|Announcing: Hobart’s First Annual Mini Book Contest
prize: $500 and publication as the first installment of our new Short Flight/Long Drive "minibook" series
Click-click. The bright lights glint off steel. The body, the blood, the blade, the dirt. Photographer stops, packs his things and leaves quietly. Blood muddy with the dry ground. It seeps from the black and red flannel shirt of a man lying on his gut. It is November 5th. Ten miles outside El Paso, Texas. Warm night, half moon hangs like a shattered plate in the sky. The sheriff spits thickly on the ground.
-Got called away from a hot dinner, Charles. Let’s make it quick.
-Sorry, Boss, looks like a drunken bar fight. Some wet back, mid twenties. Took a knife to the gut.
The man is Victor Suarez. To get there, the dirt, he was first pushed into the world to a Miguel and Miranda Suarez. Pink and screaming in a yellow hospital outside of El Paso. His father, a textile worker, his mother, a housewife. Both first generation immigrants. They were poor. Before in Mexico they were not poor or rich, but they were in Mexico.
-We shall call him Victor, after your father, said the mother.
-A strong name for a strong boy.
Victor was a quiet boy. He did well in school, especially science. The science teacher, Mrs. Bannon, drew large smiley faces on his tests. Yet Victor’s parents worried he did not have enough friends. He sat around at home with his little legs dangling over the chair or else listened to Spanish radio that snuck over the Texas boarder.
When he was twelve, his father gave him a guitar. It was black as a crow. At first he didn’t know what to do, just looked at it, afraid to touch. But soon he started plucking the shiny strings until they sung to him.
Their house was blue and old. Victor shared a room with little sister Inez. Father’s factory is close by. There was a fat boy, Chuck Johnson, on his street who stood behind his fence with a metal bat. He took glass bottles and batted them at Victor and others on the street. They exploded into millions of brown and green bits at their feet, cutting their legs. Victor and the younger boys would run past coming home from school. One day a bottle hit Victor in the head, neatly slicing it open. He ran home crying. His mother shrieked, grabbed gauze, alcohol, band aids. His father came into the room.
-Who did this?
-The Johnson kid down the street, he says through tears.
-Stop crying. Why didn’t you stand up for yourself? Be a man.
-I’m sorry father, he said hanging his head.
Three, four, six hours a day, Victor practiced his guitar. At school I will be a famous flamenco guitarist, like Ramon Montoya. The girls, they started to look at him differently. There was one, Adriana Posada, who caught his eye. In his head he wrote songs to her. Adriana, I pluck this rose from my heart for you.
When Victor was fifteen, his father was fired from the textile plant. Factory moved south for cheaper labor. His father came home swollen with liquor. The day it happened the family did not talk about it, but a thick black cloud suffocated the house.
Victor’s father spent more time away from home. When he came home it was late, very late. Often Victor would wait up at night listening for his father and strumming the guitar softly. He listened to his mother weeping. At seventeen his father didn’t come home again. The family never knew what happened. Victor wore his knuckles pink on the walls of his room. He only cried once.
Without a father, Victor swelled to fill the space. There was his mother and Inez, beautiful little Inez, to think about. He needed to be a man. He was seventeen. Dropped out of school and started working a string of jobs; busboy, janitor, fast food then finally a job at a bottling plant. At night he played the guitar in bars. He got better. He played the music fiercely, attacking the strings. The patrons who watched recognized his skill, his passion. Most didn’t watch of course. He did not see Adriana again. He did not see many of the kids from school. The years passed.
Then disaster. Working, not paying attention Victor got his left hand stuck in a bottling machine. The bones and skin twisted, torn. Pain. He screamed. The pain. The hand was lost. Doctors in white shook their heads. Nothing to do. Sorry. Nothing. It was gone, he would never play guitar again. He would never be a flamenco star.
Whiskey. Too depressed to do anything. He was not a man now. His mother begged him to come home, but he did not. Slept in an old friend’s tool shed, barely crawled through four months. One night he was drinking at The Jaw. Chuck Johnson was there. Still fat, long brown hair, leather jacket with chaotic eagle design, thick black boots. Did he recognize Victor? At the bar Victor knocked down shots like water. He felt the smooth knob of his other wrist. When Chuck left, he followed.
-Chuck, you maricon, you fuck!
-What did you say spic?
-Don’t remember me fat fuck? I lived on your street.
-Watch it boy or you’re gonna get hurt.
Victor did not listen, threw his good fist into Chuck as if he could pull the manness out of him. Chuck tried to fight back but Victor felt only rage and whiskey. Then he felt the warmness of metal tearing his gut sideways. Chuck was shaking, pale. He ran, leaving the knife in place. Victor fell over into the dirt without a sound.
The sirens squawk in the background. The night hangs heavy with blackness. Thin light sneaks under the door then dies a few feet out. Deputy lights a cigarette.
-Other guy ran, Boss.
-Anyone see anything?
-They never do, says the sheriff spitting into the dust. He adjusts his hat then spits again.