Categories > Original > Drama0 Reviews
[Mariachi Radio] Artemio loses all he has left.
He hears the door scuff against the rubber doormat and sighs heavily. Scratch that. He keeps his eyes closed and watches the flashes of red as CNN flickers between news anchors and embedded reporters ("Well, John...").
"Hey, babe. How're ya doin' tonight? Business's lookin' kinda slow."
Fuck. He should have known.
For a very long time, Kaleb Chandrakant has been Artemio's most confusing attempt to connect with his fellow human beings. He is more confusing than his father, who was imprisoned years ago for gang-related homicide. He is more confusing than his mother, who wouldn't let him date girls until he was 18. He is more confusing than Sophia, the girl he dated anyway.
Artemio has never known exactly how he feels about Kaleb; throughout the many years he's known the other man, their relationship has been anything but stable.
There were all of the days that they had sat in the park with Kaleb's old CD player, headphone cord split down the middle, listening to the same Manu Chao songs over and over again because they were too drunk or high or fucked up in general to remember that they had done the exact same thing the week before.
There were all of the weekend afternoons that they had gotten shitfaced drunk off PBR in Kaleb's room and just stared up his Bob Marley posters, laying together on his bed and holding hands.
There was the evening in October that they had gone out to Lake Pleasant, and Kaleb had kissed him when he was feigning sleep.
There were the three years that he refused to speak to him after he found out that Kaleb had been sleeping with Sophia while they were still dating.
There was that familiar exhiliration that he felt whenever he was around him, whenever someone talked about him, whenever he thought about him.
Artemio rolls his eyes without opening them and briefly entertains fantasies of beating Kaleb to a bloody pulp for being so goddamned enigmatic ("And stupid," he thinks to himself, "definitely stupid."). It's unfortunate that, in reality, Kaleb is at least half a foot taller and significantly stronger than he is, thanks to four years at a military academy and seven in the Army reserves, and Artemio is...well...a short, scrawny bartender with zero skill in any of the arts, let alone the martial ones.
Upon detaching his eyelids from one another, he is met by a triumphantly grinning Kaleb sitting directly in front of him with his chin resting on his crossed forearms.
Shit. He must have slipped and showed some vague sign of approval in the midst of his little Fight Club fantasy. He makes up for it by giving Kaleb a scathing look. However, he's not sure if it reaches him, because there are a pair of particularly gaudy sunglasses covering his eyes.
"You look like fucking Lenny Kravitz with those things on."
"An' this's a bad thing, why?"
Artemio glares for a few seconds. When this scare tactic proves ineffective, he removes Kaleb's sunglasses, places them atop his own head and draws them back over his hair so the frames hold his bangs out of his face.
He hears the scuff of door-on-doormat again and tries to look at least moderately cheerful as he averts his gaze to the bar entrance. An old, bedraggled man enters, and Artemio gives him a light nod.
"How're you doing tonight, sir? What'll it be?"
The old man slowly lowers himself onto one of the bar stools and leans dejectedly over the counter as if he were holding the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"Jus' a beer's fine."
Artemio delivers the order and sets about cleaning an empty glass, reverting his attention back to Kaleb.
"So, what brings you all the way out to the lovely city of Glendale at this hour of night? Looking to pick up a hooker, or what?"
Artemio doesn't think the remark was particularly amusing, but Kaleb lets slip a few loud guffaws before slamming his fist down on the counter and looking Artemio straight in the eye, completely deadpan. The old man to their right looks alarmed for a few seconds before he concludes that he is not in immediate danger and returns to his beer. Artemio remains unfazed.
"Not quite. I came here b'cause I need ta talk to ya."
"Really? Do you, now, you fucking weirdo?"
Either Kaleb doesn't pick up on Artemio's sarcasm, or he's ignoring it.
"I got some bad news for ya, honey."
Artemio feels a slight sinking in the pit of his stomach, but he keeps up what is now a facade of barely restrained annoyance.
"Like what? You found someone else to use your dumbass pick-up lines on? Oh, watch as I throw myself from a cliff in despair. And don't call me 'honey', cabrÃ³n."
Kaleb chuckles softly, and the feeling in Artemio's stomach starts to become painful.
"Naw, 'course not. 'M gettin' shipped out tomorrow."
Artemio clenches his eyes shut. He needs to be outside; the walls are starting to feel as if they're closing in on him, and he's fucking pissed off at himself. For a long time now, he'd pretty much forgotten about Kaleb and the fact that he was the closest thing to a best friend - to someone he could tell anything - little old Artemio DÃaz San Miguel had ever had. And just like with everything else, his best wasn't good enough. He had tried so hard to dig a grave for those feelings and bury them, but just like with everything else, it didn't. Fucking. Work.
He glances up at the clock, and it's over an hour before he's supposed to close up, but he doesn't care. He tells his sole customer that it's time to leave, that he can /take the glass home with him/, for all he cares, and the old man looks indignant, but he doesn't protest.
Kaleb leans against the brick wall just outside the door and takes a few long drags on a half-used cigarette as Artemio locks the front door to the bar. After he's done, he leans against the wall about a foot away from Kaleb, and his expression is pained as he slides down to the trash and weed-littered sidewalk. He begins to roughly massage his temples, staring out at the train tracks and strip joints half a block away. Kaleb crouches next to him and holds out what remains of his cigarette, but he does not take it, so Kaleb flicks it out into the parking lot where it smolders for half a minute before burning out completely.
There is a painful desperation in Artemio's voice when he speaks.
"What do you mean, you're getting 'shipped out'?"
Kaleb scoffs quietly, fiddling with his lighter in his left hand.
"You fuckin' know wha' I mean. 'M gettin' shipped out. Got a one-way ticket to th' motherland."
Artemio stares at a cigarette butt over to his right.
"Dumbass. You're not even from fucking Iraq."
His voice has been reduced to a near-whisper.
"It's close 'nough."
They are both silent for several moments. A train rolls by, and after it passes, Artemio's ears are ringing and his hands are shaking.
"Ya sound kinda put ou', there. Almos' like you're gonna miss li'l ol' me? You're still mad at me for th' whole thing wi' Sophie, r'member?"
Artemio lets out an airy laugh.
"I'm not mad anymore. I don't even fucking care. It's water under the bridge."
Kaleb raises his eyebrows and looks as if Artemio's just made a very interesting proposition.
"It ain't if there's a dam, copain. Now, you got a ques'ion you wanna ask me, an' 'm gonna answer it."
Artemio stares at him in incredulity.
"I told you, it doesn't matter anymore."
"Jus' ask th' ques'ion. 'Why'd it hafta be you, of all people? Why were ya sleepin' with Sophie behind my back?'"
He looks at a scrap of paper that's been caught against one of Kaleb's second-hand loafers by the breeze.
"Why now? Why in the hell are you making me ask this /now/, of all times?"
His voice cracks near the end of his inquiry, and he shuts his eyes againts the streetlamps and the stars.
"Tch. I swear, you're th' most uncoop'rative person I know, boy. 'M tryin' ta be all dramatic an' shit."
Kaleb throws Artemio a disgruntled look, pulling a fresh cigarette out of his jacket pocket, and Artemio swears he hears the older man make some remark under his breath about, "Kids these days."
"Anyway, I jus' wan'ed you ta know. Sep'ration does strange thin's ta people. Though' ya migh' want some closure. Plus, I was gettin' tired a jus' sittin' aroun' doin' nothin' abou' it. An' I also wan'ed ta tell ya sorry for bein' so Machiavellian abou' sayin', 'Je t'aime' to ya, but we di'n't get ta that part, b'cause you're an uncooperative asshole."
Artemio doesn't understand a whole lot of French, but he doesn't have to. In the back of his mind, he thinks he's always known it, but that doesn't stop him from staring at his hands in shock for a good two minutes before getting up and punching Kaleb squarely in the jaw. He doesn't imagine it does much damage, but it still feels damn good.
Even though he tasted like alcohol that time at the lake, he knew it wasn't just Kaleb being drunk and stupid, and he isn't confused anymore.
Artemio nods at Kaleb, smiling.
"Th' hell's tha' mean?! An' why the hell did ya just punch me in th' fuckin' face, ya li'l bastard?!"
Artemio just laughs and starts to walk in a leisurely stroll back in the direction of his apartment.
"That's what you get for saying it in French, you fucking wuss. Let's go."
Kaleb smiles slightly and follows his lead, taking Artemio's hand in his. They follow the railroad tracks through the red light district, frieght yards, and crop fields until they're home.
Artemio wakes the next morning to birds squaking outside his window and people banging around in the dilapidated Italian restaurant downstairs. He does not open his eyes.
The sheets are tangled between his legs and around his hips. He knows that if he moves, he will find that the vast majority of his body is at code yellow on the pain scale. He drags his right arm out from beneath his pillow and runs it over the other side of the bed. He knew it would be cold and empty. When his hand reaches the other pillow, he can feel a piece of paper there. He opens his eyes slowly, pupils dialating painfully in the morning sunlight.
There is a small scrap of newspaper, folded into quarters, with a 2"x3" picture taped to it.
The picture is of Kaleb and himself, sleeping on his bed; they can't be any older than 18. He imagines that Aidan must have taken it as blackmail material.
He unfolds the paper slowly, afraid of what he might find there.
There are a few lines of a song scrawled amongst the Valley weather forecast in permanent marker. Holding the paper above his head at arms' length, he reads them:
QuÃ© voy a hacer, je ne sais pas
QuÃ© voy a hacer, je ne sais plus
QuÃ© voy a hacer, je suis perdu
Artemio presses the paper to his face and breathes in. Somewhere amongst the musty, chemical smells of marker and cheap ink, he can smell the cologne that Kaleb had been wearing. His chest feels tight, and his lower lip is starting to shake a little. His voice is muffled by the paper, but he recites the words anyway:
"/Â¿QuÃ© hora son, mi corazÃ³n?/"