Juan dropped the cooler on the grass and pulled out a bottle of Budweiser. The bottle hissed as he popped the top off. He took a long swig of the bottle and sighed. He wiped the foam off his grey beard with the sleeve of his faded high school t-shirt. Standing on his front yard, he watched cars pull out of driveways and drive past.
             After a while his friend, Javier, joined him. He nodded to Juan and pulled out a beer. Shaking the ice off the bottle, water dripped on the brown grass underneath him. An old woman in grey sweatpants walked by them. “There goes your girlfriend” Juan remarked. “Shut up. I would never cheat on your mom” replied Javier jabbing him in the ribs with his elbow. “Not funny. My mom’s dead.” “That explains why she didn’t move last night” Javier replied, laughing hysterically. Juan just stared at him and clutched his bottle. “Come on. It’s just a joke.” Javier pleaded. Juan tapped the last drops from the bottom of the bottle into his mouth, and threw it on his lawn. Taking another bottle, he popped the top. “Just shut up.”
             Juan watched a school bus pull up to the curb across the street. A mother and child appeared from one of the nearby houses. He watched the woman give her a child a quick kiss on his forehead and push him onto the bus. Noticing them, she gave them a quick wave. Her short black hair was frayed, and her eyelids heavy with sleep. Javier waved back with a lurid grin on his face. His eyes watching the words JUICY emblazoned on the rear of her sweatpants sway as she walked away. Juan just watched the bus roll away into the distance.
             After awhile the cars stopped coming and the streets became silent save for the occasional dog barking. “So how’s Reina?” Javier asked, tossing a bottle onto the heap of bottles already on the grass. Juan just stared at the empty streets and grunted. He took out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Javier, but Javier shook his head.  “Where is she anyway?” Javier asked. Juan tilted his head back, and exhaled smoke up into the air. He stared at the clouds for a minute and noticed they looked like headless chickens. He took one last inhale and dropped it on the ground. “I don’t know. She hasn’t been home for awhile.” Javier examined the label on his beer. Furrowing his brows, he seemed to be in deep concentration as he mouthed the words on the label. “This taste like piss.” He finally said. Juan didn’t respond.  After a few of minutes of silence, Javier finally asked, “What happened?” Juan just shrugged. Javier was about to say something else but noticed the mother from before coming out of her home. Javier opened his mouth to say something to her but he paused and burped loudly instead. Juan just started staring at the clouds again, but they didn’t seem to resemble anything.
             As the sun began to set, the cars returned to their driveways and the woman appeared again to pick up her child. He ran to her and hugged her tightly. He seemed to be excitedly talking to her about something, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. Javier was distracted by the mosquitos swarming around him. “Hijo de la puta,” he complained.  I can’t deal with these fucking mosquitoes. No manches.  I’m going home. I’ll see you later.”
             A short time later, Juan picked up his cooler and headed to his backyard. He plopped down in front of a large tree and set the cooler beside him. The tree gnarled by time loomed over him and cast a large shadow over him. Groaning winds shook the tree’s limbs and rustled the leaves around him. Resting against the tree, he watched his house as it seemed to shudder and moan at every gust of wind. At night he would often hear the floorboards creek and imagine his parents were still there, just outside the one bedroom they all shared.  As he listened, he looked at the old chicken coop. The paint had peeled off years ago leaving the wood exposed. He had meant to repaint it, but he had never gotten around to it. Now the coop was falling apart, and the cage door was barely hanging on by a single nail. As the door began to squeak, he remembered the time he left the cage door open. When he and his family came home from church, they found the coop covered in feathers and blood. Stray dogs had attacked the chickens that night. There wasn’t anything left by the time the dogs were done with them. His father didn’t say anything when they got back to the house, but when Juan tried to speak, his father slapped him across the face so hard it knocked him to the floor. He remembered how his lip was busted open and how he could taste copper. His face throbbed but the thing that hurt the most was the look of disappointment in his father’s eyes and the sound of him slamming the bedroom door. Ashamed, he ran outside and collapsed under the large tree. He sobbed so long and so hard his throat become hoarse and his head started to throb. He vowed never to sleep in that house again. Sometime later his mother appeared from the back porch.  He remembered her cradling him in her arms so tightly he could smell the rosewater perfume she had worn to church. He remembered her stroking his hair gently and singing a Spanish song in a soft shaky voice underneath the tree. He tried to remember the words she sang, the words that made everything better, but he couldn’t.  
             He woke up in his backyard the next day lying on the ground staring up at the clouds as they slowly moved. The sour taste of vomit and a deep headache greeted him. He grunted as he picked himself up and walked to his front yard. Javier was waiting there with a cooler full of beer. He was wearing the same clothes as yesterday only now his undershirt was stained a feint yellow. “I bought the good stuff” Javier exclaimed. “None of that Budweiser shit.” Juan wasn’t listening. He just stared at the streets waiting for something to happen.
Julio Mireles lives in Brownsville. He writes occasionally.
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