En Las Calles Vuela (fuego) by Joseph Cárdenas


Joseph A Cárdenas is an MFA student at the University of California Riverside. He is the son of Los Angeles and Inmigrantes.

I’m sitting in my chair looking at Shelly trying to figure out how in the world to tie this bow so it look fancy and neat and shit like hers. My Nino walk out his room shirtless cross the TV breaking not this gaze and haze we all cousins hold now shared in the patterned fabric we all tether/tie on back these chairs that resemble the size we gonna see in the salón pa’ Jasmine Quince’. I cannot get it right and all Shelly and Boo keep doing is staring at me while they no-look tie their 30th each thinking I am purposefully messing up mine each time. My Nino stop by the window to the front lawn to look at me and say “Damn Joe, they got you doing women shit?”

To which I reply, “Nah Nino, I wanted to do it. I asked to help.”

Through the front window to Roses’ baby daddy Anthony outside on the lawn my Nino shout some chiste. Anthony laugh and continue eating his sazonado chicken from somewhere down the road, “by the bank, that US Bank, pues” he says. My Nino nod and go walking toward the side door outside, grabbing his clean ass warm muscle-tee from the dryer on the way.

Issa hot and to move is some bullshit so this whole act of arm waving folding bows on sixty-three more chairs don’t seem too much of an appealing way to spend the day. But until my grandma can finish sewing Jasmine’s dress so as to we can begin cooking, this the help I am bound to. And with each bow folded, and each one of my sisters or tia’s or cousins grabbing and adjusting it just right--without telling me it wrong--I gain a more defined sense of my uselessness and lack of skill. Not in las cosas of which my Nino says are that ‘Women Shit,’ but in all cosas not ‘Man Shit.’ And even in the cosas that are ‘Man Shit’.

Really what I shoulda done was ask my Nino what the ‘Man Shit’ cosas would look like. Nino, what ‘The Man Shit’ cosas look like? As to be able to differentiate from the ‘Woman Shit’ cosas? What would be some the wild shit you and all else in da fam’ who call themself a man do, huh? Like por ejemplo, make your wife out to look like a fool. Or, more specifically, cheat on your wife so that everyone in the family know and work in unison to keep it a secret from her and then have everyone in the family blow up on her when she be trippin’ about you having a side chick. Or maybe not buying groceries for my grandma feeding her eleven grandkids, four of them yours. Or maybe the getting drunk and high every day thing, or the losing your job every week thing, or the buying new cars every month thing. You tell me, Nino, digame what would the ‘Man Shit’ cosas be so as to I could, I could write them shits down for the next Quince’. We could stick to doing them. Stay in my room doing the ‘Man Shit’ cosas whitchu all day. We ain’t even gotta call it the ‘Man Shit’ cosas, we could call it the ‘Not Woman Shit’ cosas.

I am overthinking the ‘Man Shit’ cosas while staring at the bottom of my grandparents entertainment center and I hear this yelling. I imagine the thoughts I am lost in have conjured the sound but I look up and see my grandma staring out the front window pointing. Pointing and muttering, pointing and muttering my thoughts outta time. While staring at my grandma in her I hear over and over Spanish I cannot seem to understand, over and over my grandmother beginning to pull her hair, screaming for someone to listen to her. Suddenly everything come back into understanding.

“La Vieja! La Vieja! La Vieja vive alli!” She says crying, screaming into the outside, into the block, pulling with one hand her hair and the other pointing across the street.

My grandma’ house the second off the corner Virginia and Heser, from her window she see black smoke shooting into the air from this Vieja house cross the other corner a’ Virginia and Heser. I jump up out the chair to see what she see out the window, my Nino them come into view standing the front lawn. He look at me and grandma through the window. Turn around, look at the fire. He say Oh Shit, pull his blanquitito muscle-tee he got from Plaza Mexico over his head, he put that bitch right on in the front yard. This whole time Anthony does the same exact shit as my Nino does, look at me and grandma through the window. Turn around, look at the fire. He say Oh Shit, take a last bite from his sazonado chicken as my grandma keep screaming and kickin’, “la Vieja, la Vieja!”

I ain’t got no muscle-tee or sazonado chicken as her voice mixes with the fire across the block I run in my plastic five-dollah Stadium Swap Meet Guaraches, dodging cars reversing from the flames, hearing this Vieja’s caged birds she got in the backyard beat themselves onto the wires of their cage. I am being moved now by some instinct I do not have. I can hear everything and everyone beginning to form a crowd around the home. These birds screaming ‘cause of the people or the fire.

         The front of this Vieja’s fence is a group of people standing around watching, a lady crying on the sidewalk calling the police trying to explain where we are--wit’ her broken ass English. Some younger boy and me get to her front gate at the same time. I look at him and he look at me. From this look, what I find in his face is that neither one of us know this woman or what is really going on. We both fumble to open the chain-link fence, as I get ready to hop in over the top, lo abre.

He yell, “Senora!

Our knocks at the front door match-match, taking turns twisting the knob-knob, ringing the doorbell. I feel my grandma fear for the woman, I begin to fear for the woman, the Vieja. The boy look at me again, I want him to stop looking at me. He move to the side of the house, quickly jump the wooden door standing my shoulder height. I move to the side of the house and practice jumping over the wooden door. This bitch tall. My Nino finally come up next to me on the other side of the chainlink fence and takes a look.

“Oh fuck that” He says.

I don’t know if he saying fuck that to jumping the wooden door or to the growing black smoke in the backyard but I’m looking at the wooden door now and thinking of the boy who jumped this bitch como sin nada and now I’m like, nah imma bout to jump this bitch como sin nada too. My Nino and I keep staring at each other before he walk away from me and the fence, toward the back of this house on fire. I don’t bother to peek my head over the chain-link fence to see where he went, I stand at the gate hearing the fire cracking wood the other side, my grandma somewhere crying Vieja, and still the birds--the birds still screaming.

I hop this tall wooden door ass bitch and when I land in the backyard my Nino does too in his Nike slip-on guaraches and white-tee. The side fencing is shorter. A Doberman and pug come running toward us blind, eyes gone from here. I picture us getting mauled by these ugly ass animals but they run past us through a door Anthony has somehow opened from the side fencing. He look at my Nino and I as if he done something wrong when we hear a palm frond snap from where the fire is beginning to wrap around the tree and electric pole above the garage. This stranger boy turning savior boy is banging on the back door and windows, trying to rip something open and yelling Senora! and we hear nothing. I look through the windows, banging on panes and yelling for the woman when I realize finally, that no one is home.

There is another dog barking from the fire when I look and see the cage opened by the boy, freeing a Chihuahua who I like to remember covered in flames like some wild Xolito out the fence crying with its tongue flying. I get closer to the fire and it grows closer to me, I hadn’t known something so angry annoying. The birds sitting to my left are yelling into my ear – ayudame, ayudame – and I don’t speak bird but I know these stupid bitches afraid. Birds bound by no sky, look where they find themselves now. I don’t look at them. Disappointing creatures. My feet are feathers now, small ones colored pink and blue and yellow falling over the ground over me pouring as I see a line of water make its way to my chanclas. In my chanclas blood pooling at the bottom of my heel I feel my foot sticky. I lift my foot up and down off the chancla feeling how sticky the blood has become the bottom of my foot. I dip my bare foot into the now puddling water.

Follow the line and see my nino trying to put the fire out with a water hose he picked from the garage. He spraying above the flames but the pressure so low he put the hose down and go to turn the knob more. I’m there just watching. Wanting to tell him that he has to aim the water at the base to exhaust it. He give the hose more water and aim again, above the flames, and I just keep watching. I feel the heat of the fire turning the water my nino is spraying into a warm mist onto my face. I imagine my Chanclas melting onto the cement here, how angry my parents would be if they found out I was this close to the fire, how my face has never felt this warm. How a sun so close and holy ain’t brilliant like the special fire of this fire. I hear sparks above us as the flames reach the transistors of this electric pole and somewhere between all this I notice that the stranger boy turned savior boy has left and that Anthony, from the other side of the spiked fence, is shouting us to get out as my Nino keeps on. There is a tarp beginning to burn above us, smoke coming from the base of the garage door, and I imagine now the door imploding from a propane tank or gas or paint and before any of this can happen I yell to my Nino, “Ya vamanos! Ya tío, dejalo ya. Ya we can’t do anything tío, ya!”

To which he replies, “Shit – fuck it, let’s go!” and throws the water hose still spitting onto the floor.

         Outside the gate the whole neighborhood gathers and I ain’t realize till now that Lynwood has so many citizens. All the Browns and Blacks and those en medio look on as flames shoot plumas from the palm being taken. Like a cookout we used to have in Lynwood Park when we were kids, where everyone would show up for baseball games, where we would throw water fountain water to cool off.

I see my Nino talking to some old timers at the corner so I go up to my sisters standing at grandma’s corner and Shelly grabs my arm and tells me she was scared, that I coulda gotten hurt and I tell her no and give her a hug and say it’s okay, that I wouldn’t have stayed long enough.

We all stand and watch the flames continuing to take the garage and the electric pole and wait to hear the sirens of police or fire trucks. The fire station less than four blocks away but my Nino says, “Naaah, we in Lynwood…. them fuckers ain’t gonna bring their asses over here,” and runs inside so his size forty-six shorts ass hanging out the back, a crack covered by his white tee avoid the police.

We wait and we wait and we wait and finally when I feel my foot start to hurt I turn and walk back to grandma’s, pick one of my cousins up standing there along the fence, and rub my face into his cheek. When he laugh I make the sound like I’m eating his face, the way my grandpa used to do me when I was this age. The way I hated it. My cousin tries to force my face away from his. I kiss him on the cheek.

When I finally hear sirens I look back to see the sun setting behind the 105, my sisters looking back at me, and police beginning to set their cars up to block the crowd. The Vieja’s dogs are panting around everyone’s yards, their eyes showing a fear dogs pretend they don’t have, here in Lynwood where they shoot wild dogs, where the chamucos, the xolos end up in trash cans.

Through the front door my grandma grabs me and says, “Aye mijo, porque me hiciste eso? Si tu mama y tu apa – aye mijo.”

My Nino goes, “Aye, what about me? I was there too huh Joe? With the fucking water hose--asi!” He makes a hissing sound, crouching, assuming his position as pretend firefighter of the garage.

I hug her here and say “Yeah grandma, mi Nino estaba alli con la manguera, tratando de pagar el fuego.” She starts to laugh, “Como loco!” I say.

She hugs me tighter and rubs my eyebrows, “Aye mijo”

I look through her front window and watch the savior boy open the cage doors of the birds. They pour out over the sky, away from the smoke, tirando dichos.


The Acentos Review 2019