Julie Ann Shapiro
3AM, the whistle blows. The wind, the birds, all sounds take a back burner to the train. People board at the station. Voices muffled. Sleep in their eyes. Belongings clutched to their chests. Red dots emblazoned on their foreheads.
This is the train of the El Chipo with the red dotted people in a huddle. No one talks much about when it happened; we can’t; the memories still burn. In my case, it’s salsa.
The day started like any other with the pang of hunger. I went to the taco stand on the corner of Fifth and Wave. It is the place to get salsa to bring tears to your eyes. I should know. When I went there to get my bean and cheese burrito I found a guy dispensing burritos wearing a McDonald’s uniform. I thought of their mild food and winced.
“Did Los Pedros become the golden arches while I slept?”
The guy in the McDonald’s uniform answered, ”Padron Roberto got sent back.”
“His chipo beeped.”
“You’re saying his tortilla chip did him in? I don’t get it. His chips are the best and that salsa of his is kick ass.”
The guy wiped his forehead nervously and said, “Order something before my chipo beeps.”
“What is this El Chipo El Beepo?”
He nodded and looked over and under his shoulders giving me the willies. I ordered what else, but the chips and salsa and headed for the door.
Outside of Los Pedros, I munched on my chips, not understanding his warning or what happened to my corner taco stand. A helicopter flew over head. My cell phone vibrated in my pants pocket. No number registered in the incoming screen. I decided to take my chances and answered it. I heard a whirring beat, no caller on the other end. The helicopter landed in the vacant lot next to the taco stand. I walked past it. A megaphone shouted, “Put your hands on your rear.”
“Huh, don’t you want them up if I’m arrested? But what I’d do?”
“Sir, this will only take a minute, then you can go about your business.”
“What I do, what I’d do?”
They didn’t answer. I placed my hands on my butt and felt a sharp jolt in my forehead like a mosquito, a tick and flea all rolled into one. It imbedded and borrowed into my skin and twitched a moment. A drop of blood dripped from my nose. I walked down the street, not sure what El Chipo meant, just that I’d become implanted.
Days later I returned to Los Pedros, still no sign of my friend, Roberto. I stared at the guy with his McDonald’s uniform as he took out a jar of mayonnaise from the refrigerator, one I’d never seen in the premises. He gestured from it to his shirt and said, “These ah…uniforms seemed more appropriate given the circumstances.”
“Hold the Mayo, please. And since when is that a condiment here?”
He wrote down on a napkin, one that he instructed me to chew with the burgers and fries. “Since, it became the land of the Red Dotted People. Please, go, I beg of you.”
I ate the tasteless burger and greasy fries and left. At home on the neighbor’s lawn I noticed a rubber glove. Paranoia set in. Water dripped from the glove’s open fingers. I asked aloud, “What did my neighbors do to bring you there?”
The glove blew in the wind. “What? You can’t handle my questions? Is it too much to ask why you are on the lawn?”
I heard the beating of the helicopters. The drum of fear pounded with each twist of the blades. “The flying death machine on my lawn, not in a movie…why? Why,” I screamed. The men in dark uniforms, the color of night came. They followed me to my car and said they’d been watching me. They mentioned how they heard words said in conversations, secret codes.
I said to them, “What, I’m not some terrorist. I probably said a joke. How could I know which words and where you’d find wrong?”
No one answered. They tipped their caps at me. Goodbye, hello, or we’ll be back. I didn’t know which their gesture meant. Only that fear swells from the head to the stomach and makes the feet run and the arms sway longing to fly.
I ran to the park like I did every morning, I told myself. What else could I do? The self-help book mantra rattled in my brain. “Life would have to go on, push yourself through it like you know what to do, even if you don’t.” Happy words said for a safer time.
In the park I kicked at the grass. Grass blades flew around me. “Blades have will; I have will. Silent will; they can’t know these thoughts. Thoughts are mine. Green; green grass grows; will always grow here. The park is the same, same as it always has been.”
Lies, lies…I ripped at the grass and dug. Fingers into the deep earth, I smelled what being buried is. Dark and damp…The grass did nothing. I buried the loose blades with me, my whole first in the ground.
Worms crawled over my hand. I wiggled my fingers. Dirt rained. The worm’s storm, not mine; “not mine,” I shouted.
I listened for the helicopters. I thought I heard them in the distance and ran. A steady rumble pierced the air. On and on it rolled, “My Train. My train.” It whistled and I raced to the boarding station.
Now I sit on the train headed for the land of the Red Dotted People. I questioned why and maybe said too much of nothingness and became branded. I’m still not sure how come the guy in the McDonald’s shirt didn’t wind up with a red dot, other than he’s Compliance, that’s what’s whispered about on the train. In time they say those people will get a dot of their own, maybe blue or black. I think it should be green for the cash, the cash they still can bring home.
No one wants a red dot as an employee. It’s the way of the land. I hope in Red Dot-Opia I’ll find Roberto and we’ll talk over chips and salsa without the helicopters whirring. They say they’re outlawed in his country, like gas leaf blowers in some communities in mine.
Julie Ann Shapiro is a freelance writer. She lives in the coastal community of Encinitas, California. Her story collection, Flashes of the Other World is available from Pulp Bits. Her stories and essays have appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune, North County Times, Los Angeles Journal, Pindeldyboz and other publications. You can find out more about Ms. Shapiro at http://www.julieannshapiro.com.
Photo Courtesy of dreamstime.
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Fiction Copyright © 2006 Julie Ann Shapiro. All rights reserved.