Hector Mojena


Hector Mojena is a writer and editor based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He has published essays and short fiction in The Missouri Review, Saw Palm Magazine, Strangeways, and The Acentos Review. In addition to writing, Hector enjoys playing the drums and shooting still photography all around the greater Miami area.

 He can be reached at hectormojena@gmail.com.


Alonso’s eyes strained to make out the converging lines of high-rises and towering cranes stretching across the glaring mid-day landscape of downtown Miami. From his view among the distant concrete towers dotting the western expanse of the city, the structures all flattened into a single translucent grid of gilded glass panes and mechanical arms cutting wavering lines across the reflected sky. Compact cars and long-haul trucks sped along the interstate lanes above him, filling the echo chamber of circling feeder roads ahead of his tiny one-room flat with an endless din. The humming of the outside ACs and the clouds of mosquitos hovering near them merged with this arrangement, blending into one rootless drone that rose from somewhere deep within Alonso’s chest. The pulsing sounds filled him with the sensation of disappearing, the sense that he was becoming unbound from his own body and taken up with that of the sprawling city’s concrete form.        

He slumped against the window, dressed only in his underwear as he dangled a lit clove between his fingers.The room held a single twin mattress, two rusted PA speakers and a few stacked boxes in a corner, which Alonso had refused to unpack since his relocation months before. The open window’s cracked glass pane reflected his hardened, calcified double, a figure whose bald head and pale, sunken chest gave way to long, bony legs spread flat across the linoleum tile. Alonso listened to the individual parts of the outside arrangement for strains of music to guide him. He had become entranced by the whole dense bed of noise outside his apartment the day he quit waiting tables at one of the lechón-stinking rinconcitos near mid-beach. The endless shifts had exacted their toll on his fragile form, the sharpening volleys of pain in his joints precluding the desire for any movement at all as the summer days got longer. The pain progressed in familiar patterns. Some days, his fingers trembled uncontrollably as rivulets of sweat trickled down his forehead; other days brought the pinching tremors that stopped his hands from lifting the serving trays and heavy containers of puerco (pork) that arrived daily at the cafe. The passage of one painful sensation and its severe currents rippled across whole months, forming an ever-growing mental index of his increasing arthritic degeneration. He marked time by the sharp exertion of strained ligaments in heat-choked mid-June, the dull ache of fingers grasping steering wheels and support beams in bathroom stalls through the tepid winter months.        

Within days of quitting this back-breaking work, Alonso ventured to a pawn shop on 8th Street to buy a faded Pepto-pink Fender Mustang and a 30-watt amp with the meager savings he had left. The rest of his money disappeared within weeks on packs of his preferred black cloves and the little food that sustained him in those days. All the time he entertained vague plans to ride out the summer playing with the salsa ensembles that filled the pastel-hued facades of South Beach. Once, those shows had taken up every night of his week. The gigs barely paid, but they promised their own ecstatic deliverance, momentary distractions from his wasted daylight hours. Now, the summer brought its own deathless stasis that kept him pinned near the celestial din swirling outside his apartment.

His lone salvation in those days came from his nocturnal pilgrimages to Mami's hot pink homestead in Hialeah Gardens. Each night drew him through the steps of the same deathless ritual. He would turn the needle on her Jerry Rivas records while she sang in harmony and thawed frozen maduros in the frying pan. After dinner, he would sit with her and watch the soundless images flashing across her old CRT set: the oversaturated backdrops of flood-lit telenovela sets; the lithe, sequined chorus line of El Happy Hour’s mujeres (women) mouthing along to Celia Cruz’ Guantanamera and Jose Tejedor’s Discos y Licor. Once she finally fell asleep, his patience brought its own reward in the cache of Methoxetrate tabs, oxycodone and other luminous jewels of red and transparent blue she kept in the pill box in her bureau. Though he always waited for her to fall asleep, he implicitly knew that Mami acknowledged his deceit, and perhaps even condoned it. There was a wordless agreement he imagined between them, which allowed him to take more and more from her through the currents of shame and uselessness that invaded his thoughts, to feel absolved in her dark opal eyes of all the bad checks and forged prescriptions he’d made under her name in the past. Alonso believed that only she implicitly understood the shared condition that joined their bodies in a whole warped anatomical scheme. He saw traces of what he was becoming in the paralyzing bouts of osteoarthritic pain she experienced, the wavering lines of her own fingers and the warped arch of her spine drawing the form of his imagined future form. And in his dreams, Alonso saw her hands drawn over his own, their fragile forms merging in the nexus of her twisting digits.

Tonight, he once again sought to anoint himself before the altar of her faded maple bureau. But for now, Alonso tried to make his fingers finally do the work he’d resisted for months. His attempts to play the guitar had all come to nothing in the weeks after he quit his job. So, he sat with the guitar on his lap, flicked the standby switch on his amp and lightly pressed the shape of a minor eleventh chord until his fingers wretched with a familiar paroxysm of sharp pain. The brittle bones needed time to adapt to the sudden move, just as his own mind had needed time to accept his body’s continuing alienation from itself. As he meandered on the guitar, Alonso studied the shapes of his fingers in the window’s lit surface. Where they used to intuitively trace chords along the neck, he now recognized their lame movements, the eternal struggle to press down firmly on each fret occupying his attention. He focused on just holding his shaky form. And if he played long enough, he hoped he could transcend these painful currents and pour his body into a vessel state somewhere between exhaustion and dreaming. Alonso stomped on his cheap digital delay pedal, which preserved the sustained overtone of that single eleventh chord in an endless, looping sequence that streamed from his speakers like the murky inflows of the tides.

Through the noise, elements of the surrounding milieu invaded his improvised music and gave shape to its formless ringing. His amp conducted the endless dembow beat of the local reggaetón station, which scraped at the edges of the piece, the low bass drum and clipped snare echoing in increasingly unpredictable rudiments with each change of his pedal’s delay signature. He turned the amp’s volume higher, and the speakers shot forth with more static as they conducted the stentorian voice of a Spanish talk show host chanting the familiar verses of a prayer: Bendita sea tu pureza y eternamente lo sea, pues todo en Dios se recrea en tan graciosa belleza” (Blessed be your purity and eternally be, for God recreates himself in such graceful beauty) His lips unconsciously matched the words, muscle memory guiding him through the shapes of hundreds of hushed Catholic school prayers from years past.

Alonso slowly arpeggiated a four-note pattern over the dialogue and worked his foot up and down on the volume pedal. The individual notes faded in and out while the hard syllables of the responding crowd split into unintelligible, airless fragments. A sound like a flute’s glissando rose up from the mounted speaker of a faded white truck idling on the terrace below. It belted out a pre-recorded refrain of “Afilador (knife sharpener) … trae tus cuchillos (bring your knives).” The afilador’s pitico (whistle) repeated a looping scale run, which the amp’s ancient speakers blended into the mix of arhythmic percussion and disembodied voices. He’d unexpectedly amassed a whole collage of downtown’s familiar sounds — the afilador’s whistle and the prayers fused into a single droning note that imbued the city’s mechanical ambience with the pulse of his own memories. It brought back all the improvised songs he and Mami used to sing over the passing strains of the afilador, the ice cream van, the looming siren sounds of speeding police cars. The deep drone of the motorway shook his thin walls, momentarily signaling yet more past sensations of hurtling cars that shook Mami’s old homestead deep into the night. He let his hands rest by his sides as the cryptographic convergence of voices and improvised noise played into the concrete expanse outside.

Alonso placed the guitar on the ground and turned the clear acrylic output dial of his phaser pedal counter-clockwise, transforming the sound bed into a low motorized pulse in order to keep the few neighbors on his floor from complaining. As the minimal pulse circulated at low volume, he received another sound from somewhere beyond the room. A sotto voice rose suddenly from the next apartment over. It initially aped the frenzied scale of the afilador’s pitico before veering off into a repeating four-note hum that followed his guitar. He slowly wound the phaser pedal’s output knob clockwise, opening the entire piece sharply back into its formerly expansive shape.

Alonso knocked on the wall to signal the singer to keep going. He switched on his portable tape recorder and placed it against the wall, taking in each small shift in the singer’s wailing while holding his breath. After he had recorded a minute of tape, the other tenants on his floor began shouting through the walls for some respite from the sprawling noise. Alonso finally lowered the volume on his amp, satisfied with the minute of singing he managed to record over this accidental collage.

No amount of knocking roused the singer to open her door. In the past, he had heard her chanting prayers through the walls at night, or singing through the walls over her own collection of corridos and cumbias. Otherwise, Alonso knew nothing of this secret collaborator. He simply received a transitory impression of her, so he searched the room for an image to place with this voice suspended out of time. As he scanned the room, he noticed that the amp’s noise had sent the cheap wooden thumb piano he kept on his window sill plummeting to the floor, its metallic gears sprouting loose from the wooden frame like rows of crooked teeth. Mami had bought it for him when he was just ten, a small totem found in a piss-yellow-hewed music store along the strip of pawn shops lining East Hialeah’s winding canals. Its broken shape finally granted an image of the body to which the mysterious voice could belong. Mami’s voice spoke through the tenant’s improvised verse. The broken instrument loosed its own corpus of they half-remembered songs they’d sung, the shape of her open mouth transposed over the broken instrument’s jutting keys.

Alonso recorded the decaying collage to his portable cassette player before it completely disappeared. He managed to extract a portion of the piece where the afilador’s stumbling scale and the singer’s repeated, wordless melody finally merged into one seamless repetition where the singer filled in the gaps between the whistle’s scale runs. It was the only section of the music that attained perfect symmetry, a singular and nearly divine shape among the spiraling repetitions of expansive noise he captured. A call and response formed between the afilador’s scale and the voice, the latter’s ethereal humming rising to meet the start of the former’s alarm call. The uncanny fragments of voice and guitar and the outer layers of drums and rising static all folded into an endless expanse of found sounds that overwhelmed the tiny speaker of his portable cassette recorder.

It remained with him a few hours later when he finally put on his dusted chinos and his work shirt to head for Mami’s. And after so many runs back through the music, the song finally exhausted itself as he waded through the maritime drift of compacts and long-haul trucks idling along the 826. This music only lead him to another dead end. As the realization dawned on him, he felt the original surge of exhilaration fade. There was nothing in this music to finally break his nostalgic stasis, nothing more than a dull, celestial din of half-remembered sensations and songs that endeared him to its warping texture. As the tape recorder broke into static once more, he wondered about the ways the improvised drone might unconsciously resurface: in dreams where its alien shape would play from the mouths of his primos and tias suspended in space; perhaps born from Mami’s lips as she chanted through her open window into the humid night. The song was merely an artifact now, a half-remembered chant that might break and resurface in tiny fragments, to be recalled and forgotten just as quickly. Alonso would gradually lose the pieces, his mind free of this accidental arrangement that had drawn its illusory shape over the city.


The western mouth of Hialeah Gardens opened into a whole winding stretch of weed-choked badlands and empty fields housing the arching shapes of static cranes. Rows of half-finished homes expanded out toward the I75, each one marked by the standard rococo outlays of faux-gilded pillars, heavy aluminum double-doors and power-washed concrete driveways that projected deep shadows in the moonlight. At the farthest end of the community stood all the older homes of unincorporated Dade, their veneers gazing past the flat stretch of darkened pine woods along the interstate. Mami’s flamingo-pink homestead stood on a promontory that sloped down into one long canal, which separated her house and the others on her street from the new enclaves being constructed further west. The new stucco-roofed homes’ unfinished supports carried silver jets of moonlight that illuminated the veneers of all the other houses lining Mami’s block. Her home was marked by two oval-shaped window frames in the front, both of which closed in around a statuette of la Virgen de la Caridad standing on a platform flanked by an offering of wilted lilies and dried sunflower bulbs.

Alonso pulled up to the front of the house and watched Mami as she hunched over the drainage pipe that capped the home’s septic system. She extended a hose down into the pipe to free all the clogged shit and tissue paper that coursed its way through the underlying tract of the home. For 30 years, the house had required regular maintenance, all hands rushing to unclog the shit-filled pipes and siphon fresh water from sink to tub. Alonso had spent many of those years helping her move the intricate parts of the house, hands constantly engaged in the maintenance of every small part that ceased to perform its function. She navigated a whole intimate geography of home through rituals whose steps only she could trace. And the delicate circuitry of the house formed something like an extension of her own body, the circling pipes beneath her feet performing the functions of coursing arteries and major organs, which needed constant attention lest they betray they fail themselves.

Mami held onto the bower of her rusted bronze Chevy Blazer and rose to her feet. The car sat in a darkened imprint in the driveway, its engine having exploded just days before. It caused a small blaze that blackened the side of the house and drew spectators as far as all the newly finished homes across the field.

“¡Mira, el flaco!,” (Look, my skinny boy!) she exclaimed as she slowly walked toward him.

“Y mi viejita! Que estas haciendo afuera esta ahora?” (And my old lady! What are you doing outside at this hour?)

She looked back at the open cap of the septic tank and then shot her eyes around the home as if searching for a missed cue. She wore one of Alonso’s old black chinos and a stained blouse patterned with the encircling stems of hydrangeas. Tonight, she also wore her jangling Caridad de la Cobra earrings, whose glinting turquoise frames caught the flickering sodium bulbs of the surrounding streetlights.

“¡Mira esta mierda! Esta casa de carajo, chico. Yo no puedo dormir ahora con eso pasando.” (Look at this shit! This fucking house! I can’t sleep now with this going on.)

She wiped her hands and turned the dial on the hose until the water stopped flowing.

“Y ya tu sabe que yo tengo algo que enseñarte.” (And you know that I have something I need to show you.)

He questioned whether or not she really intended to show him anything — and whether she would actually remember to do so as the night progressed.

“Y como te sientes hoy?” (And how do you feel today?) Alonso asked.

She rubbed her hands together and laughed. “Como siempre. No puedo hacer las cosas duras.” (It’s like it always is. I can’t do the hard stuff.)

Alonso ducked through the front’s door’s low threshold into the damp foyer where Mami kept a whole stream of framed photographs of his primos and tias,, all posed in scenes shot across the overlit portrait studios of East Hialeah. In the middle of the whole display hung a single framed image of Mami back in the old days, when she was about thirty years old, dressed in a long red gown whose tail flowed past the spotlit center of a tiny club’s packed stage. Her long golden hair had faded with time, but the strong arch of her back and her naturally boisterous demeanor remained from those days, signs of the elemental reserves of strength that animated her fragile form even now.

She had gradually lost the ability to sing with the force she once possessed in her formidable days as a muse for the bandleaders that came through Cuba in the sixties. She had written aching ballads and shuffling cumbias for the soldiers and sang odes to the island’s spectral beauty at government balls from Havana to Cienfuegos. All those stories now only elicited a dull flicker behind her eyes whenever Alonso reminded her of them. She vaguely recalled the trance-inducing noise that had moved her hips and brought out her joyous bellows all those years ago, the hot rooms where her own alter emerged sweating in fits of lithely swinging hips and high-pitched shrieks. Here in South Florida, she had simply disappeared into the noisy periphery of the city.

And so her arrival in South Florida necessitated the invention of new rituals to replace the ones of her youth. Over the last 25 years, her long days at the seamstress shop were followed by manic nights awake, her voice streaming through the walls in waves of whispered recitations and sudden bursts of song. She screeched like La Lupe, or softly crooned the velvety tones of Jerry Rivas as the needle turned on another one of their time-warped records. She discovered ways to keep these currents of past time flowing through her. Deep into the night, her voice coursed through the home’s pipes. Alonso recalled that he had first truly recognized her voice in his youthful dreams, which were always filled with images of unfathomable depths below the house, of caverns bored beneath porous layers of limestone where her disembodied voice murmured and yawned in the darkness of his own fantasies. He was born up in the cosmic currents of her mysterious songs, all of which escaped her lips as she too gradually drifted off to sleep on her records’ locked grooves.

In the morning, her body returned to its routine of dull, repetitive work and the ceaseless, subtropical heat. Her hands carried a life of unstopped labor. In her increasing senescence, her hands continued to do the work at great cost, always engaged in the process of sewing Quinceañera gowns, tending to the overgrown weeds in the yard and pouring vats of turpentine into tree trunks to hasten their deaths. The endless work animated her frail form and kept her eyes searching the steel-choked horizon for more points of light to guide her.

“Y que quieres enseñarme? Un canción nuevo? O algo differente? Algo mas misterioso?” (What do you want to show me? A new song? Or something else? Something more mysterious?)

She laughed.

“Claro que si. Misterioso como yo. Un emisario del oscuro con la cara de luz puro” (Yes, of course. Something mysterious just like me. An emissary of the dark with a face of pure light.)

Mami placed her hands on Alonso’s shoulders and steered him past the frames to the kitchen. She rinsed her hands in the sink and removed strips of maduros from a cardboard box to thaw in the microwave. Alonso walked through the narrow passage connecting the kitchenette to her bedroom. Her old CRT set flashed soundless images into the reflective metal shutters she kept screwed into the window frame year-round. She had lit the San Lazaro candle that sat on her bureau as well, which provided the only other illumination besides the shimmering image from the TV. The figure of a gold-robed preacher stalked the flattened interior of a porcelain-white chapel, the image cutting between shots of him and his followers open-mouthed and singing to the rafters. Alonso turned the volume knob on the TV up slightly as the choir took up the priest’s refrain: … Todo es possible en dios. En dios padre se confie. En el nombre de dios, Jesus Cristo, y el espiritu santo…en el nombre de dios, Jesus Cristo, y el espiritu santo … (everything is possible in God … in God the father, we trust … in the name of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit … in the name of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit …)

The preacher trailed off as a melody picked up on the organ, and the throats of the assembled singers swelled with the opening notes of the next hymnal in the service. Mami picked up on the refrain playing from the TV speakers and let out her own low, wordless croon over the music.

Alonso opened the drawers of her faded maple bureau and sifted through the tangled strings of rosary beads and unopened envelopes in search of Mami’s pill case. Under the yellowing pages of scrapped mail, he finally came upon it, the Oxycodone tabs’ milky white surfaces mixing in with the yet more mysterious jewels of transparent blue and hard, chalky reds. He pressed two of the white tablets on to his tongue and swallowed them whole, chasing them with the lone Lortab left in his possession. He poured more of the multicolored array into his hand and stashed them away in his pockets Alonso waited for the cocktail to send him crashing on to the couch, to strand him somewhere between consciousness and the rite of dreamless sleep they always brought on.

Alonso placed the container back under the heaps of mail. Mami’s voice grew even louder with the surging notes of the faithful:

"Un gran fuego bajará del cielo" (A great fire came down from the heavens)

"En un hedor de azufre” (in a stench of sulfur)

Mami took on the deep bellow of a carnival barker as she sang the next line back to the TV.

Y la tierra arderá furiosamente” (And the Earth will burn furiously)

“Y un gran terror afligirá a la gente" (And a great terror will afflict the people)

Louder now, Alonso repeated the line back to her. “Y un gran terror afligirá a la gente.”

Madre de Dios, reza por nosotros” (Mother of God, pray for us)

Alonso turned the line over in his head and reformed it as a lark.

“Madre de Dios, reza por nosotros! Los perdedores, los tonteros, los viejitos y viejitas…” (Mother of God, pray for us! The losers, the fools, the little old men and women …)

She caught onto the joke and added her own line to the verse.

“En el nombre de la vieja, el cristo, y el tonte…la vieja, el cristo, y el tonte” (In the name of the old woman, the Christ, the fool … the old woman, the Christ, the fool)

“Somos juntos en el pipo, el tonte, la virgen, las mierderas …” (We’re all united in the pipo, the fool, the virgin, the shitty ones …)

“Somos un cuerpo junto en el dios, la virgen, el pipo lindo …” (We’re one body in God, the virgin, the pipo lindo …)

They repeated the sequence of sacred larks, conceiving a whole cosmology of perverted saints from their made-up song. Asthe notes of their song peaked, a passing truck’s antenna disrupted the TV’s signal and caused a loud surge of radio noise that filled the monitor with black bisecting lines, which split the priest’s body into fragments of disembodied limbs, which wavered against a backdrop of flickering columns. Alonso recalled the glinting lines of the cranes outside his apartment, and the sharp notes from the TV brought back the shape of the accidental arrangement that had visited him hours earlier. He instinctively removed the portable tape recorder from his pocket and played the sampled noise once more. Mami pivoted her head to the sound of the afilador’s scale as it echoed through the passage to the kitchenette. She sang the slurred notes of the scale until her voice and the whistling melded into a single, rootless melody. He brought the recorder into the kitchen and placed it close to her ear.

“Y quien es esa mujer?” (And who is that woman?), she asked.

“Claro, que es tu, Mami.” (Clearly, it’s you, Mami.)

She bowed her head and laughed. Something in it truly did capture the lilting falsetto she once possessed, the neighbor emerging as her own uninhibited alter had in her days on the stage. She removed the maduros from the microwave and placed them on a white ceramic plate.

“Ponte un disco,” (Put on a record.) she commanded.

He dropped the needle on La Lupe’s version of Con el Diablo en el Cuerpo and nodded along to the long brass hits and the alternating 5-stroke percussion rolls breaking against the song’s back-and-forth shuffle. He ate a few maduros off the plate while Mami stood behind the counter silently mouthing along to La Lupe’s frantic verses.

In the sleepless trance that the music inspired, Alonso began to hear echoes of a secret arrangement in the home’s ambient noise. The AC switched on as the song hit its first chorus, forming a dull sheet of mechanical noise that drowned out the upper layers of horns and shakers. He heard ghostly traces of Mami’s yelping falsetto breaking through La Lupe’s screeching lines. La Lupe’s sotto voice skimmed the dense bed of rusted turbines spinning outside, Alonso recognizing the uncanny shape of his own nonsense song reproduced once more in the fusion of mechanical noise and human voice. The record and the dull droning notes invading the house all formed instruments of some mysterious, new arrangement, an amorphous din that issued notes of its own holy scale.

As the seven-inch hit its locked groove, Mami wandered back down the hall to her room. Alonso followed and sat on the floor next to her as she flickered in and out of sleep on the recliner watching the soundless images on the TV. He fetched another methoxetrate tab from his pocket and watched as the priest’s digits flashed a whole array of gold rings in the diffused light of the chapel. In her semi-conscious state, Mami’s own fingers stretched toward the TV’s artificial light. A jagged black line now permanently cut across the center of the screen, splitting the preacher’s face horizontally as the camera emphasized his blindingly white teeth against the doric columns behind him. Alonso waited for her to start snoring and walked back out into the hall.

He felt the cocktail gradually cool the dry heat in his joints and fill his periphery with phantom outlines of all the frames hanging on the wall of the foyer. A sodium bulb outside flickered and filled the portrait’s glass panes with a mirror image of the surrounding houses and the overgrown weeds encircling them. He stood in the center of this new, accidental frame, recognizing the seamless outline of Mami’s own black opal eyes drawn over his own.


Alonso gazed at the plumes of white dust floating over the I75 from Mami’s front patio. The impacted remains of an old concrete house broke the flat horizon, and, through its hollowed-out passage, the window frames of the unfinished stucco-roofed homes behind it peered out like the sunken eyes of specters. He removed the recorder once more from his pocket and rewound the tape until he reached his neighbor’s caterwauling. The disembodied voice streamed through the destroyed home’s exposed funnel, the recorder’s song swirling in bristling harmonic fragments like the reverberating swells of a church organ through an empty hall. The noise drew its shape across the hidden nighttime landscape and traveled a distance through few the tall pines and rotting mango trees left standing in the field. The cocktail he’d taken induced a weightless trance that caused him to sink deeper into the bench.

As the short loop gave way to tape hiss, his head throbbed with the repetitions’ after-image. It was then that the recorder’s volume surged as it abruptly played the botched opening notes of Tárrega’s Capricho Arabe. A flicker of recognition brought him back into the space of this ancient recording, which represented one of Mami’s earliest attempts to record Alonso playing the guitar. Alonso had received Mami’s instruction in the same cramped bedroom in which she now slept. Many years ago, she had sat in that same recliner banging out each note with the ball of her thumb against the sheer, faded blue nylon of the arm rest. The recording preserved every moment of the strained session. Mami furiously tapped the recliner’s arm every time the piece clambered to its premature end. The endless runs blended into more lopsided bars, notes alternately picked or dully flicked in the occasions that his fragile form gave way. Each time his fingers broke their form, she placed her left hand over his to force them further apart, all while humming the original melody back to him.

For a moment, he was transported back to the ancient contours of that room. The aimless scope of his intervening years — the wasted days chasing gigs and drifting through the city with glazed eyes fixed on the horizon — melted away for a few minutes as the music played. The years of waiting tables and his body’s own protracted unraveling became mere background noise. But before the familiar sequence of memory could totally return to him, the tape suddenly skipped and replayed the loop at slower speed. The natural warping of the tape rendered the familiar scene an uncanny projection of past time, corrupting the whole remembrance that played out before him. The scene seemed lost now. And yet there was something else in it  — the sense that the warped tape had filled the gap in his own memory with its corrupted copy. The scene became just another irretrievable fragment of past time that he would play over and over, the recorder’s faulty machinery blending its twisted refraction and the historical record in the same stretch of warped tape. He listened to the slowed-down tape blend with the AC’s mechanical yawn for a few minutes, and the noise brought him deeper into the trance, in which he drifted away from his own bodily form. The AC’s white noise suddenly stopped, leaving only the ambience of the distant motorway and the tape’s warped hum to play over the scene.

A low, stentorian pulse slowly faded up from somewhere deep within the body of the home. Alonso rose from the chair and steadied himself as he walked through the open door. The locked grooved preserved the repeated percussive shuffle of Mami’s record. He lifted the needle, removing one layer of the arrangement filling the house.. The remaining sounds rose in an instant. Alonso watched Mami through the hall, her lips silently reciting the lyrics of some unknown verse. He rewound the tape to merge the recorded voice with her own moving lips, hoping to trigger the ecstatic flicker of recognition that had overtaken him in his apartment. But the rootless drone rose and drowned out the recorder’s tinny speakers. He teetered along the wall to Mami’s closet, confident that he’d found the apparent source of the noise as the recorder gave way to static yet again.

Alonso opened the closet door behind the TV stand and found an old portable Magnavox monitor soundlessly flashing an old reel of two salseros stepping in time to some unheard music across a glistening ballroom floor. The flickering, oversaturated bodies of the dancers wavered from the heavy artifacting of the image’s source, the TV’s electron gun displaying its corrupted, faded interpretation of the original source. The flickering screen bent the dancers’ bodies and stretched their limbs so that they collapsed into each other in the waves of distorted imagery. He wondered about the meticulously curated ambience of her room, where the locked groove and the old television sets merged with that fourth intangible sound to produce an elaborate arrangement, all assembled for some unknown purpose. He stood there for a while staring into the darkness of the room as more noises rose from its cramped corners.

The low droning noise swelled up from the body of the house and filled his throat. He carried this perfect tone, all notes of a holy scale whose movement he imagined Mami directed in her sleep. Alonso let the elemental sounds pin him to the ground. The pain in his joints subsided in the weightless trance produced by the house and the encroaching ambient sprawl beyond it. In the darkness, he felt the sensation of being drawn closer to her, the contours of the room shifting to form an infinite black plane with only small points of light peaking through the shutters to guide his vision.

Alonso listened to the fragments rise up from the home’s ambient sprawl. His body formed a dull tone skating under the surface of her unconscious song. Mami’s elaborate arrangement filled the shallow, airless alcove beneath the home with the fragments of an endless song that he knew could never be duplicated, nor soured by his own directionless playing. She merely employed his body as an instrument now, dictating a whole arrangement of sprawling, disparate noises in her sleep. He was too tired to consider the cosmic implications of this music, the eternal pull of memory that animated her form. He merely lay there and drifted further into the thoughtless trance that had filled his days. Alonso was finally ready to retreat into the expanded contours of the room. He let her song fill the wordless gap he produced when he opened his mouth. More tiny points of light peeked through the shudders and illuminated a single, long flaxen hair sprouting from Alonso’s wrist. It shone brightly just like Mami’s hair had in the portrait he’d long admired. Alonso welcomed the intrusion. He allowed Mami’s voice and the mechanical ambience of the distant city to fill the shifting contours of his body, whose shape he’d ceased to recognize in the darkened room.

©The Acentos Review 2020