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Monkey Sí

Manuel Muñoz

I.

First, there was George (really Jorge) and Pedro and Eddie. Two Jims. Mark, Philip, and Andrew. Greg, Jeff, Joe, and John. Vinny, from Baltimore. David, Tyler (Chinese-American and beautiful), Carlos, Pablo, Wilson, Oscar y Roberto (the only real Spanish speakers: ÉNiño! ÉNene! ÉMono!). How to translate their affections? Child. Baby. Monkey. Claro que sí.

We will call this one Tomás, even though the white men try to call him Tommy (and he hates it in two ways: the diminutive Bobbys and Dannys and Billys for men too old for names like that, the fact that these men can't say his name right.) We will call him Tomás. They will say Tommy.

Someone else will call him Tomás: his name is Nestor and he is in love with Tomás. Nestor is dark-skinned and small and longs to be under Tomás, because he is tall, with arms that could shield him from the cold.

But it never gets cold here, because it is Fresno. Why Fresno? A good question, but others are already in line. And this roster of names—are these friends of Tomás? Tricks? A list of lovers that only shows how flighty a character Tomás will turn out to be? Do we already know that Nestor will lose out by the end of the story (and in life, because we have mentioned that he is dark-skinned and small and these men don't like either)?

We will have to let the list go. We will not say anything about Tomás here. Or about why this is in Fresno and not San Francisco or New York or any other big American city where whole battalions of these men dress like nuns and nurses to rile the mayors. Not these men. Not here. And Nestor will come close to death, by his own doing, but we already know he'll survive it and live (unfortunately) in continued unhappiness. What has Tomás to do with any of this?

II.

Nestor likes Tomás because of what he wears. He wears muscle shirts and open short-sleeves, unbuttoned, even to work, and Nestor thinks that no one complains because Tomás smiles with straight teeth and teases the women. All in good nature because Tomás has no hair on his chest breaking through the white cotton of his shirt, no gold chains (not even a thin one) to remind the women that he is as dark as the men they generally stay away from. Nestor likes Tomás because Tomás's mother knows what her son has done and wants to do and none of it seems to faze her. Perhaps because she is younger than most mothers, still wears lipstick, and was glad to see her husband leave. She wears heels and holds Nestor's cheek to kiss him every time he comes to visit Tomás. She kisses him as if she knows what Nestor wants, as if to say, this world isn't made for you. You don't want someone like me, and someone like my son doesn't want you. She kisses him like that.

III.

We can see them, from a distance, as a group of friends. We know that a group of friends walking together to the one bar in town cannot line up side by side as they do on television. They must walk in pairs or threes, sometimes ones. From a distance, we can see them as just a group of friends, but if we get closer, if we let the adjectives take on their clothes (black pants, loose blue jeans, shiny shoes, shirts spread across impossible backs) or scents in the air (cigarettes because some of them get nervous, the mingle of three colognes, one like lemons), we would find that the group is a mangle of hesitations. We can see two of them trying to walk on either side of Tomás, that Nestor is alone and trying to keep up.

Later, if we like, we can get as close to Nestor as we want when we listen to Tomás tell him about why the two were walking on either side of him. Nestor will be on the telephone. He will listen to Tomás as he tells him how all three of them occupied each other. We can see what Tomás does to one of these men in particular, how the other sat back and watched in a green armchair in the corner, but it will be more telling to stay on Nestor, his hand on the receiver. He will be wearing a white t-shirt when he hears this and little jeans with the cuffs rolled up and no shoes. He will be pressing one hand against his forehead as he hears all of this. His heart will be beating fast and we will leave him alone to put down the receiver and do whatever he does when Tomás says these terrible things to him.

IV.

On paydays at the ice company where he works, Nestor cashes his check at the draw window. We can see the Mexican nationals snicker at him, but Nestor cannot, because his back is turned and he is busy counting his week's pay in twenties. He double-counts always. We can see the way the men look at him because Nestor keeps his shirts tucked and his pants are snug and he stands on tiptoe at the window. All his posture suggests is what these men laugh at, but there's really no telling which of the men are just going along with the taunt (because Fresno is not a place to be lonely).

Nestor with the tucked-in shirt and snug pants is going to San Francisco with Tomás. They will drive in Nestor's car and Nestor will pay for the gas and for hamburgers along the side of Highway 99 when Tomás gets hungry. They are going for an overnight in the city, to dance in the Big City clubs, and drive home tired. Tomás is tired already and when the boredom of the Valley gets to him (which is not very long—he is bored with his life), Nestor will keep driving. The roads are straight, so we will look at them, because Nestor is too busy stealing glances at Tomás's sharp cheekbones and his brown eyes swirling in sleep. We will have to keep a lookout for the many diesel trucks that are coming back empty from San Francisco and up north, coming to take away oranges and lemons and cotton, racing by because they are always late. Nestor will admire how Tomás slouches in the passenger seat with his legs spread wide the way so many men do and he wants to see himself hover there. We will notice the approaching coastal range that fringes the western part of the Valley and how purple and green it is, a tip of fog already visible at its peak, and we will breathe in and try to feel exhilarated by this vision. We will try to match how Nestor feels driving Tomás in his car, sleeping as he is, wishing someone else were driving them so that he could nestle against him without Tomás ever waking up.

V.

The list of names. Here are their problems.

One of them alerted his parents about his wet dream concerning the wrestling team. Another will bore us to tears if we listen too long about how his parents kicked him out of the house (he thinks he is the only one). Too many of them are alcoholics for anybody to take their pain seriously. One is a heavy drug user and is ashamed to admit it and the others too unaware to catch on. One was just visiting Fresno and ended up living there when he saw how cheap it was. One plays opera in the dark to go to sleep, very softly (because a man in Los Angeles told him he loved him and gave him the recordings). David and Tyler (the Chinese-American boy, the beautiful one) and Pablo were all molested as children, repeatedly and terribly, but they will never talk about it. But we know about it, because something must come after them besides adjectives. Tyler is more than Chinese-American and beautiful: he is a singer and has charmed several other young men into him by singing in their ears. He sings with a broken voice. And David will become a medical student years from now because he will realize that the demanding hours will save him from himself. Pablo will circle around for years before falling in with a man who is not right for him. But he will stay anyway, because that's Pablo.

We can share which of them will live quite happily: Eddie. The second Jim. Wilson and Roberto together. That will be it. They have spurious and wretched pasts, many places where time fogged over like the coastal range before San Francisco and their descents landed them in unfamiliar places. But they will remain satisfied and none of them will ever stop in the middle of eating breakfast to think about so-and-so, why it was them and not those, those and not them. We can't learn much from them, in the end, because they will take their own reasons and swallow them as whole as snakes do eggs. Their jaws wide and open and such a looming thing disappears and is crushed and only the thin film of shell is spit out to disappear on the Valley floor.

VI.

They go from club to club and Tomás borrows money to get in and Nestor pays. At first, Tomás lingers by the doormen, as if forgetting that he has to pay, chatting, and so the ticketsellers look at Nestor and he hands them one of his hard-earned twenties.

Nestor will not take pills; he will not drink, even though Tomás tells him that the next club is only a matter of blocks, so a drink couldn't hurt. Tomás orders beer and while he waits, he takes off his short-sleeve and stands waiting in his muscle shirt, cavalier, but here no one seems to notice. In Fresno, Nestor believes the situation between them is like something heavy in his hands. Here, we see him look around and then up at the crisscross of light and we see what kind of person Nestor really is: he names all the colors to himself. His lips move and we can get close enough to read them: magenta, pink, red. Amber, orange, chartreuse. Sienna, yellow, green, gold. Bright white. Nestor knows colors. He keeps a sketchbook at home. He flips through the department store catalogues and writes down the names of colors. He sketches Tomás from memory. He gives them to Tomás so that Tomás knows he sketches him from memory.

He is concentrating on these lights and if we paid attention, we would want to see just how far and deep Nestor can go with color. (We might lose ourselves in naming all the variations of blue, the way Nestor can). So no blue—because we might not see how there are two men looking at Nestor, both of them holding drinks. They wear expensive watches and check the time, brown khakis, broadcloth shirts. We might not see them swallow hard (both of them) at what they see in Nestor. We will not get close enough to know why they are thinking what they are thinking.

VII.

Tomás has a last name, but we don't think it's right to share it. He lives in Fresno and a last name still means everything here. Down in the smaller towns, a last name can feel worse, whole streets owned by one family, the cars of all the young men crowding the front lawns.

Tomás needs to leave the Valley, and will. He has gotten himself into many situations in small towns where he has been run out of a house at gunpoint. It happened in Ivanhoe and Porterville, the back window of Nestor's borrowed car shot out once and Nestor never getting an explanation. Tomás does not know what happened to the boys he left naked and surprised in their own beds, but we know. (Of course. We know what happened to them.)

Something crowds inside Tomás that we can't recognize, even if we try. We might not understand what the old women in his family mean when they say he has tainted blood. Tainted blood is too much the metaphor for us; it can't take here. It can't work in the same way (though Nestor is the worrier, wonders what courses through his veins). Tomás is a different, more worrisome break from our lot, holding his name back, running through with this tainted blood (a curse, the old women say, and only some of us can sit on the lip of that canyon and understand). Blood. Blood. Blood. Out of its element, we can't make much sense of it, but it means much more to Tomás. It means he cannot escape the way he is. It means he'd better not have kids. It means he cannot be like the men of San Francisco (they are all around him in this bar) who finally settle with someone when their looks have drifted like smoke and decide to take in an Indonesian baby. No. This is not Tomás and is not Fresno. He is living with himself, with a land of ranchers and trucks, with hands reaching daily to pluck the fields (so many fields, we can't know if we only buy oranges from the corner grocer), with the birds that are housed in the small wetlands trying to fly away from the pesticides, not dipping their beaks into the water, as if they know that something will get in them and cause them to lose their feathers, break apart like little downy pillows. He will leave that place. He will leave Nestor there and we will not know what will become of Tomás once he goes.

VIII.

So Nestor and Tomás are lost in themselves in the middle of the club lights while the men scout (as men will do in a place like this). We will look at the two men who have been eyeing Nestor, because Nestor is not thinking straight. He has been looking at the lights because he saw Tomás talking to a young blond boy with too many teeth, the boy's head tilting as if Tomás is too much to handle in conversation and is anticipating what Tomás will do to him on his living room couch. Nestor is not looking at that (trying not to) and so looks at the lights in anger, thinking of all the variations of blue. We need to pay attention to these men, one of whom has nudged the other, and they are up to no good. We look at their expensive watches and their clothes and understand how they come up with the tiny packets of powder that they spill nervously into a bar glass of rum and coke. No one sees them do this and if they did, they would think nothing of it (what's cocaine or ecstasy or anything, anyway?) and we know that Nestor shouldn't drink that drink (Alice! Dorothy!) but the anger blooming in his chest will cause him to see one of the men and think he is a good-looking man. (We hate to admit that the men are good-looking.) We know, even through their clothes, that they are slick as seals and hard; they have fun pressing themselves against men in the bar who turn around to see what face is attached to all that muscle and aggression. We will see Nestor turn around when one taps him on the shoulder, a blond man with big hands, and Nestor will smile stupidly and take the drink. (We know what he's thinking, the self-pity that is stirred in every rum and coke, how he'll wreck the car and Tomás in it.) We will watch him gulp it down because he doesn't know how to handle the blond man's grip on his waist and his compliments (nasty remarks, but sexy all the same) and we know we've lost him when the second man comes to join them and Nestor wilts in the face of that attention and he's a goner, the spot where he stood empty and then filled by another clubgoer. (Who cares about that one: he comes here all the time.) It's Nestor, out of the safety of the darkness of the music and the dim and shifting lights, whom we should worry about.

IX.

We can call Tomás insensitive if we like. Witness: he drinks a beer and talks to the blond boy, a real New Yorker who Tomás can't understand, but it forces the two of them to step closer to each other to hear. Tomás exaggerates his own English, hobbling it with an accent here and there so that the New York boy (with a small apartment in San Francisco because he can) has to keep asking him again and again what he means. The New York boy tells him about his boyfriend in Italy, a student at an art school, and the letters that come from Rome to say sorry. Tomás listens while he drinks, but doesn't ask why the New York boy is telling him any of this. Tomás knows why, of course (and so do we—a part of us knows this New York boy is naïve and manipulative at the same time) that he wants Tomás in his living room and then a letter the next morning to send to Rome (the romance of thin air mail paper). We might grudgingly accept Tomás accommodating all of this, asking where the New York boy is staying, and they leave the bar and we know what will happen. Tomás has seen the two big men talking to Nestor earlier but makes nothing of it, cannot picture Nestor completing such a bargain with men like that. He leaves without much worry. But we purse our lips at Tomás and the way his head does not pivot in all directions to look for Nestor, to tell Nestor (however guiltily), that he will be back in a couple of hours, his tone implicit that they can leave the club after that to eat at a diner. He doesn't do any of that and we know he should because if he noticed that Nestor were nowhere to be found, his jealousy would finally surface and we would finally see, in his frantic searching of the bathroom stalls and the dance floor, that Tomás harbors a need for Nestor's sweetness, even if he never returns it.

X.

Do we want to see it happening? (We know what's happening.) Do we want to enter Nestor's haze as this goes on? Or would we be better off (in the way that none of us ever wants to see the accident, but want to see the glitter of glass) seeing how Nestor will be found? Do we want to see him from afar, the dawn beginning to break over the slim alley where he will lie, and do we want to hear a soundtrack swelling over this sight like in the movies? (Perhaps the opening bars of "Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road," but no, Elton John is too sentimental for what happens here and besides, Nestor and Tomás and all the rest are not children of opera and showtunes but Mexican ranchera in the mornings.) So we will imagine Lola Beltrán and Amalia Mendoza, the one who cries at the end of every song she sings.

How about policemen? Should we witness them as they find a very broken Nestor, his pants tossed against a dumpster, one little black shoe lying upturned (as if he'd been hit by a car), the other still, somehow, securely on? Let's assure ourselves with the fact that both of them will approach him with their jaws dropped and that they will not call him a faggot under their breath, but they will think of their own sons at home, their own daughters.

Is it better (or worse) for us to go back a few hours and see the two men who didn't wait for Nestor to start buckling from his rum and coke concoction? Do we want to enter that terrible space (inside those hearts and minds and bones) inside those men, who want inside Nestor? Will the parallel be too uncomfortable? And if we do get that close to that hour (it was nearly three in the morning), will we see both men, or the more brutal one, the one who wouldn't stop pressing up against Nestor even as he cried against the brick wall? What the brutal one wanted: will we ask to hear anything more about his childhood? (He had one.) Will it serve to explain how it felt to handle this young man? (He knows his name is Nestor because Nestor said so before he drank, but when he mumbles it to himself as he pounds Nestor against the brick, he isn't saying it right.) What will we make of his enjoyment of not allowing escape, of feeling his own body control another one, his memory of kittens squirming to get rid of him and his own big hands (big hands for a kid his age) always catching little paws and tails and napes?

Will it hurt us to know that Nestor was fully aware of what was happening? (He was, broken from his daze like a gunshot, a breaking and swelling; he flashed a memory of boredom at work, the ice factory, how the ice blocks broke apart with a sudden momentum, cracks never showing in the translucence). He felt the men and heard them and the brick wall scraping his left cheek and his own crying, his one bare foot exposed to the cold of mid-morning. It is fair to say he will not remember. It would be stupid of us to think he prayed (but he did, suddenly Catholic).

Where in this picture comes the best view of what has happened? Maybe the secondary: the other man, who did the same to Nestor, but in an absurdly soft and caring way. Maybe him. We won't comment on the barebones here: he was hard and he slipped right into Nestor after the other had done most of the work (a fish too long out of water stops flipping, not hard to hold down.) But he took the time to enjoy the soft skin of Nestor's back and pulled his face away from the brick wall as if that would stop his crying. He thought he was more of the moment and he kept saying, "Relax, relax," and we will have to consider that this man actually meant what he said.

XI.

In the New York boy's San Francisco apartment, Tomás has the the boy naked, legs resting on his shoulders, the boy curled up to take him in. The lights are off and we are beginning to hear snippets of dialogue. "Yeah, oh yeah, yeah," the New York boy keeps saying, but he only repeats it, so the sound of his voice makes us think we really don't need a description. The voice is sweaty and lusty and insatiable; there isn't substance to it.

It is Tomás we want to hear, isn't it? To hear him speak? To be close enough to hear his voice and how he might sound to Nestor, if it will explain anything about him. Tomás groans to his greater need, only groans and sighs. He likes the giving back of his own push inside, the resistance, then the release, and how he sees white every time that happens. But he doesn't talk during any of this; he is not one for that kind of talk.

When they are done, the New York boy says, "Do you want some water, babe?" and Tomás says yes, but he bristles at being called babe. What we know about Tomás, though, is that he calls Nestor pet names all the time. In Spanish, he calls him papí and nene and mono and chango and Nestor wonders what about him is monkey-like. "Monkey?" Nestor asked. (Nestor's intonation suggests that he loves the name, the question not a question, the second-guessing not second-guessing at all.) His voice is an electric spark of good intentions, clean water, flowers blooming in ridiculously bright colors. His voice is filled with love for Tomás, but we know Tomás must put up something to resist hearing it. "Monkey?" Nestor asks again (a whirl of good weather) and Tomás answers him so gently we can only be angry at him for being so kind. "Monkey, ," he says, mixing Spanish and English, knowing that Nestor loves how they (and only they; can we?) do that and Tomás hugs him close, knowing that Nestor participates too much in this giving.

"Here's your water," the New York boy says, to interrupt, and the lights are still off, but if we looked as hard as Tomás does, we can see this boy's blue eyes glow in the dark and Tomás takes a long sip. Without asking him, he begins to laugh as he brings the New York boy back to the couch and they are at it again, the give-and-take, and Tomás watches the boy's eyes widen in surprise at every entry and Tomás is mean enough to wish Nestor were there, watching this. He wants him to see how he can make this boy's blue eyes widen, how the mouth opens, and even we can't figure out what that New York boy would want to say at that exact second.

XII.

We are grateful, in a strange way, that the two men have stolen Nestor's wallet. We are grateful because the policemen have ordered an ambulance to cart him away to an emergency clinic and his injuries (kidneys: the brutal one slammed the palms of his hands on Nestor's back) require blood tests and a phone call home. They ask him where he lives and Nestor does not want to say because his parents do not know about him and even being in a clinic will not change that. He is awake and we see his eyes register the possibility of his parents.

How does Tomás get there? He has been to the clinic before because once muggers stole his watch and wallet and sliced at his hands when he moved too quickly. It is the emergency clinic in the city that takes in late-night trouble. We see Tomás wander around the club at five in the morning. When he cannot find Nestor among all the bodies still threatening to rupture at so late (or early) an hour, he considers going to the usual diner. Maybe he will be there. He refused to think that Nestor would ever go home with anyone (though we can say here that Nestor has, because Nestor is much quicker about these things than Tomás, doesn't linger and continue letting anyone call him 'babe'; he leaves quickly because he is shy).

But he is not at the usual diner, and on the way back to the club Tomás sees two policemen enter the doors. He asks two club-goers outside what has happened, hoping to hear that a drug bust has gone on, but they tell him that someone had been beaten in the side alley, that an ambulance has carted him off. Tomás remembers the two men now.

He thinks of all the places to go. A police station, Nestor's parked car. He remembers the clinic and goes to a phone booth across the street from the club to call and ask if anyone has come in with a broken arm, someone short and dark, and the nurse on the other line puts him on hold. She comes back to him (we know her voice will be different, someone has told her to keep Tomás on the line), but Tomás hangs up at the first sign of hesitation.

He hails a cab to take him to the clinic, and when he arrives, we will know something more about Tomás. He is thinking ahead, in a way that will better suit him (but we know that he is convincing himself that it is for Nestor's best interest) He will sit across the street on a bus bench to see if Nestor will come out in a few hours. He wonders if Nestor will be stupid enough to give his real name so they can send him a bloated bill for whatever he got himself into. He doesn't think much of Nestor's skill at living. (But we know Nestor is already afraid and Nestor even gives a fake name and address and says he is okay to leave.)

It isn't until nearly three in the afternoon that Nestor finally exits and he looks determined despite his slow gait. What Tomás doesn't know is the whole story, nor that Nestor had to talk to the police, that he was swabbed and counseled, and that he eventually broke down in tears and wept harder than he ever had in his life and told them (again his voice, sad as violets), "My name is Nestor Alvarez," and gave his real address and told them, please, not to call his parents. We know that the counselors told him about pressing charges and his own willingness but all Nestor wanted was a ride to his car so he could go home. One of the police officers gave him ten dollars so he could catch a cab because Nestor didn't want to go in a police car.

So there. All of that, as Tomás approached Nestor ready to berate him for his trouble, and Tomás doesn't know. Nestor will turn on him and begin crying, without saying just yet what happened twelve hours earlier, that late afternoon the last time Nestor was much of anything, the beginning of the long road of remembering Tomás as the greatest of failures, and of Tomás thinking that things were his fault. (Tomás can't stop the course of a story, but we want to hate him as much as Nestor does.) We will hate him as much as Nestor will for the rest of his life.

XIII.

They are going home. They are on the road by five, having taken a cab back to Nestor's car and it will be Tomás who will drive. Nestor is crying because the cuts on his cheeks will not heal in the five hours before he gets home. He is crying because he is tired of lying.

How much do we think Nestor will tell Tomás on this trip? Will he revisit the entire incident for him? Or will he break down and use it to filter himself into Tomás's life, to say (as we have done, let's not deny it), he is owed now. This experience gives him claim for Tomás to take care of him. Is Nestor like that, using something like this to his advantage like George (really Jorge), who used the occasion of his mother's death to keep Tomás around? Now we know that story. (Really, Jorge.)

In fact, Nestor says very little. He says, first (that voice), "I got beat up, okay?" and then fifty miles later, after Highway 101 and crossing into that coastal range Nestor speaks up again and says, plainly, "I got raped by two guys," and we learn much about Tomás because he does not know how to respond. He doesn't say a word for the rest of the trip and neither does Nestor. They come back into the Valley and since we don't have anything to hear from them, we have no choice but to look at the scenery. The road twists, the diesel trucks are much slower (because they are fully loaded with tomatoes and peaches and dead chickens) and the vegetation becomes browner and drier as the elevation comes down and Tomás and Nestor descend back into the Valley. Yes, they descend, but we can't make much of that. This is simply how they got home, Tomás taking Nestor inside his house and witnessing Nestor's father having to hold back kicking Nestor's ass for being so stupid, all that work at the ice factory gone because they wanted to go where they didn't belong. (Do we think they belong there, not here?) This might be where we will have to divide our attention because after Tomás leaves to walk home, these two will never speak again, and we need to close the circles on them. If we stay with Nestor, we will hear the fury that boils over in this house when Nestor tells the truth (he will be kicked out that very night; it happens, even though we think we've heard it over and over.) If we follow Tomás, we will see him go home and lie in his bed and he will cry, but we can't say whether he knows why. We can't know because Tomás doesn't know, either.

XIV.

So what is the story? Where do we turn? What do we focus on? Who do we care about? Who do we identify with? How do we deal with Fresno? Will we come to agreement about what has really happened here? Will we see the same implications?

We want the irony or the softness, one or the other. We want the moving past of struggling with parents (because don't mothers already know, anyway?) We want to see people like Nestor and Tomás simultaneously looking at men with lust in their hearts, and then not bring it into their brief mentions of life. We want them to speak Spanish on the page (because some of us like that, admit it, the dirty words you've learned) and are disappointed that they don't. We don't appreciate that this story is itching to close on an image of Nestor (still in Fresno) eating a breakfast of cereal and orange juice. Mid-bite, he remembers Tomás and is angry at himself because an erection greets the memory. We can tell you that this story will close with the added information that Nestor briefly dates a woman (so does Tomás, two in fact, but we will have different reactions to that). Nestor is eating breakfast. We can't know what Tomás is doing. We can't know what Nestor will do after this moment because the story wants to close.

With eating breakfast? He is eating cereal and drinking juice. He ran in the same crowd with Tyler, the Chinese-American beautiful boy (who was molested by an older white man because the man found him too beautiful on his tricycle). The two men in San Francisco are in Geneva; the gentler one never did anything like that again, the other one did and never got caught. They are eating croissants in the late evening (time difference), taking bites at the same time Nestor eats his cereal (if we want it that way). How do we want it? Do we want music? Country music (because of its neutrality, in some ways, Charley Pride, just for a loop)? Not opera and (God, no) not Judy Garland. Not here. Just trumpets with a Mexican flair (yes, Mexican).

It isn't fitting. We are splitting and not agreeing because Mexican trumpets are too specific. His name is Nestor and some of us think he should levitate or endure something spiritual like that to close this story, floating right through the ceiling, sprouting wings. His name is Nestor and don't stories with names like that need to have levitation and a good deal of magic? No, not this one. It won't. It can't. Leave him be, eating his cereal. Some of us will stay with him. Others of us won't (so go to Tomás, or Tommy, because he lets people call him that now). The rest of you can go to him on an invisible cloud. The rest of you can go see him in his new skin and bones. We will stay with Nestor and finally hear what the deal was about his dating a woman. He will speak (if you stay or not) and you might miss his voice. He will speak about another man, too (the magnificent, if brief, Geraldo). Broken, maybe, but old bones become new bones, old skin is second skin. Flowers wilt and come back. The Valley falters, then blooms. He's eating cereal on July 1. Stay with him until the fireworks because fireworks are the greatest broken things of all (as Nestor will tell you, brilliant with color). •

Manuel Muñoz was born in California's Central Valley and lives in Brookline, Mass. He received a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation to complete a story collection.

Originally published in the Summer 2001 issue of Boston Review



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