For Larry and Hoag
By Paul Saevig
My name is Teddy Cochrane. I grew up near Gilbert and Orangthorpe when it was open fields and orange groves. I don’t know if it was even considered Fullerton yet. It doesn’t make any difference. I was Mom’s fourth out of eleven, born in 1937. My people came here from Oklahoma and I was the first boy born here. My oldest sister June died of tuberculosis when I was twelve. I guess there’s no sense in mentioning everybody. Dad worked in the Greyhound bus yard busting tires, same as I do now. He’s dead now. I’m a boxer, OK? I dropped out of Fullerton High in my second year to concentrate on it. Or they kicked me out. Same difference.
I train hard before a fight. That’s important to understand. A guy throws a medicine ball against my stomach for ten minutes, as hard as he can. I run five miles in the morning, up in the hills and back down Gilbert. If I weigh too much to make the limit, I eat my food but I don’t swallow it. They give me a bucket so I can chew my meals and then spit it all out. Try that sometime if you think it’s easy.
I also have to get my attitude right. Give you an example. I might go five, six days without a woman, long as I can, knowing I’m going to treat myself later. Then I always planned to try something I heard Sugar Ray Robinson used to do. I don’t know if it’s true. Some day during my afternoon workout, I’d try it. They’d get me a girl and she needs to have a big chest. When I’ve just about had it and ready to knock off, she comes in and starts loving me up while I work the speed bag. She’s got to be take everything off except her skirt because I like to know she’s bouncing around but I refuse to look, see? Even when I’m done and popping the bag as fast as I can. Then she goes away and I won’t see any other woman until after the fight. I might have them bring another one in for the same purpose, but I need to focus my discipline, OK?
Never got around to try that, though. I think it would have worked.
I used to be nervous when my dad drove my brothers and me to the Olympic Auditorium for my first pro fights. Nobody looked at us until we went in the door that said FIGHTERS ONLY. My stomach would go funny when we walked down a concrete hallway where all you could smell was old cigars and piss, but I liked it. We’d come to the waiting room with metal chairs and lockers, a sink at one side, and the other guys with their corner people, all Negroes and Mexicans, maybe a few white guys. Dad said we’d get a dressing room but that was it, the same room with everybody else. Nobody looked at anybody else and when I had to puke, I wasn’t the first guy who did.
When the crowd roared upstairs, the whole place shook. That’s where I really got started.
Every time, the state boxing commission guy came in to check my trunks, supporter, shoes, gloves and laces, and my new mouthpiece. I weighed 122 and I just wanted to fight. My Uncle Mickey was my whisper man and he always needed a drink bad. He kept shifting EndSwell, cotton balls and stuff in his ring bag and telling me, “In and out, Teddy. Slide and bang. Shoot it, Teddy.”
One night when I was probably 8 or 9 and 0 with 7 KOs, I climbed into the ring and saw Paco Narvaez down below, sitting in the first row. He was the only guy who ever beat me in the amateurs, and he did it twice, both times in Santa Ana. The sight of him pissed me off.
He was already fighting semi mains in San Berdoo and Ventura, with his record run to 11-0 against nobodies. That night he had a new black mohair suit with a silver tie. We looked at each other but he pretended not to know me. Then he jerked his thumb at me and said something to a mutual friend of ours that made him laugh. Paco’s insult stayed with me when the announcer read our names and even when he said my first name was Tommy instead of Teddy. I threw away my fight plan and went out on the attack. I risked some combinations at my guy’s head and felt sparks of pain go all the way up to my shoulders and sore knuckles. I didn’t mind taking some shots myself, either. That’s why they call it a fight.
Right before the round ended, I came over his jab with a right hook that landed on his nose. I felt it give and one of my own knuckles, too
“Take him out, Teddy,” my dad said, and I watched the other guy’s corner stuffing cotton in his nose. When I turned my head to spit, Paco sneered at me and shook his head. I wanted him right then, as soon as possible.
I put my guy down for good at 1:26 in the second and when the referee lifted my arm up, I found Paco Narvaez with my eyes and cussed him. He flipped me off and that was all I needed to see. I jumped to get over the ropes at him but a cop grabbed me and then my uncle did, too. My brothers saw what happened and came down to rush Paco, but people got between them.
Those days, I kept out of trouble during the day. I made four bucks an hour and my girlfriend Donnie Lee said OK when I asked her to go steady. I had plenty of money in my pocket and I was going places.
Everywhere I looked, Paco Narvaez was in TV commercials for the Chevy dealer in Santa Ana, or a restaurant in Anaheim, or even in the Fullerton parade with a big sombrero on his head, riding on a new Chrysler convertible. He even did a radio commercial for the gravel company on Nicholas. My brothers razzed me about how he was getting attention I deserved, and all the money, too.
I won my next four fights pretty and asked Mr. Eaton to make me a fight with Paco Narvaez. He said I had to be patient. “It’s gonna be a big fight, Teddy, but the time’s not right yet. You have to wait your turn.”
I hated it but I knew he was right. I ran every morning, went to work and trained from 4 to 8 in the gym. When I bought a new red Chevy coupe, a convertible with black bucket seats, Donnie Lee and I would go to the Anaheim or Paramount Drive-In Theaters on Saturday nights. People from all over knew who I was. I got respect.
One time, we parked at the back and walked down to the snack center in Paramount where our friends would be. I liked how people stopped talking when they saw me and smiled. By the time we worked our way up to the refreshments counter, we never had to pay for our Cokes or candy.
“Hello, Teddy,” one of my buddies says. “Paco Narvaez’s with his pals over by the swings and he’s saying your mom is a whore, man. He’s looking for you.”
I start down there and when somebody else says, “How many guys?” I don’t even listen.
Donnie Lee steps back with the other girls. I’m wearing a new shirt that cost me $10 and I hadn’t started my cheeseburger or Coke either. I dump them in the trash, and my buddies are right behind me, then the rest of the crowd. There must have been ten of us, and they’re calling more guys to come, too.
Paco Narvaez set me up and he was waiting, but that didn’t make any difference to me. We walked between cars and people jumped out to follow us. I planned to break his jaw even though my knuckles hurt even between fights.
Below the movie screen, there was a playground where Paco Narvaez and his buddies waited, with a sandbox, a swing set and some monkey bars, benches for eating. They smoked cigarettes and drank cans of beer in paper bags. When they heard us coming they all stood up and got ready.
Paco Marmelejo looked small. He wore a yellow shirt way too big and khaki pants, with his hair slicked back and held in a net like some Mexican guys do.
“Looky who’s here,” one of his friends said, and I walked right up to hit Paco with my right hand, a good shot that bounced off his forehead when he ducked. His guys and mine charged together. My hand felt so bad I didn’t know how long I could go. Before Paco could come back at me, I felt guys push me down from behind and rush past and all of a sudden I got kicked in the face.
There were bodies on top of me and if I tried to stand up, more came down and I was pinned. I yelled for Paco to fight but no matter how much I pushed and struggled, I couldn’t get my feet under me. The asphalt scraped skin off my face and off my shoulders and hipbones, too. Any time I expected to get kicked again.
Pretty soon the cops came and one of them who knew my brothers picked me up by my belt. They swung their clubs and kicked at the guys still fighting, and then they told us to go back and watch the movie.
That’s what we did and since the cops stayed to flirt with the girls and eat hot dogs, nothing else came of it, but I wasn’t done with Paco Narvaez yet.
The next week Mr. Eaton booked me to fight in Honolulu. My uncle hired me a good trainer named Mr. Cletus Huggins and I trained in a gym on Hotel Street.
Mr. Huggins said he could tape my hands so it wouldn’t hurt hardly at all, and damned if he didn’t. I knocked my guy out at 1:43 of the fourth and he didn’t wake up for three minutes, not fully, is what I was told.
When I got home, Mr. Eaton tried to make a fight for me with the two top guys at the time, if they couldn’t make a fight with the champ, a Jewish fighter from New Jersey. Donnie Lee and I posted our banns after I talked to her jerk dad and promised him I’d quit fighting in three more years. To tell you the truth, at that time all I wanted was Paco Narvaez in the ring and then whoever was champ so I could take his title.
Without too much trouble, I beat two more local guys and ran my record to 14-0, seven by KO. Neither of the top local contenders could make a deal with the Jewish champ, and everybody hoped for a showdown where they’d fight each other.
Instead, one guy signed for a tuneup in Stockton with a guy from Puerto Rico, record of 16-6-1 but a big puncher, everybody said. They offered me a guy from his stable on the undercard, 12-5. The money looked good and it would keep me sharp in case I got a shot at the two contenders.
Well, as luck would have it, the next day the second guy signed to fight Paco Narvaez at the Olympic, same night I’d fight in Vegas. Mr. Eaton told me my turn would come next if I won. I wanted Paco bad, but the only way I’d get him now is if he beat the contender, who was a good friend of mine in the amateurs.
We went up north with a week to get ready. I’m staying in the TravelLodge Hotel with nothing to do but watch baseball and old movies on TV. I can’t go to bars, can’t even play pool, and I go to bed at 7 to be up and running at 4:30 AM when the air is still cool. The fight’s Saturday night on a card that starts at 8 PM.
On Thursday night I get a call from Mr. Eaton. “Listen, Teddy,” she says. “The guy cut his hand opening a beer can, and he can’t go. Can you come back and fight Paco on Saturday?”
I said sure if you can square it with the promoter in Stockton, and she said, “Then you better hurry back, son. We’ll schedule your checkup for tomorrow.”
That’s how it happened, with the weigh-in on Friday afternoon at the Olympic. Paco Narvaez had a mustache now and he came in wearing a big red sombrero, with an entourage behind him. They wore sunglasses and acted like they ruled shit.
Before we went inside, I stopped my guys outside on Grand and told them, “Look, Paco and his guys are going to try to make us mad. You know how they do. They’ll whisper things and crack each other up, and then some jerk is going to make a wisecrack in a high-pitched voice, maybe even sing it,” I said.
When we came in there was no room for anybody to sit down and the whole Narvaez family was present, brothers and sisters and babies and old people, even Paco’s new wife and their baby. Everybody except his mom, who I heard was real religious. There were newspaper people and a TV crews from all the local channels, and up in front, a platform with the commission scale. Somebody official showed me a door where I was supposed to strip down to my underwear. Paco would go in another door, and while we were inside, I heard people yelling.
When I came out, Paco was speaking Spanish to his cousins and brothers, joking around and insulting us. He probably didn’t know I could understand him. Mr. Judo Gene LeBell son was in charge, standing on the platform with a guy from the commission and Paco and his manager. Paco got on the scales first. 126 and ½ pounds. Then me and 128-1/2. The Mexican guys would quiet down for a minute then start chopping us again. Paco’s manager gave them a look each time but they’d start right back up in a minute
“Give us the stare, Teddy, Paco,” one of the photographers yelled, and Paco turned toward me and stared me in the eye.
“You die,” he said. I faced him and we moved closer, to about an inch apart.
“Your women will cry,” I said and we all went home. I learned later that while I couldn’t see, Paco waggled his hand to call me a queer. I decided then I’d make him pay.
It rained the next day and when we reached the Olympic, the parking lot was full anyway. There were must have been five thousand Mexican guys outside, crowding the streets for blocks in every direction. There were buses from Sonora, Baja, Jalisco, everywhere, parked on sidewalks, curbs, in driveways illegally, in red zones. Most of them rode all night to get here and there were no tickets, but they all looked happy, excited. They figured Paco would knock me out. Scalpers fanned tickets in their hands, with a hundred guys around one of them.
I waited in a different dressing room but when Mr. Eaton’s assistant knocked on the door and said, “Time, Teddy.”
I found out the hallway downstairs doesn’t look any different whether you’re a greenhorn in prelims or a contender fighting the main. You got the same concrete floor and painted green walls, chipped, stained by spit and blood, the same bulkheads, fire extinguishers and pipes. The yellow light bulbs have bars painted black, always dented. Everything made me mad.
Big ushers ran interference for us to the ring, and Mexicans in the balcony threw peanuts and cigarette butts down but missed. After the fight it would be pennies and cups of beer, maybe piss, too.
I was first in the ring and didn’t care about Paco Narvaez or his entrance. After I got some rosin on the soles of my shoes, I let my uncle take my robe, then I waited in my corner and hopped from foot to foot. The crowd started cheering real loud when Paco Narvaez came down the aisle, wearing his sombrero like I expected. I went over my fight plan: outbox him, wait for him to lunge with his right, and then jab him off hooks, showing him a lot of angles. Stalk him, circle left then right then left again, force a flurry. When he threw his liver punch, a right chop over his left then real quick a left uppercut. Hang onto his neck in clinches, rub my skull in his face, too, which insults most Mexican guys for some reason. He could bang if his feet were set but not as hard as me and I’d trade with him if I could move him onto the ropes, where he’d belong to me. Watch him to close his elbows when he got tired, slam at his ribs. Set the pace and control it. Being fancier, he’d get the judges. I planned to finish him with a combination, and when I was done with him his name would be Squat.
I let myself have one look, and you never saw so many Fullerton people in one place except the Lion’s Club Fair. All the Mexicans sat on one side, and all the white people on the other. Problem was they both spilled over into each other’s areas. Know what I mean?
Pete Liapis was there from the Boy’s Club, with Matt from the craft shop, Trossie and Mr. Fankhouser, and some of the boxers. They were supposed to be neutral because both Paco and me started there. Then there were friends of my family and to tell you the truth, some hoods I didn’t even recognize, probably betting on me. I tried to catch Pete’s eye but he was talking to his son Petey. I said more Hail Marys instead.
When the ref called us to the middle of the ring, I looked Paco Narvaez right in the eyes, this time with no feelings, like he was a gopher or a lizard to me. I saw his mouth move and words I didn’t understand or care about came out. When the ref told us to touch gloves, I raised mine a few inches and turned away whether Paco touched them or not.
The timekeeper hit his bell with his hammer and I wanted the first punch, a double jab and a cross that nicked the side of Paco Narvaez’s head. No damage, but it made him look bad. A while later I started his nose bleeding which always happens no matter who he fights, like Carmen Basilio, too. Mostly we circled each other and the same in round two. I probably won both rounds on aggressiveness but you never can tell.
Before I came out for the third, Mr. Huggins told me,“He’s off tonight. Turn it on hard,” so I did.
Paco kept circling right at a certain angle if I bore down and aimed him at his own corner, then I dared him to mix. I was taking a couple to land a couple and I felt my left hook kind of buckle his head. He peddled sideways, I followed with a long right, came in with another left hook and jabbed off it. He was hurt but not too bad. I ran off a series to his belly and the ref separated us. When he moved away, I stuck Paco Narvaez with a jab that clipped his button.
He went down fast but bobbed right back up, shaking his head to say, “No, no, didn’t hurt me.” It did, of course, and he was in trouble. He had nothing.
Between rounds, Mr. Huggins said, “This boy’s on his bicycle. Finish him. Let’s go home.”
When we went out, the crowd chanted, “Paco, Paco!” and at exactly 1:12, I connected with a left hook that turned his head and knocked his legs sideways.
I didn’t know if he’d get up but on 7 he did, wobbly as hell. His hands were low and I hit him easy, one, two, three, four, moving him back. Tell you the truth, I didn’t want the ref to stop it. I wanted to teach Paco Narvaez a lesson.
Well, he was out on his feet, helpless, but he wouldn’t go down. I threw against his belly and he dropped his hands down. I came upstairs and tagged him six times in a row hard, and I yelled at the referee to stop it.
The bastard just told me to keep going.
I looked for a clean shot to the button but Paco was asleep on his feet, not getting set. I went sharp shooting but he took it all for a good fifteen seconds while I waited for his corner to call it quits. The left hook that finally did it was solid but nothing special and he went down. Landed on his butt, and his shoulders and head hit the floor last, with the back of his skull bouncing on the ring turnbuckle that holds the ropes. Don’t think it’s loose either. That thing is like an iron bar.
That’s why he didn’t get up, didn’t even move, didn’t twitch his feet or roll over, nothing, nothing at all, just like an elk somebody shot with a 30 ought six.
Right away everybody celebrated around me, hugging me, jumping up and down, and the cops came into the ring. Full beer cups were splashing everywhere, pennies and nickels, too, so when they interviewed me for TV, Mr. Huggins pulled the hood of my robe over my head. I yelled the answers to a few questions and then we all ran up the aisle before the coins cut our faces.
I took my shower and dressed as fast as I could, and my knuckles woke up to the worst pain I ever felt.
“They taken Paco to the hospital,” one of his corner men said when he came to our door.
Mr. Huggins wouldn’t let me talk about it, not even know what hospital. “Fight over, son,” he said. “All done. Don’t matter.’
I skipped the party my brothers had and my dad dropped me off at home. One of my neighbors was on his porch and he said, “Paco Narvaez is hurt bad,” he said.
“I know. How bad?”
“The TV guy said he’s in brain surgery now.”
“I don’t think he’s going to make it. Guys like that usually don’t. Too much pressure on his brain, where it’s bleeding and the blood can’t get out.”
“Can’t they drain it out?”
“Yeah, but it’s usually too late and the damage is done.”
I wanted to say it was a fight, he got in some shots himself. Like after all rights, my eyes were swollen and would turn black.
My mom called right away and said, “We’ve all got to pray for that Mexican boy now.”
I said a rosary with her on the phone and she said, “We’ll know more in the morning.”
I slept better than I thought I would with my hands slathered in pain cream. By 2 AM, I was up, though, and when the radio said Paco died, I knew what I had to do. There was so much time to wait. I went out back and cleaned the bird feeder, sprayed down the patio. I made coffee. I prayed. I stood in the dark outside. There was a sliver moon.
When the time came, I got dressed in my best clothes, my suit, and were a dress shirt and tie. I waited in back where my brothers work on cars. I could tell the day would be hot. I went over every single punch in the eight, all the feints, the footwork, you name it. Except for the referee who wouldn’t stop it, everything seemed like it had to happen that way, you know? It almost seemed like somebody else was operating me, like I was a puppet or robot, except I wasn’t.
When I finally started down Orangethorpe, it seemed more quiet than I ever saw it in my life. Believe me, I was in no hurry. I tried not to drive fast but I got there in no time flat. When I turned on Lemon, though, and I looked around and there were already quite a few people at the bus stops, and carts that sold snow cones, and men riding slow bikes on the sidewalk. Pretty quick I got more scared than before any fight, I can tell you that. I knew people were watching me and word was spreading. I went to school with a lot of the kids around there, played ball at the Boy’s Club, you name it. We weren’t enemies.
The houses on the street where the Narvaez family lived were old, made of wood with green tile roofing. I smelled tortillas baking and there were old cars parked everywhere, in driveways, on the street, on the front lawns, even between houses. I’d see three or four Mexican guys working under a hood and they’d stop and look at who was passing by. I wondered what they’d do if they knew it was me. I was a stranger around here but they’d know my name now. I guess I was ready for anything.
My sweat was cold when I reached the block where they lived. I knew which house it was from the Boy’s Club bus when Pete would take us to Fight Nights in La Habra and Anaheim and places. It was on the right behind where some little girls jumped rope, and on a big porch, young guys were drinking bottles of beer. Most of the front yards had gardens, some with peach or apricot or lemon trees and on this block, not many cars.
I felt many sets of eyes watching me. They felt curious and suspicious, not hostile. When I walked through the trellis I saw two little boys playing with a toy dump truck on the ground, then right away a girl called them to the porch, and when she called louder, they got up and ran to her. I noticed somebody peeking at me through a window and I guess it was all like a Western movie when the bad guy walks down Main Street. Now I could feel the breeze on my sweat.
I walked up the steps toward the porch and two teenaged girls came out to see me, and then a guy about the same age.
“Are you Teddy?” the first girl said. She was pretty, with eyes red from crying, like the other girl, too. All three of them watched me closely but they weren’t rude.
“Yes, I am. I’m very sorry for what happened to Paco. I came to apologize. To apologize to all of you. I’d do anything to take it back, what happened.”
For a few seconds nothing happened, and then their tears flowed again. Nobody said anything until their brother stuck out his hand for me to shake.
“Thanks, man,” he said. “It’s good that you came.”
That was the only time I thought I’d cry, too, when I saw how open his face was. There was no doubt he was a tough guy, a vato, with scars on his cheekbones and a sadder look in his eyes than I’d ever seen anywhere. I was too ashamed to thank him so I nodded instead.
Then more brothers and sisters came out on the porch, and they all shook my hand. So many of the girls cried, I could barely look them in the eyes.
“He loved to fight,” the first girl said in Spanish. I speak some. She said her name was Teresa, and that was easy to remember.
She said it twice: “Francisco loved to fight.”
“How did you find the house, Teddy?” one of the brothers asked me. He looked like Paco except he was fat, and I could tell he was a good guy, with friendly eyes and a soft voice.
“From when the boy’s club bus would pick Paco up,’ I said.”
“Oh, OK,” he said. That seemed to satisfy him in some way.
“He never woke up,” another sister said in a breaking voice.
“The doctors said he had no pain,” the tough brother I liked said. He offered me a drink from a can of stout malt liquor he was drinking and I accepted.
“No, he never did,” one or two of the others said.
“He was a great fighter. Much better than me. I could tell he didn’t feel well last night. I think he trained too long,” I said.
“Could be,” the same brother said.
“He admired you, Teddy,” the second sister with the breaking voice said.
“He said you would be as good as Basilio, maybe as good as Robinson,” the first sister said.
I said thanks, because they were just being nice, but the others nodded, so maybe Paco did think that. I don’t know why. His family was much more polite than mine would be.
“That was very generous of Paco, but he is the one who was best,” I said, and at that moment I really meant it.
I guess we all took a minute to think, and I felt like I was with friends. Then I wondered who I was there for, my conscience or out of respect to them.
“Our father died last year,” Teresa said. That made it worse to me. I figured he’d been especially proud of Paco, his namesake.
“I’m very sorry.”
“Would you like a Coke?” a girl who looked like the youngest offered, and I said yes, please.
They showed me inside and I stepped into a parlor with the window shades down. Candles flickered and when my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw relatives of all ages on the sofas and chairs. Maybe they planned a wake.
Teresa led me to every one of them to introduce me. They all shook my hand and some were very shy, others like friends already. They deserved a look at me. I appreciated their acceptance but I also felt like an imposter. There was death in the house and it was death by my hands.
I followed the friendly, tough brother into the kitchen and Teresa followed. He handed me a bottle of cold soda from an old refrigerator and we all stood for a minute while I drank. His eyes in particular seemed bottomless brown.
“I prayed for Paco all night,” I said. It didn’t sound right, but what else could I say? It was true.
“Thank you, man,” the friendly brother said.
Teresa seemed ready to say something but waited a while. Others came to the doorway and nodded at her, as if to tell her it was OK.
“Our mother would like to see you,” she said softly. They seemed to believe I might refuse.
“Yes, of course,” I said. ‘That’s why I came.’
They led me to a dark hallway with paintings of Jesus and Guadalupe on the wall, and some watercolor paintings by children, too. We passed two open doors and I noticed more eyes looking out at me, silent. I really wished I had my rosary in my pocket but I never used to carry it with me.
When Teresa and I reached the end of the hall, the place felt like a church, even a cathedral, still and holy. She pushed the door open slowly and the room was dark except for votive candles, probably a dozen glowing. I saw some on a shrine and recognized a portrait of Paco when he was a boy, his confirmation photo when he was twelve. His dark eyes were huge.
My own eyes tried to see his mother, seated in a corner with a rosary in her hand. I heard the beads rattling between her fingers.
“This is Teddy, Mama,” Teresa said.
“Yes, I know,” Mrs. Narvaez said in Spanish.
I’ve never heard any voice that sounded as much like it came from another world beyond life on earth.
“Thank you for coming, young man,” she said.
There was silence. Sometimes Mrs. Narvaez looked at me. Her eyes welled up. Her lips moved in prayer. Sometimes her head shook, hardly enough to see. I waited a long time for the words. There were no sounds from behind the door. They were waiting, too. My mouth felt dry and now my hands hurt terrible. I was sweating and almost wished I hadn’t come, When I looked at Mrs, Narvaez, I could see all her wrinkles and the brown of her eyes. She would never end her crying.
“Ma’am, I am very sorry for what happened. It was an accident. I’d give anything to change it. I’m so sorry,” I said.
“This is true,” she said. I felt her hands take mine and hold them, and my knuckles stopped hurting in her cool fingers. I could just barely see her eyes but nothing else was clear. She must have been looking at me and after a minute I heard her sob.
“Sus manos son cuchillos para matar a Francisco. ¿Por qué podía usted no dejarle ganar? Your hands are knives to kill Francisco. Why couldn't you let him win?”
“¿Por qué no podría usted deje mi triunfo de Francisco del hijo? Why, Teddy? Why couldn't you just let him win?”
What could I say?
“I should have, ma’am,” I said. I wished I had, too.
She had me in her grip, strong from work and raising her children. I smelled her tears and her grief. Paco was stolen from her heart and she’d never get him back. None of them would. I wanted to surrender right there. I wanted to confess but I had nothing left to reveal.
A long time passed before she let go. Her breathing sounded more even and I think maybe she stopped crying. When I looked away, the very first thing I saw was Paco in his portrait. He looked different too but I couldn’t say how.
“Does your mother know you are here?” Mrs. Narvaez asked me.
“Nobody does, no. Not yet. No.”
“You must call her now. Teresa? Take him to the phone.“
When I started to get up, Mrs. Narvaez reached her hand out and touched my face.
“You will come back to visit me, you promise?”
“I promise, ma’am.”
Her arms came out and pulled me to her, and her face was wet with tears. She was so thin I could feel her shoulder bones and ribs through her mourning clothes.
It’s like this when my aunts or grandmas or the other Irish ladies hold onto me at wakes, and it never makes me feel any better about the person who died. I wondered if it made Mrs. Narvaez feel any better. I doubted it.
I went outside to the hall with Teresa. When I dialed my parents’ number, my mother answered and screamed for me to get home right away.
Fast as I could without being rude, I said goodbye to all the Narvaezes. I shook everybody’s hand and all his sisters hugged me, which was embarrassing. They invited me to stay and eat because they had plenty of food, or have a beer before I left. I said I was sorry but I had to go home.
When I reached the walkway outside, I heard the friendly brother call my name. I turned and felt the barrels of a sawed-off shotgun against my throat, pushing up under my jaw.
“Don’t ever come back here, man,” he said in a flat voice. “Don’t come here again or I’ll blow your head off.”
I expected him to fire. He pressed the shotgun hard enough for it to fire by accident and he kept watching me as he did. I don’t know how much time passed and no one made a sound. His arm began shaking and I was sure I’d die there on the front yard. Maybe he wanted me to beg him not to shoot me. Maybe he expected me to squeal and cry. I looked in his eyes the best I could, without weakness and without fear. He might respect that and let me go. I heard cars drive past that reminded me there was a world outside and I wasn’t dead yet. I wanted to pray but it would take too much of my concentration. I felt the shotgun barrel scrape my throat and he yanked his arm up so the steel hurt my chin. In that instant I thought I’d hear the explosion and be dead, but instead he spat in my face, into my eyes.
You will never stop me believing I could have clubbed him right down then for that. I can only thank God for the strength not to.
“All right, I’m leaving. Let me walk away and I’m gone, man,” I said.
That’s how I left.
That was the day I made two mothers cry.
I had to give up the new house and now I live in an apartment, and the money I saved is gone. I had enough to pay in full for my mom’s new house, which my brother Greg said was a stupid thing to do. Donnie Lee changed her mind about marrying me and I guess I can’t blame her. She moved to Stanton and I haven’t seen her since. I have a job in the parts department at Boeing, swing shift. I keep to myself and learned how to cook. I like to read, too.
Today is a year from when I killed Paco Narvaez with my hands. My knuckles don’t hurt the same way they did but now they have arthritis.
Today I’m going to visit Mrs. Narvaez again. She’ll be alive, I think. She’s not that old. I thought maybe we could go to the cemetery to visit Paco’s grave. Or maybe I’ll just go out there alone after I see her. I’m not sure what I’ll do except right now I have to leave now. I promised.