Robert Moreira



I’m out in the sweaty stew that’s South Texas, I’m checking the mail, when the Michigan-plated U-Haul backs into the gravel drive next door where old Doña Garza used to live with her cats.  A Mexican climbs down first.  He’s tall and broad-shouldered.  He’s got gray, cock’s comb hair and a thick gold chain around a trunk of a neck.  It drops like a “V” on his chest and ends in a pendant of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  The gravel crunches beneath his snakeskin boots.  He disappears down the driveway.

Next comes a girl.  She’s of a fresher brown, pigtailed, fat with arms like macaroni.  She comes down, her flip-flops snapping, her movements more like a bodybuilder than a girl in her teens.  She sees me and smiles and disappears, too.  I’m alone.

There’s nothing in the mail.  Mom peers out the front door, tells me to head on out to the home without her.  The noon bells of the San Juan Basilica tickle the hairs in my ears.


“Mister Martinez,” the social worker says.  “Y’all can come in now.”

Dad’s not too happy when I turn him away from the TV.  He lets out a long “¡Coño!” in protest.  Some of the residents wake up.

“Ya, Cubichi,” I say to him.

He slurs through more Cuban curses, but I know it’s the medication.  He pats his thin forearms, complains it’s cold.  He wants to know what’s going on.  I can’t blame him for that.  I wheel him into the small office and close the door.

The social worker says “¡Hola!” sitting behind a desk.  “How are you today?”

She’s talking to Dad but he’s still pissed off about the TV and doesn’t answer.  Everywhere behind her, on a dead white wall, hang neatly-framed portraits of the social worker with Glamour-Shot smiles between two boys and with a poodle and holding a diploma.  She’s got pockmarks under thick makeup and a lazy left eye in real life.  Not in the photos.  In the photos she looks good.

“It’s fine,” I say.

“‘Kay,” she grins.  “Your Mom?”

“Couldn’t make it.”

“How old are you?”


“Perfect.  You’ll fill her in, then?”


She opens a manila folder and leafs through the pages.  “‘Kay,” she starts.  “Your father meets all the requirements for our facility.  His condition—CHF, we’ve talked about it, right?—qualifies him for long-term care.  The government of Texas has covered all expenses these past few months.  However,” and she looks up, her lazy eye quivering, “those funds are about to come to an end.”

Just like that, Dad’s dozed off.  His head hangs.  The air-con hums.

“There’s CBA, of course,” she continues, “but that only pays for home modifications and he’d have to be going back home.  Right now, in his condition, he needs care more than anything.  Care like we offer here.  It’s a difficult situation.”

Dad snores and wakes up but falls asleep again.  His head hangs.  Eva, his nurse, told me he’d be out at least until dinner and I pretended not to believe her.  It was the game we played.  It always made her smile and that stud on her left nostril to glitter.  I loved that.  The teasing always came at Dad’s expense, but so what?  She was the prettiest thing I’d seen since Dad arrived here.

“Mister Martinez?  Do you see the problem?”

The social worker brings me back.  She taps her French-tipped nails, red with white tips like pills, on the desk. 

“Someone’s gonna have to pay, bottom line,” she says.  “No way around it, really.  I’ve looked everywhere and haven’t found a thing.  I hate that it’s come to this.”  She shakes her head and half smiles and her pockmarks constrict to shadowy slits.  “Ten days.  That’s all that’s left.  Before the charges start.  I’m sorry.”

“What if we can’t pay?”

“Y’all will have to take him.  Home.  Somewhere.  Just not here.  It’s a difficult situation, I know.”

The air-con exhales.

“What’ya reading?” she asks out of nowhere.  She’s looking down into my lap and I remember the book I brought with me.  “Hemingway,” she says, trying to act impressed.  “Wonderful writer.”

“Pretty good,” I say.

“I hated those whole-book assignments at UT.  Book report?”

“I’m not in school right now.”

“What, then?”

“I like to write.”




She closes the folder.  “Well, then.  You’ll talk to your Mom, right?  Let me know what y’all decide?”

“Yeah,” I say, and shake her Arctic hand.

I wheel Dad out and close the door.  The room is empty ‘cause it’s lunch time.  The TV’s on but turned down low so people on it act like mimes.  Plates crash in the distance and the sun creeps and stretches through the glass double-doors in jagged angles.


It’s a few days later and Mom swears by her own mother she saw a rat race across the living room the night before.  She was working on a crossword puzzle, about to find the word mentira, when the rat darted out of the hallway and scared her half to death. 

“How big was the ratón?” I ask her. 

“Por mi madre,” she says.  “Not a mouse, a rata,” and she shows me how long.  She hates ratas, she tells me, more than cucarachas, even.  No respectable home has them. 

I remind her we do have roaches. 

“Gracioso,” she snaps back.

“Any mail?”

“No,” she says.

“What about Dad?”

She walks away.  I go out back to find where the rat’s getting in.

The sun is fierce.  The grass in the backyard is tall and it bends.  Dad’s old Nikes, the ones he used when he cut the grass, hang by their laces from the lemon tree near my bedroom window.  I don’t touch them.  I move a few things and check inside the wood closet where the heater is.  No holes.  I find a black widow still as death in a cool corner.  I say “Man!” ‘cause my back is sweaty.

“What’ya doin’?” a voice says.

It’s raspy, like good pain.  It comes from across the fence, over on Doña Garza’s side.  I see the girl from the U-Haul there staring at me beneath the same pigtails, her thick hips and thighs stuffed into shorts that barely fit her.

“Hey,” I say, straightening up.

“¿Que haces?” she asks.

“Just looking around.”

“I’m Cassie,” she tells me.


She giggles and licks her lips and they glisten.  She doesn’t have a neck and can’t keep her feet still like she needs to pee.  Her bra is tight so it looks like she has four tetas.

I ask her, “You’re from Michigan?”

“Nah,” she answers.  “Just work there in the summer.”

“You and your Dad?”


“Did you know Doña Garza?”


“She lived in your house with a million cats.”

“Nope,” she says, still shuffling.

“She died.”

“Too bad.”

A lemon falls from the tree.  I steal it from the ground.  Cassie watches.

“Where’s your room?” she asks.


“I wanna know.”

“That one,” I say, pointing.

“I’m sixteen.”

“Uh, that’s great.”

“Got a girlfriend?”


“Girlfriend,” she says, “Novia.  Got one?”

“I, uh--”

“Yes or no?”
     I think of Eva.  “Working on it,” I let out.

“Good,” she says, and runs off.

I’m left with the fruit in my hand.  It’s warm.  Its skin is a pimply, fleshy yellow that trails and curves and ends in a hard nipple.  I rub it with my finger, over and over.


Caldo de res fogs up the inside of the Tupperware Mom poured it in.  Her excuse is the same—too much to do at home.  The last time she visited Dad was back at the hospital where she promised him he’d never end up in a nursing home.  That was months ago.  So, to make up for it, she always sends his favorite dishes—picadillo with white rice, ropa vieja, rabo encendido—and I’m the deliverer.  I keep telling her they’ve got Dad on a strict diet—no salt, especially—but she flicks her hand at me and says “Bah!” and that doctors don’t know everything.  “Home cooking is all he needs,” she says.  She always adds a little more salt to everything she cooks ‘cause food should never be bitter, she tells me.  Life is bitter enough.  She points to a Wal-Mart bag with clean clothes, and then walks away.

The drive to the home is a barrage of thoughts between traffic lights, mechanic shops, fast-food joints.  It’s loud, like a late-night train on the tracks on Old Highway 83.  At the first stoplight on ‘I’ Road, it starts to come back to me, and I’m yelling at Mom for agreeing to the transfer from Rio Grande Regional without telling me.  Then, I’m at the post office on Blue Bonnet, months ago, mailing short stories to different contests, making sure all the addresses are right, two, three, four times.  Out of nowhere, it’s Eva for the first time, green Crocs and long, red hair, and Dad poking her in the ribs while I’m watching, liking what I see.  Finally, at the projects on McColl, I remember the cat I flattened, the stain that’s endured as a deeper shade on the asphalt, the last thing I see before arriving.  I make the last turn.  Today, the clouds in the sky are the red-orange scales of a cotton dragon.

I walk in.  The place smells like wet Band-Aids.  A pair of nurses laugh and leaf through an issue of Cosmo at the nurses’ station.  No sign of Eva anywhere.

Dad’s hallway is deep and long and white with frames between every open door.  Most are cheap, scenic pastels of pristine landscapes, a few vibrant bouquets.  There’s a holler, somewhere.  The intercom thunders like the voice of God: Maria to the Nurses’ Station.  Maria.  Then, another scream.  I follow the thin, blue snake from the outlet to where the janitor buffs the cold, tile floor.

The lights are off in 58B.  The curtain’s drawn around the first bed where shadows shift and laugh in the inside glow.  The bed creaks.

To get to Dad I have to go in, deeper, all the way to the large window.  His bed is there.  So is he, sleeping, again, always.  He’s the thinnest I’ve seen him, far from the robust Cuban who once harvested sugarcane in Santa Clara, played first base for Industriales, and held me up with only one hand, butt-naked for the entire world to see, in front of a Woolworths in Los Angeles when I was only ten-days old.  That’s the man in front of me.  That’s the man who encouraged me to write when he still had the strength to.  But now, face up, brittle hands on his chest, I can only compare him to the mummy of some pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, hollow-cheeked, hidden away.  I think of the greatest pharaohs like Seti and Rammesses the Great, stoic and regal, and try my best to hold on to that image.  But the truth is inescapable: I hate to see him this way—and I’m powerless.  The Earth wants him inside her, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

The curtain screeches open.  I recognize my neighbor right away.  He looks comical in yellow scrubs, like a faggot rooster.  He stands there, tennis shoes instead of snakeskin boots, trying to place me, I know, while his pecs thump beneath his shirt in rapid succession.  I don’t see his chain, either.  Where the light hits it, his neck shines like the brown spots on a fried plantain.

“¿Qué hubo?” he says, fixing his pants.

Eva appears from behind him.  Her hair is red.  Her lips are stretched, smeared.  The light hits her stud but it doesn’t glitter like before.  My eyes blur and they both transform into a two-headed snake that speaks to me.

“Jaime,” the small head whispers, a bit flustered.  “We—I didn’t hear you.  He’s sleeping.  He’s had all his meds.”

I don’t say a word.  Neither does the large head.  It just stares.

“This is, uh, Patricio,” Eva hisses in my direction.  “He’s new.”

Dad’s IV beeps.  It’s been beeping since I arrived, I know, but it sounds different now.  I watch Eva’s hand coil around my neighbor’s arm.

“Vámonos,” she says to him, and they slither out the door.

I hang Dad’s clothes in his closet.  I flush Mom’s stew down the toilet.  I stagger to my car and drive home.


No lights are on in Cassie’s house.  Abel’s sprinklers hiss at me from across the street.  Through my own screen door I hear Don Francisco, el Chacal and his trumpet, the audience clapping, “Sábado Gigante” in full swing on the TV.  A black cat like a shadow darts into one of Mom’s bougainvilleas, the white one.  At the porch, tiny salamanders scale the wall like lost, wet tongues.

Mom turns down the volume, starts about the rat again.  She sits in her usual spot on the couch, pillow beneath her ‘cause of the spring she felt a few days back, papers strewn around her and orange peels and bloody-tipped toothpicks.  The ceiling fan turns round and round and round. 

But I’m ready this time.  I want her to tell me once and for all what she wants to do about Dad.  I want her to promise she’ll come with me to visit him tomorrow and every day after.  I want to tell her I don’t really blame her.  That’s just the way things are.  I’m ready to say these things.  The words are on the tip of my tongue, I can feel them, pattering with tiny, anxious feet that claw into me and are readying to jump out and mix with the cumin-scented air.  I take in a deep breath. 

But, before I can say anything, Mom turns up the volume, and Don Francisco steals her from me.  I’m forced to swallow everything. 

I walk away. 

I close the door to my room, rest my head against it.  It’s cool, with my eyes closed, but it's hard to breathe.  Something nips and gnaws at me from the inside, non-stop.  I’m alone.

A knock on my window.  “Open up!” I hear.

I flip the latch, pull it open.  A chubby hand appears; then a foot; a thick leg.  Cassie squeezes through, breathing hard, and I’m impressed.  She straightens up like a bull ready to charge.

She isn’t dressed complicated, and I like that.  She bulges beneath a white tank top and her nipples poke against the thin cotton.  Her shorts were once jeans now cut high on her stubby legs.  Her wet hair smells of vanilla.

“OK,” she says once she’s in, and looks up at me.  Beads of sweat harbor on her upper lip.

“What about your Dad?” I ask.

“Working,” she says.


“Some place for old farts,” she says.  “He gets off at midnight but he won’t be home ‘til five or six.  He’s got a new novia.”  She sits on my bed.  “What time does your Mom go to sleep?”

“No time, really,” I say.


She leans back on her hands and something startles her.

“What?” I ask her.

She produces a pair of envelopes.  “‘The Pinch’,” she reads, “and ‘Bou-le-vard’.”

“My mail,” I tell her.  She hands the envelopes to me.  I want to open them but I don’t. 

“Lock the door,” Cassie says to me.  “Get the lights, too.”

I do as I’m told.  I put the letters in my back pocket.  In the moonlight, I watch Cassie kick off her flip-flops and sit up.

“Come here,” she whispers.

I stand in front of her.  She looks up at me, a russet potato with eyes, and the gnawing inside me changes.  It’s further down now.  A hardening; a flowering.  She bites her lower lip and brushes my bulge.  “Mmm,” she says.

For some reason, I start to think about Dad.  Eva, too.  I wonder what they’re doing.  Fading.  Fucking.  I hear a sound like scratching coming from one of my walls.

“What’s that?” asks Cassie, wiping her chin.

“Rats,” I tell her.

“In here?”

“The wall.”

“But not in here, right?”

“No,” I lie.

“Weird,” she says.


“I hate ratas.”

“They’re everywhere,” I say.

She pulls me close and starts again.  My buckle grazes my knee and it’s cold.  I feel like I’m falling.  I close my eyes and picture the rats making loud love inside the walls.


Robert Moreira is a Masters candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Texas - Pan American in Edinburg, Texas.  He's Cuban-Mexican-American, an eclectic mix that's best expressed on the dinner table while eating rabo encendido with tortillas and a side of french fries.  An L.A. native, he relocated to South Texas in 2004 to be with family.  He's a die-hard Dodgers fan, loves coffee and writing, and is married and the proud father of a one-year old baby girl, Kaitlin Florence Rose Moreira