My dad moved us out of the city and bought The Diablo bar and restaurant with the insurance money after mom got burned alive.  We all got burned but mom was the only one who died.  I was just a baby and my scars are the worst since kids heal so fast.  It’s mostly my legs, they’re shiny and hairless.  Dad’s scars are just on half of him and they make him look older than his thirty-nine years, his left side anyway.  Dad says scars give you character, a story to tell.  I don’t show my scars ever, not even when it gets real humid during the monsoon.  I wear long pants year round.

The Diablo isn’t a restaurant anymore, just a bar.  We serve pretzels and peanuts and have a free taco bar on Tuesdays and it’s my job to sweep up the crumbs and pieces of shell at the end of the night.  I’m too young to be in there the hours that I am but no one minds, not even the cops or border patrol who come in after their shifts, they just know I’m Ernie’s kid and that’s that.  They used to scruff my hair when I was younger, shorter, just a kid.  Now they just give me a nod or raise their beer to me or say “hello”.  One cop, Deputy Lou used to scruff my hair so hard I thought he’d rub my head as bald as my legs.  He stopped when the rest of them did though and I liked him the best of all because he let me play with his hand cuffs.  He even let me shoot his gun behind The Diablo one night.  We got a bunch of empty liquor bottles from the trash and set them up in a row on the old fence that separates our property from the Yaqui reservation.  Lou said I was a good shot even though I only hit about half of the bottles.  He cleaned up the rest of them without even aiming.  He got shot near the border last year and died.  He was crooked they said, dealing with the cartels and smuggling in Horse and Glass, that’s what they call it, the heroin and meth.

Maria is the bartender.  The first time she came in she was bleeding and crying, really hysterical like my mom screamed in my nightmares and I had to wonder if she was on fire.  Everyone in the place just watched her, kind of dumbstruck, except for Dad.  He came from behind the bar and she grabbed him like she was drowning and he was a piece of driftwood.  We didn’t even know if she spoke English because she just kept saying “mi Hermano, mi Hermano” which is “my brother” in Spanish.  The brother she cried for had been shot at the gas station down the street by her boyfriend.  The boyfriend came in holding a big revolver.  He was a big Mexican and looked mean, sweaty and dirty and hard as rock with no shirt.  I was really scared, but Dad wasn’t.  He just said “Calm down hombre, easy now.”  The boyfriend saw Maria in Dad’s arms and pointed the gun at them and pulled the trigger but he was out of bullets.  Deputy Lou was there and put two bullets into the boyfriend’s stomach.  And that was it.  Maria came in everyday to work after that.  She felt she owed Dad her life and Dad finally just gave her a job.  Maria’s got a beautiful voice and every night she sings old Mexican folk songs and dances while my father plays along on acoustic guitar.  Nobody can order drinks while she sings, but they never complain.  My favorite song is this one about the mountains and how when they’re covered with snow they’re about as pretty as a woman, naked and waiting.  I had to write down the lyrics like I heard them and took them to the library to translate but couldn’t find the words in the Spanish dictionary since they were spelled wrong.  I asked an old Mexican at The Diablo that night what they meant and he wrote them on a napkin with red ink and I snuck him a free bourbon, then I watched Maria sing while dad played and when she smiled at me I fell in love with her.

That same night after closing I was sweeping and Dad played guitar and I asked Maria if she would marry me one day when I was old enough.  She took my chin in her hand and kissed me on the mouth and I tasted the dust on her lips and she told me she wished she was young again.  Dad just watched her and smiled and kept playing with his old burned side turned away from us.

CS DeWildt lives in Tucson, AZ. His stories have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Writer's Block, Word Riot, The Bicycle Review, and Mobius Magazine.  His novella "Candy and Cigarettes" will be published by Vagabondage Press in Summer 2011.

This one germinated out a single line in a popular song of the 1990s.  I'll keep the title to myself, but if anyone feels like guessing I'll tell you if you're right.  I moved to Tucson a few years ago after completely falling in love with the desert.  I guess that's what the piece is really about.  The place inspires me like nothing else. 




Copyright 2009