I walked out of the dusty shop in Juarez with my two postcards and headed up the street. It was nearly noon, and the sun was thrusting down its fiery tentacles and burning the whole place up. At the end of the block, I turned the corner, passing by pharmacies and cheap-looking stores with posters and magazines and greasy smells.
At the end of the next block, I crossed the busy street. A bus was blocking traffic and I just moved with the crowd. A woman walked suspiciously close to me, and I moved away, over to a small square across the way where men were feeding a huge flock of pigeons.
I sat on a low wall and watched them tossing down dried corn on the ground or breadcrumbs or whatever it was. There were more buses clogging up the streets. I was glad I wasn’t driving, I would have gone mad.
Across the way from the square was a building made of dark brown brick, a smooth stone arch around the doorway. It was some kind of a palace for some king unlike me. It didn’t really look like a palace, but it was called a palace.
There was a mother walking with her two small boys. I sat on the wall taking pictures of all the surroundings like some lame tourist, and then felt odd so I stopped. I felt I was drawing attention to myself, and I did not want to do that, so I just sat there and watched, my head drooping down a bit out of habit, and I looked at the dirty ground.
I began to think if I was ever going to feel happy again. Seemed no matter how hard I pushed my thoughts and feelings in a positive direction, they just never went there. It was as if I was somehow always on the precipice between darkness and light and could just not get my leg over that highest rail. It was defeating and frustrating. Having to feign a smile for one’s whole life is not a good way to live, now is it, Anton Chico.
It was getting hotter still and I felt sticky and greasy all over. I wanted a shower. I thought of the girl in the room above the shop and wondered what she was doing right now. I pictured some UTEP college boy slobbering all over her and I imagined she hated it, but poppa didn’t hate it as he stood around downstairs collecting all that American dough. He loved it, but did he love her? I wouldn’t think so, but then again maybe they do things differently down here.
I stood up and walked away from the square and toward a park where they had a market going on. Rows of canvass covered cubicles spread out on the lawn crammed full of all kinds of cheap junk, trinkets, and souvenirs. I strolled through, but I did not buy anything. I was worried about exposing my wallet.
I kept on walking, back down to the main drag I came in on and turned back toward the border. When I saw a Mexican cop walking around, I got nervous. I heard stories about Mexican cops locking American dudes away in some crummy jail for months on end for doing barely anything. I was worried; Anton Chico is always worried and that is not a good state of mind to be in.
I turned into a kind of open mall. They had a Burger King there along with a bunch of dress shops. I just walked through, came out on the other side, and continued walking toward the border, the cop now behind me rather than in front of me.
Someone tugged on my sleeve. I looked down to see a small boy showing me his open hand and, in his palm, sat a few coins, foreign coins. He talked in Spanish but the only word I understood was “hamburger.” He wanted to buy a hamburger, but he did not have enough money. He looked sad, dirty, and desperate. I pulled out my wallet and gave him two dollars. He looked at me and grinned wide. I watched him run off.
I slipped into a colorful cantina in the shadows of a side street and ordered a drink at the bar.
I slammed the shot, chased it with the beer. The place wasn’t very crowded. There were a few Mexican dudes drinking at the end of the bar and talking amongst themselves. There was an older Mexican dude sitting closer to me sipping on a beer and watching Mexican TV.
Anton Chico could get carried away with the drink at times. It was tucked down in the alien DNA somewhere, and now I was spilling bills onto the bar. I downed shot after shot and began feeling very warm, as if my soul was walking on the surface of the sun. Then I got sad and wanted to cry about all that tarnished love that had gotten in the way of the perfect American dream. But it was no dream. It was brutal reality of the ball-shattering kind. I straightened myself out and returned to the present. The here and now. The only place one can be.
I wanted strange music and went to the dusty old jukebox and slipped in some coins, pushed some buttons, and then went back to my stool at the bar. A moment later, some weepy western tune came crawling out of the machine like a skeleton from a grave and I lit another cigarette as more desperados entered the cantina and clambered noisily around me.
Smoke and loud talk filled the joint. I could hear a cue ball being smacked around in the back, rolling across some beat up table and the desperados cheering it on.
Everyone was getting drunk and lucid and parading around the joint like they were on some great fucking holiday or junkie acid trip. It was becoming a fiesta. Anton Chico suddenly became sad again and huddled closer to the bar and bowed his head in painful drunken prayer.
In the dim reverence he let more of the strong drink run down to his belly and then to his brain where it sloshed around like a warm sea tide and as he looked out his blurry and wet eyes, through the smoke clouds, through the laughter coming from the mouths of those with bad teeth and unruly facial hair, he wondered, as he often did, if he had hit rock bottom once again.
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