Fall 2008, Volume 5

Fiction by Nick Padron

Papa's Bastard Son

Sometimes you look at the world and you can’t understand it for all you try. They tell you the trick is to adapt, to get used to it, to conform. I know that much already. What other choice is there? Well, sure, there is something else you can do, but you don’t do it because, first of all, you’re not crazy. You have your health, your desires, your ambitions. You are made for living. It’s what you do. And dying, death, might be all that they say it is, but I am not built for it. I will not argue about it, either. I have friends who enjoy talking about it. Not me. You want to die? You go ahead. Leave me out of it. What’s the hurry? It’s not just the dying; it’s all that time they expect you to stay dead.

This is why I will not go out there in an inner tube like those lunatics did. I'd rather wait for the right moment. I am tired of arguments, opinions, debates and discussions. Talk, talk, talk, a black-market of endless verbalizing. I want work that I can do with my hands, in silence. I want to make things, useful things. I want to go to work, come home, pay the rent, eat, make love and go to bed. At least I’d like to try it for a while. Maybe it’s not for me. Maybe it’s too late for me. But as I sit here covered in dust and sweat, watching the sea turn from emerald to lead, I wish I could float away like a paper boat on a flooded gutter after a downpour. Float out of sight into that liquid desert and wake up in the world, in the real world. The one you see on television, in the movies, the world of those people who look at us and smile those strange smiles. People of the real world. True, sometimes I don’t understand them, but I think that comprehension is overrated anyhow.

I have a friend that used to say: “Roberto sleeps on the beach on Sundays because he thinks a bunch of mermaids are going to pop out of the water and carry him to Key West.” What he really means is that I sit here on the night sands waiting for some benevolent group of rafters to ask me to join them. “Está loco,” they say. But I don’t argue anymore. Mermaids . . . I would not even know how to make love to one.

Who’s not a little loco on this never-never island, anyway? A place where no one calls anything by its real name, unless you’re talking to a foreigner or to your saints. I used to tell my friend, ‘You are mistaken. I don’t spend the night on the beach waiting for an imaginary rafter to give me a ride to freedom. Aren’t we supposed to be freer than anyone has ever been?’ But I’d rather not argue. What for? But -- just between you and me -- it got me thinking. Sometimes I think that is exactly what I come here to do.

I am waiting for a ghost raft.

Funny . . .

Granted, I have been accused of being a dreamer. But I have my moments of lucidity, too. I have been known to wade waist-deep in the salt waters of reason and seen things and faces for what they are. If not for them, why would I be sitting here breathing that dead fish smell and watching the sea stir like boiling crab soup in front of my starving eyes? I do not long for freedom, only for a better prison.

What is freedom anyway? I do not mind confinement. I do not need much of anything. How much space and things does a dreamer need? I would not take too much space in any raft. Hey, just give me that little corner there out of everybody’s way and I will not ask for water or make a sound. No one will even notice me . . . until we hit land.


The real world. The New World. The world of my forefathers . . . At least half of my genes, the white ones, originated there. Well, maybe in Europe, but by way of El Norte, like the charros call it, or Yankeelandia, as the gallegos say. Call it what you will, half of me belongs there. Instead, they keep saying the same things about me. “Leave him alone, está loco. He thinks he’s half-American.” But as I said, I do not argue anymore. I have the two things I need to prove them wrong. One is inside me: my indisputable certificate of authenticity. And the other is in the wall, inside the wall of my bedroom -- my mother’s bedroom before she died.

The moon . . . Where is it?

It’s gone out of sight again, as if the lights of the world have gone out with it.

Moon-face, that was what my mother used to call me. “God,” she would lament between peals of laughter, “You don’t look a thing like your Papa.” But it does not matter anymore, the looks, I mean. I have the DNA and the manuscript. My DNA will prove what the manuscript cannot, and vice versa. You say I don’t look anything like my Papa? Okay, check my DNA. You say okay, my DNA confirms the bloodline and such, but it is of no consequence because I was born out of wedlock, an illegitimate child, a quickie in the shed, an unlucky bastard. Okay. This is when I will swagger forward and pull out the envelope and slip the script out like a gunslinger draws his six-shooter, and say: “Here, feast your eyes.” And I will unveil the manuscript -- Papa’s autobiography -- and they would fall on their asses in absolute awe. “Could it be real? It looks real enough.” Then they will rush it to the experts and find out the truth, that it is real. Papa’s typewritten autobiography. A work no one ever knew even existed. I’ll become an instant celebrity.

Then, when I get tired of all the attention, I will move to a farm for the rest of my days as Papa did in Ketchum. And I will work with my hands and create things, things that no one needs, but maybe some people might find useful, as with Papa’s work.

Why Papa ended it the way he did, I’ll never understand. No one called him loco when he stuck that double barrel in his mouth and blew his head off. That head so loaded with wonder and prose, so ripe for the picking, all the knowledge and insight it contained splattered all over the wall.

The pain, they say, the pain was too much. In his case, it was the sane thing to do. They called me loco when I tried it. It is not the same with me. Even with his genes swimming within me, it’s not the same. Those certifiable genes he passed on to me, by way of a sixteen-year-old mulatica who became the co-author of me, do not make it the same thing. Why? I’m not sure. But as you know by now, I don’t argue anymore. What’s the use?

Sure, you might have his genetic matter and his pen . . . Oh yes, I do have his pen, his famed fountain pen, but it has no ink. I can’t get ink for it anywhere. They refuse to give me any because they say I’ll drink it down, as I did that time. I only did it as a joke, a juvenile prank. But twenty years later, I am still without it. So I have his fountain pen, the one he used on who knows how many historic literary documents. But it’s dry, dry like this island.

I would never forget that day mother pulled me aside and said with an air of nostalgia and wonderment but not of love: “This Parker fountain pen belonged to your Papa. He gave it to me the day he gave me the manila envelope with the papers and said to me with his bad yanki accent, ‘Mirta, I want you to have this. You may not think it’s much now but you wait a few years and see.’ He was right,” she said. “To me, it was just a pen and a batch of typewritten pages. How was I to know the manuscript contained his most secret secrets, one of humanity’s greatest literary treasures? I was only a stupid girl then. You were still in my belly, smaller than a mouse. Then he disappeared forever aboard the Pilar and sailed into literary martyrdom. He left me with you and those yellow, dog-eared folios and the fountain pen . . . better than nothing, no?”

The sound of the surf has become a form of silence. The waves have lost their white crests. The shadows are gone, most of them, anyway. The ashy moonlight has spread over the beach like silver dust. It is in that strange light that I first see her coming out of the ashen seascape, her boyish body and long lean legs of an Olympian striding onward out of the night.

“Are you Roberto?” she asks, her statuesque silhouette towering over me.

“It depends. Who are you?”

“They call me Friqui. But my name is Milady.” Her voice is delicate, sweet, nothing like her Amazonian physique. “Let me sit down next to you.”

“You better.”

She sits by my side on the sand, her languid movements in rhythm with the breaking waves. She is gorgeous, a miracle in the moonlight. I take a good look at those long legs of hers, to make sure they are not covered with green scales. No, this one is no mermaid. She’s all caramelized flesh and blood. “I have a cousin who’s built a raft,” she says. “He sent me over to offer you a place on it.”

“You’re joking, right?”

She snaps her lips in that sassy way only habaneras can. “Chico, do I look like I’m joking?”

No, she didn’t. Still . . . “Who’s your cousin? And why me?”

“You are Roberto el Loco, no?”

“That’s what some people call me.”

“Cousin Chicho says the raft fits eight people. And there is space for one more. Do you want to come?”

I let out an incredulous laugh. “Yes, yes, of course. When are we sailing?”

“Tonight. My cousin and my family are getting the raft ready right now.”


“Over there,” she says pointing at the curving shoreline. “Beyond those houses. Near the fish plant.”

“Come on, what’s this all about, really? We don’t know each other from nothing.”

“My cousin says he knows you. Everybody knows you on this beach. Everyone knows you’ve been wanting to escape for months.”

“For years,” I correct her.

“Whatever,” she says and starts to get up, as if she has already done her duty and now cares little whether I come or not. “Well? You coming?”

My heart wants to burst out of my ribcage. “Honest, is this for real?”

She gives me a sideways look. “It’s now or never.”

“All right, all right. But I have to go to my house first and get some things.”

“That is a problem.”


“We have no space for bags and things. There is only enough space for you and the clothes on your back, not a thing more: Cousin Chicho’s orders.”

“Nothing?” What would it all mean without Papa’s manuscript?

“Vamos, chico.” Friqui was getting annoyed. “Make up your mind already. There are plenty of others who want that space on the raft.”

 “But can you wait a few minutes? All I need is to bring my papers. They won’t take any space.”

“Papers? You are crazy --”

“It’s just a manuscript. I’ll put it in my backpack. I can take a backpack, right? I mean, I’m going to need water, a birth certificate, my toothbrush, soap and all that? Your cousin’s got allow me at least that much. True?”

“I don’t know,” she says, as if thrown by my reasonableness. “Cousin Chicho said to tell you not to bring anything. Nada.”

I must have had a desperate look on my face, because then she said, “Look, bring your papers and whatever else with you. Then if Cousin Chicho tells you have to leave the backpack behind, you decide.”

“Yes, yes, good idea. Yes. I’ll run home and get my things.”

“I’ll wait here. How long will you be?”

“Sing a song and I’ll be back by the time you’re finished. Don’t you move from here, wait for me. Okay . . .”

I could hear Friqui’s mermaid song as I ran off. The dry, powdery sand felt like quagmire under my feet.

A minute later I barge in the house -- my home of a lifetime -- two rooms in a once upper middle-class two-story beach home in Santa María.

Panting, I clamber up the creaking stairway. The other three families in the house are asleep. I tiptoed into the kitchen, pick up the crowbar, then head to my bedroom -- mother’s old bedroom. I stand before the wall that contains the family treasure and remove the ancient mirror with the baroque, gilded frame, and start swinging the crowbar, breaking and scraping the plaster off around the nail where the mirror had been hanging – the X spot.

Nervous beads of sweat drip down the side of my face as I bang on the wall. I try very hard to keep it as quietly as possible, to no avail. Do it slowly, I whisper to myself, easy but fast. The ancient brick and plaster crumbles down loud onto the bedspread on the floor. My heart is racing, transported by the magical quality of the moment. I am already looking back at it as though it happened long ago. For the first time in my life I am going to actually hold the manuscript in my hands, actually see the family treasure, four decades after my mother left it concealed in that hole in the wall, awaiting this moment. My hands are shaking. I can’t believe what is happening. It’s even more incredible to me than Chicho’s offer of freedom. Liberty or death . . .

I pounce on the wall harder.

A loud shout shakes me up. “Hey! What the hell you’re doing up there, Roberto?”  The voice feels like iced water down my back. “It’s two o’clock in the damn madrugada. Some of us got to go to work in a few hours, cojones!”

I ignore it and keep swinging the crowbar. It’s my second-floor neighbor, a paladar owner, the last guy who’d want the law coming anywhere near him these days. I continue ripping out the wall, going as fast as I can now. Hurry, faster, faster . . .

“Roberto! Loco de mierda.” Now it’s the first-floor neighbor, the Committee Delegate, doing the yelling. “This is insupportable.” I hear his wife join in. “I’m calling the police. I had enough of that lunatic.”

I’m turning white from all the plaster dust. Where is the damn manuscript? I can already see into the other room through the hole in the wall. Where is it? Mother, you told me it was here. Dig right behind the mirror, you always told me. Start where the nail is and dig.

A boiling of voices start echoing and multiplying throughout the house, louder and louder like a gathering lynching mob. “Roberto! You crazy maniac. I’m going up there and kick your ass, I swear. Stop that banging already . . . Yes, Robertico, por favor . . . We can’t sleep . . . I will call the police this time, I’m warning you.”

Mother, where is it? The entire wall is almost gone. My fingers are bleeding. What is that? I hear a series of hard blows that shake up the house to its foundations. What is it? It isn’t my hammering. I hear it again. It’s my front door coming off the hinges.

“Son of a bitch,” they’re barking as the doorframe cracks and splinters. “If I catch you I’m going to kill you, you crazy bastard.” Now I’m hitting the wall like a gold miner swinging his pickaxe into a newfound gold streak. I don’t care anymore. I know the manuscript has to be in there. Mother would not lie to me. ‘The family treasure, son. The master’s last book. Your Papa’s gift to you --’ my ticket to paradise.

“Roberto, hijo de puta, now the police is here, you better stop and open this door.”

I keep pounding at the wall with all my might, indifferent to the savage banging. Then, through the dusty brown light of the lamp aiming at the wall I notice something wrapped in green canvas. Wait. Is that it? It is. It’s the manuscript, rolled up inside a piece of green tarpaulin. I reach for it . . .

It is here when I see the flash of lightning strike. It always comes at this moment, never ceases to take me by surprise despite the countless of times it has happened before. And again the lights go out and I savor the blood and the plaster and the all-consuming numbness sets in, starting in my legs, working its slow death up my body and my life ends again.

It’s midnight again and I am sitting on the ashen sands under a battered moon. The same moon, the same saltwater desert. The same sweat-soaked, dusty old Saint Augustine, pretending to understand the incomprehensible, waiting for the future to let me in.

BIO:  Composer and writer Nick Padron lives in Madrid and Miami. To date, he has published more than one hundred musical compositions, including a rock opera based on Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan series (http://www.diablero.com/). His writings include comedy sketches for television, interviews, and music reviews. His short stories have appeared in Cortland Review, Boston's Full Circle ("Best of" book series), the Barcelona Review and many others. He has completed a novel and a novella, It Tolls For Thee, rated number one at Zoetrope All-Story, October 2002.