There was that time he decided to avoid the whole situation by getting off the bus early. He was now twenty miles from school at 7:30 in the morning, and he hitched rides far enough along the route so that he could walk the rest of the way. When he slipped into the classroom forty minutes late, he felt like a badass, not at all the sophomore who was bullied daily by the bandana’d cholo from Chula Vista, nor the awkward virgin who had to hide the obvious erection in his crotch with a Pee Chee.
The next day, he was emboldened, and addressed the cholo as he climbed onto the bus. “Que pasa, Juanito?” No one called that guy such things. He was feared. But by the time the cholo had grasped the new order, the driver was pulling into the school parking lot.
It went like this for another month, a standoff, with no confrontations beyond an exchange of glares. Then the sophomore got his license, inherited a used Chevy, and started driving himself to school.
Today, the Nova broke down on the freeway, smoke rising from under the hood. As he waited for the mechanic to arrive, the bus passed him. One terrified white face peered from the window, a frightened, trapped boy in a cardigan. Behind him was the glowering shade of the cholo, still raging, mouth nearly frothing, grabbing at the kid’s lunch bag, ripping his school papers.
He didn’t miss it at all.
Category Archives: Fred Osuna
Her voice mail announced: “I’m coming for three days and I’ll need you to pick me up Tuesday at 11:15. I have two large bags, so empty the car. Make sure the dog hair’s cleaned up, I have allergies.”
His sister could be pleasant under her terms. But his life was never enough of an open book for her; after he’d rearrange his apartment to her satisfaction, she’d excavate the place while he was at work. The visit would invariably end in a melodrama punctuated by revelations she’d acquired in her scavenger hunt. He was old enough now, jaded enough, to anticipate this routine.
He dug deep in his writing desk and found a complimentary postcard from an Indiana Holiday Inn. He addressed it to himself and invented a message from a fictitious woman that mentioned drunkenness, a car accident, a gay dalliance, wanton credit card use and cocaine. When it arrived in the mail, he ripped it in two, dividing the litany of secrets proportionately. He slipped one half under his mattress, the other beneath a Tupperware tower in the pantry. And he waited.
On the day of her departure, she was uncharacteristically quiet. He didn’t push her.
When he got home, he flipped the mattress and found a brochure from a rehab center. In the kitchen was a pamphlet for Journey into Manhood, tucked inside a paperback copy of Financial Peace. Within each was a hundred dollar bill. It was an even swap.
His academic nightmare is set in an examination hall, where the student takes a seat at a folding table in the center of the room. Before him are three No. 2 pencils and a blue book. The moderator writes one essay question – sixty percent of the grade – on the chalkboard. Then she starts the clock.
The room becomes a vacuum in which he hears only the drumming of his own heart. The rest of the room recedes. There is only the blank page, the sweaty palms, and the realization that he has no idea what ethnomathematics is. After five minutes of quiet panic, he turns to the back of the book and scribbles page after page of free association on his own topic: despair.
He hands the instant journal disguised as a blank book to the moderator, avoiding her eyes. Next day, when he visits the graduate lounge to pick up his grade, all of the teaching assistants stop talking and turn toward him.
Are you alright? asks the woman in the modified burka. We were concerned about you.
Yes, he answers, I’m fine.
He sees his instructor coming forward from the back of the room. He approaches the student. Should we call someone for you? I was worried we might not ever see you again.
The student smiles, assures him all is well.
The instructor sighs with relief. He extends his hand to the student. It holds a blue book, marked with a violent red F.
She’s new, with the enthusiasm of a new person. And everyone wants the new girl, at least they do at first.
It takes thirteen even sweeps to clear all the hair from beneath her chair. She’s averaged it. It’s sometimes as few as six. She has a lot of time to figure that out now, but most days there’s very little hair. That hippie dude she gave a buzz cut to? His hair was everywhere. That was a good 27 sweeps.
The hippie dude came back in this week. He asked for Madeleine. The new girl stood alone at her station watching them, and she knew they were talking about her. I mean, at one point they both turned in her direction and the former hippie dude said her name. “The new girl,” he said. She smiled at them and they turned away and kept talking.
She’s gonna get a new job. She’ll be the best at it. She’ll be the only one at the drive-thru that says “please,” “thank you” and “ma’am.” She’ll get promoted to assistant manager, you just wait and see.
Entering that darkroom’s like slipping through the barrel of a rifle. I step into the chamber, pull the black galvanized door behind me and lean into the revolving door. The caster rollers rattle, the rubber around the door releases with a whoosh, and I pass into the safe darkness. It’s quiet as a tomb, comfortable as a womb. I’ve fallen out of the gun barrel into my own silent midnight.
There’s a long line in the ER and the techs are talking loudly about it. During the late shift, the odd cases show up: bullet wounds, knifings, oddly-placed hematomas. Tonight we’ll see the city’s underbelly, tomorrow they will go back into hiding.
The technicians slide me their film cartridges and I get working. I move Zen-like in the dark. I’m Gollum under the mountain, a mole; I’m fast, efficient, in control. When they’re busiest, I slide out and clip their films to the light boxes. Then I return, to my quiet dark room.
When the shift ends, I keep the lights off. I lean against the counter, sipping coffee. Outside, the sun begins to rise. Outside my door, the techs discuss the woman with insect eggs in her sinus cavity, the man irretractably coupled with a vacuum cleaner. I’ve released the lock on the barrel and a fine border of white fluorescence falls across the toes of my boots. I leave last, taking the back roads to avoid the crawling columns of cars on the highway.
She was forward, even though they’d met anonymously via the website’s algorithm. Perhaps she just felt safe behind the monitor. She’d chatter like a nervous schoolgirl, not the sixty-year-old woman that she was. He’d win a game, then she would; he’d clear his tray and score two Bingos one round, she’d produce oddities like squeg, zoftig and exosmic the next. It was fun, until he started winning every time.
Then, she’d disappear for months. During each hiatus, she played friends and new strangers. Once she regained confidence, she’d send a message. Meg has invited you to a game, the pop-up would read. He’d always reply Yes. He enjoyed playing her, and expected he’d learn some arcane words.
She became increasingly fragile with each loss. She’d title their games “I’m Feeling Brave Tonight” or “I Must Be Crazy.” He thought she was just being funny.
The Saturday night in question, he led by 143 points. He rose and mixed himself a cocktail. When he returned, she’d canceled the game.
Why’d you quit? he wrote.
I can’t handle this massacre.
He criticized her form. You don’t invite someone to a game and quit because you’re not winning, he wrote.
She exploded. You might quit, too, if you were waiting to find out that your mother could die at any moment.
He extended his sympathies toward her mother’s condition. Then he matter-of-factly unfriended her.
The next morning, she drove to the cemetery to clip the grass around her mother’s gravestone.