Today’s post is a short story that follows a story that a fellow blogger told earlier this week. The blog by Stacy "The Peanut Queen" concerned a neighbor named Jose. Stacy’s story can be read here. I decided to provide the answers to my own questions about Jose by writing the following fictional short story.
He couldn’t catch the chickens any longer. When he had been a teenager and even into his mid-20’s he could always catch them. His father would send him into the yard to catch at least three on special occasions when the whole family was gathered to eat.
His father had taught him how to wring their necks and drain the blood from the body.
He was too old and slow now. His father and mother died many years ago in their hometown of Oaxaca, Mexico. Jose lived in the United States now these many years later.
When he was sober, he would remember crossing the Rio Grande River into South Texas. Later, after hearing about the availability of migrant farm work in Florida he had paid a man $50 to drive him in the back of a hot truck to Florida. He and the other human cargo in the truck had been forced to urinate in the corner of the truck and had gone without food or water for the 26 hours of the non-stop trip.
He worked the farms in central Florida for many years, sending the money home to his wife and 3 children in Oaxaca. When possible he had placed any extra money in the hiding places inside his trailer. The trailer had been given to him by a farm owner after many years of working on the farm and running the illegal crews the farmer employed.
Jose didn’t speak English well, but he was capable of understanding what was required and communicating the instructions to the Spanish speaking crews. The farm owner had helped him secure an illegal citizenship.
Having the illegal documentation was essential to his continued life in Florida. He couldn’t read, but he managed to get along by relying on those around him. He kept a low profile and tried to avoid any contact with the police. The police scared him.
The drinking had begun when he returned to Oaxaca and discovered his wife had run away with another man, taking the children, leaving with the money and possessions his earnings had provided and leaving no address where they could be found. Heartbroken he had returned to Florida. At least the money he earned now was his to spend.
Jose was rarely sober now in the sixth decade of his life. A great deal of the money he earned on the farms was spent on the never ending supply of beer. He tried very hard to be sober in the fruit gathering season, at least during the day.
When the non-work part of the year came around he found the relief to his pain and loneliness in the best friend he had, the fuzzed reasoning and deep sleep of too much alcohol.
It was Christmas. Jose’s reasoning wasn’t always clear, but he knew this because of the Christmas lights that were strung up on the houses nearby. He remembered the long ago Christmases of Mexico when he had been a boy. Now he had no friends or family and no one to celebrate the holiday with, though the lights told him that many families would be gathering and the children would be happy as he had been so many years before.
The pain in his chest had grown worse in the past few days. The alcohol had helped him forget the pain until recently. The pain seared through the deepest stupor now. His left eye twitched uncontrollably and his skin had begun to change color, the pale coffee brown tone turning yellow. The whites of his eyes had also begun to change color.
Today the pain had been so severe that he had drank even more heavily, but the pain knifed through his fog. He stumbled to his knees when one of the chickens had run in front of him. In a lurching motion he had tried to grab the chicken as it ran past. He picked up his left hand from the dirt; a skinned area on his lower palm began to bleed through the skin. It didn’t hurt. Oddly he couldn’t feel the hand at all. On all fours now, his hands in the dirt along with his knees, he noticed the ants on the dirt in front of him.
The ants were remarkably busy, running about the ground carrying debris into and out of the hole. Tears streamed down his cheeks, hitting the ground creating tiny craters that the ants had to navigate. He noticed that the ants worked on anyway, treating his tears as part of the days challenge. Jose watched the ants for a long time. The ants were fuzzy and seemed to be walking side by side unless he squinted his eyes just so. That made him dizzy and his forehead would plop down onto the center of the ant bed for a moment until he could raise his head to study the ants again. Jose noticed the ants crawling over his hands and arms only after they began to sting him.
He raised his head higher to a point where he could see the house across the street. He thought he might try to ask for help, but he knew the couple across the street would want to take him to a hospital where his illegal papers would be necessary and he would be exposed. He knew the lady was named Stacy, but he wasn’t sure of her husband’s name. They had helped him before. He liked them. He didn’t communicate too well with them because of the language problem, but he could see in their eyes that they cared about him and he knew they would help. But there was so much about his life they didn’t understand.
He knew they wondered why he slept in his car. When he had a family in Oaxaca, in the time before they had gone off with the unknown man, he had proudly driven them around town in the car. It was a car like no one could afford in Oaxaca and it made him feel proud. The last time he had seen his family he had driven them all weekend in the car. He slept there to try and remember them. He tried to remember his son’s happy smile and the laughter of the boy’s younger sisters. He would stare at the radio that had filled the air with music that weekend trying to remember how it had all been.
He didn’t want the police to find him this way; it meant certain trouble for him. He rose unsteadily from the ground and turned toward the car only to fall to his knees again. He began to crawl, the pain in his chest overwhelming now. When he had finally gotten himself into the back seat he rolled onto his back and the rear window swayed around above him. The pain could not be quieted and for the first time in his life Jose prayed to die. He was too tired. He wanted to see his family. The windows were fogging up and he thought again about the family across the street. He wondered if they would notice he was gone. He hoped they could use his chickens. He liked the neighbors. Jose closed his eyes tightly and prayed again.
The police talked to the neighbor across the street. The officer that seemed to be in charge asked the neighbor when he had seen Jose last. He asked him if he had noticed anything unusual the night before. He asked if Jose had any relatives that he knew about. He said it appeared Jose had died of natural causes.
The neighbor crossed the street to tell his wife Stacy what had happened. When she heard about the man with the chickens, the one she had waved at each morning and had helped on some occasions, she lowered her head to the table where she was sitting wrapping Christmas presents and began to softly cry.
Jose was sitting across the table from Stacy, his skin the fine light brown coffee color once again. There was no pain in his chest. He told Stacy the man in the big white light had told him how everything would be good now. He had allowed him to come back here now to tell Stacy it was alright. He hoped she could hear. The language barrier had always been a problem so he hoped she would understand. He stared through her window out into the yard where he had lived. He smiled at the chickens. He knew he could catch them again.
Stacy stared at the empty chair across from her then smiled at the danged chickens and the man that had slept in his car instead of his house. She smiled and wiped her tears. Her dog Rastus pawed at her thigh and barked at the empty chair.