He wasn’t much of anything, this Manuel Garcia. As a fourteen-year-old teenager, he was still quite small but that could change. One never knows for sure with teenagers and their power to transform themselves from one year to the next. Girls, he didn’t care for yet. At least that was what his mother thought. She was mistaken since Manuel liked a girl from his school but found himself too shy to say so and too proud to admit it. The girl lived in their neighborhood. Her name was Irma. Both she and Manuel had played together since the Sanchezes had moved to St. Pete South, ten years before. And recently, Irma had grown breasts and her silhouette had become that of an adult. In a matter of months, she had matured in such a way that Manuel felt lost and forsaken. 

Manuel had dreams – not that he was good at interpreting them. As a matter of fact, he neither knew nor cared anything for that science. No! He was into dreams as in having them. Many of those he told about later like they were fairy tales out of books for children. In this way, he became a kind of celebrity wherever he procured an audience and he was addressed by all as Dreaming Manu. This didn’t bother him at all as long as Irma remained his number-one fan. And that the girl did, right up to the day she became a woman while he was stuck with his boy’s countenance. 

x x x x x              

There was a dream that had contributed to making him famous where he lived and on a few streets around the Gulfport Library. He had been eleven or twelve at the time and had told the dream to Irma.

           They were in the park that separated the town into two halves, from the public library, to 22nd Street South. They were alone. He told her that in the dream, there was a big black bird that croaked like mad near his bedroom window. He awakened and saw the crow perched in the highest branch of a Spanish oak on their neighbor’s lot. Suddenly, the crow had looked at Manuel and dared him. To do what? He couldn’t say and there was not much time left to figure it out because in the instant it takes to blink an eye, the bird had taken to flight and was no longer there. There was not much else for Manu to do than to follow the animal, which he did. The run outside, at night, in pursuit of the flying crow was the nicest thing he had ever done. His guide touched the ground, picked up something that he enclosed in both his claws, and took flight again with Manuel chasing after it. They flew back over the bay of Tampa and he recognized the inverted pyramid of the Pier, the 275 Highway, Boca Ciega Bay, and Gulfport. The crow initiated its descent to the ground and made its landfall at the rear of Irma’s mother’s small gray-stucco apartment building, a few streets away from where Manuel’s family lived. It let out a piercing clamor; a repetitive uproar of noisy agitated nonsense that got it some mate’s response, coming from the east, and then it was gone. Its catch, however, it had left there, in the grass, near the doghouse.  Manuel had approached the object. It was a woman’s wallet, kept firmly shut by one blue elastic band, showing that the owner intended for whatever was in there to stay there. At that instant, something weird happened because Manuel knew that inside that wallet, there was a one-year-old ticket from the Florida lottery and that this ticket was a winner - four good numbers out of six, a one thousand-dollar value.    

So, that was the dream as he had told it to Irma when they were in school. The girl had braids and the end of the left one was in her mouth as she munched it in a distracted kind of way. She said to him, “You are making this up!”

“Why would I do that? It was just a dream.”

“It’s weird.”

“Why? Dreams are supposed to be that way. If they weren’t, we would need no shrinks to interpret them, wouldn't we?”

 “And what do you suppose this one means?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

“As if I knew.”

“What about you? Don’t you have dreams?”

She looked at him as if he was talking of some sickness or other. And then, she remained silent.           

It was three in the afternoon and he was walking her home. Irma’s condo apartment complex was on his way. At her building, a woman was already there in the parking area, getting some bags full of groceries out of the trunk of a white Nissan Sentra.

           “Hi, Aunt Paola.” Irma greeted her.

“Oh, hello, Irma. Back from school now? I am just coming from the Publix. Got some stuff for Pralina. Why don’t you ask your friend in for a glass of lemonade?”

Once they were inside the two-bedroom condo, Paola said to her niece, “You will never imagine the fright I had this morning.”

           Paola was visiting them out of Tallahassee in the Panhandle, up north. She slept in Irma’s bedroom while Irma joined her mother Pralina in her double bed.

Paola served Irma and Manuel lemonade.

          “So?” asked Irma, who was the most curious of them all. “ Yes. I found this morning that I had lost my wallet. You had already left for school and Pralina was getting ready to go to work at Al’s Diner. That was terrible. Your mother did try to help me find it but you know, she has her regulars and she had to leave. So I drove her there without my driver’s license and papers. You can imagine if I had had an accident. And then, I came back here, in a state! What if I didn’t find my wallet with all my documents and credit cards and debit cards and everything?”

From a pocket in the ample garment she hid herself in, she showed them the recovered wallet. “So, you found it in the garden, near the doghouse,” said Irma.

“What was that?”

There was real bewilderment in Paola’s eyes - she looked at her niece as if she were a squirrel reciting verses. Irma pointed at the boy besides her and said:

“You ask him.”          

As for Manuel, he instantly recognized the small object with the elastic band around it from his dream, and said, “You should call the Florida lottery and check the number for the ticket that you have in there.”

           Paola made a lot of signs of the cross and didn’t want to be seen around Manuel after that. She even refused to use the lottery’s special line to verify the number’s validity on the multicolored ticket that looked like silly currency in from some far-away country. What she did was emit a little cry; more like a bark, and let go from her hand the bits of shredded paper that were worth nothing to her if they meant endangering her soul.

           Both kids watched the fragments fly around like butterflies and when the pieces touched the ground, Irma picked them up. Paola left one hour later, which was two full hours before her previously estimated time of departure.                   

Manuel learned a lesson from that experience. People didn’t like tricks much and when they looked at you as if you were the reincarnation of their great-great-grandfather, the feeling of having those astounded stares on you wasn’t so great. So, ever since that time, he had remained discreet about his dreams.          

As the upset Paola packed her car for her return to Tallahassee that day, Irma showed her the shredded ticket that she had Scotch-taped back together. “Will you want me to collect the money for you, Aunt Paola?” she asked.  

 “I don’t care what you do,” Paola mumbled while introducing, with some difficulty, a golf cart into her car’s luggage compartment. 

“Take it,” insisted Irma. “It’s yours. »

- I don’t want it.

- Why?”           

There was nothing left on the sidewalk to be put in the trunk and Paola knocked down the boot with a bang.

              - Show me that ticket,” she hissed at Irma.

She took it out of Irma’s opened hand and then, in a decisive manner, re-entered the condo, went into the small, white-tiled bathroom and threw the small, reconstituted lottery ticket in the toilet. Without saying another word, she flushed it down.

In a matter-of-fact tone, Irma observed,

- Now, we will never know, will we?

- I know enough already. It would be a good idea if you were not to mingle too much with that fellow, Manuel.

- We go to school together, the girl objected.

- Is he a good Catholic?”

Paola was. Not her sister. The proof of it? There was nothing in Pralina’s condo to show that she was one. Not even a Bible to remind them they were at least Christians.          

Aunt Paola added:

         - Never mind that. What I say is that Manuel is bad news. Better for you to keep away from him. I will say so to your mother.

Pralina laughed at the concept – her silly sister and her religious nonsense.

- I fear the Holy Spirit is not welcome in your home, Paola said to her over the phone.

- Nor any other kind,” Pralina responded.

And that was that. Her sister would get over it. Why? She always had since childhood

March 07, 2020 22:54

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