Words by Jasminne Morataya
Photography by Brandon Yung and Ashton Carless
Limp and sultry palm tree afternoon. Hair sticks to shiny foreheads, hidden meat flaps chafe and sweat in their own intensely private way. A severed tongue is discovered on the sidewalk and confiscated by Miami-Dade Metropolitan Police, and while they think its sudden bloated appearance has something to do with Santería activity in the area, they have no idea what to do about it. They shrug and go home, carefully omitting the facts of what they’ve seen to their families at the dinner table.
Vicente and his miniature, unaware but resolute, walk into a hospital in order to set up the punchline to a joke. The boy is hungry. At the check-in desk, he jumps up and down and asks, like a grizzled veteran of all hospitals, what’s there to eat down here in county. Vicente takes his son’s dimpled hand in his own, and talks in a cowboy voice through the gap in his teeth, “Everything here is fair game, son, except that there vegetable over yonder. That one’s your grandpa.”
Blast of trumpets. The boy doesn’t laugh. He’s heard this joke about his abuelo before, and it makes him incalculably, inexpressibly hurt somewhere he can’t touch. He hates crying and not being able to explain why, desperate to find the words, the fuzzy frustration building up in his throat like when he can’t get out of a sweater. Imprisoned in the cotton headhole until he can be rescued by his father, the anger and fear lingers in heart for minutes afterward.
The boy, Ramiro, is all of five years old, and sometimes when folding his vibrant little school clothes at the laundromat, a tear hangs from Vicente’s expressionless dolphin eye for a brief moment, blighted low-hanging fruit. He wonders how could it be possible for someone to be this small.
The nurse nods to them as they shuffle into the room, speaking to Vicente, absurdly miming what it’s like for his old man to have a urinary tract infection, wishing his father the happiest birthday possible under the circumstances. Ramiro somehow procures a small bag of carrots from her before she leaves, wheeling her cart and pulling back the curtain for privacy. Dad and grandad, respectively, remains a singular entity on the bed, one floppy anemic foot still twitching from the insertion of the new catheter, the happy happy birthday catheter. The plastic feeding tube in his salacious, almost carnal stomach hole bobs up and down like a buoy in the ocean, dripping a special, savory formula. Every two hours or so he is flipped in order to prevent bedsores, though anyone who’s been in a bed this long is bound to get them eventually. Another year of this. His vacant eyes are vulgar and perpetually open, and his abundant atrophied flesh folds smell vaguely antiseptic, with some tasty fungus or mold spore fermenting darkly underneath.
It has happened, it will happen always. Vicente lifts up his boy from the ground to give him a better view. Ramiro touches abuelo’s living void face and tries to find where the damage is, a carrot in his other hand. Why hasn’t he ever said anything, he thinks. Deliquesced water chestnut head, a decomposition so absolute, so final. And yet he is still here, endlessly excreting, his soul traipsing through the hereafter, where nobody shits and nobody mindlessly undulates their body to the clinical rhythm of a urinary tract infection.
Vicente kept a bent piece of metal from the stock car for a long time underneath his bed. Thierry Dunne gave it to him at the surgery fundraiser with a mawkish smile, and even though he remembered what Dad said about him being a big piece of shit Québécois nationalist motherfucker, he clasped it squarely in his hand and thanked him quietly.
Mom, uncomfortable sangria kiss, all angular and perpetually corpse-cold, removed all the pictures of his father from the house after the accident. She never visited after the failed thalamic stimulator implant, the failed rehabilitation therapies. There seemed to be no point, perpetually unresponsive Cubano spittle baby, please do not resuscitate. So when she finally found the twisted red hunk underneath the bed, years later, she cried blankly. Her mouth was wide open, something was threatening to crawl outside of her throat and externalize itself. Black bile on the floor. The thin skin on her desiccated face moved through the will of an unseen force.
It happens the same way every time, in dreams and in waking dreams. He is twelve and all his friends call him Vic and he talks about his dad a) being famous (a lie) and b) teaching him to drive the stock car (a bigger lie).
In an instant, and only because of the dust, everything disintegrates. His father, blinded during the fifth lap, becomes the architect of his final calamity. Clipping that stupid prick Thierry Dunne, creating a nasty three car pile-up. Flame hot, fire hot, body hot. Through the melted nylon window net, his helmeted melon head makes contact with the retaining wall and splits open, flirtatiously exploding, his brain ceaselessly accelerating around and around his skull. Smoke and glass fragments everywhere on the track, and a sunburnt woman out in the stands drunkenly covers her child’s eyes with her hands.
“That’s a dead man if I ever saw one,” she says, but she can’t rightly see anything. Why do people pretend to see things they can’t?
Effervescent mourning Vic and his stupid fake Catholic lipsticked mother, looking dumbly at the crumpled man in the intensive care unit. What are they supposed to do. Everything is irretrievably broken, the bandages on his head wet and fecund and altogether indecent with blood.
Spinning further and further out of orbit, more distant from his father’s light with each passing day.
Another three years from then and Vicente is blowing into the ignition interlock device in his mother’s car so it will start. She is drunk and hateful, as she always is after consuming a large quantity of meat and cheese and cheap fruit cocktails from the diner.
Soon it will be her third DUI, she clips a mailbox while exiting a drive-thru. Her right front wheel axle is on fire, and a piece of burning rubber shoots off and hits a kid on a skateboard. He is Dominican, for starters, and undocumented to boot, so she doesn’t feel too bad about the burn she left through his shirt. Stranger in a flaming chariot. Their hearts will never intersect again.
Vestigial, beyond memory, Ramiro withdraws his touch. Another one of abuelo’s tremulous involuntary movements has scared him. Vicente holds his son close. His own father is a million miles away from them, and God, and Daytona. He endures, unknowingly, until the end of time.
Later, safe at home, slurping ice cream on the couch together from plastic spoons. “You know you don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to,” Vicente says, imbecilic chest hitch, anticipating rejection in all forms, even from his son. “I could just leave you with Griselda and pick you up when I’m done.”
“I know. It’s just that I think you need me,” and it is in that moment that Ramiro becomes impossibly old.
ABOUT THE ARTIST:
Read Jasmine’s other work on Tunnel here.