Israel A. Bonilla ~ Basement Blues

I’ve made friends with dust­pans, mops, brooms, buck­ets, box­es, sprayers ’n rags. Finer than the peo­ple upstairs, real­ly. You pass ’em by ’n pray they mind their busi­ness. If not, you got­ta be pre­pared to scrub some god-aban­doned grime, make-pre­tend you’re the com­put­er guy, do the jack-of-all-trades dance for the suit-wearin’ san­dal boys or bag­gy-dan­glin’ bare­foot girls, all the while ignorin’ their high talk ’n cagey eyes. To hell with those extras. My job’s down­stairs, main­ly alone in shushed com­pa­ny. Mainly, I say, ’cause now ’n then I’ve to tol­er­ate old Bass, that most poet­ic of souls, who lets me in on his worn pow­er­ful Bible in exchange for naps, God bless ’im. It’s a good deal. There’s no voice like his nowa­days. I swear the fella’s punchin’ the hun­dreds. He must be from the times when ladies used art­sy large umbrel­las ’n the lords strut the streets with canes. Back then if you want­ed peo­ple to hear ya, you need­ed the pitch of a can­non. And so I just stare in won­der the nights he preach­es. In the mul­ti­tude of words there wan­teth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise. You wouldn’t find a man that took that more to heart. It’s either the Bible or the pil­low. The day’s holdin’ when he spits out his child­hood tales. What I wouldn’t give to lis­ten to that thun­der read the pages from that oth­er Bible. But it’s best he steps here once a week. I don’t wan­na see ’im tired. I try an’ fool myself that he’s in a nice lit­tle house he bought when things were cheap. Yeah, who am I kid­din’? Those are for the pock­etswellin’ respecta­bles ’n their slips. No rest for the pock­et-torn, is what I see.

So I’ve got plen­ty hours Tuesdays to Sundays for the card­board plas­tic gang. Eight to eight. And let me tell ya: it ain’t hard chat­tin’ with your broom or sprayer. It’s a damn stick, a damn bot­tle, but I’ve seen the respecta­bles talk to their wal­let. Don’t ya think doin’ is best than receivin’? When the boss first hired me, I didn’t dream of keepin’ com­pa­ny. Twelve hours’re no joke. And there was no old Bass. Hard days, hard hard days. But I saw a lady on the side­walk signin’ to ’er plants. She was shinin’. I bet she had young ’uns that for­got they ever had a gram­ma. What’s the dif­fer­ence ’tween a plant ’n some tools, real­ly? Plants just sit there all pret­ty, wait­in’ for a show­er. The mop’s wait­in’ for a day’s duty, no? I’d say that’s nicer. So you see me a cou­ple hours lat­er throwin’ fresh heart­break to the box­es. Oh, how they heard me. I was cured. That ain’t easy, you know. I’d lost the one girl in the world that could look me in the eye an’ say a sweet word. Long sto­ry ’n past, so best to for­get. I’ll con­fess this many: my ’part­ment was not mine any­more. I only sleeped there. Downstairs was my new home. Bigger, clean­er, no remem­berin’. Problem was the peo­ple upstairs. Bad neigh­bors still. Always com­plain­in’ ’bout the small­est chip. What else? No grand punch­es ’round ’em. They ain’t nev­er got the muscle.

Now I can shoot: no card­board plas­tic gang suits me just like the poor dust-col­lectin’ manek­win. Flowers look twisty ’n wild. Tools look heavy ’n past it. But this good­ly doll’s a charmin’ piece o’ livin’. I feel best when I’ve a cou­ple o’ won­der sto­ries for it, ’er, what­ev­er. Gotta save ’em. All the borin’ cuts go to the oth­ers. So if a high­fa­lutin gen­tle­cramp swamps me with broomthrustin’ or à la-di-da tobac­cop­uff hur­ri­canes his ash­es, it’s the usu­al. Come on over, friends. You believe this secret boss that’s been hidin’ all these years? But if a churchde­mandin’ syrupy­win­some hands a winkin’ buck, praise the high heav­ens. The doll’s hearin’ all ’bout it. I describe the clothes, make­up, col­ors ’n fig­ure. I describe the weath­er too. My words’re dressed for the par­ty. I don’t both­er much. Happens twice a year, thrice if the Lord’s slot-machines’re messed up. He must have some fun, no? Even old Bass knows that. Talkin’s it. Difference is ’tween hap­py ’n the oth­er stuff. I’m not ’bout to hug the doll. I know what’s what. I like orderin’, that’s all. And best to pick cir­cles than squares, is what I say.

I don’t need no friends then, no sweet­heart, no home. I’m set. I’ve tried ’em an’ they ain’t workin’. Friends’re for the easy street rid­ers. I had four in my block, but it’s like havin’ grown baby boys that cry in very strange ways, ’cause you don’t see no tears. Hey, lil’ Flask, you seri­ous? Where were you? Carin’ for the mon­ey? What else, bunch o’ hood­lums? I take my coin where it blos­som right now, an’ sure the pock­et of our sweaty broth­ers got no roots. Leave ’em hold to their drown­in’ fam­i­lies ’n pray. That’s gonna need be ’nuff. Who’s stormin’ the job ’n kickin’ out the roly-polies? The dou­blechin spaniels that make-pre­tend there’s jus­tice out­side their door­mat? Not ever, my yard­birds. Old Bass with his crum­blin’ bones? Your lil’ Flask, that talk almost with no livin’? We’re just a bunch o’ ragged bags. Muster a thou­sand, an’ see how three tall kids that been eatin’ three meals every day smoke us. Give us a rifle an’ you best believe we headin’ to the wild, lookin’ for some real peace ’tween the pines. It’s true, real­ly. I say, then, leave your tired broth­ers. We’re set. When the sun’s tryin’ for a desert we swat the palms ’n fill trucks o’ dates, thinkin’ ’bout the sea. When nobody’s dyin’ for shade we build ritzy roofs, tastin’ what it’s like. When the lights’re flashin’ to sur­prise we clean down­stairs week in ’n week out, yam­merin’ to the crumbs. It don’t mat­ter what we make-pre­tend. We ain’t reachin’ in this life­time where the water taste like wine.


Israel A. Bonilla lives in Guadalajara, Jalisco. His work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Able Muse, BULL, Hawk & Whippoorwill, Expanded Field, FEED, ONE ART, Letralia, and elsewhere.