Elidio La Torre

Partial Residence on Earth


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Elidio La Torre Lagares is a novelist and poet. His most recent work has been published in Sargasso: A Journal of Caribbean LiteratureCentro Journal (CUNY), and Label Me Latino/a. In 2011, he published his noir/pulp novel Correr tras el viento, which the author is translating as Chase the Wind. He teaches at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. 

        I finally get to the bar with Ausencio, my father, like I always fancied. Unlike me, he had lots of friends, and wherever he went, he knew somebody. Everyone adored him in town because he owned a used car dealer lot, “Twigo Auto Trade,” and that’s where everyone found their legs, as he used to say. “Why walk when you can drive?,” was his motto. He made sure it spoke to the world in glowing orange neon lights that blinked at night repeatedly like supernovas on Vine. Someday, I’ll sell spaceships, he always remarked while winking at me. He made enough money so my mother Roselyn didn’t need to work, although she was less admired and more pitied by the people in town. She took care of the house, cooked, watched the soaps, and waited for Bruni, buona fide storyteller and our neighbor next door, to bring her the latest gossips, including my father’s love conquests. He was a womanizer like he had a mission, I heard my Bruni say all the time. I don’t think my mother ever believed her. Your father is just not fit for this town, she used to tell me, half apologetically. And I had to believe her, because my father once told me that he was from another planet, and despite the absurdity, I trusted his word.

        I believed him. Yes. It sounded cool and special. Besides, who was I to doubt my father? On top of that, Dad’s mother, my grandmother Bertha, died when I was two or three years old. I knew he had no brothers or sisters, either; no immediate relatives to visit on Sunday. Sure. He had no past here on Earth. Of course. That explained why he couldn’t fit and he never did, but now he has found a home inside the silver urn that contains his ashes.

        “You can’t bring animals to this bar,” the barman tells me.

        “I’m sorry. This is a sort of ritual. My dad’s here, in ashes, of course. And we just want to share a drink together. He’ll have a beer. I just want a double whiskey.”

        The bird squawks.

        “And a vodka for the chicken?”

        “It’s not a chicken.”

        The man gave me a crossed look.

        “You are lucky you are your father’s son. I knew the man. He deserves more respect,” he says, and then turns his back on us to serve the drinks.


        Two days ago, I told my father that I wanted to have a drink with him since we had never had one together. He had never played catch with me, or taken me to the movies, either, but that was Dad. I loved him for what he was and not hated him for what he wasn’t. So when I proposed that drink, he accepted. I would have to sneak in a pint of whiskey to the hospital and that wouldn’t be too difficult, but it mattered to me that he accepted. I got liver for one more shot, he said with a faint smile. His face looked like reverted origami. Then he apologized for not being a great father, not even a good father, and I said I understood, that it was okay. Just don’t leave for your planet, yet.

        He smiled. He remembered.


        At a very young age, Twigo felt different from the other kids in Ganimedes, one of the twelve satellites that orbit around Jupiter, since the day he discovered an artifact hidden in his father’s spaceship. The object had a rectangular shape, and it was made from a material he had learned to classify as paper. It had written signs language in it. In Ganimedes, this kind of object received the name of “book,” an antique for such advanced civilization. But Twigo could recognize the symbols in it and translate them into Ganimedean invisible language: Pablo Neruda, read in the cover, and below it, the printed type announcing “Residence on Earth.” It was an ancient form of use for language called poetry, and Twigo thrilled at this discovery. Why his dad had this wasn’t as important as getting hold of the book. It even had a dedication: “For Ra Mon, with love, Bertha.”

        Love?, he questioned himself.

        There was no love in Ganimedes. People just bred, that’s it. Twigo wanted to know beyond, so, on leisure day, when nobody worked in Ganimedes, he went to the outskirts of Matrix City and read the book aloud. He wanted to be like Residence on Earth and write a book titled “Pablo Neruda.”

        The book instilled the power of questions in Twigo, who often found himself looking at the darkness of space, wondering what it would be leave that Eternal Kingdom of Light, as Ganimedes was known. What was a sunset? Or a sunrise? What about rivers? There were no rivers in his planet. And, what is this thing called love? Yes, Twigo enjoyed the benefits of being the son of Ra (a very common name up there, my dad used to tell me), one of the Elders in Matrix City; he the power of the sixth sense, he could communicate telepathically, like the everybody else, but he desired more: he wanted to use his mouth to pronounce words, which no one wrote, because it was a nonsensical, even primitive, form of communication. He also wanted to travel, a habit only permitted to the missionary travelers, as his father was once. Otherwise, the duties of the Ganimedian citizen required the serenity of sameness.

        But for Twigo, words embraced such beauty within themselves. He liked to pronounce them as if he tasted them. So he used words to communicate with his mother, Ma-at, a habit that often embarrassed her in public, since Twigo was the son of an elder, which meant to bear honor and responsibility. The people of Ganimedes had achieved the utmost level of suprahumanity and Ra was one of the golden masters among them. Twigo would be destined to walk on Ra’s footsteps, but Matrix City decided that such an important position could not be passed on to someone so detached from Ganimedean life. So that’s when Ra, my grandfather, decided to tell him.

        Twigo, you are not fully one of us.

        “I’m not?,” he replied, verbally, of course.

        Don’t speak with your mouth, his Dad warned him.

        “I won’t,” he verbalized, followed by a telepathic sorry.

        Your mother is from Earth, a planet quite distant from here, where I had to the opportunity to live for a while, while on expeditions. Your mother was like a stray flower in a desert, he continued.

        What’s a flower and what’s a desert?, Twigo asked.

        Nevermind, Ra continued. The other Elders have decided to send you back there, where you belong, so you can find yourself. In time, you’ll be able to join us.

        When is that?, Twigo asked.

        When my own time ceases, Ra replied.

        Days later, and after parading through several stops at a series of space stations, my grandfather brought Twigo back to Earth. When the spaceship descended, a woman was waiting for him as if she knew they were coming. She had tears in her eyes, and Twigo thought of Residence on Earth’s rivers.

        “Ramon,” she said softly, and kissed Ra.

        “Who’s Ramón?” Twigo said out loud.

        “This is your mother, Twigo,” the words jumped out of Ra’s lips. “She will raise you and when you’re ready, you’ll be back to me.”

        “Your name will be Ausencio,” my grandmother Bertha told him, and Twigo liked it.

        “It sounds like one of Residence on Earth’s poems,” he said.

        “The poet’s name is Pablo Neruda,” Ra told Twigo before he left. “Enjoy your residence on Earth,” he added.

        “So here I am,” my father said. “I am an illegal alien,” he joked around.


        And I, of course, grew up believing that he was, indeed, from another planet. Besides, he knew all, and I mean all. One Sunday afternoon, he surprised me smoking one of mom’s cigarettes. Then man got so angry, that he grabbed me by the collar and dragged me to the living room, pushed me to the couch and gave me the whole pack of Marlboros. “Smoke,” he said, and I went like, “What?,” and he insisted that I should light a cigarette and start blowing smoke or things were going to get rough.

        I looked at my father’s king size hands and I felt minimal.

        I heard his voice resound deep like an echo in the woods. I looked into his eyes and thought that they would expel fire beams anytime now. So I smoked. And smoked. And smoked some more. My eyes watered and evaporated and watered again, my throat burned up and I lost all sense of taste momentary.

        “When you’re done, I’ll get you another one,” he said.

        And that’s when I started to cry, until my mom came home from the supermarket and reproached my father’s disciplinary habits. I was sick that day, and the next day, too, but he brought me strawberry ice cream with a final advice: “Don’t you ever smoke.”

        I never did.

        But I did drink.

        So when I returned to the hospital with a pint of whiskey, jerky beef and a couple of beer, he was gone. I couldn’t even tell him goodbye. I cried. “You didn’t wait for me,” I said looking at the barren sky.


        The barman returns with whiskey, beer, and peanuts. He believes that the bird is an ugly duck.

        “It’s not a duck,” I tell him.

        “Whatever,” he says, and leaves the three of us in the comfort of a lonely corner at the bar.

        “To you,” I propose a toast. The bird squawks again. A slight gust of wind sweeps in the bar. The barman has just turned on the air conditioner, I think; then, drink.

         “Shut the fucking bird up, or the celebration is over,” the barman says.

        I kind of resent the violence, but I don’t say anything.

        An argument needs two people, and two wrongs might not make a right, but two rights will always end up wrong, my mother used to tell me.


        When she was a kid, Roselyn claimed that an angel visited her and told her great truths of the universe, and that she’d bear a son who would do great things. Coming from a fourteen year-old girl, the revelations crumbled the Christian upbringing my maternal grandparents provided for her. Her family summoned Father Leon for help when the visions or dreams became more frequent. The devil will disguise as an angel of light, the priest reminded my maternal grandparents when he came to interview the girl and get to the bottom of what seemed to him like blasphemy. But truth is round, Father; it has no angles, Roselyn replied at the priest, as he suggested that she might be possessed. There’s only one truth, and that is God’s, Father Leon reprimanded her. The priest, being knowledgeable in exorcism (although not authorized by the Church to perform such body cleansing acts), requested the intervention of the Vatican in this matter. He never received a reply, but Roselyn did turn into a woman and when she decided to buy her first car, she went to “Speed of Light Auto Trade,” where Ausencio worked as a beginning car salesman. I can’t give you wings, but I can show you distance, were Ausencio’s first word when he saw her. My mother took it as a sign, fell in love and married him.

        When I was seven, the breast cancer took the best of her and spread over her lungs. Days before leaving the Earth, she asked me to look after my father.

        “He’s different, you know,” she said. “He’s rarely home, but he cares; in his own way, he cares,” she essayed to speak a word. “I must fly away now, and be with the Lord.”

        Those were her last words.

        The angel, I thought.

        It made me happy, because she had been through a lot of anguish and pain.


        I imagined that if my dad came from another plane, as he claimed, I was entitled to some kind of innate ability by virtue of the DNA. Maybe I could walk on water, or maybe I could breathe underwater. Both points proved wrong the day I went to the river nearby our house, and attempted my water-walking abilities and, instead, I almost drowned. I imagined I could have mental powers to read people’s minds, but it turned out that it was my dad Ausencio who always knew what I was thinking or doing, for that matter. Then I thought that if mom could fly, I would, too.

        Yes, fly.

        So one crisp and lovely autumn evening, two days after my mother’s burial, I went to the roof and jumped off the ledge, where birds nested during spring.

        I broke one leg, two wrists, and remained unconscious for a while. But my father remained with me the whole night and, after I was sent home, his presence around the house was necessarily noted, although he barely made conversation. One night, as he was feeding me dinner (since I couldn’t use my hands), he asked me why I had jumped off the roof. I threw in a furtive answer at my dad, so I told him that I wanted to be a bird. But not all birds can fly, he refuted; chickens can’t fly, and ostriches can’t fly, and the dodo couldn’t fly. The dodo? What’s a dodo?, I asked. An extinct bird. If by chance you meet one, it should be a sign of something, he replied with a customary wink and a smile.


        Ausencio always had a smile for the world, I was told by the undertaker as he made me sign the papers that would allow my father to be transported to the crematory, and I had no reasons to doubt it. People caravanned to our house from distant places in order to pay their respects to the memory of my dad. An old man came with caged pigeons, which he released in front of my house. A rain of butterflies followed and people marveled at the spectacle. Ausencio deserved it, they said; he was a great man. They also told me how much they admired my dad, because he helped people all the time, from lending money he had no interest in getting repaid to finding jobs placements for those who were unemployed, or driving those who didn’t own a car to the airport when they started leaving the country in a mass exodus. Two old ladies, who wore similar black dresses that matched her mantillas, told me how he once fixed their picket fences to keep a certain rare bird from entering their patio. And so on, and so on.

        I realized that my father was a person beloved by many. I also realized that I knew my father better by what others told me about him.

        So, again, after he died, I decided to give my flying abilities another chance. I took my dad’s urn with me and went to the pine grove in the hills up above the town, where the trees smelled better than the air freshener in my ‘92 Volvo 240. I walked exactly to where the slope grows into a precipice and wished I could grow wings. I wanted the sky to crack open and absorb me. But nothing happened. When I was about to jump, urn in hand, I heard a bird squeal behind me. It was about three feet tall, with a green, black and yellow beak. Its legs were red and created a contrast with the gray plumage of the bird. It had to be. I wanted it to be. The dodo, with a bold spot on its head, simply stared at me. You’re always right, Dad, I spoke into the urn.


        As I drove back to town, with the dodo and my dad in the urn, I decided the reunion deserved a drink, that drink I never had with my father.

        The dodo squawked noisily.

        “I told you to keep the bird’s beak shut,” the barman says.

        “One more drink and we go,” I tell him. “I will go to the restroom, have that drink, and leave.”

        The barman shakes his head.

        As I entered the stalls in the men’s room, I notice pictures of bombshells in bikinis, sexy women advertising beer and tropical rums. I release the fluids of my body and I realize how lonely I am.

        Back to the bar, the dodo has finished eating the peanuts and now is eating my father’s ashes. Somehow he managed to turn the urn over and the lid opened.

        “Mother-fucking bird! That’s my dad!,” I yell at the bird.

        The barman loses his patience.

        “That’s it,” he says. “Pay and leave!”

        I manage to gather whatever’s left of dad and place it back in the urn. I place the dodo under one arm, and my dad under the other. The bar man hands me the bar tab. It’s twenty-four dollars plus tax, and I have no money.

        Outside, an iridescent beam of light must wait for me. So with the dodo and my dad under my arms, I run for the door and into the bright bursting of a light. As a majestic cloud descends upon us, I have no doubts now: this time, I will fly.

© The Acentos Review 2016