true.

People stepped past me on a sidewalk nearby.  They could see me prostrate there, but they couldn’t see themselves helping.  Why should they?  What kind of awful universe would demand that they go around helping the suffering?  They didn’t invent this pain.  How could they believe they could make it better?  More likely they would just be bringing horror upon themselves.

As it turned out, I survived the day on my own.  That night a fire truck nearly ran me over on its way to a three alarm blaze.  It was a long time before the stab wounds in my chest healed.  I spoke with a nurse who attended me, and told her my life story.  I saw her speaking with the head nurse later, looking my way, her index finger orbiting her right temple, the head nurse nodding sternly.  I was in the Jackson Memorial psych ward the next day, as much for my indigence as for my odd life.  I was an inmate for years.  I got to know the attendants well.  I did rounds with them, changing bed sheets and cleaning cells.  That’s how I found Caramela one day, strapped in, locked up, and alone.  Through the window I watched her, pale and shrunken, her eyes glassy and wild.

“What is she in for?” I asked the attendant.

“It doesn’t recognize itself,” he said.  “But then, what’s to recognize?  It’s a freak of science.  Tits and a cock.  I’d be confused too, feeling myself up all the time.  Does it fuck itself do you think?”

“No,” I said, walking away.

One day the head nurse came to me with the finance clerk beside her.  It seemed that I had accumulated at twenty dollars a week a sum exceeding several thousand dollars since entering the institution.  I was no longer indigent.  I was released.  I could go.

But I couldn’t go.  Not with Caramela inside.  I was hired as an attendant.  After many months I managed to work Caramela into my routine.

The first time I entered her cell she looked up at me and smiled, her eyes focused and not so blasted.

“Roberto,” she said.  “Por fin.  I’ve been waiting.  I knew you’d come.  I knew you wouldn’t abandon me.”

I sat down beside her and we talked.  I unbuckled and bathed her.  I combed her short hair.  I shaved a patch of her left cheek that grew whiskers.  Yes, she was a man again, with breasts.  Yet I continued to think of her as a she.

“I’m going to get you released,” I promised her.

“Good,” she said.  “I would like that.”

The next day as I entered her cell she looked up at me and smiled.

“Roberto,” she said.  “Por fin.  I’ve been waiting.”

“My rounds took a little longer today,” I said.

“I knew you’d come,” she continued.

My heart sank.

“I knew you wouldn’t abandon me.”

I unbuckled and bathed her.  I cried openly as she spoke from her delusions the same words as yesterday.  We were to have our happy reunion over and over and over again.

It had never occurred to me that I had abandoned her.  I hadn’t thought she could miss me.  Caramela’s did what she thought was best; but her plans wouldn’t have worked for me. I felt responsible for her condition nevertheless.  What was I to do but continue to care for her and the others locked behind those hard walls? Some did not respond any more than a plant responds to light.  Others, like Caramela, responded with hopeless enthusiasm.  All, including me, were lost.  I tried to make the time remaining something more than total desolation for each of us.  How do you judge the quality of people’s lives?  How does one gain such perspective to judge?

I lie on a bed beside an open window in the employees’ dormitory.  It is late afternoon.  A hot city wind passes by filled with the smell of concrete, the nearby river, and the coming rain.  I am bone tired.  All the years are behind me now.  They have hammered me down.  Caramela died of a virus last spring.  A young, yellow-skinned woman, her eyes large, restless and sorrowful, occupies Caramela’s cell.  The young woman makes no sound whatsoever except a soft mewling when she sleeps.

Outside, an autumn coolness rushes along the ground and into my window.  Water falls.  Like breathing, like a heartbeat, this rain is part of a progress that starts at birth.  We writhe, we twitch and laugh and bleed throughout the raw and savage unraveling.  In the end, having done what we thought best, orando por el momento siguiente and hoping forgiveness is near, we stiffen, losing our mass and gravity in the space of a blink and a sigh.

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Mi nombre es Roberto, but most who know me call me Sorrow.  I used to be a joiner by trade, first in Habana and then in Miami, working on stores, homes and boats, and anywhere else a door or window might be appropriate.  It was a good job, a trade to be proud of.  I had money in my pocket and I often used it to help people.  Many times I was said to be foolish.  Still, as an orphan I’ve come to think little of names.  How wrong is it to lend a hand?  Like when Jimmy, El Pescadero,  went straight and got a job and a punch card in the textiles in Hialeah, his family– the wife and five kids– went broke quickly and would have lost their apartment.  I lent them enough for two months’ back rent and two months ahead.  I felt good helping even if it all went sour when Jimmy took the money and fled.  How was I to know?  He had a punch card.  He had five children.  He had a pretty wife, Lydia, a redhead and hermosa even after the fifth birth.  I went to console her for Jimmy’s abandoning them.  Soon after we were lovers.  Lydia cried often.  When I touched her she shivered and laughed.  The more intimate we became the happier she seemed, until she just disappeared one day, probably off to search out Jimmy.  After she’d left, I took her children in with me. They were the first of my odd, lost family.

Walking home from a library job near Le Jeune one evening, I heard a boy crying.  I am not a man to pass by the suffering without trying to help.  The sobbing boy was one of the local toughs.  He’d lost the money his mother had given him for groceries.  There would be a serious beating when his father found out, he told me between tears.  He showed me bruises and scars across his hard and narrow back.  “Ayudame,” he cried. I gave him the grocery money in cash.  He jumped up howling like a lottery winner, and ran across the street to his gang who had been watching all along.  They split the cash in front of me.  Folly?  Perhaps, but I believe that they earned the money.

I was something of a soft touch, and people had many needs.  “Sorrow, my abuelo is dying in Patterson and I haven’t got the money for bus fare; I’ve been demoted to boner at the slaughterhouse, Sorrow, and I can’t keep up my debt payments; my house burned down and my pet store beside it.  Oh, mi hermano, I am so alone.”  I gave what I could, not as a hero, but as a human in an oppressive world.  When I was twenty-eight, some distressed mother left her year-old infant at my door with a note to say I was a good man and she was an addict so please love her child.  I did.  Why not?  People are often in great pain.  They do bizarre things.  There is such suffering that even the lies eventually become true.  Besides, fatherhood was just fine with me.

Born the only son of a wealthy couple during the time of Bautista, I lived well until burglars broke into our Veradero apartment and killed mi madre y padre when I was seven.  The killers were caught and imprisoned but I was bereft nonetheless.  The state sought a ward for me and found my aunt Letty.  I now believe that it was my dear aunt Letty who then robbed me of my inheritance and sent me away to San Dolores.  Why else would she have, from the day I entered the gray walls of the orphanage until this very day of our Lord, whatever it is, sent me a stipend of twenty pesos/dollars a week?  I admit it was quite a sum for a young boy in an orphan’s uniform, but it has lessened in importance through the years.  Still, twenty weekly afforded me luxuries like books and desserts and these I shared gladly.  But there were other children with more specific needs who simply asked for money, and this is where my philanthropy began, I suppose.

Later in life, after I had made my way to America before Fidel took over everything, I was sometimes on the verge of losing my apartment or furniture, or my children went hungry, because I had given away too much and kept too little.  Some days depression overtook me.  Who was I to give my money away and put my family at risk?  But what was so morally wrong with giving?  I knew a lawyer in Miami Beach whom I could speak to.

He said “You are a good man.  It’s written that it is better to give than receive.  And even though you say these people are happy receiving without giving, you must be so much more happy giving since you keep giving even when it hurts unmercifully.  You will be rewarded a window in heaven,” he said, “from which God will let you look down on the sinners in hell to savor their punishments.”

“I wouldn’t want that,” I told him.

“Whatever, then,” he said, waving away the whole picture with his big,

manicured hand. “Maybe you’ll get endless supplies of ice cream.  Who can know?  At the moment you’re a joiner.  So go join.”

There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to pack up my family and leave, anywhere and quickly.  I was, in fact, doing just that, packing up, when my landlady caught me.  She had come to borrow more money, ninety dollars for plumbing repairs which I knew we tenants would never see.  I told her that as I was just packing to leave it would be impossible to lend her the cash.  The old lady rolled up her glaucomic eyes and keeled over onto my floor, wailed “Dios mio,” and fainted entirely away.  Two of my daughters attended her with light slaps to her cheeks and sips of water to her lips.  My six-year-old son walked up to the landlady’s peaceful face and flatulated over it with a deft squat.  My daughters left their patient and the room, but the old lady sputtered to consciousness soon after, sitting up from my carpet and pointing at me firmly, saying “You need a good woman.  One who will make you want to stay. No one leaves Calle Ocho if they are in love.”  She coughed once then gathered herself and rose from the floor.  “I know just who!” she sing-songed, and left the room.

The landlady brought Cordelia to meet me the next day.  A robust brunette, nearly voluptuous, with a wide, toothy smile, Cordelia was everything Shakespeare never intended.  The men could not tolerate her critical tongue, and she would surely be condemned to solitude, the landlady said, if I did not take pity and make her a bride.

“It seems my life has come so far as to be begged off into your arms, Sorrow,” Cordelia told me.  “I could do worse.  You have seven tax credits.  I can use them.  And together we can rent a larger apartment with a bigger back yard.”  Then she smiled.

I turned to my children and told them to unpack; we would be staying after

all.  The landlady was ecstatic and nearly fainted once again, but for my son’s rousing her, like one of Pavlov’s breed, by his presence and the sensations it recalled.

“You bring home a good paycheck I’m told.  I’ll take control of it,” Cordelia said.  “If you don’t trust me, then why get married, eh?  Tell me si o no.”

She was a successful cheese vendor.  She had an absurd but effective herd of milk cows and goats in the tiny back yard of her first floor apartment.  She sold a hundred pounds of cheese a week and lived off it.  How could I argue with her business acumen?  I was a simple joiner.  I had no other prospects.  Maybe there was some happiness in it for me.  I signed my paycheck over to her.

She smiled and said “If you don’t become any more of a cabron than to do what I say, perhaps we will do well.”

I was glad to hear her say that.

The wedding ceremony was inside a donut shop.  I had done framework for the owner.  He insisted on setting up the place with his bakery foil and decorations.  The men drank espresso in hot milk laced with scotch.

“She is a fine woman,” I heard one say.

“Yes,” another replied.  “She has sex a lot, with men and women.”

It was an odd, rocky moment for me.  Men, women, and a lot.  What was I to do?

We danced, Cordelia and I and everyone else.  When the scotch and coffee ran out we ate donuts and éclairs.  Someone brought a case of rum and a box of Cojibas fresh off the boat.  I danced with a young lady schoolteacher.  Cordelia danced with the county commisioner.  She held him close.  But she held me closer for the next dance.  She pushed her hips into my groin.

“Maybe I can make even you happy, Sorrow,” she said.  “I was huerfano, tan bien.”

We drank a toast to her parents, then we accepted the gifts: a coffee maker, a vibrating stick, towels, a coupon for piano lessons.  There were also three bolts of cheese cloth.  I laughed, though now I don’t know why, except that I was drunk and exhilarated.

Making love with Cordelia was like being the nail between a hammer and the wood.  She rode the bed with me just coincidentally involved.  Or she crushed me in leg locks that took my breath.  When I was wasted she would get dressed in the dark, turn on a soft lamp, and leave for the night, looking for more.  I would be sore and bruised the next day at work.  In short, I was happy for what I could get.

Four months later she gave birth to twins.  All her friends came to see.  My children loved the babies dearly.  Cordelia decided not to leave so much anymore, except for her cheese production, which my daughters had begun to take over anyway.  She told me she would be having her partners come to the house.  She said I could join in at any time, except when she was with Caramela.

I felt a need to go somewhere and pray.  I asked directions of an elderly woman to the Catholic cathedral.  Her thin finger poked my chest.

La iglesia won’t do you any good, mi hijo.  Every one of your thoughts is a prayer, every action a prayer answered.”

She walked away slowly.  When she was gone from my sight I started for home.  My thoughts were my prayers.  The elderly woman had given me something marvelous and precious.  But it was invisible, so I’ll never know exactly where or when I lost it.

As I entered the lobby of the Las Palomas building we had moved into since the wedding– with more grazing area in the back yard– the lanky janitor took me aside into the staircase tower.

“Your wife has been at it all afternoon, Sorrow, her rich friend, too, them wailing like alley cats.  And those cows mooing.  And the goats. There have been complaints.”  He asked “How do you live like this?”

What could I say to him?

As though he understood, he cuffed me across the shoulder.  “How do they keep it up?”

“I think they’re laughing,” I said.

“I asked her for sex myself once.  She turned me down flat.”

“My wife?” I said, facing him.

The janitor looked down on me puzzled.  “Yes, Sorrow, of course your wife,” he said.  “How can you take offense?  How can you live like that?”

People had begun coming out into the hall to watch.  “It’s your place, Sorrow,” one of my neighbors called out.  “You have the key.  Go on in!”

“Yes, of course,” I said, reaching in my pocket for the key.  The janitor tried to step into my living room with me but I closed and locked the door on him and the rest pressing behind from the hall.  I sat on the sofa.  By Cordelia’s order, the children were out of the apartment for the afternoon.

“Papaya!” I heard from the bedroom.  “It smells like papaya.”

Cordelia laughed a laugh that made me smile listening to it.  Five minutes later I stepped back into the empty hallway and left again.  I was an intruder, no matter the semantics of ownership.

One afternoon Cordelia kissed me on the cheek.  “Tonight you dress nicely, Sorrow.  Caramela is taking us to a supper club near the design district for dinner.  She thinks you’re the best husband on the planet.”  Her finger brushed my forehead.  “Who knows?  Perhaps she’s right.  Dame su dinero.”

I gave her the one hundred sixty three dollars in my wallet. And a spare quarter from my right pocket.  “I thought you didn’t want me to meet…”

“Well, now you interest her.  Go rent a tux,” she said.  “Charge it.”

The restaurant was bright and swank.  The waiters, in short tuxedos, were all women.  There were mirrors everywhere but I could always see only a part of me in reflection because of the crowd.  The supper show was glitzy and full of leg and breast.  The steak was rare, almost sweet.  And Caramela seemed to be the center of all things there.  A strawberry blonde with a strong build, she was wealthy in all the small things, the pearls and platinum.  She smiled with warmth and she seemed to like me.

“So many beautiful women in one room,” I said.  “It’s a little overwhelming.”

“You’d prefer another man by your side, then?” Caramela asked.

I smiled.  “It might help,” I said.  “But then it might also spoil everything.”

“This is heaven to you, Sorrow.  Admit it,” Cordelia said.  “Men are sluts.  You want every woman in this room.  And you probably do too, Caramela cara mia.”

Caramela laughed.  “Only the beautiful ones,” she said. Then she turned to me.  “Cordelia wouldn’t recognize heaven if she saw it,” she said.  “Anymore than she knows a good husband when she has one.”

I felt a shoe caress my pant leg beneath the table slowly.  I looked over and smiled at Cordelia.

“I know Sorrow’s worth,” Cordelia said.  “He’s worth so much that he gives my money away to total strangers.”  She looked at me.  “Yes, Sorrow, I saw your handout to that little girl yesterday. Derrochador.”

“Ah, but she needed…” I began.

Cordelia waved a hand.  “She needed,” she mocked.  “They all need.  You need.  But you don’t need them!”

“Who’s to say?” I asked.  “Even you have your good side.”

The shoe was snooping my thigh, but by the way she sat it couldn’t have been Cordelia.  I felt a tingle in the small of my neck.

Some weeks later I was helping an elderly woman unload her groceries from a taxi when Caramela strode up to us on the sidewalk.  She was wearing a black dress clasped at the waist with a thin gold belt.  She slipped a twenty-dollar bill from her small purse and handed it to the cabby.

“Take care of tia,” she commanded.  “Come on, Roberto.  She’ll be fine.”

“You called me Roberto,” I said.

She told me there was enough sorrow in the world already, then pulled me away as the cabby bent to pick up the brown bags.  The elderly lady’s face watched us go with a look of horror, like something awful would happen as soon as she was alone with the cabby.  I lost sight of her when Caramela led us to a recessed doorway nearby and pressed herself to me.

“Let’s do it, Robertico” she said as she tugged at my old leather belt.

She forced me on her there in the doorway standing up.  I got a splinter in my palm from leaning so hard against the worn wooden casing.

When we had done I asked what we were to do now that we had done it.

“Well, I don’t know what you’re going to do,” Caramela answered, “but I’m going to your place and tell Cordelia about it.”  She skipped away down the stairs swinging the gold belt from her hand saying “I tell her everything.”

On the sidewalk where the elderly woman had been were a dozen eggs broken and a wet piece of brown paper bag stuck to the pavement.

“So, if isn’t Sinful Sorrow himself,” Cordelia said when I got home later that night.  “You two-timing hijo de puta. I’ll tell you right here and now we can’t share her.  She’s mine or she’s yours. But she’s not ours.  If it weren’t for your tax credits, I’d throw you out right now.”

“What are you talking about?” I said.  “We had sex, that’s all.  We didn’t elope.  Who are you to get jealous?  You who have evicted my children from their own home in order to glut herself on sex.”

“Their home?  This is my home.  Esta es mi casa. You pay the bills, but the mortgage is in my name.  I own the cows y las cabras.   Even the furniture is mine.  Surely I love the twins and some of your children as much as you, but let’s not confuse love and ownership here.”

“But I don’t own Caramela,” I said.

“Good.  Then you give her up?”

“With whatever rights I own to do so,” I answered, thinking to end this.  “But you’ll have to allow the children to stay in their home from now on.  Even my youngest already knows what you are doing in there.  It is still their home to them and they don’t like being put out.”

Cordelia smiled and took my hand.  “They can stay, Sorrow.”  She tugged me forward.  “Now come to the bedroom and show me more of that tough guy hiding inside you.”

And so I did.

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This is the two hundred twenty fourth fable of Hialeah. You may say it never happened.  You may say it had to have happened.  You will be right.

Early in the 1960’s, Andrew, the son of Mayor Amos Myland, was spending one cold January night carousing in his new sports car.  The Mayor was a butcher who had risen to the heights of local government, a man feared by most while loved by many, surrounded by sycophants, yet one who remained humble enough to step back into the butcher shop down the street from Hialeah city hall and get elbow deep in blood to hack up two pounds of prime rib and wrap it in white paper for elderly Mrs. Sothern’s family get-together. Being the son of such an accomplished man was a heavy burden. Andrew strutted and bluffed and bullied his way through city hall by day, and at night drank and inhaled a variety of elixirs for the wounded soul, while he chased an endless line of young women whose status in society, either ethnically or financially, always assured their submission to Andrew’s position as heir to a man of power. One such woman, the nineteen year old daughter of the Mayor’s mansion’s black maid, rode with the son this cold night, alarmed at his excesses but overwhelmed by his show of wealth and the bravado which comes from a life lived free of accountability.

With his right hand on the woman’s warm thigh, Andrew reached for his golden cigarette lighter with his left hand, the while flying down a darkened patch of Hialeah’s Red Road at ninety seven miles per hour. Normally, the expensive sports car drove true to its driver’s intentions, the tight steering staying on course even when temporarily without hands holding the wheel.  However, no car can resist reacting to obstacles on the highway, and the sports car was not an exception, jumping, as if weightlessly, upon impacting a small red-cheek turtle which had emerged from the nearby canal and was pursuing its eternity across the pavement in the dark.  By the time the Andrew dropped the lighter and snatched the steering wheel, the car had completed its high-speed hop and spun three times, tumbling over a railing and into the dank waters of the canal.  Luckily, Andrew was able to scramble in the wet murk through the windshield which had been broken by the young woman’s head’s impact upon it, and rise from the depths to the surface, almost clear-headed, almost refreshed with the exhilaration of the moment.

None of the carefully selected police officers who were dispatched to the scene was happy to be there.  Truth would have to be bent. Consequences would have to be avoided.  There would be a price to pay for this cover up, but it would be paid in the after life. No, these enforcers of the law, normally ethical, moral men and women, were not happy to be on this accident scene.

The dead young woman’s mother was inconsolable. The Mayor doubled her salary and gave her a month off paid to deal with her grief. It was such an outrage, Myland had told his sobbing maid, a travesty of God’s justice that her daughter had been walking alone along Red Road at that time of night, innocent as a lamb, only to be struck down by a drunken Cuban man who fled the scene like the cowards all Cubans were.  A heinous crime such as this would not allow the great butcher Mayor to sleep until the perpetrator had been caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The dead young woman’s father was a tall, powerfully built man, a laborer in the city’s road crew, who had doted on his only daughter. His grief was profound and gnawed at him. After patiently enduring a lifetime of the penalties committed by American society on his race, a lifetime of objectified cruelty, humiliation, denigration, focused hatred and deferred respect, an invisible man in the land of the free, his sorrow for his daughter’s death turned bitter, festered from a sagging, brooding thing into a silent rage. A drunken Cuban man had killed his daughter, he told himself over and again, although the whole city knew the dirty secret, the awful truth of her death.  Even the father in the unenlightened abyss of denial knew who was truly responsible. But the Mayor’s son may as well have been God himself.  No black man could rise up against the Mylands. No man could rise up against God. A drunken Cuban man had killed his daughter. The great butcher Mayor had said, and the grieving man’s wife wanted so to believe. The big black good man swallowed a bitter truth with gin and sour grapefruit juice. Each swig burned like glowing coals and summoned the whispering snake wraiths of hell to poison his mind. A drunken coward of a Cuban.

Outside the La Habanita bar the deranged father stood, finishing a few last gulps of yet another bottle, his eyes red, a slight sway to his otherwise solid and imposing stance. Any man who leaves this bar will be a Cuban man, he thought.  Any Cuban man who leaves this bar at two thirty in the morning will be drunk. “A drunken coward of a Cuban will pay for my daughter,” he whispered.

Manuel did not drink. He swept La Habanita and moved the kegs of beer and washed the glasses from six o’clock until two thirty, five nights a week.  The rest of his days were filled with college classes and a love of baseball.  He was a slim young man who struggled with English. As he left work and walked toward his rusting little car in the parking lot, he was wondering how he could build up the nerve to ask out a shy freshman with pretty brown eyes in his ESOL class. When the massive black man approached him from the shadows, Manuel was alarmed. But his dignity and those pretty brown eyes watching him from his imagination did not allow him to run off immediately, and that would have been solely what would have saved him from the train wreck of a seething, sweating giant who moved so fast for his size, wielding the empty bluish bottle like a hammer up and down over and over until the glass was only bloody shards on the ground or splinters embedded in the young man’s skull and deeply in the closed fist of the weeping man who buried his heavy knee into Manuel’s chest to beat him well beyond an unmoving pulp. Gasping with anger and spitting tears from his lips, the killer cried “Drunken coward Cubans. You killed my little girl. You and everyone.”

Three bullets from La Habanita’s owner’s thirty eight revolver had no effect on the killer, perhaps merely bringing forth more tears of anguish, but the fourth bullet took away part of the forehead and some of the fevered brain within and felled the raging man and his black sorrows, and all the wrongs of the world died with him.

The officers in charge of the case declared that Manuel had indeed been the driver of the car which had taken the young girl’s life. Her father’s revenge was seen as understandable for one of his kind but of course far beyond the limits of law. Thus, two second degree murderers were lowered into the ground in separate, modest ceremonies on the same brisk but sunny South Florida day.

The man responsible for the young girl’s death having been punished, Mayor Myland closed the case and slept soundly again. Lucky Andrew, also, was once again free to pursue peace of mind in a new sports car, with a new young girl by his side, using new artificial means of mood enhancement, speeding through the streets of Fort Lauderdale, in the next county north, in order to avoid any further political embarrassments to his father, at least for that year.

A month after the burials of the twin killers, the Mayor’s desolate maid, widowed and childless, was relieved of her employment, as a prudent measure to ensure that she herself could not revert to tribal violence and endanger anyone within Myland’s sphere. A Christian woman capable of unfathomable forgiveness and toughened by mere living to a knot of mahogany, she took in small sewing jobs and did odd meal preparations for various functions, scraping out a meager subsistence to outlive every person involved in this tale. It was almost as if she would permit no one to be left behind, forgiven but not forgotten.

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There was once a young Marielito with wondrous olive skin.  His eyes were jet black and burned with an inner fire.  His shoulders were broad and his waist narrow.  His teeth were large, white and straight.  He was tall and stood with a pride some whispered bordered on arrogance.  But this was a slight misrepresentation. El Rey de los Marielitos, as he was called, lived on the side of Hialeah west of Palm Avenue.  His followers, La Pandilla Oeste, gathered offerings from local businessmen, and dealt in illicit powders and herbal medications, carnal social services, and the occasional wagers and loans.  El Rey and his cadres as one worshiped a scar-faced god of local legend, a product of cinema based loosely on the Capone of Chicago mythology.

An older but nearly as regal man led a following with similar interests in the land east of Palm Avenue.  They worshiped an ancient God spoken of only in the dark shadows of night.  The god’s name was Bautista and his central concept was flagrant consumption.

The Chief of Police in Hialeah, Chief Juevosagre, was fond of chasing the two groups around and shaking them down for remuneration.  He presented the activity to local businessmen as crime control and enlisted their money and time in his pursuits.

The businessmen were not ignorant, having seen many of these same activities in pre-Castro Cuba.  So they decided upon a plan to limit their losses.  They hired a bounty hunter of their own to track down as many members of both sides of the Palm Avenue syndicates as humanly possible and deliver them to the Chief, thus effectively emasculating the Chief’s protection racket.

The bounty hunter was ex-CIA and very well-connected and good at his commissioned job.  In a matter of weeks he had locked up in various warehouses across the city a great number of both of the pandillas.  He then went to the Chief and invited him to visit at any time to take in as many or few criminals as needed for that week’s news media release.

The Chief, delighted by the convenience, visited often, gathering huge numbers of suspects one day for a front page spread, and deciding upon fewer arrests other days to maintain a plausible balance.  As time passed this new system came to cost both sides of the Avenue a great amount of money in bail and bribes to release their followers from holding cells.  In this way, the Chief recovered and even surpassed the money lost to the no longer necessary protection of the businessmen. This new arrangement hurt both pandillas deeply financially; but more importantly the great pride of the criminals was injured. So the two powerful leaders decided to meet to talk things over.

On a beautiful, breezy day at the now-defunct Hialeah horse track, El Rey de los Marielitos and his counterpart met over mojitos and contraband Cojiba cigars.  “Padron,” El Rey said. “Many of our people are being incarcerated at great expense to us both. We look bad and recruitment is down. Que pena! Suppose we break through this bounty system and work directly with Chief Juevosagre?  We can offer him as many people as he needs to perpetuate the myth of his greatness, be rid of this hideous bounty hunter, and reduce cost overall, with greater control over our own affairs which have been so disrupted by unexpected arrests.”

The leader of the east side syndicate agreed. “Es una idea con cojones, Capo,” he noted. So a lottery was set up to serve the needs of the Chief and cut out the bounty hunter who was found one night with a mint leaf sprouting from a hole in the side of his head.

El riesgo da vida as it was called continued flawlessly for a long time with the names of all involved in either organization in the lottery box and at risk for being chosen. One day, however, the name of the mistress of the east side leader was chosen at random and she was to be offered up.  Chief Juevosagre had always had an eye for this young beauty and he was eager to take her into his protection for at least one night.  The woman pled her case to her lover who, unbeknownst to her, had taken another mistress more resembling his own wife when she had been younger.  Thus was the innocent woman surprised to hear her lover say “Your number is up.  You go as the rest. Es el riesgo da vida, mi amor.”

Shocked, the woman rushed to the west side and begged El Rey for mercy.  “You are a victim of Latin passion,” he told her.  “I will take your place in the lottery for the sake of divine mercy.” Here is the mysterious wonder of the wicked. In his heart he felt he carried many of the dark scars of sins against his own wife.  He was, after all, un Latino con machismo. This noble gesture of personal sacrifice gave him the illusion of contrition, compensation and repentance.

And so, on the appointed night, Chief Juevosagre was duly appalled to find El Rey and not a beautiful and vulnerable young woman waiting for him in a motel room beside the Miami River off Okeechobee Road.  El Rey, tired of the abuses of the Chief and feeling he could work more effectively with a certain Captain Caribineros who could easily be promoted through election to Chief, dispatched Juevosagre with a single blow from a sugar cane machete.

A controlled war erupted between local law enforcement and the two syndicate groups.  One day the pandilla leaders met again for umo y refrescos.  The leader from the east said “I never saw such kindness and mercy as you showed my ex that night.  Nor such gall and blood-lust you presented the old Chief. You have revealed to me a softer and more subtle side of leadership. Suave, muy suave.”

“Until now,” replied El Rey, and promptly shot his rival between the eyes with a small bore .38. “The good deserve better,” he told the corpse, tapping gently the long ash of his cigar to drop it in the gathering pool of blood.  “And the bad deserve much worse than they get.”