Authors: Aaron Morales
COPYRIGHT © 2010 by Aaron Michael Morales
COVER AND BOOK DESIGN by Linda Koutsky
AUTHOR PHOTOGRAPH © Rachel Wedding McClelland
COFFEE HOUSE PRESS books are available to the trade through our primary distributor, Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, www.cbsd.com or (800) 283-3572. For personal orders, catalogs, or other information, write to: [email protected]
Coffee House Press is a nonprofit literary publishing house. Support from private foundations, corporate giving programs, government programs, and generous individuals helps make the publication of our books possible. We gratefully acknowledge their support in detail in the back of this book. To you and our many readers around the world, we send our thanks for your continuing support.
Good books are brewing at coffeehousepress.org.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CIP INFORMATION
Morales, Aaron Michael.
Drowning Tucson / by Aaron Michael Morales.
ISBN 978-1-56689-240-7 (alk. paper)
ISBN 978-1-56689-269-8 (ebook)
1. Tucson (Ariz.)—Fiction. 2. Inner cities—Fiction.
3. Street life—Fiction. 4. Urban poor—Fiction.
5. Poor families—Fiction. 6. Gangs—Fiction.
The author would like to thank the following people: Francisco Aragón, Fred Arroyo, Anitra Budd, Paloma Martinez-Cruz, Scott Heim, Patricia Henley, Chris Fischbach, Rachel Wedding McClelland, Howard McMillan, Patricia Moosbrugger, the entire Morales clan, Carlos Murillo, Paul Martinez Pompa, Erin Pringle, the Rose family, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sharon Solwitz, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Helena María Viramontes.
originally appeared in
Another Chicago Magazine, MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine, PALABRA: A Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art, Passages North,
and in a chapbook of short fiction titled
From Here You Can Almost See the End of the Desert
(Momotombo Press, 2008).
FOR THE PURIST
FOR THE SKEPTIC
FOR THE QUIXOTIC
FOR THE ZEALOT
FOR THE DOWNTRODDEN
FOR THE DECONSTRUCTIONIST
There’s the goddam spics I was telling you about. Hanging out next to Torchy’s. If they aren’t sticking up poor Torchy, they’re laying some girl behind the place. Nothing but trouble. You’ll learn. Officer Loudermilk’s new partner nodded, making notes. Torchy’s. Spics. He listened to Loudermilk. Yep, you’ll see. Get a chance to meet em soon enough. Especially them fuckin Nuñezes. This is their favorite hangout. This and Reid Park. Nuñez. Reid Park. Torchy’s. He wrote fast. Officer Loudermilk pulled the cruiser up next to the liquor store, flipped on his cherries. What you boys up to? They cuffed their cigarettes, choked back their smoke. Nothin. Just waitin on the school bus—which was a lie. School was within walking distance. They were waiting on Felipe to show up. Well, you’d better get moving. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes and if you’re still here, I’m taking all of you in to juvey for truancy. He rolled the window up and drove off. The kids waited until he turned the corner, then they flipped him off. Fuck you, Loudermilk. Yeah, and your punkass wife. Trying to one up each other. And your mom, with her stank fifty-husband-havin ass. Hahaha. Fuckin pigs. They leaned back against the wall and puffed their cigarettes, waiting on Felipe to show so they could rib him a few more times before he was made into a King and became off-limits, unless you wanted to get the shit kicked out of you.
A few of them scraped paint off the walls of the liquor store. It came off in big flakes, and sometimes a sharp point stabbed the flesh beneath their nails and hurt like hell. Felipe’s best friend, Ricardo, used his house
key to carve his name into a poster advertising Mexican beer. La cerveza mas fina. They always made Mexico look so pretty. You think he’ll show, Ricardo? You damn right he’ll show. Felipe aint no bitch. He’d take you and Loudermilk at the same time. He talked his friend up, but even he was worried about whether or not Felipe was going to show. Today Felipe was going to get his ass kicked worse than he ever had. For him, becoming a King was going to be harder than it had been for his brothers because he was the last one. The last Nuñez. The one who had to continue the dynasty. Nuñez. That’s no small shit around here.
Ricardo was glad they were friends. He liked Felipe because he was different from the others. His conversations were about more than bitches and drugs. If you got him alone, he would surprise you with his ability to carry on an intelligent conversation. He told good jokes. Said smart things. He didn’t judge Ricardo for wearing the same pair of jeans for the past two years. Plus Ricardo knew something the others didn’t. Felipe, for all of his toughness, loved books—especially their smell. When he wasn’t hanging out with the Kings and his brothers, or sitting beside Torchy’s watching his friends breakdance on a flattened refrigerator box, he hid in his bedroom reading Dickens and Hardy. On their walks to and from school, they talked about how they wanted to save up money and one day go to London to see if the city was still as crazy as Dickens made it sound.
Unlike the rest of the guys standing next to Torchy’s waiting to see how scared Felipe was, Ricardo wanted to talk with Felipe so he could tell him it was going to be all right. He wished the other guys weren’t there so he could go up to his friend and give him a hug and say I’m here for you man, if you need a place to go or someone to talk with. He was scared for Felipe. Although Ricardo had never been beaten himself, he’d seen the way people were inducted into the gang plenty of times. On rare occasions a person or two had almost fought his way out—the bigger and older ones—but they always fell to the sheer number of men beating them. A hard enough blow to the kidneys, a well-placed kick to the stomach, and the guy just dropped and folded into a tight knot, waiting for the punches and kicks to stop. Even though he wasn’t in a gang, he knew how these things worked. The more they liked you and the more respect they had for you, the worse the beating.
While his friends waited for him outside Torchy’s, Felipe kissed his mother goodbye and pulled on his backpack. On his way out the door his brothers waved and told him see you after school. He was nervous about the beating he was going to get, but he didn’t want his mother to notice and do that huggy thing where she never let go of him, as if she were never going to see him again. Every morning before school the same thing. Hug your mother, Felipe. Give an old woman a hug and don’t be so mean. He stood beside her while she sat in her rocking chair, leaning down and immediately trying to pull away as soon as her arms were around his neck. It bothered him the way she held on a little too long. Like she loved him more than a mother should. But today he let her hug him longer than usual, and then he kissed her goodbye and closed the door behind him and left her sitting in her rocking chair where she stayed every day since her husband had died three years earlier. The fear he had been suppressing all morning came crashing down when he walked through the front yard and out the gate to meet his friends. He was afraid of the asskicking planned for this afternoon, but that’s what it takes to be a King. Especially being the last Nuñez brother. All of them were Kings. Even his dad had been one, though he had gone into retirement by getting married and having four sons. Felipe kept repeating to himself, just play it cool. You let the others see you’re scared and you’ll only make it worse. But he was scared. Not of a few punches. His brothers had been abusing him since he was two years old, took turns punching him or smothering him with a pillow. So that wasn’t it. Besides, punches and kicks stopped hurting after a while. He was scared it would be worse than that. A royal beating. That’s the life here. He understood that much. You take your raps and keep going. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. It was much more than that. He was at a crossroads. Soon he had to make a decision. Though his path had been chosen for him before he was born, he tried to understand the consequences in his adolescent sort of way. There were certainly benefits for joining the Kings. He’d have the respect—or at least the fear—of all his peers. He’d get the chance to lay girls he had only dreamed of. There would always be money, booze, drugs. And while these things were nice, Felipe knew there was a price. That’s what bothered him the most.
Knowing his life would improve but living with the fear of prison or death. He didn’t want to be found in the desert with a bullet in his head, or locked in the trunk of a car in the Tucson Mall parking lot. He wanted something else. To be a man in a different way.