--I'M HAPPY AS A ROCK
Riming the volcano of garbage are vultures—fifty or more, their black plumage inky in the smoldering sun. Big as toddlers, they cock their crocked necks as if they know my thoughts, but they do not, no one does.
Last week my son fought one of these evil birds. Marco had discovered an uneaten sandwich in the heap when the creature swooped down. Thank God Marco had the bent-up umbrella he always carries, sometimes using it as a bat (“Look, Papa, I’m A Rod!”), a dancing cane, (“I’m smooth like your favorite, Gene Kelly!”), a golf club (“Now I’m Chi Chi Rodriguez. How do you like those apples, Papa?”) I watched him beat the bird, heard their tangled screaming. We were in the middle of sorting recyclables from other’s people’s discarded waste. My wife implored me to intervene, but I knew that would only make Marco soft, and soft does not survive here.
We used to live inside the dump, among the maggots and rats, until the missionaries came. Now we have rows of tin boxes to make our homes. Still, a narrow, dirt road is all that separates our make-shift town from the dump.
Miles below sits Puerto Vallarta. At night, she shimmers, a bejeweled gown. A cruise ship glows with its windows white as American teeth.
When I was young like Marco, I often plotted an escape. Now that I am wiser, I watch my family sleeping and feel embarrassed to be this rich.
The Hater’s Club
At the ice cream store, a kid is staring at me with chocolate melt running down his lips and chin, mouth hanging open like a grotesque trapdoor. His eyes are huge, bark-brown olives. Worst of all, he hasn’t blinked once.
I study my napkin for a solid two minutes. Looking up, I see the kid’s expression hasn’t changed a bit.
His head is oversized, a boulder atop his spindly neck and arms. I imagine taking a baseball bat and swinging, hearing his cranium crack.
I read the sign that lists flavors and prices. I look at my fingers and notice there’s gray gunk under most of the nails.
When I turn back around, I see that ice cream’s pooled around the kid’s neck, but he’s still ogling me the same way.
I think; Okay, let’s do this.
I stare back. I do it until my pupils dry out and sting.
He still hasn’t blinked.
I wiggle my eyes.
I go cross-eyed till I’m dizzy.
I stick out my tongue
I flip him off.
He just stares.
It’s starting to get monumentally creepy.
His mom must be constipated, because she’s been in the can a while.
The Asian guy behind the counter helps in the sherbet section.
I need someone to see this-- the bizarre kid who won’t stop staring.
Oh, wait. What?
I’ve been so distracted by the gawking going on that I haven’t realized until now that he resembles a guy from high school named Oliver Pratt.
Oliver and I were in the same Hater’s Club: he hated me and I loathed him. That wouldn’t have mattered, but one day while I was in the restroom, Oliver and his buddies jumped me, then stole my pants and underwear.
After that, I bought a voodoo doll that resembled him, with its twiggy cloth limbs and a puffy, hacky sack pouch for a head. I stuck a hundred needles through that ragdoll, concentrating, imagining I possessed supernatural intuition, a sixth sense that could make the pins real, puncturing Oliver’s pupils, neck, testicles.
Two days later, Oliver was horsing around on a department store escalator, fell off, and plunged through a cosmetic counter made of glass. He bled to death before they’d even removed all of the shards.
Looking hard at the kid now, avoiding his goggle eyes but taking in the other features, I see how he’s an identical version of Oliver Pratt.
This guy is Oliver.
I know it.
I’ve got good intuition. It’s what caused all this in the first place.
When the boy’s mom finally comes out, she says, “Oh, Ollie! Look at the mess you’ve made.”
Each night and every morning, I wake with pinprick sensations against my skin. I know they’re needles ready to be turned into broken blades of glass.
I stop sleeping. I hardly eat. I see Oliver’s likeness everywhere.
Something tells me he’s going to get his revenge, and soon.
I know these things.