Each night his dreams transpired in silence. Mouthless men with fearful expressions chased him. They always chased him, as if pleading for help. He spent hours running from them. Last night, his dreams shifted. He shot every one of them. The sounds of gunfire echoed in his head.
He opened his eyes with slow and bitter caution. His room was dark, but a sliver of light entered from a curtain. Nearby, bottles stood at attention at the edge of the bureau. Some lay like victims at the foot of the bed, casualties of another bad day. Crumpled receipts and bills lay on each nightstand. Clothes lay like landmines from the bed to the door, five feet away. He reigned over this now, a decaying castle that protected him from the rest of the world and reminded him every day of his defeat. The phone began its usual wail of incoming emails, text messages and phone calls. He rubbed his face and neck. He felt his scar, carefully tracing the line from his ear to his clavicle.
Felix began his morning ritual as he stumbled to the bathroom and vomited. Then he cleaned the toilet and brushed his teeth. He didn’t recognize himself in the mirror. He looked emaciated. He looked like a tecato, rotting from the inside. His phone rang repeatedly from the other side of the apartment.
As the coffee brewed, it smothered him in sadistic memory. He stood at this spot, with Pedro, as they made breakfast early in the morning. In the early days he lived without caution and fear. Then, recent memories crept out like cockroaches. They were filthy, mangled memories: cops, an ambulance, a hospital and shouts. There was only his silence, and a mind that became his worst enemy.
Outside it was a hot day in May, an early heat wave. He hadn’t been out this early in the morning in months. Cars jammed the streets as people went to work. Children waddled to school; their brown faces gleamed with sweat. He walked to school too, with his big sister far ahead, smoking cigarettes with her friends. After his mother died, he thought his sister would be more maternal. His phone rang again. After a few minutes he reached into his pocket. He listened to the voice message.
“Felix, hermanito, call me. Ok? Lllamame. I love you. Bye. Call me. Bye.”
Speak of the devil.
He reached the bodega, its yellow canopy shone in sharp contrast to the surrounding brownstones. Outside, old men sat on battered milk crates arguing the politics of the homeland they only saw once a year since 1955. Across the street, two gangly men in their thirties walked leisurely from one edge of the street to another. They looked at him with slanted eyes.
“What’s this nigga looking at?” one told the other.
Felix walked inside the bodega. He was greeted by cold air and Willie Colón. Nothing changed in here. The same chips by the door and sugary juices in the refrigerator. Behind the counter, Papo stared at him with his puffy, sagging eyes. He was surrounded by candy and cigarettes.
“Buenos dias,” Papo cautiously announced.
Felix didn’t respond.
“Haven’t seen you in awhile.”
“Gimme a Marlboro.”
“Loose or carton?
Felix handed him the money. Papo searched Felix’s eyes. He looked out for Felix and his sister after their mother died. If Papo was his father, like some people said, maybe he was disappointed in his son. Felix was never really sure.
Felix nodded as he opened up the carton and took out a cigarette.
Be careful,” Papo said, putting the money in the cash register.
“Yea” replied Felix as he turned and fled from the bodega.
Felix walked outside into the steaming chaos. He lit the cigarette. It pierced his lungs. He hadn’t had one in years. He walked over to his car. It was an oven inside, but he sat in the heat. He took the gun out from under the passenger seat.
He turned on the car and drove in the direction of Pedro’s house.
The cigarette smoke curled around him. His memories begged for his attention. Memories that showed his weakness; it was a record of his failure. He lost count of how many times it happened.
The phone rang again. He wanted to throw it out of the window. It was his sister. As he pressed “ignore” on the keypad, his finger slipped and he pressed “answer” instead.
“Hello? Hello? Felix?”
He didn’t answer.
“You there, nene?”
He cleared his throat.
“Felix! Thank god! Boy, I’ve been trying to call you!”
“Yea, what happened?” Felix wanted to end this conversation as quickly as possible. He could lose the courage he momentarily gained.
“Hon, I got something to tell you. You have to be ready for this. I heard that Pedro was drinking all night and got in a car accident. He died on the way to the hospital. I know you guys had a tough relationship, but nene, you gotta…”
Felix ended the call. He threw the phone out of the window and kept driving.
He pulled up next to a deserted warehouse on the waterfront. The ocean surrounded the city. It was cold here and it was quiet. He pulled out another cigarette and lit it. He then pulled the gun out and held it in his hands. It was heavy. He could have done something with it. He could still do something with it. In an instant, he drew the gun up and flung it into the ocean. It was absorbed by the dark ocean. He yelled. He yelled for what seemed like an hour. He yelled in English. He yelled in Spanish. He yelled all the obscenities he could remember. He yelled until it was only gibberish. He yelled until there was nothing else for him to say. He stood on the hood of the car staring out into the ocean. He ended the day in silence.
Later, the clouds rolled in. It rained.
The next day was cool and clean.