Bennys laughing now, hes got that turning
red look, a Newport to his lips, but its not lit yet. Were
all sunshine smiles, beautiful day uptown, just clean and bright and
blue, no clouds. Were talking to Joey, one of those cats that
knew Benny from back then, back when niggas used to call him Bingo.
Joey just came in from Florida. Hes dressed in turquoise to match
the sky, Dolphins cap, Dan Marino jersey, black pants, and he says,
"I hate the fucking Bronx," laughing a little so we laugh
too, waving his arms around him like a helicopter, not pointing at any
one thing, but at all of it. "Look at this shit," he says.
I dont see much except the sameness of it, the buildings that
lean against one another, ashy and brick. I grew up around the corner.
I work at the shop right here on Southern. We lean back against the
wall. One step towards the center of the street and the sunlight is
cloudy and cut by the shadows of the tracks above. A five train runs
over and its quiet, noise swallowing noise. For a moment, Benny
doesnt talk and Joey doesnt talk and I dont either.
We stare at each other and step towards the wall, catching clear sun
like were gasping for air.
Joey touches the cross on his gold chain, rubbing it softly. He has
stubby blackish fingers, oil ground into the skin. The train passes,
life begins again. "Shit Bingo, how ya been?" he says for
the hundredth time.
Im on the outside of this one, I can tell. These two have stories
that go back forever, lives and memories woven and inseparable. Theyve
seen blood together, got laid together. Shit they wont admit to
themselves, the other knows. They look at each other deep, for someone
else lurking in the deep black behind their eyes. Im not even
here for them. They havent seen each other in ten years.
"Same shit, Jojo, you know how it is. Working. Making do."
He lights his cigarette. Blue smoke disappears into the sky.
Joey has a recycling thing going on down there in Florida. Car parts
and metals and shit. He smells of aluminum, he says, so at nights he
goes swimming to wash off the stench. "The condos got a pool,
Benny nods and looks away.
"So when you moving down? I heard your son was in Orlando,"
At the mention of his son, Benny breaks into a smile. "Been down
there two years. Got married and everything."
"Yeah." Benny grins. "Flying," he says, the word
slipping out like a prayer. Its one of those words that means
something. "Hes a pilot. Makes good money."
He says nothing about himself.
Joey is bronzed and tan, looking like he eats mangoes by the poolside.
His belly pushes at the seams of his football jersey. He pats it with
his left hand now and again to remind us that life is good. They play
catch up: who got caught doing what, who got divorced, who had a kid,
who died, whose moms moved back to San Juan. Old-timer shit. Who died.
They keep coming back to it. Its a long list. My people havent
started dying yet, not really. Bennys have been dying for years.
"Im sorry about Marco, Bing. That shit was terrible."
"You heard about it?"
"He deserved better than that," Joey says. Benny sighs.
A mother calls out a grocery list to her son on the street. Her voice
is ragged and tired. It sounds like a train. Then another one comes,
and in the thick quiet of it, Benny and Joey hug and exchange promises.
Joey jots his phone number down on the back of a receipt. Benny looks
at it for a second and slides it into his pocket. "Yeah,"
he shouts, yelling against the train, "and you know where to find
Be safe, they say, and say hi to your moms for me. Their smiles are
banners and they grip each other at the bicep, warmly. They dont
talk to their moms though. At least Benny doesnt, hasnt
since Marco died. And the smile he wears is hurtful, like the sun when
you stare. Jojo walks up Southern, turns on Prospect and is gone.
Then the train leaves and the street is loud again. Benny squints against
the bright blue of the sky. We step back into the shop, just the two
of us, and it feels empty. Its like Joey was never here.
You can read Florida in its entirety in the premiere
issue of Swink.
Daniel Alarcón was born in
Lima, Peru, and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. His work has been published
in The New Yorker, and is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Inkwell
and other journals. His first collection War By Candlelight will
be published by HarperCollins. He lives in Iowa City.