Mary’s Ten O’clock

mary at meeting - 2017 - 3x2
Eduardo Suré; Mary at Meeting, 2017; Watercolor
Mary sat at the conference table between space junk Wonder Boy and The expert on space weather. She wondered what she could possibly contribute to the efforts of this team. She could not remember half the names of the ten people in the room. She had not even introduced herself correctly. She thought she heard herself say her names was Murray.

“I would like gather a preliminary set of risks to our assets, and then…” said Michael as Mary’s attention wandered off. Mary made an effort to remember this person’s name because he was the facilitator. He had two other people with him. One was named Richard. She remembered his name because Dick is short for Richard. There was a Dick in her family. She could not remember the name of the other person even though she could not forget his face. She told herself to stop worrying about names and start paying attention. She missed a lot of what Michael said after assets.

“Murray, why don’t you start us off?” asked Michael. Everyone in the room looked at Mary. Adrenaline shot through her body. Her hand began to tremble. She felt her forehead moisten. Mary had to swallow before she could speak.

“It’s Mary,” she said.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear what you said,” said Michael.

“Cybersecurity,” said Mary. Richard typed the word into the notes page projected on the wall. Mary’s ears perceived each click of the keyboard like points being added next to her name on a scoreboard.

“Excellent,” said Michael. “Who would like to go next?” Mary did not hear what the next person said. She was too happy she had guessed correctly what to say. She had even contributed and there was a credit on her credibility ledger. She forced herself to pay attention so she would not be caught with her mind elsewhere again.

To keep herself engaged, Mary commented whenever someone else provided a good suggestion. Her strategy worked for the first half hour. She was feeling a connection between herself and the others in the room. She felt like she was a part of the group.

Richard stood up to let the other guy sit in his place and take notes. The room darkened a little as if clouds had rolled in. The lights flickered. ‘What the hell is that guy’s name,’ thought Mary. She stared at his face trying to remember. She thought his teeth were too big; especially his front teeth. His lips draped over his incisors like a miniskirt over butt cheeks of unusual size. His nostrils revealed an undergrowth of hair in his nose. He had eyes like a Chihuahua. His mother must have considered drowning him in the toilet.

“Did you say something, Murray?” asked the new note taker. He noticed her staring at him.

“It’s Mary,” she replied. “I was just thinking that we don’t have a good plan for disposal.” Michael nodded his head thoughtfully. A conversation began in the room. No one noticed the man had not typed in Mary’s suggestion.

“Could a competitor damage our assets?” Patricia asked.

“Good point, Patricia,” said Michael. “Please write that down, Logan.” Logan typed in a note summarizing her comment.

‘What the hell kind of name is Logan?’ thought Mary. She did not have a problem with the name; she had a problem with the person taking notes. She expected him to be named Beaver or Bug-Eye or Skid-Mark. Mary was determined not to break even or have a deficit in the esteem of her colleagues. She straightened her posture and cleared her throat.

“I’m sorry to press, but I still think we contribute to space junk without a proper disposal plan,” said Mary. “That adds to everyone’s risk.” She tried to make eye contact with Logan. She looked at his right eye, but it looked as if he was staring at Patricia. She looked at his other eye, it was looking at her. ‘Write it down, Skid-Mark,’ Mary thought. Mary could see in her periphery that other participants were nodding, but she stared at Logan’s eye and waited for him to enter the note.

‘What is your problem with me,‘ Mary thought. She guessed at why Logan wrote Patricia’s comment, but not hers. Patricia was a pretty blond. Her big innocent blue eyes made men’s intelligence plunge when she rested her gaze on them. ‘What do you think is going to happen with Patricia,’ Mary thought. ‘You think she wants the spawn of a walleyed Chihuahua?’

“Why don’t you write that down, Logan?” suggested Michael. Logan hesitated. Mary’s eye lids narrowed. Everyone in the room stopped moving and appeared to hold their breath. Then, Logan began to peck at the keyboard.

The sound of each keystroke tickled Mary. She won that fight. She scored that point with the experts behind her after she took a risk and asserted herself. Her idea was projected on the wall for everyone to see. There was so much to savor in that victory that she felt like she was floating. She was so excited she could pee herself.

‘Oh, crap!’ Mary thought to herself. ‘I think I just peed myself!’

Mary wore a skirt, so she could not look down to see if there was a visible wet spot. She had felt a tiny squirt. The volume of liquid felt like a cheap water gun had been fired from her body. She felt a warm sensation. Then, there was cooling.

There was no way Mary was going to leave the room without someone noticing a wet spot on the back of her skirt. Wonder Boy was a known butt ogler. There was an ongoing debate among the women: one side argued that he was an avid connoisseur of posteriors and the other side said his glances were hardwired and involuntary. Regardless, Mary was in danger of detection. She did not have anything with her to wrap around her waist. Even if she made it out of the room, she was not going to avoid being seen in the halls on the way back to her desk.

Since Mary did not want to be noticed, she received a lot of attention from the meeting participants. They rallied around her after the unprovoked attack. As the meeting wound down, small talk began and people asked her questions about herself. Had she not soiled herself, she would have basked in the attention. She would have lain on the table with her arms and legs spread out awkwardly and purred like a cat. She might have gotten down on her hands and knees and done a figure 8 around Michael’s legs. Instead, she wanted to crawl alongside the walls and find a hole in which to hide.  She gave short answers to questions and diverted attention to others by asking questions about them as a part of her response.

Richard and Logan walked around the conference room and tidied up as Michael allowed the conversation to signal the conclusion of the meeting. Richard picked up extra copies of handouts on one side of the room, and Logan gathered the extra copies on the side where Mary sat. When Logan reached for the copies that were in front of Mary, he knocked over her coffee cup. The lid popped off of the cup. A tsunami of coffee poured across the table toward her. A waterfall went over the table. The liquid’s journey ended when a plunge pool of coffee found her lap. One of Logan’s eyes looked at Mary. He apologized with a note of insincerity in his voice.

“It’s one-hundred percent OK,” said Mary cheerfully. “I have a change of clothes in a drawer at my desk.” She was gracious and sincere. Logan looked hurt. He did not know he solved her peed skirt problem and gave her one more opportunity to be awesome. Mary purred as she left the room.



Finding the Orange Living Jewel

ashley and orange jewel - 2017 - custom
Eduardo Suré; Ashley and Orange Jewel, 2017; Watercolor
Ashley leaned against a police car, held her gun with both hands, and wondered how the suspect would try to use the hostage to escape. The man she and her partner, Kimberly, called the Quantum Killer had beaten her twice that evening already. The first time, he had killed the victim almost right in front of her. The second time, he had been able to flee the scene as she pursued. As she stood against the car and took deep breaths in the dark, she was relieved the chase was over. However, she had a new problem: the suspect had kicked open a front door and a woman who lived alone in the house was his hostage.

Ashley was not going to let him beat her a third time. She and four officers had secured the perimeter of the home and they had it under surveillance. She and two of the officers were at the front of the house, and two officers were at the back. The SWAT team was on its way.

Ashley took her right hand off her weapon and tapped around her body to make sure she had everything. She felt her vest, badge, handcuffs, and her hair tied back. She fidgeted to keep herself alert. It was late and she was tired. The seconds were long as she waited. She tried to keep her mind in the moment; but it wandered around the mysteries of the case. The biggest was that earlier that night, like every other night, the Quantum Killer took two victims in two cities in the same way at the same time. It had been an impossible and horrible trick.

The murders had been in the national news, so the suspect had gotten sloppy trying to make sure he would be given credit. He must have thought little to nothing of the intelligence of the police. The clues he had left were more than enough for Kimberly, her partner, to correctly identify the cities in which the crimes were to take place. In fact, she had correctly identified the possible locations of the crimes within a couple of city blocks. The women had split up and each had been allowed to lead a special team of police officers to protect civilians and arrest the suspect.

To ensure the victim would be found quickly, the Quantum Killer had been bold. The two victims had been newsstand sales associates on busy city streets. There had been one or two perfect minutes where there had been no pedestrian traffic and the suspect could strike. The back of the newsstand faced the street, so passing cars could not see inside of it. Ashley had not actually seen the crime occur, but she had spotted a man dressed like a runner step out of a newsstand. He would have blended in perfectly with other pedestrians, but looked odd as he stepped out of a newsstand. Kimberly had not seen the suspect in her city, but she had heard a woman who found the victim scream.

Ashley was snapped back into the moment when the SWAT team arrived. The SWAT teams’ vehicle looked like a mobile home painted black. It was too large for the neighborhood they were in. The SWAT team leader jumped out of the vehicle and walked briskly toward Ashley.

“Detective Ashley Smith?” asked the SWAT team leader. She nodded. “I’m Johnson. What’s the layout?”

“This neighborhood has no outlet for motor vehicles,” said Ashley. “Woods run behind the houses: five acres wide. The home is on a slab and there’s no attic. Front door and garage exit, two windows on each side, one door and a large window in the back. Bathroom windows do not open.”

“Weapons?” asked Johnson.

“A knife. Possibly a handgun,” said Ashley.

“Possibly?” asked Johnson. He scanned Ashley from head to toe.

“We did not have eyes on him when he carjacked,” said Ashley.

“One hostage?” asked Johnson.

“Yes,” said Ashley straightening her posture to match Johnson’s.

Johnson spoke into his radio, “Williams and Jones, I want intel on the suspect and the hostage.” Immediately, two men exited the SWAT team’s mobile home. They disappeared into the shadows.

“We last saw them in the kitchen,” said Ashley.

“Yeah, thanks,” said Johnson dismissively. He looked at her again as if checking that she was a woman. “Is the perimeter secure?”

“Yes, there are two…” began Ashley.

“And under surveillance?” interrupted Johnson. Ashley did not like how he was asking his questions. When she took a deep breath both to stay composed and reply, Johnson’s and her radio chirped. The SWAT team members and an officer conveyed the same message at the same time to their leaders: the suspect had walked out the back door of the house and was holding a knife to the hostage.

Leaving Johnson behind, Ashley sprinted down the side of the house toward the back. She slowed down just before arriving at the corner and prepared herself to aim down the sights of her handgun. When she peeked around the corner, she saw the two police officers on her team aiming their weapons at the suspect. He shielded himself with the hostage and controlled her movements with the knife.

The suspect was only aware of the police officers, and he faced them. Having a side view of the suspect and hostage, she saw she had a clear shot. She hesitated. It was a shot she did not want to take. If she put the suspect down, she would not be able to interrogate him. She may never find out how he coordinated the simultaneous murders. As she considered her nonlethal options, she heard a shot fired from a sniper rifle. The hostage screamed and the suspect fell to the ground.

Early the next morning, Ashley sat in her cubicle doing her paperwork for the case. She could not bring herself to put words down on the standard forms. She knew she could not put it off because she would need to participate in the SWAT team’s review and evaluation that afternoon.

Ashley was dreading seeing Johnson again. He had handled the situation perfectly, and she had botched almost everything. The SWAT unit would be relaxed and able to declare success. She would be able to declare how she allowed three victims: the man who’d been found dead in the newsstand, the driver who’d had his car jacked, and the woman who had been held hostage. All she had to show for that disastrous night was a dead suspect, a knife from the hostage’s kitchen, and a rock the suspect had in his pocket.

Ashley picked up the evidence bag in which she had placed the rock. She examined it through the plastic. It looked to her like a gumball made of orange sugar. She looked for something like it online and it looked like it could be an orange diamond. Given its size, the suspect would not have taken it from the last victim or hostage.

Finding the owner of the orange gemstone would have to wait. Ashley’s highest priority was to find the other killer. She absentmindedly took the gem out of the bag and fidgeted with it as she considered if there could be more than one accomplice out there. She asked herself, how many monsters could there be? How many people were willing to end human lives for vanity? How many were capable of taking human lives for sport? It was her and Kimberly against these monsters.

Ashley held the stone tightly and pounded the top of the desk softly and rhythmically. She fidgeted as she thought about what they could do to solve this case once and for all. She felt stretched thin. She thought, if only there were more detectives on the case like Kimberly and herself. She suddenly felt dizzy. She told herself it was the stress, but then she had double vision. She felt faint and as if she might slip out of her chair. She closed her eyes, leaned back, and put her hands on her head to steady herself. When she opened her eyes, there was a woman in front of her. It was not Kimberly, but someone who she felt she should instantly recognize – like her mother or sister. However, there was something wrong with the appearance of the woman. It was herself. She was looking at herself standing in her cubicle.


Predatory Behavior

runner - 2017 - widescreen
Eduardo Suré; Runner, 2017; Watercolor
Charles was frustrated that an empty beer glass waited on the counter in front of him. As he waited for the bartender, he watched the ring from the beer he had just finished slowly sink toward the bottom of the glass. Christopher looked over at Charles when he began tapping the side of his empty glass with his fingernails. The ticks were not audible to the bartender in the noisy bar filled with the happy hour crowd, but Christopher could hear them and he took a drink from his own half full glass of beer to keep himself from slapping his best friend’s hand. Charles picked up his glass and wiggled it at his eye level like a chemist mixing a solution in a test tube.

“Just give her a minute, Charlie,” said Christopher. He did not want the two of them to be the jerks at the bar.

“What are those shorts called?” asked Charles. He put his glass down.

“What shorts?” asked Christopher. “Who are you looking at?”

“Those shorts that girls wear,” said Charles. “They’re loose and have stripes around the leg openings and up the sides.”

“Are they for running or what?” asked Christopher.

“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking,” said Charles. “They look like running shorts guys would have worn in the 70’s, but only women wear them now.”

“Where did you see them?” asked Christopher.

“Some chick on the subway was wearing them,” said Charles.

“Did you want a pair, or what?” asked Christopher.

“I’m just wondering what they’re for,” said Charles.

“They’re for attracting studs, like me,” said Christopher, “not for ogling by perverts like you.”

“How could one possibly give shorts a lecherous look? They’re just objects,” said Charles. “Speaking of ogling, you want to hear something funny? So my mind dwelled on the function of the stupid shorts and I glanced over at them hoping for a label to pop out of thin air or something. I didn’t look at the girl’s face or anything, but I got this feeling like she was looking at me. So; I glanced up at her face, and you know what? She was staring at me!”

“Like pissed off or what?” asked Christopher.

“Yeah, I guess,” said Charles. “So I looked down, all embarrassed. Aren’t women supposed to ignore you?”

“They can’t ignore me,” joked Christopher.

“So I was uncomfortable and I wanted to look around,” said Charles. “So I looked over at the map mounted on the side of the train above the seats by the door. I wanted to look like I was trying to figure out my stops. There was a guy sitting underneath it, so I glanced at him. It was just a reflex. And you know what? The dude was staring at me!”

“Like mad dogging you?” asked Christopher.

“What do you mean, mad dogging?” asked Charles.

“It’s like when someone is trying to threaten you with the way they are looking at you,” said Christopher.

“I don’t know,” said Charles, “but I looked over at the girl with the shorts and she was staring at me still.”

“Well, that’s what you get,” said Christopher.

“That’s not all I got,” said Charles. “So I was just looking down at my lap because I didn’t want any trouble with this guy. I didn’t know if he was crazy or what. Then, some lady walked over and stood by me. It wasn’t weird that someone would do that because I was sitting by the door. She was just waiting for her stop. I looked up at her real quick and…”

“She was staring at you,” said Christopher.

“Right!” exclaimed Charles. “I looked over at the guy and the girl and they were staring at me too!”

“Well, you asked for it,” said Christopher.

“Maybe from the girl in the shorts, but not the other people,” said Charles.

“Yeah, you did,” said Christopher. “Everyone responded to your predatory behavior.”

“Get outta here with that crap, Chris,” said Charles. “Like you know anything.”

“Predators stare when they stalk,” said Christopher. “You were like a creepy little lioness in the grass and they were like gazelles. You triggered their fight or flight response.”

“I don’t think I stared so much they felt threatened,” said Charles. “It was just glances.”

“Maybe it seemed that way to you,” said Christopher.

“So you’re telling me they wanted to fight?” asked Charles. “Because if they wanted flight, they would have moved or avoided looking at me.”

“Well, no. Since you are both human, the confrontation escalates before there is an actual fight,” said Christopher. “It sounds like they just wanted to dominate you.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Charles.

“Yeah, I do. Want me to show you?” asked Christopher. “There’s a guy sitting near the corner of the bar. Look at his face for a little longer than one should.” Charles had no intention of staring at a stranger, but he scanned the faces at the bar and found the man Christopher had pointed out to him. The man looked up from his drink and their eyes locked. Christopher noticed and said, “Don’t look away, Charlie.” Charles stared at the stranger.

“Thanks to you I’m going to end up fighting this guy,” said Charles without looking away.

“No, you’re not,” said Christopher. “Walk over to him and expose your neck.”

“Hello, no,” said Charles.

“Do it,” interrupted Christopher, “and I’ll pay for your tab tonight. Have you ever seen a monkey do it? It’s either your neck or your genitals.”

Charles spun around on his bar stool and stood up. He began walking toward the stranger with a confidence elevated by the alcohol in his system. The stranger at the end of the bar continued to stare at him, but did not stand. Charles removed his tie and unbuttoned his collar. He looked for a reaction from the stranger, but the stranger only turned to face him. He did not stand. When Charles was within an arm’s length of the man; he reached into his own collar, pulled it down, and exposed his neck. The stranger rose from his stool and bit Charles’s neck like a vampire. The bite left pressure marks, but did not break the skin. Then, he sat down and took a drink from his beer ignoring Charles.

Charles walked back to his seat humiliated.

“Well?” asked Christopher. Charles picked up his fresh glass of beer and took a long drink.

“I don’t think I like what I just learned,” said Charles.

“There’s a hierarchy of status among people, Charlie” said Christopher. “You’ve been asking people where they stood all along without knowing it.”

“Yeah,” said Charles, “I’m going to be the lion from now on.”

“As long as you can accept,” said Christopher, “that lions don’t live very long.”


The Meeting

meeting - 2017 - watercolor - widescreen
Eduardo Suré; The Meeting, 2017; Watercolor

I created this painting for a story I wrote this week. My family enjoyed the story so much, they suggested I enter it in a contest. So, I did. Wish me luck!

I find drawing and painting people really challenging. I regret some decisions I made painting this, but I like the way the principal subject turned out.


voters - 2017 - widescreen
Eduardo Suré; Voters, 2017; Watercolor
Last summer, two men sat at the counter of a plebian diner somewhere between the sounds of cooking in front of them and the clinking of forks on ceramic plates behind them. Daniel frequently stopped at the diner after work. The cold air calmed his body after a long day landscaping in the sun. Eugene only stopped at the diner before his last night shift of the week at the factory. Both middle-aged men sat at the counter hunched over their own business. Daniel thumbed through his phone and Eugene flipped through a marked up sample ballot wrinkled from being frequently taken in and out of a pocket. The woman working behind the counter brought Daniel a plate with two eggs, two slices of bacon, two sausage links, and hashed browns covered with cheese. Eugene’s eyes dwelled on Daniel’s plate.

“I want good health,” said Daniel out the side of his mouth as he chewed sausage. Eugene snorted when he suppressed a laugh. “Is something funny?” asked Daniel.

“You might want to get your cholesterol checked,” said Eugene.

“I don’t go to doctors,” said Daniel as he cut through the hashed browns and stuck a piece in his mouth. “If I go, they’ll find something wrong with me.” Eugene turned his head, squeezed his eyes shut, and wrinkled his forehead.

The woman behind the counter surveyed her area of responsibility. She tossed a towel she was holding in her hand into a tub that released the smell of bleach into the air. She picked up a remote, aimed it at a television, and turned it on. A politician appeared on the screen speaking angrily and pointing his index finger at a map of Europe that was superimposed on his right. The woman behind the counter listened to the rant for a minute and then flipped through the channels until she found a baseball game. She tossed the remote next to a cash register and looked around.

“We should be polite to our neighbors,” said Eugene aloud to no one in particular.

“We want foreign allies,” said Daniel.

“That’s right,” said Eugene turning to Daniel.

“…so we can’t be polite,” Daniel finished saying. The expression on Eugene’s face conveyed confusion and regret.

“Sorry?” asked Eugene.

“We need to tell them how it is and what we want, or else they won’t work with us,” said Daniel. He finished chewing his bacon and looked at Eugene. “Do you want a world free from terror?”

“Of course,” replied Eugene.

“Then we need to kill all the terrorists,” said Daniel.

“Well; yes – obviously, killing all of them would do it; but…”

“If you’re going to kill all of the terrorists then you must be able to identify all of them,” interrupted Daniel.

“How do you propose that we identify all of the terrorists?” asked Eugene.

“We have to sort out the terrorists from the non-terrorists,” replied Daniel. “Are you a terrorist?”

“No,” replied Eugene.

“See? Like that,” said Daniel. He wiped his mouth with a paper napkin, placed his knife and fork parallel on his plate pointing to three o’clock, and called the woman behind the counter. She pulled a bill out of her apron and placed it in front of him along with a red and white mint. He looked at the bill without picking it up. “Food costs more and more every day.”

“The economy will get better,” said Eugene.

“Or worse,” said the woman behind the counter.

“Or both,” said Daniel.

“The economy will certainly not get better, honey,” said the woman behind the counter. “It will get worse.”

“Or both,” repeated Daniel as he placed his money on the bill on the counter. “Have a good one,” he groaned as he spun on his stool, stood up, and walked out.

Eugene watched the woman behind the counter. She pinched and scratched at her crotch. Her eyes met Eugene’s when she looked up to see if anyone noticed. She smiled apologetically and said, “Sorry, hon: I have a rash and the itch is just torture. It just comes on all of a sudden. I’m scratchin’ before I know what I’m doing.”

“Do you think anyone is going to vote for that guy?” asked Eugene.

“Who knows?” replied the woman behind the counter.

“Would you vote for him?” asked Eugene.

“That’s a very personal question, don’t you think?” asked the woman behind the counter with raised eyebrows.

“Sorry,” said Eugene.

“You want some coffee?” asked the woman behind the counter as she scratched her crotch.

“No, thanks: just the check,” said Eugene. The woman behind the counter pulled a bill out of her apron, glanced at it, and placed it in front of Eugene. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the sample ballot. He stared at the page and the candidates he circled until someone new sat next to him and startled him. He shoved the ballot back into his pocket and felt the other pockets for his wallet. The woman behind the counter watched as Eugene left his payment on the counter, got up, and walked out the door. She continued to watch him through the window as he stood in front of the store. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the crumpled sample ballot. He looked down at it, clenched his fists around the edges, bit down on the top of the pages, and whipped his head sideways to tear off the pieces.


La Guaje

When I was ten years old, my mother left me in Mexico with an uncle. He had a family and a farm. Where my uncle lived, the land and buildings were apart from each other. The land for crops ran along the largest river in the region. The buildings where people and their animals lived were together in the town. The town was small enough for everyone to know everyone else’s name and business.  I remember walking from one end of the town to the other in a couple of hours.

My uncle’s adobe home was attached to other homes on the same block. The house was arranged in three columns perpendicular to the dirt street in front of it. The first column was made up of three rooms: two bedrooms at each end and an open patio between them where my grandfather took naps on the floor. The second column was a roofless walkway with a wooden front gate at one end and, at the other end, a gate to the huge corral that was behind his home. My uncle walked his donkeys and cows through this hall twice every day: once on his way out to the field and a second time when he returned home in the evening. The third column was made up of four rooms: a living room where most of the family slept, an empty bedroom, a kitchen, and bathroom.

I don’t think I have ever been as free as I was that summer. There was no alarm clock to wake me in the morning. I maintained my hygiene at my own discretion. Mealtimes where when someone gave me food. I devised projects for myself to kill time. Many of these projects got me into trouble. When it was so dark I feared being eaten by stray dogs, I ran back to my uncle’s home. I slept wherever I believed I’d be safest from mosquitoes, but they always found me and bragged about it in my ear.

I don’t know what inspired my aunt to plant a seed in my mind one day. I can only guess she was unaware or dissatisfied by the dangers to which I exposed myself. She told me of a secret oasis called La Guaje located somewhere within the vast desert that surrounded the town. She said there were waterfalls in it which made possible the growth of beautiful plants and a variety of delicious fruit. She said most people knew about it, but did not know its location and could not tell me exactly where it was.

To appreciate the allure of La Guaje, one must know that food was scarce. Most people ate a modest meal once or twice a day. People only fed me because I was a novelty, and the missing filter between my brain and mouth made me an unwitting entertainer. Fruit was such a commodity that street venders sold it as a treat. Days before, an older cousin chased me around the neighborhood attempting to whip me with his belt for eating a watermelon out of his garden. Fruit was just not easy to get. The thought of a fruit feeding frenzy alone in some secret paradise was tantalizing.

One morning, I asked my grandfather if I could borrow his donkey. I preferred my uncle’s donkey because my grandfather’s beast was stubborn and bit. However, my uncle worked every day. Being over seventy years old, my grandfather only worked when he wanted to. On that particular morning, he planned to hang out all day with other ancient ones along a wall by the church. I took whatever guttural sound he made as an approval of my request. I saddled up the uncooperative donkey, filled a canteen, and headed into the desert to find La Guaje.

I had no idea where I was going. I went in the direction I though my aunt pointed. Perhaps she only gestured in a general direction. I may not have been paying attention. I rode my grandfather’s donkey on the dusty road past homes that had been brightly painted once a long time ago. The steel bars on the windows were decorative trying to hide their true purpose. Heavy steel front doors were already left open for the day so people, flies, and chickens could wander in and out freely.

Eventually, I reached the only paved road in town and crossed it. The last and only sign of civilization on the other side was an abandoned school building. Hills scattered about in front of me obstructed my view of the desert. When I got around them and saw the vast brown earth and brush that extended until the base of some gray mountains far off in the distance, I considered whether I should be heading out alone.

boy and donkey - 2017 - 10x8
Eduardo Suré; Boy and Donkey, 2017; Watercolor

I rode the donkey most of the morning. He was used to a short trip to the fields in the morning; a day of leisure, food, and drink; and then a short trip home bearing a heavy load. He stubbornly wanted to take the same route on the trip to the fields and on the way back. It got boring not having to figure out the way; but sometimes we were attacked by dogs on the route.

Near noon, the donkey decided he’d carried me far enough to nowhere. He wouldn’t continue unless I walked and pulled him along. So, I walked on the mix of powdery sand and gravel. The short plants capable of living in the desert soil were rude to my exposed skin, so I avoided touching them.

The sun burned the back of my neck as I continued to walk toward the gray mountains in the distance. I was sure I would find La Guaje in those mountains. I couldn’t imagine waterfalls in a flat desert. I finished my water by mid-afternoon, but didn’t worry about it because I didn’t know better. I wondered if the donkey was thirsty. I looked back at him to assess his face. He gave me such a look of bitter indignation that I had to look away immediately. I was hungry too, but glad for it because there would be plenty of room for fruit.

As our shadows grew longer and the ground beneath me cooled, I began to worry that I might not reach the mountains. Then, the sun set. I realized the trip back to my uncle’s home would take as long as it took to me to arrive wherever it is I was. My plan for getting back to my uncle’s house was simple: walk away from the gray mountains. I regret I did not anticipate the day would end and I would be unable to see the mountains or anything around me.

My mind went wild in the dark. At any second, scorpions were going to run up my legs and into my pants. They would sting my butt cheeks or more sensitive targets. Rattlesnakes were going to sink their fangs into my calves. I was going to be devoured alive by coyotes. I would cry as they nibbled on my arm and the donkey would look away ashamed.

I mounted the donkey for safety. He bucked once in protest, but I held on. He turned back and bit my leg. I deserved it for the trouble I had gotten us into and forgave him. The night sky was crowded with stars flaunting beauty I could not appreciate. The desert at night was loud and terrifying. In the middle of this enormous dark world we stood: a couple of jackasses. I don’t know how long fear kept me awake, but fatigue won in the end and I fell asleep on the donkey’s back.

The next morning, I fell off the donkey when it lowered its head to drink water from a public water trough by a street near my uncle’s home. Two women, one who swept the sidewalk and another who sprayed the dirt road with water to keep the dust down, stared at me. Stupidity so early in the morning must have been prohibited, so I waved at them apologetically from the ground. I got up, grabbed the reigns, and led the donkey to my uncle’s home. I was enormously relieved the donkey had walked back to town as I slept.

My aunt saw me walking through the front gate. She asked me if I’d had breakfast. I didn’t answer and looked at her face waiting for her to ask me why I hadn’t come home last night. Instead, she told me to take the saddle off the donkey and put him in the corral. She told me to go eat breakfast at another aunt’s house and to avoid my grandfather for a few days. I had worried him so much he had become angry about his missing donkey.

Years later, when I was an adult, I remembered La Guaje for no reason in particular. I was sure if I tried again, I’d be able to find it. I wondered whether the word guaje meant oasis, so I looked it up. Oasis translated from English to Spanish is oasis. I thought guaje might instead be a Native American word, so I looked up the word specifically. I found that guaje means sucker. My aunt sent me on a snipe hunt.


Old John’s Trumpet

old john - 2017-04-2017 - 4x6
Eduardo Suré; Old John, 2017; Watercolor

How are you doing today? Feel free to look inside the coolers or on the sides of my food cart. I have some great snacks and refreshments. I’m sure you’ll find something you like. Please let me know if I can help you with anything.

Well, now look at that! Here comes Old John again. Has another year gone by already? You know it must be near Christmas because that’s when Old John shows up: John the street performer; John the musician; John the trumpet player. Old John looks like he’s going to be good, doesn’t he? Look at his sharp suit. Look at the way he carries himself. He looks like a master. Old John is the worst trumpet player you’ve ever heard in your life. No, I’m not being mean. Just wait right here for a few minutes while he sets up his busking spot. He sets up his chair and his trumpet case right there at the top of the escalators leading in and out of the subway.

I remember the first time I heard John play. He took his time setting up just like he’s doing today. I looked at big Old John and thought I was in for a treat. I mean, look at him: he really looks like he can play. I remember thinking I was so lucky to have set up my food cart right here with all of the foot traffic from the office buildings and the subway. And then I was going to get to hear some nice music while I worked. I remember I stopped what I was doing when John raised the trumpet to his lips. He took a deep breath. Then, he began to play the worst version of Deck the Halls I have ever heard in my life. I looked at the faces of people walking by and they looked as confused as I did about what was happening with this grown man and his trumpet right there in front of everyone to hear. It sounded like someone was force-tickling farts out of Santa Claus.

Old John isn’t only bad; he is dangerous. I’m not exaggerating. Look at the length of the escalators leading down to the subway. That is a long way to fall. Do you know the song, Joy to the World? Think about how that song starts. Now think about how you might sing it if you were angry. One time, I was watching as unsuspecting people rode down that escalator thinking about their day or their destination or whatever. They weren’t expecting to be scared. Then, John blew out of that trumpet the first note of Joy to the World like he was announcing the launch of an attack. Just think about those poor startled people on the escalator. Some of them stumbled down the stairs. There was probably a heart attack or two.

I think Old John knows he’s bad too. One afternoon, he was playing Silent Night. His trumpet playing sounded like an elephant had just learned his momma died. You know how some people are just mean? Some guy went up to Old John and loudly asked him in front of everyone how much it would cost for him to stop playing. Old John didn’t even blink before he answered that a dollar would pay for silence until he couldn’t see the man anymore. The guy dropped a dollar in the trumpet case, and Old John kept quiet until the man was gone. I think I would feel bad after an insult like that. I might even quit playing. Old John didn’t care though. I think he played even worse whenever he saw the man walk by since he’d get a dollar to be quiet every time.

Now here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Brace yourself, Old John is wiggling his fingers to warm them up for the show. Look at him aiming his trumpet at the escalators. Those poor innocent people! You might want to cover your ears, but don’t be obvious about it. There he goes! It sounds like Oh Holy Night, doesn’t it? Oh, don’t make that face: he hasn’t even given you everything he’s got yet. If you can’t take it, you have time to put some distance between you and him.

Let me tell you something before you go. To me and probably to a lot of people who work around here, hearing this horrible music is to Christmas what stepping into the ocean is to a summer vacation: it hurts a little at first, but you’ll do it every time knowing that good times are coming.