Gibran Escalera


Gibran Escalera received a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He teaches trans-American literature at Washington State University, Tri-Cities, and writes fiction. He is currently working on a manuscript of twentieth and twenty-first century border fictions that recreate the meaning of 1848.

El mercado

No tengo miedo. ¿A que chingados le voy a tener miedo? Son cien limones que tengo que vender y ya me la libro. But the truth is Antonio was scared. It was his first time in the public market and his grandfather Alberto had just left him standing there, gone to god knows where.  ¡Cajeta! ¡Se vende cajeta! ¡Chile tomate cebolla! ¡Limones a cinco por quince! ¡Frescos y jugosos! And how was he supposed to sell the limes anyway? Everybody in the market was already shouting, yelling about their fruit, vegetables, beans in paper cones, avocados wrapped in newspapers. Plus, there was hardly any room to stand and it was difficult to see past the vendors surrounding him. Puta madre. Me lleva a la chingada. Si no vendo los limones no hay feria y sin feria esta cabrón. Es mas no puedo llegar a la casa sin algo. Te vas con tu abuelo y sacas para un kilo de frijoles, lo que sobra, me lo entregas, his mother instructed. With Abuelo Alberto, Antonio was nervous, but his mother scared him and pissed him off at the same time, something only she could do. ¿Por qué vergas tengo que vender si ni me quedo con la maldita feria? By now his forearms were starting to hurt and his hands were sweaty. He had not set down the bags because he did not know if he was supposed to or even where he should place them. Everyone else had makeshift stands, their wares on full display. It was noisy and hot in the market and people kept bumping Antonio, moving him from the spot that was supposed to be his but that he did not know how to claim.

¿Qué esta pasando viejo? Antonio turned around and there was Abuelo Alberto, who fixed him with a familiar look. Abuelo Alberto was watching the whole time so he had seen Antonio just standing there, nervously looking for his grandfather, the bags too much for his grip. ¿Por qué no les habla a la gente? De nueve que le digan no uno va caer y así se la lleva. A ver dígales que aquí esta el clavo viejo no tenga miedo. Abuelo Alberto, who everyone in the market called Quintero, was a strangely built man. His arms dangled at his sides reaching almost his knees. His forearms and back were thick with hair but the thing Antonio always looked at were his hands, the fingers thick and rough like rope that had been cured by the sea.  Me da vergüenza. ¿Qué? Que me da vergüenza. Por qué rechingados le da vergüenza viejo si no esta robando esta trabajando se esta ganando el día. Antonio felt the back of his neck hot and his face redden. Abuelo Alberto talked like a machine gun, loud and in bursts. Antonio had to concentrate to make out the different pieces of each sentence but the worst part was that he was sure everyone heard his grandfather.  Todos ya están vendiendo. ¿Y eso que? ¿Cómo voy a vender limones si ya hay limoneros? Hmm que la chingada para eso me gustabas viejo. Que tiene si ya hay limoneros viejo use el verbo para convencer a la gente. Mira. ¡Limones limones vean que están buenos los limones a seis por quince!

Glaring at Abuelo Alberto a fellow vendor selling his limes at five for one was about to shout an obscenity when a happy-looking heavyset woman bounded toward Antonio. He noticed her wide thighs and the heavy breasts that hung over her arms, held at just below her midriff, clasping a pocketbook. No se le quede mirando viejo háblele a la señora, Abuelo Alberto said under his breath. Antonio could not make a sound. For some reason, this lady who had to be fifty at least, reminded Antonio of the women he would see Saturdays on-screen at El Coliseo, El Edén, and sometimes Variedades but only sometimes because Variedades was risky. He did not know if it was her beige lipstick or nails painted like a fire-engine but even though Antonio was only nine he felt something funny about this woman. Hola joven ¿usted es el encargado de los limones? the woman asked with half-serious deference. As she leaned down to meet his eye-level Antonio could smell her neck thick with cheap jabón de la rosa. They sold the powdered soap in plastic bags at the market and if Antonio pressed his face too closely would make his nose itch. Staring at the wrinkled crease of her chest he felt a hot sting on his back, Abuelo Alberto pinching him. Disculpe señora es su primera vez y esta un poco nerviosa mi nieto.  ¿Cuántos le damos? Arching her eyebrows, and with lips folded together in a half-smile the woman with the red nails scanned Antonio, the worn brown leather shoes, legs tanned and scarred, the wiry frame of a boy no stranger to el gallinero. Una docena, por favor. Seguro que si.  Los limones viejo. Abuelo Alberto pulled a narrow red plastic bag from the stack in his left back pocket, and in what looked like a single motion, whipped open the bag and scooped out a dozen limes from Antonio’s outstretched arms.

¡Chingas a tu madre! ¡Agárrenlo! ¡Auxilio auxilio! Sprinting full-steam in their direction,  Abuelo Alberto and Antonio recognized a red-headed freckled-faced youth whom everyone called La Zanahoria. Paper cone in each hand, La Zanahoria seemed more excited than worried about the bowlegged men running after him, his high-pitched laugher betraying no concern for the beans and rice shaking out of each cone. Before Antonio could say anything La Zanahoria appeared to vault forward through the air. Ufff! For a split second La Zanahoria looked like an absurd Superman, wide-eyed and terrified of gravitational rules he could not bend. Aaargh! Though rail thin, he smacked the dirty concrete hard, then looked up sourly. ¿Y eso que Don Alberto? No tiene que estar de ratón debería tener vergüenza. Vergüenza por qué si esto es para Trudis. Si pero que su mama le haga de comer a Trudis. Esta en El Chuco. Ni madres que te nos ibas a escapar pinche malandro. Sweaty and breathing hard, the stall owners who would’ve been robbed if not for Abuelo Alberto did their best imitation of corporal punishment, half-heavy blows tempered both by their exhaustion and familiarity with a weekly ritual.

Ana Luisa Gómez Wahl was what the neighborhood called a cuero. At 15 she thought she had found love with a soldier who crossed into Juárez from Fort Bliss but after three days sneaking off to el rio the soldier was gone and nine months later Guadalupe Gómez Wahl, alias La Zanahoria, was born. Having suffered the double indignity of a White absentee father and a mother holding together a single parent household the only way she knew how, La Zanahoria grew up a fighter. Not the kind of kung fu specialist Antonio saw in the movies, or even a luchador. No, La Zanahoria was used to breathing through bloody noses and peering out of purple-swollen eyes because he had to. ¡Ana Ana saca crema de campana! ¡Ana la marana se come la macana! At that, La Zanahoria was off, each jeer igniting in him a rage he tried to cast out through balled fists, his younger sister Trudis absently looking on. La Zanahoria was only two years older than Antonio but each drew to the other like luciérnagas to damp grass. For weeks La Zanahoria told Antonio about el mercado and how easy it was to get anything, like your own private store. Pinches viejos ya echaron barriga ni pueden correr. ¿Y si te alcanzan? Antonio los panzones no corren ¿como me ven a agarrar? But they had and they did, thanks to Abuelo Alberto.

Ay no cada vez aquí me arrepiento pero donde comprar lo bueno. Lo bueno aquí esta seguro solamente hay que saber donde buscar. Eso si. Antonio had seen this look before but usually on the faces of secundaria students, coming or going from all too obvious hideaways and even though it was there before him it was hard to recognize on his abuelo. Con mucho gusto señora no tarde en visitarnos de nuevo que aquí estamos listo para la batalla. Encantada y de lo que estoy segura es que al regresarme usted no va batallar. No sooner had the wide-thighed woman parted the crowd when Abuelo Alberto growled, his voice shifting from honeyed syrup to gravelly din. Preste atención pinche Zanahoria ya no lo quiero ver con mi nieto el es para el estudio no para pendejadas. Y usted viejo ya deje que se lo lleven a la chingada esta puñeta que al rato llega al tribu. Antonio felt a formless but heavy mass take shape in his throat, prickly and immovable. La Zanahoria was his best friend. Why should he go to the ironically named Tribunal para Menores, whose population was mostly mayores de edad, thanks to overcrowding, Juárez men who committed ‘delitos de alto impacto?’ Before he could say anything, or try to, La Zanahoria jumped up on his feet. A mi nadie me va llevar a donde no pertenezco, he said flatly to Abuelo Alberto, aboutfaced, and soon was lost in the crowd again.  ¿Por qué no me puedo juntar con La Zanahoria? Ese niño lleva malos pasos viejo ya no le haga caso. No va llegar a mi edad. Vengase que todavía nos falta. ¡Limones sabrosos siete por quince!

Noventa y siete, noventa y ocho, noventa y nueve, cien. Ahí tiene Quintero. Hard and bright green globes of lime into a white cubeta. For Abuelo Alberto, opportunity and a chance to sell. For Antonio, what seemed like countless stretches of pleaing gente to buy. Gracias mi Don Cruz ya para el próximo sábado lo arreglo con su feria. No se preocupe Quintero ya se que la va librar y mas porque ahora tiene par de manos extra, winking at Antonio. Don Cruz was a tall, thin man, pure contradiction from top to bottom. A disease caught his left leg early in life, so he walked with a cane which announced his presence well before he would actually show up and yet in el mercado he floated on air, arms gliding about him, dispensing fruit and vegetables on consignment to vendors who were tasked with redoubling their profits to pay him back. Shocks of white streaked down his face in long sideburns, standing at attention around a jet-black mustache. He was much older than Abuelo Alberto, curious because standing there in his light blue guayabera you could have mistaken them for brothers. Ahora si viejo aquí tenemos la merca para el siguiente baile. Breathlessly, chingada madre. ¿Cómo es eso viejo? Nada abuelo, que la cubeta esta pesada con los limones. Ahorita si pero el sábado que viene apartamos la merca en bolsas hasta que tengamos la cubeta vacía y luego alcanzas para tu show. At this Antonio smiled. He hated selling just to give most of what he made back. Javier, Alfredo, Alberto, Francisco, Ruben, Daniel, Josefina, Judith, Juanita, Rosina, none of his younger siblings ever went to el mercado with Abuelo Alberto, so why should he? It was hot and dirty, and you shouted at strangers, people who could always say no, or just stare at you blankly, like many had that day. And then the sanction against La Zanahoria meant that even friends were off limits. Even best friends. But the thought of watching Steve McQueen, Kirk Douglas or Peter O’Toole sent a rush through Antonio. Hago mis centavos y el domingo me desquito. Si Abuelo Alberto, el sábado que viene vendemos para un show y más.

“Truly for some men nothing is written unless they write it.” Antonio watched awestruck as Omar Sharif floated axioms in front of a desert-set flickering fire. His intended recipient, blue-eyed, resting on one elbow and deferring a response to the philosophical, looked up, set his smile and coolly replied, “Not El-Lawrence. Just Lawrence.” Antonio was gripped by the screen, giant figures in a world he did not recognize but longed to experience for himself.  He didn’t care about the seats, stiff and crusted with excretions whose content not even their suppliers fully knew. He didn’t mind the smell, liquor, smoke and popcorn blending into one floating cloud whose incongruous fragrance announced its presence before it arrived. This pilgrimage was a ritual for Antonio. He hated the market, the noise, the crowd, the pressure of selling, the shame when he couldn’t, the rage when his supposed profit was confiscated without explanation. But this made up for it. Antonio figured out to keep a small fraction of anything he managed to hawk, building it up slowly, patiently, knowing he’d use it for Variedades, El Edén, and most of all El Coliseo. It was a mission to reach, but it showed the newest movies, and its projectionist never interrupted a sequence lighting his cigarette, drinking his beer, or trying to convince a skeptical but curious barrio girl of the power in his job.

Tengo que usar el baño. Cuando se acaba la movie. No me aguanto tengo que echar agua ahorita. Pues te meas. Le digo a mi jefa. Pinche enfadoso. Of all the things Antonio hated about bringing Javier to the theatre it was his little brother’s constant need to piss. Forget about the fact that Javier hardly ever paid, that he walked slowly, jeopardizing their already-precarious bus route in a city where every bus was simultaneously late, early and in a hurry, or that he asked a million questions. No, it was that without fail, at every screening, even if they’d go beforehand, Javier would beg to use the bathroom. But it wasn’t the time conflict between the height of visual action and urology that flustered Antonio. It was that all theatres were stalking grounds for jotos viejos, a lesson he and Javier learned at Variedades. The Curse of the Werewolf was playing, and even though it was just a movie, Juárez’s droves of stray and often rabid dogs felt like someone out in the world was confirming a terrible fact about their neighborhood people in San Marcos or even El Paso laughed off as local bullshit. Antonio and Javier knew they had to see the movie.

Antonio’s first choice was obviously El Coliseo but they were playing The Comancheros. A distant second but still better than Variedades was Edén except the owner, wanting to atract what he called ‘el jet set,’ had gone with The Misfits. Antonio thought John Wayne was a clown and while he could understand looking at Marilyn he did not get the hype about Clark Gable. Actually, there were plenty of guys in his neighborhood who went with as many girls as Gable and could probably kick his ass too. Reluctantly, Antonio planned for Variedades. Nos lanzamos a las dos para llegar a las tres quince. A las cuatro cuarenta y antes de que se nos oscurezca salimos para la ruta. ¿La ruta dos veces? ¿Prefieres caminar ante todos esos puñeteros? Usually Antonio and Javier splurged on only one bus trip but Antonio did not want to risk walking back from Variedades with Javier in the dark, every corner a chance to be taken. Jotos was not a word he knew in his head but one he felt was supposed to be trouble. A boy in his neighborhood three years older who called himself El Divino René would yell ‘trucha Antonio’ when he spotted mitoteros waiting to pounce on Antonio and relieve him of mandado Antonio was hurrying home, so René was okay. Except that always and everytime upon his arrival, somehow having witnessed the would-be pilfering, his mother would say, evita ese puñeta descarado. Esos jotos son violadores que se los viene llevando el diablo. Rene did not seem like he knew the devil but in the congregation of Sra. Josefina if she so decreed then it was law.

“Cristina, do you love me? You say you love…” Tonio. “…marry me Cristina!?” Tonio. Cállate. Me anda del baño. Lanzate pues pero cállate. Tonio. Chingada madre vamos pues. Just as Oliver Reed was throwing his proposal at Catherine Feller Javier’s kidneys had betrayed them again. Ey wachale morros. Rapido escuincles. Pinches mocosos latosos. Fumbling in the dark and knocking knees with every other person, Antonio and Javier made it to the end of the row, feeling fully visible even in pitch black, as if everyone in the theatre knew they were the two who could not hold it in. The bathroom reeked of meados and sour milk. Apurate que nos perdemos la trama. Ya se no me apures. ¿Quién va ahí? The voice was high pitched but sounded stuffy like a cold. Javier glanced back at Antonio who shot him a look imploring him to go as fast as he could. As Javier stood tiptoes over the aluminum trough, the voice said again, ¿Quién va ahí? No me ayudan por favor muchachos. The voice was whiny but helpless. Antonio tried to block out Javier’s assault on the flimsy metal. Este viejo ya ni puede echar agua. Me da la reuma y no hay de donde apoyarme. As Antonio was about to deny the request with the full force of learned vulgarity, Javier tipped backed down to his heels, spun right and went for the stall. Before Antonio could say otherwise, Javier squared up to the voice and pushed open the door, with Antonio on his shoulder.

First Antonio thought he was looking directly at the mouth of a bat. Then he made it out clearly. Brown corduroys frumpled around black patent leather shoes, faded white calzones more elastic than underwear, doughy backlegs riddled with veins, and trembling fingers spreading apart the voice’s full expectant bottom. Pinche joto puñeta. Antonio shoved past Javier and kicked straight ahead. ¡Uffff! Before he could get in another shot, the voice snarled out, ¡pinches escuincles cachondos! Antonio and Javier bolted for the door. Agarrenlos. Pinches morros calurosos. With that, Antonio felt a switch go off. Bounding through the narrow hallway out into the lobby, every other set of hollow eyes attached to depravados on them. Que no se vayan. The jorobados dropped their popcorn, brown paper bags, spit out their cigarettes and were after them. Torrent of footsteps. Hands clutching. Guturral sounds. Frantic looks on sweaty brows. Malditos rabiosos. Closer. Tugging at their shirts on their heels hot breaths on neck right behind them. Finally out into the street, Antonio yanked Javier’s arm, who looked terrified and about to freeze. Antonio dragged him all the way to the closest ruta, just making eye contact with sullen ojos oscuros in the bus’s rearview mirror before they hopped on breathless and knowing this time they were lucky.

Antonio grudgingly stood up and led the way out of the aisle, where he waited for Javier. Always after Variedades Antonio led the way out of their row but once cleared of the seating made sure to walk behind Javier. If Javier was in front, Antonio could see ahead for both of them and safeguard his brother’s back to keep anyone from touching. The bathroom’s floor was slick with a film of bleach diluted with oily water. ¿Qué onda morros? A muscled balding man in a black chaleco and pinstripe pants greeted them, INRI tattooed on his right arm. Javier half-peered into a stall before finally stepping in. ¿Qué tranza? Antonio managed. He was not actually looking to transact, illegal or otherwise, but from the mouths of older boys and men heard this phrase a thousand times in el mercado. The chaleco-man’s head tilted almost imperceptibly, looking straight at Antonio for a half second. ¿Cómo esta el rollo pues? Surge of anxiousness through Antonio’s shoulders. Chaleco-man was actually looking. ¿Tachas Captanox (o mas bien capta-avión), pinguas, chemo, talco, arponazo o un gallo? ¿Que le digo a este güey? ¿Y a quien se lo ocurre tranzar con un pachuco mas que a mi? Verga. Este perro esta entero y ni con sorpresa lo tumbamos. Se da cuenta que estamos secos y se acabó todo el pedo. ¿Ya esta pasado morro? ¿No que qué tranza pues? Puta madre como callar a este grifo. Before Antonio could say anything else, Orale. Chaleco-man adjusted his vest and for reasons only he knew, palmed just above the spot on each side of his head where maybe once there were sideburns before stepping out. Rapido güey. No me tienes que decir güey. Pues nos perdemos el rollo. Javier flushed and barely washed his hands before they finally hurried back.

Y eso que tiene La Zanahoria said defiantly. Inútil ahí esta puesto mi Abuelo Alberto. Por eso mero cabrón. ¿Tu crees que hecha dedo a su propio nieto? La Zanahoria’s house was not a house but a cement box clearly in violation of its architectural definition. No one in the neighborhood knew how La Zanahoria, Trudis, and Ana Luisa when she was actually there, had not frozen to death or suffocated from the tierra cloud that colonized the space as its fourth and immovable resident. An accident of geography led the Wahl’s to claim the box as their own. A viudo jubilado, unsure of what to do with the little he saved, decided to open a tienda, so he first bought the lot, then put out a construction bid on what he imagined would be a neighborhood general store. The men he hired were not actually contractors but trinqueteros who saw an opening and took it. Not knowing a trowel from a spade, grainy mortar was unevenly applied to the jubilado’s hard-won bloques. Six months later the pseudo-masons were gone. Exhausted and without family in Juárez el jubilado headed for El Puente Internacional, a tried and true track for Ana Luisa to pick up novios, as she called them, coming and going either way. ¿Quién acompaña este hombrezote tan serio? Ana Luisa preferred older clientes because as she said tienen mas plata y dan menos lata. The credo paid off and after enduring a few listless pumps the half-finished tienda-box was forever leased to Ana Luisa.   

Solamente los malandros roban. Yo no soy ladrón. Los ladrones son miserables sin huevos, Abuelo Alberto said often. Levantarse tempra para ganarle al día semana por semana año por año, luchar por la papa, eso es dignidad viejo. ¿Si tener huevos es trabajar, y solo varones los tienen, mama es mujer por no trabajar? ¿Mama por qué usted no trabaja? ¿Que dijiste pendejo? ¿Te estas pasando con tu jefa? ¿Qué cargar el agua para bañarnos y limpiar, mantener el hogar, preparar la comida, regar, cuidarte a ti y a tus hermanos no es trabajo? Si pero mi papa es albañil y Abuelo Alberto…Esos cabrones trabajan fuera de la casa y yo dentro de la maldita casa. Ahora te calles el hocico o te lo callo pinche malhablado ingrato. Yo, Javier, Alfredo, Alberto, Francisco, Ruben, Daniel, Josefina, Judith, Juanita, Rosina, la neta somos un chingo. A poco no seria a todo dar un aliviane. Les llegamos de zopilotazo. Y además yo y La Zanahoria corremos con madre, pinches rukos nunca nos alcanzan.

¡La jornada! ¡Reforma! ¡Tu abuela! The vendor whipped his head around, glaring side to side, and unable to locate his heckler, continued pitching. ¿Periódicos? ¿Zanahoria que pedo güey aquí no hay clavo que vamos a hacer con periódicos? No seas tonto Antonio los periódicos son pretexto. El ruko es tirador. Verga. No mames güey que va estar tirando el anciano. Así como lo veras con cara de inocente. Wacha. A gangly youth in red Asics and pantalones de mezclilla approached. Chinga. El cabrón esta seco. Parece calavera. Crouched near cubetas filled with potatoes that looked minutes away from rotting, Antonio and La Zanahoria heard the tinny voice, Excélsior porfa. Flanked by stacks on both sides, the newsman glanced quickly at the skeleton in red sneakers before turning for a roll of papers tucked neatly behind him. The money-for-paper exchange quickly made, the newsman picked up, ¡Milenio! ¡Jornada! ¡Reforma! La Zanahoria and Antonio watched el flaco in the jeans dodge through the crowd, pause at a bin, dump the paper, and bolt out of the market. Vez güey. ¿Quién compra el periódico sin darle ojeada?

Sobres hijo que ahora soy tu profe y te voy a explicar como esta el tiroteo. Ahora resulta que eres experto en tranzas pinche mamón. Pegate a mi y veras Toñito. Wacha. Cada hora sin falla reemplaza su montón de papeles y todos, Jornada, Reforma, Milenio los acomoda bien tendiditos. Pero te fijas que a los de atrás, Excélsior, es puro cuento. El mendigo se hace como los esta cambiando pero no, son movimientos para despistar el enemigo Toñito. And it was true, every hour on the dot, the newsman loaded up each column with a fresh batch of the individual papers, but the stack behind him didn’t ever actually get exchanged, just shuffling here and there to make it look like they’d been replaced. Entonces ahí tiene la merca. Aaah no que no cabroncito. Ahora si te pusiste las pilas hijo. ¿Cómo le hacemos entonces? ¿A chingadazos y luego la feria? Tsk usa el coco Toñito. Dentro los primeros putazos toda la bola de sus compas están aquí para darnos nuestra bienvenida y despedida cabrón. No a fuerzas no se va hacer. ¿Entonces como? Todo esta fríamente calculado. Wacha. Te lanzas como si vas a comprar un periódico. ¿Cuál? Eso no importa. Pero me va preguntar. Le contestas pues. Si pero ¿cual de todos? Puta madre no seas tan terco güey el que sea el pedo es distraerlo al ruko. Ahh okay pues le compro un periódico ¿y luego? Le das la feria. Si pero no…La Zanahoria handed Antonio the money and continued, y cuando te de tu papel, lo abres y le preguntas por lo del cine, el horario. Asegura que lo extiendes y te haces como si de veras necesitas ayuda, es mas no te vas a esforzar que lo menso lo tienes a sobrar. Idiota. Orale entonces le estoy pidiendo el horario…y en ese momento llego de bolada, le bajo el clavo, y me pelo. Nos juntamos otra vez en el puesto de Don Cruz. Dicho y hecho ya esta pues.

Tranquilo hijo despacio y mañana amanecemos. ¿Y si me descubre? No no te rajes cabrón pinche Zanahoria no mas por güey lo agarran pero a mi ni madres. ¡Cola de caballo! ¡Manzanilla! ¡Caramelos! Entre toda la bola de vendedores cuando me alcanzan. ¡Queso! ¡Jamaica! Moving past the food and spice crowd Antonio spotted his mark. Rukito ni sabe lo que le espere yo y…A su servicio jovenazo un Milenio. The newsman extended the paper Antonio’s way. Ummm este…Se lo damos a diez pesos. Disculpe señor lo que pase es…El Milenio hijo, papel excelente, cobertura de la selección, sus cantantes favoritos, nota roja, aquí tiene joven. Si señor me parece bien pero…At the sound of a yes the newsman quickly stepped forward, both hands outstretched, in one El Milenio, the other awaiting payment. Puta madre ¿ahora que? Gracias señor pero ese no. Me da porfa un Excélsior? ¿Excélsior? No no no hijo la verdad El Excélsior lo leen otros tipos, que el enfoque son asuntos internacionales, políticos, procedimientos legales, etc. De todos modos. The newsman stepped back, eyeing Antonio as if the smallest clues might suddenly appear somewhere on his body. A ver dígame ¿que quiere un estudiante de la primaria con El Excélsior? Cual primaria que en junio me voy graduar y luego…Bien bien pues es un hombrezote pero ya hijo la verdad que estoy perdiendo tiempo y clientela. Antonio did not know what to say, frantically searching his mind for something, anything to tell the old paper man. ¿Qué diría La Zanahoria? Bueno joven pues ni modo. As the newsman started to turn, Mi primo me dijo que le comprara El Excélsior en este puesto, que solamente ese papel y solamente aquí. ¿Y como sabe que en este puesto? Dijo que entre los carameleros y yerberos. ¿Entonces porque no se presenta el mismo? Ahora le toca ayudarle a mi abuelo lustrar zapatos. The old newsman looked hard again at Antonio, then quickly scanned el gentío before reaching back toward his stacks. Aquí tiene. Antonio handed him the money La Zanahoria supplied. Animo pues joven. But Antonio did not leave, playing interested as best as he could, he began to spread the paper out before him like he had seen people do at Sanborns.

¡Espérese hijo aguántese! But by then a small brownish-green rectangle wrapped in cellophane fumbled out of the paper and onto the ground. Both Antonio and the newsman instantly looked down at the ejected package. Eyes boring into Antonio, face tightened and through gritted teeth, rápido cabrón. Antonio froze. Everything was a blur. Antonio did not know if he should run, drop the paper and pick up the cellophane, or kick it away. Despiértese hijo. As the newsman started forward, Antonio’s ears perked up, jajajajajaja ¡en la madre ruko valió verga! The newsman whipped around to see La Zanahoria crash through the stacks, turning to give the newsman el dedo with one hand, a faded brown cartera in the other, before pivoting back and charging through the vendor stalls. ¡Hijo de la chingada! ¡Vamos raza pinche ratero me está bajando! At this, los carameleros, verduleros, yerberos, and surrounding vendors dropped their wares, tore out from behind their displays, kicked through cubetas, and started off after La Zanahoria. Bombing his way past señoras in rebozos, clutching bags, niños attached at their hip, ¡Muévete Tonio! Cruz. El puesto de Don Cruz. Antonio quickly looked side to side and just as he was about to bolt, crouched down, snatched the package and made a break for the other side of the market. Streaks of red, yellow and green flashed past him, mouth dry, fists balled, dodging, stutter-stepping, spinning and vaulting over wicker baskets-become-obstacles, Antonio sprinted past the jabón de la rosa stand, past the rival limoneros, until he could faintly make out a huddle of spectators formed in the mass. ¿No le dije que debería tener vergüenza? Recognizing this voice instantly, Antonio broke his stride and pulled up slowly. Inching forward he saw a prostrate Zanahoria, the newsman with hands on thighs trying to catch his breath, and Abuelo Alberto leaning over, Le dije que un día se lo iban a llevar. An officer with macana ready in hand approached, ¿Y aquí que pasa? As the newsman, still hunched over, lifted his face to try and speak, Abuelo Alberto delivered the full account. Este escuincle le bajó todo el dinero a este kiosquero. ¿Es cierto? Still gasping, the newsman nodded yes. Fummp fummp. ¡Ugggh! Two kicks to his stomach, La Zanahoria writhed on the ground, clutched his middle and turning up, caught Antonio’s eyes. Watching the entire movement, Abuelo Alberto turned, ¿Y usted viejo donde estaba?

Seven for fifteen pesos when the others could only manage five. Wouldn’t their fruit rot? Wouldn’t they struggle to eat that night? Making señoras con canasta believe they were pretty just to sell to them? What about his money? How could he be hauled off to work, Saturday mornings gone, when he hardly saw any of the dough? La Zanahoria would maybe buy cuetes with some of the money but didn’t the rest go to Trudis, Trudis who was always waiting for Ana Luisa to come back? Responde viejo no se quede ahí con boca abierta. Estaba con La Zanahoria. Tsk ni madres. The policeman glared at Antonio. Es ilegal dar información falsa joven. Disculpe señor mi nieto esta nervioso. Eso es lo de menos, rápido joven que tengo otros puestos marcados. Antonio felt the cellophane burn in his hand, sweat pouring down his back. Estaba con…Ese morro nunca lo he visto. The group looked down at La Zanahoria. ¿Cómo es eso? Trabajo solo ese niño no lo conozco. Abuelo Alberto quickly confirmed, Aquí se sabe que este malcriado es ratero señor judicial. Before Antonio could protest, the policeman yanked La Zanahoria off the ground. Vamos pues malandrín ahora se la va pasar en el tribunal. El tribunal, donde nacen asesinos. O mas bien cien hacen, Abuelo Alberto always said. La Zanahoria turned to look back at Antonio who wanted to scream out, tear away from his grandfather, to show the policeman the cellophane. Abuelo Alberto clutched his shoulder. Vengase viejo. Por qué se lo van a llevar y a mi no? Yo también estaba. Cállese viejo que alguien puede estar parando oreja. ¿Pero por qué se lo van a llevar? ¿Y que le va pasar a Trudis? The market, hot, dirty, and thick with people. The newsman, shuffling back to his stand. Abuelo Alberto, ready to keep on selling. El pastel no es para todos viejo.

© The Acentos Review 2018