Michael Pagán

The Essential Practice of Slowing, Down 

My father terrified my mother only minutes after giving birth, telling her he believed she’d just given birth to abnormal child because, apparently to him, I looked so ugly. Suffice it to say: my father had the worst bedside manner, like a drunken mechanic. I can’t remember my father anymore. I do know I haven’t forgiven him since, and we’ll carry this feud forever. 

“A mistake that people often make is assuming that history doesn’t live in the present tense. The problem with that logic is—” is how my mother would begin. Of course, she always had a habit of breaking her sentences off in the middle. She would later die with a boy’s face in her palm as she dreamt. Always a price to be paid for dreaming. 

The boy sits down and has one final talk with his conscience in order to sway himself. Still a small voice. There was no door. And if there were, he would still be able to catch her scent through the door. The hospital smells: the disinfectant reminding him of heavy, stale water and corroded humanness—definitely human. Hospital smells almost always awake memories. 

He goes in because he feels uncomfortable. 

She turns over to face him before he sits down, smiles, then slides over to the opposite side of the hospital bed. She then lifts the bed sheets and signals for him to crawl in. He does, without hesitation, and they lie face to face for a long while, listening to the backdrop of noises: the hallway gossip, the common machines, the electronic sounds that remind that someone is still breathing; before they fall asleep; before she says: “Maybe, just maybe, because you remind me of someone, and I just can’t help myself.” The boy would end his visit by washing and lotioning her legs and feet. Family Feud the only thing talking from the television. 

Can we remember someone correctly? That wasn’t her voice—they’re over with, those times. 

When she was a teenager, my mother would lie on her stomach in between two console speakers, listening to Camilo Sesto records. She’d sing along while following her own lyric sheets. At that time, most vinyl records didn’t carry those folded booklets that now come standard with CDs, so she had to play each song over and over and over and over until she’d transcribed every word, of every lyric, of every song. 

Her brother, Carlos, would try and get even with the family by threatening to kill himself. It was during one of his tirades that he tripped over the glass coffee table which lead to him bowling over both console speakers and diving head-first into the radiator. And while he didn’t appear to be seriously hurt, he pretended to be by faking a seizure, writhing and convulsing like some dying hen while letting out trickles of saliva in hopes that he would fool everyone into believing he was foaming at the mouth. Instead, they’d wait it out until he exhausted himself, leaving him to lie there in his own puddle of spit. My grandmother would continue cooking dinner whiles her eldest brother, Frank, finished stirring up the Tang in a glass jug with a pair of kitchen scissors. Frank was in too much a hurry to leave the house in order to make his tri-weekly “date” with a neighborhood girl named Karen who lived just down the block. 

Later that summer, Karen would embrace death by overdosing on Acetaminophen. Some in the neighborhood speculated that she had a sudden change of perspective only after she’d finished swallowing the entire bottle. She managed to stumble out of her apartment door only to collapse in the stairwell. The old woman who found her told police about her ridiculous little face—how pathetic it looked. She said about Karen: “If she wasn’t being looked at or pointed to, it was like she felt she didn’t belong, to people that is. People had to notice her. People had to see. 

Frank would always describe Karen as being “The most colossal slice he’d ever eaten from the skank pie.” 

The radiator and the console speakers—both snatched up by my grandfather at different garage sales—were now permanently damaged. And while my grandfather was able to repair the radiator, the speakers he couldn’t fix, leaving my mother to settle for lying on her bed and staring at Camilo’s picture on the LP’s cover while singing aloud to only herself. 

No one remembers what she ever did with her coveted lyric sheets. I do know she hated my uncle Carlos for a while after for trashing the speakers. Ironically enough, fate would have it that it would be her brother Carlos who’d give her last haircut before she passed away. She also passed away on his birthday: May 11th, 1998. 

“I’d like to tell you about today,” she’d said to me once. “I used to believe a lint roller could be used to remove a bad spirit. And, at times, I was known to confuse someone stretching their arms as someone who wanted a hug.” 

And she left when I was seventeen. Just like that, she just left. 

“You can tell a lot from a man’s umbrella,” she said to me. Her body so close that it forced me to pull away just enough that the back of my jeans were being soaked by the rain. I was now wet and uncomfortable. In reality, there was no escape. Not unless I was willing to leave her standing alone in the rain. 

“What’s your name?” she asked. 

“Michael,” I said. 

“Michael, what?” 



“Yeah. Pagán.” 

“What a godawful last name.” 

“Yeah? And what would you change it to?” 

She didn’t answer me. I imagined she felt she had the right not to answer the same way she felt she had the right to run under my umbrella, grabbing onto my arm in the process. “My name’s Kassia,” she finally said. 

“Well, hello Kassia. The backs of my legs are getting wet now.” 

“So are mine. You should’ve planned ahead and bought a bigger umbrella.” 

I could smell the shampoo in her hair. I didn’t know if it might’ve been because her hair was dripping wet. I had learned once how smells could change under certain atmospheric conditions. And now, it seemed there was no air, no space under the umbrella. Our dark eyes felt nearer and nearer along with our knees and hips. 

“Oh!” she gripped my arm tighter. “Look!” 

“What?” I asked. 

“The rain stopped,” she said. It was only then that I’d noticed that summer afternoon became drowsy again. 

I realized then that the magic had been on her side. She smiled at me, gave me a light peck on the cheek, then left. 

Alone, always, alone, I thought to myself. 

I look at life cumulatively: I’m a holy man, a philanthropist and a would-be killer. I’ve killed myself. I’ve killed my family. I’ve fooled myself into believing that lives are cheap, that history does not live. That history wears a black t-shirt with skeleton print; only spine and ribcage. BODIES written across the collar. 

But, what do I care? I’m dead, aren’t I? No one is coming after me. I know this. But, what if I say: It was a joke? It makes it okay, doesn’t it? Because, the world will end when everyone blinks at the exact same time—only then will I disappear. 

Part of a letter I’d written to “my father” the day after my mother’s burial. He left when I was only two years old and since then had been nothing more to me than an imaginary mosquito buzzing around my head and me perpetually unable to bat it away. I would’ve given anything to be that little boy standing next to him in the bathroom, emulating him as he washed his hands. 

I’d imagine him balancing me on things, like street curbs and railroad tracks. He’d hold my hand. But, the gods spare no one. 

The truth is, forgiveness exists only through familiarity. You cannot forgive someone you don’t or never knew unless you’re a god, in which, it wouldn’t matter because you’re a god. Everything else is just blowing breath through mosquito netting. 

Funny how it’s when someone is dead that people begin listening. 

“You ever look at a photograph and hear its sound?” my mother asked me a few weeks before she passed one. “If you want to remember your life, remember it musically. Always have it playing in the background, or at least, during moments you feel at that time are monumental.” 

At that moment, I turned the radio on that was next to her bed to the first available radio station—a Spanish station. They were playing Camilo Sesto’s “Llueve Sobre Mojado.” 

“I’m glad you came. Can you say for a while?” she said. 

We laid side-by-side—naked for the sake of coolness—underneath an open window and screen, a stripped bed underneath our undercooked thighs and calves and heels and head and haunches, and then a sound: I love you. I couldn’t believe it came out of my mouth. It was terrifying folly, folly, folly. . . 

“Falling, falling, falling,” I finally said. It brought the sweat out of me. The difficulties of physically meeting bodies, because it’s only then that bodies swell until they fill up the universe. 

“What?” she asked. 

“It’s a beautiful thing,” I said. 

“It is a beautiful thing, she said. 

Our feet touched; a despairing sensuality perished of suffocation. There were no shadows on the wall, which I can remember, because of the angle of the sun. The sun had fled away, just for a moment, along with its feet shadows. 

“How far away are we?” I asked her. 

“From what?” 

“From yesterday?” 

“I don’t know.” 

“Feet.” I answered myself. 

Just because we were thrown together didn’t mean we had to speak everything in our minds. Which is why I never take solace in wet locations or environments—in order to fight against the dissolution of things important. 

She’d already fallen, that night that the little boy lay next to her with his face inside her hands. She’d already fallen like water running down rotted piping on its waterlogged trajectory. Our love changed then. My mother’s body, her swerve, her curvature had become a tomb. She no longer had that old-school wonderful that could stretch out a room. They were over with, those times. 

My grandmother had told us that during her final moments, she imagined my mother’s inside voice being that of a grimacing, screaming lunatic: the habit of breaking off sentences at the waist and pacing back and forth. That she couldn’t understand until she looked down and saw 

his feet as hers and realized he was walking! And then she understood that she was dreaming his dreams, and his alone. 

“Who are you talking about, abuela?” I asked her. I thought maybe she spoke of her God. 

“Her husband,” she said. “As strong a woman as your mother was, I don’t think she believed she could ever survive without a man in her life. She needed that crutch to balance herself. I only wish she could’ve settled on a dog.” 

It was because of my mother that I, for a long time, believed that marriage didn’t have the legs. Then I realized that it had nothing to do with marriage, marriage certainly has legs. What doesn’t is history. It doesn’t have the legs anymore.

I grew up always being told never to trust anything without legs—especially as it pertains to history. Standing needs legs. Standing requires poise and history is nothing more than a memory sale. “A mistake that people often make is assuming that history doesn’t live in the present tense. The problem with that logic is—” is how my mother would always begin before breaking her sentences off in the middle. 

But, how about: History is nothing more than a memory sale? 

It was then taken up minutes later in mid-sentence, after Kassia and I lay there against that garbled, miscolored morning sky, trying to capture the rain with our open mouths (the warmest we came to loving before actually loving): 

“. . .loving by installments,” she said. 

“Living without moving,” I said. 

MikeIPhone 283


Born and raised in Miami, FL, Michael J Pagán spent four years (1999-2003) in the United States Navy before (hastily) running back to college during the spring of 2004. He currently resides in Deerfield Beach, FL with his wife and daughter where he continues to work on his poetry, short fiction, and his first stage play. He is a contributor to his alma mater's blog, The MFA at FAU, as well as his own, The Elevator Room Company.

A graduate of Florida Atlantic University's Creative Writing M.F.A. program, his poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama have appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, DIAGRAM, Pacifica Literary Review, Spork Press, Requited, Verse, The Coachella Review, BlazeVOX, Spittoon Magazine, The Watershed Review and Mad Hatters’ Review among others.  


© The Acentos Review 2013