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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Just as the sun dipped behind the water tower, Lupe and Maria materialized in the street outside their trailer, fully formed, wearing oversized t-shirts and scuffed up plastic kneepads.
They held hands and skated in circles or figure eights, chanting “Ladies and Jelly Spoons” (“hobos and tramps, cross-eyed mosquitoes and bow-legged ants,”) or “Little Rabbit Foo Foo,” in broken, nearly indecipherable English. Clay and I stood on our skateboards in the street, drinking Diet Cokes from the fridge and belching manly from our guts for the girls to hear. They swung around us on their roller skates in ever tightening circles, orbiting faster and faster, closing in, giggling and chanting and clapping their hands. When they were close enough to touch, they clasped hands around us and spun, with us back to back between them, and sang or chanted some song or chant picked up from God-knows-where, “Got ya where we want ya, now we’re gonna eat ya!” and they laughed and made gobbling noises and skated away.
We did this every night for a week, faithfully.
Afterward, we sometimes did tricks for them, but on this night Maria skated right up to Clay and took him by the wrist and led him away, toward the ditch behind our trailer, to do who-knows-what.
“Do you want to see?” Lupe said to me. “See?” I asked, and she said, “Si,” and laughed, and skated back across the street to her trailer and opened the screen door and walked inside without taking off her skates. I stood swaying atop my skateboard, confused, staring after her.
The door swung open again, partially, and her head and fingers reappeared around its frame. Her smiling, disembodied head, hovering in the gloom, shouted, “Come see!” and the screen door fell shut again with a bang and her head and fingers were gone.
“Come in joven!” her mother shouted from the kitchen, and I stepped inside. It was dimly lit. There were thick rugs everywhere, and countless Christs suspended from crosses. Lupe’s mother shouted something in Spanish and Lupe came bounding from her room in socks and walked right up to me and said “Hi,” and held out her hand. I gave it to her, thinking she meant to shake it, but she led me like a dog across the trailer and into their room.
The girls’ room was a feminized, Mexicanized version of ours. They slept in bunk beds, along the same wall, but theirs were covered in heavy colorful blankets. She spoke in a low, sweet voice, and I had a hard time understanding.
“Do you want to see?” she asked again.
“Si?” she said, “Do you want to see?”
She smiled and pulled what I took for a loosely bound book from atop a shelf beside their beds. She pulled me by the wrist again and we plopped down on the bottom bunk. The book was a picture album, the kind where the pictures are held haphazardly in place by static electricity and thin sheets of plastic. It was full of Polaroids.
She opened the book to one of an old man with a white mustache at the foot of a set of concrete stairs dressed in a white flowing shirt, a purple skirt, a purple cape with pink trim decorated with tassels of every color, and huge leather boots covered with gold bulbs or bells dangling from strings and swinging wildly in every direction. On his head was a crown and from the back of the crown sprouted a plume of feathers, orange and white and pink and blue. There was a drum strapped to his belt he was beating with his left hand and in his right hand he held a bowl. He did not appear to be dancing. “Eso es mi tio loco, Fabio,” she said, and the words meant nothing to me, but their exact sound and shape mingled with the image of the old man and each to this day retain their mystery. The words, when spoken or privately thought, evoke the image of the old man and the smell of Lupe’s hair in equal measure. Eso es mi tio loco Fabio, Eso es mi tio loco Fabio, Eso is mi tio loco Fabio: a prayer and a mantra and an incantation.
She flipped the page. I wanted to see it again but didn’t know how to say so. She showed me a picture of chickens in cages piled atop one another in the street and one of dogs sleeping and one of her and Maria sitting next to an ancient woman on a bench, all three drinking through straws from plastic bags filled with some milky fluid. I wasn’t sure what she was trying to show me.
She looked up from the book and gingerly reached a hand out to touch my curls. I produced a ring from my pocket I’d taken from my mother’s dresser for just this purpose. It was a gold band shaped like Texas on top with a tiny diamond representing the capital pressed into its face. I tried to put it on her finger but it was too big. I slipped it onto her thumb instead. “Now you’re my wife,” I said, and she wiggled her thumb and held it up to the light.
She dug around under her bed, then pulled out an old Polaroid camera and aimed it at me. A whirring sound came from it, followed by the flash, blinding. We sat together with the developing image between us, awed by its quiet magic. The picture caught me half turned away. She stuck it in her book, at the very end, then stood to put her picture book back on the shelf. When she leaned over me a cross on a chain slipped free of her shirt and I touched it with my tongue. I thought wildly that Dad, sunburned and tired with his baseball and beer, had never done anything like that.
Aaron Teel is the author of Shampoo Horns, winner of the Sixth Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Award. His work has appeared previously in Monkeybicycle, Matter Press, Brevity Magazine, North Texas Review, Side B Magazine, and others, and his debut collection is forthcoming from Rose Metal Press. He teaches Language Arts and English as a Second Language and is a workshop instructor for Badgerdog Literary Publising in Austin, TX.