by Benny Diaz III
Rudy Esparza didn’t like to dance. He couldn’t understand how people could do it, how they could coordinate their hands and their legs to do what the music told them to do. Even as a child, Rudy hated to dance. He used to make fun of his brother Julio, who was a good dancer. Julio always mixed in easy with the women and the girls at parties and weddings. Rudy would sit with the other boys and they would point and laugh. They would call Julio a queer. Rudy’s sisters would defend his brother and called Rudy jealous. But Rudy wasn’t jealous, and Julio wasn’t a queer.
Even at his own wedding, Rudy refused to dance. When his wife, Gloria, came to him, she reached out her hand and asked him to dance with her. He just smiled his confident smile, the smile that stretched his thick mustache into points at the ends. I’m dancing, he told her. He put on his signature dark shades and held his arm out, letting her swing his big sundried hand to the rhythm of the Tejano music pumping from the stage. He didn’t even get up from his seat. Rudy always wondered if that’s why his wife left him because he didn’t dance with her at their wedding. He knew she didn’t expect him to dance, that she only asked him in part to tease him and in part to prove to everyone how stubborn he was. But he still wondered. She left him for a white guy who liked to dance. He figured twenty-two years dancing by yourself could do that to a person. Rudy thought about this when his sister-in-law, Marta, came to him one blistering day in June to ask for his help. Maybe Marta came to him because he didn’t like to dance.
Rudy’s brother Julio and Marta lived in a big house on the new side of town. They only had one son; his name was Joey. Joey was missing. They hadn’t seen him for days. Joey had gotten into drugs. Joey’s girlfriend, Tiffany, left him for doing drugs, so Joey had started to do even more drugs. And now Joey was missing.
When Rudy got there, Julio was in his son’s bedroom listening to music. He asked if Julio was okay, but he only asked to be nice. He knew Julio wasn’t okay. Julio always listened to music to feel better or to be happy. He wasn’t happy, and music wasn’t helping him that day. Rudy asked if they were going to call the cops, but he only asked to have something to say. He knew they didn’t call the cops because there was a warrant out for Joey’s arrest. He was known to steal when he was doing drugs, and he had gotten away with it too many times. And this time there wasn’t just the stealing. The cops had found a body in the canal of a girl but the girl’s name wasn’t known yet. The girl was pregnant and was the same age as Tiffany. Joey had told his mother, Marta, that Tiffany was going to have a baby. He was going to be a father. If that girl from the canal was Tiffany, Joey wasn’t going to be a father. No, Julio didn’t want to talk to the cops. Rudy listened to all of this as Julio sobbed on the edge of his son’s bed, surrounded by the artifacts of his son’s youth. The couple had left Joey and Liza’s rooms intact when their children grew up and moved out.
Rudy couldn’t stand to watch his brother cry. Like dancing, crying made him uncomfortable. He always hated to see people cry, especially as a boy. His mother would cry because of things his father did, and Rudy would hate to listen to it. He would make fun of Julio when he would cry, and the sisters would defend him. You’re an asshole, they would say, and Rudy would call Julio a sissy. But Julio wasn’t a sissy, and Rudy wasn’t an asshole. He just couldn’t stand to hear people cry.
Rudy asked his brother, “What can I do to help?” He only asked to be nice; he didn’t think there was anything he could do. His brother wanted to say something, but he couldn’t get the words out between the sniffling and the coughs. Rudy said if there was anything he could do, he would do it. Marta said there was something he could do. He could find Joey.
Van Buren was a place that aroused both fond and terrible memories for Rudy. He lost his virginity parked on a side street near the railroad tracks down there. There was no music playing in the car that day; her name was Rachel, and she had been two years older. The stretch of road was less forbidding during that time, but it was still dangerous. Rudy remembered seeing a crackhead swallow their own tongue on the sidewalk once. At least that’s how he remembered it. It was also the same place his best friend was stabbed while waiting for french fries on a Saturday night. They took the french fries but left his wallet. Rudy used to score mota and tail on Friday nights. Sunday through Thursday he spread concrete.
There is a karaoke bar there where Rudy used to go with his wife before everything got bad. Rudy never liked to sing and felt uncomfortable when other people did it. He couldn’t understand why people would take one thing he didn’t like and make it even worse. Julio used to sing their mother’s favorite songs when they were kids and Rudy would make fun of him for it. Rudy would call him a mama’s boy and his sisters would tell him to shut up, he was just mad that he couldn’t sing and that their mother loved Julio more than she did Rudy.
It was true; Julio was a mama’s boy, and Rudy hated him for it. He didn’t know if his mother loved Julio more than she loved him, but he did know his mother only asked to see one person on her deathbed, and that was Julio. Rudy didn’t mind much because he hated to hear people cry and didn’t want to listen to the music Julio insisted on playing while his mother struggled through her last days in bed. But he did mind when Julio wasn’t able to help carry their mother’s casket because he was overcome with sorrow and couldn’t stop crying. The casket was heavy and the load was difficult for Rudy on his side, but he was able to manage it with the other men.
The reason Rudy used to go to the karaoke bar with his wife was to score a little coke now and then from a bartender named Jones. Rudy got to know Jones pretty well after spending many nights drinking by himself on a stool while Gloria sang her heart out with the other women. Sometimes he would do too much and get coke dick and Gloria would be mad when they got home, so they stopped going together. But Rudy would go by himself now and then until he saw a guy get shot in the parking lot for singing better than the other guy. Rudy didn’t like to see fighting because he figured he saw enough growing up so he stopped going. Plus the coke got too expensive and he had to cut back.
Rudy was surprised that Jones still worked there because it had been a long time since he had come in. Jones recognized him right away and shook his hand. He was sorry to say that they stopped tapping Budweiser kegs because all the kids drank Bud Light now so they only had bottles. Rudy said that was okay, Bud Light was fine since he was cutting back. Jones asked if he wanted some coke and Rudy said no but he wanted to know where to get it. Jones called over a girl named Shyla, so Rudy downed his beer and went on his way.
There were a lot of places you could stay on Van Buren if you were on a binge and on a budget. Shyla knew some places and she also knew Joey. Joey had come with Rudy and his boys one time to the karaoke bar to drink and watch their mothers sing with Julio. She didn’t want anything to do with the canal business but Rudy insisted he just wanted to find Joey. Luckily she knew a guy who was real tight with Joey and that’s probably where he was staying. It was a little motel with a free HBO sign in front and no cars in the parking lot, the kind with construction fences around the side but no construction being done. With a wink and a few nice words, she was able to get the room number from the desk attendant and then they were on their way up the stairs to see Joey.
Rudy was surprised at how quickly he found his nephew. He hated asking people for favors and wondered how he would look going around town asking people for help. It turns out he didn’t have to ask anyone for help he just had to ask the right questions. He wondered why Julio hadn’t gone out asking questions the times Joey had disappeared for days on end. He wondered why Marta hadn’t yelled at his brother for sitting at home crying and doing nothing, the same way Rudy’s mother had yelled at his own father when one of their sisters eloped with a white guy. Then again, he never saw Marta ask Julio to do anything.
Someone let Shyla right into the room and Rudy just followed her inside. He didn’t see the wispy figure or where it went once they were standing on the dirty carpet smelling the stale remains of methamphetamine in the air. But he did see Joey sitting on the bed, his hands between his legs as still as a photograph. Rudy stood there waiting for his nephew to look up at him. For a moment he thought maybe that Joey was stoned out of his mind, but he suspected that he was probably just ashamed. Whatever it was, he would wait for Joey to speak first, even if it took all night.
Shyla left when she felt the shame in the room. The thin stranger in the corner didn’t have the energy to follow, but it wanted to. Finally, Joey said he was going to kill himself. He looked at the stains on the carpet and how they intertwined with the gold and blue print and he said no one could stop him. Rudy hated when people talked about killing themselves. His sister killed herself when they were younger because she was pregnant and afraid of their father who would have done who knows what if he found out. Their mother cried for years and Rudy couldn’t cry even if he wanted to because Julio did all the crying for him. Rudy carried that casket without Julio, just like he carried their mother’s casket without Julio and he hated his sister for dying and leaving him to be the only one who didn’t cry.
You won’t kill yourself, he told Joey. If you wanted to kill yourself you would have already done it.
Joey didn’t look up at him, he just clamped his knees together harder on his hands that looked clammy and cold and full of sweat. Rudy saw a baggy of coke on the nightstand and he picked it up to taste it to make sure it was coke. You’re not even a real addict, he told Joey, who even though he looked terrible he didn’t look like the arrangement of bones in the corner with the eyes that didn’t look at anything in particular.
I’ll do it, Joey said. You can’t stop me.
Do it then, Rudy said. Do it so I can go home.
Rudy didn’t flinch when Joey held a gun to his face close enough to smell the carbon on the barrel. Do it, Rudy said. Do it so I can bleed out on the floor and watch you cry for shooting me in the face. Do it so I don’t have to pretend to be sorry for you when you’re dead or in prison or wherever you’re going to after this is over. Do it so my kids can split the life insurance and move farther away from Van Buren.
He could tell Joey was afraid of the gun by the way he kept looking at the back of it like he was making sure it was pointed at Rudy and not him. Joey sat down and started to cry. Why are you crying, Rudy wanted to know. He was crying because he was going to prison and he was never going to get out. Rudy watched him as his shoulders heaved up and down in big, heavy sobs. He wondered how a skinny kid like Joey could sob so deeply, how the sound came out like it was coming from a bigger man.
Rudy told Joey he should be crying because Tiffany was dead and now he was never going to be a father. He should be crying because his mother was going to have to visit him in prison year after year and she was going to have to cry for him when she was visiting and not visiting. He should be crying because he wasn’t a man and maybe he would never be one.
Joey didn’t say anything on the ride home. He held his arms between his legs looking for invisible scars on spotless hands that had never needed lotion or bandages. Rudy couldn’t remember the last time his hands looked that nice. His brother Julio’s hands always looked nice and he couldn’t stand how he wore watches and rings to show it off. Rudy didn’t know why but he had a hole in his chest for that boy who sat next to him in his car rubbing the shame from his pretty fingers. He wondered if he went too far all those years calling Julio a queer and a sissy and a mama’s boy, even if he was one. He wondered if there was a place in Heaven for guys like him and Joey and the stranger back at the motel and whether they cared about dancing in a place like that. As they got back to the big house and Joey got right out and went up the steps to the door Rudy figured that it didn’t matter. He thought about the stranger back at the motel and wondered if anyone was looking for it and hoped that someone was crying for it and hoping it would come back home.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student