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Tales

Kodak Moment

Donny stared vacantly at his estranged uncle Lorenzo.

He noticed how makeup had tried to mask his uncle’s dark-skinned goateed face. It looked made of candle wax.

Donny was in this same position last week, peering down at his uncle, but not in a funeral home. It was in the backyard of his childhood home on Bluegrass, where Lorenzo had once downed brisket and beer at barbecues.

In the vision, Donny’s uncle had sat upright, clear fluids dripping from his wide nose. He Medusa-stared directly at young Donny, horrified.

“C’mere and shake your uncle’s hand, hijto,” Lorenzo had said. “Be a good boy, respect your ol’ uncle in all his shining glory.”

Donny walked away from the body, toward the exit. Before he left, he turned around to face him one last time. The man who was away so long, discussed behind closed doors so much he’d plunged himself into their minds like a sharpened stake.

Donny’s heart pounded furiously. He felt as if the beats in his throat came from a bongo. But there wasn’t music. He jammed the nails of his pointer fingers into the fleshy bottoms of his thumbs, half expecting something to happen.

Later, after Donny had swallowed an Ambien and was under the covers, he was certain he’d seen his fingers wriggle. Eyelids flicker. Adam’s apple bob. Alive.

He understood from experience that these convictions would soon pass, two days’ time. They were tropical storms, these foolish delusions—unruly, spiraling, then gone before he knew it. It was the stuff between cyclones, the supremely real center, that kept him unsure if the plane that carried his weight had existed on its own accord, or perhaps on the agenda of something so ancient and foreign that to dwell on it was to beg for its slow crawl, arrival, destruction of naïve order.

A terrible burden for anyone to carry before bed.

Close your eyes, Donny. Sleep tight. Let the waves wash over you, this time of healing. The dead remain silent. Tomorrow the world will be merciless. You’ll remember its pain. It’s the living who wail when they’re awake.

***

Kodak Moment is written by Alex Z. Salinas.

Categories
Tales

Santa Always Blows His Cover

It was Christmas 1995 when Mom burnt the bacon and Dad was just getting home. I tore open the packaging to the Mortal Kombat-brand plastic ship and Ray pulled a puppy out of a box.

“Ruby!” he announced, holding up the furry dog he’d dreamt of since summer.

“Where’s Liu Kang and Raiden?” I asked out loud, the question meant for Mom. For a child on Christmas day, what are toy vehicles without action figures to steer them?

“Your mom shopped around everywhere for that thing, so knock it off,” Dad answered in his oil-stained uniform. “Now let’s eat.”

After breakfast—about 45 pancakes Mom had stirred up for us since she fed us like linebackers—we were corralled to the garage where there were two new bicycles, mine jet black, Ray’s bright green.

Fifteen seconds later Ray crashed into the oak tree in our front yard. He came away with scraped knees, a split lip, the indignity of knowing that the next-door neighbor girls had watched him cry.

I was older than him by three years, so I stayed outside riding in circles, round and round, weee! I showed off the training I’d received from my best friend, Jordan, who was white. Of course that fool had had a bike since the age of three.

The thing about Christmas, for the longest time, was how Mom always burnt the bacon and how now, no one’s around to do it, so I burn my own. I know my wife hates it, barely tolerates it, but she understands the fragile thread that’s there. The smell.

Ray and I send each other $50 gift cards every year. We believe it an even exchange, efficiency at its finest, although last December I texted him what’s the point if in the end there’s a zero balance.

“Good point,” he responded. Followed by a thumbs-up emoji. A shrugging-man emoji.

I know he gets torn up about the holidays the same way as I do, Ray, but this year I’ll send him $100. Surprise him.

He’ll spend the extra dough on booze, maybe new shoes, video games. Most likely he’ll save some of it. His wife manages their budget.

And then in a few months, probably in March, when the sun starts frying us, I’ll wonder to myself during a quiet stroll, Hey, man, why the hell didn’t you just buy him a plane ticket? Invite ‘em over. It’s the least you could’ve done, you cheap, lazy bastard. Mom and Dad would be so proud of you right now. So proud.

Maybe next year. Yeah, definitely next year.

***

Santa Always Blows His Cover is written by Alex Z. Salinas.