Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Good Man Is Hard To Find

Flannery O'Connor

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennes- see and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. "Now look here, Bailey," she said, "see here, read this," and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. "Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn't answer to my conscience if I did." 

Bailey didn't look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children's mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit's ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar. "The children have been to Florida before," the old lady said. "You all ought to take them somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad. 
They never have been to east Tennessee." 

The children's mother didn't seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a stocky child with glasses, said, "If you don't want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?" He and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor. 

"She wouldn't stay at home to be queen for a day," June Star said without raising her yellow head. 

"Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?" the grandmother asked. 

"I'd smack his face," John Wesley said.

"She wouldn't stay at home for a million bucks," June Star said. 

"Afraid she'd miss something. She has to go everywhere we go."

"All right, Miss," the grandmother said. "Just re- member that the next time you want me to curl your hair." 

June Star said her hair was naturally curly. 

The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath it she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn't intend for the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he might brush against one of her gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn't like to arrive at a motel with a cat.

She sat in the middle of the back seat with John Wesley and June Star on either side of her. Bailey and the children's mother and the baby sat in front and they left Atlanta at eight forty-five with the mileage on the car at 55890. The grandmother wrote this down because she thought it would be interesting to say how many miles they had been when they got back. It took them twenty minutes to reach the outskirts of the city.

The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children's mother still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady. 

She said she thought it was going to be a good day for driving, neither too hot nor too cold, and she cautioned Bailey that the speed limit was fifty-five miles an hour and that the patrolmen hid themselves behind billboards and small clumps of trees and sped out after you before you had a chance to slow down. She pointed out interesting details of the scenery: Stone Mountain; the blue granite that in some places came up to both sides of the highway; the brilliant red clay banks slightly streaked with purple; and the various crops that made rows of green lace-work on the ground. The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled. The children were reading comic magazines and their mother and gone back to sleep. 

"Let's go through Georgia fast so we won't have to look at it much," John Wesley said. 

"If I were a little boy," said the grandmother, "I wouldn't talk about my native state that way. Tennessee has the mountains and Georgia has the hills." 

"Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground," John Wesley said, "and Georgia is a lousy state too." 

"You said it," June Star said. 

"In my time," said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, "children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right then. Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!" she said and pointed to a Negro child standing in the door of a shack. "Wouldn't that make a picture, now?" she asked and they all turned and looked at the little Negro out of the back window. He waved 

"He didn't have any britches on," June Star said. 

"He probably didn't have any," the grandmother explained. "Little riggers in the country don't have things like we do. If I could paint, I'd paint that picture," she said.

The children exchanged comic books. 

The grandmother offered to hold the baby and the children's mother passed him over the front seat to her. She set him on her knee and bounced him and told him about the things they were passing. She rolled her eyes and screwed up her mouth and stuck her leathery thin face into his smooth bland one. Occasionally he gave her a faraway smile. They passed a large cotton field with five or fix graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island. "Look at the graveyard!" the grandmother said, pointing it out. "That was the old family burying ground. That belonged to the plantation." 

"Where's the plantation?" John Wesley asked. 

"Gone With the Wind" said the grandmother. "Ha. Ha." 

When the children finished all the comic books they had brought, they opened the lunch and ate it. The grandmother ate a peanut butter sandwich and an olive and would not let the children throw the box and the paper napkins out the window. When there was nothing else to do they played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other two guess what shape it suggested. John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star guessed a cow and John Wesley said, no, an automobile, and June Star said he didn't play fair, and they began to slap each other over the grandmother. 

The grandmother said she would tell them a story if they would keep quiet. When she told a story, she rolled her eyes and waved her head and was very dramatic. She said once when she was a maiden lady she had been courted by a Mr. Edgar Atkins Teagarden from Jasper, Georgia. She said he was a very good-looking man and a gentleman and that he brought her a watermelon every Saturday afternoon with his initials cut in it, E. A. T. Well, one Saturday, she said, Mr. Teagarden brought the watermelon and there was nobody at home and he left it on the front porch and returned in his buggy to Jasper, but she never got the watermelon, she said, because a nigger boy ate it when he saw the initials, E. A. T. ! This story tickled John Wesley's funny bone and he giggled and giggled but June Star didn't think it was any good. She said she wouldn't marry a man that just brought her a watermelon on Saturday. The grandmother said she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentle man and had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he had died only a few years ago, a very wealthy man. 

They stopped at The Tower for barbecued sand- wiches. The Tower was a part stucco and part wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing outside of Timothy. A fat man named Red Sammy Butts ran it and there were signs stuck here and there on the building and for miles up and down the highway saying, TRY RED SAMMY'S FAMOUS BARBECUE. NONE LIKE FAMOUS RED SAMMY'S! RED SAM! THE FAT BOY WITH THE HAPPY LAUGH. A VETERAN! RED SAMMY'S YOUR MAN! 

Red Sammy was lying on the bare ground outside The Tower with his head under a truck while a gray monkey about a foot high, chained to a small chinaberry tree, chattered nearby. The monkey sprang back into the tree and got on the highest limb as soon as he saw the children jump out of the car and run toward him. 

Inside, The Tower was a long dark room with a counter at one end and tables at the other and dancing space in the middle. They all sat down at a board table next to the nickelodeon and Red Sam's wife, a tall burnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter than her skin, came and took their order. The children's mother put a dime in the machine and played "The Tennessee Waltz," and the grandmother said that tune always made her want to dance. She asked Bailey if he would like to dance but he only glared at her. He didn't have a naturally sunny disposition like she did and trips made him  nervous. The grandmother's brown eyes were very bright. She swayed her head from side to side and pretended she was dancing in her chair. June Star said play something she could tap to so the children's mother put in another dime and played a fast number and June Star stepped out onto the dance floor and did her tap routine. 

"Ain't she cute?" Red Sam's wife said, leaning over the counter. "Would you like to come be my little girl?" 

"No I certainly wouldn't," June Star said. "I wouldn't live in a broken-down place like this for a million bucks!" and she ran back to the table. 

"Ain't she cute?" the woman repeated, stretching her mouth politely. 

"Arn't you ashamed?" hissed the grandmother. 

Red Sam came in and told his wife to quit lounging on the counter and hurry up with these people's order. His khaki trousers reached just to his hip bones and his stomach hung over them like a sack of meal swaying under his shirt. He came over and sat down at a table nearby and let out a combination sigh and yodel. "You can't win," he said. "You can't win," and he wiped his sweating red face off with a gray handkerchief. "These days you don't know who to trust," he said. "Ain't that the truth?" 

"People are certainly not nice like they used to be," said the grandmother. 

"Two fellers come in here last week," Red Sammy said, "driving a Chrysler. It was a old beat-up car but it was a good one and these boys looked all right to me. Said they worked at the mill and you know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought? Now why did I do that?" 

"Because you're a good man!" the grandmother said at once.

"Yes'm, I suppose so," Red Sam said as if he were struck with this answer. 

His wife brought the orders, carrying the five plates all at once without a tray, two in each hand and one balanced on her arm. "It isn't a soul in this green world of God's that you can trust," she said. "And I don't count nobody out of that, not nobody," she repeated, looking at Red Sammy. 

"Did you read about that criminal, The Misfit, that's escaped?" asked the grandmother. 

"I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he didn't attack this place right here," said the woman. "If he hears about it being here, I wouldn't be none surprised to see him. If he hears it's two cent in the cash register, I wouldn't be a tall surprised if he . . ." 

"That'll do," Red Sam said. "Go bring these people their Co'-Colas," and the woman went off to get the rest of the order. 

"A good man is hard to find," Red Sammy said. "Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more." 

He and the grandmother discussed better times. The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy. 

They drove off again into the hot afternoon. The grandmother took cat naps and woke up every few minutes with her own snoring. Outside of Toombsboro she woke up and recalled an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady. She said the house had six white columns across the front and that there was an avenue of oaks leading up to it and two little wooden trellis arbors on either side in front where you sat down with your suitor after a stroll in the garden. She recalled exactly which road to turn off to get to it. She knew that Bailey would not be willing to lose any time looking at an old house, but the more she talked about it, the more she wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin arbors were still standing. "There was a secret:-panel in this house," she said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were, "and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through but it was never found . . ." 

"Hey!" John Wesley said. "Let's go see it! We'll find it! We'll poke all the woodwork and find it! Who lives there? Where do you turn off at? Hey Pop, can't we turn off there?" 

"We never have seen a house with a secret panel!" June Star shrieked. "Let's go to the house with the secret panel! Hey Pop, can't we go see the house with the secret panel!" 

"It's not far from here, I know," the grandmother said. "It wouldn't take over twenty minutes." 

Bailey was looking straight ahead. His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. "No," he said. 

The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the house with the secret panel. John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her mother's shoulder and whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even on their vacation, that they could never do what THEY wanted to do. The baby began to scream and John Wesley kicked the back of the seat so hard that his father could feel the blows in his kidney. 

"All right!" he shouted and drew the car to a stop at the side of the road. "Will you all shut up? Will you all just shut up for one second? If you don't shut up, we won't go anywhere." 

"It would be very educational for them," the grandmother murmured. 

"All right," Bailey said, "but get this: this is the only time we're going to stop for anything like this. This is the one and only time." 

"The dirt road that you have to turn down is about a mile back," the grandmother directed. "I marked it when we passed." 

"A dirt road," Bailey groaned. 

After they had turned around and were headed toward the dirt road, the grandmother recalled other points about the house, the beautiful glass over the front doorway and the candle-lamp in the hall. John Wesley said that the secret panel was probably in the fireplace. 

"You can't go inside this house," Bailey said. "You don't know who lives there." 

"While you all talk to the people in front, I'll run around behind and get in a window," John Wesley suggested.

"We'll all stay in the car," his mother said. 

They turned onto the dirt road and the car raced roughly along in a swirl of pink dust. The grandmother recalled the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day's journey. The dirt road was hilly and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves on dangerous embankments. All at once they would be on a hill, looking down over the blue tops of trees for miles around, then the next minute, they would be in a red depression with the dust-coated trees looking down on them. 

"This place had better turn up in a minute," Bailey said, "or I'm going to turn around." 

The road looked as if no one had traveled on it in months. 

"It's not much farther," the grandmother said and just as she said it, a horrible thought came to her. The thought was so embarrassing that she turned red in the face and her eyes dilated and her feet jumped up, upsetting her valise in the corner. The instant the valise moved, the newspaper top she had over the basket under it rose with a snarl and Pitty Sing, the cat, sprang onto Bailey's shoulder.
The children were thrown to the floor and their mother, clutching the baby, was thrown out the door onto the ground; the old lady was thrown into the front seat. The car turned over once and landed right-side-up in a gulch off the side of the road. Bailey remained in the driver's seat with the cat gray-striped with a broad white face and an orange nose clinging to his neck like a caterpillar. 

As soon as the children saw they could move their arms and legs, they scrambled out of the car, shouting, "We've had an ACCIDENT!" The grandmother was curled up under the dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey's wrath would not come down on her all at once. The horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house she had remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee. 

Bailey removed the cat from his neck with both hands and flung it out the window against the side of a pine tree. Then he got out of the car and started looking for the children's mother. She was sitting against the side of the red gutted ditch, holding the screaming baby, but she only had a cut down her face and a broken shoulder. "We've had an ACCIDENT!" the children screamed in a frenzy of delight.

"But nobody's killed," June Star said with disappointment as the grandmother limped out of the car, her hat still pinned to her head but the broken front brim standing up at a jaunty angle and the violet spray hanging off the side. They all sat down in the ditch, except the children, to recover from the shock. They were all shaking. 

"Maybe a car will come along," said the children's mother hoarsely.

"I believe I have injured an organ," said the grandmother, pressing her side, but no one answered her. Bailey's teeth were clattering. He had on a yellow sport shirt with bright blue parrots designed in it and his face was as yellow as the shirt. The grandmother decided that she would not mention that the house was in Tennessee. 

The road was about ten feet above and they could see only the tops of the trees on the other side of it. Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and dark and deep. In a few minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming slowly as if the occupants were watching them. The grandmother stood up and waved both arms dramatically to attract their attention. The car continued to come on slowly, disappeared around a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on top of the hill they had gone over. It was a big black battered hearselike automobile. There were three men in it. 

It came to a stop just over them and for some minutes, the driver looked down with a steady expressionless gaze to where they were sitting, and didn't speak. Then he turned his head and muttered something to the other two and they got out. One was a fat boy in black trousers and a red sweat shirt with a silver stallion embossed on the front of it. He moved around on the right side of them and stood staring, his mouth partly open in a kind of loose grin. The other had on khaki pants and a blue striped coat and a gray hat pulled down very low, hiding most of his face. He came around slowly on the left side. Neither spoke. 

The driver got out of the car and stood by the side of it, looking down at them. He was an older man than the other two. His hair was just beginning to gray and he wore silver-rimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look. He had a long creased face and didn't have on any shirt or undershirt. He had on blue jeans that were too tight for him and was holding a black hat and a gun. The two boys also had guns. 

"We've had an ACCIDENT!" the children screamed. 

The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she knew. His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was. He moved away from the car and began to come down the embankment, placing his feet carefully so that he wouldn't slip. He had on tan and white shoes and no socks, and his ankles were red and thin. "Good afternoon," he said. "I see you all had you a little spill." 

"We turned over twice!" said the grandmother. 

"Once", he corrected. "We seen it happen. Try their car and see will it run, Hiram," he said quietly to the boy with the gray hat. 

"What you got that gun for?" John Wesley asked. "Whatcha gonna do with that gun?" 

"Lady," the man said to the children's mother, "would you mind calling them children to sit down by you? Children make me nervous. I want all you all to sit down right together there where you're at." 

"What are you telling US what to do for?" June Star asked.

Behind them the line of woods gaped like a dark open mouth. 

"Come here," said their mother. 

"Look here now," Bailey began suddenly, "we're in a predicament! We're in . . ." 

The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. "You're The Misfit!" she said. "I recognized you at once!" 

"Yes'm," the man said, smiling slightly as if he were pleased in spite of himself to be known, "but it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn't of reckernized me." 

Bailey turned his head sharply and said something to his mother that shocked even the children. The old lady began to cry and The Misfit reddened. 

"Lady," he said, "don't you get upset. Sometimes a man says things he don't mean. I don't reckon he meant to talk to you thataway." 

"You wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?" the grandmother said and removed a clean handkerchief from her cuff and began to slap at her eyes with it. 

The Misfit pointed the toe of his shoe into the ground and made a little hole and then covered it up again. "I would hate to have to," he said. 

"Listen," the grandmother almost screamed, "I know you're a good man. You don't look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!" 

"Yes mam," he said, "finest people in the world." When he smiled he showed a row of strong white teeth. "God never made a finer woman than my mother and my daddy's heart was pure gold," he said. The boy with the red sweat shirt had come around behind them and was standing with his gun at his hip. The Misfit squatted down on the ground. "Watch them children, Bobby Lee," he said. "You know they make me nervous." He looked at the six of them huddled together in front of him and he seemed to be embarrassed as if he couldn't think of anything to say. "Ain't a cloud in the sky," he remarked, looking up at it. "Don't see no sun but don't see no cloud neither." 

"Yes, it's a beautiful day," said the grandmother. "Listen," she said, "you shouldn't call yourself The Misfit because I know you're a good man at heart. I can just look at you and tell." 

"Hush!" Bailey yelled. "Hush! Everybody shut up and let me handle this!" He was squatting in the position of a runner about to sprint forward but he didn't move. 

"I pre-chate that, lady," The Misfit said and drew a little circle in the ground with the butt of his gun. 

"It'll take a half a hour to fix this here car," Hiram called, looking over the raised hood of it. 

"Well, first you and Bobby Lee get him and that little boy to step over yonder with you," The Misfit said, pointing to Bailey and John Wesley. "The boys want to ast you something," he said to Bailey. "Would you mind stepping back in them woods there with them?" 

"Listen," Bailey began, "we're in a terrible predicament! Nobody realizes what this is," and his voice cracked. His eyes were as blue and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he remained perfectly still.
The grandmother reached up to adjust her hat brim as if she were going to the woods with him but it came off in her hand. She stood staring at it and after a second she let it fall on the ground. Hiram pulled Bailey up by the arm as if he were assisting an old man. John Wesley caught hold of his father's hand and Bobby I,ee followed. They went off toward the woods and just as they reached the dark edge, Bailey turned and supporting himself against a gray naked pine trunk, he shouted, "I'll be back in a minute, Mamma, wait on me!" 

"Come back this instant!" his mother shrilled but they all disappeared into the woods. 

"Bailey Boy!" the grandmother called in a tragic voice but she found she was looking at The Misfit squatting on the ground in front of her. "I just know you're a good man," she said desperately. "You're not a bit common!" 

"Nome, I ain't a good man," The Misfit said after a second ah if he had considered her statement carefully, "but I ain't the worst in the world neither. My daddy said I was a different breed of dog from my brothers and sisters. 'You know,' Daddy said, 'it's some that can live their whole life out without asking about it and it's others has to know why it is, and this boy is one of the latters. He's going to be into everything!"' He put on his black hat and looked up suddenly and then away deep into the woods as if he were embarrassed again. "I'm sorry I don't have on a shirt before you ladies," he said, hunching his shoulders slightly. "We buried our clothes that we had on when we escaped and we're just making do until we can get better. We borrowed these from some folks we met," he explained. 

"That's perfectly all right," the grandmother said. "Maybe Bailey has an extra shirt in his suitcase." 

"I'll look and see terrectly," The Misfit said. 

"Where are they taking him?" the children's mother screamed. 

"Daddy was a card himself," The Misfit said. "You couldn't put anything over on him. He never got in trouble with the Authorities though. Just had the knack of handling them." 

"You could be honest too if you'd only try," said the grandmother.
"Think how wonderful it would be to settle down and live a comfortable life and not have to think about somebody chasing you all the time." 

The Misfit kept scratching in the ground with the butt of his gun as if he were thinking about it. "Yestm, somebody is always after you," he murmured. 

The grandmother noticed how thin his shoulder blades were just behind his hat because she was standing up looking down on him. "Do you every pray?" she asked. 

He shook his head. All she saw was the black hat wiggle between his shoulder blades. "Nome," he said. 

There was a pistol shot from the woods, followed closely by another. Then silence. The old lady's head jerked around. She could hear the wind move through the tree tops like a long satisfied insuck of breath. "Bailey Boy!" she called. 

"I was a gospel singer for a while," The Misfit said. "I been most everything. Been in the arm service both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive oncet," and he looked up at the children's mother and the little girl who were sitting close together, their faces white and their eyes glassy; "I even seen a woman flogged," he said. 

"Pray, pray," the grandmother began, "pray, pray . . ." 

I never was a bad boy that I remember of," The Misfit said in an almost dreamy voice, "but somewheres along the line I done something wrong and got sent to the penitentiary. I was buried alive," and he looked up and held her attention to him by a steady stare. 

"That's when you should have started to pray," she said. "What did you do to get sent to the penitentiary that first time?" 

"Turn to the right, it was a wall," The Misfit said, looking up again at the cloudless sky. "Turn to the left, it was a wall. Look up it was a ceiling, look down it was a floor. I forget what I done, lady. I set there and set there, trying to remember what it was I done and I ain't recalled it to this day. Oncet in a while, I would think it was coming to me, but it never come." 

"Maybe they put you in by mistake," the old lady said vaguely. 

"Nome," he said. "It wasn't no mistake. They had the papers on me." 

"You must have stolen something," she said. 

The Misfit sneered slightly. "Nobody had nothing I wanted," he said. "It was a head-doctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a lie. My daddy died in nineteen ought nineteen of the epidemic flu and I never had a thing to do with it. He was buried in the Mount Hopewell Baptist churchyard and you can go there and see for yourself." 

"If you would pray," the old lady said, "Jesus would help you." 

"That's right," The Misfit said. 

"Well then, why don't you pray?" she asked trembling with delight suddenly. 

"I don't want no hep," he said. "I'm doing all right by myself." 

Bobby Lee and Hiram came ambling back from the woods. Bobby Lee was dragging a yellow shirt with bright blue parrots in it. 

"Thow me that shirt, Bobby Lee," The Misfit said. The shirt came flying at him and landed on his shoulder and he put it on. The grandmother couldn't name what the shirt reminded her of. "No, lady," The Misfit said while he was buttoning it up, "I found out the crime don't matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you're going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it." 

The children's mother had begun to make heaving noises as if she couldn't get her breath. "Lady," he asked, "would you and that little girl like to step off yonder with Bobby Lee and Hiram and join your husband?" 

"Yes, thank you," the mother said faintly. Her left arm dangled helplessly and she was holding the baby, who had gone to sleep, in the other. "Hep that lady up, Hiram," The Misfit said as she struggled to climb out of the ditch, "and Bobby Lee, you hold onto that little girl's hand." 

"I don't want to hold hands with him," June Star said. "He reminds me of a pig." 

The fat boy blushed and laughed and caught her by the arm and pulled her off into the woods after Hiram and her mother. 

Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out. Finally she found herself saying, "Jesus. Jesus," meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing. 

"Yes'm, The Misfit said as if he agreed. "Jesus shown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn't committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course," he said, "they never shown me my papers. That's why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you'll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you'll have something to prove you ain't been treated right. I call myself The Misfit," he said, "because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment." 

There was a piercing scream from the woods, followed closely by a pistol report. "Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain't punished at all?" 

"Jesus!" the old lady cried. "You've got good blood! I know you wouldn't shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I'll give you all the money I've got!" 

"Lady," The Misfit said, looking beyond her far into the woods, "there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip." 

There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water and called, "Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!" as if her heart would break. 

"Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead," The Misfit continued, "and He shouldn't have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness," he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.

"I wasn't there so I can't say He didn't," The Misfit said. "I wisht I had of been there," he said, hitting the ground with his fist. "It ain't right I wasn't there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady," he said in a high voice, "if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn't be like I am now." His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother's head cleared for an instant. She saw the man's face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children !" She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest. Then he put his gun down on the ground and took off his glasses and began to clean them. 

Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky. 

Without his glasses, The Misfit's eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking. "Take her off and thow her where you thown the others," he said, picking up the cat that was rubbing itself against his leg. 

"She was a talker, wasn't she?" Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel. 

"She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." 

"Some fun!" Bobby Lee said. 

"Shut up, Bobby Lee," The Misfit said. "It's no real pleasure in 

Author:  Flannery O'Connor  
Born in Savannah, Georgia, USA  (1925-1964 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Losing My Religion

I dislike religions. ‘Hate’ is a tough and offensive word that I’ve been trying not to use.  So, I dislike religions, especially the Catholic religion, the one I was raised in. They create unnecessary fear; they’re manipulative, imposing and authoritative. I can’t understand how something that’s supposed to be a moral guide can be full of deception, confusion and contradiction.

The typical definition in the dictionary describes religion as the belief or worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. In any case, any definition about religion it’s too vague and ambiguous. 

Many say that the etymology of religion lies with the Latin word religare, which means “to tie, to bind”. That seems to be a perfect definition of what religion does.

I began to lose my faith in religion decades ago, when I was a teenager. I can honestly say that the more I read and the more I learned about basic human nature, the more I withdrew myself from religion. The less dumb I felt, the more incredulous I became. 

I don’t remember how long ago I became aware that religion was the biggest lie in human history. It has been responsible for more deaths throughout human history than all other unnatural causes combined.  For a thousand years the Church was a tyrannical dictatorship that used religion to control the uneducated masses. 

Another thing that I can honestly say is that I’m not an expert in religion or theology. This is my simple and personal opinion, my own experience and relationship with God and religion.

When I stopped going to church and quit practicing all sacred rites and ceremonies, mass was still performed in Latin, which made the services even more boring. The pomposity and arrogance of the rituals and the officiating priests made it even worse. 

But things didn’t start this way; in the beginning I loved my religion. My first recollection about going to church was my first communion. My parents were firm believers in God and the Catholic religion. When I was six years old my mom sent me to Sunday school to get prepared for my first communion. Back then the love I had for my parents was huge; they were my idols and my heroes. I probably love them even more now, and they’re still my heroes. But back then I would have followed every single instruction they gave me, I believed everything they said. 

But with the passage of time, one thing happens. You get a mind of your own. Sometimes.

I can describe my relationship with God and religion in three stages:

·         The first was submission and surrender, awe and admiration, complete belief. (From six to twelve years old)

·         The second was hesitation and doubt, uncertain distrust, and the usual phase when you begin to question authority. (From twelve to sixteen years old)

·         And the final stage, incredulity, lack of faith and deception. (From sixteen years old until now.)

My dad used to buy me comic books about saints and angels after we went to church. Sunday was a fun day with my dad. I enjoyed immensely being next to my dad and imitating all of his moves, like making the sign of the cross, kneeling down, taking communion, even going to confession, with not much to say and all under one minute. I was probably inventing innocent sins. 

If I followed my dad to church; I would probably have followed him to hell too.

I was about sixteen years old when I lost my religion, my faith disappeared and my devotion expired. If God is everywhere, he witnessed my escape. My rebellion began with the enormous boredom I felt during mass; it was unbelievably soporific and monotonous. Among other things, the smell of incense was unbearable and on the verge of making me ill.

And then, at that age I thought I was committing sins that I couldn’t confess. Now I know they were normal sins, because I still commit the same sins. But it bothered me a little the fact that I knew in advance that my confession would be incomplete or insincere. For those reasons I quit confessing my sins.

I was confronting extreme boredom, the smell of incense, dishonest confessions and increasing incredulity. I was becoming an atheist. And ‘atheism’ is a horrible word, and I hate that word. Did I mention that I hate the word ‘hate’?

I would believe in him again if he can grant one of my wishes once in a while. (I’d like to say that most wishes I have, are not for me.)

If religion can impose fear in me, if God can punish me . . . he should also be able to please me once in a while.

And I’m still waiting.

Edmundo Barraza

Lancaster, Ca. Jul-29-2014 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jesus of Visalia

When I returned from my vacation I found out that they had hired a new worker. His name was Jesus. I was supposed to train him, as I usually do with the new recruits. He seemed to be in his late twenties, but he looked older with his beard and mustache. I don’t know why, but I never liked bearded guys, or guys with mustaches. It might be because I can’t grow one. I think that if they are ugly they look uglier and if they are handsome they hide their handsomeness with their ugly beards but they always look older, dirtier, or smellier, but that’s just my opinion.

I work for a construction company in Visalia, a small city near Fresno. They pay us good and treat us well. I’m the supervisor in charge of the framing crew. We do rough carpentry that means we do the basic wood structure of the houses, the heavy part of the building. We are a little arrogant, compared to the rest of the workers like plumbers, painters, electricians and roofers. We usually are taller, stronger and faster than they are. We use all kinds of power tools, saws and nail guns. And of course, we have bigger hammers.

We hate sissies, if we fall, we don’t complain and if we injure ourselves we proudly show off our scars. When I met Jesus I took a look at his hands to see if he had any scars or scratches, and when I found one at the center of each hand, I thought it was a good sign. 

He had a little accent, when I talked to him in Spanish, he answered fluently, hmm, another Mexican. Even with the facial hair, I could tell he was handsome; I’ll try to convince him to shave it off, though.

He said his dad was a carpenter too, a finish carpenter. They used to make cabinets and furniture. A lot of difference from rough carpentry. He’ll be with us as a temp, for a try-out period. I’ll be the one deciding if he stays. I’ll put him as a helper for Pedro and Andres. Our crew consists of a group of six workers, all Mexicans, some of them don’t speak English well. We believe we are the best crew in the company; they give us the harder and bigger jobs.

I've never understood why nobody names their kids 'Jesus', here in America. I mean, they use all the names in the Bible except Jesus. So different from Mexico, where it seems to be a crime if in your family you don’t have a Maria, (Mary) Jose, (Joseph) Jesus or Guadalupe, as in the Virgin of Guadalupe. Anyway, I always thought it was strange that no Americans were named Jesus.

The first day at work, just before our lunch break, Jesus was hit hard on the head by a small block of wood that was dropped accidentally. I went to check on him right away to see if he needed medical attention, but he said he was okay. I even looked for a bump on his head but there was none, good. He must have rocks instead of brains. When the lunch truck arrived, he said he’d pay for all we eat. He had no idea of the big mistake he just made. My guys are always starving, the total, $66.60, even the numbers were ominous.

Before the day was over, another accident happened. Yep, it’s Jesus, he fell from a six-foot ladder, and again I ran to him to see if he was hurt. No, nothing, just a little scratch on his right elbow. Good, his first scar. I told him that we’re allowed just one little accident a week, (I lied) but the way he’s going, he’ll be dead in a month. He laughed and said that from now on he’ll be more careful and that the accidents he had must have been caused by his desire and excitement to do well in his new job.

At the end of the day, we got paid, and as usual on Fridays, we headed for the Green Olive to shoot some pool and have a few beers. When we discussed who would be the driver, Jesus volunteered, but that was good and bad, because when we designate a driver we stay longer and we drink a lot more, but at least nobody would get a DUI ticket.

It turned out that Jesus was a pool shark; nobody seemed to be able to get him out of the pool table, not even Felipe and Tomas who were the best pool players in the joint. I almost got him, but I scratched after I made the eight ball in the corner pocket, the table must be out of level because the cue ball went into the pocket as if a magnet or something attracted it.

We had ordered at least ten pitchers of beer, and I noticed that our designated driver was drinking just like the rest of us, that didn’t look good. He was obviously having a great time, we might as well take a taxi cab when we’re done.

I had noticed that when we drink, we automatically change our names to the corresponding names in English. So Felipe is Phil, Tomas, is Tom, Pedro turns into Peter, Andres, becomes Andrew, and since I am Matias I turn into Mathew or Matt, it seems funny but we all like it. Even Simon and Pedro begin to speak in English “very fluently”.

Finally, Tom kicked Jesus’ butt and we’re glad, because Jesus had the table for almost two hours. Jesus seemed proud when he came to sit next to me.

“Man, you shoot pretty well, where did you learn?” I asked him.

“I have a pool table in my garage, I built it myself,” he answered, as proud as a peacock.

“Is that right, Jesus?” I asked.

“Yes it is Matt, you’re welcome to practice. I can teach you a few tricks.

 ‘You cocky son of a gun’ I say, but only inside my head.

“Sounds like a great idea Jesus, but first go get a couple more pitchers, and remember, you’re the driver, so you better take it easy.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be okay Matt, you just don’t worry about it, okay?”

Just as Jesus came back with a pitcher on each hand, a man got up from his chair without noticing that Jesus was just passing behind him and Jesus showered him with the beer on his back. The tall guy seemed so upset; he slapped Jesus on his cheek. Jesus apologized right away, but we all stood up and were ready to defend him in anyway, but I made a signal to my co-workers not to intervene, because I wanted to see how Jesus reacted.

What the fuck is wrong with you, are you stupid or what?” the tall guy said, as he slapped Jesus on his other cheek, and pushed him menacingly.

“I’m sorry, man, I’m sorry, let me wash your shirt in the restroom, let me buy you some beers, I’m so sorry,” Jesus said, stuttering nervously.

“Just get the hell out of here; I don’t want to see your ugly face.”

I have to say that Jesus disappointed me. I thought he was a little braver than that. To me, even his attitude on this bar counts as a test to approve or disapprove his temporary job-testing period.

After the little skirmish, he went to get two more pitchers and to order some drinks for the table where the tall man sat with his friends.

“What’s up with that, man? I thought you were going to fight him, it wasn’t even your fault, you didn’t have to apologize at all,” I told Jesus as soon as he sat down.

“It’s all right, Matt, I don’t like to fight, I’m a pacifist, to me it’s all about karma. He’ll get what he deserves, sooner or later, you’ll see.”

A couple hours later Jesus went to the restroom and a minute later, the tall guy followed him. Obviously with mean intentions, but before he reached the door handle Jesus opened the door from the inside, hit him on the face with the door and knocked him down, then he hit the back of his head against the pool table and stayed on the floor unconsciously and bleeding.

Fuck! This time Karma acted very fast.

His friends stood up, and so did we, but they backed out. The guy couldn’t stop bleeding from his face and from the back of his head too. They had to call the paramedics and finally, they took him away in an ambulance.

When we left just before midnight, I knew Jesus was in no condition to drive, but he insisted. He said we were drunker than he was. When we were about to exit from the parking lot, a cop was passing by on his cruiser and sure enough, he followed us and pulled us over. Jesus told the cop he didn’t know how many drinks he had, which was true. He showed him his license, registration, and car insurance too. Incredibly, he passed the field sobriety test, counted from a hundred backwards and followed the officer’s finger with his eyes without moving the head. Last time I did the same test, I spent the night in jail. Then Jesus blew in the breathalyzer a few times and amazingly, he passed it too.

The cop didn’t have any options but to let us go. Afterwards, we were so out of control happy, that even Pedro mockingly mumbled quietly, “ha, you fool!” then the officer returned and asked the guys in the back . . . “what did you say?” Jesus answered for us  and said, “Never mind officer, they were talking to me” and the police officer, reluctantly let us go.

From that moment on, I and everybody else approved of Jesus. It was unanimous; he could keep working with us forever.

Being a good worker and a nice person couldn’t hide his clumsiness. During the following week, he had two more accidents. I explained to him in detail how to use the nail gun. I expressly told him how dangerous it was to operate it and he still managed to shoot a nail through  the palm of his left hand while holding a two by four against a piece of plywood. He also fell from a six-foot ladder and landed on the neighbors spearhead, iron fence. Thank God he held on to a three branch, but still one spear barely penetrated his rib cage.

He kept having minor accidents, but he always insisted not to report any of them. After every accident, even if he was bleeding he fixed himself up, usually with a wet napkin and some duct tape and continued working.

A couple of weeks later the whole gang and I went out to another bar to shoot some pool and have some fun. It was Karaoke night in that place and Jesus sang the Ballad of John and Yoko twice, he was pretty good at it. He looked a little like John Lennon with his long hair. He seemed to be everybody’s best friend now. Before we got wasted, Andres asked him if he wanted to be his Best Man, he’d be getting married in a few weeks. Jesus accepted.

One time I gave him a ride home when he had his pick-up truck at the repair shop. He lived on the outskirts of town in a small farmhouse. They had some farm animals, including a donkey. Jesus said that his dad never learned how to drive a car. He told me that he bought a horse for his dad, but he still prefers his donkey. I could see that his mom was distinguished and beautiful, she could show it, even through her timid personality and humble garments. Both his parents were reserved and respectful.

His mom offered us some lemonade, and as we sat under the patio cover to drink, I noticed a slingshot, and then I immediately grabbed it. I put a small rock in its pocket and aimed at a bird on a nearby tree, never thinking I would hit it, but I did. Jesus and his mom saw what I did and exclaimed sadly, as the bird fell from the tree “Oh!”

I felt terrible and ran to get the little bird. I brought it back and apologized to them, the poor creature was barely alive. Jesus’ mom stared at me disapprovingly, before she took the bird inside the house.

“You shouldn’t have done that, it was just a little bird, man,” Jesus said, and made me feel smaller than an ant.

“I’m sorry, I never thought I was going to hit it, I swear I never meant to do it. I’ve never killed a bird in my life,” I knew the apology wasn’t good enough, not even to lessen the anger I felt at myself, but I continued talking,

“Why do you have a slingshot in the house, anyway?”

“I only use it to protect the chickens from the coyotes, but I have never killed any of God’s creatures. My mom is amazing with animals; she might save the little bird.” I knew he said this to relieve my guilty conscience. Which I knew I sincerely showed it.

“Do you believe in God?” I asked him, knowing a hundred percent in advance that he did.

“Yes, I believe in my dad,” he said without hesitation.

“No, I said God, do you believe in God?” I corrected him.

“Oh, yes of course . . .  don’t you?

“Yes I do, well, sometimes, like right now. I wish God could save the little bird, otherwise I’d feel bad for a long time.” 

“Why did you ask if I believe in God?”

“I don’t know, well, I knew you’d say yes, you seem to be a good spiritual person, but don’t you have to kill your chickens to eat them? And what’s the difference between a little bird and a big bird?”

“But you didn’t kill that bird to survive or because you were hungry, that was just a stupid action. I guess I don’t have to kill a chicken to survive either. Anyway you got a good point there, in any case, what you did was very stupid and you have to admit it. Such an innocent bird, and he was singing for us.”

“Yeah, but your chickens are innocent too, well, never mind. I feel bad enough already. I’m sorry Jesus. I should have killed one of your chickens instead and we’d be having chicken in "mole poblano" by now,” I finished mumbling my last words and we ended our morality talk laughing.

After I apologized to his mom I said goodbye and told Jesus that I’d be back in the morning to pick him up. Before I got in my pickup truck, unbelievably a bird shat on my head, and we laughed when Jesus said, “You deserve that.”

In the morning when I went to pick him up I felt relieved after I saw the little bird singing in a small cage.

Our crew consists of six workers. We divide the group in three pairs, so each leader has a helper or partner. Andres picked Jesus as his partner. Jesus is turning into a good carpenter, he’s very precise and clean with his cuts but accidents keep following him relentlessly. Yesterday he fell from the roof, he tripped and slid and kept yelling in a funny way until he landed on his butt. We started laughing outrageously after he stood unharmed.

On the day of the wedding, before the ceremony Jesus bought a Beatles CD from a group of vendors that gatheres outside the church, but he got upset after he opened the CD case and noticed that it was clearly a pirated item.

When he asked for his money back, the vendor refused, saying that he had opened it already. Jesus then got mad, turned the table over spreading dozens of CDs on the sidewalk and angrily shouted at them, saying that it was immoral to sell merchandise outside the house of God, especially if it was pirated stuff and that they were deceiving and committing fraud to decent people. He didn’t calm down until the bride and the groom showed up. His attitude was a little bizarre, I thought.

Andres had invited the whole crew to be his groomsmen. We sat on the same pew. I was next to Jesus. Before the ceremony started, two six or seven-year-old kids approached Jesus shyly and one of them quietly asked him, “Are you Jesus?” and he answered, “Yes, I’m the Best Man,” and one kid exclaimed excitedly and said to the other kid, “See, I told you he was Jesus, the best man in the world, the son of God!” I couldn’t contain my laughter. Then the priest asked them to be quiet, because mass was about to start.

When mass was over, a whole bunch of little kids were following Jesus, grabbing his hands and looking up to him, mesmerized. One of them kissed the palm of his left hand when he saw his scar. Jesus’ face turned red and could only get rid of them until he spoke loudly in Spanish, “Váyanse de aquí, chiquillos, yo no soy Jesus, soy ‘Heh-soos’”. (Translation) “Get away from me, kids, I’m not Jesus, I’m ‘Heh-soos’”.

At the reception, a voluptuous girl with a glass of wine in her hand was trying to tempt Jesus. She kept chasing him all night. Finally, she convinced him. She danced sensuously and poor Jesus had no rhythm at all.

My whole crew and I had bought all the wine, beers and drinks for the wedding. We thought we had more than enough for everybody. But as usual, we were wrong. There’s never enough alcohol at Mexican weddings, no matter how much we stock up.

When Jesus came from the dance floor, he was fuming. He said that the girl he was dancing with, had just insinuated that he was gay.

“Damn, if a girl wants to save her virginity until her wedding, they say she’s a virtuous girl, but if it’s a man, they say he’s gay. How stupid is that.” He said.

“Come on, you’re acting like a man born centuries ago, oh, and don’t tell me that you're still a virgin.”

“I don’t have to answer dumb questions. Besides, you’re acting like a typical Mexican macho man, why can’t a man say no to sex?”

Jesus was now talking in a low voice and very close to my ear. He knew everybody would laugh at him if they listened to his antiquated opinions.

“But how can you say no to a girl like that.”

“Argh, never mind, I need a beer; this hasn't been a good day for me.” He said, expressing his anger and frustration.

“Sorry, we ran out of alcohol already. That’s what always happens in all Mexican weddings, you know that.”

Then he went to the unattended bar, jumped over the counter and started to pump a beer keg. He kept extracting beer from several ‘empty’ kegs all night long.

In the end he got drunk, his frustration disappeared and he disappeared too, along with the voluptuous girl.

On Monday, he didn't show up for work.

On Tuesday, we got bad news, he had been arrested. He was accused of rape by the girl from the wedding.

A week later, he was found guilty by a panel of twelve jurors. He was judged and sentenced to ten years in prison.

If you ask me, I think he was innocent.

On the third day, he disappeared from his cell without leaving a trace.

And we never saw him again.

Edmundo Barraza

Visalia, CA. 10-24-2012

Thursday, July 3, 2014


In the Mexico of my childhood, in the Mexico where I grew up, every slum had one. Some were hidden with much shame in the back rooms of the most miserable homes of the outskirts of town. They were called by different names, lunatic, crazy, unhinged, mad, insane, nut case, loony, cuckoo, wacko or worse.

My mom had a benevolent heart, and somehow she had thought me to be respectful to everybody, and never to laugh at anyone with mental or physical deficiencies. She never gave me a lesson or mentioned the subject, I just probably learned by her example.

In the poor neighborhood where I lived, I had a friend my age, he had a brother that most of the people in the neighborhood never knew he existed. His brother was kept apart and secluded in a small room behind the kitchen. He was physically deformed, I could never guess what his age was, and he was obviously mentally impaired. I only saw him once, and I felt sad for his misery. I know it sounds awful, but when I saw Quasimodo in the movies, he reminded me of him. He had to be totally dependent on his parents.

Then, there was Marcelino, he was a little less dependent, but anybody could see that he was crazy from a mile away. He was mentally deficient or disabled or retarded, you can choose the term you prefer. He was able to work (more or less). He needed to work because he had to support his younger sister and his mother. (as I later found out.)

He didn’t live in my neighborhood. I only saw him every two or three weeks, I guess that’s the time it took him to travel his route. Sometimes I saw him in other parts of town, but always in the poorest areas of the city. I didn’t know his family or where he was from. I didn’t know where he slept. Marcelino sometimes changed his route to avoid the rotten food and vegetables that were thrown at him by mean kids and meaner adults. Sometimes old ladies would defend him, but their presence was never permanent.

Going door to door, Marcelino would offer to sing your favorite song for change or for some left-overs. He would never beg for anything free, except maybe for an old 45 for his record player. He would exchange his services as a troubadour for a taco or for ten cents.

He carried a little wooden box with a rusty nail sticking out of the middle. It was probably the only possession of his that wasn’t a hand-me-down, or hadn’t been reclaimed from the back alley. Ten cents would buy you a song. Not really singing anything, he’d just hum and mumble the same tune no matter what the request had been. Turning his treasured records with his stubby fingers on his wooden box, he’d perform for you, your song.

To hear the fading man whine, older kids from town would snatch Marcelino’s records. All the kids did something to him at some point. Frisbeeing the records over his head into the hands of another kid, they make him chase them around, until someone finally dropped one. Marcelino would pick it up, clean it off with his dirty shirt and walk straight to his record player to start singing again. Maybe he was too slow to see it, but I think it was excessive innocence; he’d fall for their pranks every time. Spotting him a block away, kids would climb tree tops and roofs, and just when Marcelino was close enough, they’d jump out of their hiding places to throw a bucket of water or watermelon rinds, rotten eggs and tomatoes, or whatever was at hand.

Our mothers would defend him then, but they didn’t realize that they themselves embedded resentment in our little minds years before, saying, “Do as I say, or Marcelino would take you.” Comparing him to the boogie man.

Patiently waiting, crouched in my balcony, I’d be armed with rubber bands and orange peels, ready for any unlucky victims to walk past my house, Yeah, I had dirty tricks too, but I was choosy, no grandmas, pretty girls or Marcelino. 

When his daily route brought him to my house, mama always had a taco or whatever we had for lunch, waiting for him and I’d always take him to the door. She’d never forget to give me his ten cents, so I could have my song. Some days he would show up with bruises and gashes on his face and arms, and then we’d pay for two. Everybody knew when he’d get all bloodied up, that somebody had been extremely cruel and everybody would feel bad about it, but all that temporary compassion would fade away before he moved to the next neighborhood. 

On some occasions my dad would give me money to give to church on Sundays, and I never thought of using that money for my own pleasure. I never kept it for me, not even once, except to give it to Marcelino when he came up all beaten and defeated.

He sang obscure or invented on-the-spot songs, whatever came to his mind I guess. We could never understand the words. But there was one that he would sing endlessly, it sounded like a lullaby. If you requested that one, he would smile mischievously, because he also knew it was the best in his repertoire. While he was humming that sad tune you could find a little happiness behind his eyes.                                                                                                                         
He had dark skin, after all his life under the sun. He was eternally tanned, no, that’s not the word, he was eternally sunburned. You could see he had extraordinary strength, the strength of a hard working peasant, but he could never use it in its entire potential to defend himself, because he could easily be punished by the law, or overtaken by a mob.

He could never win, he was always alone. No matter what, he’d be the guilty party, even if he’d win, but he could never win. And he never won. Nobody could be on his side on those instances. The loony, the mentally deranged is always the loser in these parts of town or anywhere else. If he acted “irrationally” his final destiny could be jail, or the hospital, and in some extreme case (if he was lucky) the cemetery. 

Sometimes we would try to guess his age, it was very difficult. Our guesses varied from twenty to forty five. But his mind was of a seven-year-old child. (I could cry just thinking about that.)

You could see he was extremely innocent, even though he had been eternally abused. I say this because it was easy to make him smile. He didn’t ask for much. If you smile at him, he knew you were a friend, but the thing was that he could easily forget that, and the next minute you were the enemy again. It was easy to gain his trust but it was easier for him to distrust you, probably because he had been abused by so many, and for so long.

One of the kids my age was especially mean to him. Years later he wanted to date my sister, but I highly recommended her against it. I was glad she followed my advice.

One time I came out of my house, and right away I knew I had missed him, when I saw many tiny pieces of black, hard plastic on the ground. I was sure it was one of his records. 

After a while, I saw less of Marcelino. By the time winter came, he had even left most everyone’s mind but mine. I missed his rusty muttering, his toothless smile, so after I apologized to my older brother for purposely leaving his records in the sun and warping them, I asked if I could give them to Marcelino and set out on his route to find him.

To my ten year old legs it seemed no one had ever walked as far to reach a tiny house at the edge of town, having gone through all the repairs it could take. A small woman opened the door, his sister, “They took his leg, from the knee.” She said. One of his bruises never healed. Too scared to go inside I left the records with her and went back home.

Summer came and so did Marcelino, with a wooden leg and crutches. Around his neck, hung his record player by a string, and swinging from his hip, his 45s in a cloth bag. It was good to see him again, but I was deeply sad to see him like that.

His new appearance softened very few hearts. He’d forget to avoid the produce alley, where the men would tease him, asking him if he had a wife, if he’d ever been with a woman, if he wanted to. Now, the mean grown-up men thought it was funny to watch him hobble back down the alley to fetch the crutch they’d just thrown.

Up to my own tricks in my balcony, I was aiming my orange peel at some kid walking up to my neighbor’s house. I couldn’t get my shot in. The kid had started playing with my neighbor's little girl in the front yard. Throwing her in the air and catching her, they were both laughing. Suddenly, the girl's dog came out growling and cornered the kid against the fence, when the little girl began to scream, Marcelino appeared at the gate and hit the dog with his crutch, the dog then jumped at Marcelino’s neck, and the kid, scared that it had been his fault, started yelling at the people that were now coming out of their houses.

And he told everybody that Marcelino was trying to take the girl. 

Was it the dog or the enraged mob who ended Marcelino's life? In the end nobody knew, and nobody cared. 

Most people believed the kid was telling the truth about Marcelino, after all the dog was defending the master's daughter, but nobody believed me. Only my mom and my dad.

There were only a handful of people at his funeral, where an old lady began to sing a beautiful song. 

The same song I heard Marcelino hum hundreds of times all throughout my childhood.

Michelle Solano / Edmundo Barraza
Lancaster, Ca. July-2014

*I first told this story to my daughter Michelle, when she was seven or eight years old. Later she wrote it in High School. Most of the story happened in real life when I was ten or eleven years old. What seems amazing to me, is that my daughter wrote the story  ten years later with such great detail. I only added a few paragraphs and changed the ending a little bit.