His wife was on the phone with her girlfriend, bad mouthing him. He left so she could talk freely — he just started walking. It felt like they weren’t going to last. He figured she was cheating on him, but that was probably just jealousy — he had no proof. His kids felt very little for him. Occasionally he remembered, years back, holding them for the first time — how there seemed to be infinite possibilities. He also remembered loving his wife once — the warmth and light of that. But that was a long time ago. Now he was a man forced to remember.
He walked a few quiet blocks, past trees and homes and all the dogs chained up in tiny, filthy yards — barking at their bone grey cinderblock walls. It was somehow familiar to him. He wondered how he’d ended up here, at this very moment in time, walking. He couldn’t say. He didn’t recall actually choosing any of this, yet here it was just the same, stretching out before him like the shadow at his feet — inescapable.
Slowly the streets changed. There was a rising din, a white noise of traffic as he got closer to bigger, busier streets — a sound like sleeping on the couch with the TV on. He just didn’t seem to be a part of any of it. He didn’t fit.
He realized he wasn’t even hungry as he walked up to a taco stand and asked how much for some tacos.
“Sixty-five cents a piece,” said the girl behind the counter.
“Great,” he said, “I’ll take three.” She rang up the order.
“Two oh seven,” she said, uninterested.
“I’ve got I’ve only got two dollars,” he said, hoping. She just stared blankly back. He repeated it.
“Uh, we’re not allowed to um you have to pay the whole amount. The machine keeps a record ”
“Ah for cryin’ out fine ” he said. He looked at the menu. He looked for the cheapest item:
Churro ….. 50¢
“What’s a churro?” he asked.
“It’s like a long doughnut. Like cinnamon-y…”
“Okay. I’ll take two tacos and a churro.” She rang it up.
“One ninty-two” she said. He paid. “Eight cents is your change, sir.”
“Oh well we’re not really allowed ” she started.
“ Not allowed too, fine. I’ll tell you what I’m gonna leave it right here, on this counter and the if next guy who comes along only needs seven cents for a third taco, well, he is more than welcome to it, okay?”
“Well we can’t really ” He walked away before she could finish. It just seemed like nothing ever worked.
He ate one of his tacos. He expected it to be lousy too, but it was actually okay. Around him people went places — to banks, to burger joints, to used car lots, and the radios turned up too loud, DJs talking about useless shit and awful jingles selling cell phones or car stereos. It almost echoed off the asphalt and grime. He wondered why car stereo places advertised on the radio — it didn’t seem to make much sense. But that wasn’t much different then all the rest of it.
He took a bite of his last taco. Then there they were again, the dogs. Their barking, their rage — there was something almost beautiful about it. He stopped in front of a pepper-colored pitbull, neck muscles rippling as it strained against its chain. He just stared. The yard was all dirt, trash, broken beer bottles — things neglected. I know how you feel, he thought. The dog strained and strained and strained against it’s shackles, barking, wanting to get at him. “Atta boy,” he said quietly, “never give up it can’t hold you forever.” He said, smiling, then tossed the pitbull the rest of his taco. The dog sniffed it momentarily, untrusting, then gnashed it down. He smiled again. He wanted to pet the dog, but knew it would crush his bones into powder if he got near it.
“Hey, what the fuck are you doing to my dog, pendejo?” said a voice, a man’s voice. A tattooed thug in a wifebeater flashed out the front door of the house.
“Oh, uh nothing,” he said, “I was just I was just looking at your dog.”
“Fuck that,” said another voice from inside the house, “He threw something at him, aye ” Two more men came outside, glaring.
“Did you throw something at my dog, motherfucker?” said wifebeater.
“No, I I actually just gave him the rest of my taco.”
“And why’d you fucking do that?”
“I don’t know I just like him, that’s all.”
“Oh, ‘you just like him, that’s all?’ “
“Well, if you’re done handing out fucking tacos like some goddamned taco fairy, why don’t you get the fuck out of here, puto?” Wifebeater’s friends laughed obnoxiously, repeating ‘taco fairy’ to each other. He chuckled a bit at the sheer stupidity of it all and walked away. They hollered at him — “Hey, what’s so funny, cabron?” and “We see you again, we’re gonna fuck you up, maricon!” He ignored them. He thought for a moment they might follow him, start some shit. But nothing happened.
Half a block later he gave the rest of his churro to another dog, a puppy. No one saw him this time and he actually got to pet that one — a black and tan Rottweiler puppy with a white wishbone on its stomach.
He returned home and his wife was still on the phone with her girlfriend, probably still bad mouthing him. She looked like she might’ve been crying.
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