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Authors: Alexander Yates

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BOOK: Moondogs
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“Mom,” he said, trying to use his most reasonable and grown-up voice. “We’re back home now. Can you please speak in English?”

His mother let out a grunt as the blade finally struck the plastic cutting board, the chicken halves jumping a bit as they separated. “You’re making a joke?” she asked. “You’re trying to be funny?” She aimed the knife, handle first, in his direction. “After the last two weeks you think you need
practice than you already get? Today, all day, English is worse than Chinese. I don’t speak it.”

His mother returned to the chicken, first snapping the thighs between her knuckles and then using a fillet knife to cut away the flesh and tendons holding them limply to the body. “I was napping,” she continued after a time, “on the bus. It was a hot bus, a long trip into San José. Your abuela had bought me a lace blouse for my interview and I sat hunched over it, trying to keep it from wrinkling, making sure no dirt or cigarette ash could stain the collar. And I just fell asleep.”

She dropped the chicken pieces, still bigger and with more bones than Benicio liked, into a deep saucepan and washed her hands with
water so hot that it steamed. “Your father was alone, in a nice new suit.” She dried her hands and smiled, briefly. “A gray one. He’d had a spill, and knocked over a tray of drinks at a restaurant. He was blushing awfully.” She placed the cutting board in the sink and faced him, the shiny slab of marble between them. “It was a short, plain dream. The bus stopped and I woke up. But I knew it. I knew he was the one I was going to marry. I knew a lot of things. I knew about you before you were
,” she placed a finger on her belly, “or even
,” she placed another on her forehead. “I knew that you’d come earlier than the doctors said, but that you’d be healthy. I knew you’d be a rubio at first, but that every year you’d look more and more like us. I even know …” she paused, looking sly and a bit playful, “what your daughters are going to look like.”

Benicio wrinkled his nose. She’d teased him about this before. “No te creo.”

“You do too,” she said, shifting her weight in a way that seemed girlish. “You’ll have two of them. The first won’t be born until you start to turn gray here,” she reached across the island and stroked the hair over his right ear, “and here,” she ran her finger just above his cold-chapped upper lip. “Que te pasa, mi hijo?” she asked after a long pause. “Why would you wait so long? I would have loved to know my grandchildren.”

It wasn’t until after Benicio graduated high school that he accepted how full of crap his mother was. How could she possibly be able to see the future when she couldn’t even see what was going on right in front of her—couldn’t see, for example, that she was being humiliated by a cheating husband. And if she really could see the future, then why would she have stepped out into that crosswalk just as the girl behind the wheel of the oncoming sedan was about to have a convulsive seizure. Obviously she hadn’t seen herself in dreams the way the paramedics had seen her, pinned between a bumper and a brick wall. Or the way Benicio had seen her when he was called in to identify the body, lying on a metal table with half of her face and all of her body draped in blue blankets that he was instructed not to move for his own sake. If she
could see the future she would have scheduled the salon before grocery shopping and not after. She would have crossed a block up from where she did, or a block down, or five blocks down. She would have gotten a divorce and moved to another city, maybe even back to San José. He would have visited her twice a year and he would have begrudged her nothing.

, like his mother’s, were the most typical sort of nonsense. Like the one about snow falling among palms and vines on Corregidor Island that he had for a second time as he dozed in a hard chair with torn and taped-over upholstery in the Osaka airport and that he forced out of his mind as soon as he awoke. His chair faced a big picture window that overlooked crisscrossing runways, and warm light poured through it from a sun that was still refusing to set after twenty long hours. Someone a few seats over from Benicio greeted him with an accented “good evening.” He turned to see that it was an old man, slim and bald, draped in orange robes. A monk. Benicio ran a sleeve across his chin and returned the greeting. He checked his watch and saw that only ten minutes had passed since he’d decided to nap. Osaka was the last of his three layovers on the way to the Philippines, and though it was the shortest it certainly didn’t feel that way.

His history of the Philippines lay open on his lap, but even though he was just a few chapters away from finishing—he’d left the Second World War behind and was now deep into the Marcos dictatorship—he was too exhausted to read. He shoved it into his bag and got up to stretch his stiff legs. He began a slow lap around the terminal. Even though the roaming charges were sure to be outrageous, he dialed Alice on his cell phone. She wasn’t home, so he left her a message, keeping track of how many times he said: “I love you.” He limited it to two.

She hadn’t stayed over the night before he left. This by itself wasn’t all that unusual, she tended to spend at least one night a week at her place, but still it caught him off guard. The evening seemed to go as well as any other, which is to say that they play fought just hard enough to keep themselves entertained without graduating to real fighting. Alice
copied the details of his itinerary into a yellow steno pad and helped him pack, filling his suitcase with neatly folded clothes still warm from the dryer. Benicio tried his best to appear somber as they did this, but the truth was that he’d become more excited about his trip to the Philippines than he’d expected, or cared to admit to. It started on the afternoon they picked up his dive gear and had gained momentum since. Squeezing his regulator, fins and BCD into his mesh duffel bag brought back that comforting and almost forgotten smell of neoprene and salt, a stink that would stick to his skin and hair for days after returning from a dive trip with his father. They used to go out twice a year, once during summer holidays and again over Christmas, always returning to the same Costa Rican resort on the Gulf of Papagayo. For a long time Benicio had only allowed himself to remember what had happened on their last trip—the sight of his father naked, hunched over, bare brown feet sprouting out from between his thighs, their soles to the ceiling—but now, as he tried his best to roll up his wetsuit, fonder memories snuck past. Like the flutter that danced through his chest as he sat on the edge of the dive boat, mask on and mouthpiece in as he awaited the final OK sign from the dive master before rolling backward, fins over head, into the cold water. Or the sinking, nauseous satisfaction he would take in slow-motion underwater acrobatics, spinning upside-down with a single scissor kick, coasting low over the reef like a cargo plane over high trees. Since making his reservations he’d been reluctant to think of this trip as a vacation and wary about raising his expectations too high, but despite his best efforts both were starting to happen.

Alice cooked up a big pot of soup once they were done packing, putting in all the things that she said would spoil while he was away. They ate in the living room in front of a muted television. She was quiet, and he figured he’d better say something. “I’m going to be really careful. And I’ll be back before you know it.”

Alice nodded. “It’s not like you’re going to Iraq,” she said. “Take it easy. Have fun. And try not to be a jerk.” This stung him, and she noticed. “What I mean is, go easy on him. I don’t know a lot about it, but I know your dad wants this trip to go well.”

“So do I,” he said.

“That’s good. Because it’s important for you. It’s important to have some family in your life.”

Benicio wondered for a moment if she was fishing for him to say something like:
You’re all I need
. But then, thinking about it, he decided she wasn’t. That’s not at all what she wanted to hear. “It will go well,” he said. “He and I both want it to.”

When they were done Alice gave him an open kiss on the mouth, the kind that usually means there’s more to come, and got up to find her keys. He walked her out to her pickup. He said the word
with gameless honesty and she said “me, too.”

Benicio spent the rest of that evening pouring leftover soup down his garbage disposal and waterlogging his houseplants. He called his father’s cell phone and then his hotel room phone but couldn’t get through on either and didn’t bother leaving messages. It was the second time he’d tried and failed to make contact since missing those two calls last week, but rather than worrying him, it was actually a relief. After all, the arrangements were set—he had tickets, a tourist visa, plenty of cash, hotel reservations in a room next to his father’s—and beyond that there really wasn’t anything to talk about. All that remained was to go.

, he decided to stay up and get some coffee. At the far end of the terminal he found one of those ubiquitous airport café-bars. There was a menu in English plastered to the wall, along with prices in yen. He stared at it for a while, trying to make the clumsy conversions.

“If you want it, just go ahead and buy it, but if I were you I wouldn’t do the math.” The man seated at the bar spoke in a brittle smoker’s voice. Benicio recognized him as a fellow passenger on the flight over from LAX. “Knowing that my Budweiser cost eight bucks means I ain’t enjoying it half as much as I could be.” Benicio smiled vaguely, ordered a coffee and joined him at the bar, leaving an empty stool between them. For a while they sipped in silence.

“So what brings you to Japan?” the man asked.

“Nothing does,” Benicio said, “I’m on my way to Manila.”

“The Philippines? No shit. Me, too. We must be waiting for the same connection. The name’s Doug.” He offered his hand and Benicio shook it. Doug finished his beer and ordered another from the woman behind the counter. He scrutinized the silver can draped in red calligraphy with a kind of suspicion before opening it. “So what brings you to the warmer world, then?”

“My father lives there.”

“That’s not bad,” Doug said. “Not a bad place for a grown man to live in.” He squinted awkwardly—maybe he was trying to wink? Either way, it was creepy. “I’ve got family there, too. I’ve got a wife there.”

Benicio nodded, looking into his coffee.

“Yep. She’s staying in this little place called Tay-Gay-Tay, or something like that. Looks real nice … hang on, I got a picture right here.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded postcard that he slid down the bar to Benicio. It was a familiar picture; he had almost the exact same shot on the front cover of his paperback history. The ridges of an enormous crater were visible around the edges of the postcard. They were high, and stony-green, with dense little bushels of fog collecting along them like droplets of water on the rim of a glass. Inside the massive crater was a lake, marked here and there by the irregular grid lines of fish nurseries. In the middle of the lake another crater sprouted up, smaller but steeper, and inside that was still another lake. The craters and lakes made up a series of rings, like a giant, irregular bull’s-eye on the surface of the earth. The sun burned orange under clouds on the horizon, and as he examined the postcard Benicio wondered if it was rising or setting.

“Ain’t that something?” Doug said. “Living right on a volcano. Living on the edge.”

“It’s beautiful.” He returned the postcard. Doug folded it up again, careful not to make any new crease lines, and put it back into his pocket. They both stared out into the terminal. Drowsy families wandered, towing bags and children, parting for stewardesses in smart pastel uniforms who walked succinctly in stilettos. The Buddhist monk
had moved to a nearby lounge and sat before a bubbling fish tank that he watched like a television. A Japanese voice erupted over the loudspeaker, announcing an arrival, a departure, or a delay. Outside the sun finally skidded on the horizon. Doug must have noticed Benicio staring.

“We ain’t gonna catch it,” he said, pointing out the window. “We’ve been racing after it all day, chasing it over the whole country, over the whole damned Pacific Ocean to the other side of the world.” He tapped the bar with his finger to indicate which side of the world he meant. “But it’s no use. Watch it now, getting away, while we pit stop here. It’ll be night before we know it, and the moon’ll be out, and you know what? We ain’t gonna catch that either.”

Doug got up from his stool and moved over to the empty one that Benicio had left between them. Benicio took a burning gulp of coffee, eager to finish. “Say, do you feel like you’re missing something?” For an awful moment it seemed Doug would begin speaking about God. “Because you are,” he said. “You’ve lost a day. A whole day, gone just like that.” He snapped his fingers. “Like you jumped into the future and skipped yesterday. And I bet you didn’t even notice. Don’t worry, though, you’ll get it back. If you go home.”

“The date line.”

His participation pleased Doug, who laughed a little too loudly. “Sorry,” he said. “So little sleep has got me goofy. And I took these things, on account of I’m afraid to fly.” He paused to rub his chin. “You ever been there before? The Philippines, I mean. Not the date line. Because, of course you’ve been there. We were there together, just a few hours ago, you and I.”

“No. I’ve never been to the Philippines.”

“Me neither. I’m excited.”

“Oh, I thought you said that your wife …” he thought better of it and stopped there. Doug didn’t turn away or look embarrassed. He patted Benicio on the shoulder and left his hand there.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “Mail order, right? Well it ain’t that way at all. We’ve been talking, more than six months now on the Internet and the telephone. I’m headed out there to pick her up,
maybe stay a while myself. She says this Tay-Gay-Tay is a real outdoorsy kind of place; sounds right up my alley. Says her father is a councilman, whatever that means. I figure I’ll stay there for a while, maybe a few months, and then we can come back to civilization. Now, I know what you must be thinking. I’ve seen that mail order shit all over the Internet, too. You can’t hardly type in
without that stuff coming up. But this is totally different. I guess you could call it carryout.” Doug laughed. It sounded deep and clogged, like wool over an amplifier.

BOOK: Moondogs
8.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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