(c) 2016 Chuck Teixeira
This story was supposed to encourage – if not you — an older friend of yours. Maybe much older. Too old to be in a love story. But not too old for a story about coming to terms with the absence of love. Legal terms as in a binding accord or agreement. Your friend, let’s call him Stosh, recently retired from the Agricultural Welfare Commission, is one party to such an agreement; the universe – that universe! — is the other party. Under the agreement, Stosh accepts dying without ever fulfilling his prayer for love. In exchange, the universe enables Stosh to persist in that prayer until the final moment without regret or shame. The agreement provides explicitly that one date can be both an acceptable prayer and a sufficient answer. The agreement also provides that Stosh must stop doubting and complaining — since these destroy the only fortune that can attract love.
Stosh’s doubts concern the relative youth and absolute good looks of Juan, a forty-year-old Mexican ranch hand, recently divorced, saddled with child support, still closeted and sharing a house south of Fresno with a father who is dying, at a maddeningly slow pace, from several forms of cancer.
No reasonable person fears that Juan is a party magnet. But Stosh wonders how Juan can be available and how he can be attracted to an old guy – even if by chance Stosh resembles the first pedophile from Juan’s youth. For Stosh, in matters of love, anything good has been wrestled into something too good to be true — especially residual pleasure from a predecessor’s sin. Moreover, Stosh suspects that Juan has a patron linked to the Sinaloa cartel, an expert sniper who will off any gringo maduro seen near Juan.
Stosh’s complaints grow along with his doubts. On the first date, Juan asks Stosh to be monogamous. Then weeks go by without another meeting. For Stosh, the strictures of fidelity do not foretell greater freedom. He resents being faithful to what is becoming more an idea than a man. Juan apologizes for cancelling date after date to take his father to the emergency room; but Stosh doesn’t handle disappointment well; even harder is his struggle against the desire for Juan’s dad to die and set Juan free. Among campesinos y vaqueros, Stosh suspects, a dying parent is a get-out-of-jail-free card for any discourtesy or treachery toward third parties. At unguarded moments, Stosh even suspects that, in Juan’s case, the dying parent is a ruse.
Alas, yoked by his promise to Juan and his agreement with the universe, Stosh trods the already-worn, once-decorative carpets in the dining area of his tiny Nob Hill studio, reluctant to risk additional four-hour drives beyond Fresno and the tread on his tires and heart. Nonetheless, the memories of their first date and the dreams that enhance and supplant them stuff courage into Stosh’s soul. His life so long unformed wax into which Juan, like a wick, has been miraculously inserted, Stosh burns with a desire that only Juan can satisfy and renew: Juan pins him to the bed, brandishes a weapon like a gunslinger’s in an open-carry state, and snaps Stosh’s wrist as he foolishly reaches for lube.
In reverie and pain, Stosh overshoots the dining alcove and finds himself in the kitchenette. There is a soiled dish in the sink. It means he has eaten something. How many days ago? He checks the calendar. Sometime before his first trip beyond Fresno, maybe just after the trip but before the poison took hold — Fresno, the easternmost outpost between civilization and savagery. Deep into the gorge of stampeding desire, Stosh knows, he must rappel once more — wiry wrists clinging to the thinnest strand of sanity and decorum.
Stosh picks up the phone to call you. With you, he must discuss the matter calmly. He half-hopes you will persuade him, more than notionally this time, that this hunger for Juan – barely distinguishable from his last few obsessions – can be the last spasm before beginning a final drama-free descent into oblivion. You tell him someone’s at your front door, someone sane, you hope, and end the call.
Stosh throws himself on the floor – it needs a good scrubbing – and begs – what? the old refrigerator? – for just one more night with Juan. He vows he will never ask for anything again. And he knows how to keep that vow. After a second heaven with Juan, on his way back to San Francisco, Stosh will park his car on the shoulder of Route 99, along one of the factory farms where 1.7 million dairy cows, 563,000 beef cattle, 131,000 hogs, 49.6 million broiler chickens and 19.7 million egg-laying hens produce as much untreated manure as 456 million people – more than the entire population of the United States. He will lie face down in the center of a field until he is trampled or pecked to death, his still-radiant corpse discovered by a beautiful Mexican ranch hand (perhaps Juan himself) in a flourish of self-immolation that is supposed to encourage – if not you – a different friend of yours.
In rudimentary Spanish with Juan, Stosh floats the idea of their meeting again at one of the Best Westerns south of Fresno. Stosh is certain he has clarified all particulars for an encounter that must be perfect because it will be Stosh’s last venture in love and — Stosh permits himself the vanity – emblazoned in Juan’s memory and in the hotel’s online reviews.
Nothing goes right. Stosh arrives too early and bakes in the parking lot until the suite is ready. Finally inside, he texts the room number to Juan and reminds him of the appointed hour – as though anyone could forget. Juan responds that his father and he have just arrived at the emergency room again. His father has been suffering all day and Juan beside him. He cannot guarantee Stosh anything — except frustration, sorrow and a chance to lunge through weeds again in search of something shiny.
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Recently retired from the practice of law, Chuck teaches English in San Francisco. His work has appeared in numerous publications. Some of his fiction has been collected inSierra Showdown: A Triptych and in Against Slander: Three Admonitions. Both books are available on Amazon.com.