|Five Things That Never Happened to El
Author: Guede Mazaka
Things got broken. That was a fact of life El had long since given up on. But…having the woodcarver's gift shattered so casually…that was something meaningful enough to penetrate El's apathy. One more marvel lost, never to be recovered. Or replaced.
Substituted, El could just bring himself to accept. If the new one was worthy. And so he found himself strolling through a varnished forest, stopping here and there to examine an instrument. This one too raw, that one already warped…now, this one…
El glanced over at the raisin-skinned ancient huddling against the stall, asking silently and receiving a silent nod. Returning his gaze to the guitar, he lifted it with near reverence from its hook. Ran quick fingers over its satin surface, seeking flaws and finding none. Cradling the riotous wood curves to him, he softly plucked the strings.
Standing by the edge of the road, the mariachi stuck out a half-hearted thumb. To his immense surprise, the truck pulled over and a window rolled down. //Where you headed?// the driver, a heavyset man with a thick black mustache, asked.
The mariachi shrugged, reshouldering his guitar. //Anywhere. I'm--// pointed to his case //--just looking for work.//
//There's not much of that for traditional mariachis//, the other man said, but at the mariachi's disappointed face, he added, //Hop in. I'm going to the next town. You can repay me by doing a little errand there.//
//Sure//, the man on the road replied gratefully, opening the door and clambering in. He saw the case sitting on the seat, and his eyes lit up. //You play?//
//You could say that//, the driver remarked, moving the guitar case out of the way and restarting the truck. //So, my name's Azul, and I'm looking for a friend of mine, Moco, who lives up ahead. But it's been awhile, and I don't know where he's staying now. If we split up and ask around in the bars, we should be able to find him twice as fast.//
//Sounds fine//, the mariachi answered absently, looking out at the passing landscape. A sign flashed by, and he grinned. //Free Coconuts? I think I'm going to like this town.//
//Well, little brother?//
Still incredulous, El took the guitar from his brother's hands and tried a melody. And-Mother of God, but it came. Flowing and glissading and just as it should. Just as it had used to, before.
//You see?// Grinning at El's stunned face, Bucho spread his arms in an expansive gesture. //You listened to me, and now you're healed. Best surgeons money can buy, and the best guitar, too.//
//I can play//, El said softly, disbelievingly, continuing to strum. He modulated, then tried an experimental segue. And it worked-almost. Frowning, he repeated the movement, but the result was the same: a slight unevenness in the resonance.
No. It wasn't the same. It was growing, with each new note.
//I'll give you some time to fool around//, the other man said generously. //But. You owe me many lives, brother. I'll expect you at work tomorrow.//
Nodding, El didn't look up at Bucho's retreating footsteps. He was too absorbed in tracing the source of the dissonance. It was getting clearer, sounding so familiar. Like a scream. The scream of a woman-
Flinging the guitar away from him, El watched with huge eyes as it crashed into the wall across from him. Wood splintered, and silver inlay bent, and it all clattered on the floor like Jericho falling to pieces. Shivering, El glanced over at his case, at his guns nestling down in bloody velvet. In his head, the deathcry went on, and his repaired hand began to burn.
El dropped his head, waiting for the sword to fall. //All I ever wanted was to play//, he whispered brokenly.
Tall and proud and beautiful, she floated beside him like a lily brought to astonishing life. The man at the end of the aisle looked frightened and eager and disbelieving, face openly showing all the emotions El kept locked tightly within him. And for a brief, endless moment, El questioned his judgment: was he making a mistake? Would she thrive and bear fruit, or wilt?
But then her arm tightened around his, and she flashed a conspiratorial grin at him. //Left mariachi's off-key//, she murmured. Beauty and snapping spirit all her mother's, musical grace all his.
//Too sharp//, El answered, voice choking only a little. And then they had arrived, and he had to step back. A familiar grip caught his hand, squeezing reassurance back in him, and he smiled at Carolina. Still lovely, so lovely the grey in her hair seemed no more but an afterthought.
//If any man can show just cause that this marriage should not take place, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.//
And El couldn't. Couldn't even acknowledge his sorrow because the happiness radiating from before him was so overwhelming.
Murmuring and frowning, they all turned at the shout only to cry and fall back, hands raised against the blinding reflection of light off of metal, ears cringing at the tramp of boots. Because after all, President Marquez had many enemies, and never traveled without a group of the soldiers that had raised him to power.
El only had time for one last glance at his daughter, so glowing and gorgeous in white, before the bullets began to rattle.
The world just didn't interest him anymore. All he ever heard was gunfire, all he ever smelled was death and cordite, all he ever tasted was blood. Seeing seemed pointless, as he already knew what he would find. Nothing. And touching only brought more pain.
He lived because there was no one good enough to kill him. He lived because he was a bundle of strained nerves and resigned instincts, wrapped about a case full of someone else's vengeance. He'd stolen that, and then fate had stolen his wife and daughter in return. Caught between life and death, unable to care enough to end himself, he waited. Found ways to pass the time.
The American offered him one, tied up in a glittering offer of revenge. Sands, however, was too busy being clever and watching all the angles to see the wall in front of him. Because El. Didn't. Care. Marquez? Who was he? The President? Who was he?
El? He was a killer who couldn't stop. So he went into Culiacan. Called up Fideo and Lorenzo long enough to play a few songs to which he didn't listen, to charm a few men who he didn't really notice, and then sent his friends away. Walked back into town and shot the general. Shot the cartel man, too, for good measure, and stepped carefully over the President's body on his way out.
Back in his new bolthole, El heard the rumblings of a headless nation. And he sat on his balcony, patiently waiting for it to come tearing down his door.
The gun tasted foul. It chilled his mouth and whacked pain into his teeth. And the oil, and the metal-it all was like shit spreading itself across his tongue.
El liked it. He wondered why he hadn't tried this before. Suicide was a sin, the Catholic Church said, but it also declared that the meek shall inherit the earth. And if the one was a lie, then how unreasonable was it to doubt the truth of the other?
He didn't want anything in this dirtpile, anyway. It had nothing he needed, nothing he wanted, nothing he needed. Of course, El wasn't so naïve as to assume he'd be granted rights to heaven, but at this point, any extreme was preferable to this constant unchanging suspension in numbness.
The trigger slid back easily, and then he felt ex plo ble aou t a
Plink. In low E.
Eyelashes fluttering rapidly, El just managed to recall where he was before his guns slid all the way out of his sleeves. Awkwardly bending his wrists to nudge them back in, he glanced up to find a set of sunglasses staring at him.
"It's you, isn't it?" For a question, Sands made its tone remarkably definitive. On the guitar, his fingers slid over the strings till they hit El's brace. "Same tune you were playing in the bar."
"You shot the cook," El replied in a startled voice, mind shaking itself back to reality. He dug hard in his memories for the fragments of remembered gossip he'd heard. "And then you fought, after they blinded you."
"Well, well, what do you know. El keeps up with the news, after all." The words both bit and skittered, and the mariachi took another look at Sands. Thin and haggard beneath the dust-coated black. When the American moved, El's experienced eyes noted the various slight bulges that distorted Sands' clothing. Weapons. Bandages. "Suppose it's too much to hope for that you've started eating, too," Sands commented sarcastically.
"You tried to kill me, and now you want me to buy you a meal?" El demanded, incredulity creeping into his voice. Behind them, the guitar-seller coughed, and El jumped slightly.
"What, you going to wreck the marketplace now?" Sands smirked, absentmindedly jingling his cane, which El had only now noticed. "Should I be afraid?"
The other man's voice cracked, just that little bit, on the word 'afraid.' One last time El regarded the guitar, and then he set it back onto the stall. He paused, then flipped a coin at the seated old man and took Sands by the elbow. "Maybe," the mariachi answered, leading them out of the stalls. "Do you still want pork?"