New England Review - - Table of Contents - Mario J. Gonzales

Be­fore Cabezon's mom od'd there, me and my cousins Tug and Tweety would go to the hill and hang with Manny, an older guy from the Projects. Long time ago, the hill was where the mo­ja­dos lived in small houses built by farm­ers to keep their il­le­gals near work. Now the place is torn up, the rooms tagged, walls fall­ing down. Piss-stained mat­tresses and bent cook­ing spoons lit­ter the place. I mean, bums and junkies have hus­tled their way through, no doubt. In fact, some tweak­ers had a lab here and it blew up in their faces. You could see the smoke for miles. One dude, Palo, burned him­self good and wore a mask like that Phantom of the Opera guy for a while.

But that's not why they say the hill is haunted or cursed. It's re­ally cause some farmer, Gan­dangi or Gan­dan­sky, shot him­self here, when all the wets were get­ting off work. Tug and Tweety's step­mom, who was the farmer's maid, said she heard he had went gay for a mo­jado. Who knows? Maybe the Mex­i­can laughed or fucked him up when the farmer tried to put the moves on. But for sure he died bloody on the hill.

Haunted or not, the hill was the place to kick it. It was where I'd smoke a bowl and watch the sun burn down without no one bug­ging. Things got crazy, though. It started with this game Manny made up: see­ing who could hold a lit M-16 fire­cracker the long­est. Tweety al­ways won, un­til one day Manny of­fered Cabezon twenty bucks to hold the cuete un­til it ex­ploded. Cabezon did and ended up shred­ding his mid­dle finger.

The idea for the game came from those old car­toons where the Coy­ote tries to catch the Road Run­ner by slip­ping dy­na­mite down his throat. But the Coy­ote ends up hold­ing the sticks and BOOM. He gets fried—smoke spilling from his ears, his fur burnt and dirty. The Road Run­ner comes into the pic­ture, goes beep-beep, and Zoom—es­capes.

I al­ways hated that. Cause I wanted the Coy­ote to win. Watch­ing those car­toons as a kid, slurp­ing my bowl of Cap'n Crunch, I would think: An­dale, Coy­ote, get that damn Road Run­ner. Build one of those cool cat­a­pult ma­chines and trap his ass this time. But ev­ery car­toon ended with the Coy­ote fall­ing crazy into some canyon, hit­ting the ground, get­ting de­stroyed.

Tug felt the same way, though he thought the Coy­ote was like the Mex­i­can—slow, skinny, full of plans that fail—and the Road Run­ner was the white dude—sneaky, quick, win­ning no mat­ter what. Tug was al­ways talk­ing about racism, “We gotta get to­gether, we gotta be tight,” he'd say. Tweety called bull­shit, say­ing to his brother, “You're trip­ping, King,” as in Martin Luther.

They'd fight af­ter­wards. Tug's got fast hands so he'd draw first blood. But de­spite his name, Tweety is solid, like a Sumo crossed with a Samoan. If he gets you head­locked, you're done. No­body messes with Tweets, not even Manny. But we all fuck with Cabezon.

Not se­ri­ously, though. Me, Tug, and Tweety are cool with Cabezon. For sure, he can be ir­ri­tat­ing as hell but he's all right. Manny's dif­fer­ent. He's bit­ter hard with Cabezon, al­most like he hates. Or worse, cause most have rea­sons to hate. Like when some ass­hole gets in your face while you're chill­ing. You nat­u­rally grow hate for that shit and go hard­core not rest­ing till you own who­ever is fuck­ing with you.

Cabezon don't do that. He don't mess with no one. He's just too small. Built like a girl: bony-ass arms, baby chicken legs. Se­ri­ously thin like a user, al­though Cabezon don't use. Manny's al­ways tempt­ing him, say­ing, “You want to feel like you can fly? With this shit a brick could hit your face and you wouldn't feel a damn thing.” Cabezon will usu­ally stare at the ground, shake his big old head, and make ex­cuses, “I got to go to the doc­tor to­mor­row,” or “I tried that al­ready and it ain't no good.”

Don't get me wrong, I'm not soft for Cabezon or any­thing. I'm just say­ing he don't al­ways use com­mon sense. It's like af­ter he tore up his finger he comes to the hill. We're down­ing Te­cate tall­boys, get­ting buzzed, when Tweety jokes, “Hey, Cabezon, got any more fire­works?” And guess what? The pen­dejo pulls a cuete from his pocket. Manny, who's wasted, gets this look. I seen it be­fore, like when he says he can dunk but won't even try. In­stead he'll talk smack about your skills.

So any­way, Manny dared Cabezon to do it again but this time even more stupid:

“Cabezon, wanna be a real man? Put the cuete in your mouth and let's see how chingon you are.”

We laughed cause Cabezon's hand was still ban­daged from the first time and no­body thought he'd do some­thing that crazy. But he did. He put the fire­cracker be­tween his teeth. See­ing that, Manny ran to Cabezon with his lighter and tried spark­ing it—once, twice. On the third try the fuse sput­tered then noth­ing. Too much wind. Manny tried again but his lighter quit. He looked around see­ing if we'd of­fer a light. In­stead Tweety yelled, “Sit your drunk-ass down, Manny.” He even­tu­ally did but not be­fore throw­ing Tweets a fuck-you sneer.

The thing is Cabezon has al­ways been slow, with his melon head and seizures. But since I've known him, start­ing from se­cond grade, he's never done any­thing too stupid. I mean, yeah, he flunked a lot and ev­ery­body thought Cabezon was re­tarded. Al­though it wasn't just that. Once in fifth grade I over­heard our science teacher, Mr. Hol­comb, call Cabezon a “chig­ger.” At first I didn't get it, think­ing it was a racist name whites called Chi­nese blacks, and it made no sense since Cabezon wasn't ei­ther. It wasn't till I read chig­ger meant a dirty bug that I got what the teacher was about.

Hon­estly, I don't know why Cabezon is the way he is. My dad said that Cabezon's mom par­tied like mad when she was preg­nant and he came out weird:

real small with a big head, al­ways sick. I guess strange shit runs in the fam­ily. Like Bobby, his brother, that dude never leaves the house. Ei­ther they don't let him or he's like a her­mit. Cabezon once told me that Bobby goes wild if he downs the wrong food or if some­one touches his Bruce Lee karate pic­tures. Then they gotta tie him up so he don't hurt him­self. I re­mem­ber think­ing that was harsh and so I asked Cabezon, “Your fam­ily re­ally binds Bobby like he's some fiend?”

“Yeah,” he said, “we even done it at Easter when Bobby ate thirteen col­ored eggs and got big toe pain. I taped his knees to­gether with white tape from the 99-cent store. If you don't be­lieve me, just ask Celia.”

Celia is Cabezon's only sis­ter. She grad­u­ated school on time and even went to Los Gatos, the ju­nior col­lege, for a while. With Celia first thing you no­tice is her wide hips and short arms, like the Jun­gle Book bear. Tug tried call­ing her Baloo but the name never stuck since that girl is so quiet and shy, re­ally more mouse than bear.

Cabezon's al­ways talk­ing up Celia, say­ing stuff like, “She lives in the li­brary, read­ing till her eye­balls get sore.” He claims she reads so much cause she's study­ing to be a doc­tor: “Celia's gonna fix peo­ple's blood when they're sick. She's real good at tak­ing care of things, smart like a positron.”

When Cabezon spouts this bull­shit I'll call him out, “What the hell is a positron? You mak­ing things up, Cabe.”

“No, no. Celia's smart. She got lots of positrons liv­ing in her head. I heard about them on TV,” he'll say. With Celia, there's no ar­gu­ing with Cabezon since he don't see no other way but hers.

Like I said, ex­cept for Celia, most of Cabezon's fam­ily is messed up. But it's his mom who's the worst.

She'd come by the hill a lot, ask­ing, “Have you seen Ed­die?” That's Cabezon's real name. She talks like a baby with a real high voice and if she ain't wear­ing her false teeth you can't un­der­stand noth­ing she says.

Truth is, though, ev­ery­body knew what she was re­ally do­ing: sniff­ing around, look­ing to score. “That old bitch is al­ways hun­gry,” Manny would say af­ter she split. Some­times he fed her. But since she never had pa­per, they'd trade, usu­ally pills for rock or crys­tal, if each was hold­ing. Not long ago, I don't re­mem­ber when, Cabezon's mom started show­ing up around town in a blond wig. It was weird cause, for one, the wig was real long and wavy, not made for an old woman. I mean, since it was Cabezon's mom you ex­pected her to have a con­tam­i­nated, 1970s, thrift-store wig. But hers was shiny brand new, ex­pen­sive look­ing. The other twisted thing was how she wore it: the hair hung off her head crooked, all the fuck­ing time. It's not like she didn't no­tice. She even had this cheap-ass green sparkly head­band to keep it in place. Though that was usu­ally crooked, too.

One day, the day it looked like the sky was stitched to­gether with storms, Tug asked Cabezon about the wig.

“Hey, why your mom's got fake hair on her head?” Cabezon started hop­ping around, say­ing he could jump ten feet across this burned-out row of fence posts. When he reached the last one, he said, “She got things grow­ing in­side her. A tu­mor, a can­cer.”

No­body said any­thing since we're stupid when it comes to se­ri­ous shit like that, but then Manny, of course, shouted, “Hey, she got that AIDS, Cabezon. Your mom's al­ways mess­ing with filthy crack­heads, smok­ing rocks. Hate to tell you, but life's a bitch, isn't it? Let me tell you some­thing. Put your mom on a no-crack diet. That ought to cure her hood-rat ways.”

Cabezon kept his mouth shut, al­though he looked mad. For Cabezon this meant his face burn­ing red and him scratch­ing at his neck like big-ass mos­qui­tos had just at­tacked.

Even if he was pissed off, ev­ery­body knew Cabezon wouldn't do a damn thing since it was Manny talk­ing shit. He wouldn't de­fend his mom and he didn't. In fact, be­fore go­ing home, Cabezon helped Manny load wood into his truck.

Once Cabezon took off, I said to Manny, “Maybe you should take it easy with Cabe. I mean with his mom hav­ing can­cer.”

But telling Manny to chill with Cabezon is like telling Godzilla not to waste Ja­pan. Manny didn't like it, so be­tween bites of a nasty-look­ing bur­rito he said, “What the fuck? I'm cool with Cabezon. He's my boy. I'm just fuck­ing with him. He knows that. And any­way, I can't help what I said was true. His mom is cochina, ghetto-ass dirty.”

Soon af­ter Manny said this, I swear some­one ripped the sky open with a rusty blade and it rained hard and for­ever, like God was some old drunk piss­ing on the world.

For two days it rained. When it quit, I went to the hill and caught Tug, Tweety, and Manny talk­ing about Cabezon's mom. Tug had seen her out­side Owl's liquor store, star­ing at her re­flec­tion in the win­dow, stroking her wig like it was her own hair. We cracked up, with Tug say­ing, “She's fuck­ing de­mented. Like our grandpa got be­fore he killed his­self.”

Tweety shot this ir­ri­tated look at his bro, say­ing, “Damn, Tug, you never know what comes out of your mouth. Our grandpa didn't kill his­self. He walked out of the house in the mid­dle of the night cause he was men­tally con­fused. He prob­a­bly thought he was still in Mex­ico and not Cal­i­for­nia where cars will hit-and-run your ass off the road. That's what hap­pened, and any­way Cabezon's mom's not that old. She looks like a hag cause she's a rock junkie wear­ing fake­ass hair.”

“Wouldn't it be a trip,” Manny said, putting on his evil-faced grin, “if we got Cabezon to wear his mom's fucked-up wig?”

We thought it'd be funny, though no­body was in the mood to talk Cabezon into jack­ing the wig from his mom. Ex­cept for Manny, who said be­fore we split, “It's on me. Show up to­mor­row. I'll get Cabezon here.”

The next af­ter­noon Cabezon showed him­self on the hill hold­ing a pa­per

bag. We asked, “What you got in the bag, Cabe? Give it here.” He laughed a lit­tle and kept peek­ing in the bag like it was the world's big­gest se­cret. When Manny threat­ened to take it, Cabezon got se­ri­ous for a se­cond then reached into the bag and brought out his mom's can­cer wig. Putting it on he said, “Look, I'm my momma. Ev­ery­body look, I'm danc­ing like my momma.”

He did this funny dance: shak­ing his hips, wig­gling his ass, even throw­ing kisses. Then it got crazy. Cause out of nowhere came Cabezon's mom, wear­ing a short robe, cut­offs, and flip-flops. She looked all fucked up. I mean, not drunk or high or noth­ing but sick and skinny. The skin on her arms and legs had big red spots and her face was cov­ered with lots of thick shiny makeup. And since she didn't have her wig on you could see her bald­ness. But she wasn't all bald since lit­tle clumps of hair hung off her head.

“Ed­die, come here with momma's hair. I saw you take it. I saw you run away like a lit­tle mouse. Lit­tle mouse, come to your momma and give her what she needs to be a spe­cial flower,” she called out. She was walk­ing to­ward Cabezon from be­hind. When she spoke, he turned around and said, “Momma!” Then Cabezon ran and his mom went af­ter him. She was cough­ing, hold­ing on to her robe, try­ing to keep it closed. Be­tween coughs she kept say­ing, “Lit­tle mouse, lit­tle mouse, come back!”

Tweety, Tug, and Manny were laugh­ing, re­ally bust­ing up. I laughed too, not want­ing to be seen a pussy. In­side I felt weird. I mean, it seemed all right when Cabezon fucked around with the wig by him­self, but see­ing his strung-out look­ing mom go­ing af­ter him psy­cho was dif­fer­ent. I wanted to say, “Hey, Ms. Leyba, go home and take your son Ed­die. Don't come back here no more. This ain't a good place for you two.”

But I did noth­ing, just watch­ing them run like fools. Cabezon was mak­ing big cir­cles, kick­ing up mud, way ahead of his mom who got tired quick and couldn't move straight, stag­ger­ing drunk-like. You could tell Cabezon was play­ing, act­ing stupid for ev­ery­body, dar­ing his mom to catch him.

His mom was get­ting pissed though and started throw­ing things at him. First her flip-flops and then what­ever was around: sticks, beer cans, plas­tic bot­tles.

As soon as she did this, Cabezon jumped on a big rock near the edge of the hill. The sun was be­hind him, turn­ing his body into two colors: black and gold. On the rock Cabezon took the wig off, held it like he was hold­ing some­body's head, and sang, “King! King! King!” while mov­ing his arms and head like some out-of-con­trol pup­pet.

Af­ter jump­ing off the rock Cabezon kept clown­ing big time and look­ing to us for our re­ac­tion. Manny never quit laugh­ing but Tug and Tweety had stopped. They were shar­ing a cig­a­rette, star­ing into phones that were prob­a­bly shut down for un­paid bills. Fi­nally, I shouted, “Hey, Cabezon, give your skele­ton mom back her hair al­ready.”

His mom had quit chas­ing him. She was breath­ing rough, still cough­ing.

Her nose was sticky with snot and her eyes bulged red. She dropped to her knees, putting her hands to­gether like she was pray­ing, and called out in her high voice,

“My baby Ed­die is in big trou­ble if he don't bring back his sick momma's wig. His sick momma will have to tell Celia. Ev­ery­body will get mad at Ed­die. That's what his momma will do if her baby makes ev­ery­body cry sad tears.”

Hear­ing that, Cabezon flat out ran into one of the build­ings while yelling, “No, Momma, no. I'm gonna run from all the trou­ble so Celia will never find out.”

Tired of all the crazi­ness, I said to Tug and Tweety, “This is bor­ing. Let's bounce. Go shoot some hoops or some­thing.”

Me and Tweety left, but Tug stuck with Manny. Later he told me that Manny traded rock for Cabezon's mom's pills. She hit the pipe hard or maybe that shit was just garbage cause she started vom­it­ing black. Manny booked it when Tug went to get help. Tug said when he got back Cabezon was there watch­ing his mom shak­ing, ly­ing on the ground. He had put the wig on his mom's head and was say­ing, “Sorry, Momma, I made you sick.” Tug also said he was tap­ping her chest like there was a but­ton there that would make her get up. Even­tu­ally the am­bu­lance came tak­ing her away.

I stopped go­ing to the hill for a while af­ter what went down. When I fi­nally de­cided to go back, I went alone. I did call Tug and Tweety ask­ing about kick­ing it there but they were busy: go­ing with their grandma to the Pen­te­costal church. I didn't call Manny. I'd been mak­ing ex­cuses not to hang with him. We're still cool, and when I see him cruis­ing in his truck he'll stop and say we should do this or that. I'll an­swer, “Yeah, for sure,” and then never do noth­ing.

It was late when I got there. The cold winter sun barely dropped any heat and the wind clawed into my jaw­bone. Crows the size of foot­balls stared down from an over­grown mul­berry—the only liv­ing thing left on the hill. I felt the dead weight of their eyes and I started to think, I mean re­ally think, about this place. What the fuck was it re­ally? Just dirt piled on more dirt bury­ing the stuff peo­ple leave be­hind. Or just bury­ing all the shit that's gone down here. I thought about this while walk­ing in and out of the bro­ken build­ings, smelling rot­ting boards and breath­ing cob­web dust. Go­ing out­side, to the part of the hill with a steep drop-off, where peo­ple have dumped tires, couches, old rusty ovens, that kind of shit, I looked down and imag­ined the wrecked body of the Coy­ote un­der piles of junk.

It was al­most dark when I went home, mak­ing sure to walk by Cabezon's house in the Projects on the way. All the lights but one were off. Maybe Celia's read­ing some­thing, I thought. Then some­one came out of the house. It was her, Celia, tak­ing out the trash. Stand­ing on the side­walk, I said, “Hey, Celia, how's it go­ing?”

Be­fore she could an­swer I said, “I wanted to know about your mom. I mean with all the can­cer stuff she has. She okay?”

Celia looked at me with her big dark eyes and spoke real soft cause her voice

only knows soft­ness, “Yeah, she's okay. But my mom don't have can­cer. My brother Ed­die tells ev­ery­body she has can­cer but she re­ally don't.”

Nei­ther of us said any­thing af­ter that. I just stared while she shoved the trash bag into the green bar­rel. I saw she had cut her hair. It wasn't long and nice any­more but short like a boy's. Be­fore go­ing in­side, Celia smiled with her lips—the rest of her stayed blank—and waved bye with her baby-small hands. Watch­ing her close the screen door I thought she re­ally did look like a bear af­ter all.

The street­lights turned on, spit­ting yel­low, one by one. I took the al­ley­way home try­ing to avoid the dogs in the Projects. They're the sor­ri­est an­i­mals in town. A lot don't eat much and are tied up all day. Then at night they're set loose and go look­ing for food, fight­ing over what lit­tle they find.

When I got home my mom was do­ing dishes and my dad was sit­ting in front of the TV, sort­ing stacks of pa­pers from work. I went be­side my mom, thought the gray in her hair looked like snowflakes on a Christ­mas tree, and helped her dry. Then, for some rea­son, I said, “You know Celia, Ed­die Leyba's sis­ter? That girl for sure is go­ing to be a doc­tor.” My mom an­swered yes, real quiet, like she didn't want no­body to hear and my dad said, without look­ing up from the TV, that the Ley­bas were malditos and to keep clear of them. I don't know why but that pissed me off and I went to find Rooster, our dog, just to mel­low out.

Rooster was caked in mud and growl­ing at his tail so in­stead I took a bath. The wa­ter went cold quick or maybe I just sat there for­ever, want­ing ev­ery­thing around me to freeze, to feel as cold as I felt.

Clos­ing my eyes, I went un­der wa­ter and counted off how long I could hold my breath, try­ing not to think about how brain­less life was. It was then I felt Cabezon. He hit me. With his dum­b­ass ways he hit me hard, and all I wanted was to de­stroy that feel­ing ris­ing in­side. Or give it to his mom. Give it to Celia. Give it to some­one who should give a shit. I can't. Cause I seen how the Coy­ote don't get no help to stop his falls. He just falls, faster and faster, till he hits the ground.

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