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.