I. Under the Bridge
Daniel didn’t know what he was doing here. It was almost midnight and he was waiting by a chain link fence for three kids that were going to show him some old woman who they believe has supernatural powers. Like the Llorona but more Indian. This was insane but what else was he going to do. He was barely holding onto his job and Nelda wasn’t talking to him anymore. He had tried to call her several times since that day and no answer. He had seen her on TV saying she was very sorry for the affair and she was resigning to be with her family. The usual politician line when they get busted doing what politicians do. The first rule of cheating is don’t get caught and boy did they get caught. But the weird thing was that he really did have feelings for Nelda. It wasn’t just the sex. There was something more. Maybe it was the thrill of the affair but he didn’t think so, he still wanted to hear her voice. It didn’t help that his dick was all over the internet, so dating for him might not be so easy. It wasn’t like he did much dating anyway. He was too busy sleeping with his sources.
“Hey, prensa, over here,” a voice pierced the quiet night.
Daniel could see Moises, one of the chicle kids, waving him over to a hole in the fence. Daniel walked over to the hole and saw that it was just Moises and the girl, Tzipora. “Where’s Ramses?”
“He not coming. He doesn’t like this part,” Moises answered as he ran down toward the underbridge.
“Wait, what?” Daniel was confused but if this is what he had to do gain these kids trust then so be it.
Daniel followed them down to where the river meets the bridge and saw a pudgy Indian looking woman sitting with her back against the bridge. She was sitting in front of a fire and next to her was a stack of magazines and newspapers. Moises and Tzipora ran up to her and kissed her on the cheeks and hugged her. They began speaking in a strange language and they kept looking back at Daniel.
“Moises, is this the woman?”
Moises turned back to Daniel, “Sí, she wants to talk to you.”
“Does she speak English or even Spanish?”
“She speaks stories,” Tzipora answered.
Moises and Tzipora helped the woman to her feet and she shambled over to Daniel holding out a copy of today’s RGV Gazette. Daniel hesitantly began to reach for the paper, but then a voice pierced the air, “No, don’t touch it! It’s dangerous.”
Daniel stopped short of taking the paper and turned to see Ramses carrying a bamboo stick with duck tape on both ends. “Ramses? What’s going on here?”
“Don’t take that paper. Come with me. It’s not safe.”
Daniel took a step back, not knowing what was going on but knowing something was terribly wrong.
Moises and Tzipora began yelling at Ramses in that language again, but Ramses didn’t listen. He merely reached his hand out to Daniel and said, “Come on. You don’t want to be here.”
Just as he was turning to leave, Daniel felt the paper in his hand. He felt a strange sensation travel from his fingers to his feet. Then he could understand what the kids were saying. They were shouting at Ramses to stop interfering. This is what la anciana needs to survive. She needs a storyteller. Then Daniel heard la anciana speak.
“Daniel, I know what you have done,” she said, “but I need your help.”
Daniel turned and looked at her face, which set him at ease. He wasn’t scared anymore. He wanted to hear her out and so he sat down where he was and listened.
She sat down in front of him and said, “I am a storyteller. I come from the world before speaking and I have lost my way home. I have been trapped here for centuries and I have fed off of the stories of the land, but lately the stories have dried up. They are fewer now then ever before. They try and fabricate new ones but they just recycle the old ones with no new vision, which makes them stories. I have had to resort to written stories but those are going away too. So I began to starve and when theses children found me I was so thin I was almost nothing. I was almost dead. But they began to bring me stories. And when that wasn’t enough. They began to bring me storytellers like liars and criminals. But they weren’t really storytellers. I needed a real storyteller. And so they brought me you.”
“What can I do?”
“You tell stories. I need that to survive because if I die then the stories of the land will die too and what kind of a world can we have without stories.”
“Yes, but what..?”
La Anciana shushed Daniel and leaned forward and whispered, “Daniel, you live for the story. You always have. Now, after all you have been through, you will have to sacrifice for the story. Because you can’t let the story starve. It’s not in your nature. You must feed the story.”
“But what does a story eat?”
La Anciana smiled knowing that Daniel already knew the answer. It only took a second as she opened her mouth. Daniel had never seen anyone open their mouth so wide. He just closed his eyes as the world went dark and then…
II. El Rey de Chicle
It all ended under the bridge. Or at least that was what Rammy’s abuela had always told him. ‘el puente es donde todas las historias van a morir,’ were her exact words and Rammy didn’t really know what that meant. He had lived in Los Flores all of his life. All thirteen years of it and for as long as he could remember, his abuela would always tell me him that. Maybe because many women spent most of their days with bamboo sticks and Styrofoam cups begging for change from American tourists crossing the bridge. The cup would stick up out of the gap from the chain link fence and the concrete bridge. Abuela had always said that the Mexicans cut that gap so that the beggars could poke their cups through and collect American change. It was a metaphor for U.S.-Mexico relations she always said.
Rammy’s abuela, who’s name was Aurelia Garcia del Monte was a proud woman who would never beg. She sold lonches (Mexican street tacos) out of their converted airstream. The truck never had a name of it. Just a sign that read: Lonches 5 for un dollar. Aurelia had been doing this for forty years and had six children during that time. Her husband, Esubio Monte had died on the day after their last child was born: Estrella. From the day she was born, Estrella, was just as cabezona as Aurelia and each day was a challenge raising her alone. At the age of fifteen, Estrella had turned to drugs and ran away from home by the time she was sixteen. By seventeen, she had returned with two twin boys: Ramses and Moises. Ramses was the older brother by two minutes and he always let Moises know that. When Estrella came home, she did not go to work with her mother but instead went back across the border to work as a criada and they get occasional letters and money from her.
Ramses got the nickname ‘Rammy’ because that was Moises’ first word and Aurelia was so delighted with that name that it stuck. Rammy was twelve years old when he first saw the old woman under the bridge. At first he thought she was another beggar but she never came out with the other women. The kids got to calling her “la anciana” because they said she looked like an old india. Rammy never paid her much mind because he was too busy running his chicle business. He wanted to get out of the border and maybe move to the U.S. and go to school and be a real businessman like the guys who cross the bridge every day in their fancy cars, running the maquiladoras. In order to do that, he needed to make some money.
Rammy was known on the streets of Los Flores as El Rey de Chicle. He had five kids working for him: Moises (his brother), Sonia and Alyssa Castro (cousins), Esubio “Ralphy” Sanchez (looked like the kid from the Christmas Story movie because he had a gringo father), and Tzipora Ochoa (girl from next door that wasn’t very good but she was beautiful and Rammy had a thing for her for over a year now). They were a good crew that usually banked around twenty dollars a week, which was good since they only spent five dollars for their entire supply and that lasted them two weeks. At the end of the day, each of the Chicle kids would net about a dollar a day, which was great because they worked everyday except Mondays. This was the one day that tourists didn’t turn out, so why waste your time?
That was a rule that Rammy had learned from his mentor Tony Perez, the original El Rey de Chicle. Tony was now working for a liquor store running bottles for Texans for tips. He said once you become fourteen you are too old to sell Chicle, you have to move up in the world. Rammy was about to turn thirteen so he had one year before he had to turn the game over to someone new, probably Ralphy because he was only twelve and he had a good head on his shoulders. For now, this was Rammy’s racket and he ran it well. Tony had taught Rammy everything about slinging chicle but at thirteen, Rammy was outselling what Tony took in by five dollars a week. He ran this racket well and even had time to help out his abuela selling tacos on the weekends. Rammy didn’t pedal the chicle himself anymore, he just managed and made sure the others weren’t slacking off. There was a system and that system needed to run smoothly or the whole operation would fall apart.
Rammy’s gang worked the three-block bridge area where you were likely to get the most amount of tourists. They had to fight hard to keep their territory because the other younger gangs were always looking to try to muscle their way in. Every one of Rammy’s gang had a spot they would work and they would work rotate their positions every hour for eight hours so that the same kid wouldn’t service area twice in one day. This was effective in getting tourists to buy more than one pack of chicle from the same corner. Sometimes the same corner would sell up to eight packs a day in the same spot to the same tourists. Rammy always kept Tzipora close to him for no other reason than to flirt with her, even though he didn’t quite know what flirting really meant. It was because of Tzipora that Rammy went down under the bridge. It was also because of her that he meant la anciana and his life would change forever.
“Rammy,” Tzipora whispered to him while he sat on that old black milk carton counting the day’s take. “Rammy,” she repeated louder this time.
Rammy looked up at her, trying not to lose count and said, “qué?” then realizing it was Tzipora softened up and said, “qué paso, Tzi? I don’t want to lose count.” Rammy liked to practice his English with Tzipora because he wanted to one day go to the States and make his fortune and as everyone knew you had to speak English to succeed in America. Plus, he liked Tzipora’s accent when she spoke English, he thought it was sexy.
“Visto la anciana,” Tzipora said excited.
“La anciana? Really, where?” Rammy said sounding deeply interested but actually couldn’t really care.
“allá,” she said pointing to an old woman shambling down under the bridge.
She had one of those old indio blankets draped around her, which was strange because it was September and it was about 100 degrees out.
“I see her. Let me get back to counting the money,” Rammy turned back to the money on the milk crate.
“Aye Rammy, why you always speak to me in Ingles?” Tzipora struggling with the last words.
“Because we need to learn it to sell better to los Americanos. It’s business, baby,” Rammy slipped the last part in hoping she wouldn’t notice.
“Why you call me baby? I no baby to you,” the words were jumbled but Rammy knew what she meant.
“Tzipora,” Rammy said moving close to her and looking her dead in the eyes, “you are my baby. Mi doña.”
“Aye no juegue conmigo, por favor…” Rammy cut her off by kissing her on the lips ever so gently. Tzipora was taken aback by the kiss and blushed…
“Rammy,” was all she could say sounding as flustered as she was feeling.
“I want you to be my girl, Tzipora.” Rammy said sounding as confident as a Don but mentally shaking in his boots on the inside.
Tzipora had always figured Rammy liked her but she had never heard him say it and now that he had, she kind of liked it. She also saw an opportunity here.
“Rammy, I will be your girl, but,” and this is what she learned from her mother who always got men to do things for her because she was beautiful, “I want to see la anciana. Come with me and see where she live.”
“It’s lives, not live.”
Annoyed Tzipora said, “Whatever.” She had learned that from the young American fresas. “Will you come?”
“Okay, but first a kiss.”
Tzipora liked that he was a good businessman and knew how to always negotiate but this time she did want to kiss him. She didn’t want him to know she liked it, which is also something she learned from her mother.
Rammy leaned in to kiss her when a voice interrupted them, “Rammy, we are done for today.” It was Moises who spoke English with no accent and Rammy hated him for that but right now he hated him for interrupting his kiss.
“Moises, just leave the money there and go help abuela.”
“Moises, just do it.”
Moises not knowing why Rammy was so upset put his take on the milk crate with the rest and was about to leave when Tzipora said, “Moises, esparar.” She stepped away from Rammy’s face and walked over to Moises and said, “Did you want to go see la anciana con migo y Rammy?”
Moises had always wondered about la anciana and wanted to see where she lived so he nodded his head in excitement. Rammy was none too pleased because he had been cock blocked by his little brother and the worst thing about it was that he knew Moises didn’t even know what he had done. Rammy sighed and turned to both of them grinning like idiots and said, “Fine, we will go tonight. Let me finish the count, but go help abuela close up shop. I have to go get mama.”
Moises ran off excited and Tzipora looked over at Moises and felt sorry for him but she didn’t really know if she felt the same way about him that he felt about her. There was something that stopped her from kissing him back and she didn’t know what it was. But what she did know was that when Rammy was kissing her, she didn’t think of Rammy, she though of la anciana. It was weird, she knew that something about that old india fascinated her and she needed to meet her. Tzipora watched Rammy count the money and knew that he was upset, so she did something that she learned from her mother as well. She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. Rammy’s tight body relaxed and he felt better, hornier, and more hopeful than before. If finding this old india was what it took to get Tzipora’s attention, then he would do it and hopefully after that he would be able to touch her with more than a kiss.
III. Johnny Sancho
This is it. The end. No one likes to talk about that. The end. It’s too depressing. When something ends. People like to talk about beginnings. How things start. This is much more inspiring. But the truth is that all things end. And on this day. They ended in a way that I both expected and didn’t. Isn’t that always the way? We see the end coming even if we don’t want to admit it. This may have something to do with our love for beginnings. Or our fear of reaching the finish. Sometimes I wish there were no endings. Just beginnings. Maybe then things wouldn’t be so dramatic. No tears. No hurtful words. No crippling depressive thoughts. Just always starting. Something new. Something young. Something without memory. Like a chalkboard freshly erased. No dust. Just a blank slate. But that isn’t life. And that is a shame.
Daniel woke with the sun in his face. It always crept in through the cracks in the hotel curtains. They never make them big enough to cover the entire window. He suspected this was done on purpose. Like in hospitals where nurses check in on you every twenty minutes, never letting you sleep. Even when they tell to get some rest. Hotels shouldn’t be like hospitals, should they?
“What time is it?” she spoke softly. She was the mistake he never should have made. Her name was Nelda Baca and she was a county commissioner for Cameron County. She was also married with three kids and ten years older than him, but Daniel didn’t care.
“What?” Daniel answered not quite awake yet.
“What time is it?” she repeated.
Daniel knew from the light streaming in from the side of the curtains that it had to be early morning. He reached over to check the time on his phone and the clock read 7:35 am.
Sounding agitated she asked a third time, “No. What time is it?”
Opened her eyes wide and said, “I’ve got to go.”
“No, why?” he said rolling over and looking into her big brown eyes accentuated only the white around her irises.
“Because I’m not even supposed to be here.”
“Sure you are.”
“Daniel, no, I’m not.” She got her shoe on one last time and walked over to the door and said, “Daniel, I will call you.”
“With a story I hope.”
“You are such an asshole sometimes.”
“And you are a bitch but that is what makes you sexy.”
Nelda blushed and opened the door, letting the sunlight blind her for a few seconds and then she put on her sunglasses and took a step out and then walked back in and slammed the door shut hard. She pushed her back up against the wall and she looked terrified. Daniel sat up and asked, “What? What’s wrong?”
She looked at him and everything about her face read fear. “They got a picture off.”
“What? Who got a picture?”
“It’s Ceci Molina from the RGV News. She got a picture off of us.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I saw her take the picture as I was walking out.”
“She got both of us? How?”
Then from outside of the door a voice shouted, “Commissioner Baca, I know you are in there with Daniel Ybarra.”
Panic gripped Daniel and he jumped out of bed. He stood facing Nelda and he knew that she knew. This was the end of both of their careers.
“The story broke, Danny. There is not much I can do for you. I have to let you go,” Humberto explained.
Humberto Gonzalez was Daniel’s editor at the RGV Gazette, the Valley’s number 1 paper. “Bert, there’s nothing you can do for me? I mean, this is my career, my life.”
“Danny, you’re sleeping with Nelda Baca, one of our top commissioner’s and your top source. Her career is now ruined, not to mention her marriage.”
“I know but how many reporters sleep with their sources everyday around here.”
“Yes, but they don’t get caught with pictures. You were naked with a massive erection.”
“But she was dressed,” Daniel responded.
“Don’t try and joke your way out of this. It’s over, Danny. I’m sorry but I’ve got to let you go.”
“Bert, come on man, I’m three months behind on my rent. I need money.”
“Well, you should have thought about that before you boned the commissioner.”
“Let me at least do some stringer work for cash. I will write under a pseudonym.”
“Like what Johnny Sancho? And who’s going to talk to you anyway. Your face and your pixelated dick are all over the papers.”
“Not the real papers, just the internet.”
“This is 2005, the internet is quickly replacing us. It’s too late. There is nothing I can do for you.”
“What about doing a human interest piece? Like promoting some cultural event. They never care who does the reporting there. They just like the positive press,” Daniel pleaded.
Humberto sat back in his chair and said, “Okay Johnny Sancho, there is a piece that I have been trying to get someone to cover and so far no takers.”
“What is it? I’ll do anything.”
“You know those chicle kids that hang around the bridge?”
“Yeah, I’ve bought chicle from them.”
“I want to know about them. I want you to write a story about those kids, their lives, all that shit. Since the story’s in Mexico, they shouldn’t know who you are anyway.”
“Thanks Humberto. I really need this.”
“That’s all I can do. Do good on this piece and we will see about keeping you on as Johnny Sancho…and oh, don’t sleep with any of those kids.”
“Ha, very funny.”
IV. La Anciana
It was dark out, about ten o’clock because the news was on and Aurelia was crocheting in front of the TV. That was the way that she could relax after a long day of making lonches. She knew that Tzipora was over in Rammy and Moises’ room and she wondered what they were doing but not enough to care to get up and check on them. Aurelia knew that Rammy had a crush on Tzipora, but she didn’t think the kids were doing anything more than playing. It was late but it was summer and the kids didn’t have school so she allowed them to stay up late. Aurelia was usually asleep by the time the sports came on and she felt that heaviness come over her eyes and the last thing she remembered was a commercial for Sábado Gigante.
Rammy peeked out from the crack in their bedroom door. He had been watching his abuela for about ten minutes now, waiting for her to fall asleep. Rammy knew she would be out by 10:30, but he waited for her snore to make his move. At about 10:35, the snore started quiet and then slow and steady like a lawnmower. Once he heard it he turned to Moises and Tzipora and said, “Ja, she sleeping.”
They snuck out through their bedroom window as to not risk waking their abuela. They had with them two flashlights: one for Rammy in the lead and the second for Tzipora. Moises had his trusted walking stick to fight off dogs. The stick was a piece of bamboo duck-taped around both ends so as to prevent cracking. Rammy had his slingshot in his back pocket just in case of trouble. Things were changing. The streets were getting more dangerous as new gangs were moving in to challenge the established cartels. Rammy, Tzipora, and Moises made their way to the bridge, which wasn’t too far from where they lived because Abuela liked to keep her lonche truck close by in case of thieves and also the closer one is to the actual bridge the better the sales.
Tzipora stood on the milk carton that Rammy used to count money to see where la anciana went under the bridge, since this is where she saw her last. “Allí,” Tzipora said as she pointed to the spot where she had seen la anciana go. Tzipora jumped off of the crate and started running toward the spot. Rammy and Moises followed her with Rammy yelling, “Esperar!” They chased the bouncing light of her flashlight until they reached the point where there was a fence that stopped them from going down into the river. Tzipora was standing at the fence with her fingers grasping the chainlinks and staring out toward the Rio Grande.
“Tzipora, estas loca. Why didn’t you wait for us?” Rammy said between hard breaths.
“Mirar, est la anciana!” Tzipora said pointing down where the river met the bridge.
Moises saw her first and clenched his stick tightly. Rammy turned his flashlight toward her but she was too far for the light to reach her. “Apagar la luz. You will see her better.” Rammy did just that after a few seconds of letting his eyes adjust to the moonlight, he saw her. She was sitting with her back against the concrete bridge and she was eating something, but he couldn’t tell what it was. Moises knew what it was because he read that magazine everyday. It was Mad magazine. That was how he learned English so good.
“She’s eating a magazine,” said Moises.
“Qué?” said Rammy not believing Moises.
“Sí, está comiendo una revista,” Moises repeated in Spanish. “She must be starving.”
“We should get her some food,” said Tzipora feeling pity for the old india.
“We don’t know nothing about her. She could be loca. We should go back. We saw her and…”
“…No, we have to help her,” Moises said in the strongest voice he had ever had, “porque, if we don’t then she will die.”
“How you know that? She’s old. She’s been living here for a long time. I think she will be okay,” Rammy said desperately trying to keep them from going down there.
Tzipora looked over at Moises, who was staring so intently at la anciana eating this month’s issue of Mad Magazine, and said, “Let’s go help her.” Rammy saw the look she had in her eyes and the way she was looking at Moises made him uncomfortable. Moises nodded his head and said, “Sí, let’s go.” And before Rammy could object, Tzipora and Moises were already making their way down the fence line looking for a hole to crawl through. After about ten feet they found a place where the fence was loose from the fencepost and they slipped underneath. Rammy followed, upset that Moises was now clearly in charge.
They made it down the steep hill to the riverbank and they quickly made their way to the old india sitting at the entrance to the underbridge. Rammy was having trouble keeping up with them and for a second he lost them but then when he thought he would have to start running, he came up upon them. They had stopped running and were looking down at the old india, but more importantly she was looking at them. Tzipora was the first to speak and she said, “Anciana, estamos aquí para ayudarle.”
La anciana responded back in a language they did not recognize, then when she realized they couldn’t understand her she held out the last page of Mad magazine and shook it at Moises in a motion for him to take it. He slowly did and when he did there was a slight flash in his eyes that only Tzipora saw because she was closest to him. Moises smiled and spoke in the same language she was speaking. Rammy took a step back and Tzipora just smiled. Rammy didn’t know what was going on but he didn’t want anything to do with this. Moises took the page from la anciana and held it out to Tzipora. She quickly grabbed it and this time Rammy saw the flash in her eyes and felt scared that something bad was happening to them. “Tzipora, you okay?”
Tzipora responded in that same language and that sent a sense of dread through Rammy’s body. This was some weird brujeria shit here and he wanted nothing to do with it, but he didn’t want to leave Tzipora and Moises with the bruja so he just shook his head and said, “No, no quiero tocarla, you guys go ahead.”
Tzipora turned away from him disappointed and sat down with Moises and spoke in that strange language with la anciana while Rammy stood behind them upset. They spoke for what seemed like hours and Tzipora and Moises seemed to get closer to each other, which made Rammy even more upset. It was too much for him to take so he finally shouted, “Ja, you’ve had fun, let’s go back, es tarde.”
Moises looked back at him and said in English, “Rammy, it’s okay. She’s a storyteller. She won’t hurt anyone. She’s just lost.”
“Lost? Where she from?”
Tzipora laughed and turned to look at a very upset Rammy and said, “Desde el mundo de cuentos. From the stor-ied world,” she said in English.
“Que lengua son usted hablar?” Rammy asked.
“Es el lenguaje de la historia,” Tzipora answered as if it was obvious.
Even more upset and wanting this to be over Rammy asked, “How we get her back?”
La anciana stood up and walked over to Rammy, who took a step back and readied his fists for defense.
La anciana put her hand out as if asking for change and said, “I am hungry, Ramses, and I can’t eat anymore dead stories. I need a living story to be able to get back to my home.”
“How we gonna do that?” Rammy shot back with his fists still at the ready.
Moises and Tzipora were beside the old india looking concerned so Rammy lowered his guard and Moises finally spoke, “We need un orto storyteller.”
V. El Rey de Chicle and Johnny Sancho
The story is alive. It breaths. It eats. And it desires. Like any other living creature, it carries its burden on its back. But what happens when the story gets hungry? Do you feed it or let it starve? What does it eat anyway?
Daniel sat at Garcia’s bar drinking his third rum & coke and eating the bar peanuts while watching CNN en español. For the first time in God knows how many years the PRI lost a presidential election and Mexico now has the PAN in power. What that meant no one knew but what was obvious to Daniel was that the winds of change were in the air. The CNN reporter was going on and on about the important change of leadership in Latin America’s biggest country. It was barely four months into Calderon’s presidency and already things were moving. The border was seeing an uptick in violence. One of the stories that Daniel had been chasing was the sporadic disappearances of people from the U.S. side of the border. It seemed to Daniel that the cartels were losing their hold on the border and that seems like a good thing at first thought but then the younger, brasher more sadistic gangs begin to move in, things only get worse. He downed his drink, paid the bartender, and walked out into the bright sunshine of Los Flores trying to work on a story he didn’t care about.
As soon as Daniel hit the street, he scanned the sidewalks for kids selling chicles. He walked around and finally when he was close to giving up for the day, a scrawny kid with a faded Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirt and looking very much like that kid Ralphy from Christmas Story came up to him and asked him, “Chicle?”
Daniel smiled, “Sure,” he dug into his pockets for loose change and gave the kid fifty cents, “What’s your name kid?”
Daniel chuckled at the irony, “Really?”
“Sí, Ralphy Sanchez.”
“Hey Ralphy, can I ask you some questions? I’m a reporter and I want to do a story on you kids.”
Looking baffled he said, “No habla ingles, senor.”
Daniel dug into his pocket and pulled out a five-dollar bill. “Now, do you speak English?” Ralphy smiled and reached out for the bill, but Daniel pulled it back and said, “First, do you speak English?”
“¿No hablas a español, señor?” Ralphy asked still trying to snatch that five.
“Sí, pero es más fácil para mí en ingles. Soy prensa.”
Ralphy smiled, really looking like that kid for Christmas Story and said, “Rammy halba ingles. Ven.” Ralphy waved Daniel over as he started to walk back toward a taco truck. But before they got to the truck, they turned toward an alleyway where a young girl was stopping a couple of Winter Birds selling them chicle. Ralphy saw Daniel looking at her and said, “No, aquí.” Daniel turned and saw a young boy sitting on a black milk crate counting money and chewing on a red licorice stick. Ralphy ran up to the kid and they started talk. The other kid seemed to get irritated but then he looked over at Daniel and he calmed down and whispered something to Ralphy who shook his head and ran back over to Daniel. “Hable con él. He the man,” Ralphy said and stuck his hand out for the five. Daniel gave him the five and said, “Who is he?”
“He el rey de chicle. He the man,” Ralphy snatched the five and ran back to his position.
Daniel walked over to the dark-skinned kid counting money and looking like a young Jimmy Smits and said, “You’re el rey de chicle.”
“You can call me Ramses. What do you want?”
“Like I told your boy there, Ralphy, I’m a reporter doing a story on you guys. The Chicle kids.”
“Why do you want to do a story on us?”
“Human interest piece.”
Rammy didn’t quite understand what he was saying to him and showed it on his face.
Daniel continued, “I’m interested in what you do here, you know, help tell your story.”
“My story? You want to tell my story?”
“Yeah, might help you sell some more chicles.”
Rammy looked him over for a few seconds and then said, “I don’t need your help.”
Daniel didn’t know if he was trying to be tough because he was obviously ‘The Man’ as Ralphy had so eloquently put it or there was something else going on here, something more than chicle. “It’s quite a racket you got here. You run these kids like a pro,” Daniel looked around as several kids kept looking back at Rammy and him talking.
“I do alright.”
“Look, kid, I can pay you if that’s what you are fishing for.”
“I no fish. I don’t like prensa in my business.”
“I’m not here to burn you kid. I’m here to get your story. To know what it takes to run a chicle ring.”
“Not really a story here.”
Just then a kid looking like a lighter skinned version of Jimmy Smits ran up to Rammy and his crate and said, “Rammy, I need some more chicle,” he looked at Daniel and said, “Who’s that?”
“Nobody, he was just leaving.”
“I’m a reporter looking to do a story on you kids, would you want to be interviewed?” Daniel said trying desperately to save his story.
Rammy shot him a look that could only read as ‘I want to kill you now’ and turned to the other kid and said, “No.”
Moises turned to Rammy and started talking to him in a language that was clearly not Spanish. Rammy responded back, “No, no more.”
Moises seemed agitated and just then a young girl walked up and started speaking in that strange language to Rammy and Moises. Daniel was completely lost. Were these kids Indians or something?
“Hey, guys, what’s going on here?”
After a few minutes of argument between the three of them, Ramses bolted
right out off of his crate and said, “Okay. okay. Pero esta es la última vez.”
Moises turned to Daniel and said, “Hello sir, my name is Moises and this is Tzipora…”
“…Tzipora? Is that Aztec?”
Moises looked confused, “No, it’s Mexican.”
“I was just…never mind. What’s going on?”
“My brother, Rammy, he just a little, you know, protecting.”
“Yes, that. Anyway, we have a story for you.”
“You have a story for me? What is it?”
“Have you ever heard of La Anciana, the woman who lives under the bridge?”
Christopher Carmona was the inaugural writer-in-residence for the Langdon Review Writers Residency Program in 2015. His story, “Strange Leaves,” was a finalist for the Texas Observer Story Contest in 2014. He has one collection of short fiction entitled, The Road to Llorona Park and two collections of poetry: beat and I Have Always Been Here. He has edited two anthologies, Outrage: A Protest Anthology about Injustice in a Post 9/11 World and The Beatest State in The Union: An Anthology of Beat Texas Writing. He was also a co-author for Nuev@s Voces Poeticas: A Dialogue about New Chican@ Identities.