Uncle Rudy’s Last Gift
By George Key
A chill came over Sticks as he prepared to make the short journey to the annual “Break Bread and Jam Til’ the Rooster Crows Christmas Party”. Taking that last glance at the broken mirror just to make sure he was sportin’ his lady killer best. Sticks knew that every musician in Tucson that was anybody was going to be there. Christmas gigs were few and far between on the average Christmas, however, Christmas 2020 was beyond bleak. COVID-19 shut down most venues and the city placed an early curfew on its subjects. Sticks took the mandate much easier from the new Mayor Romero, after-all she was the first female mayor, moreover the first Latina Mayor of a city that was not a long-ago part of Mexico.
Sticks is not wearing his long sleeves to keep himself warm. Even the long-sleeved pants were shrouds for the legend of those abscessing train tracks that no one should walk on. The numbness helped ease the pain of his most recent rejection.
His newest infatuation was the most strikingly gorgeous woman to ever compliment such a collision of two universes. When Aiste smiled his heart skipped a beat. When she spoke, his toes curled. Sticks is convinced that he must pursue this dream. His Castilian grandfather would have been pleased to know that the little fling with James was just a curiosity. Even so, with the outside possibility that this divine summit could just be the spark that reciprocated kindred spirits needed “ We must always dare to dream mio”, grandfather would say, “ hijo mio, buscate una mujer hermosa, ten muchos hijos y haz crecer tu familia, construye te una gran casa para que tu’ y tu familia prosperen”. [“My son, find yourself a beautiful woman, and have many children and grow your family, build yourself a grand home for you and your family to flourish”].
With the courage his grandfather passed to him, he stepped out of his safe place and asked her if she would do him the honor of joining him in witnessing the alignment of the planets that was known to only occur every 800 years. This occurrence was thought to be what was known as the star of Bethlehem. He was quite sure she would consider the invitation being that it was so romantically thoughtful, especially, since it was also her birthday. Most of Aiste’s family was halfway around the world and grandfather did always say one who speaks kindly to the nanny has more milk to drink. It became such an obsession, unfortunately, though, only within his own lonesome mind. He had been trying to learn enough Lithuanian, her native tongue to leverage his way into her heart.
With the tools of his trade secure in the handcrafted leather pouch dangling from his snakeskin belt rhythmically glancing off his right thigh, Jerome “Sticks” Sosa found serenity in the cadence of the barrio. The early darkness that follows any snow-covered sunset awakened the memories of family who watch over him from above and those too who are stranded, perhaps forever on the other side of the many burnt bridges left smoldering.
By cutting through the secret passage to the other side from where he was, more than just time was saved. There was a fresh peppering of flower-adorned crosses screaming Rest In Peace to the non-looking passersby. Those non-lookers were always excused for not seeing. The memorials suspiciously clustered around the yellow warning sign featuring a silhouette of a fleeing family holding hands for the last time. Stubs of melted down candles and now forgotten prayers for who knows why? Faraway grandmothers weep in the laced cotton draped over tables garnished with chiltapenes, and a well-read leather-bound King James with red ink where Jesus speaks. An anxious touch of survivors’ guilt tugged on his heart apparently still tethered to the nightmares firmly bricked up in that corner of tragic denial. In that place in which we hide even from ourselves less permanently than anyone could hope for.
Picking up the pace, doing his best at the one thing he was truly known for. Sticks, was at one time, famous for his percussion prowess, yet more infamous for his running. Running away from the realities of fatherhood, hiding from the obligatory commitment of anything, nor any one of his exes. Despite the cliché, none of them resided in, around nor in Texas. Though he often fantasized of being called upon that stage in Austin, he felt obliged to let that dream go too, after-all the Judge in Fort Worth did so kindly request he leave Texas and never return.
Coming through the tunnel was like Sticks being pulled through a rabbit hole from the reality of denied oppression into the fantasy world of opportunity. Dreaming those dreams were inspirational to those few who truly possessed that God-given talent that made recording artists and concert headliners. On the other hand, however, for those jam session groupies that only possessed the dreams, nothing but disappointing heartache was upon the horizon.
The limelight of the fantasy presented itself in all the pristine glory, as the clear sky and freshness of new-fallen snow blanketed the ugliness of yesterday’s Tucson. In the name of civic improvements, many of the old adobe structures in the barrio were erased by the old fat white cats that had run the city. The Chinese corner markets were condemned and dozed down. Condemned for being Chinese for the most part.
To justify the urban-renewal angle, a mid-bario park was constructed for the new white yuppy families. Only 127 families of color were displaced so that the young white doctors and lawyers and such could be comfortable. On the weekends the young spandex mothers could push their old enough to walk children hurriedly through the paved paths of the park, while the new fathers choose to watch the televised seasonal sporting games. The cathedral once filled with the loving grace of the barrio is now starving for repair, crumbling in the face of privileged progress.
Yet, tonight it was as if God was speaking to the old neighborhood. The angels were weeping, and the cold breath of wisdom frosted the barren trees with sparkling crystals of truth. A soft blanket of freshly fallen snow, yet undisturbed gave a step-by-step impression as Sticks not only felt the crunch but could hear each compression right before his sole slipped each time.
The stars found their way to the prisms of the flakes, creating an illusion of blissful peace. Great solitude guided his spirit to the presence of the alignment he was awaiting. It was as if the stage lights came on and the curtain going up exposed the entire set. The Star of Bethlehem emerged before him. For Sticks, however, he could not deny the pull of the chase to find a higher place to be than where he was at any given moment. There was always an urge to be someone or to get somewhere better than there.
How fortunate he thought it was that he was packing his kit with him. It was not the Ludwig drum kit that he left to collect dust in his spare room. It was his get-well fix-it kit. His buddy Carl always said never leave home without it. He inherited it from his uncle Rudy. Uncle Rudy served in Nam, but Nam served Uncle Rudy a back-riding monkey that he could not shake. Rudy was riding one of those China white stallions when he was finally bucked off for the last time. Sticks pondered on how some China White would taste tonight. Unfortunately, all he could cook up was the usual sticky brown tar. Sticks veered off to a concrete slab that the city called a picnic table and brushed away the snow with the back of his forearm. Reaching deep into the inside pocket of his Levi jacket Sticks retrieves a small leather kit from which he unfolds the riggings of his eventual demise.
Exposing his arm and tying off, he taps up a doable vein. Popping through with a brand-new point, he gently draws back enough blood to color the syringe and pushes, unbridling the horse. Within seconds the pristine snow flowed like hot lava. Melting any and everything as he slipped away like he never had before.
At that very moment, Maria Rubio-Reyes was driving her squad unit patrolling the repurposed neighborhood. As an officer of the Tucson Police Department, she was collecting homeless people directing them to shelters during operation deep freeze. She had noticed footprints in the fresh snow at the West or the tunnel end of the park. As she was now on the East end and there were no signs of footprints, she became alert. Surmising that someone must still be in the park and taking note that the COVID-19 curfew was breached, she called in and began searching for the violator.
Tracing back to the West entrance, she soon spotted an individual slumped over at a pic-nick table with a needle still warm and steam rising from the body. Quickly she grabs the Narcan from inside her belt pack and administers the reversing agent. Sticks immediately regain consciousness quite dazed and confused, but very much alive. As he looks up, there stands an angel in the glistening light of the Star of Bethlehem, Maria Rubio-Reyes, the estranged daughter of Uncle Rudy, both his cousin and savior.