Tagline: Just three years after the plight, 478,300 men, women and children govern the planet for six months.
An incredible story coming soon.
Here is an online collection of my short stories. Copyright Robertson Tirado
An incredible story coming soon.
My name is Sid Menaham, and I like to say that I live on the board. On the board life is grand, life is good. I tell my little sister about my adventures. Now she wants to ride with me but she’s too young. From time to time she sits on the classic ‘Penny’ and push her while she navigates the board like a sled. The wheels are getting uneven and need repair, so I sell Hacky Sacks and lithium batteries. Dad helps, but mom gets worried. Mom says I ride too much.
I have a few skater friends. We meet on Sundays at the Four Wheel dealership, where my mother used to work. Four Wheel closed two years ago but still has the smoothest asphalt and the grandest staircase. Even though I have known Willie, Kevin, and Steven since we were kids, I still don’t really know anything about them. Most of the time we talk about movies. Now I want to share my story with you. It must be told because it’s true that all good men ride skateboards. I’m going to tell you why.
I was sixteen when I began to see shadows moving. The first time it happened was when I was climbing in the Catskills with a few friends. We were city kids wearing the wrong foot gear for a mountain hike. Kevin and Willie’s parents took the lead while the four of us lingered behind. It was early October, the time of year when the weather is unpredictable, the sun still strong, the leaves slippery. But friends help each other, regardless of the weather and the conditions outside. We spotted a challenging rock formation, and one the adults yelled, “I’m familiar with this climb!” So we ventured up. I followed Kevin because wherever he put his foot, I would be able to put mine. It was safer that way. Wearing skate sneakers with their flat soles made climbing difficult. As active as I am, that rock formation tested my patience. Maybe I was just too much of a city boy; the nature thing wore me out. I saw the rest of the group make it to the top, and Willie’s dad leaned over the rocky cornice and shouted, “You are slightly off the path. Don’t slip.” Of course, at that age I still had a problem listening to grownups, so under my breath I said, “Whatever.” I looked up and it got quiet, as if the group had moved on without me. I shouldn’t have stood close to Kevin. I was at the point where an opening in the gray, jaggered rock split in half, with enough room to take a break. I wedge myself into it. Looking down, I realized we must have been at least three stories up.
Having my back against the split opening, the view opened up, and I suddenly understood why people travel here to enjoy nature. As I turned around, I grasped the flat horizontal ledge over my head, which is more or less a ‘victory stone’ to the top. I heard a sound coming from the darkness within the split in the rock. The shadowy crevices opened up. I turned to look, lowering my body to take a peek. I saw stars as a watery reflection from the star-lit sky. I pushed my body closer in an attempt to understand the surreal sight. Willie’s dad startled me, despite the softness of his tone. “Are you all right Sid?” he asked. I looked up to him, and all I could say was, “Yes, I had to pee.”
“It’s okay, Sid. Are you done? Do you need any help?”
“I’m done. I’ll be right up.”
That was the first time of many that the shadows came alive.
As I rode alone, glancing at the roads for peril, I was cognizant of the fact that even a pebble could be a disaster on the board. But at the same time I was thinking about pretty girls and ways to get some money for snacks. Money was always on my mind. Even my newspaper route was a tough way to earn cash because the company almost always insisted that they hadn’t been paid by all the subscribers to whom I delivered the papers.
On one of those early delivery mornings, it was still dark but my skateboard gripped the morning dew. With half a bag left to deliver, one of my wheels went over a cigarette lighter on the ground. I thought I could handle the shaky wheels, but I couldn’t. I landed on both hands, my face inches from a manhole cover. Before I could stand up, I noticed tiny beams of light poking up through the small holes on the manhole cover. I crouched a little closer. There were men down there walking with what I assumed were flashlights in the darkness. All layers of New York City, from the subterranean tunnels to the topmost skyscraper floors, are bustling with people. Even homeless people, which is something I don’t like to see.
I leaped back on my board and followed each light poking from each manhole cover. I counted twelve, then thirteen, as I continued to push along. The lights became harder to see as the sun started rising.
Eighteen manhole covers! I could barely keep up, but the last one found me in a parking lot, in a place I had never been before. It was an industrial area, and trucks were loading goods on the other side of a dead-end street. I must have been out of my mind because school started in an half an hour. I jumped for one last glance, and even before I landed on my feet a vehicle—obviously an expensive one—stopped in front of me. A man got out and yelled at me. What I didn’t realize was that I was in a strip club parking lot. Frightened, I jumped on my skateboard and made my way out of there quickly. Just then, I caught sight of one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen in my young life. It was just a two-second glance, but the vision was unforgettable. I didn’t know much about strip clubs, but I knew it was no place for a girl her age. It was clear that I had to share this with Kevin or Willie. Or maybe not. Should I keep this one to myself? That’s the decision I struggled with.
What a morning.
When everyone but you gets to go to the movies because you’re fired from delivering newspapers, you feel like a loser. What’s a kid to do when everyone is out on a Friday night skating? I packed my pockets with Little Debbie’s for energy, and an iPod loaded with classic Depeche Mode tunes. But I just wasn’t able to stop thinking about the other day, the lights, the strip club. I had a lamp on my board to avoid cigarette lighters and pebbles, and my parents didn’t know that I had lost my job and that I wasn’t at the movies. Still, my grades were good. That’s what was important to them.
What a day yesterday had been. It was the day that changed my life.
Following those manhole covers, I counted eighteen of them. The area was bustling with even more fancy cars, security people, and valet parking… I decided to go back another night.
“Hey kid, come over here,” said a man delivering heavy metal canisters.
“Who me?” I asked.
“Yes, you. What are doing around here?”
As he was talking, I took a glance inside the building. It was dark. The walls vibrated with music I didn’t like. Sitting on a stool was that girl—the girl of my dreams. She looked at me and said hello.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Do you work here?”
Suddenly someone else spoke.
“Hey kid, don’t talk to her. You’ll be in big trouble.”
In a whisper I asked her if she needed any help. “I’ll be outside,” I said, and she nodded. Slowly, I backed away and hid across the street in the shadows, sitting on my board. I fell asleep and didn’t awake until morning. I knew my parents would be livid. What, I wondered, should I tell them? “Shit, I’m grounded,” I mumbled to myself.
I texted my mom to tell her I was okay. Then I looked at the parking lot. It had been swept clean as if nothing happened the night before. I counted nineteen manhole covers. There was nothing to see but silent industry. I jumped down and sat on a manhole cover pondering life. Then I heard men chatting below, so I put my eye near the round hole on the cold metal disc. A man looked straight at me. It startled me. I climbed back up the wall in a hurry.
“Vicky, come back,” I heard a man shout.
He was talking to her—to that girl, to the most beautiful girl in the world.
“Help!” she yelled.
“Grab my hand,” I said desperately.
I pulled her up as the man who was yelling came closer.
“Don’t get involved, kid,” he said menacingly.
“You better listen to him, or he’ll kill you,” Vicky urged.
“How old are you?”
I started to swing my skateboard at the man as he attempted to climb the container. I told Vicky to jump. The man grabbed the end of my skateboard and clawed his way over to us. More men were coming behind us over the wall, out of the manhole. They looked not of this world. There were three of them, two of whom launched the third into the air. Vicky and I were transfixed by the sight. The man attacking Vicky put his fat ring-studded hands around her neck. I started to stumble off the ledge and fell backward into the arms of other men who suddenly surfaced below. This startled the attacker, but it also made his hands get tighter around Vicky’s neck
“Do something, someone,” I yelled to the men below. A weapon of some sort was discharged. The attacker was down. We all thought he was dead. Vicky was the first to check, and after she did she turned to the rest of us and said,
“My uncle deserves it. Thank you. Whoever you are, thank you.”
“Hey kids, are you ready?” said the tallest of the men who had came to our rescue.
“Ready for what?” Vicky asked.
“To save the Milky Way”
One of the men was taller than the other two, and he was the one the others looked to. His name, as I heard one of the shorter ones say, was Stallion.
“The shadow is closing,” Stallion said.
“I know the shadows,” I replied.
“Is it far from here?” Vicki asked Stallion.
“Yes,” he replied, “very far from here, but with good people who will never harm you or Sid.”
“I’m ready to go,” she grinned confidently.
“What about my mom, dad and sister?” I asked.
“Once you say you will go, your mom will give birth to another Sid Menaham.”
I collapsed, trying to maintain my dignity, and looked up to Vicky as the towering soldiers cast their shadows on me with tenderness.
“Yes, I’ll go.”
“I like this kid,” Stallion smiled.
We entered the sewer. Vicky gently put her hands into mine, while I also held onto my board. At that moment I thought about my mother, and as if they read my mind, one of the men touched his head lamp and out of it came a hologram showing my mom giving birth to a son. My dad was there, too. He was young. I knew then that if these guys had the technology and inner powers to do something like that, then everything would be all right. Stallion opened a hatch a few meters from where we had entered. Stallion told us they were in a battle for control over the sun, a battle to protect dark matter from reaching all the planets that sustained life.
We went through the hatch. On the other side was a beautiful park-like expanse where young children waved at us from a hill. They all had skateboards in their raised hands, and behind them was a skate park where other children were soaring into the sky. Indeed, it was more than a skate park; it was a mountain where people of all different ages coasted down slopes, each one with a backpack on which were affixed what appeared to be solar panels. It seemed to me that the panels were powering the boards. What genius! What ingenuity!
Suddenly I noticed that one of my rescuers had what looked like little skateboards attached to each of his feet, although the wheels never touched the ground. While I observed this exciting and amazing new environment, I felt like I, too, was floating on air. Only later on did I discover that the entire place was covered in unusual, oversized grains of sand that acted as airborne lubricants between the hard ground below and the floating souls above.
We passed the mountain and then entered another great doorway that delivered us into an arena where hundreds of people sat in seats that had upward-facing mirrors attached to them.
“Why all the mirrors?” I asked Stallion.
“They block the view of our enemy,” he explained.
We stood still while waiting for instructions, and were then handed uniforms made of a denim-like material (though it wasn’t the denim I was used to). Finally, we were escorted to another section where we were asked our names.
The man who was taking down the names started to laugh. I asked him why he was laughing.
“Because we had three Sydneys today,” he chuckled. “Three!”
“Well,” I said, keeping a serious look on my face, “when you inscribe my name on my uniform, just put Sid, not Sydney.”
Vicky and I went into separate dorms, one labeled boys and the other girls. It was separated by a round courtyard with a monument fountain in the middle of a man named Ivan Rad, who I later learned had created The School of Rad. When I walked into the courtyard I met a guy named Matthew, who gave me an orientation. First we went up to what was called the Communications Needle, where he told me they searched for threats to life throughout the galaxy. Matthew said that the effective range of defense was the solar system in which Earth and the Earth’s Sun were located.
“What are we fighting, Matthew?” I asked.
“Your average rogue meteor,” he said. “Sometimes civilizations crash and burn, and earth’s light brings then here.”
“What happens when they come?”
“Ever heard of Gandhi, Sir Isaac Newton, Einstein?”
“I’ve met them personally,” he said plainly.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, equally without emotion of any kind.
“How old am I?”
“Slow down, Sid. You don’t want to unravel the galaxy with talk like this.”
“Will I be able to see Vicky again?”
“Yes,” he replied, looking directly at me with a interesting smirk. “Tomorrow you guys are getting married.”
Please let me know if you want Part II of this story. – Author Robertson Tirado
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END OF PART I
Robertson Tirado Copyright 2018
Here on Earth, the existence of extraterrestrial life is still up for debate. There are too many shaky videos and blurry photos, much of it laughable. It’s the darkness. It’s always the darkness. Darkness generates so many questions. Darkness can make it hard to distinguish reality from fantasy, truth from fiction.
One raining summer morning, when the city was at its busiest, one question was answered. Light from the sky broke through the thick, dark clouds, angling in across the vertical columns of skyscrapers. The light—it certainly wasn’t sunlight—was green. Anyone familiar with the sky knows that at 8:30 in the morning the sun is just above the tips of the skyscrapers. This light seemed more like noon light, not morning light. Everyone was rushing to work, lost in their own worlds. No one paid attention to the light. Had anyone paid attention, they might have expected colorful prism rays, or a mist to surround the shaft of light, for it hardly seemed to be an ordinary beam. It had to be from another world. Then the light started to crackle. It sounded like a large ship easing into the dock. That’s when people started to look. On their faces was only fear. It reminded most of them of September 11, 2001. It pulled them in, like a visual vacuum. It had the effect of a reverse wind, not pulling them forward, but pushing them back. Most had to grab onto street signs and door handles and anything else they could find. Two minutes later, it stopped. People went back to their daily lives as if it had never happened.
“Only the meek can distinguish between a good conscience and a bad one.”
My name wasn’t always Mrs. La Salle, or Carlina Talbout. It was Carlina Adel. In school, having a last name that started with the letter A, as in Adel, put me in front of everyone, and that was good for someone like me. When I was eleven, there were tryouts for the swimming team at my school, and I was the first person called. I knew how to impress. Some kids would be too shy if they were first, but I used it to my advantage. I walked slowly past the judges, kept a big smile on my face, and gracefully took a deep breath before hitting the water. Those who stayed under water the longest always had a better chance at being selected for the team. Strangely, this is the sport—swimming—that opened my mind to a harvest of deeply hidden talents, namely singing and dancing.
“I made it! I made it!” I shouted to my mom in glee.
“I knew you would, Carlina,” mom replied.
“He’s staying late at the theater,” she explained. “It’s a big show, and someone has to make sure the doors are locked after rehearsal.”
“Well,” I said, smiling to myself a little bit, “he’ll be missing your biscuits because they’re all mine now!”
“Don’t eat them all, Carlina,” mom warned. “You won’t be able to fit into your dress for the show.”
There may have been a little truth to that—just a little truth—so I agreed not to eat all the biscuits, but to leave one for dad. But in truth, I can lose weight just by walking to the theater because it’s nearly a mile from my house.
“So,” mom asked, “when is the big day?”
I asked if she was talking about the upcoming swim meet.
“No,” she said, “I’m talking about that boy, Samuel Talbout, the one who’s always so quiet.”
“He is very quiet,” I admitted. But then I looked away so that my mom wouldn’t notice how embarrassed the topic made me feel.
“But he really likes you,” she pressed on, brushing her shoulder into me.
At that point I simply told her that I was finished with my dinner and that I would help her clean up.
“Okay, Carlina,” mom said—but then quickly added: “He reminds me of your father.”
“Oh? Samuel? Is that so?”
“Yes, that’s so,” mom smirked, as we began to clear the table.
The next morning the light that shone through my bedroom window was enough to wake me up, but my loudmouth friend Samantha began tapping on the glass bright and early.
“Samantha,” I asked, “how did you pass the rose bush without getting stuck by a thorn?”
“Well, Carlina, half of it is gone,” Samantha explained.
I rushed to the window to look, and it had indeed been chopped down, probably stolen by that miserable old lady down the road. I decided that I would tell my dad, and the two of us would probably have a word with her. The window pane had a small crack in it, and that’s how I spoke with Samantha—through that tiny little crack that let our words go back and forth with ease. To tell the truth, they were sort of strange words, because what Samantha told me was that Samuel was drawing some unusual sketches in class, and that one of the sketches looked like just like me.
“I think Samuel likes you, Carlina,” she said. “More nonsense in the morning,” I replied, trying not to show any kind of emotion or reaction at all. “Samantha, please don’t come inside in my house blabbing everything you told me this morning. If you do, I’ll chase you out.”
“Okay, Carlina,” she said—and then completely changed the subject. “Do you have any biscuits?” she asked.
Let me take a moment to share mom’s recipe for Vanillekipferl biscuits—in her very own words. I’m sharing this now because I often shared it with Samantha, also in these words:
“Well, well, Carlina,” Samantha said, after I had repeated the ingredients to her, “I presume a guest in your house gets only the recipe, not an actual biscuit!”
“Okay, close your eyes Samantha. Now open them. There! It’s a Vanillekipferl biscuit.”
“I love you, Carlina,” she gushed. “It’s so light! Let me eat this real slow because it’s so delicious.” Samantha enjoyed the biscuit very much. She stared off into space while she was eating. Then:
“So, where’s your mom and dad?”
I told her they were at The Deutsches Theatre, and that they had to go early because of the upcoming Christmas show, which always required a lot of extra work.
“It’s amazing how you have to start arranging that show so early,” Samantha said.
“They actually start rehearsals in late September,” I explained.
Sam asked me if I had received my uniform and swimwear, both of which have the school logo on them. I told her I hadn’t, and also that I was to start a part-time job at the doll factory that evening.
“Tonight, Carlina?” she asked.
“Yes, right after school I’ll go to the train station. Near the entrance of the station is the A. C. Reine Dolls company. My dad knows the owner because he supplies dolls for some of our shows. The company’s been very nice to me. They even gave me a week’s pay in advance so that I could buy the school uniform. Isn’t that nice?”
“What are your job responsibilities there, Carlina?”
“I feed the hair into a machine, and the machine punches holes into the doll’s head.”
“Disgusting!” Samantha yelled, making a funny face.
“No, it’s not disgusting. It’s actually funny to see. But you could lose your innocence watching those little arms get pulled apart at the rejection bin.”
“Lose your innocence?” she asked, looking entirely confused.
“Just let me know when you notice bags under my eyes, Samantha.”
I changed the subject by telling her that we couldn’t be late for morning exercises. “Mrs. Engel makes us run around the school six times,” I reminded her.
“I know,” Samantha replied. “You know what I remember from last year? I remember hearing your swimming team run around the school. But it was the boys who were noisy, not the girls. The boys actually made more noise watching from the windows than you were making when you were running around the school!”
“I know. It annoyed me that the boys could see us all sweaty like that. But the workouts kept us in good shape, and our school did win.”
Read the entire novella by visiting http://www.carlinamovie.com/# this novella comes with a digital copy of The Lost Interview of Carlina La Salle.
Who do you call when you feel you are on the verge of death, following on the gloomy echo of a beloved?
First, a strange thirst fills your mouth, then a soft drip echoes in the cellar. Is it the cellar of my mind, or am I hearing that drip in the actual cellar of the house? A drip of life-saving water? I can hardly tell. I am compelled to find out. It’s just one flight down, past a mountain of coal. Perhaps I’ll go to the kitchen first and lean on the porcelain and sip the last memory of life from whatever I can find to sip. No—the cellar is a much better place. It’s cool. It might preserve my body. Maybe Henry’s, too. It’s our last time together, so let me put back on his boots so I won’t injure his feet. Too many splinters in the hallway.
We are born whole, but every day another piece is taken away. Some people unknowingly allow pieces to be taken away. But a human body renews all of its cells in the span of seven years. I am not human. Lucky for me I don’t suffer as my parents did. I’m comforted that there’s an afterlife, where I will once again meet them. My parents left me enough money to leave Puerto Rico in 1920 and move to Brooklyn. I was eight at the time, and my aunt made room for me in her brownstone on Cheever Street. Sometimes I would see my Aunt write Harrison Street as the return address on bills. One day I asked the postman about it. He told me that Harrison was the former name of Cheever Street. It took some time for my aunt to accept the change. My new home was crowded, although Auntie’s husband Julio traveled to Ohio for six months at a time to work on farms. Five of my cousins fought all the time and kept me up at night. Brooklyn felt like Puerto Rico. Except in wintertime. The pipes would freeze, so Uncle Julio moved our beds closer to the wall, hoping that our body heat would thaw them. Even though Julio wasn’t a blood relative, he felt like one. Seeing how studious I was enticed him to give me my own space to study. My cousins called me smarty pants. But Uncle Julio told me to ignore them. “Your intelligence will help us all someday,” he promised.
I studied a lot. The more the teachers noticed my intelligence, the more they gave me to do. More homework. More projects. More review tests. One day—the hottest day of the year—Uncle Julio was hammering and digging in the backyard. I asked him what he was doing. My uncle mumbled, “I am going to run fresh water to your room, so Henry will ever have to stop his learning.” I asked him why. He explained, “Henry needs peace and quiet, so a wash basin in your room will allow you to keep studying.” I thought my uncle was crazy, just like my cousins. As he continued to dig, his voice changed to a high pitch whistle. Maybe his front tooth finally came off, I thought to myself.
Sometimes I get quiet thinking about my mother and father. Auntie says this is normal. Maybe it’s because Julio isn’t around much. But he’ll be back before winter.
All my cousins are growing fast, especially Carmen. All the boys on Henry Street walk to our house to get a kiss from her. I’ll never be that bold. But Carmen just laughs. Then there is Miriam and her twin brother Gabriel, who is three years younger than me. Those two are so sneaky, but what they don’t realize is that the tough Brooklyn streets can cast a shadow on your every move. Puerto Rico was so different. The streets had names like Padre Noel and Santa Marta—always two or three-word street names. But in Brooklyn there’s Fulton, Flatbush and Court. So much simpler. My cousins never drink water. Only juice and soda pop.
Today is my birthday. Julio and Auntie made a beautiful flan cake. It’s not my favorite, but it was my mom’s favorite and Auntie remembers how her sister would always pay for all the Christmas gifts by selling flan. As a kid I didn’t care too much about what happens in the kitchen, but when mom would make flan the whole house would always smell so good. So I’d go into the kitchen and sit with my mom as she whipped up the cream, poured in the sugar and whisked the eggs. That’s why I’m such a fan of flan. Anyone would be if they smelled that marvelous aroma coming out of the oven. Auntie is still mourning my mother and a home filled with her special kitchen fragrances. It’s almost like my mom’s spirit is at peace.
I blow out thirteen candles, and it feels silly. I’m not a kid anymore, but still, we have fun. All my cousins give me big bear hugs and small gift boxes. From Julio I receive a crucifix and from Auntie a model airplane. I enjoy all the gifts.
At this point, at age thirteen, my life takes a strange turn. I’m putting away all my gifts and hear strange sounds coming from the water pipes in my room. It sounds like someone trying to open the line. I’m scared but take a quick glance out the window to see if Uncle Julio might be in the backyard fixing something—but he isn’t there. The sound gets louder. I didn’t want to get anyone angry because I have just gotten all those nice gifts and they threw me a really great party. So I run to the faucet to see if I can tighten the spigot, but the pipes don’t stop squeaking. My next thought is to fully open the spigot, and just as I am about to do that, a strong odor comes out. I hadn’t even touched it! Then I hear a throaty whisper: “Don’t drink me…. Don’t drink me…. Don’t drink me…”
I run out of my room.
I hustle outside with no shoes and sprint for ten blocks until someone yells, “Hey, son, your feet are bleeding.” I stop by a mailbox, panting, and look down at my bloody feet. I hear a bus screech to a stop. The driver opens the door, looks at me and says, “I don’t have all day, you know.” For some reason—I don’t know why—I hop into the bus, take a seat, and fall to sleep.
I am awakened by trees outside casting shadows that flicker on my eyelids.
“Boy, wake up,” someone says, shaking me hard. It’s a big man. He hands me eight cents. “You’ll need this to transfer because from the looks of things, you’re lost.” He pulls out a pair of socks from his pocket and hands them to me. “I don’t know what happened to you, but I assume your parents are worried,” he says.
Then the bus driver yells, “Last stop, Highland Park.”
I look up at the big man and thank him. He exits the bus and wobbles away into the setting sun.
With eight cents in hand, I put on the socks, look for the bus in the distance, and welcome a brief sense of calm. Highland Park is different than Fulton Street. There are a lot of trees, like in Puerto Rico, and the sounds almost resemble a tropical waterfall. That helps bring about the calm. I climb a small hill, where I am able to see the New York City skyline flickering in the distance. When I brush aside some tall weeds to get a better view, I discover a large reservoir of water. Where, I wonder, did all this water come from? In the distance I hear an engine humming near a one-story brick building. The engine is pumping the water above a lake and making an artificial waterfall. The water smells sweet, like Puerto Rican water. I have a crazy desire to taste it. I see a small water fountain about a hundred feet away, located on the banks of the reservoir. I figure it must share the same source of water. That makes sense.
So I make a quick dash to the water fountain, hoping to accomplish my task before the bus arrives. Pushing away more weeds, I leap to the fountain and push hard on the tap. Water smacks me in the face. I am all wet. It seems as if no one has used this water fountain in a thousand years. Resting my arms on the fountain in frustration and confusion I notice a small inscription underneath the water spout which reads, “Don’t drink the water.”
Not that again! I suddenly become very homesick. The bus is on its way. All I can think about is what my uncle and Auntie will think when they get a good look at me.
Auntie has passed on. It was day before I headed to college. I’ll never forget her. Poor Uncle Julio—taking care of three children all by himself. Maybe Auntie will see my mother again. I can only hope. I plan to major in biology somewhere in North Dakota. I promised myself I’d stay away from the cold weather, but for some strange reason the cold has become my calling. They do experiments up there in the frigid Dakota environment, and that’s appealing to me. For instance, a lot of people die when left outside in a harsh Dakota winter. But biology students look for ways to reverse the effects of frost bite. The university is a great place to be, but it can never replace the love and kindness that my aunt and uncle showed me—a home filled with the aroma of Auntie’s flan. I wonder how Uncle Julio does it alone.
The words “Don’t drink the water” appear in all kinds of places, from books and advertisements to religious doctrines. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe I’m going insane. I tell myself that these are coincidences. But the water in my bedroom at Auntie’s house—is that a coincidence, too? Or did she do something to me? Can I live forever?
After my Highland Park adventure, Uncle Julio grounds me for a month. No more birthday cake, no more fishing trips to Canarsie, and absolutely no chocolate.
I do an experiment with a butterfly. I am lying half awake as a beam of light hits my face one morning. Peaking through the sheets I see a butterfly moving strangely, causing a beam of sunlight to flicker. Getting up quickly, I rub my eyes. The butterfly moves back and forth between the curtains and the window, asking for help. I see a small bird eyeing the poor creature. Maybe that’s why she came in—to escape the bird before it nibbles at her. I never knew too much about butterflies, but I know she is “cabbage white,” a beautiful thing. So I put her in a jar with a small twig. I run to school like never before, straight to the library.
The librarian recognizes my enthusiasm and hands me a book called “The A to Z on Butterflies.” I skim through the book. Butterflies, it turns out, love sunflowers and purple coneflower. I have no money, but there has to be a sunflower somewhere in Brooklyn. After school I run to Prospect Park. Maybe they’ve planted flowers there. I hope so. If I get home late, I’ll be officially grounded again. No luck in Prospect Park. I head down Flatbush Avenue and turn left on Baltic, but no left on Henry. It’s straight to Hicks.
Huffing and puffing, worried about my newly discovered cabbage white, I’m surprised to see that the city is planting sunflowers on Hicks. There’s a big truck with plants and shovels and a man who waters the plants after they put them in soil within the ledges of light poles and sign poles at the edge of the sidewalk. He yells in Spanish, “Aguilita.” I stop and reply, “Excuse me sir?” “You are from Aguilita, yes?” he asks. “With all due respect,” I say, “who are you?” The man tells me I have a familiar face. We talk while he waters the plants and I discover that he knew my mother and he says I look just like her . He was from Aguilita, he explains. My mom lived there for a little while when her parents were going through a difficult time. As we talk he notices I keep looking at the sunflowers and he hands me a bunch. He tells me how to take care of them. He also says that Hicks Street will change someday, that more people will come. I shrug my shoulders and head home, but as I turn the corner I look back. The truck has a sign on its side: “No Drinking Water.”
This is getting creepier by the day.
I name the butterfly “Cabbage.” It’s a strange name, like calling a cat “Feline,” but she doesn’t seem to mind. Something unusual is happening to the butterfly; she’s getting bigger than usual and has lived for more than six months now. By all rights, Cabbage should be dead, but as I enter the fifth grade, Cabbage is still fluttering around. I still have to hide her so that my cousins won’t kill her or pull her wings off. Cabbage makes lonely times tolerable. I amuse myself by making puddles on my desk so that I can watch Cabbage rest her legs gently on the water droplets. So many strange things can happen in Brooklyn. It is so different than Aguilita.
My uncle always tells us to make sure the doors are closed and the windows shut tight, and to let him know if there are any broken windows screens. We love to sit during summer under the large Linden tree and watch the other boys play stick-ball off their gray and brown stoops. Uncle Julio reminds us to shut the door behind us.
As summer moves on I start to smell an odor from my bedroom as if a mouse has expired. The odor gets stronger. I glance around my room. I move things around. I still can’t find anything. The next day I jump out of bed, awakened by flies biting at my nose. I know now it must be a dead mouse, or something like it, so I go down to the basement in my pajamas, early enough so that my uncle won’t ask me what I’m doing. He keeps a flashlight next to a shrine of his mother, making it seem as if the flashlight has a sacred value. So I know to bring the flashlight back and put it exactly where I found it. Back in my room, I cast the light all around. I’m surprised my cousins don’t wake up through all of the noise, especially when I open up my desk drawers, one of which is filled with knives.
There is only one last place to check. It’s obvious now that the smell is coming from my closet, but I’m having a hard time getting up the courage to look. I slowly peel away the layers of books and old skiing equipment to open the closet door, and when I do I see a furry tail and gasp. I stand back; this is one hell of a large rat. A swarm of flies encircles its tail. I have to face it, even though the smell is driving me mad. I take one step forward, I grab a broomstick which happens to be nearby, and poke at the rat. Its body is stiff and hard. I gasp once more. I suddenly notice the creature is wrapped in white twine, so I pull at the twine and unravel it. I see it is not a rat, but a squirrel. I keep pulling at the twine and then realize that the squirrel has somehow strangled itself. But how did it get in here?
I turn my head quickly to the window and see a tear in the screen, as if a baseball has been hurled through it. Brooklyn kids love stoopball and baseball, and sometimes it drives me nuts. I just want to get this creature out of here—but I also feel pity for it; after all, squirrels are cute when they run around the backyard. But when they die, their bodies morph into something scary. Silently, I tiptoe down the stairs with the squirrel, holding it by the white twine, and drop it into the trash can. Before leaving the basement, I get some bleach and pour it all over the floor of my closet and try to swat the flies away.
The next morning I hear my uncle yell, “Son of a bitch! How did this squirrel get in here?”
I remember getting many headaches in Puerto Rico, but since I’ve been drinking this tap water they’ve gone away. Coincidence? It makes me wonder.
I TUMBLED INTO LOVE
She was the only one who I trusted with my secret. It happened between buildings on campus, in ten inches of snow. I had taken a shortcut from the cleared paths, but collapsed from a massive headache into a mound of snow. Brooklyn is still inside of me in many ways, and maybe the Kings saved me—Kings being a reference to Kings County, in which Brooklyn resides. Sharr came to my rescue. She was a neighbor from Red Hook. I knew that I needed water from Brooklyn to save me, but couldn’t foresee Sharr being my partner in life. Every so often, between long breaks from school, l would journey back home for warmth, literally and figuratively—for love from neighbors—and also for the practical reason of filling three jugs with water and bringing them back with me in my little Volkswagen. Sharr would always come along. I never wanted to test the water, but Sharr couldn’t resist. Back in North Dakota she spends most of her time using up all my water, so I hide one jug from her. From all her testing, she never detects anything different between Dakota water and Brooklyn water. Maybe it just works on me. This, too, is something I have to wonder about.
Have you ever heard of an American Elm tree? It’s found in North Dakota. It’s the state’s official tree. But the one I hit became the tallest. Sharr and I have an argument and get distracted and run over a hubcap, which blows my tire, sending my car over some really large rocks, smashing all the tires, slowing us down, then wedging us between two trees. We’re lucky. Unhurt. Sharr is silent, which terrifies me at first.
“Honey, we are leaking fuel,” I say. I grab her and we run over to the side of the road. After we compose ourselves, I approach the car. That’s when I see that the leaking liquid is not fuel, but water from the jugs that had been stored inside. They smash when we hit the tree.
Months pass. That Elm I hit grows so wide and tall that I snap a picture of it as proof. Is it this mystery water that keeps Sharr young and beautiful? And what is it doing to me? More questions. Few answers.
This little situation has matured me quickly, but I still question my life. “I’m always hiding something.” Is that right?
Just like life in Brooklyn, one moment can be calm, and the next chaotic. Brooklyn has many eyes, and you would guess some gruesome telescopic nosy-body put two and two together and discovered that I wasn’t taking water up north to make New York-style pizza or to bake bread. But can you imagine in my final year of school, standing near my front door is my nosy neighbor. In North Dakota! Yes, this gruesome telescopic nosy-body is the tax man all the way from Brooklyn. First I let him talk, but to my surprise he’s here checking out schools for his daughter. Having to hide my activity is starting to put me on edge. Or is the water having an effect on me?
I want to travel the world with Sharr, but Brooklyn will consume my ashes someday. Why do I think so far into the future? This is the day that changes my life. The Brooklyn Expressway is constructed near my family’s house. It’s a big dig. My uncle calls me to take a look. It has become an empty house in ’56. My cousins moved away. My uncle and I became closer, thanks to the quarterly visits to Brooklyn from Cape Cod, where Sharr and I make a living as marine biologists. I feel guilty visiting my uncle only for the water. But he is a good man who always shares stories about Ohio, and how good my mother and my aunt were. But the new expressway isn’t my only surprise. First, my uncle is dying. He’s leaving the house to me and asks me to figure out when the water is going to be put back on.
I just ran out of the house due to all the shocking news. My uncle is dying. Selfish Henry doesn’t want to die. I run back in and hug my uncle. After an hour of crying together I make my way to my old bedroom. The sink is missing. “Uncle, where is the sink?” I ask. “I’ve moved it to the basement, Henry,” he replies.
I make my way down those weather-scorched steps and can’t see a glimmer of that shiny porcelain sink. As I hold my breath and put my hand to my chin, I see my mother and aunt near the porcelain. “Son, come,” my mother says, “this is your time to drink from the porcelain of generations. We knew of waters that provide life, but some things cannot delay death. Even waters like this don’t guarantee longevity.” I stand still, while upstairs my uncle passes.
Everything gets replaced. This empty feeling, with many loses, can only be satisfied by moving back to Brooklyn, back to Henry, Hicks & Cheever. I never saw mom again, but a home weathered with my family’s soul makes living a delight.
The new Expressway severs the water lines and divides the lives of Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx. I make a friend at the dig. I get maps and architectural plans of rerouted pipes. It’s all good. We still look young—for 121! We get new names and fake tombstones. Those old pipes in the walls of the foundation still drip out eternal life.
Every thirty years later, we get new social security numbers. I’m on my third one now.
Writer Robertson Tirado 2017 copyright