Gilbert Y Maria

The water was cool as it sloshed between Gilbert’s toes.

“Okay, I’m ready”, Maria shouted as she smoothed the hem of her San Dimas High School Drama Club t-shirt over her jeans. A nearby mallard ignored Gilbert to focus on trying to eat a floating grocery bag, what El Pasoans called a “Texas Jellyfish”, despite Gilbert’s attempts to lure it closer with popcorn. Gilbert sat on a rock and put his blue and orange sneakers back on.

“Thanks for turning around like a gentleman so I could pee, Gilbert”, Maria said. His shoes smacked and slurped on the muddy bank as he plodded back toward her.

“Of course, M’Lady,” he said with a flourish and a half bow.

“Ew, don’t do that. I ain’t no one’s lady, and that’s what creepy internet dudes do.”

“Heh heh, I know, I was just playing,” Gilbert mumbled, blushing. Gilbert was not playing. He thought “M’lady” was muy suavecito.

Gilbert was glad to have soaked his feet, blistered by his running regimen undertaken three weeks prior, as part of a semi-secret self-improvement course he set himself to for the summer before Senior year at San Dimas.

“Like another mile, then I guess we’ll turn back,” Gilbert said.

“We should have ridden our bikes,” Maria said.

“Totally. If we come back, we will.”

The path glinted in the noonday sun, and they kicked up a trailing plume of dust as they trundled toward the cave to which Gilbert’s Abuela had sent them. Maria walked light but sure, like an antelope, often called Speed Goats in regional vernacular. Gilbert slouched and stomped, like something that scared away antelope. Maria retrieved her phone from the pocket of her Cowgirl Up! brocaded jeans, and shaded the screen with her hand to check the battery level. She smiled and nodded.

“I’m at 67%, so I’m going to save the location in my phone when we get to the cave,” Maria said.

“Good idea. Oh dang! Check it out!” Gilbert exclaimed, pointing at a shopping cart nestled against a pecan tree. Certain he had stumbled upon a deus ex machina boon to help his hero’s journey, he adjusted his glasses with his thumb and forefinger on the side of the lens. He thought the maneuver was more sophisticated than using one finger to shove the glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“It’s a H.E.B. buggy, they got the best buggies,” Maria said.

“Yeah, they’re real good. Do you want me to push you in it?”

“Um, no, but maybe let’s, like, put our backpacks in it.”

Maria was ever practical, which developed early for her as the oldest of three, born of a mother who functioned as if she were single since Maria was small. She had put herself through nursing school while Maria helped with her sisters, both still in diapers.

Gilbert placed his backpack in the cart, then held his hand out for Maria’s. She passed it to him with a “Thank you,” and he put it on top of his backpack with great care. Gilbert pushed the cart. Invisible cicada roared as the cart clattered down the path. Maria giggled.

“What? What is it?” Gilbert asked, familiar with being the object of ridicule.

“Heh, it’s nothing”, Maria said.

“Come on, forreals, what is it?” Gilbert pleaded. He was unable to conceal the anxiety in his voice, which cracked through “is”, rendering it a two-syllable word.

“Your backpack sweat stain looks like the Spiderman logo. It’s kind of cool”.

“Aw, man!” Gilbert huffed, pulling the shoulder of this t-shirt around to see it. “Huh. I guess that is kind of cool.”

“So, San Pedro cactus. I think Mr. Ballinger told us about those in botany. Did you have him last year?” Maria asked.

“Nah, I heard he was alright, but I had Ag instead of botany. I liked it ok. I couldn’t decide between 4H and FFA, and anime club disbanded because Jeff Huerta kept on downloading porno animes, so I didn’t do either, so I could focus on being a mustache farmer” Gilbert explained with a smirk.

“I’d hardly call that a mustache,” Maria said, her words pricking with the barb of truth.

“Man, whatever, by the time summer is over, it’s gonna be muy macho, you gonna see it like DAMN,” Gilbert offered as a rejoinder.

“So this stuff from the cave will help your…quest?”

Gilbert stopped, and the shopping cart rattled and squeaked to a stop with him. “It’s not a quest. It’s a plan. Quests are lame. Quests involve wizards and shit. Please don’t make fun of me.”

“No, I’m not, Gilbert. I’m proud of you. You’ve lost weight, and you’re taking me on a real life adventure to get a psychedelic cactus your grandmother-who is a real-life witch-told you about. It’s kind of awesome, but it’s a bit much to take in.” Maria said.

“It does sound kinda crazy when you put it like that. And awesome. And Abuela’s not a witch, she’s a curandera.” Gilbert resumed pushing, a supermarket Sisyphus.

“Whatever, it’s still witchy,” shrugged Maria.

Gilbert’s stomach rumbled and cooed like a sea mammal. “Shut up, you stay out of this! You ain’t the boss of me no more,” Gilbert scolded his belly.

“You’re funny, Gilbert, how come you’re not funny in school?” asked Maria.

“Most of what I think is funny is just weird to most people”, Gilbert said.

“Oh yeah, like what?”

“Batman with a Hitler mustache. Song parodies. Farts set to classical music. Elaborate puns.”

“Yeah, most people don’t really like puns. At least you don’t make stupid dirty jokes all the time and call everyone gay like the other guys.”

“You’re funny, too. I remember in you wrote that sketch for theatre showcase about the guy who got both his thumbs stuck in mousetraps at the same time” Gilbert guffawed.

“Heh-oh yeah! That happened to my Tio Beto.”

“My Tio Yunior calls me Beto, sometimes, but mostly he calls me ‘fucker’”.

“Well, I think we’re almost there, fucker”, Maria said, her raised eyebrows skewing the azimuth of her inverted teardrop face.

“Hah, yeah, gotta be getting close” Gilbert said.

“Remember when Colton Bostick called Idalou Maddox “Mama” in health class?” Maria asked.

“Yup, everyone called her ‘Mama Maddox’ forever. She liked it. Colton tried to make his perro bite me cuz I told everyone he got cut from Pop Warner for having lice, pero he got stung on the nose by a wasp.”

“Aww, poor puppy,” Maria pouted.

“No, not the dog, Colton.”

“What? No way!”

“Yeah, it got all big, and he was crying. Were you there when Seymour Nguyen, Brooks Calhoun, and Darius-“

“Hey! That’s my shopping cart, you little shits!” a voice bellowed behind them.

“Oh my God, Gilbert, there’s like a crazy old cabron! Let’s get out of here!” Maria huffed, breaking into a run.

Gilbert whiteknuckled the cart and ran, bent at the waist. Gravel and dust pinged off his glasses, eventually finding its way into his eyes. Gilbert looked behind him. A middle-aged Caucasian man in an unbuttoned mossy oak camouflage jacket and tawny work pants stood in the path. He was carrying two orange hardware store buckets with marijuana plants growing out of them, each standing about four feet tall. He set them down and pulled out a machete from a holster at his side. “I need my shopping cart, little dude!” the man snarled. “I’ll gut you like a catfish!”

Gilbert started to run again. The shopping cart swung side to side in loosely oscillating arcs as a crazy wheel lodged itself sideways, digging a furrow like a plow’s blade.

“Ditch the buggy!” Maria yelled.

“Imma get y’all! Making me run like this! This is some bullshit! Imma get y’all!” the man bellowed.

Gilbert stopped the cart, snagged his backpack, and threw it on. He put Maria’s on in front of his torso. His hands moved quickly as he squeezed the crisscrossed straps at his clavicles and began a frantic run. He looked like a chubby turtle oozing out of its nylon shell.

“Dude! We didn’t know! I’m sorry, Mister! Leave us alone, please, Sir, we’re honor students!” Gilbert bleated during exhalations, remembering from his running lessons (a component to his training as a boxer with Tio Yunior) to breathe in and out as his left foot struck the ground to stabilize his organs and avoid getting side pains. He stood up straight and lean forward a little at the ankles, to spring off the balls of his feet instead of clip-clopping with like a flatfooted Clydesdale. Gilbert could almost hear Tio Yunior’s barbed encouragements “Pick up the pace, chubs, ey! If you don’t give up, you can have chorizo at breakfast.” Gilbert was also not too afraid to forget his manners, having searched for the appropriate term of address for the crazed man with the machete chasing him toward a secret cave filled with magic drug cacti.

“C’mon Gilbert! I know a safe spot!” Maria shouted, from 50 feet ahead.

Gilbert’s packs rollicked and rustled as he ran through the red dirt. He couldn’t help but notice Maria’s bottom as she ran. He didn’t know what he liked about it, but he had a suspicion it was something special he’d soon better understand, probably by this time next year. Gilbert leaned forward as if a deckhand lashing sails in response to an unexpected Nor’easter. He lengthened his stride, closing the distance between himself and Maria. He was soon in speaking distance.

“Just around the bend. Follow me,” Maria said in a harsh whisper, so as not to apprise their pursuer of their plans. Rounding the corner, Gilbert saw still more dirt path, bordered by brush and mesquite. “This is it,” Maria said as she stopped and gestured at a stand of Carrizo cane.

“Forreal?” Gilbert panted.

“Yup. No time. Be quiet.”

She parted the cane and stepped through, the stalks resembling a mating of bamboo and corn- tall and thin, but with large leaves which pointed straight down. Maria was careful to not crunch the dried undergrowth. Gilbert followed.

They emerged on the other side, once again on the banks of the Shackleford reservoir. Maria peered at Gilbert, and raised a finger to her lips. Her hair smuggled hulls from the golden feathers of the seed pods. He plucked one out and presented it to her. She smiled.

“How do you know this place?” Gilbert asked, between deep but slower breaths. Running sucked, but had paid off.

“I used to fish here with my dad before he deployed.”

“Oh, Dang. I’m sorry.”

Vámonos!” Maria commanded, grabbing Gilbert’s hand.

“Your dad left when we were in 2nd grade, right?”

“3rd.”

“He brought you to my birthday party one time. He got blown up, but, like, he looks the same, right?”

“Yeah, but he’s not the same. He just watches Fox News and yells at the TV a lot. Can we talk about something else?” Maria’s voice was firm, and Gilbert knew this was non-negotiable.

“We ain’t gotta talk.”

Muted footfalls broke in over the wind rustling the cane and the lapping undulations of the water. A crane, primal and dinosaurlike, paused from stalking mosquito larvae to regard them. It turned its head so slow as to be almost unobservable. Gilbert had never mustered the patience the bird demonstrated in that moment.

“Hey! Little dudes!” rose a shout. The crane took flight. “I just needed my cart. No hard feelins, alright? I left y’all some weed! I’m taking my cart and leaving now.”

“Let’s keep going this way a little bit, then cut back to the path,” Gilbert said. Maria squeezed his hand.

“We shouldn’t get the weed, should we?” Gilbert asked. They stared at each other for a moment, and erupted into a peal of laughter.

“You are crazy. Okay. What would you have done if that guy was still coming for us, Gilbert?”, Maria asked, her clear eyes reflecting the shimmer of the sun on the water.

“I would have liberated his teeth from the tyranny of his gums.”

Maria laughed, snorting. Gilbert laughed. Somewhere a crane watched a battalion of ants march up an Acacia from a high bough. The Acacia tree is a plant found around the world, with approximately 20 subspecies native to Texas, and prized by the curanderas for its dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a powerful psychoactive substance. A large flock of Starlings approached, and in an instant reversed direction in one smooth movement, as if sharing a common, unquarrelsome mind. A quarter mile away, a man guided a shopping cart down a red path impregnated with stones, smiling at having a convenient means to transport his illicit cargo, orbited by dragonflies flying at right angles. Here with Gilbert and Maria, turtles sunned themselves on logs and silver-blue fish sploshed in the reservoir as a lifelong friendship was born.

 

 

 

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Day 10: Nono to Nanowrimo

logo_of_national_novel_writing_month

I won’t be attempting Nanowrimo this year. My semester starts the week before, and I’ll be closing on a house/moving mid-month. It’s a wonderful project, but not for me this year.

Last year I started writing Siempre Gilbert, which has since become a (longer) short story, 20 pages or so, part of a story cycle. An unfinished short story, because I am writing several things at a time, and I haven’t yet figured out my workflow. I do not know what I am doing. I like the concept of “serial project monogamy” where a task is your focus until it is complete (as opposed to multitasking), but I can’t seem to make it work for projects like longer stories.

So if you’ll be grinding away next month, I salute. I look forward to reading about your journey, but I’m sitting this one out.

Day 8: Rest

 

rest

I went to sleep right after 8. I haven’t needed to go to bed that early in quite some time, but I don’t regret it. I had free time- I could have read or watched a movie, but I tapped out.

I don’t prioritize rest. I can’t; I must be in a constant state of hyper-vigillance, which is draining. I don’t know what else to do. Since transitioning to the civilian work force, some of the negative stressors of military service, such as working the weekend (unpaid) at the drop of a had, the ever-present threat of deploying to some violent craphole, having to answer your phone 24/7, have gone away.

Also, my anxiety about dying in a mass shooting is down 80%.

This has been good for me. I can sleep without troubling dreams, or the constant fear I was forgetting something.

Rest is important.

 

Day 6: Ouch

I’m reading Stephen Pressfield’s “The War of Art”. I’ve skimmed it before, and read a handful of his other stuff, but haven’t dug into this one until now. One of the main themes of the book is countering resistance- the negative energy, or inertia, limiting beliefs of excuses which get in the way of getting stuff done. In one section about resistance and trouble, he says “We get ourselves in trouble because it’s a cheap way to get attention. Trouble is a faux form of fame.”  He continues: “Ill health is a form of trouble, as are alcoholism and drug addiction, proneness to accidents, all neurosis including compulsive screwing-up, and such seemingly benign foibles as jealousy, chronic lateness, and the blasting of rap music at 110db from your smoked-glass ’95 Supra.”

“Proneness to accidents”? “Compulsive screwing-up”? Do you even know me?

Have I been clumsy my whole life because I’m undisciplined? I drop things and stuff when I’m by myself. I’ve always thought of it as wearing a body 2 sizes too big, which is why I’m always stubbing toes and bumping doorways.

I don’t know. This is something I have to process. It stung when I read it, which is not something I encounter often. I see myself in this description, and I want to do the work to fix it.

I am capable of being precise and graceful, but not as often as I would like. I want to live my life the best I can.

UPDATE: I wrote this post right before attending a mindfulness class. It was just what I needed. I still need to probe this proud flesh, though.

 

 

Day 5: Late to the party

Because my life is hella messy.

I just found out about the Write 31 Days Challenge , where people are committing to writing for each day in October, from the erstwhile Micah J. Murray. I thought it sounded like just the thing for me. I have been writing, but I haven’t been blogging much. I’ve meant to, but made excuses. Now the kids are all in bed, I have some tortilla chips and chile verde salsa, and I can unpack for a few minutes.

I’ve always had a stagnant period when I move to a new workplace; the endless orientation and training, getting your email set up, and so forth. Just lately I’ve started to feel productive at my new job. It feels good to have physical work done, and I did miss it.

Also of note, I’ve accepted the thought that I might not be doing this kind of work forever. I find it professionally fulfilling, and take pride in my workmanship, but I don’t have to stay in the same niche industry forever. In 10 years I might have another dream to follow, and that’s okay, as long as I have a plan, and have set myself up so I am in a place to take a risk.

I start school again n a few weeks. I was in a weird Limbo where I wasn’t yet able to use the GI Bill to go to school, plus I moved and started a new job. It would be nice to have knocked out a few more credits, but it made just as much sense to put it on pause for a bit. I am excited, but the term ends around the time I close on my new house. However, if I’ve learned anything over the past 6 years, it’s that life will never be convenient. If I want something, I need to make it happen. There will always be a good reason to not even try. I need to ignore this voice, and do foolish things, which usually end up having been awesome things.

I’ve finally gotten my oldest daughter involved in martial arts, in the form of Muay Thai and Eskrima. I’ve been trying for years, and she is enjoying it. I’m glad for this, she has the moody lack of confidence which plagues most 12-year-olds, and having just started a new school in a new city, she’s finding the social landscape less inviting than what she’s used to. I’m hoping that training will give her something structured, a continuity, a little discipline. I hope she learns that she can expect a lot of herself, and succeed if she really tries.

All told, though it seems at times we have more bad days than good, we are living well, and I’m thankful. I still struggle every day, but I am thankful.

 

Chicken Coop

coop

 

Note: This originally appeared on my Medium page.

Keisha opened the egg box of the vacant chicken coop, and saw a tiny man pooping in a feed tray. He shielded his eyes against the sun and yelled at her “Hey, do you mind? Whaddaya, some kinda pervert?”

“What are you doing in my chicken coop?” Keisha asked.

His eyes darted about. He cracked a half-smile. “What does it look like? I’m not knitting a sweater. I’m not in the joint no more, I wanna crap in peace without giant ladies or field mice watching me.”

Keisha thought it remarkable how deep his voice was, with such small vocal cords, and how he spoke like a cartoon character from New Jersey.

“What I mean is, why do you live here, in the chicken coop?”

“I (grunt) won it in a cockfight, fair and square.”

“There used to be cockfights here?”

“Just the one time. I stabbed that bastard in his liver, then slit his throat. Kept my distance as he bled out. What a mess! The hens split soon after that” he explained.

“They just up and left?” She asked.

“Yeah, flew the coop” he said, with another half-smile.

He grabbed a handful of woodchips to wipe himself. When he was done, as he walked over to his puddled cargo shorts, Keisha blushed when she saw his member. It was tiny, but in proportion to his body, an impressive appendage. He put on his shorts.

“So, listen lady, I guess you own the house now. I had it all worked out with the last people. Let’s be civil, okay? No coming by unannounced, and I won’t get in your way. Text me if you need anything, I’ll be doing the same. Keep any dogs or cats out of this part of the garden, especially cats. And I need a few things from you,” he said.

“Such as?”

“Those tiny bottles of liquor-once a week I need a bottle of Dewar’s. I need a water, some melba toast, and Vienna sausage. The rest I get from the garden, or I barter with animals. Can you do that for me…I wanna say Carol? You look like a Carol”.

“Keisha, actually. Yeah, I can do that.”

“Okay, cool. Keisha, I’m having a little get together later, not for nothin’, it’s poker night, and my turn to host. We’ll keep it down and be done by ten-thirty at the latest. The frogs get belligerent past about then. Last time they picked a fight with the chipmunks, sheesh, wadn’t pretty. I’ll need you to take out the trash bags later. Not much. 1 or 2 of them Halloween baggies. In return, I’ll scare off any tweakers or raccoons that come around.”

“Tweakers come in the yard at night? Is this a regular occurrence?”

“Heh heh. Yeah. You ask a lot of questions. Welcome to Utah, toots.”

 

The Ghost Athiest (Fiction)

ghost

 

This originally appeared on my Medium.com page, where I post fiction pieces.

The Ghost Athiest

“Dude, wake up.”

Paul rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms. “You’re not talking to me. I already told you ghosts aren’t real. Rather, they could be real, but there’s no evidence for or against. My non-belief is pragmatic and based on the scientific method”, he said.

“Paul, this is going to get ugly if you don’t get your stupid meatbag ass outta that bed. I have to right wrongs on Earth so I can move on, and you’ll learn something through the quest.”

Paul sighed. “This is just a side effect of my medication. I’m going back to sleep.”

“Goddamnit Paul! Even prescription-strength dandruff shampoo doesn’t cause claw-like lacerations, auditory and visual hallucinations, and fuckin’ ECTOPLASM!”

“The scratches are from inexpensive towels, the hallucinations are from being tired, and the alleged ectoplasm is sebaceous fluid from my inflamed scalp. Goodnight, to no one and nothing, because I am alone.” Paul said, glad for having stood up for himself.

The ghost shook the bed. “A common earthquake, and a pitiful one, at that.”

The ghost opened Paul’s laptop and typed “SAMSAMSAMSAMSAMSAMSAMSAM.”

“Screensaver,” Paul declared.

“Listen, jackass, I have to settle accounts” the ghost said.

“Misplaced workplace anxiety,” answered Paul.

The ghost jumped in through Paul’s solar plexus and made his head turn around three times.

“Yoga must be paying off”, a smug Paul said. “Namaste.”

“I have business with the realm of the living, and I’ve chosen you as my corporeal assistant”, the Ghost said from within Paul’s thorax.

“I have big things to do. I’m going to change the World! I believe in me, I’m a winner, and nothing can get in my way!” affirmed Paul.

The ghost swam out through the main exit, dragging a fart with him. Paul giggled.

“You screwed up big time, buddy! You could have been rich, and imbued with the power of the spirit world. You could even have been reunited with your dead dog, Sparky. I’m outta here.” The ghost said, before flying through the dreamcatcher over Paul’s window and teleporting to Arizona.

“Is he gone?” asked a voice from under the bed.

“Yeah, it’s cool. Come on out, babe”, Paul said

“Whew, that was close” said Lady Sasquatch, as she slipped under the comforter. “Tell me about Sparky” she said, spooning Paul.