A Short Story by Luis Del Angel
We were sitting on Dominique’s porch swing that overlooked her neighborhood. I looked straight ahead inspecting the houses around us. They all looked the same. If they weren’t all colored differently, every time I’d visit I’d probably have to knock on two other houses before I got to hers.
I looked at Dominique out of the corner of my eyes. She was beautiful. Her black hair cascaded down ending with loose curls just a little past her shoulders and her bangs covered her eyebrows. The porch light was off and we were poorly lit by the streetlights which casted shadows on her face that hid the true potential of her blue eyes and pale skin that would have otherwise taken your breath away. It was as if I were not worthy to admire how angelic she could truly look.
Dominique wrapped her hand around the neck of the beer bottle, bringing the tip to her lips then she tilted it slightly. Her throat danced as she swallowed the liquid. She passed me the bottle that was now half empty.
“So…” She wiped her lips with the sleeve of her sweater. “He’s dead?”
I turned my head to look at her then took a couple of small sips from the bottle.
“Yes.” I said. It was a simple answer because I did not want to tell her how it had happened. I wonder if it would have been easier on me to explain it to her if he had died of natural causes. But to tell her it happened while he was driving intoxicated was different, or at least I felt it was. I could still see the pictures in my head that were posted in a Mexican news website of Santiago’s body. He had been driving dangerously fast which probably made him feel immortal. His car had crashed with a concrete lamp post and he had gone through his windshield. His body laid on the hood of his car with his arms outstretched and pieces of glass from the windshield that had managed to penetrate the skin of his forehead, his final resting place.
“In a car crash.” I finally said as I passed the bottle back to her. No more explanations and it was clear that she didn’t need any. I spoke plainly like if I were talking about something that had happened to a total stranger.
“Across the border in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico… That’s where he spent his weekends with his family.”
Dominique stroked a strand of her hair behind her ear and she went on, “We had just seen him last week…” Suddenly her eyes turned red and misty. Tears rolled down her cheeks, leaving a wet glistening trail. I pressed my hands on her soft cheeks, using my thumbs to wipe under her eyes.
“You hardly knew him.” I said. It upset me that even though she had only meet him a few times, she was already crying yet I who had known him for seven years had yet to shed a single tear.
She squinted her eyes, giving me her stare of disapproval. “Whenever we saw him on campus he was so sweet and nice.”
“He was flirting with you. It was kind of gross because he did it despite me being there.”
“Just because he was nice doesn’t mean he was flirting.”
“Trust me he was. He was loud, obnoxious and annoying. He was always bragging about his sexual conquests, and he would proudly proclaim if he had gotten a girl to cheat on her boyfriend. Back in High school, out of nowhere he honked Stephanie’s boobs. She reported him, but of course the administration didn’t do anything to him. I'm not a lawyer or anything but I think that’s sexual harassment. She didn’t talk to him after that, but now she’s posting how sad she is and how much she’s going to miss him.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s what people do though. The alternative would be trashing his memory and that would be so horrible…”
“I know…I know…”
“You know?” Then she added, “You’re being horrible.”
I had to think about it for a while, but all I could think about where people’s comments saying how they ‘just knew’ that he was dancing with God and how he had gone to a happy place. All I could think about was how he had probably ceased to exist the moment his car meet the concrete lamp post. I felt horrible that I didn’t feel sad, but mostly shocked that someone I had known and spend time with was dead and he was probably rotting away in some morgue as we spoke. That made me so delicate and empty. I wonder if his kid brother understood was going on or maybe he didn't and was still expecting him to come back. That thought didn't make me sad so I cried.
Dominique’s face was now filled with compassion replacing her cold stare. She wrapped her arm around my shoulders. Burying her forehead against the side of my head. She spoke softly against my ear.
“So you are sad?” Sometimes she was good at knowing what I was feeling, but this time she was off. She was a compassionate person filled with emotions and she did not get my lack of emotions.
“Then what’s making you cry?”
“Everything.” I lied. I didn’t feel comfortable telling her that nothing made me feel sad. She pressed her lips against mine and through the compassion of her kiss I felt forgiven for feeling nothing, but I knew it wasn’t so. She began to cry with me.
I had mentioned to Dominique that I had to dig through a ton of his Mother’s posts about their GoFundme page to find some actual information about the funeral service. I only told her that to point out the hypocrisy. She insisted that we should attend.
“This will only take out a small portion of your time.” She said and I finally gave in. Four days later, Dominique and I were on our way across the border to Mexico to attend Santiago’s funeral service. She had her legs resting on the dashboard of my car. She was reading a paperback book while nibbling on the skin of her thumb. Without looking away from the book she asked me, “James, Is this your first funeral?”
“Yes. What about you?”
“It’s mine too.”
“Really? I thought you told me your Grandfather died.”
“Well yes, but I didn’t go to his funeral. He died on a Thursday evening and the funeral was that Saturday. Since it was spring break my dad had taken me and my sister to a weekend camping trip that Thursday morning. We were really excited, we had been planning it for months. So my mom told my dad that he should let us enjoy our trip and not tell us anything.” She had closed the book and looked out the window. She sighed. “My mom didn’t think it would be “healthy” for us to go the funeral. In hindsight I should have realized my dad was acting weird, but I was just having so much fun.”
“When did you find out?”
“On Sunday, right when we were coming back home. We were ten minutes away and Dad pulls over and tells us. I remember that I started to cry then I opened my mouth but no sound came out. I guess my voice finally reached my mouth and I started to wail like a baby. Then my dad just hugged me and told me everything was going to be okay.”
“And was it?”
“Was it what” She looked away from the window. She reached into her purse to pull out her sunglasses which she put on then looked at me.
“Was everything okay?”
“Of course. He had been sick for a bit, so he went on to a better place.”
She had never told me that before. Her voice was very alluring and sweet, almost hypnotic and I enjoyed listening to her. It made me feel closer to her. She trusted me with her feelings, so why couldn’t I?
We arrived to the church a few minutes late and it was already packed so we sat at the back where a few of my friends had saved us a seat. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t stalled. I had tried to stall as best as I could. Taking the long way, saying I needed to go the bathroom, etc. Anything to get there late or avoid it entirely but we got there just in time to speed past the priest who was about to walk down the aisle.
I fidgeted on my seat, my left leg shaking slightly. I looked around the small community church that was packed with people some were my old high school friends, others people I recognized from our college, the rest family members and friends of the family. Everyone, if not
crying, had red and moist eyed. It was a shame that this was my first experience with death. In some ways I had hoped that the first death I experienced would be symbolic. This was not symbolic, no matter how much Dominique, who already experienced a death in her family, wanted it to be for me.
In front of the altar, was a large picture of Santiago dressed in a suit and besides it a closed casket. It made me sick. I couldn’t even get lost in my thoughts because either the Priest was talking or the mariachis were loudly playing hymns. Every church I seemed to go to was always too loud.
“I have to go the restroom.” I whispered to Dominique.
“Again?” She eyed me suspiciously. “Okay. Just don’t stall.”
I nodded and made my way to the restroom. Next to the restroom area there was a glass door labelled ‘Prayer Room’, which was covered in a red drape. I entered out of curiosity. Inside there was a prayer desk facing a statue of the sacred heart of Jesus Christ which was gilded completely in gold and was surrounded by floor arrangements and white candles. I approached the prayer desk and then knelt down on the padded kneeler. I put my hands together and rested them on the worn out padded armrest. I closed my eyes softly.
I said the Lord’s Prayer softly under my breath. I was taught in bible school to say it before praying so that God would know you were trying to talk to him. I would say the prayer in a certain flow and speed, if I was distracted and lost track of the flow, I would have to start over again. Since the music could still be heard through the walls, I was unable to focus. I tried to say the prayer a couple of more times but to no avail. I sighed and apologized to God, telling him I would learn better next time. Then I proceeded to pray my prayer. It was always the same thing:
“Jesus Christ, I pray that you bless my mom, my dad and my brother as well as Dominique. And that you protect my grandmother and grandfather. I pray that you keep my aunts, cousins and uncles in the path of light and goodness. I hope you tell your Father...or well yourself to keep them all safe. I pray for this to you, Amen.”
“Oh, yeah,” I added, “Also for Santiago's little brother, give him the strength to survive this turmoil.”
My eyes remained closed as I took a couple of deep breaths. My grandmother once told me that when she prayed hard enough she could feel the warmth of God’s grace. I hadn’t understood what she meant and I still don’t. In that moment, I felt nothing except the cold chill caused by the air conditioning. There was no moment of enlightenment that would show me that everything was going to be okay or an embracing touch that would tell me I was loved unconditionally. Anything that would make me feel sad or make me cry, so that I could feel what the people were feeling out there.
“Your child is lost, God. Where are you?” I laughed slightly and shook my head. I wondered whether God had moved on and forgotten about his creations leaving us to wills of evolution and our own demises or if I had simply forgotten him and he no longer deemed me worthy.
I formed my right hand into a fast and pressed it a couple of times against the open palm of my left hand. I got up from the prayer deck and left the room. Then without looking back, I walked out of the church. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky and the air was chilly. I took in a deep breath. The bar or La Cantina I frequented was just a couple of blocks away and I decided to walk over there.
La Cantina was a small place with just enough room to fit six booths and a dozen small tables, but large enough for the bar to be able to host twelve stools. It was a noon on Wednesday, the place was unsurprisingly empty except a man wearing a suit was asleep on a booth and another one sat at a table drinking a large glass of beer. I liked it here was because it always seemed to be quiet, even when it got loud. As I made my way to the bar, I patted the back of the man drinking a beer.
“Salud,” I responded. I went to sit on one of the twelve stools.
The owner of La Cantina was behind the bar. He was a chunky man with tan skin and a wide smile that bore crooked yellowing teeth. He smiled when he saw me and asked me the same question he always asked me. I heard him ask it as if it were the first time I was hearing him. “Jaime, what will you be having today.” His accent was thick and heavy. He had gone to a university in Texas, but I never bothered to ask which one just like I never bothered to ask him why an educated man like him opens up a bar in a border town.
“Scotch on the rocks.” I said like every other time before. He nodded as if it were the first time he had heard me pick that drink. He got a glass from under the bar and raised it up above his eye level before placing it in front of me. He put three chunky ice cubes in the glass that clinked as they hit the bottom. Then he got the bottle of scotch and rose it up as well before pouring it into the glass. He put enough so that the ice cubes would float.
“Salud,” I responded.
Suddenly he had a hazy look in his eyes and began to pat his chest with his fist. The first times I had seen him do it, I wasn’t sure what to think and I assumed it had to do with some health problems. Then I decided to follow along even though I was afraid he would think I was ridiculing him and get mad at me. He didn’t and from then I considered it “our thing.” He looked happy as if for that moment he wasn’t alone.
After that he looked fine and so was I.
“So what brings you here on a Wednesday?”
“An old friend of mine passed away around here recently and they’re having the service.”
“Oh. I heard about that. I’m sorry to hear he was a friend of yours.”
I shrugged. “That’s the thing though. I don’t feel sad. I know I should but I’m not. He was annoying and obnoxious. He was a jerk. The church right now is filled with people crying for him. It makes me think…who’s going to come to my funeral if I were to die right now? Do I have to act like him to get people to want to be around me? God, I hope not.” While I talked, I was taking sips of my drink.
He listened to me, his face without judgement and his smile made me feel comfortable and secured. He didn’t say anything and it was quiet and I felt satisfied with myself that I was understood. I grabbed my glass, and held it to my lips, letting the last of the warm liquid run down my throat.
He asked me if I wanted a second drink and I accepted it.
“Salud,” I responded.
He reached over the bar and grabbed my shoulder in solidarity. I understood that he wasn’t perfect. That he didn’t know what would make me feel better. He understood that simply just being there for me was enough. I couldn’t help but cry.
“What’s making you cry?” He asked genuinely.
“Nothing.” Then I laughed. I grabbed my glass and tilted it against my lips. I finished it in seven short sips. “I’m crying about nothing.”
“I understand.” He did not cry.
He asked me if I wanted a third drink and I accepted.
“Salud,” I responded.
I drank this third drink more slowly. The bartender went back to cleaning glasses with a rag. As much as we wanted, we knew we couldn’t help each other. Because we both knew that we didn’t know everything. We knew nothing.
He offered me a fourth drink, but I rejected it. Three was enough. Three was good.
I told him I had been gone for too long and that my girlfriend was probably looking for me. He understood. I paid him for my drinks and left him a good tip, because he was worth a good tip.
I walked out of the bar. Outside in all her glory was Dominique. Her arms were crossed and her eyes squinted in disapproval. In the daytime, she was angelic. God, she was beautiful. She was blessed by God but I was not.
I felt ashamed and uncomfortable as she looked at me. My lower lip quivered trying to come up with an excuse. But I had none. So I walked up to her and wrapped my arms around her waist. Pressing my face against her shoulder, I began to cry.
“Why are you crying?”
“I’m crying because of Santiago. He’s not going to be here anymore. I’ll miss him.” I lied.
“I understand.” She cried with me.
I was lost and she was lost and the bartender was lost and even the lady outside of the church holding her bible was lost. We were all lost. Even you. We are all fucking lost.
Luis Del Angel grew in a small southern city of Texas. He graduated in 2017 receiving his BA in English with a concentration in Literature. He hopes to continue his education by pursuing an MA in Literature in the near future. Although he had always had passion for reading, he was motivated to start writing after reading the works of Ernest Hemingway and other writers of the Lost Generation. Luis draws inspiration from people he has encountered and situations he has been in. When he isn’t writing or reading, Luis spends his time listening to records, watching documentaries and having existential crises. Even though he has written several other short stories, Boys without God was his first attempt at getting his work published.
Find Luis Elsewhere : Twitter (Luis_D_Angel)