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Jon Pineda

Blind Spot

On Sundays, after the rush from the church crowd, Emmanuel looks forward to seeing the one he calls Our Lady of the Bruises. She is in her early-thirties, tangled blonde hair, her body slim from smoking, and when she walks through the front door, the light beating down behind her, Emmanuel considers himself the sole witness to her face.

He sits her at the only booth where the table legs arenít propped up with folded napkins. It is their ritual, the way she pinches the bridge of her sunglasses, pulls them just so and smiles as Emmanuel places a glass of ice water on the table. The base leaves a ring on the menu when she lifts the cool rim to her mouth. For months now, since first seeing her, Emmanuel wants to ask her, Who would do this to you?

Her face is covered in deep shades of maroon and blue, as if a hand had pressed itself for hours against her skin. Unaffected, she orders Moo Goo Gai Pan and laughs at the way her throat jolts through the words, her head nodding along as if thrown around by the pronunciations.

This makes him smile. It is the only entree she ever orders, and when he walks through the kitchen doors where Wing and the rest of the cooks are lounging near the counter and smoking, Emmanuel holds the ticket above his head and shakes it out of happiness. He is ecstatic, and the cooks, especially Wing, understand that it is for our lady who boozes.

Chopped celery bounces into the middle of the wok, falls with sheets of onions and chicken, then the white sauce that smothers the crackling oil. Ahp! Wing yells. Emmanuel forces a domed silver top down onto a heaping platter of rice. He holds the tray with one hand and grabs a bowl, scooping from a vat of fried wonton, before walking through the swinging doors with everything on a wide tray balanced above him.

At first, he doesnít notice the guy crouched in the boothís blind spot. This surprises Emmanuel when he comes around the corner with the food. The guy has a long beard, thick and wiry, which matches the nest-like sprouts of black hair on his knuckles. His name is Jim. It says so on his shirt.

So itís Jim, Emmanuel muses, focusing on the greasy patch sewn above the guyís pale heart.

Hey guy, you mind bringing out another plate? says Jim. While youíre at it, bring us a couple of Buds.

When Jim says this, the woman shakes her head, and Jim, plucking the table tent for Tsing-Tao, yells, Shit, woman, the Chinese donít know nothing about beer!

In the reach-in, Emmanuel shoves through empty boxes, smacking some of the stray bottles together. He wants to save her. Wing and the rest of the cooks have moved on to fresh cigarettes.

Hey, boy, Wing says, laughing. Donít break up, okay?

Emmanuel cuts a look at him.

What? Wing says. She donít like my sauce? He whispers something in Chinese, and the other cooks laugh. Emmanuel, having found the last two Buds, lifts the bottles by their necks and smirks at the cooks.

You know, Emmanuel says to them, I think sheís with the guy who beats her.

Who? Wing says. Your lady?

Emmanuel nods.

Wing tosses the rest of his cigarette into the grill. The paper and fibers suck down quickly into ash. He saunters over to the swinging doors and raises up on his tiptoes to get a look through the scraped plastic window.

I see her, but I donít see asshole, he says. One of the cooks adds something in Chinese, in a tone, Emmanuel thinks, that is tinged with contempt. Wing turns and silences him with a look.

You hate this guy? Wing says to Emmanuel. He takes one of the beers and twists off the cap.

I think so, Emmanuel says, looking back at the other cooks. They are all grins. Some start covering their mouths with a fist. At the front register, the assistant manager slumps in his chair and flips through a romance novel. He is clueless.

Wing slowly unzips his pants and snakes the head of the bottle between the open zipper. He gives it a few turns and then hands it back to Emmanuel. Hey, donít drink, okay? Wing says.

Jim is gone when Emmanuel returns with the beers. He sets them down making sure the woman gets the clean one. You forgot his plate, she says and stares across the room at the bathroom door. Do you think you can grab one before he comes back? Her voice cracks a little, which makes Emmanuel flinch.

Back in the kitchen, all the cooks are wide-eyed, expectant. Especially Wing. So? Wing says. Emmanuel grabs a plate without saying a word and leaves.

There is still no Jim. Under the dim light of the cracked wall sconce, her bruises look heavier to him. He refills her glass, staring at the colored splotches swirled with maroon and blue. It is a wallop of a bruise, he thinks, one the size of his fist. When she looks up, the world frozen around her, he canít help himself. He blurts out, I want to kiss your bruises.

His words take her by surprise. What?

I want to kiss your bruises, Emmanuel says again. His heart is racing. He is furious. And that bastard in the bathroom, someone needs to beat him in the face the same way heís beat you. Look at yourself! I canít even believe youíd go out in public like this. Emmanuel holds out his hand and tries to touch her cheek, but she cowers away.

What is it? he says. Let me kiss you there. He feels as if the entire world has suddenly poured over him. He doesnít know what else to say.

Even when Jim grabs him by the neck and throws him down, into a few chairs, Emmanuel doesnít know what else to say. He hears the woman with the bruises screaming at Jim. Kill that motherfucker! she yells. She is smearing her cheeks in all the excitement.

By this time, everyone is outside in the parking lot. They are covered in bright light. Wing and the other cooks, the assistant manager, the womanĺ they all circle around and watch as Jim punches Emmanuel in the back of the head. Then it is in his face and on his arms and his neck. It is a furious flurry. Emmanuelís mouth begins to fill with blood, but the rest of the crowd only watches on, silent, as the woman, smiling now, fills the air with a scream.

Jon Pineda's poetry collection Birthmark won the 2003 Crab Orchard Poetry Series Open Competition and will be published in April 2004 by Southern Illinois University Press.  Recent work appears in, PUERTO DEL SOL, and in the anthologies Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (University of Illinois Press, 2003) and Screaming Monkeys (Coffee House Press, 2003).

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