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Oh, Pioneers (Part I)| Matthew Salyer

They’d crossed the impossible distance of a continent. Their lives were epic, fugitive, and it did not seem to matter. The younger one came first, no longer Josemaria but Carmelo, and he moved north through a desperate succession of hefty puertoriquenas with slicked ringlets who cashed his checks and lent him their cars and rented whitewashed studios near the buslines, until he came to the place where his uncles wired money from, two and three hundred dollars at a time, to his worrisome mother, to the sisters who glowered at him with their tightlipped Aztec faces as he smiled at their friends, to a jury of somber aunts who drew their gray hair back in buns and lit candles for their men and said that they wondered why he had to leave Coahuila. It had become a matter of form for them to wonder, a preparatory rite, for burning their fingers on the candles and invoking their private menagerie of garroted saints.

A year later his brother came. His uncles met him at the row of payphones near the TRAVEL CENTER sign with the faded PanAm style logo of a globe. He had a frayed child’s backpack slung over his shoulder, and he set it down behind him as they formed an arc where they stood, hugging him, slapping him each in their turn on the cheeks and he laughed back as they laughed, flashing even rows of square teeth that parted in a gap below his septum. The men reformed their ard. One whom the stranger did not remember from Coahuila uncapped a thick bottle in a brown paper bag and began to drink from it. The others lit Newports as they muttered to each other, their gazes roving, sizing him up with their brutal irony, like disembodied sharks. It was a way of loving.

Maricon. Look at you. You got fucking gringo teeth, one said.

Chinga. He smirked a little as he said it until his mouth buried itself below the neck of his flannel where he could smell the rankness of his tongue freshly against the old musk odors of his sweat and his chest quivered, rose of its own volition, toward the sudden rush of his breath. It warmed him. When he lifted his eyes, he saw the others beneath their thick shell jackets and layered sweatshirts and began to compare their builds to his. Two had coats that would fit him, but he knew he could not yet ask. Under his shirtfront, he pursed his lips so that the thick hairs of his moustache snagged against the button rows. He had not known that snowless air could be so cold.

Te chingue, his uncle laughed.

Motherfucker, he said. Slapped his uncle on the arm. Lifted his fists up jokingly in front of his face and the two began to circle each other, shadow boxing as the others laughed and whistled.

A black Nissan slunk by echoing bass through the windshield. It came to an idle on the other side of the street and the bright metallic world it mimicked slowed to a reflection on the jagged blades of its rims; the men circled each other there in full relief, mirrored from different angles on the wheel faces. After a while, an emaciated girl in belled lycra pants and an Italian Princess teeshirt sauntered imperiously up to the passenger seat; she slapped the hood with the palm of her hand, her long black nails distended at careful angles away from the impact, and got in cursing fuckin waitin on you nigga nah nah I don’t even wanna hear that shit. The driver sped off and the portrait shadowboxers whirled round and round below him like children at a carnival until they were nothing but ghosts and light. The men had stopped playfighting; they watched the Nissan, panting, desiring in silence, as it drove off dragging their avatars across the pavement.

Yeah mari, one of the men said. Y’allright y’allright. You hungry?

Poquito, he said.

He was lying.

Khaled, Terttu Uibopuu (2009)

Matthew Salyer is fixing a boiler right now. He is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut.

Terttu Uibopuu is an MFA candidate at Yale University’s School of Art.

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