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I wasn’t ready for Mom to die.

My cellphone buzzed while I was in the newsroom. I didn’t recognize the caller. Probably another goddamn cable salesperson, I thought. It took me switching to a new service before the old one realized I existed. They wanted me back, but I was done with them like a crazy ex. I ignored the call.

My cell buzzed again, same number. Jesus, I thought.

I had little patience for things these days like waiting in line, listening to people talk and dealing with cable. My breakup with Marcela had me on edge.

“Hello,” I answered coldly, before I would tell them to fuck off.

“Hi, is this Mark Vasquez, the son of Cathy Vasquez?” the caller asked. He sounded Indian, but his English was polished, like he’d lived here a long time.

“What? My mom? Who’s calling?” I said.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m Dr. Dennis Bhatt from Baptist Medical Center. I apologize for calling you like this, but I have some bad news. Do you have a minute, Mr. Vasquez?”

Mom had been involved in a nasty, multivehicle accident on the highway during rush hour, Doc said. It happened on her way home from work. The driver, who witnesses said was swerving in and out of lanes, crashed his truck into the passenger side of Mom’s Mazda. Both plowed into other vehicles before an explosive stop into a guardrail. The driver died on impact; Mom was in critical condition. She was on the operating table in the ER, fighting for life. Doc said the driver was most likely drunk.

Only assholes drive drunk at 5 p.m., I thought. Maybe it was Dad. 

“Come to the hospital soon if you’re able. I wouldn’t ask you if this wasn’t urgent. We’re doing everything we can to help your mother,” Doc said.

•  •  •

There was nothing they could do.

A body endures only so much before giving up. Mom’s was shattered. Her lungs were crushed, her brain had hemorrhaged. Oxygen flow stopped. She died just before I arrived.   

I was her only family there. My little brother, Sam, was in Minnesota. Mom’s one sibling, my aunt Lydia, was a hippie-leftover somewhere in California doing God knows what. I doubt she could ever be reached.

“Dude, is Mom OK? Are you over there now?” Sam immediately asked when I answered his call. I’d texted him driving over to the hospital. 

 It was weird hearing Sam worried. His voice was usually monotone, distant. He’d smoked lots of pot in college. He reminded me of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, except without long hair. Sometimes I think Sam only finished college because I did; he didn’t want the label of Underachieving Younger Bro, but he’d tell you he couldn’t care less.

“She’s gone, Sam,” I said.

“Oh God,” he said softly.

There was a pause. I heard him cry.

•  •  •

I wasn’t in the room when it happened, but I imagined Mom’s last breath sounded painful. I imagined it gasped out of her broken body and evaporated into the air with the antiseptics that filled the ER.

I imagined she would’ve looked at me right before she went. 

When I finally saw her, she was unrecognizable. Her face was battered, swollen and green. Her long dark hair was matted with dried blood. Chunks of her scalp were missing. Her arms and legs were covered with bruises and lacerations. Her final moments must have been torture.

I touched one of her hands. It felt cold and foreign, like refrigerated meat. She’d done a lot with those hands, like data entry at the credit union to barely make a living.

•  •  •

 “Can you fly out tomorrow?” I asked Sam over the phone.

“I don’t know man, maybe. I’ll have to see.”

See?”

“Dude, I’m gonna go, OK. Chill out. I just don’t know when yet. I’ve gotta to talk to my boss. He’s a pain in my ass, and work’s been nuts.”

I always challenged Sam, which he hated, of course. But I didn’t want to lose him at this juncture, so I backed off. 

After college, Sam had interviewed for a marketing and sales position in Minnesota. He got the job and couldn’t wait to escape Texas. Three years and a promotion later, he was clearing a decent salary. He’d bought a new Corvette and lived in a spiffy little condo suited for his bachelor lifestyle.

The problem was his boss. Sam said his boss only cared about accounts and the bottom line. If Sam were to ask to take a sudden leave of absence, his boss would most likely give him shit, probably threaten his future with the company. He was that kind of guy.

In the wake of Mom’s death, Sam’s situation was complete bullshit to me, but I tried to understand. I always tried. The Dude needed someone to give him breaks.

“Alright, well fly out this weekend then,” I snapped. “We’ll figure it out when you get here. Mom ain’t going anywhere.”

“Dude, don’t say it like that.”

“Sorry.”

“I’ll let you know when I get the tickets.”

“OK. Hey, one more thing.”

“What?”

“Quit that fucking job already,” I said. “I think Santa has enough helpers over there.”

“Kiss my ass.”

•  •  •

 Our last conversation had been on the phone, maybe a week ago.

“How’s work?” Mom had asked me.

“Good,” I’d replied.

Good was my answer for most of Mom’s questions when we chatted on the phone. I cultivated that response to keep our conversations short and sweet. Everything was always good even if it wasn’t.

We’d do our real catching up in person. 

Our final conversation ended with, “I love you.” On the phone or face-to-face, that’s always how we left off.

Even though we lived in the same city, we sometimes went weeks without seeing each other. When too much time had passed, Catholic guilt would get the best of me and I’d call her for dinner.

I sat in the waiting room and tried to hear her voice in my head, the only place it would exist now. There was maybe a home movie from when Dad was still around, but it was probably somewhere collecting dust in a cardboard box.

•  •  •

Dad was great until he walked out on us when I was 7 years old. He worked nights as a warehouse supervisor at H-E-B and on his days off, he took Sam and me to the movies where he’d always fall asleep.

Dad wrestled with us, took us fishing and talked Mom into letting us stay up late on weekends, if we behaved. He handed us tons of quarters at the mall arcade and taught us how to shoot baskets.

I remember his red work polos and his Tom Selleck mustache prickling my head when he kissed the top of it. Dad was strong, quiet. He loved us, I knew.

I remember wanting to be just like him.

•  •  •

When Dad was stressed out, which was every day after he got off work, he’d come home and drink. When they were still together, Mom sipped, but Dad drank.

For some people, alcohol brings out aggression and hostility; others, silliness and stupor. With Dad, it was a crapshoot. Every so often, his drunkenness plunged him into a dark world where no one could be trusted. One wrong word and you were in his sights.

With somebody like that, something really bad eventually happens.

One night when Mom and Dad had decided to stay in—it was probably Saturday—there wasn’t enough countertop space in the kitchen for him to place his empty Budweiser cans. They spilled onto the floor.

Dad was in that dark world, and Mom was his only target.

A shouting match ensued.

“You’re so fucking sloppy!” Mom yelled.

Dad must’ve heard something worse.

“What did you say to me, you whiny bitch?”

Things got physical fast. Mom pushed him; he pushed her back. She slapped his face; he punched hers. She fell onto the kitchen floor.

I was kneeling behind the sofa near the kitchen to eavesdrop and watch. I had crawled out of bed after they’d woken me up. I heard the hollow thud of Mom’s body hit the kitchen linoleum. I felt the impact on my knees. 

Dad stumbled out of the kitchen to the front door. I was in the fetal position, terrified he’d find me. He opened the door and slammed it so hard the whole house shook. I heard his truck speed off and that was that. We never saw him again, at least I didn’t. I crawled over to Mom, who was sprawled on the floor, bleeding from her head. 

•  •  •

I talked with doctors and told them I’d decide what to do with her later. I just needed out for a little while. They said OK, do what I needed to do.

On my drive back to my apartment, I thought about nothing.

When I got to my place, this smelly dump with cracked and yellowed drywalls, grimy carpet pockmarked with irremovable stains, my mind caved in. I suddenly felt terrible, lonely.

I grabbed my cell to call Marcela. I wanted to tell her everything. I wanted to hear her voice badly. But I couldn’t.

After five years of what I’d thought was a great relationship, I caught her in our bed with some blond beefcake she’d met while working at the hospital. Marcela was a nurse and made more than me, so I let her keep the quaint place we shared on the north central side of town—the nice side.

“Have fun fucking John Cena,” were the last words I said to her.

She said nothing back, only wept into her hands.

I lived in a shithole I called my own. I lived on ramen soup and Chef Boyardee. I lived like a champ.  

•  •  •

I stood with Sam on the driveway of the small, one-story home on Lucky Drive. The house we grew up in looked so old to me, as it always had. As a kid, I remember being embarrassed by the bright blue wooden panels—a light Mexican blue Mom had picked out that faded into a lighter ugly shade each passing year.

The house would be left to me, of course, but in that moment, I hadn’t yet thought about the finer points of Texas intestate succession laws or even what to do with Mom’s body. Later, I’d decide to have it cremated. 

Sam scanned the pavement. I was certain he was recalling all the one-on-one we’d played and how I whooped his ass every single game.

“Has it really been three years?” he asked.

“Yep,” I answered.

We stood in silence for a minute.

“So your boss was cool with you getting away?” I asked.

“Hell naw. He gave me shit like I told you.”

“And what’d you say back? Please tell me you said something back.”

“I told him, ‘Kiss my ass, Kris Kringle.’”

We both cracked smiles. It was the best thing I’d heard in a while.

Then Sam reached into the front pocket of his blue jeans and pulled out a joint and a Bic lighter.

“How the hell did you sneak that onto the plane?” I asked.

“I didn’t, stupid,” he answered.

Sam held the roach between his lips, cupped his left hand over it while he lit it with his right, then took a long, deep hit, eyes closed, exhaled a cloud of white smoke into the warm summer air. 


Alex Z. Salinas


Alex Z. Salinas lives in San Antonio, Texas. His short fiction is featured in publications such as Every Day Fiction, Mystery Tribune, Red Fez, Points in Case, 101 Words, Schlock! Webzine, 121 Words, The Fusty Nut Review, and 365tomorrows. His poetry has appeared in the San Antonio Express-News, Shot Glass Journal, As It Ought To Be Magazine, The Dope Fiend Daily, Duane's PoeTree, The Rye Whiskey Review, Black Coffee Review, Yellow Mama Webzine, and in the San Antonio Review, where he serves as poetry editor. 







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