Breaking the Rules

No machos upstairs

Vladislav Muslakov

*some explicit content

Chapter V. | Antagonists

Remy and Veronica don’t arrive till later that evening, on which occasion Farmer John decides to lay out the law of the land. NO MEN UPSTAIRS … except for a bath. Maybe. Despite the effort, Joe witnesses Remy and Veronica growing closer as the days go on. Every night while Joe lies in the dark, artificial lights flashing before his eyes, he can swear by the creaking of the ghastly steps going in the upward direction that a connection is being made.

It doesn’t work, but he always tries to hear what they talk about from the couch downstairs. He tries turning over, pulling on his earlobes, leaning at the foot of the steps … Never hears a sound. During the day Joe spots them sitting at the river, moving dirt around as they talk to each other. Most of the time he just awkwardly catches them in passing or helping to grab something. Every night he replays the image of Veronica’s kiss in the corn. For fun, he puts himself in Remy’s place. It’s invigorating to imagine what she must taste like. How it must feel to kiss a woman with eyes like that, like glowing emeralds. Still, it’s a secret desire, and Joe’s content at keeping it that way. He doesn’t think much of it. Not until one day.

“Joe!”

Farmer John calls as she rocks on the farmhouse porch. She’s peering in the same direction as always, somehow making her presence and voice fill that compact corner of the world.

“Come ‘ere and trim me real quick. Just the ends, yeah … I saw that look. I know what you was thinking! Nah, nah, not even Cocky the rooster gets to trim me there. Nah, just a good old trim on the ends. Yup, here’s some scissors.”

She sits tight. After Joe is done, he goes to the edge of the porch.

Diem per diem.”

“What you say?” says Joe.

“It’s Latin. It means, literally, ‘day by day.’ You ever study Latin? Old language, been around forever. Very helpful.”

“The only Latin I know is ‘culo’. Don’t you know any español?”

“Nope.”

“Seriously? You live this close to Mexico and you don’t know Spanish?

“That’s America for you, amigo.”

“Well, that’s one word. You should have Veronica teach you in the evenings.”

“That’s an idea.”

“Yeah, Farmer J. Expand your time paradigm.” This makes them laugh, mostly because neither understands it. Farmer John grows stern.

“Speaking of Ms. Hot-Stuff, I want you to watch over Veronica tomorrow. She’ll be all alone while I and Remy head up to town.”

“Weren’t we suppose to go to the farmer’s market? You was gonna let us keep all the money we made at the — ”

“Well, ‘member that big rule I set for y’all to follow? Remy done and got his dumb self caught sneaking into Veronica’s room. I heard one little creak and that was it.”

(Ah! I knew it …)

“Seeing as I can’t trust him, I need you to stay and watch Veronica at the house. I’ll take Remy with me, give him a talking-to.”

“Damn, Remy! How’m I suppose — And that foo’ knows I need the money to give my Mamá across the border. Oh, that fag is gonna pay!”

“No, Joe, it’s okay. Actually, he’s not getting paid neither. I really just got to babysit him.”

“Well, why do I have to babysit V? She’s a grown woman. Got a big belly to prove it.” Farmer John hesitates as if to really consider his point.

“Let’s just say, I don’t trust vultures. And there’s a lot of vultures hovering round here, looking for an easy catch.” Joe squints an eye and curls his lip, making Farmer John think her explanation was useless. In reality, her words hit him deeper than intended.

“Just watch ‘er, all right?” she says.

“Yuh.”

The next day, Remy and Farmer John go to town for the market. Joe is left alone with Veronica. I wonder what she does all day, thinks Joe as he gets started on a long list of chores. He was told not to veer too far from the farmhouse, to keep an eye on V. Besides that, he has to clear weeds, clean gutters, scrape mold, cut twigs, and groom Cocky’s ticks (careful when you read that one out loud). Then there were the indoor chores. Whenever he gets a chance to catch a breath, Joe fights (but can’t resist) the urge to peer towards the river to try and catch that figure that was watching him again.

“(Enough!) Now run off, you stupid chicken.”

Cocky flutters and quick-steps before settling, turning sideways to get a good look at Joe. Covered in sweat and rooster feathers, the only thing he can think of is the shower upstairs. He grabs a towel, bar of soap, a fresh set of clothes, and runs up the stairs into the hall. As he passes Veronica’s slightly opened door, he’s tempted to look … Face straight ahead, and he zips right past.

But, “Remy!”

A voice shouts from the room. Footsteps suddenly halt.

“He not here. It’s Joe.”

“You taking a bath?” she says.

Damn. Everybody needs my damn help, in a whisper. Then, “Why? (Isn’t everything good there?)”

“No.”

Joe goes from irked to alert, now ready to run around the world for her. He enters her room expecting the worst. Veronica is there standing on the bed, one foot before the other for balance. She’s in what Joe thinks is underwear, but it’s really a sports top and some very tiny shorts. Her belly poking out over the top makes them look even smaller.

“I need a joint.”

“A — joint?” Joe drops his towel and soap, only grasping tight to his boxers.

(Yes, this, bring me a ‘toque’.) Her teeth and tone tie together in exceptional conviction. She is a wizard, a master of moving Joe’s emotions, and at the same time hiding below the confused air pits in her chest. Maybe a word trying to burst out. Maybe a cry.

He pulls out a joint and a lighter and tosses them to Veronica. He then starts searching his pockets. “I also have e-cigs. Cigarettes.”

“What were you gonna smoke in the shower?”

“ — ”

“Thanks, but I don’t do nicotine, vato … Hmm, smells good. (Now, come.)”

(There?)

“I want you to see something.”

Joe looks at the door and wipes his sweaty lower back. The floorboards creak as he paces up to her, staring too long at her slightly-haired upper crotch. Once he reaches about two inches, face-to-belly button, his eyes turn up to meet hers, mirroring each other deeply. Just like in his fantasies, she is looking fixedly and only at him.

“Listen. See if you can hear the baby.”

“I hear something, you know, barely.”

“Good. I guess I haven’t miscarried.”

“That’s awesome. I didn’t even know you was this pregnant. You look pretty though — glowing and shit.”

“That’s ‘cuz my clothes are off, Joe!” she cries. “Of course I look pretty to you.”

Shh!” He puts a hand up to his mouth. “I don’t want nobody to hear you. Farmer John would kill me if she knew I was in the same room as you. And without clothes on?!”

Aanh, she’s in town. They’ll be a minute. Hand me my robe, porfa’.”

“Aquí está. So, you gonna call her Vanessa or what?”

“If it’s a girl. For a boy … I kinda like the name Joe.” She winks. Joe scratches his head and smiles, embarrassed.

“I always — Well, you know I’ve seen you hooking up with Remy.” Again come flashes of her green eyes lighted by the sun, catching him as he peeped through the corn leaves. She seems to suffer a similar vision, just from the opposite viewpoint. “Looks like you like him, yeah?”

“Well, it looks that way, don’t it? I don’t — like Remy. Not like how you mean it. He’s really weird and silly — (in truth, he is a dummy) — but funny to listen to. He reminds me of my ex, actually.”

“I think he caught the lovebug with you, so … better watch out. I feel bad for your ex though. Poor guy.”

“Oh. Don’t. Feel bad for me for getting with that fool. I’ve always had this bad knack for finding the most awful people. Then I get dependent on them. It sucks.”

“But why?” Joe says, setting the rest of his belongings on the bed.

Unh … I never asked myself. I know as a girl, living here wasn’t easy. You’re surrounded by cartels and bandidos and predators. And that’s just what you can see. My big brother was just as bad as them all. Can you believe, he used to … Ah, I just don’t trust him anymore, after what he did. Growing up in that hell in the middle of the desert, getting shot at, stabbed, getting high. I mean, I got the injection marks to show it. I guess the next logical step is to get preg-o from a drug dealer.” She breaks a smile. “Sorry, that’s my crazy baby-mama moment.”

“Shit, so you were on the heavy shit then. Lemme see.”

“Never! They’re ugly. Let’s change subject.” Silence.

“So it was him in the car with you that day. Is he from La Poza too?”

Veronica gives a distrusting grin, then perfunctorily adjusts her bangs. “He was. Maybe he’s the one that’s after you.” She pauses for effect, then grabs her baby belly with laughter, going from standing on the bed to sitting, all in one bouncy collapse. “I feel like this is making you jealous, all this talking ‘bout my ex and Remy.”

“I just can’t believe girls fall for these busters.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, I like you too, you know. Sometimes I lay up and think about you. You are so protective over me, and I care about that. I want you to know that I think of you as a best-friend-brother-type thingy, ¿sabes?

“Okay, that started off great, but — Are you friend-zoning me, for real Veronica? Ouch!” They both laugh for a while. When it settles, Joe says, “But really, I’m scared to talk to you when we pass ‘cuz I’m afraid … well, I’mma hurt you.”

“I asked you to come here because I trust you. I know you’d be the last one to hurt me, Joe. That’s why I want you to raise my child.”

Joe’s eyes nearly pop out his head.

“I mean, help, obviously. I just can’t trust my dumbass ex.”

“Are you listening to yourself? ¡Dios! you don’t even know me. I’m afraid, a …”

“Don’t be. We’ll help each other.”

He insists, “I’m afraid I’ll call you a bitch, or hurt you, I mean, with my hands. Or worse, hurt your …” She watches him easily.

“Have you ever attacked a woman or child before?” making it sound like he was ridiculous for having mentioned it.

Mira, Veronica. I don’t know if I should … Mira, when I was seventeen I went to a baby shower for my cousin.”

“This is gonna be good.”

“Hey, me escucha. I was surrounded by women and girls, okay, on all sides. And you know, I was seventeen, so I stared at some of the girls. I always, like, studied their faces and stuff. Later I would go to, uh … work. I’d be at work and hear about some poor girl getting scooped up in the night or found in a ditch the next week. I couldn’t stop staring though, thinking they were gonna be next. And I’m a part of the problem. I’m a part of why — ”

Joe scratches his eyelid and hiccups a little. He holds on tight to his neck.

“Ever since then I don’t hang out around kids. Don’t want kids, never do. Can’t have a girlfriend neither. So, you know, I’m afraid I’ll hurt you.” The average person would have been utterly confused or freaked out by such a flood of raw honesty. Veronica sits in the moment, cool and attentive.

“Where does your prima live now?”

“Chihuahua,” Joe says.

“Chihuahua.” He nods and looks away. “It’s so cool, ya’know, who you are.”

“I’m bad, girl.”

“Just the fact that you worry about me negates you being bad,” says Veronica. “I like who you are, and you’d be a great person to be in the baby’s life.”

“How do you know that?”

“You think Farmer John is the only one that watches you? I know what you used to get into. I seen you around even when we were on the Mexico side. And you wearing turtlenecks doesn’t fool nobody. You made mistakes, yeah, but you beat yourself up too much. I know for a fact you’d never ever ever hurt me in any way. You care about me; I can see — it’s a little too obvious, but I see. See, you laughing! If you get scared I get that, but I have good judgment, trust. So please, just chill. Stay and be with me right now.”

They sit next to each other, eyes and lips screaming an Uzi-shot of affection in either direction. And it is so strange. He hardly knows this woman, but Veronica could express herself so wholly, so sacredly, that now she’s become a piece of him. She reaches for his neck, and he pulls in, a little surprised. He strokes her bottom lip softly. She strokes his yellowjacket tattoo.

“You’re the only person I met with a bigger upper lip than the bottom.”

As she laughs, Joe watches her, taking her in in all her beauty; everything in her seems perfectly orchestrated from her eyes (those eyes!) to the nose, and the heart pours out through her mouth with every word she gurgles and giggles — figuratively, of course, or that’d be gross. He can finally live in this moment, escape all evil thoughts, judgments, anxieties of the past or future; he is here, now, totally hers. They spend a time like this, long enough for the atmosphere to change colors …

Once she’s fallen asleep, he almost with her, Joe shakes himself awake. He goes down the steps and out the door and into the fields and to the New River. There he sits and stares at his ancestral land, the country where his parents were born, and their parents, and he knew almost nothing about it. It’s strange seeing it from here, from this perspective, from the inside out. He is suddenly aware of an enemy, not immediate or physical, but out there nevertheless, behind the horizon’s crest. It’s interesting the thought that comes to him now. How ominous and daunting the world looks for those who care deeply for another.

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No Expert But Of Himself — aka Trystn Waller. Just writing what I know, a bit of what I think I know, hopefully I help others know a bit more than they knew.

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NEBOH

NEBOH

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No Expert But Of Himself — aka Trystn Waller. Just writing what I know, a bit of what I think I know, hopefully I help others know a bit more than they knew.