Neto searches for liquor store neon lights out on 9th and East 4th. Down Colfax past the Lebanese delis, the taco stands and hamburger joints. He shows me all the old Denver haunts and curses his primer-colored Chevy, an ancient, sickly thing, broke down with the hood up at red lights. He steps into the intersection and agonizes over her. “I tell you when you got nothing else she will leave you.”
I say, “This car is delicate, Tio.”
It takes us two hours pushing and waiting on some friend to get the ride moving again. We are puffing the whole way and by the time we are in bed we are both drunk and dead tired. Neto's still cursing over the breakdown while I'm waiting for a phone call from a girl I'm in love with.
Around midnight I hear the phone ringing and Neto laughs. He never likes the girls I talk to. He advises, “Don't fool yourself, Manito. These putitas are dangerous and you don't know porque you're still young. But I know.”
I remind him he isn't my father. I tell him to go to sleep.
Trina's voice sounds tired and breathy. She says, “I've been wanting to talk.”
I hate her for not calling me and not coming around, for fucking Arthur Sandoval and never lying to me about it. I keep it inside, put myself down on the couch and click on the television. “I was about to go to sleep.”
I can hear her peeling off her uniform. I imagine she smells of grease and cigarette smoke from her airport diner gig. Then I imagine her naked. I ask, “How's things? Haven't heard from you in a while.”
“Talk to me until I fall asleep, Manito,” she says.
“Why do you call me?”
“Do you want to talk to me or what? Be my friend.”
That night Trina spits out the worst thoughts about her father and about her shit-jobs, convinces me Sandoval's brothers burned her with a cigarette and stole dollar bills from her purse. She speaks seductively and gets me worked up and then she falls on to sleep. Towards dawn, all the sounds of the trailer park calm down and it's just me and her breathing.
It's raining and Neto and I hit traffic at the bus stop, across the street from his trailer. We're walking, though, heading out to find some food and coffee.
Neto says he heard me last night, taunts me about it the whole time. “I'm surprised she hasn't gotten you to do her laundry, Manito.”
“Shut up, Neto.”
Four blocks go by and then farther down East Colfax toward Lakewood we catch a ride downtown to Larimer from one of Neto's Compadres. I leave Neto for more walking out to where this girl I know works.
Inside I ask for food. Ask her about her old man. The one who threatened me one night coming from her bedroom.
She says, “He's in the Gulf.”
“Oh,” I say.
“There's no food here for you. I ain't gonna lose my job. I ain't your girl.”
Neto is in line and has his wallet in his hand. In the heat he removes his shirt.
She asks, “Is that your Tio?”
“Just some corny guy. Just some dude.”
“Hey, Manito,” Neto says. “You want a coffee? I got enough for a coffee.”
Later that afternoon I call the junky-looking girl for about the tenth time from a pay phone at the VA over on Colorado Boulevard. Neto has an appointment and I follow him down there. I'm always following. I wait until Neto goes in to see the doctor and the line rings and rings.
Trina calls me again and tells me she's reading.
“What the hell is in those books?” I ask.
“Don't hate. Never saw you read in school much anyways.”
“Not much time, you know. I got this going on and I got that going on, you know. I'm full of ideas.”
“I got ideas,” I say.
“Well, these books have ideas in them, Cabrón. Did you know the Catholic Church said Mary rose into Heaven. It's not in the Bible but a Pope said it's true. Pius the 12th.”
“Whoa, you know your Popes,” I say. “Your father teach you that shit?”
That night she talks dirty to me and then she comes over after Neto is out. She has a friend drive her. First we watch some videos Neto has on Vietnam and I tell her about my old man being in the war. She fucks me right on Neto's couch in front of the TV. I feel the bruises on her body, her arms and thighs.
Trina's father has one arm. He wears one of those clasping hooks. I've seen him come in pretty regular to the diner where she works. He works maintenance for one of the airlines out at Stapleton and comes in for a lunch of a sandwich and a soda. I'm there three times in a row before Trina introduces me.
He's a vet of the Ordnance Corps like Neto, but he works 40 and sometimes 50 hours a week. He works a second job at one of the department stores downtown. They live off of West Colfax; me and Neto are east.
I tell Neto about the arm.
Neto asks, “Did he lose it in the war?”
“He lost it in the steel mill, I think.”
“Ask him,” Neto presses.
“I haven't met him.”
“Meet him, Manito. A man's got to meet his love's father.”
“She ain't my love.”
Trina's father shakes my hand with his left. His shirt covers the arm, tied off with a safety pin. I stare at it a few times right when he is talking to me. I thought he'd have the hook.
“Trina says you don't work?”
“No, sir,” I say. “I'm in college.”
“She's going to Denver University.”
“She has to earn money,” he says. “Anybody who wants work can find work.”
I nod slower.
“I went to the community college in Colorado Springs,” he says.
“How'd you lose the arm, sir?”
Trina is watching from her register, and as she rings up this lady's coffee and sandwich she gives me a look.
He says, “I lost it working.”
“I mean how'd you lose it? Cut off or smashed? Stuck in a machine?” I say. “A friend of my Abuelito lost his ear in a blast furnace. Burned right off. He could still hear he just didn't have the meat, you know.”
The father walks from me, back to his shift.
I say under my breath, “He grew his hair long and covered it up. He was always embarrassed. Just embarrassed, you know. Didn't want no one to know about it. Edgar Sais. That was his name. Didn't want nobody to know.”
In a minute Trina tells me how stupid that is. Tells me how stupid I am.
“Why do you do such cabrón things, Manito?” she asks. “I can't even trust you to talk. No one talks to the old man like that.”
The next chance I have to meet the father is over dinner. We all eat strawberry pie for dessert and the man asks me questions about my family, my mother and father.
“Your grandparents raised you?” the father says.
“Where were your parents?”
“They just weren't around,” I say.
“Well, where were they?”
“Leave the boy alone, Viejo,” the wife says.
“He's doing fine.”
I finally say, “My father died and my mother lived in California while I was growing up.”
“That's odd. Don't you think that's odd?”
“Viejo!” the mother cries.
“I just think that's odd,” the father says.
“Leave the boy alone.”
“I gotta think that'll screw with you.”
Then I pull my cigarettes and smoke right there at the table. I don't go out to the porch like the girlfriend wants and instructed me to. I just sit right there at the table and take long drags and don't say another word. I smoke one after another leaving vachas on the table and putting them out in the leftovers of my plate.
Later she tells me not to call her but I do call her. I call her about every day. I call her at night when I think the old guy might be sleeping. At work and at her grandmother's. I call just about everywhere I think she might be.
One time I have a conversation with her Aunt. This is weeks later when I hear Trina is dating some whetto from Littleton.
While Neto's out I'm on the phone talking to the old woman about unhappy lives and dead-end jobs, and this woman has no idea what I'm talking about.
I hear a voice in the background. It sounds like a woman's voice. The voice tells the Aunt to get off the phone, tells the voice Trina says I'm a psycho and then the lady hangs up on me. The line goes dead and I call back again. Finally a male voice answers, tells me to quit calling and that he knows who I am and knows where I'm living. The voice says they knew who my Tio is. Says they know my people and how I am.
Days later I finally get Trina on the phone. She picks up one day at work. I'm in my underwear sitting in front of Neto's television watching Vietnam videos. Trina's weeks from heading to college.
“You're a liar. You told my old man you're in college. You ain't in college. You didn't even finish high school.”
“I'm getting my GED.”
“Quit calling and coming around.”
I say, “I haven't been coming around.”
“You didn't drive by my Grandparents' and flash your headlights?”
“I didn't do that.”
“Well, you the only fool I know who drives a fucked-up Chevy. Don't call me. Am I the first girl you ever dated or what?”
“You can't just abandon me.”
She's quick to laugh: “Abandon? You do that with children and not grown-ass men, Manito.”
That night after the Tio passes out I stare at Neto's trailer, the sty of a kitchen and the bathroom the size of a closet. The closet the size of a cabinet. I stare so hard my eyes ache. That whole summer I sit in Neto's life.
John Paul Jaramillo grew up in southern Colorado but now lives, writes and teaches in Springfield, Illinois. He earned his MFA in creative writing (fiction) from Oregon State University and, currently, holds the position of Associate Professor in the Arts and Humanities Department of Lincoln Land Community College.
His stories have been featured on the television show Works in Progress, online in the Acentos Review as well as in the Antique Children Arts Journal, in the Copper Nickel Review, the Antique Children Arts Journal Quarterly and Crash Literary Journal, Fogged Clarity Arts Journal, Verdad Magazine, Polyphony Online and in Paraphilia Magazine.