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Let's Do a Short Story!

July 11, 2018

 

I looked back and realized I haven't posted anything of a narrative nature in months...months! Dang near unforgivable, so let's get on it today. The following is a little story about forgiveness, apropos given the times.  Hope you like it. Let's call it: 

 

Cactus-Mouth Fiesta

 

Toribio Lasoya, a lanky and unassuming fellow who minutes earlier had waded out of the Rio Grande, now panted broiling air and stared at a man who’d just tried to crush him with a pickup truck. The truck driver lay crumpled under a large agave with a cactus thorn spiked through one cheek, bleeding here and there and floundering like an overturned tortoise.

            “Oh gawdang…that is just…oh sombitch,” moaned the dazed driver, barely comprehensible due to his impaled mouth and bloody nostrils.

Heat shimmered to the horizon, and Toribio reckoned they were at least four miles from water. He desperately wanted to head north toward the bus arranged to take him to a cook job in Austin, but leaving meant the man would die.

In other parts of the world men were fighting in an Asian jungle, the Beatles were disbanding, and the U.S. was still high from winning the space race. Here, though, in this sweltering Texas canyon, the world consisted of two enemies and a sun that could destroy them both.

Thirty seconds earlier the wounded man had been steadily gaining on Toribio, despite the quarry’s jackrabbit-like scurrying. Toribio could hear Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring from an eight-track, and he was terrified the maniac would run him down at any moment.

The driver stood up in the roofless truck, joyfully whooping and ramping rabbit holes while yelling, “Get back across that river you wetback sombitch!”

 Just then a locust crashed into the fanatic’s eyeball, resulting in a catastrophic loss of control. A frantic Toribio glanced back to see the man fly over the top of his windshield as the truck vaulted sideways off a red ant mound.     

            The driver’s head was bleeding and his left leg was backward from the knee down. The truck’s radiator was leaking and the chassis was shaped like a Z. “Pioneer Days Carnival & Sideshows” was stenciled on the driver’s door, the logo now deeply creased.

            Toribio sighed as he tore strips from a dirty shirt to make bandages. The fractured leg was a problem because there was no way he could carry the injured man for miles in the heat. The desert vegetation simply didn’t provide straight branches that would act as a splint.

            Toribio eventually spied a shotgun mounted in a rack in the truck.

“No!” said the man. His eyes grew wide as Toribio retrieved the gun, but then, “Oh,” upon realizing he planned to fashion a brace. Toribio ejected all the shells and knelt beside him.

“Ready?” he asked. The man nodded, and Toribio yanked the mangled leg straight.

The broken man grunted valiantly as Toribio aligned his leg with the gun stock. His grit turned to a profane run-on, however, when the ad hoc medic yanked the cactus spike out of his face and shoved in a grimy sock to plug the hole.

“Sorry about my potty mouth,” muttered the man once Toribio helped him to a wobbly stand. “Been working on not cursin’ so much, but that hurt worse than a goat head coming out my pecker.”

Toribio all but dragged the shuffling, grunting man through miles of dust devils, knowing with each step that his bus had not waited.

 

***

 

“Thanks,” croaked the injured man when Toribio finally deposited him in a wheelchair.  

Toribio had drug the man to a small clinic between a Safeway and a Dairy Queen. Now he stood at the edge of the parking lot, wondering if he could survive another trek through the desert.

It was just too hot. Toribio had no desire to see how the crazy driver would fare, but he didn’t have anywhere else to go until things cooled off. The waiting room was as good a place to wait as any. At least there was air conditioning.

“May I help you?” asked a receptionist as he ventured back inside.

“I’m just going to wait in here for my friend.”

“He’s in X-Ray, but I’ll let you in to visit as soon as the doctor allows.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Two hours passed. Toribio got up so often to drink from the fountain that the receptionist finally offered him a paper cup. He guiltily used the restroom, combed dust from a handlebar mustache, and read a Sports Illustrated. He wished he had a little money so he could wander down to the Dairy Queen.  

“You can go back and see him now,” said the receptionist finally.  

Toribio felt the receptionist would be hurt if she knew he’d lied about being the patient’s friend. He also harbored concern that she’d call the law if she got suspicious. It seemed both polite and prudent to just go visit the patient.

Toribio found the injured man moaning with casts on one arm and one leg. His head was wrapped, as were his ribs. A doctor was suturing the hole in his cheek.

“Sir, can you tell me again how this happened?” asked the doctor. She posed the question as if she didn’t really believe the first version he’d told her.

“Was like I told you,” he began, although because of the swelling it came out sounding like, “Duzz ike I dold ooh.”

The doctor nodded and looped the next stitch.

“Chasing a Mexican who’d crawled under the wall. Bringing him to justice when the bastard jumped out and made me wreck.”

The doctor looked over her shoulder at Toribio, and the man followed her gaze.

“That’s him! That’s the hooligan what run me off the road.”

The doctor looked again at Toribio, then at the man lying in the hospital bed.

“Doesn’t add up,” she said finally. “I’ve warned you about this border wall guard nonsense before, Mr. Clanton.”

 “Piss on a pinecone, Doc. He was invadin’ American soil. It’s my duty.”

“It isn’t your duty, and this is the fourth time I’ve put a cast on you or stitches in you in the last three months.”

“But…”

“How bad was your truck wrecked?” she asked.  

“Well…”

She turned to Toribio. “Sir, how badly was his truck wrecked?”

Toribio gave a sympathetic shrug. 

“Well, back-flippin’-dog, doc! Whatcha asking him for?”

“Mr. Clanton, find a new hobby. You’ve got liability in your blood.”

With that the doctor left the room.

“Don’t leave! Ain’t either got whatcha-call-it liabil-ny in my blood.”

Toribio felt flat-footed and wondered if he could now leave without raising suspicions.

“I ain’t never done no liba-linny in my life!”

The man looked at Toribio who shrugged again.

 “Well, if that ain’t just an outhouse in the kitchen.”

Toribio nodded agreeably. An awkward silence followed, during which the injured man stared at the X-rays of his fractures.

“She makes a good point, I guess,” said the man.

Toribio looked confused.

“That girl doctor. Bein’ honest, gotta admit she makes a point.”

Toribio nodded and slowly reached for the door handle.

“I mean, truth be told, you might have saved my life.”

Toribio shoved one hand in a pocket.

“Probably did,” he acknowledged quietly.

Toribio scratched his neck.

 “Called me a ride,” said the injured man, indicating a phone on a bedside table.

The man tried to get up, but the pain and casts forced him back to the bed. Toribio helped him, and the two grunted until they had him in the wheelchair.  

Toribio wheeled the man outside. A red and white VW van bearing the same logo of Pioneer Days Carnival & Sideshows as the wrecked truck sat idling. A woman with a bored expression sat in the van filing the longest nails Toribio had ever seen.

“Give you a lift?”

Toribio considered that this gringo was loco, but he realized he was still too exhausted to resume his journey on foot.

“Name’s Errol. I owe you one, mister. Truth is, I owe you big, and I’m real sorry for the way I treated you.”

The man extended his good hand in apology.

“You working?” asked Errol.

            Minutes later Toribio gulped a Dr. Pepper and a hot dog in the Pioneer Days Carnival. Errol sat in a tiny clown car with the casted leg hanging from the passenger window and his head poking out the driver’s side. The pain medicine was clearly kicking in.

            “Can you cook?” slurred Errol as he took off in the little car. Toribio was forced into a fast walk to keep up.

            “I used to be a sideshow attraction before I got into untrepiner-n’,” he yelled out to Toribio over the whine of the tiny, un-baffled clown car engine. Employees and patrons stepped off the path as he careened along.

“The World’s Thinnest Man, Husband to the World’s Fattest Woman.”

Errol nodded sagely, remembering the fine times.

“I married up real good. At least until my wife had what she called a ‘stomach stapler thingy’ during a ‘vacation’ to Florida. Shrank to a size fourteen in six months.”

Toribio dodged a cotton candy cart.

“Mind the pony droppings,” Errol yelled out helpfully, turning the car to circle the droppings twice.

“Took up swallowin’ my depression. One day this kid points at my belly and yells, “Look mommy, he’s pregnant just like you.”

Errol stopped to stare out over the hood, reliving that nightmarish moment.

“Heard she was in nursin’-assistant school.”

            Dusk descended, and colorful lights illuminated the park.

“I love to look at the carousel at night,” said Errol, who brightened even as did the lights.

Toribio was reminded of a fiesta back home.

 

***

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