FICTION: El Centauro by Steve Passey

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I ran into my boy Jonesy outside of Teach’s Barbershop. He was going in, I was going out. We were both there for the beard conditioner. Teach’s makes their own. It has hempseed oil, jojoba, frankincense – ingredients that are organic and holy and pure, and all in an amber-tinted glass bottle to better protect against UV rays. It’s the best beard conditioner money can buy. If frankincense is good enough for the sweet baby Jesus, it’s good enough for me. That’s what you need to know. It could only be found in the shop. Not for export.  Not sold on-line.

“Did you hear about Ash?’ He asked me.

“No I did not”.

“Moving out to LA.”

“Well, that’s too bad.”

“I know, but hey – he pretty much had to, after what went down with him and Sarah.”

“What went down?”

Jonesy just looked at me and smirked. “Wait here,” he said. “Let me make a modest purchase. If you have an hour we can go back to my place and get pleasantly fucked up and I’ll tell you the whole story.”

I sat outside and waited. Jonesy came back out with his purchase in the re-usable cloth bag he had carried in. I noticed he still had his pants tucked into his socks. “Been out for a bike ride?” I asked?

“Yep”

He didn’t say anything further until we got to his place. Smoking with Jonesy was always a bit of a ritual. He’d fire up the bong and offer you a hit, and while you did that he’d make bubble tea. He was good at it. He made it from memory and never measured. He’d boil the boba, boil the water for the syrup, and boil the water for the tea all on stovetop – he’d never use a microwave for any of it, although he practically ate only out of the microwave. But the tea was a ritual. So the boba boiled, the tea made, and the sugar syrup/water done he’d put it together and then put it in the fridge to cool. He never timed it, never needed to.  From experience he’d go twelve minutes, exactly. He’d take his first hit then, while the tea cooled, and we’d sit on the couch with the TV on but the sound off. He usually had it on some replay channel of golden-oldie TV shows – Gilligan’s Island would be on a 24-hour run for example – but sometimes he’d have it on one of those twenty-four hour crime documentary channels. “Murder porn” he called it, which was, more or less, accurate.

“You know,” he said, “If you fall asleep with the TV on that’s a sign of loneliness. A plea for human contact.”

“I have heard that,” I said. “So what’s with Ash moving to LA?”

He shook his head and smirked.

“Well, you know he and Sarah split right?”

“No, I did not. What happened?’

“Her dog died. She blames him.” He looked very serious.

“Say what?” Is all I could come up with.

“He killed her dog.”

“Garcia Lorca, the French bulldog? Dead? Ash?”

Jonesy took another hit and waited. I did the same. He had a habit of taking a moment to compose himself before talking at length. It suited him and made all of his digressives seem reasonable and well thought out.

“Yeah, I always thought it was an odd name for a French bulldog. The provenance, although laudable, doesn’t fit. But there are probably way too many French bulldogs named ‘Rimbaud’. At least around here.” `

He stopped to compose his thoughts again, and then continued.

“Ash comes from money” he said, “And that’s where it starts. Sarah was a scholarship kid. Grew up in rent-controlled places. Ever meet her mom? Now there is a piece of work.”

I shook my head but did not say anything.

“Sarah’s got her MFA, as you know. Did well enough. Spanish poetry, more so the Latin Americans, but anything in Spanish. That was her thing. I think she empathized, and sympathized, with the revolutionary tradition. And Ash of course, his mother is an upper east coast Brahmin. Very Mayflower. Very “rents”. You know what “rent-seeking” is right? As a matter of definition it is to seek an economic advantage from privilege of position. Ash’s mom has position. Ash is going through that rich-kid phase where he doesn’t want to live by any means other than his own hands, so he’s proofreading for an advertising agency. Grocery flyers, electronics, stuff like that. Works on his novel at night. Sarah’s working in the new home warranty department of some sort of an insurer and hating every minute of it. She is also teaching one night a week, Creative Writing in the adult education department of a community college. She likes that.”

“Sounds OK” I say, trying to be helpful.

“More than OK” Jonesy said, smirking again. “Apparently she met this guy ‘Orestes’ there. ‘Orestes’ is Cuban. Broad-shouldered guy, slightly bow-legged, athletic-looking, built like a brick shithouse. Someone told me he was an alternate on the Cuban Olympic weightlifting team. I can believe it. Anyways, he was living the Cuban dream, by which I mean he got on a boat, got the fuck out of Cuba, and made it to Mexico. From there he made it to the USA, and from in the USA he somehow, some way, makes his way into Sarah’s class. So one thing leads to another and she and Orestes – revolutionary sympathies and poetry being the ties that bind – start banging.”

“Holy Shit,” I say, dragging out the “Holy” to sound more like “Hole – Lee.” I feel bad for Ash. “I understand why he’s going to LA.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Jonesy says. We pause to take another hit.

“This is really good shit,” I say. “Where did you get it?”

“Eddie, at Teach’s.” He said it matter-of-factly. I’m stunned. Between Ash and Sara, (and Orestes, and Garcia Lorca,) and now Eddie from Teach’s selling weed, I feel like I know nothing. Nothing at all.

“Yeah, who knows how it started,” said Jonesy, “Only they can say. The fact is that it did. Ash – not the sharpest knife in the drawer but not an idiot either – started to get suspicious. I think the kicker was when she asked him not to come with her to the summer house.”

“Ash and Sarah have a summer house?”

“Well, not really – his mom does. Probably more than one. But remember what I said about rents. She had this place up in Connecticut. A farm of some sort. Rustic. It had been rented out but then the tenant died so the old lady was having some reno’s done. It had a garage – a “carriage house” really, from days gone by, and up above that ’servants quarters’. They weren’t being renovated and Ash and Sarah had gotten into the habit of spending a few weekends there. Just chilling I imagine. Sarah pretending for a minute to be rich, getting closer yet to the big house, and Ash letting himself remember for a weekend that yeah, he actually is rich. At any rate, Sarah started asking to go to the farm ‘alone, to write’ and even leaving Garcia Lorca with Ash. So; ‘alone, to write’, that’s the tipping point, and Ash figured shit out“

“Poor Ash.”

“So two weekends ago he rents a car, without telling Sarah. She goes off to take the train up to Connecticut and he grabs Garcia Lorca, picks up the car, and fucking mats it. He’s at the farm in less than two hours. Got two photo radars too, apparently. $500 plus in fines. The big ones. Rental agency warned him that if it happened again they wouldn’t rent to him. He parks in the hedges, then hides inside. Hides and waits. He left Garcia Lorca in the car with a window cracked, poor little guy. Who knows what Ash was thinking? I’ll never ask. In some ways I don’t want to know, although I sympathize with him.”

“Me too.”

“So Ash hides in the carriage house. He takes his cell phone in, the camera ready to roll. On the way in he picks up a hatchet from the woodpile. Sounds crazy right? But I think he was afraid. Afraid of Orestes, afraid of Sarah, afraid of what his mom will think, and he’s afraid of her mom in general, like everyone else. I think he was afraid too, of how things get to this.

Orestes and Sarah get there, and they’re kissing and laughing and reciting poetry in Spanish and Orestes throws her over his shoulder, carries her up into the little bedroom. Sarah sheds all of her clothing except for matching leopard-print panties and bra and a hat – Ash’s black Kangol in fact – and starts dancing. Stripper-style. Grinding Orestes. Grinding him hard. Very provocative. Very … hot.”

“Ash’s Kangol? He loved that hat. I thought he slept in it.”

“Me too! But anyways, she has it now and it’s all part of the show for Orestes. She stops dancing and in no time at all they’re fucking. Fucking like animals. Her heels are on his shoulders, his Olympian hands are firm on her hips, and he’s saying “Si, Si, Si” and “Madre di Dios” and all the important phrases in Spanish and she’s crying; “Yes, Yes, Yes,” forgetting that she fell in love with Orestes in Spanish. Ash is trying to video the whole thing on his cell phone, only his angle isn’t that good and he can’t see their faces so he says something – no one knows what – and runs into the bedroom holding the cell phone low and the hatchet up high. The hatchet hits the top of the door frame and bounces back and the heel of the bit hits him in the forehead. Knocks him down. Knocks him out. Leaves a huge triangular gash above his left eye. He’s on the floor, bleeding like hell and moaning ‘uh, uh, uh’ and Sarah is screaming, screaming, screaming, and Orestes is shouting ‘Chinga tu Madre, Cabron’ and he jumped on poor Ash in a heartbeat, kicking, punching, smashing, dragging. It’s a scene and a half, let me tell ya.”

I’m a visual thinker, even more so when I’m good and baked and can’t articulate so well. I picture poor Ash, bleeding and semi-conscious on the floor. I see the giant Cuban, naked and painfully erect, flinging him this way and that.  I see Sarah, fleshy and loud, wringing her hands and screaming.

“How do you know it went down just so?” I ask Jonesy.

“Hold on a minute,” he said, and went and got the bubble teas from the fridge. He brought them back and I must say, that after the heat and smoke of that premium weed – courtesy Edward of Teach’s – that mine tasted very, very good. It really was the perfect combo. There was something in Jonesy’s ritual. Something that made everything better than it was on its own; made it more than the sum of its parts. The cliché doesn’t do it justice of course, but there it is.

“I know because everyone had a cell phone,” Jonesy said, after a mouthful of the sweet confection, “Everyone was filming. A series of videos were posted to various social media by all parties involved. You remember how Ash ran in with the hatchet and the phone? Even when he dropped it, it was running. Filming the ceiling then but you could hear everything that was said. And of course, it got worse.

“How so?”

“Well, Orestes, who must really be a product of advanced Cuban pharmacology with his huge muscles and freakish dick hanging down to his knees, picks Ash up. He pins Ash’s arms behind the small of his back and then lifts him onto the bed. Lays him there, face-down, bleeding profusely. He pulls Ash’s pants off, his boxer briefs, his shoes – everything – and just holds him there. By now Sarah had picked up her phone and started filming. “You’re crazy,” she shouts. ‘Crazy, crazy, crazy, and everyone is going to know.’ She’d look into the phone and say how Ash broke in with a hatchet and tried to kill her, then she’d film Ash on the bed, pinned there by mighty Orestes, Ash’s arms behind his back, his face bloody, and his shiny white ass up in the air.

“Undignified,” I said.

“No, ‘undignified’ is when Orestes made him put on Sarah’s leopard print underwear and bra, and Ash’s own black Kangol, and made him dance.”

“What?”

“Yeah. Orestes stripped Ash like I told you and started shouting ‘Puta! How you like that Puta? How would you like a hatchet in your ass, Puta?’ He’s got that dick made out of hormones taken from ‘Grade A’ Centaur hair, hooves, and blood, and he went and picked up the hatchet in one hand, pulled Ash from the bed with the other, and said ‘Dance, Puta!’. Ash folded his arms against his chest and leaned into the wall and tried to face the corner, but Orestes held the hatchet to the side of Ash’s head and kept pulling Ash’s arms down with his free hand. He’d pull on him and spin him around and fake like he was going to smash him with the hatchet. Made him wear those panties, that bra, and that hat. The whole time Orestes has this hideous, veiney hard-on. Finally Ash just quit moving. I think that inside, deep inside; he was in his “safe place”. I hope it wasn’t the farm. Orestes just pointed at the door with the hatchet and told Ash to go. Sarah was shouting at Ash the whole time. They wouldn’t give him his pants and underwear or shoes back. Just his shirt and the black Kangol. They held on to his pants, underwear, and shoes thinking they would keep Ash in line that way I guess, or more likely just from cruelty.  Somehow he found his phone. I think he stepped on it, then picked it up and made his way down out of the carriage house. He took another video then, and up in the window of the quarters above the carriage house you can see Orestes, priapic and vengeful, staring down at him with fire in his eyes. But Ash, getting a little equilibrium back, videotaped that too, even to where Sarah came up, still naked, and led Orestes from the window.

“Jesus H. Christ. What a story.”

“Hey – It ain’t over. Not at all. So Ash gets back to the car and he’s a fucking mess. Poor Garcia Lorca the French bulldog is in there. Remember, he’s been waiting. Ash said he let the poor little guy out for a pee break, and used the little first aid kit in there to put a bunch of Band-Aids on his head wound. It more or less worked but if you had seen him you would know that it wasn’t ideal from an aesthetic viewpoint. And of course he’s bare-ass naked from the waist down.

He and Lorca start the drive home then, leaving a lot slower than they came. From time to time Ash picks up his phone and videos himself, each video a summary of what just happened but each one a little better-worded than the last.”

“Did he leave in the part about getting stripped and … whatever that was by Orestes?” I asked.

“He did. He didn’t go into great detail but he did. Just summarized it, briefly and accurately. I admire him for that. It would have been easy to omit that part.”

“Very true.”

“However, not too many miles out of town, something bad happened and changed everything from terrible to terrible-er. Ash got on Facebook. I imagine he wanted to see if Sarah had done anything publicly yet, started to canvas for support from among their mutual friends, the way that people do. That kind of thing. By the time Ash looked she had already posted her videos from the carriage house. And there he is, bloody and pantless, on the bed getting undressed by Orestes, the Centaur, poetry student, and Sarah’s newly chosen champion, while Sarah verbally abuses him in the background. In the title for the video post she said that she had found Ash cheating, and this is what it looked like.”

“Oh no.”

“I think something broke in him then. The next video he made was the most clear and most concise version of what happened of all of his videos. He was very matter-of-fact, and mostly devoid of emotion or inflection. He stopped at a bridge. He summarized events, scanned his body front to back – taking a little more time for his head than for his ass. He noted specifically that the whole time she had been cheating Sarah left her French bulldog, Garcia Lorca – named for the famous Spanish Poet – in his care. He then picked up Garcia Lorca and shot-putted him off of the bridge into the waters more than one hundred feet below. Lorca, to his credit, or perhaps because he’s only a dog, only shivered when Ash held him up but did not tried to get away. In the air he gyrated wildly, like dogs do when they can’t get their feet on the ground to right themselves, and he hit the water at a great speed with his legs and ears splayed out and vanished without a sound.”

“God.”

“Word. Well, everyone’s videos were up and down with great haste as you can imagine. Everyone disabled their accounts quickly. However, there is always someone quick enough to catch the bits and pieces and capture some things and that’s how I know. I can show you the whole thing if you are so inclined, but don’t ask me to send it to you.”

“Thanks, but no thanks, on all counts.”

What bothered me most was the image, in my mind’s eye, of the improvenantly-named Garcia Lorca dropping into the river, his little legs out, his ears trailing as he picked up speed. I knew he’d hit the water like hail hitting pavement except that he would be warmer and softer than hail and the water sharper somehow, and harder. He was a quiet dog as I remember, not given to fits of barking and canine posturing over alpha and beta. Just a quiet little guy, liked to go for walks, liked to sit in the sun. The whole thing really harshed my mellow.

“Do you think its possible Garcia Lorca could be alive?” I asked. “Maybe he’s just out wandering the highway, or someone took him in. Perhaps his collar came off in the torrents of water. That river is high and muddy this time of year. He could be rescued but no one would know who he is, no one would have any way of telling. They might run a ‘lost dog found here’ ad, but where? And who would see it?”

Jonesy finished his bubble tea and thought about it.

“Doubtful. It’s been two weeks. Besides, what’s there for him to go back to? And remember: There is magic in names, some Hermetic wisdom not easily understood. The real Garcia Lorca was never found either.”

“Well, damn. I guess it’s understandable why Ash is going to LA. What’s he going to do there?”

“Work in advertising. His dad is an art director with a big firm there. You know his parents had an amicable split. This was years ago. Amicable is what you have when she is worth more than he is and he will actually work for a living. He’s done well. Clientele in film and television, professional sports too. Apparently his dad got him a place in Silver Lake already. It’s not cool but it tries hard and fuck it, its still LA. After the last two weeks I can understand why he’d never return to New York. Plus, the weather is better. Everyone likes to look down on LA but the truth of the matter is that the weather really is better.”

“What about Sarah?”

“Well, not sure. It’s not her Ash and co. has to worry about. The slut shaming has started already, it’s not like anyone will see her in public for ten years. Worry about her mom. Apparently she got wind of the whole thing and wanted to press charges and shit, extort a little money from Ash’s mom, but Orestes wouldn’t talk. One: He’s more or less, by definition, a sex offender, making Ash dance like that. Two:  He’s apparently not actually a citizen yet. If I had to pick one word to describe his legal status here it would be ‘vague’. So there went that idea. Ash’s mom owned their place anyways; Sarah’s stuff was boxed up and moved into storage less than twenty-four hours after Garcia Lorca went into the river. I heard the old lady had all of Sarah’s books – all that Latin American and Spanish poetry – delivered to a used bookstore in Jersey. Won’t say exactly where. I don’t even know where Sarah is now. Probably with her mom, looking for her books, driving around Jersey.”

“I feel bad for Ash,” I said again.

“Don’t,” Jonesy said, and then, “Well, do. For sure its a shitty thing. But he’s a rich kid. He’s got a place to go. Like I said, the weather is good. It’ll be homogeneous there, like it is here, but the difference will be one of degrees. There its a bunch of ad-copy guys pitching their treatments just like here it is a bunch of fact-checkers pitching their first three chapters. And you know, somehow, in the flight of Garcia Lorca as he first crossed, then fell beneath, the path of the ecliptic, the arc of the sun, Ash found something in himself that could finish, that could close. It’ll set him apart, even if he doesn’t tell anyone out there, even if those videos never surface again. He’s a hard motherfucker now, even if he never wanted to be. Go on; see if you can rent their place. I bet its no favors. Market rate. If you want to feel bad for someone feel bad for Sarah, a little, and mostly for Orestes.”

“Sarah the whore? Orestes the hatchet rapist?’

“You are forgetting Ash the animal-cruelty guy. But yeah, think about it: Orestes, a product of the system in Cuba, much admired but very poor, comes here for something, anything, and this happens. It went too far but he’s going to be out on his ass by the time you get back home. And Sarah? Loves poetry, can’t write, grew up poor looking at the big houses and trying to act like it didn’t matter. Now she’s living with her crazy mother again and everyone, even you, is calling her ‘whore.’ No poetry there. There will be no ‘Remedy at Law’ for either of them. You know how it is here: Law is the terror of the poor, the vexation of the middle-class – ask Ash about those photo radars – and the humble servant of the rich. Everyone is going right back to where they started and Ash is the least of all of them the worse for wear.”

I don’t know that I agree. I want to disagree, but Jonesy always has different take on things. It’s what makes him interesting. He had started to clean up now, put away the pots, the glasses, the boba on the counter, and the bong. It was time for me to go.

“Thanks for the weed and tea,” I said. “Excellent, as always.”

“You never knew Edward at Teach’s sold weed did you?” Jonesy asked. He smirked a bit when he said it.

“No, I admit, I did not.”

“Well, now you do. Like anything at Teach’s, it’s premium quality. Don’t ever say I didn’t do anything for you.”

I stepped out of Jonesy’s place into the sun coming down through the greenest of trees and thought of the river, hoping it was calmer now, less muddy and feral. I thought of Ash in LA. I wondered if he’d shaved his beard, and wondered if the sun came down through palm trees and if the palm trees gave any shade. In my mind, LA always has palm trees, no other kinds of trees, and no shade, no rivers, no bridges.  I wonder if Ash’s dad bought him a car. No one rides a bike there, which reminds me that I do, I like to ride.  I tuck my pant legs into my socks and start walking back to my place. I think I’ll go for a slow ride when I get back, while away the afternoon, maybe visit the bridge over the grave of Garcia Lorca.

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Steve Passey is from Southern Alberta. His fiction and poetry have appeared widely in publications both print and digital in Canada, the UK, and the USA including Existere, Minor Literature[s], and Bull: Men’s Fiction. He is a two-time Pushcart nominee for fiction. You can reach him on twitter via @CanadianCoyote1.

If you enjoyed El Centauro, leave a comment and let Steve know.

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