Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

S H O R T   S T O R Y   ~   P A R T   T W O
b y   s u s a n   s a n   m i g u e l   ~   s a n   a n t o n i o ,   t e x a s

NOTE TO READERS: This story is in two parts.
If you wish to print the whole story, remember
to print both parts. The link to the first part
is near the bottom of this page.

FOR DINNER we ended up just eating tacos. I call them tacos but maybe I should call them sandwiches: ham and cheese, cooked in the microwave on a tortilla. You can add the lettuce and tomato later if you want, the cheese too, but I like it melted. I know Tomas really doesn't care much for cooking and neither do I, so I just threw them together myself.

After dinner, I turned on the television to watch the news. Tomas sat down next to me on the couch to watch, too.

There was an apparent murder suicide on the west side. The next-door neighbor stood on the sidewalk outside the tiny white house which had been marked off with yellow police tape. The camera zoomed in for a brief close-up of her tear-stained face, her thick skin and heavy eyelids, her black hair with red streaks pulled back into a bun, revealing large thick earlobes. A little boy hid behind her, tugging at her faded housedress. A man's coat hung loosely around her shoulders.

"They were always together. I'd see them at the Kwik Wash on Mondays. He helped her carry the basket of clothes and stood outside smoking or just este... coterreando, hanging out con los hombres, while she washed. Or, sometimes you'd see them sitting on the porch steps, not talking, just sitting there in the evening, watching the cars go by ..." Her voice died down, overcome with emotion. She pulled the coat up close beneath her chin. "My Jorge went to school with their youngest boy."

"Were you aware that the police had been called to the house several times?" the reporter questioned.

"We saw them at a dance at the VFW just last Saturday. They were married for a long time, parece por siempre. They argued, like married people do."

The reporter edged the microphone away. "Thank you, Mrs. Garcia." But she snatched it back and held it for a moment before she spoke. "Y algo mas." She paused a moment more. "La cascara guarda el palo," she explained as if this would clarify everything.

The reporter, looking puzzled, grabbed for the microphone.

"Tiene razon about la policia," she continued. "Sometimes he blew up for no reason at all. It just happened. It was his nature. 'Ta bueno. Es la voluntad de Dios," she shrugged and didn't utter another word until the reporter turned away and began to speak to the camera. "Live from the west side ..." Then, in the background, Mrs. Garcia's hands could be seen gesturing emphatically as she suddenly remembered something else she thought was important.

Tomas groaned. "Nothing but bad news. Want me to turn it off?"

"No, that's okay. I'm watching it."

"For the next few days, you can expect clear skies and colder temperatures than usual for this time of year, perfect conditions tonight for viewing the meteor shower. So bundle up! Between the hours of eleven and three, in the northeastern horizon at a twenty-five degree angle above the treeline, you'll be treated to a rare spectacle," the weatherman said.

The view outside the bus window was stark, the sky without color, no trees, just streetlights and billboards that blared into the bus. It turned on Guadalupe Street, leaving downtown behind, soon passing a neighborhood of compact suburban homes built with garages in front, in soft neutral pastels, the paint peeling. Then there was the River Inn Motel, nowhere near the river, advertising the use of its Fantasy room after three p.m. Over the Guadalupe Street bridge, past the abandoned graffitied warehouses: the Apache Court projects, the Guadalupe Theater with its midnight blue tile, the El Parian Public Market, Hong Wing Chinese restaurant. At the corner: Terrazos tire shop and its fence glittering with silver hubcaps, the Mexi-mart, the Fiesta Meat Market. Then, off the main road, rows of tiny brightly painted houses with burglar bars and unlit Christmas lights laced around the windows. There were soggy old mattresses discarded on the sidewalk, empty flower pots outside the front doors. The rose bushes planted in neat rows along the sidewalks were already in bloom, providing a sudden splash of natural color against so much winter grayness.

Husband and wife took in the familiar surroundings and were glad to be almost home. It had been a long and frustrating day of shopping for their five-year-old nephew's birthday gift, attending his party, then waiting for the bus, an hour on San Pedro, and another hour to make the transfer in front of the Payless Shoe Source on Commerce Street downtown.

Itzpapalotl leaned her head on her husband's shoulder. He patted her hand affectionately, knowing she wouldn't take off her mittens even though it was warm on the bus because she was self-conscious about her missing finger.

"Muevete con Bud Light," the billboard read. Every time she saw that sign she always remembered the night last spring when they went to pick up Flaco, drunk at the icehouse on Fredericksberg Road where his truck wouldn't start. He had been the best man at their wedding so many years ago. They had remained friends all this time.

Itzlacoliuhqui had poked underneath the hood, his face all scrunched up in intense concentration while she stood nearby handing him the tools he asked for and holding the flashlight. Flaco was dancing and singing beneath the streetlight. When he lost his balance or wobbled out of the light, she couldn't resist the urge to flash her own light on him, and then he would do a little shuffle especially for her, neither of them paying any mind to her husband's scowl. Finally she dropped the light and started dancing, too.

"Muevete con Bud Light," she pointed to the sign as it whizzed by.

"Yeah, we had to push the car to the Texaco," her husband sighed.

They found their house curiously empty. The familiar smell of home touched their nostrils when they opened the door, of so many dinners cooked, of sweaty playful children running in and out between the rooms, of Vick's Vapo-Rub used for every ailment, of dirt from the potted plants, of the closed-in smell of the gas heater.

The husband turned on the television. Light and shadow dashed across the walls, on the graduation pictures hanging in a row opposite the television. All nine of their children had graduated from high school, something both of them were proud of. An anniversary plaque of their wedding invitation that their children had engraved for them hung beneath the graduation pictures. Layers of toys piled against the hallway wall: the grandchildren's plastic Tonka trucks and Barbie dolls and, underneath that, the old metal dump trucks and Matchbox cars, baby dolls with no clothes or hair from their own childhoods. They opened cans of beer and sat down in front of the television set, the sound turned down low.

She giggled at a slapstick skit on Univision, the words hardly audible.

"Shush. Callate el hocico. I wanna hear what's going on," he hissed at her.

"Turn it up, then." She sat back and laughed and then pointed at something that struck her as funny on the screen, cupping her hand to her mouth in a half-hearted attempt to quiet herself.

He got up and turned up the sound, exploding the peaceful darkness of the house.

"That's too loud. What're you trying to do? Bust my eardrums?" She turned it down again.

His face had grown quiet, closed, without expression. He took a sip of his beer to show that he was biding his time.

She moved close to him, her hand on his leg, trying to coax him out of his dark mood, tickling him softly, then wrapping her fingers playfully around his neck.

He grinned, took another sip of beer.

She watched him swallow, holding him as closely as she could in an embrace. "You almost killed me today. Remember? At the bus stop?"

He was certain that he felt her claws piercing his skin.

"Nah. What're you talkin' about? I didn't do that." A little bit uneasy, he tried to loosen her grip, a smile plastered across his face as he stared at the television.

"Why didn't you just do it? Were you afraid?" She tickled him lightly beneath his chin.

"Que dices? Where do you come up with these things?" he said as he took another gulp of beer.

"It's funny, isn't it? You trying to kill me. Old man. Es chistoso. Say it's funny. Di que es chistoso," she teased.

He gritted his teeth, almost cracked a smile. She could tell he was trying hard to hold back, so she kept at it, tickling him, while he tried to catch her fingers going at his neck.

Finally he said, "Shut up, bitch. Just shut up."

She stopped laughing and fell away from him, but this time he had her. He grabbed a pillow from the couch and pressed it hard against her face. Underneath the pillow he could hear her laughter once more. Her arms and legs floundered and fought helplessly. It was almost funny, as if without a face she had no power over the rest of her body. When she tried to hit him, or kick him, or claw at his face, she just missed. He might have actually laughed if her muffled giggles weren't making him so angry, like the grating chirp of birds waking him up in the morning when he didn't want to be woken up, or the crush of broken glass, a bottle smashing against concrete.

When he thought he couldn't stand it anymore, he got on top of her, straddled her, pinned her down. An exhilarating energy raced through his blood as she struggled and squirmed beneath him, until finally her arms and legs stopped flailing about, her breathing stopped, the laughter died.

She had not been as strong as he had always thought. Killing her had been easy. He might have done it sooner. He removed the pillow to find her glasses broken, still steamy from her own breath and smashed against her face, which was frozen in an expression of laughter. Her mouth was open and the skin across her cheekbones was stretched tight, creating tiny creases around her eyes. He removed the glasses to find her eyes black and merry as always, but still.

A harsh, sudden laughter burst into the room.

"Stop it," he hissed at her. But she remained strangely still. The television erupted again in laughter. He didn't bother to turn it off. He let the laughter torture him while he studied his wife's face for any sign of movement.

He closed his fist around the four useless claws of her limp hand, then he touched them across his cheek as if this might give them life. They didn't respond. He felt tired and lonely and cold, very cold.

Husband and wife had been dead for twenty minutes, maybe less, when their son-in-law found them lying, side by side, on the couch.

"Sports are over. I'm turning it off now. You don't seem to be watching."

"Huh? Sure, turn it off."

"Well, I'm going to bed. Have to get up early tomorrow. Are you coming?" Tomas waited.

"I think I'll stay up awhile and watch the meteor shower."


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