Michael Mazza



Fiction:  Faith


Michael Mazza was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, and came to the United States with his family in 1977. After graduating Montclair State University in 1991, he became a high school English teacher. His writing sometimes focuses on isolated people who compromise themselves to maintain their illusions. He tries to transcend stereotypes by developing unusual characters who struggle to find a sense of purpose and identity as immigrants living in the US. In his free time, he is an avid jazz piano student and performer. He lives in Elizabeth, New Jersey, with his wife and two sons.

“Turn here,” he ordered, brushing a strand of his long curly hair away from his forehead. He placed his head near the air conditioning vent, attempting to dry the sweat and rain.

“Why here?”

“I think I saw something.”

To the left, the Budweiser Brewery loomed above the haze of Routes 1&9, its round neon sign swinging to a perpetual rhythm. In all my years living in Elizabeth, I had never seen it stationary. Oily reflections of various colors glistened on the asphalt.

“I hate this friggin’ overpass,” I said, turning cautiously into the McClellan Street ramp. “There’s always some asshole trucker coming around at a million miles—and you can’t see him, you know?”

“Yeah,” he responded absentmindedly, his blue eyes sorting through the outside darkness, battling the interruptive windshield wipers. I made my way over the arc of the bridge. It was treacherously curved.

“You see what I mean? I’m always blind to the other side. You catch a glimpse of the headlights, and a second later—boom—there it is—the big flat nose of a Peterbilt.”

“You did all right; just take it easy.”

“Horse,” everyone called him that in Uruguay, though his real name was Andrés. “I have to be honest with you, man. I’m a bit nervous. I mean, looking for cemeteries is not my idea of a night—“



“I think it’s around here—slow down.”

To our right, a stout metal fence bordered a vast graveyard that stretched to the glow of a yellow horizon; airport runways, highway lights, and hotel windows kindled the humidity of the night.

The brewery was now planted in the background. Steam engulfed its relentless red sign, and there was a bizarre effect—almost like that of lightning contained in a thick cloud. The distant lampposts of Bee-bee’s Airport Car Rental defined the tops of slanted tombstones.

“We can’t go in there, Horse. Look at the size of that fence. See there? Even the main gate is locked.”

Andrés ignored this as I stopped the car. He scanned the area calmly. Finally turning to look ahead, and after what seemed like a dense moment of concentration, he spoke.

“I have to get this done tonight.”

“Why don’t you just call him up and tell him off if you hate him that much? Look—just tell him we will never play for him again. Screw it!”

“This is better. Besides—he did this to us—not just me.”

“I told you from the beginning not to trust the prick. I don’t like anybody who’s not willing to pay up front. The gig we did in SoHo was clear—200 bucks for the show, and that’s it—no tickets to sell, no flyers—”

“I distributed all the flyers I got from this guy. I promoted my ass off, and he doesn’t pay us? He lies about all the people that came to the show with the flyers we gave them. And then he says, ‘Sorry, guys—no cash tonight. Not enough people were here for you.’ Bullshit!”

“Why are you so shocked by this? You know music’s a dirty—”

“I don’t give a shit how dirty it is! I want my money! He cashed in at our people’s expense—our friends—the people who have supported the band from the beginning, my friend.”

I had to agree, but something about the way he sought revenge frightened me. I began to understand why they called him “Crazy Horse” (El Caballo Loco). In Uruguay, caballo is a common slang term—it may be the equivalent of “dude” in America. But it could also be used to describe someone who is clumsily violent or careless. It is difficult to translate it adequately.

“What does it mean if you go through with this? Will he die?”

“No. He’ll be dead, but alive.”

He took a picture from his jacket pocket and traced the promoter’s face with his index finger.

“What I did was this: I wrote on the back of his picture that he should get what he deserves. Now I need cemetery dirt. If I bury his picture in it, he will experience a form of death. The older the cemetery, the better.”

I didn’t know what to say at this point, so I spoke as if it all made sense to me.

“Why tonight?”

“Because I have made the offerings slowly over the past week, and I don’t want the strength of my plans to be weak. If I don’t get it done, it might turn around on me.”

“You seriously believe in all of this?”

“You don’t?”

“I respect…the fact that…I don’t understand it. I don’t know.”

“You see this?” He dug for a necklace beneath his t-shirt. It had plastic beads of alternating blue and white.

“This was given to me by an old woman I knew in Piriapolis. Do you remember that city?”

“I haven’t been to Uruguay in seven years. I may have been around there.”

“Well, this is for protection. It’s associated with a goddess of the ocean.”

“I’m a little lost—”

“Let me finish. When I had my motorcycle accident, I was in the hospital for nine months. I can’t even explain to you what the pain was like; I had all sorts of metal rods—in my leg, thigh—up my ass—shit—I don’t know—everywhere, man. I don’t wish that on anybody, believe me.”

“Do you want me to start driving again while you keep talking?”

“Just wait—what do you have to go do? Watch TV?”


“Okay, then. Anyway, when I crashed in that intersection at the center of Montevideo—remember—I mentioned it to you?”


“Well, it must have been about a week since I split with my wife, you know? This friend of mine who knew her told me that she had gone to see one of these brujos to do a job on me, do you understand?”

“Not really.”

“My accident, man. My wife set up my accident.”

“But you told me before that you were speeding like a madman—that you shouldn’t have been such a big shot on the bike—”

“Yes, I told you that the last time—but what happened didn’t have to happen. I had acted up before, you know? I’m Crazy Horse, man—you know that!”

He smiled with pride.

“So you’re telling me that your wife hooked up with some witch doctor or something and did you in?”

“Exactly. And it worked. That’s why after I got better I went to see this lady in Piriapolis. She did this birth chart on me and told me that my guardian was related to the sea. That’s why I wear this necklace, man. It’s my protector. And better yet, since I came to the US, there are now bodies of water between me and my country, you see? No one from down there can touch me. My necklace and the distance break the hexes. ”

“Is this the way you handle—?”

“No. You don’t do everything based on this. But I’ve learned a few things before coming here two years ago. I can’t talk about all of them, but let’s just say they work.”

I said nothing as I slowly put the car into drive. After a few blocks, probably at the corner of Floral Avenue, we saw it. It was a small cemetery that seemed abandoned. It was totally out of place next to an auto body shop. Andrés noticed that the gate allowed easy passage for it was bent and rusted. The tombstones were old and mossy; beer cans, cigarette butts, potato chip bags, and plastic soda bottles were strewn everywhere.

“Park here and stay in the car. Let me borrow your jacket. It’s got a hood and it will protect me from the rain. As soon as I bury the picture and say what I have to say, I’ll be right back.”

He slammed the door of the car, and the intense rain made it difficult for me to see what he was doing. But that wouldn’t have made a difference. I turned on the radio and thought about when I met him.

He was the keyboard player who couldn’t play the keyboard—but I owed him my chance to be in his band. He had moved in next door, and one afternoon, after I finished practicing my electric guitar, he knocked on my door.

“That was good. You want to be in a band?”

All I had been doing was going to work at the office and coming back to play to the emptiness of my apartment.

“Sure,” I said almost immediately.

We made plans to meet with the rest of his group on a Saturday. After a brief audition, I was in. Andrés took a Polaroid of me while I was playing.

“What is that for?”

“I keep track of my friends. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Uh…no. I guess not.”

Since they were doing Spanish rock, it was easy to get gigs in important places—especially in the Village. There was virtually no competition. Within a week, I went from fooling around with the guitar in my bedroom to having a scheduled gig at S.O.B.’s on Varick and Houston. Not bad.

The elation of such an opportunity had made me ignore some concerns. For instance, I couldn’t understand why the rest of the band put up with Crazy Horse and his lack of musical talent. He played his Yamaha keyboard like a bad typist, using only his index fingers.

Shortly after I had joined the band, to show him gratitude, I bought him a book of piano chord formations, explaining to him that he needed to do some learning. I presented him with the material cautiously. I feared he would be insulted, but to my relief, he was grateful.

“Anything for the benefit of the band,” he affirmed.

The drummer, Marcos, told me once that Crazy Horse had little going for him, and that the band was an escape from the daily grind of making money to send to his daughter in Uruguay. Yes, Marcos knew he couldn’t play. Yes, everyone realized he was tone-deaf. On stage, they’d just turn his volume down, and whatever notes he’d tinker with would be muffled by the guitars. But he had stage presence. The girls liked his long blond hair. He was thin, young, and attractive. It didn’t hurt the band.

I didn’t care. I had never expected to join a band to call the shots. Once during a rehearsal, when our singer expressed doubts, Marcos put an abrupt end to the questions.

“Horse and me put this band together. We are friends. I don’t want to hear complaints. Miguelito has bought him a chord book, and he’s advancing more each time. You don’t like it, find another band. I know promoters in New York—I got work coming. I can do it with or without you.”

I remained silent throughout the reprimand, and they liked this about me. I played their songs, adding solos where appropriate, never stirring trouble—just getting the job done...

As I waited for Andrés to return from the cemetery, though, I thought about whether or not Marcos was under any supernatural threats.

“Stupid,” I said, the word losing itself in the rain that tapped strongly on my car roof. The opening and closing of the passenger door flooded the car with the angry sound of that summer shower. The deed was done.

“Let’s go,” he said, “I already washed the dirt off my hands with the rain. Do you have a towel?”


I headed home. As we waited at a red light on the corner of Madison and North Avenues, I began to inquire.

“Horse? How can you believe in this stuff? What has it gotten you?”

Now he seemed offended, but I couldn’t deal with the odd discomfort of the entire situation anymore. It was simply insane. He stared at me momentarily, and then smirked.

“Look, Miguelito. Let’s talk like men. I’m 29—two years older than you. There’s no need to dance around the issue.”


“You’ve been out of Uruguay for how long now?”

“Seventeen, eighteen years—”

“You see? What the hell do you know?”

“No offense, Horse, but not all Uruguayans are into this weird shit, and you know it.”

“Yes, you’re right. But all Uruguayans know of it, and if you can use it in your favor somehow—why not?”

“You’re in America now. You have to—”

“Don’t give me that. You should never forget where you’re from. Look at you, man. You don’t even have anything on your car that says you’re from Uruguay—no bumper sticker or flag on the rearview mirror—”

“Why should I have anything?”

“Hey, look—I can respect that, but you should be proud.”

“What does any of this have to do with pride? You just buried a picture in a cemetery to get back at a Mexican promoter who screwed us out of 100 bucks, maximum!”

“He screwed us, and it has everything to do with it!”

“Does the magic help you play the piano?”

That was not the right question to ask. I felt his anger in the silence. Suddenly, the windshield wipers were audible. When he eventually spoke, his words were grave.

“It can’t be used for that.”

“I didn’t mean it in a bad way.” He could sense my guilt. “But what about your own willpower? What about the fact that you had to leave your country after so many sacrifices so you could make it elsewhere? You work so hard for your kid, Horse. Do you know what I mean? You don’t need to dabble with—”

“There are things you’ll never understand.”

We rode quietly until North turned into Elmora Avenue; then we made small talk. I made a left on Vine Street by Carteret Park and began looking for a parking spot. There was no way we’d get anything on our street.

When we arrived at our apartments, he told me he had something to show me and invited me to come in. I had never been in his home, but I knew that Rafael Bayardo, a Uruguayan who had turned his two-family house into a multiple-dwelling complex, rented a room to him illegally.

Andrés lived in a sealed porch at the back of the house. He had to share a bathroom in the basement with three other tenants—immigrants who would never complain to the city. They needed a cheap place to live in, one that attracted little attention. It was within walking distance of his job at the car wash. Andrés paid $75.00 a week. I resided in the second-floor apartment of the adjoining house.

Before he unlocked the entrance to his room, I saw a flickering golden light coming from underneath his door. Inside, the smell of scented wax mixed with perspiration assaulted my nostrils at once. Several candles toiled to fulfill wishes scribbled on pieces of paper that were taped to each of the tall glass containers. There were jagged shadows dancing everywhere on the walls and ceiling. He had pinned up some flyers from our gigs by his sunken cot. They surrounded a wallet-size photo of his daughter.

“You see all this? This is for us, man. For us!”

Tears formed in his eyes, and I felt bad—almost thankful for this awkward, passionate dedication to the success of the band. There must have been at least 12 candles crowding every available space.

He pointed at each one, never disturbing any of them; apparently, they were too sacred to touch. Solemnly, he explained his wishes.

“This one is for fame in music. This one is for me. You see how the glass is a little smoked, a little black?”

I nodded.

“It’s getting rid of the negative shit, man. This one here I have for my daughter. One day, Miguel, if we make it—when we make it—I plan to bring her here and give her everything. Do you think she’ll be impressed by a famous dad?”

“…Of course…”

“Yes. We’re going to make it.”

“I think you’re right,” I asserted, wanting to encourage him and lighten the tension. “This is Elizabeth—the city of dreams.”

He chuckled healthily and put his hand on my shoulder.

“It sure is, Miguelito.”

Within a few months, the band dissolved. Our singer quit, and with him went the songs. Andrés’ apartment had burned severely. His Yamaha keyboard was melted in the process. The house itself was only slightly affected. The fire department concluded that unattended candles had started the blaze. Andrés was probably at work when it happened. In the end, he was forced to move in with a co-worker who lived on Catherine Street off Elizabeth Avenue.

Bayardo told the authorities that it had been his mistake, since he couldn’t afford to have them believe that he rented out such a small room. After Andrés left, Bayardo could be heard referring to him in derisive mumbles as he supervised repairs performed by some of his other immigrant tenants.

“Filthy, careless bastard.”

As to our friendship, Andrés still calls with dreams about another band, but I tell him that I’m busy. Though he seemed disappointed when I spoke to him last week, his mood changed when he assured me that the Mexican promoter—from what he had last heard—was really sick.

“You see, Miguelito? You see?”