Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Further adventures of Oscar Sloan, world-weary gumshoe

The Lulu Merceria sold clothes in the timeless style of Mexican grandmothers, bolts, blankets and garlands, bouquets of fake chrysanthemums and laces bought from a traveling salesman, the fragile cardboard rolls forever awaiting some wedding or quinceañera. He stopped to buy three yards of silk for the waitress at Fonda Maricela and walked toward the lights carrying it wrapped in rough paper. The crowd spread out into the street, almost to the pool hall where three old men impassively puffed their puritas. She had fallen near the gaudy Christmas tree, improbable snowflakes and a wreath of tinsel, tiny lights flashing on the spreading pool behind her head. He tossed the package aside. Her dress rode above her knees and her eyes stared up at the bright letters spelling “Feliz Año.” He touched her thigh gently. The cook was talking into a large black phone. Soon an ambulance screamed along the main road, and a truck full of federales shouldering rifles shuddered around the corner of Calle Mazatlán.

He found himself walking the cobblestone streets in search of a man he’d never met. He found a storefront with a glass case containing pieces of blenders, ovens, toasters and outboard motors. Felix’s. Felix sat with his back to the street, asleep in front of a blaring television. When he finally awoke and turned toward the noise in his doorway, he was wearing sunglasses and a bowtie. He got to his feet in front of a pastel portrait of a young man wearing sunglasses and a bowtie. They sat in the back near the refrigerator. Suspended dust motes caught light coming from the dirt yard crowded with washing machines.

A man strolls in wearing shoes with holes that revealed his toes, carrying a piece of fish and three wide, matte-yellow bananas. Cabrón. They exchange greetings and the man with old shoes presents the dorado and bananas, which came from a friend in the country he visited after his truck was fixed, taking some good wood he’d gotten from his wife’s uncle. Felix passes him a blender and accepts ten pesos in small change. A car pulls up and Felix ambles to the door. It’s a cousin with his son and two daughters in the back—his wife is cleaning houses. The younger girl feeds her brother a bottle while the father tells how his fishing boat got run over with a cement truck. Oscar gets up to go. Esperame, Felix says suddenly. He walks haltingly toward the back door and disappears behind the washing machines. He returns with an envelope in his hand. She left this for you, he says, and turns away.

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