The below story “La Cantina Negra” is an excerpt from the new book Honey & Sting: Poems and Short Stories by Oscar Fuentes. Oscar will perform at the Miami Book Fair on on Saturday, November 18, at 12:00 noon.
Beads exited the bathroom, and then the room. Chacha leaned toward me to turn off the hot water. That’s when I grabbed her fast from her shoulders and pulled her hard toward me as I rammed my bloody forehead against her face. Then, blackout. The next thing I remember is waking up with her limp body over me. I had knocked us both out. I was able to push her off me with the little strength I had left. I could feel my face pulsating. I crawled out of the bloody tub and pulled my weak body up with the bathroom sink counter.
I looked at myself in the mirror, and my nose looked five times larger with the swelling. I picked up the hammer and the knife from the floor, grabbed my car keys, cell phone, and drove away, peeling my 74 Dodge Dart south on Biscayne towards the crematorium.
I could feel my face pulsating. The adrenaline from my anger was blocking the pain, but it all made perfect sense. Tony G was a hired Mayan artifact pirate. These had to be the same guys that attacked my grandfather in Honduras. The thought of avenging my grandfather’s death made me push the pedal to the metal, and the slant six engine roared past 36 Street and Biscayne at 90mph. I made a sharp right on 34 Street and pulled up on the side of the building with the black smoke chimney.
I got out of the car and realized I was still in my bloody boxers. I went around the back of the crematorium with the hammer in my right hand and the knife in my left. I slowly turned the doorknob, but it was unlocked. I went in slowly, bending my knees and my back, reaching my head quickly up and down to see if I saw something. And there they were. Beads and another guy wearing a metal helmet. To my surprise, I noticed my artifact on a small coffee table next to a couple of car keys right by the back exit door. I quietly grabbed my artifact and the keys. Beads was sitting on a bench, watching that other man with the helmet push a metal stick into a noisy body furnace with a beer in his hand.
I was about to turn away when I noticed a wrinkled, bony hand sticking out from under a white blanket, belonging to a body lying on a stainless-steel bed on wheels. I immediately recognized the hand. It belonged to Vivian, my 83-year-old neighbor, the stripper. Vivian and I were the insomniacs of the rundown apartment building next to the crematorium. We would sit on my windowsill and stare at the black smoke chimney while we sipped on beer, smoked, and imagined the kind of life the person burning had. She was the one that informed me a few months after I moved into that building, that the BBQ smell I was smelling every day was no BBQ. And now the poor thing was laid out on that stretcher.
My anger and sadness made me wish I had a pair of bullets and a gun, but I kept my head low. I needed to crawl all the way to the stretcher and see if it was really Vivian under the blanket.
Suddenly, Beads stood up and said, “I’m gonna go take a shit. These burning bodies are making me feel sick and hungry at the same fucking time.”
He walked over to a bathroom door at the opposite end of the furnace area and locked it. The man with the helmet kept pushing and pulling the metal stick into the loud furnace as if in a trance. I stood up slowly and walked over to the body in the blanket, pulled the sheet off the face to see if it was her, and it was her, but to my surprise, she was breathing softly. I could see she had been hit hard on the side of her forehead with something. She wasn’t bleeding, but her whole right side of her upper face was purplish red and swollen. I took a deep sigh and squeezed the knife and the hammer with my sweaty hands, turned to look at the man by the furnace, and right when I was about to move, I felt Vivian’s cold soft and weak hand grab my left forearm.
I looked at her, and she signaled with her finger on her lips to be quiet. Then, we both heard the toilet flush inside the bathroom. She quickly grabbed the knife from my hand and covered herself with the blanket. I got back on my hands and knees and, like a bloody zombie with fearful eyes, I snuck up behind the man with the metal stick and swung the hammer hard onto the soft back part of his helmet. His body immediately collapsed. That’s when Beads opened the bathroom door and saw me standing over the man’s body.
“Tony!!! What did you do to Tony? Oh, I’m gonna fucking kill you!!!” Beads screamed, walking towards me fast.
As he passed Vivian, she stood up fast with the knife in hand, and right before Beads reached me, unfolding his arm to punch me, he stopped with his eyes wide open, taking a deep breath. I could see the pointy part of the knife sticking out of the front of his stomach, staining a scarlet red on his shirt and pants. He slowly bent his knees, closing his eyes, and collapsed on top of his buddy, Tony G.
Emotionally defeated and horrified, I put on Tony’s helmet, picked up the metal stick, turned off the furnace gas, and in silence, Vivian and I spent the rest of the night feeding the two bodies into the furnace, poking, and breaking the ash. We smoked Tony’s cigarettes and drank Beads’s beers without saying a word.
That’s when I woke up. It was already the next day. I had fallen asleep on my desk, drooling all over a wrinkled pile of my unfinished poems. I had a pounding headache, but I was feeling disoriented and inspired. I picked up the phone and called my wife to let her know I was okay. She asked me where I had been all this time. I told her it was a long story, but that I would be home soon and tell her all about it. I sat in my writing chair and started typing again on the Smith Corona, my grand-father’s Mayan artifact tucked safely away in my locked desk.