Diego Gerard


IN THE 1980’S MY FATHER RAN A TIRE REPAIR SHOP TWO HOURS WEST OF MEXICO CITY. The shop was in the middle of the country, along a desolate stretch of the federal road. Beside it there was a beer deposit, a modest grocery store and a rusty phone booth. Behind all this was the shed where we lived. The curvy road was crowded with huge political propaganda wallpaper, and the few shanties around had the names of future governors and political parties painted on them. There was nothing for another eighty miles, before the descent to east Boca del Diablo, the countryside town with the lake where all the rich city folk drove to on weekends. Those days you could hear cars humming by, approaching and drifting away; or huge lines of cars casting the reflection of the blazing sun on days of traffic. Patching tires was a hard way to make a living; my father always made that clear to me. We were always waiting for someone else’s misfortune, for the defective sound of a flat tire.  


One September morning in 1985 my father went to Mexico City to shop for tools. I stayed to guard the shop, in case business needed me. Early that morning though, before the sun had completely risen, a furious earthquake shook me out of bed, and had me running to the flat terrain beside the road. The epicenter had been near, closer to the west coast, but it had made the ground here tremble. The road had cracks and openings, and close by, parts of the road had sloped over others. The constructions seemed untouched, but the quietness of the air promised tragedy.

     The damage in Mexico City had been extensive, I had heard on the radio of a car that stopped by the shop. My father didn’t come back that evening. I never saw him again. With him, god took all the family I ever had. My mother had died well before, the minute I was born, right after labor. I never met her. It seemed everything that was near me died; my mother, my father, and the rotting road stop where I lived. I was left to handle the shop by myself, and tried to make a living.

A freeway was inaugurated two months ago. The Millennium Route. Nearly fifteen years had passed since my father’s death. The freeway was ready on the dot, New Year’s Day, year 2000. Two months is all it took to wipe this piece of land away, turn it into nothingness. With the opening of the Millennium Route maybe only a fifth of the cars drove by the shop; and it was them broke drivers that cannot pay the toll. Usually drivers who manage to change their own tires in an effort to save a coin or two. The Millennium Route provided a shortcut to Boca del Diablo, and it wasn’t as winding and curvy. The beer deposit went bankrupt, so did the grocery store. The propaganda that stood at the other side of the road was removed and only the metal structure remained. Most shanties were empty, and the few people who still lived here tried to make a pitiful living selling mushrooms that grew in the forests through which the road swirls.

     I had a bad spell during the dry months. Without damaged cars, and the beer deposit closed, I walked the lonesome road looking for alcohol. I walked the same stretch daily to a shanty that lay next to the road in a spot shaded by towering, bent trees. There lived Edmund, the skinny, wrinkled, dark man with a thick moustache that used to own the beer deposit.  His wooden home looked rural and austere on the outside, but once inside I walked on carpets of fine threads that lay on the dirt ground. He had all sorts of goods: canned foods, soda by the gallons and a couple bottles of booze. He was alone most of the daytime because he sent his wife and four children to gather mushrooms in the woods, to sell.

     I began having my meals at Edmund’s every day. All his goods were just piling up. It was as though he received a load of the stuff every day and was saving up for a time of catastrophe.

     I ate and shared his goods with him for a month before growing the courage to ask where he got everything from—a month in which I didn’t fix a single tire.

     He wasn’t eager to tell at first, but after a few sips on his tequila, he felt comfortable enough to confess.

     “Ever since I closed the deposit,” he began, “I was out of everything.” A feeling I knew well, that damn Millennium Route took our lives from us, just like that. “My children and wife were starving.”

     “I understand,” I told him, to let him know I was on his side.

     “All because of the new highway,” he said, “all because of them rich folks.” I could sense his tone elevating, swelling with wrath. “So every other night, me and a couple cousins of mine, cut down a tree, set it across the road and mug every single last soul that drives up. All you see here was packed on its way to San Juan. I mean everything. We get families, take their stuff; we get the beer truck. Just every last one of’em.”

     I said nothing, just nodded along to gain his sympathy, to gain the right to keep coming for food.

     “You want to keep on living?” he asked me rhetorically. “You better start thinking of a way to get what you want. Don’t be afraid to be a jackal about it.”

     I left Edmund’s home that afternoon drunk and lightheaded as the air of the forest struck my face. I wondered how Edmund grew the courage to hold a gun against people and dispossess them of their belongings. But he sure was surviving.

     I went past the shaded area of the road and into a curvy zone where only partial shade from the hills hits the pavement. I thought of my departed father and what my life had come to after he died. It was all sheer decadence, I was alone in the middle of nowhere, on a dry bit of land where everything had died: the grass, the businesses and the people.

     The sun was burning down on me, heavy trickles of sweat ran down my temples, and in that dazed state of drunkenness and tiredness, I saw the next shaded spot and dashed towards it. As I stepped onto the shadowy portion of pavement, I stepped on something that made me fall. I looked to my side, to where a snake slid, drawing a slimy S towards the side of the road. I had stepped on the snake without seeing it. Luckily it was only a water snake, for if I had stepped on a venomous one, it would have surely been death then and there, on the federal road, leaving no one left to patch them tires. 

     I continued my promenade home nervously, taking my time to examine the shaded ground. I got home as it started to cool down. Pale clouds sheltered the sun, and a constant hiss of wind disturbed the rubble in front of the shop. A soda truck went by with unusually rapid speed, surely hurrying to get to its destination before Edmund’s army of trees and men stopped it. The truck lifted a cloud of dust in which I became immersed. I was home, in my barren land, alone to absorb the bleak sunset before me. 

The days that followed, I kept eating at Edmund’s. He tried to coerce me to join his nightly escapades, but I declined, as politely and shyly as I could. “One day you’ll have to,” he said before chugging a can of beer. “This is my latest acquisition,” he said, holding a ceramic bust of a man with a bushy moustache just like his, “Malverde, the saint that guards all outlaws. He looks just like me, doesn’t he? You’ll be praying to him before long, you’ll see.”

     When I stumbled outside his shed, I was drunk beyond my limits. I still remembered the snake scene, and drunk as I was, I paid attention to the pavement beneath me. I thought of Edmund’s words, of how inevitable it was that I would join him in his crimes. How wicked he was that he paid cult to a saint to guard him during villainy. I wasn’t like him. I had been taught to earn life with work, even in times of hardship. I wasn’t about to pray to a made up saint, I had nothing left to pray for. I had nothing left to tell god, for since he took my father, there was no person whose soul I prayed for. And since god had been so malevolent, he did not deserve my faith, nor my repentance.

     I walked the stretch back home, hoping my toxicity would diminish, and when I turned past the final curve before the shop, a bright red car had its flashers winking; the remaining light of afternoon bounced off its bodywork. It was slightly crooked on one side, probably a flat tire, and there was no one there to fix it. I ran towards a man and his wife stranded on the lonesome road, yelling, “I’m the tire man, I’m the tire man.” I got to them, hoping they wouldn’t catch the stench of alcohol that I gave off. “Flat tire eh,” I said. “How did it happen?”

     “Hit a deep hole back there,” the man said as the wife got back in the car.

     “Those damn holes,” I said. “Don’t worry good sir, I’ll fix this up in no time.”

     I knelt down beside the tire to stare at the destruction the hole had created.

I bought a couple days worth of goat’s meat from one of those food cars that swung by the road next morning. They drove from the slaughterhouses on nearby ranches to Boca del Diablo to sell fresh barbecue. I also got a ton of beer and a litter of mezcal with my earnings. I was happy to be able to get a rest from Edmund for a couple of days. After I munched up on a couple goat tacos I looked for a pick and a shovel in the back of the shop.

     I walked the road to the spots I remembered were more obscure, dominated by shade; ones in which even snakes camouflaged in the darkness. I walked as the heat started to settle, when the wind began to surf harder and brushed the yellow, dry weed on the side of the road. A haze of early heat fluttered gently in the distance, above the line where the pavement seemed to end.

     I got to the shaded curve where that snake had startled me and I began slamming the pick against the ground. I calculated the spot where the right tire of a speeding car might fall. Surely the driver would never spot a hole there, blinded by the contrast of light and sudden shade coming out of the curve before impact. Once past the solid layer, the deeper ground gave in more easily. The smell of tar erupted from the fractured ground as I calculated the depth of the hole; deep enough for it to do more damage, to burst the inflated rubber, to slam against the rim. I tossed some rusted nails about the road as well, as a bonus.

     I wasn’t planning on letting the Millennium Route put me out of business, nor was I planning to convert to lawlessness as Edmund had; to start praying to that devilish saint of his. To boost up my earnings I had to lure my customers in, make my service needed. By digging nasty holes in the vicinity of my shop, I didn’t have to stretch trees across the road, or point a gun at anyone; I didn’t have to inflict terror, I just had to pretend to be sympathetic to my victims and get to work. The money coming in would be full of dignity, tainted only by hard work; how it ought to be.

      Nearer to the shop, there was a spot where the hill slanted upwards looming. It was densely populated by trees; the taller ones bending over the road, their dancing foliages draping down. The post meridian light provided deep shelter from the sun there as well. I dug another hole, for late travelers. The couple other spots I picked were just as strategic, concealed right behind man-made bumps; these with crooked, sharper ends. I tossed more nails there too. 

     Then came the wait, stoicism before the money began to fill my pockets.

     I sat outside the shop tired after all the digging, but comfortable in a way I hadn’t felt for a while. It took me back to the years before the turn of the new millennium and its Millennium Route, to the sight of my father rolling a tire inside a bucket of water to pinpoint the prick on it, while in the background the sound of a car purring louder as it approached flooded the forest, then flew past us and grew quieter as it sped away. My father would stare at it and I would to, and we’d see it turning tiny with distance before disappearing into the bleak horizon, leaving a trail of black smoke from the muffler.

     I gulped on a half litter bottle of beer, so cold it was drenched on the outsides, as though sweating in the hot weather. I drank and then brought the frosty glass to my forehead. I ate some more goat meat while staring at the road and the counted cars that drove by. Like an anxious child, I hoped one of them would park on the ruble next to the shop. I hoped that my luck would come early. 

Business began to thrive, every now and then cars stopped by the shop with brutal damage to the tires. I heard the flats from a distance, before the cars pulled over. The noise was a continuous tap against the pavement that felt like music to me. I examined the tires before getting to work, and hid my laughter at the gruesomeness of the destruction. Some had nails stuck all the way in, some had the rim totally bent. I had to sell fresh new tires to my customers, to the ones that really slammed the car into my holes. “There’s no fixing this one, sir,” I’d tell them, “Let me just show you to a new one so you’re not traveling without a spare. You never know with roads like these.”

      And they would pay up and go, grateful and also apologetic, for consuming so much of my time.

     Lunchtime with Edmund was a thing of the past, I had enough dough to overeat every day and sip on finer booze before dozing off to bed. I even enjoyed the sunsets. It felt as though the forgotten piece of land was reviving.


The switch from April to May was savage. Out of the yellow dryness came heavy rains and thunderstorms till the end of September. The first rainy days of the season that year were dark and thick. Fewer cars drove through the fog, and I could only spot them as the lights fought across the mist.

     One afternoon I sat beneath the arch of the shop’s door and spread a piece of plastic above me to shelter me from the drizzle. I wore a heavy coat made out of sheep fur and waited as I did every day, as though fishing, waiting for my line to be pulled.

     Out of the darkness of the afternoon and the thickness of the downpour, an engine so powerful roared as it slid through the curves before the tire shop, before the deeper hole. I could only hear it approaching; the sound grew louder as it shifted gears. Right after the final acceleration, I heard the high pitch of screeching tires, two seconds, three seconds of a dangerous slide. A split second of silence, then the explosive din of impact and destruction. I ran, fast as I could to where the noise had come from.

     A fancy car was turned upside down between the ditch and the hill beside the road. Its lights were on steady, cutting through the fog. The rain fell hard on the car’s dented surface. A dark brushstroke—the color of the road—was imprinted on the impact zone. I stepped on shattered glass, and as I went closer, the hum of a melody was still coming out of the speakers.

     I leaned in beneath the upside down hood; the windshield was no more, and inside, an upside down face gasped heavily. The kid had a nasty cut across the forehead, and I presumed he was in what doctors call shock. I reached in between the compressed aluminum and reached for the dangling keys to turn the engine off. “I’ll get you out of here,” I told him.

     The kid kept gasping like a netherworld creature.

     The door on the driver’s side had less damage. The car seemed to have slid on its roof across the road before slamming against the hill on the passenger side. I jerked the door open, undid the seatbelt and began dragging him out. Luckily his legs weren’t stuck, but he screamed bloody murder with every bit of displacement. “You’re almost there,” I kept telling him. I managed to get him out and lay him down beside the ditch, his head resting on the dirt. I feared for a car to come out of the blindness of the fog, slam against us, and do us both in. I pressed the flasher lights of the car on, and got the fluorescent flashers from the trunk and ran to place them well before the curve, to signal accident, or at least, slow down.

     I ran back to the kid, who made unworldly sounds on the side of the road, his face covered in blood. I could tell he had fractured one of his arms upon impact; his elbow stuck out appallingly, as though that joint was rebellious and was bending the way it wasn’t supposed to.

     “Call an ambulance,” the kid said. He wasn’t older than twenty.

     “I’ll run to the phone at my shop, just stay still.”

     I ran back across the mist and slid some of my earnings down the payphone’s slot. The lady on the other end said it would take a good half hour, “stay close to the victim,” she said, and when she asked what had happened, I told her all I knew was that the kid slammed his car into the hill.

     I ran back to him. I took a bottle of mezcal in case he needed some substance to relax.

     He was drifting into sleep when I got back to him. The rain had dissipated a little but it was still audible as it fell on higher ground. “Stay awake,” I told him. He seemed more lucid, also more afraid. “Here have a sip,” I tilted the bottle of booze towards his mouth and he swallowed it. “What happened back there?” I asked him.

     “There’s a hole the size of a crater,” he said. “I tried to dodge it.”

     A wave of disgust engulfed me. The bloody, half dead boy was my creation. I had been more evil than Edmund, who in all his dispossessions hadn’t killed a single soul. I was going to be left to wonder if the kid could live through this. All along trying to be less a jackal than Edmund—like he had put it—I nearly killed the innocent thing. “The ambulance will be here soon,” I told him and sat next to him.

The wait for the ambulance was eternal; at every passing second I felt the kid was letting out his last breath. Some of his blood slid down to make a mark on the ground, a mark I wished the rain could erase. It was a little over an hour before the sirens flooded the scene.

     The medics went straight to the kid, strapped him onto a stretcher and immobilized his neck with a cervical collar. The night had risen above the clouds and began consuming them. The boy didn’t even mutter thank you. It was as if he’d known beforehand that I had been the artifice of the calamity. And I didn’t say forgive me, not to him, not to god, I couldn’t.

     The ambulance lights flickered red-white-red-white across the early nightfall, and I scraped the blood mark with my foot. As the murderous sound of the siren covered the kid’s heavy breaths, and he was being pulled into the ambulance, I wanted to confess, I wanted him to spare me. I wanted to tell him what my life was like.



Diego Gerard was brought up in Valle de Bravo, a colonial town in central Mexico. For the past two years Gerard has worked as a bartender while writing a short story collection. He lives and writes in New York City.