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Chuy intertwines the blue wire coming out of the back of his new stereo to the blue wire in the garb of cables protruding from the dash of his car. He reaches for a roll of electrical tape and bites off a small piece of the sticky black vinyl and wraps it around the newly hitched wires.
There! Chuy thinks, leaning back on his cloth bench seat, brushing his puffy hair with his paw, and admiring his new USB Pioneer car stereo deck he bought from a paisano outside of El Mercado La Gloria. Ten bucks for a new Pioneer USB deck, shit, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse, he thought at the time. I have my clean ride, and my new stereo, and now I need to go get my ruca and I’ll be set to go cruising on Saviers Rd.
“Okay, Ama, ya terminé de comer. Voy a ir por Fátima y enseñarle mi estéreo nuevo,” says Chuy taking his plates to the sink. He is going to show Fatima the new stereo.
“Ten cuidado mijo,” Chuy’s mom lovingly warns him without losing sight of the re-run of La Rosa de Guadalupe on the tv. “Oxnard era un lugar muy peligroso antes.” Oxnard was a very dangerous place before.
He rolls his eyes and sarcastically responds with an “Okay, Ama. Ahorita vengo.” He walks out of his mom’s small duplex and onto the oil-stained driveway. His second love is there waiting for him, eager to greet him like a desert woman waiting for her warrior to return like the Shamal winds: a flaked midnight blue ‘87 Chevy El Camino riding low on polished 100-spoke chrome Dayton rims.
The airbags in his suspension make his heavy car bob up and down as it traverses pothole-ridden streets on his way to Fatima’s house. The El Camino recoils on mangled streets in front of Guadalupe church, se persigna, and passes the projects on his left flanking the house of God. The ride bounces over protruding railroad tracks and takes a left on the boulevard towards the South end of town. He passes the A-Burger burger stand or Loot-A Burger as it’s called by some of the locals. Next, he cruises past Buddy Burgers, a local joint featuring the greasiest but tastiest chili in town.
Ok, let me see, Chuy thinks, pressing the stereo’s search feature while he’s at the stoplight at five points. The light turns green; the deck keeps searching for a signal. The frequencies rotate like the Dayton’s on the El Camino when in motion. It finally stops at a station playing drumbeats and rattles. Not baby rattles, but maracas. It sounds weird but strangely soothing like raindrops pounding a tin roof. The date on the display of the radio reads 1541, 4:00 pm. Chuy’s 6×9 continues to bump out some lively indigenous beats. He looks down at the frequency on the deck and thinks, what station is this? He looks up and slams on his brakes and the El Camino comes to a sliding halt.
A Native American woman wearing a deerskin skirt and nothing else pounds violently on the hood of the car with her palm. She raises her hands in anger and yells at Chuy in a language he’s never heard before. She keeps making universal hand gestures to back up. Chuy reverses the El Camino and hears the snapping of wood. He steps out of the ride and steps onto soft and dark clay-like soil. He looks under his left front tire. He sees a wooden canoe turned to toothpicks under it. Chuy puts his arms on top of his head and interlocks his fingers in a moment of insane bewilderment.
“What the fuck is going on? Where am I?” he mumbles to the wind, doubting what he’s seeing. That edible must be kicking in now, he reflects in stupefied silence. But his stupefied reflection is shattered by the angry Native American woman’s shrieks who keeps pointing frantically at her crushed canoe. Other Native American women sprinkled around a camp with orange-shaped dwellings made from dried foliage can’t help but hear the woman’s angry bellows. They stop weaving their baskets and stringing together their colored beads and observe the desmadre to come.
A group of Native American men, big fuckers, wearing nothing but deerskin thongs, appear on the horizon. The Native American woman sees them and races toward them crying and waving her arms wildly. She points to the El Camino and her toothpick canoe. The biggest Chumash Indian’s face in the group begins twitching with anger. He takes off in a sprint towards the El Camino, his sandalias moving like the feet of a starving mountain lion hunting down prey. His hunting party of about six Chumash Indians follows not far behind. Some lunge harpoons at Chuy and others sloppily attempt to shoot arrows but miss in their haste. “Shit!” Chuy stresses out loud. He jumps back in the El Camino and in the rush of things bangs his right knee on the stereo’s search feature.
It scrolls chaotically through the radio station. It finally stops on a frequency playing antiquated, crackling piano music. Like the way it would sound as if it were being played on an old crummy Victrola. The deck’s display reads Swipesy Cakewalk by Scott Joplin. The date and time read 1900, 6:00 pm. Chuy looks up from the radio deck and a barrel of a rifle is there to greet him. The hot barrel pushes against his left cheek. Chuy slowly raises his hands, cautiously to not provoke the hand with the finger on the trigger.
“Get out that thing, spic. Hurry up!” a man with a French accent yelled. The squeaky door to the El Camino swings open. Chuy gets out of the ride with arms raised to the heavens. A somewhat thin and balding Frenchman with a handlebar mustache takes a step back. He continues pointing the hunting rifle at Chuy’s face.
“How’d you get on my beet ranch? You’re here to steal my workers? Take them away?” asks the fuming mad Frenchman with the funny mustache and the shaky finger on the trigger. A Mexican man wearing a dirty and plain button-up white cotton shirt and brown corduroy trousers peeks from behind a wooden beam from his adobe deck.
“No, man. I don’t even know where or what I’m doing here,” responds a panicked Chuy.
“Damn lying wet back. Then what’s that carriage you got with you?” the man says pointing the barrel of his rifle at the El Camino. “The French should have won the Indio war,” he states. At that moment of lost focus, Chuy grabs the barrel of the riffle and rips it from the Frenchman’s grasp. He flips the rifle and points it back at him. The Frenchman falls to his knees and begins praying. “No please, please, s’il vous plaît! S’il vous plaît! Don’t shoot! I never killed a beaner. I never hurt a single betabeleró. I don’t know how that fire started. I swear! I swear! I pay the spics good too!” The Frenchman pleads with Chuy.
“Stop calling them spics!” he rebuts. “I’m not going to—” Chuy begins saying before striking the Frenchmen in the temple with the butt of the rifle, “—to kill you.” The Frenchman falls to the floor limp. His left cheek denotes the dirt around his cheeks. A cloud of dust rises in the soft sea breeze, and it swirls away.
The shadow from the Frenchmen’s beet factory with its massive twin smokestacks ominously embraces a small camp that houses migrant laborers, the betabeleros. The sun disappears behind the Topa Topa Mountains. Silhouettes wearing straw hats and plain cotton clothes and brown zarates emerge from their adobe shacks to take in the sight of the Frenchman inhaling dirt and it bubbles up a rebellion in their guts. I’m getting the fuck out of here before his buddies show up, Chuy thinks. He jumps back into the passenger seat.
“Ok, come on you damn thing. Play something good,” Chuy complains while pressing the search function on his Pioneer deck. The stations scroll and scroll. Chuy grips his steel-chain steering wheel with his sweaty hands in anticipation of the jump. The radio stops on a station playing jazz music. The Very Thought of You by Billy Holiday, to be exact. The speakers pump out the mystic vocals like vapor. The bass vibrations from Billie’s voice rattle the small interior and it makes the bench seat of the El Camino vibrate. Streams of light enter and exit through the windshield as if the seductive and colorful display of the Areola’s Borealis were invading the small cabin. The streams of light flash in perfect musical synchrony with the beat of the music. Then it stops. Chuy sits up and sees chaos through his windshield.
He’s in the middle of a riot occurring at Plaza Park. Police wearing face shields and swinging batons ran past him chasing down Raza. Next to a tree in the middle of the plaza, the Raza forms a human wall. They stand arm and arm, unfazed by the impending tsunami of gabacho police officers about to slam into them. He sees a police officer searching the coat of a Zoot suiter held at gunpoint, a beat-up brown record player on a milk crate spinning to his side. Chuy couldn’t hide the anger on his face, even if Abuelita showed up. A Zoot suiter has his hands flat on a brick wall and an officer with the nametag L. Bird came from behind and shimmied his puffy hair. He kicked the Zoot suiter’s legs apart, almost dropping him to the floor, and yelled in his ear, “You greasers are always up to no good!”
Nearby, police officers stomp on a Zoot suiter as if attempting to squish a stubborn cockroach that has invaded their sparkling white kitchens. Other officers rip the suits off the backs of Raza they’ve cornered in an alley. The officers soak the clothes in gas and flick a match to it.
Chuy hears a loud bang and looks in his rear-view mirror. He sees a group of Zoot suiters and Chicanas scattering in all directions like crows. The majority run away, but a few of them stay and comfort a Zoot suiter that lays on the floor. A bloodstain grows and grows from the chest of his fancy pinstriped suit.
“Nah. Fuck that,” Chuy exclaims. He mashes the stiff accelerator of the El Camino and the brake at the same time and begins doing doughnuts with the 2-ton vehicle. The smoke and noise coming from the screeching tires grabs the attention of the police. For the moment they halt their society-approved assault.
Satisfied with his distraction and blanketed in a grey claustrophobic puffy smoke, the ride stops making donuts. Among the haze, Chuy spots one of the police officers pointing his tear gas bazooka at the El Camino. A large contingent of police officers charges the El Camino, with no real organization to their assault. A straight-up rage-filled charge, a lo pendejo. Chuy sees the first of the officers to break through the smoke field. He mashes on the accelerator. The El Camino takes off like a toro—whipped over and over again—that has the matador right where he wants him. The El Camino smashes straight into the mass of police officers at full speed. Thump, thump. Police officers hit the hood and ricochet off the windshield like pebbles. One of the officers’ back shatters the windshield when he flips and flies into it. Others try jumping out of the way but end up getting clipped by the chrome bumper, somersaulting in mid-air like a gymnast. Chuy looks in his rear-view mirror. The Chicanos and Chicanas are on top of the laid-out cops, kicking them or going through their pockets looking for cuff keys. Some cheer the El Camino on.
Time to get out of here, Chuy thinks. He pushes down the search button on his stereo and it begins to scroll through the radio stations.
“Come on chingadera, please stop on a Hawaiian station!” he desperately pleads with the stereo. It stops. So ruff, so tuff by Zapp and Roger comes blasting through the speakers. The display reads 1981, 9:00 pm. A police officer hidden behind the big tree in the middle of Plaza Park manages to shoot his pistol at the fleeing vehicle.
The flashes of light begin. Chuy hears a bang. His back windshield blows out. He turns to look at his back windshield and sees a bullet and shards of glass suspended in the air dissolve into an infinite number of particles. The flashes of light intensify and then fade. His squeaky passenger side door opens. Chuy opens his eyes and to his right is a group of Latino gangsters holding the door open. He’s parked on the street in a neighborhood that seems familiar to him.
The cholos are ready to pounce. “Who the fuck is you?” a voice bellows. Chuy’s left eardrum reverberates when the vibrations of the raspy male voice riff it like a guitar. I know that voice! he thinks. Chuy turns his head, ever conscious of the emerging threats to his right. No way. It’s Fatima’s dad, Tommy. But he doesn’t look like the Tommy he knows. He hasn’t yet lost his hair and the hair he does have is long, shiny, and slicked back. His face is wrinkle-free. It hasn’t been ravaged yet by heavy drug use and endless cases of pisto. The tiny hairs from his two-day-old mustache and soul patch stick out like the thorns on a nopal cactus.
“Hey, Mr. Torrez, it’s me Chuy.”
“Chuy? I don’t know any fucking Chuy” responds the gangster.
“Yeah, I’m your daughter’s boyfriend. ‘member?” Chuy explains. “Remember when I helped you with your truck last week, right here in your pad? We changed its spark plugs,” says Chuy pointing at Tommy’s brand-new black truck in the driveway.
“Orale! Your little girl has a vatito,” laughs the gangster holding the passenger door open. “On everything, ya se la pico,” says another teasing cholo behind the passenger door. The gangsters start to chuckle.
“Fuck you. This vato is crazy. I always have eyes on my little girl,” erupts Tommy stepping back and gawking at the glossy El Camino. “Hey vato, what kinda ride is this? I like it for myself,” he says before busting out with a switchblade from the belt holding up his ironed jeans. The gangster on the passenger side holding the door open reaches for the steering wheel. Chuy moves the gear to reverse and mashes the accelerator. The El Camino speeds away swerving. The gangsters run after it. Pieces of glass launch forward from the seat and scatter on the dash. Some gangsters attempt to hold on to the hood but fall off. Chuy turns hard on the steering wheel and in a screech of tires, the car performs a 180.
“Come on pinche radio,” begs Chuy. “Play something modern.” Saviers Road by Anderson Paak comes on and Chuy’s surroundings dematerialize and materialize. Chuy lifts his head. He is at the stoplight at Saviers Dr. and Elm Street. His radio deck displays the current time and date; 9:01 pm, 2019. He frantically feels himself to see if he’s all there. He looks in his rear-view mirror and stares into his dilated pupils. I’m back, never buying anything from around La Gloria, he thinks. He rips the stereo deck from the dash and launches it out of the window.
He rolls up onto the driveway of his girlfriend’s house. The El Camino narrowly fits in the driveway with Fatima’s dad’s old truck parked on it. He honks the horn. Fatima steps out of her front door looking like an angel. Behind her, Mr. Perez stands at the threshold waving goodbye. Chuy swallows his saliva and waves back.
“What happened to your back windshield?“ asks Fatima while attempting to get into the car. She clears the rest of the shattered glass from her part of the bench seat.
“Time manipulated it,” he answers. A glazed look goes over her face.
“Ok? Whatever you say, weirdo.“
At a stoplight, on the way to their favorite Mexican restaurant, a gangster jumps out of the back of the El Camino griping a spear and takes off running in the opposite direction. He keeps running until coming upon a Taco truck with a line that would deter almost anybody from buying food there. He notices Latino, African-American, Filipino, and Anglo people eating tacos in perfect harmony. Where the hell am I? He questions himself, running and running to no particular place.
Enrique C. Varela was born, raised, and lives around the Oxnard, California vicinity. His short stories have appeared in Chiricú Journal, The Acentos Review, Somos en escrito and Latine Lit. His collection of short stories are slated for s Spring 2024 release by Somos en escrito press.