Spring 2016, Volume 20

Fiction by Gilberto Zamora

Roads and Hornets

The winding roads felt like death waiting to happen. I was driving 5 miles under the speed limit and holding my breath, rounding each steep canyon curve. We were driving into the empty of the Inland Empire where Jay had family. If I was hiding from the Mafia, I think this is where the witness protection program would place me. There was nothing but small homes between dry red hills, dirt fields and strip malls.

My mom and my younger brother were talking, not noticing the white knuckle grip I had on the steering wheel. I hoped my black dress wouldn’t show the growing sweaty pit stains.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Lalo, my younger brother said. “He’s the first person I’ve ever know that’s died.”

“Then, you’re lucky mi’jo,” My mom said. It wasn’t true. Lalo had known someone else that had died; my ex-husband, Luis. He had been killed in combat recently, but I hadn’t told anyone yet.

It felt wrong to tell people. I was afraid they would feel sorry me and then I have to remind them that I hadn’t talked to Luis in 6 years.

I only found out two weeks before. The army family records are always out dated and I received the notice. The fucked up thing is how much it hit me. I found myself feeling really sad about it. I never wanted to talk to or see the motherfucker again but getting that notice felt like something was stolen from me. For two days, I walked around like I was hiding a terrible secret. I wanted to ignore it, hoping the sadness would disappear. And when that didn’t work, I reminded myself about the asshole he was, remembering the violence and how he called me a bitch in front of the judge in open court.

But then, other memories would come back to me, too. Like when we were teenagers and he held my hand for the first time in the mall, in front of everyone or how he laid next to me and held me and cried the night before our wedding.

I did everything to not think about Luis. I even went on a blind date. I laughed at the guy’s corny jokes, and even kissed him goodnight—extra passionately. But in the middle of my chest, the weird weight only seemed to grow heavier.

Then I got a call from a lawyer. I had to meet Luis’s widow at his office because Luis, being the lazy idiot that he was, still had me as his beneficiary on his life insurance.

His widow looked like she was straight out of high school, but she was 22. Dark lip liner outlined her small mouth, and that was the only make-up she had on. Her hair looked over-bleached and thin and she looked pissed. I felt horrible, but I wasn’t sure why. None of this was my fault.

She stayed seated, holding her infant while her other son, a toddler, played on the carpet. I introduced myself and touched her hand. I told her that I was truly sorry for her loss and before I could stop myself, I softly moved the hair out of her face, behind her ear. The gesture softened her face. She told me in her quiet but angry voice, that Luis had never told her that he had been married before.

I tried to excuse it all away. I said we were super young and that I also tended to forget that I was married before, which was kind of true. I told her that Luis was a great guy, which was a fucking lie.

I looked over at the toddler who was playing with a G. I. Joe doll and his toy car. And said hi to him. The little boy looked up and smiled. I felt my chest ache. I smiled back at him and clenched my teeth. No fucking way was I going to cry in front of his young widow. The little boy told his mom that he needed to potty, and I offered to hold the infant while she took him.

He was a really quiet baby. There I was, holding Luis’s son. My eyes were watering and I took the deepest breath I could.


We got off the freeway and found the funeral home. There were tons of cars parked outside. I guessed that we were probably the last to arrive.

“No entiendo, porque Jay didn’t tell us his dad was in the hospital?” My mom said.

“Maybe he told Chuba,” I said. I hadn’t talked to Jay in over a year. He had pissed me off on a trip to San Francisco and I left his ass there. I knew we would talk eventually and get over it—I just wished we had done it before this happened.

“If he told your sister, why didn’t she tell us?”

“Ma, you know Chuba. All she cares about is her new job in Chicago.”

We went inside the funeral home. I had been to enough funerals, especially when I was an army wife. Automatically, I put on my sunglasses.

I wanted to get close to Jay. I wanted to hold his hand, but he was surrounded by cousins and uncle and aunts. As though he sensed us, he turned around and smiled and mouthed a hello.

Jay had always been a fat little kid and teenager but it was like he spent his twenties getting skinnier and skinnier.

After the service, we followed the cars to the cemetery. I tried to get close to him at the burial, but my mom walked slow and didn’t let go of my hand. My mom had tears streaming down her face faster than she could wipe them away.

Jay’s dad was always sweet to us. He never remarried after his wife died of breast cancer and not that my mom ever really divorced my father, but secretly, I think, we—Jay, Chubba and I, wished that they would fall in love. It would be so simple and we would be a family. But that didn’t happened.

I don’t remember Jay’s mom’s funeral, but my mom has told me, several times, that little Jay had thrown himself over the casket and screamed so hard that she felt her soul would break.

This time Jay looked stoic. His eyes hid behind oversized sunglasses. In my head, Jay’s face always has a goofy, wild grin. No matter how skinny, I still see that chubby guy that just wants to make people laugh. But at that moment, he was unrecognizably handsome. It was like he had to reach that pit of sadness to be that beautiful.


It so ridiculous that we hadn’t talked in a so long. After being through so much together, I let a stupid fight keep me away from him when he probably needed me the most. And Jay had always been there for me. He was there through all of the drama with Luis.

I remembered Jay sitting on the bathroom floor with me while we waited to see what the pee stick was going to tell me.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he kept muttering. “I thought you were on birth control.”

“I am,” I said.

“Fuck, fuck,fuck.” Jay was more nervous than me.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad… you know? Maybe, you know, having a baby will, um—”

“What? Keep Luis from smacking the shit out of you?” His voice was excited and dripping with sarcasm, like I had just told me him I still believed in Santa Claus. 

“Yeah, you’re right.” I said. I was so young and I couldn’t help secretly hoping that if I was pregnant, Jay would be wrong. I faked relief when the test showed that I wasn’t pregnant, but all I remember thinking, was that it was a sign—I couldn’t risk this happening again. I needed to get away from Luis.  


After the burial, we followed all the relatives back to Jay’s aunt’s house. The house was vaguely familiar. I asked my mom if we had ever been there before. She said yes, during Jay’s birthday party in the year his mom died. Oh yeah, I said. I remembered Jay knocked down a hornet’s nest out back and the two of us running for our lives while Jay laughed his head off like it was the funniest thing in the world.

Mom and Lalo introduced themselves to the various relatives, but I got impatient and began my hunt for Jay. I let myself out through the back kitchen door and found Jay smoking between the tool shed and a tomato garden. He didn’t say anything. I studied the tool shed.

“This is where you knocked down that hornet’s nest, right?”

Jay looked at me and said, “Yeah, it is. Don’t worry. They fumigated yesterday. See?” he said and kicked a rock in my direction, only the rock looked hollow and was full of holes. It was an abandoned hornet’s nest, but I wasn’t taking chances and moved away from it.

He smiled, sat down on the garden bench and took off his sunglasses. His eyes were red.

 “This tool shed is so small,” I said. “I remembered it being so much bigger, but it’s like the size of my closet…Hi, Jay.”

 “Hey M,” I sat next to him and then took off my sunglasses, too.

“Thank you for coming,” he said sounding formal, nothing like Jay.

“I loved your dad.”

“Yeah, he loved you guys,” Jay said and took a long drag of his cigarette.

“Jay…you could’ve called us.” I didn’t want to sound angry at him, but I was. We had had idiotic fights before. It shouldn’t have kept Jay from reaching out when he needed help.

“It was all so fast. One day, he collapses at work and then it’s a month of in-and-out of the hospital, test after test and then, a week of steady improvements and then…that’s it.”

“Still, Jay…”

“I know… I know… but he didn’t want visitors. He was so pissed when I told my Tia.”

“You seem like you’re taking it well.”

“Am I?” He pulled out a flask from his coat jacket. “I brought this, thinking I was going to have be at least slightly buzzed to make it through this, to put up with, you know, all the tias and cousins… but when I woke up this morning… I couldn’t get myself to drink.”

I didn’t know what to say. Jay kept looking into my eyes. Everything I could say sounded horrible in my head. I couldn’t soothe him or steer him away from that sadness, so I grabbed the flask, unscrewed the lid and took a swig. The warm cheap vodka felt like sandpaper in my parched throat and hit my stomach with a hot punch.

He smiled and took the flask back. He took a nice long swig. We sat quiet for a minute before he said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

            “I mean, it’s like right before he got sick, I psyched myself up to have this, you know, talk. The talk. I’d talk to my dad and tell him about the whole gay thing and that I was serious about moving back to San Francisco and how if he didn’t like it, that I didn’t give a fuck…” Jay took another long swig from the flask, “and now… none of that shit matters... none of it matters.”

“It matters. I mean, it matters to me, to us, Jay…”

He raised the flask to his lips again but I grabbed it and slowly removed it out of his hand and walked over to the tomato plants and dumped the rest out. He watched me without protesting and I handed the empty flask back to him and sat down again. I wasn’t going to let him get drunk right now.

“Jay…” I put my arm around him and he started crying.

“He wasn’t an asshole, but I’m so pissed at him. Like why the fuck couldn’t he…I don’t know why couldn’t just talk to me, ever? Why? Why? Why? All my life, I felt like I was just waiting for him to know me, like really know me, you know?  I mean, there he was in the fucking hospital and I’m there next to him and he rather watch the Cubs lose, and I know he hates the Cubs, but he still rather watch them than talk to me…”

“Jay…” I started but couldn’t finish. He leaned in to my shoulder and cried. After a couple of minutes, he rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. I straightened out his tie.

“I wished you hadn’t thrown out that vodka.”

“The plant will suck it up through the roots… those tomatoes will be tasty.”

“Yeah… like a Bloody Mary,” he laughed a little. “Stay here. I’m going to take a leak but I want to talk to you more.”

He went inside and I got up to stretch my legs and walked up to the tool shed. I couldn’t get over how small it was compared to how I remembered it. Where the hornets really that scary or do I just remember them that way? In my memory, it was a swarm of them, but was it really just a couple of hornets chasing us away?

I bent down and picked up the hornet nest that Jay had kicked. I took a look around the tool shed, but I didn’t find any others, only a lonely spider web.

I wanted Jay to hurry up and come back out. I decided I would try to convince him not to go to San Francisco, but to move down to San Diego, instead. We don’t have to be roommates or anything stupid. I just wanted him closer to me.  

I took a closer look at the empty hornet’s nest. It smelled of chemicals. And it felt so light in my hands. I also decided that when Jay came back out, I would tell him about Luis.

Once, long ago, the three of us had been friends. That had to be enough to make it okay to be sad, to miss someone from a life that you’re not sure how to remember.




BIO: Gilbert Zamora received his BA at San Francisco State in Creative Writing and his MFA from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He currently works in development/grant writing for a national nonprofit.