Just got a call from Gabe, who just got a call from a muy loca Mrs. Littman. It seems her greyhound, Duchess, has come into the family way, and the union wasn’t sanctioned.
“So what’d you tell her?” I asked Gabe.
“I used your line.”
I knew he would.
The next time un amigo Americano asks if I want to go into the dog cleaning business for the summer, my answer will be no, gracias. Hecko, no-o.
Gabe, though is fast with the persuasive pablum. "Look, Immanuel, my good friend," he’d said to me. "Someone’s installed a self-serve dog wash in the gutted building on Water Street. It’s got hoses, shampoo dispensers, blow dryers. It only awaits our entrepreneurial exploitation." Then he mentioned our looming student loans.
“You need my trucko blanco, don’t you?”
“It would certainly help.”
His plan was simple. We’d go to Casa de Whoever, pick up the smelly pooch, clean him up, and deliver him back home safely. Puerta to Puerta service para twenty-five bucks. Not bad for a no-name town in Tennessee.
We picked Duchess up on the Friday before the Fourth of July. It was our third run of the day and the heat had become as oppressive as a third world dictator. “Be careful with her,” warned Mrs. Littman, eyeing the slobbering boxer in the first kennel and a yapping mongrel-terrier-type in the second. “Don’t let her consort with them.”
“No, ma’am,” said Gabe. “Never.”
When we got to the dog wash, I opened the terrier’s kennel, clipped a leash to his collar. I wanted to avoid Duchess who had to be as tall as I was, and Bruno the boxer who was bulkier. We’d been doing this a month and a half and had yet to wash a Chihuahua.
“Should we charge more for the big dogs?” I asked Gabe. He was hooking Bruno’s leash to one of the wash stations. “Before you start," I added, "maybe you should get Duchess out of el sol caliente?” He grumbled about my English on his way out.
I took my time with the terrier, didn’t want to be too far ahead of Gabe and the boxer, but finally Fluffy could get no fluffier. I looped his line a safe distance from where Gabe had put Duchess. She was jumping, straining to get loose.
It was time to tango.
I took her leash in one hand, was sliding the other under her jeweled collar, when my fingers ran into something huge, squishy, and gross. “Eeek!” I yelled and pulled up a bloody hand. Duchess bolted. Bruno lunged after her, snapping the leash from Gabe’s grasp.
The echo of my eeek bounced off the concrete walls and floor. “It was a monster tick,” I said in my defense. “Twice the size of a peso.”
“Eeek? Who screams that?” yelled Gabe from the door, the two banditos nowhere in sight. I washed my hands, while Gabe plunked Fluffy into a kennel. We hopped into the truck, and cruised the streets one by one, working out from the dog wash.
“What kind of geek are you?” They were Gabe’s first words in the fifteen minutes we’d been driving.
“Man, I’m really sorriento.”
“No, put a lid on that. Why don’t you just speak English?" He hadn’t asked that in a while.
“I told you. My mom was a poet in Mexico.”
“That’s really peachy, but what’s it got to do with you?”
“I like to mess around with language.”
“Well, you’re an American.” He tapped the decal I’d stuck in the passenger corner of my windshield—an American flag.
And there was the crux of it.
My mother spoke hardly any English, while I spoke it, and thought in it, and dreamed in it. She was all the way Mexican. I was all the way American. Maybe it was lame, but my Spanglish kept me tethered to her.
An hour passed before we found Duchess and Bruno in the park under the shade of an elm tree. Their chests, like bellows, cooled their bodies. Tongues lolled off to the sides of their snouts. The only thing missing were the cigarettes.
Gabe breathed in the sauna-like heat. He looked ready to cry eeek himself. “What am I going to tell Mrs. Littman?” he asked, turning to me. “Tell me, Seńor Lover of Words?”
“You could say that Duchess let her Freak Flag fly for the Fourth.”
“You’re mother wasn’t much of a poet, was she?”
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