Chepe y Pepe

Abuelo, abuelo, abuelo!  Why does your house smell like stinky feet? My precious six-year-old grandson asked.

            With his appearance, an afternoon on the front porch was disturbed. My sense of tranquility crumbled up like yesterday afternoon newspaper. As a very straightforward abuelo, I saw it as my firm duty to expose my grandkids to the real world.

            “Caesar, those aren’t stinky feet. It’s the stench of death,” I said to him, with a smile.

            His innocence faded with a new found jadedness. He opened his eyes in shock and curiosity.

            “Wow, is it coming from abuelo Chepe? He’s asleep, but nobody seems to care. They just stand over his bed. He looks a bit yellow, too,” Caesar asked, with amazement.

            My ice-cold Corona was sweating from the steamy August day. Caesar stood still, smiling nervously. The beer became less satisfactory.  Shrugging my shoulders, I gave Caesar a forced smile.

            “Your other abuelo Chepe is dying. He will drop dead soon, “ I replied, with cool, casual demeanor. 

            Tears rolled down his cheek, quite gently. He wiped his nose with the side of a charcoal hued Ramones t-shirt. As he sniffed and sniffed, with just a hint of drama, his big dark Aztec eyes reemerged from their shock.

            “Why does it sound like there’s a rattle snake in the room? He asked with unrelenting curiosity.

            “That’s the death rattle. It means he’s very close to dropping dead. Don’t feel bad; you’re in the will. Why don’t you keep me alive by getting your Viejo another beer?” I said, casually.

            He ran inside. Peace was restored. As I stared into the slow carefree traffic on Mission Inn Avenue, with it’s backdrop of grand (and historic) craftsman, Victorian, and Spanish style homes, the heat made me quite drowsy. I took the sombrero from the side table. I placed it over my eyes for an afternoon siesta.

            That lasted for a minute. A tap on the shoulder awakened me back to the sky, which instantly morphed into a muggy grey. To the left of me stood Patricia. Her salt and pepper hair had the appearance of decaying tree branches. Her black dress complimented the gloomy skies. The crucifix around her neck had a harsh redness. Most dazzling was the ice-cold Corona she held toward me.

            “Please don’t have a six year old bring you a beer.” She said with slight anger and amusement.

            Patricia sat next to me. She took a dark lacy fan from her tan purse. I took a sip from the icy Corona.  Her eyes of judgment stared me down.

            “Why aren’t you in there with your husband?” She asked, angrily.

            As I shrugged my shoulders, I kept sipping from the ice-cold beer bottle. Music and chatter intensified. I swallowed the beer with a strong gulp.

            “Too many people inside. It’s not even a funereal yet, and I have to deal with a truckload of Mexican relatives, chattering and eating. I think we should let the old man die in peace.” I said, hoping she would leave me alone.

            “That’s your husband. You should be looking after him, especially after thirty years together,“ she said, with enthusiasm.

            I drank my beer. Baffled, I didn’t know quite what to say. That nervous feeling raced through me.  Starvation and bloat from the beer created remarkable sound effects. I tried hard to hold back vicious gases.

            Maybe, I don’t love him after thirty years. Maybe, I’m too fat and old for my silver fox’s taste. I thought he liked gordos. He’s the typical man. I hoped his dick turns green before he goes unconscious.

            Patricia swiftly lit up a cigarette. The porch had the scent of nicotine and Mexican bread baking. The nostalgic scent brought me back to parties, which Chepe and I reveled in. Annoyed, I longed to be alone. Typically, there would be zero embarrassment with telling Patricia to scram. However, with Chepe on his deathbed, a certain sense of pathos overcame my spicy temper.

            “Patty, why do you insist on smoking when we have a man dying of lung cancer, just feet away?” I asked, rather annoyed.

            “I smoke when I’m nervous,” she replied, her right hand shaking slightly.

            Irritated, I avoided conversation with her. She was quite eager to speak. However, that cigarette smoke would clog up her vocal cords.

            “That burial plot came in handy,” Patricia asked, with a wink.

            As she uttered those words, an attractive gay male couple jogged past my home. My eyes met with the handsome blonde, blue-eyed gringo and his twenty-something dark eyed, dark haired Latin lover. They fit the physical ideals idolized by mainstream culture.

            “Pepe, tu pipi no esta Verde (Pepe, your penis isn’t green, yet),” laughed, Patricia.

            I rolled my eyes. The couple symbolized the perfect exterior that I dreamed of as a young man in El Distictro Federal. Happy, healthy, and affluent was the ideal.

However, Chepe and I only had a brief time. A sense of disappointment overcame me.

            “Chepe certainly didn’t have any problems in that dept. He drove around downtown with that gringo boy, who looked a bit like a young Paul Newman.” I replied, as my beer was chugged quickly and nervously.

            “How do you know that it wasn’t just a friend? A student? A transient?” Patricia asked, naively.

            “An old man that wrinkly does not have a man that handsome, without some sort of compensation. “ I replied.

            Disappointment kicked me in the culo, again. Cono, the only way I’ll be reunited with Chepe is through death. Gracias, Senior, for that coffin burial plot. Even in the afterlife, I’ll be on top.

            “Don’t you think it’s a bit of karma, Pepe? You took my man and burial plot," said Patricia.

            I spit out my last sips of Corona. It formed into a tiny boozy river along the porch’s darkened mahogany wood.

            “Your husband? Aren’t you a lesbiana? If it weren’t for Chepe’s double life, you would’ve stayed a miserable esposa. No Home Depot trips, no lesbiana week in Palm Springs, no Yolanda. You love Yolanda. She has the goodies you like,” I said, with a few giggles.

            Stunned, Patricia leaned back on the floral chair. She stared at the multi-colored birdhouses hanging from the ceiling. They swayed in the wind, and resembled the rainbow flag, ironically.      

            “That may be true, but I fell in love with the person. It just took fifteen shots of Patron to conceive Anita,” she replied.        

            We laughed. The screen door opened quickly. Anita appeared. Her floral summer dress accentuated an Aztec skin tone. Her long black hair nearly touched her hips. She looked like a Latina goddess.            

            “Mama, Yolanda is bored” Anita replied.

            “What is the stench of death not entertaining enough?”  I answered.

            Immediately, Patricia leaped from her chair. She signaled me to go inside with her.  I shook my head, no. She persisted, then her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, with frustration. Her eyes were raised to the heavens. Aggressively, she entered the house.

            Anita stood above me, her arms folded. I looked away from her. The perfectly manicured lawns and restored homes provided more comfort. High heels tapped. The euphoria of a quiet afternoon became a lost cause.

            “Papa, aren’t you going to go inside, and spend sometime with your hubby? She asked, sternly.

            Disco balls, love making in a Puerto Vallarta hotel, the beautiful wedding ceremony we shared--it caused a spark of nostalgia. Nostalgia caused me to consider taking a last look. Then my mind was further laced with different emotions.

            Frustrated, I threw my sombrero on the ground. Flashbacks came through my mind. A shut door, an ambulance, an induced coma, the home hospice arrangements became as common (in my life) as a café con leche, in the mornings.

            Anger birthed itself from frustration. I then remembered the bitter times. The separate bedrooms, infidelity, and fat-shaming, Chepe would not be missed. I questioned my own humanity. Was I a terrible person for having fallen out of love with my husband?

            “Anita, I’m not going in. Sorry, I’m mad, and I’m going to stay mad,” I replied.

            Her darkened skin reddened. Red veins of sadness surrounded those big brown eyes. Catholic guilt kicked me in the cojones. Terribly guilty, I watched Anita walk back inside the house.

            The sun re-appeared from the gloomy afternoon. A white truck drove by. As it slowed down, I stared in wonder. The window rolled down. A gentleman with salt and pepper hair, hazel eyes, and white smile, waved.

            “Hola, Pepe,” he gleefully yelled from the car.

            “Hola, Antonio,” I replied.

            The attraction was uncanny. As an overweight, traditionally awkward looking man, I defied the tradition of the Latin lover. However, through Antonio’s eyes, I encountered the love and lust, which first drew me to Chepe. The idea of being a merry widow was somewhat daunting, even in our tumultuous relationship.

            After careful thinking, I took a deep breath. I picked up the sombrero from the floor, and placed it on my head. Bravely, I headed inside.

            Our old home had been dimly lit. Green walls, quirky paintings of the Catholic saints and cats, retro-grey couches contrasted its less funky Craftsman architecture. Livelier than the eclectic décor were the family members, who chatted and ate Mexican staples. Cumbia music blasted.

            Since everyone had become preoccupied with chatter, my entrance was given little attention. I opened the tall wooden door. Chepe’s death rattle drowned out the lively music. Anita sat, staring at Chepe. Tears ran down her cheek. As Anita leapt from the chair, she gave me a shy smile.

            I took Anita’s seat. Folding my arms, I sat staring at Chepe’s head, which rocked from side to side. Tubes and medical equipment blended into the drab bedroom. Finally, he turned. His eyes opened. My eyes lacked emotion as he stared at me. Bigger, and bigger his eyes grew. Did I look like Satan or something?

            The words “te amo” couldn’t bounce out of my drunken vocal cords. Chepe opened his eyes one last time, and went back to his coma-induced sleep. The two Mexican boys in love would become a memory.  Then I questioned our own years. As he continued to sleep, I walked out of the room. He liked his own bedroom, and didn’t want to be disturbed. Chepe was going to that massive gay discoteca in the sky.

Anthony Alas is a three times published author. His works have appeared in the Pacific Review and Azahares Magazine. After several years in New York City, Mr. Alas now calls California’s Inland Empire home, again.