Alejandro Nodarse

Los Neighbors


Alejandro Nodarse holds an MFA from the University of Miami. An alum and former staff member of the VONA Writers Conference, he was recently the Fiction Artist in Residence at The Deering Estate in Miami. A former independent bookseller, he now teaches creative writing at the University of Nebraska, where he is also a Head Teaching Artist in the Nebraska Writers Collective’s Young Writers Camp. His work has appeared in Florida English, Burrow Press, and elsewhere.

Once a day, from the window in which he sat in, Conner G. Harrison watched Azúcar Prieta rumble by after Iggy Guerra finished his shift at La Carnicería Guerra. He hated that word, car-nih-ser-ee-a, and the only reason he even looked in the direction of the old butcher’s shop was to catch a glimpse of the ’69 Camaro as it turned north and headed back to wherever it was those people lived. He thought that the car’s name was stupid too, but since everyone in his new business’ neighborhood referred to it by name, as if it were one of them, he’d taken to practicing the name, Ah-zoo-car Pree-eh-ta, so as not to sound too much like an outsider. He hadnt seen this newest member of the Guerra clan until recently and was surprised that Ig-nah-see-o had such a nice car considering he was a recently-released felon.  But that’s what those people did, spent money on things like jewelry and cars instead of paying their bills. All the business owners around Conner’s soon-to-open venture, The Chop Shop—the name being one of his proudest creationsspoke about this new Guerra as if he were a myth, a touch of awe and tenderness in their voice whenever they brought him up—especially when they talked about how he stopped at his mother’s cross down the block before and after he left work—and Conner hated him instantly.

Conner knew how these Cubans were, clumping together the way snow did on his boots as a kid, and everyone in the neighborhood liked this family despite the fact that they were a mess, especially since the mother had been hit and killed by a car. When Conner’s father said that he wouldn’t buy him anything in Wynwood or Little Haiti because those areas were too expensive, he’d looked into West Kendall and quickly learned that the Guerra family ran a tight ship. But before opening the location down the block from them, Conner had visited Lah Car-nih-ser-ee-a Geh-rah to buy meat and ask some questions as part of the recon his investors insisted on. The place was clean and organized, but aside from what he could see for himself, they shared nothing with him; they acted as if what happened on their side of the counter was more important than customer service. A fat old woman had come in talking Spanish, and the conversation grew so loud and so animated that Conner was sure no one noticed when he’d left. But he chose the location because no one else was here; it was totally undiscovered and it gave him a chance to stand out, to make a name for himself as an entrepreneur and tastemaker. He’d relayed all this to his father, and though his budget wasn’t as big as he’d hoped for, but he’d make the most of it, considering how quickly the only rival The Chop Shop had was struggling.

Conner pulled his phone back from his pocket, checked the time, and scribbled his name on the notebook in front of him. He came in every morning and staged the same setup—papers and notebooks scattered across the table nearest the front window—so that there would be no doubt as to how hard he was working to make The Chop Shop a success. His diligence would transform him into a success. “Perception is reality,” he’d heard his father say once, and that had stuck with Conner more than anything his seven years of college had failed to teach him. When his assistant or any construction workers or designers came in, they’d see Conner G. Harrison floating in a sea of work, and they’d know who he was. And if his father ever came in person to evaluate the restaurant’s progress, he’d see how industrious his son was and be happy.

A car rumbled from down the block, and Conner looked up to see if it was Ignacio and his Camaro. He was disappointed when a garbage truck rolled by. Conner wanted that Camaro, thought he’d look better in it than that thug. He wasn’t afraid of any ex-con, and he decided that one of these days, he’d walk over there and introduce himself to Ignacio, to let them all know that The Chop Shop meant business and was here to stay. He wouldn’t be ignored by them any longer.

He checked his phone again. He had no new emails, but the photo of him holding a papaya up by his face while staring at it awkwardly had 48 new likes. He checked The Chop Shop’s social media accounts, each had gained new followers. Ever since leaving Boston for Miami last year, he’d made a point of posting photos that made it clear that he was living the life now, that he was part of the weird, exotic fabric that made Miami the city it was. He could have moved anywhere, really. Could have opened up his restaurant in any city, but he had a thing for big-booty Latinas and their sun-kissed bodies. That and Miami had areas that begged for urban revitalization and had other investors flying in to buy up property; not to mention that it was cheaper than most west coast cities and less yee-haw than most of the South.

The space echoed as the crew installing the kitchen gear came in. There was still so much to do, and if he didn’t get it all done in time for the grand opening, he risked his father’s ire, and potentially being cut off. He shot an email off to his assistant to confirm whether or not the marquee for the front of the restaurant would be done today, and that the kitchen would be ready by week’s end. He’d gone with red neon for the marquee, something that would make the Guerra’s sign feel its age. The Chop Shop would draw everyone into this area, and they’d have to credit him for revitalizing this dump of a neighborhood.

Conner tucked his phone back into his pocket and typed Ignacio Guerra into his browser’s search bar, opting to summon him on his screen instead of passively waiting for him to drive by.



When Conner G. Harrison decided that he was going to meet Ignacio Guerra, he wore a new Bogosse suit. He walked down the block to La Carnicería Guerra without unbuttoning the burgundy jacket so that he’d make the best impression possible when he walked in. Sweat dampened in his armpits by the time he reached the shop’s door, but he smiled anyways as he opened it.

Bells jingled as he stepped in, and Conner looked down at a cluster of bells tied to the inside handle, wondering why the hell anyone would use literal bells when electronic chimes were available. He undid the button of his jacket and refocused, sliding his hand past the inside of the coat and into his pocket as if he’d reached the end of a catwalk.

It’s hot out there, ain’t it Conny? a voice said. Conner looked up and was met with a long neck topped by a toothy smile and a faux-hawk.

“It’s Conner.”

Right, right. Con-nah. Hazme un favor, Con-nah, y close the door for me.”

Conner stepped inside and the door jingled shut behind him.

“Now what can I get for you, Con-nah? And just so you know, we’re all out of sausage, but aside from that, I got all the meat you can handle. And nice neon sign you got on your place, by the way. Real classy.

Conner tilted his head like a confused puppy and searched the face beneath the ridiculous doorstop of a hairdo. “Have we met?”

“You met my uncle and cousin when you first bought your spot. They went over to welcome you but you were getting a Che Guevara mural painted in there. You remember them, right? They look like a pro wrestling tag team. But to answer your question, no. We haven’t formally met. You came in here a while back and tried to chat us up but we were mad busy so you slipped out before we could get to you.”

“You let him leave empty handed,” a deep voice said as a figure pushed through the vinyl curtain separating the back of the shop from the front. He was long and wide and muscular, like one of those athletes who could just as easily deadlift a car as jump over it. The thick eyebrows and beard confused Conner; he thought Cubans worked here, but this guy looked like some kind of Arab. 

“You’re a shitty salesman, Dro.” He placed a tray of meat on the counter and began restocking the display case.

Conner watched as they finished their display by propping up a handwritten sign with the price per pound on the steak at the front of the case. When they’d finished, they stood and looked back at him.

Dro nodded toward Conner, but it was clear that he wasn’t addressing him.

—¿Qué te parece este tipo?

—Así que este es el dueño del restaurante nuevo.

—Mírale la pinta que tiene. Me dan ganas de entrarle a piñazos.

—No, primo, el tipo se viste bien. ¿Pero qué querrá nuestro neighbor nuevo?

Conner stood still, but he couldn’t help feeling that he was being twisted around like an unsolved Rubik’s cube, examined from all angles by the two butchers and their foreign language. He thought he understood the words “clown”, “conquistador”, and “avalanche” as they made coffee and continued to speak to each other while looking at him, and Conner began to think that this visit wasn’t a good idea. “That’s a dope Camaro,” he said when he couldn’t take it anymore.

“So Conner,” the bearded one finally said, “What good?”

“He’s here ‘cause he wants to learn how to run a butcher shop,” Dro said.

“I just wanted to come in and formally introduce myself to you guys. I’m Conner Harrison.” He held his hand out over the tall counter at an awkward angle.

“I’m Ignacio,” the man said as he put down his tiny cup of coffee and shook Conner’s hand. It was a firm shake, but Conner knew he wasn’t trying to crush his hand.

“Hi, Iggy. It’s good to finally meet you.” 

“It’s Ignacio.” 

“Ok, as you like.” Conner looked up at his hand, which Ignacio hadn’t released.

“Yeah, that’s what I like. So what’s up?”

“Like I said, I wanted to be neighborly and come say hi.”

“You already did that.”

Conner pulled his hand out of Iggy’s. “I’m not sure if I’ve insulted you. I’m sorry if I have; I didn’t mean to.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’ve already answered your question.” 

“No, why are you on this block?”

Conner scratched his eyebrow because he wasn’t sure what to do. He then faked a cough to buy himself a moment to figure out what to say. How could this friendly visit have gone so poorly right away? Why were these guys being so hostile toward him?

You know what, fuck you,” he said, pointing a finger in Iggy’s face. I came over here to introduce myself, to show you some respect since I’m the new guy on the block. I don’t know what I did to you, but whatever it was, it doesn’t mean you can treat me like shit.” 

Ignacio turned toward Dro, his eyebrows arched up in what Conner knew was feigned surprise, then came around the counter.

“No, Conner, fuck you. You move onto our block and open, of all things, a butcher shop. Then you come over here acting like we’re boys when what you should be doing is hiding your face in shame inside your new shop. Who do you think you are, coming over here like it’s all good?”

I’m trying to be civil, but you’re interpreting my actions by taking them personal. They’re not. It’s just business.”


“Excuse me?”

“Personally, Conner. Not personal, personally. And yeah, I’m taking this personally. You’re fucking with our livelihoods. And not out of necessity; you’re doing it because you can.”

Conner backed away, still unsure what the problem was.

I’m a businessman,” he said, stating the obvious in case this idiot butcher had missed it. “I saw a gap in the market and I jumped on it.

“A gap. You saw a gap? In the butcher shop market. Really, Conner? You saw a gap in the butcher shop market… in this neighborhood.”

“I own a restaurant. Only a tiny portion of it is a butcher shop.”

In this neighborhood.

“There aren’t any restaurants in this neighborhood.”

“Really? What’s that over there?” Iggy asked, pointing to the cafeteria on the corner across the street.

Conner followed Iggys finger. What he saw was a bunch of dirty factory workers—all Cubes, no doubt—standing around with dirty clothes, sipping that sweetened jet fuel they called coffee. “That’s not a restaurant.

Yes, Conner. It is a restaurant. Folks in this area eat there every day.

“It’s a fucking dump. It needs to be cleaned and renovated.”

“See, that’s your problem right there, Conner. You swoop in here and think you can dictate what’s good and what isn’t. What should and shouldn’t be here. You think your money entitles you to decide how things should be.

Conner dug his hands farther into his pockets, baffled by these people’s complete misreading of the situation. Were they really that dense? How could they not see that his restaurant was going to save this area, that it was going to bring real people with real money.

 “My money has nothing to do with this. There aren’t any real businesses in this area. I’m here to serve this community! You should actually be thankful; I’m actually good for you and your property value.

“Thankful? You have no idea what’s good for this neighborhood, Conner. You bring your rich ass down here, buy a building outright, and you suddenly think you’re an expert on real estate, the city of Miami, and everything that deals with our culture, our history, and who we are. You’re the worst thing that could happen to this neighborhood.”

Conner shrugged. “You don’t deserve to be here if you can’t stand a little competition.” He looked around the shop, at the old display cases, the kitschy board where all the prices were written by hand, the silly “Thanks for Coming In!” sign that looked like it had been drawn by a child—he truly looked at it for the first time. “By the looks of this place, you don’t deserve to be here at all.”

“Fuck yourself, Conny.” Dro spat over the counter. “Mauro! Get out here and listen to this White boy talking about—”

“Do you hear yourself?” Ignacio said, holding a hand out to Dro. “You’re literally doing what I said was the problem. You’re literally coming in here in that suit and declaring what should and shouldn’t be.”

“This suit is called formalwear. It’s what’s worn when doing business. And I didn’t make things this way, ok? That’s just how things are.”

“My guayabera is formalwear, Conner. Listen, this is a real talk we’re having. Don’t get defensive. This is a chance for you to learn.”

“I’m sick of you talking to me like this. Skip to the part where you tell me to check my privilege already.”

Ignacio took a deep breath and exhaled slowly; Conner could tell he had gotten into his head and that he was trying to calm himself.

“Okay, fine. Answer me this: how many things on your menu have the word ‘Cuban’ in them?” Ignacio asked.


“How many items on your menu have the word ‘Cuban’ in them?”

“None,” Conner lied. “Why?”

“I’ve seen your menu online, Conner. You have Cuban steak, something called Cuban sauce, some other shit called Cuban spices, Cuban rice with Cuban beans, and some shit called a Cuban Island.”

“Right. What’s the problem with that?” Conner asked, freeing his hands from his pockets.

“Who you trying to reach with names like that? It ain’t Cubans, we don’t call our food ‘Cuban’. It’s just food. You said you were here to serve the community, but you don’t know anything about it. Do you see us selling ‘Cuban’ steaks, or just steak?”

“Wow bro, just wow. You people really can’t stand a little competition. Fine, whatever. Enjoy the last few shitty months you have here. It was just business, but now it’s personal, Iggy.

“He’s really bad at this listening thing,” Ignacio said as he turned to Dro. “Like really bad. You people?”

 “Bro, Iggy, don’t waste your time,” Dro said.

“Why are you so fucking mad?” Conner asked. “What did I ever do to you?”

“I’m mad at you because you get to buy whatever you want, wherever you want, and ruin people’s lives without having to understand how. Just ‘cause you can.

“I earned everything I have. You can’t blame me because no one wants to buy gross meat from a bunch of Scarfaces. This place should have been closed down years ago.

“What the fuck did he just say?” Mauro said as he stepped into the front of the store and straight past the counter.

Iggy held his hand out. “Get out of my shop,” Ignacio said, opening the door.

Your shop. Wow. You got out of jail and you’re suddenly a business owner? That’s impressive. Did you steal this business from your parents, just like you did that pharmacy?” He let that hang in the air for a moment. “Yeah, you’re not the only one who can look things up on the Internet.”

“Salpica. Now.”

Conner knew he’d struck a nerve when Iggy struggled to say those last two words, when he’d paused between them.

“No. You get out,” he said, driving a finger into Iggy’s chest. It felt like he’d poked a cinderblock, but he pressed on. “And take this place with you. I’m ok right where I am. In fact, I’m so comfortable here that I could stand in this spot until your mother shows up.” He looked up at Iggy, stared into his eyes, and let his words slam into him with enough force to unbalance him. I thought she’d be here. I guess she got stuck in traffic.

Ignacio closed the door. Conner immediately regretted his words; the room closed in on him and now all that existed was the space between him and Ignacio. He knew he’d crossed a line and couldn’t look Ignacio in the face. “I’m sorry,” he murmured to his feet. He could feel Ignacio straining, humming, twitching, waiting to blow like a microwave full of cans. His blazer felt skintight around his chest. He tightly closed his eyes and hoped that the first punch would knock him out so that he wouldn’t feel the rest of the beating.

Nothing happened. He opened an eye and saw that Ignacio had his back to him. “Get out,” he said quietly, “and don’t ever come back. Ever.”

Conner was out the door before Ignacio finished his sentence. When he reached the sidewalk, he knew he’d gone too far, and that he formally needed to apologize. It was so hot out in the sun, and Conner wondered how much of that was his shame. He turned around and headed back toward La Carnicería Guerra’s front door. 


“If that motherfucker ever shows his face in here, or even looks at me wrong, I’ll crack his spine like a glow stick. Know that.” Iggy pushed past Mauro and Dro, returning to the frozen air of the prep room rather than into the scorching afternoon to deal with Conner. It had taken every ounce of restraint that he had to not bludgeon that White boy to death with his bare hands.

“Look at this,” Dro said, but Iggy was gone. Conner was coming back to the shop, totally unaware of how lucky he’d been that Iggy chose to let him walk away. 

Mauro turned on Dro and grabbed him by the collar. “Are you stupid? Don’t call Iggy: he will kill that white boy if he crosses that threshold. And we won’t be able to stop him.” He shoved Dro at the front door. “Make sure that fucking idiot doesn’t set foot in here.” He turned and walked past the counter. 

“Where are you going?” Dro asked, holding the door shut. 

“To try and stop Iggy from coming out here if you fuck up.”


The door was locked. Conner was about to knock when, through the glare, he saw Dro standing on the other side of the door. “Hey, I wanted to apologize for what I said. Can I talk to Iggy? I mean, Ignacio?”

Dro did not move.

“What I said was wrong,” Conner said.

Dro shook his head.

“Look bro, I just want to talk to him, you know, to apologize. Don’t be an asshole about this.”

Dro raised his thumb to his neck. Conner watched as he slowly dragged it across his throat. Dro pressed so hard against his skin that he left a red line across his Adam’s apple. When he’d finished the sweeping, cut-throat motion, he punched the glass. It boomed and rattled so loudly that Conner fell back onto his ass and out of the shade. He could feel his embarrassment rush into his face, an odd sensation that he was unaccustomed to, that made his chest feel hollow. Pebbles dug into the meat of his palms and he stood. “I’m going to bury you all,” he growled at Dro, who stood motionless. He tried brushing the dirt and dust from his slacks, but they were ruined.


The Acentos Review 2019