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The Broken Clock

By
December 5, 2009

Fridays at the factory the guys punch out, collect their paychecks, and hit Freddy’s Bar on Chesterton Street. In their grayish blue uniforms, they look like a flock of birds flying south for the winter. For Eduardo, it will be his first and final night out, because in one week he plans to leave his wife and kids and return to his homeland. A one-way plane ticket to Guatemala City wrinkles inside his wallet. None of the guys know, but they wouldn’t ask anyway. Each man has his own private relationship with his country, his family, and his past. So he clocks out and joins the tail end of the V.

At the bar, Juan Carlos orders a round of tequila shots. “Para comenzar,” he says.

Friday is not any reason to celebrate, Eduardo thinks. The end of one week only signifies the dreaded start to the next. He tosses one back, then another. They fill the wooden benches facing the pathetic excuse for a stage. A few roll up their sleeves. Others unbutton their shirts. One has elected to strip down to his Hanes T-shirt with pit stains and all. Eduardo takes a seat at the end of the table, closest to the door. He absorbs the bar chatter, sentences that begin or end with: this one guy, that chick, and so I said, Fine—wear a bra. The waitress, who also appears to be the bartender and the hostess and the cook, delivers mismatching platters stacked with ten-cent wings. A couple of the guys fold their napkins into their collars like bibs. Lime wedges push out the mouths of the beer bottles like accents on foreign words.

“Every other beer is piss water,” Juan Carlos says before taking a sip of Presidente.

“Except for Gallo,” Eduardo says.

Soon they are happy-drunk. No matter the cold New England temperature, the minimum wage, or the wives at home, these boys are having fun. More rounds, more tales, and more echoing laughter that reveals missing back teeth. It is pitch dark outside and only a shade lighter inside the bar. The little red, green, and white Christmas bulbs reflect off the glasses and the unused silverware that was set beside the customers as pure protocol. No one uses silverware for ten-cent wings.

“Eddie, Mira, I’ll be right back. Order another round,” Juan Carlos says.

The bus boy sets up the stage for later that night—microphones, amps, and other props Eduardo has not seen since he last attended a wedding. He feels full and tired and wonders where the hell Juan Carlos wandered. He waits. Even though his judgment of time is askew, one notices when the head bird, the lead singer—is gone.

“Someone should go check on him,” Eduardo says over the general din of bar noise. No one budges. He catches the waitress’ eye and asks for the bill. “You’re not staying for karaoke night?” She makes a puppy face.

Eduardo has heard of karaoke from his kids. They wanted a karaoke machine last year for Christmas, but it was too expensive. Karla actually cried on Christmas morning when she opened a big box, what she thought was the karaoke machine, and discovered roller skates that Linda had found at a flea market and rewrapped in a giant box.

“Whatcha drinking? Presidente? Gallo? Okay, I’ll bring you another. On the house,” she winks. Her small frame matches her features, delicate, wispy, and birdlike. He glances at the clock. It has not moved since the last time he checked. How convenient, a broken clock in a bar.

“I think he went to pick up Susana and her sister,” someone says.

“Why?”

“It’s karaoke night,” two others answer simultaneously.

“Is Jesus Christ himself gonna sing karaoke or what?” Eduardo asks.

“Hey mano, calm down.”

Is he the only one missing the direction manual to this boys’ night out? He hasn’t had this many beers in a long time, and he can’t remember the last time he was drunk. When the waitress Debby returns with a beer, he thanks her but avoids eye contact. It doesn’t work.

“What’s your name?”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s just a question.”

Eduardo doesn’t know what to say to that.

“You work with these guys, right?”

He nods.

The sisters each have frizzy spiral perms, too much makeup in too bold colors like magenta and turquoise,
and their hourglass figures look on the verge of
exploding from their tight belts.

“So how come you never come out with them?”

“I don’t know.” He taps the top of the can with his fingernail before opening it. It’s a Heineken—not even close to a Presidente or a Gallo, but he drinks it anyway. It’s free.

“Oh, sorry about that,” she says. “I meant to grab a Gallo. I’ll bring you another one.”

“No thanks.” The back of his hand accidentally thumps against her chest.

Her cheeks flush and Eduardo manages to apologize by patching words, “Sorry, I, excuse, I am.”

Juan Carlos interrupts, “Wow, Eddie, I leave you for five minutes and you’re already talking to the ladies. Mira, I want to introduce you. This is Susana and her sister Elizabeth.”

Others give the minimum greeting—a palm in the air, a chin nod, or a close-mouthed grin while scanning over the girls’ figures.

Un placer,” Eduardo says.

The sisters each have frizzy spiral perms, too much makeup in too bold colors like magenta and turquoise, and their hourglass figures look on the verge of exploding from their tight belts. But they have pretty faces.

Eduardo notices that Juan Carlos has changed his clothes. He is about to ask him why, where, when, but the other guys win over his attention by waving the karaoke song menu, a laminated sheet of card stock, in front of his face. Juan Carlos has more than a wife at home. He has girlfriends and a stash of clean clothes at their apartments apparently. He wears a fitted white button-down shirt with tiny Velcro squares in the place of buttons. This kind of shirt is easier to rip off during the bridge of the song, what is his signature move, Debby later explains when she sits so close to Eduardo that the jean fabric of her leg rubs against his work pants.

At least three rounds and a good ten karaoke songs later, Juan Carlos spits in Eduardo’s ear, “Mira, Eddie, you like Debby?”

Eduardo smirks, takes a sip of his beer.

“Mira, Eddie, if you like Debby, I won’t say nothing.”

Eduardo has never cheated on his wife. Nor has he ever had the opportunity. In either case, he has never slept with a white woman. Juan Carlos presses up against Susana in the corner booth. Or maybe it’s Elizabeth. It’s impossible to tell. His arm is wrapped around her shoulders and his long fingers keep dipping into the fold of her cleavage. Someone has taken to singing a string of Lionel Richie songs on the stage. Eduardo imagines Debby’s naked body. Her protruding hipbones, flat stomach, and nipples like pencil erasers. Her skin, the color of ginger. She has given him half a dozen free beers by now. But would she give him a blowjob? Linda never liked to do stuff like that, not even when they were dating.

“Does your wife give blowjobs?” Eduardo asks Juan Carlos.

Susana, or Elizabeth, sucks her teeth before beginning a marathon whispering session with her sister.

“Ay, Eddie.”

Eduardo excuses himself to go to the bathroom, seizes the opportunity to leave the bar, and drives home drunk.

It is past midnight by the time Eduardo reaches his driveway. He parks the car with the bumper spilling onto the street. The outside house lights are off. This is Linda’s way of saying, Fuck You. He bends at the waist and dry heaves before stepping inside. The screen door slams and it is like two giant cymbals banging together. He kicks off his work boots. In what seems like slow motion, one hits the edge of his son Eric’s castle made from large wooden blocks. The clanks and clashes of the structure collapsing make Eduardo choke with laughter.

A light flicks on upstairs. He can see the glow of the staircase from the corner of his eye as he stumbles into the kitchen. He stands in the center of the sticky floor for what could be thirty seconds or ten minutes, he does not know. He is not starving, but he could eat. Just in case, he opens the refrigerator door. Nothing. Just in case, he opens the microwave. Nada.

Once he manages to make it upstairs to the bathroom, Eduardo unsuccessfully aims for the toilet. Wow, he thinks, it’s really just water in a hole, isn’t it? “I could have invented this and I’d be rich,” he says aloud. He moves his penis a little to the right, a little to the left, more to the left, like he is adjusting the perfect miniature golf swing. The splashes of urine hit the wallpaper and the pink plastic toilet bowl wand. He grabs a roll of toilet paper and wraps it around his hand like a bandage, wipes up the mess. He flushes the toilet. In the quiet of this late hour, it sounds like Niagara Falls.

“Linda!” He plummets onto his side of the bed.

“Shut up,” she says from underneath the covers.

He lies face down on the pillow and reaches his arm out to her. He feels the flesh of her, the soft nightgown covering what he cannot distinguish as her front side or backside.

“Linda…” The word is merely a muffle radiating from inside his pillow.

“Go to the living room. Go to the couch.”

He turns onto his back. He is not yet underneath the covers.

“Linda, why are you mad?” he tries not to laugh.

She inhales and Eduardo braces himself for the slap of her words.

“I mean it,” she says. “Go.”

“You’re mad because I didn’t call? Because I didn’t tell you I’d be going?”

She is crying. Her middle rises and falls in a rhythmic pattern.

“I’m sorry, Linda.” The words are bland.

He stands up and manages to get undressed. When he peels back the covers, he snuggles against her. He wears only a white T-shirt and his underwear. Next, he disentangles her from the web of sheets in which she has cocooned herself.

“Get out of here,” she says.

Linda’s eyes fixate on the bedside table drawer where two weeks ago she found her husband’s to-do list. Ten items in total. Tasks to accomplish before fleeing for Guatemala, before leaving her and the kids. At least this is what Linda inferred from the distinctly drawn diagonal lines that carved through most of the items. Talk to Antonio; Get ticket; Health insurance; Money, banks; Go to doctor, dentist, among others. The one that clutched at her heart the most: Write letter to Linda. A couple of flight reservations and a travel agency toll free number were scribbled sideways in the right hand corner of the list. She called Taca Airlines and found out when he would be leaving. Exactly one week from tonight.

Eduardo rolls her knee-length nightgown up to her waist before pressing against her, his weight resting on his elbows.

“Linda?”

“Your breath stinks,” she says.

“I was drinking.”

She reaches her hand down between his legs. “Claro…”

Drinking has always had this effect on him. It was the opposite it had on most men. He seizes the opportunity, afraid he will go soft, and quickly slides his underwear down to his ankles, taking longer than he used to—much longer—in his attempt to kick them off with his feet.

Linda has stopped crying. She moans in a whisper, “I hate you.”

He hovers over her body for what could be a few seconds or a few minutes. It is as if the broken clock from the bar was contagious.

“Linda? Do you really hate me?” He pushes all his weight down on her.

“Yes,” she whispers with a dim laugh.

“Linda, I’m sorry,” Eduardo whispers.

He strips her of her final layer: a pair of squarish nylon underwear. He flings them to the side of the bed where his gaze follows. Their pairs of underwear are two glowing puddles on the carpet underneath the bluish-black light emanating from the outside street lamps. They are as odd a sight as is her body beneath his. If someone had paid him a thousand bucks, he could not recall the last time they had made love. He would have to go by science and count back from the months before baby Lucy’s birth.

“Eduardo?”

“Sí?”

The wind smacks the cheap plastic blinds, creating a sound like a fan opening and closing. Over again, and over.

“Sí,” she repeats. It sounds less like a question.

He tries to kiss her but she moves her chin. He pauses, considers stopping, but tries once more.

It may be our last time, she thinks.

It may be the last time, he thinks.

Like this, they play until she does not resist, until he skates around her body with his callused hands, eventually driving the edge of him into the edges of her.

fictionbio121509.jpgJennifer De Leon teaches creative writing at Grub Street and the University of Massachusetts-Boston, where she is completing her MFA in Fiction. She is working on her first novel.

Writer’s Recommendations:

War by Candlelight: Stories by Daniel Alarcón. Don’t let your friend borrow this book because she/he will never give it back.

A Disobedient Girl: A Novel by Ru Freeman. Each page, like each paragraph, each sentence, and each word, is a treasure. The next best thing to this book: the audio version.

Beautiful as Yesterday: A Novel by Fan Wu. This beautifully written book reveals the subtle fingerprints of China’s Cultural Revolution on the lives of three Chinese women living in the United States—who happen to be related despite being worlds apart.

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6 comments for The Broken Clock

  1. Comment by Ru Freeman on December 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing a taste of all that is to come, sister. I am blown away by the sheer rawness combined with all the subtleties of unexpressed intimacy. “driving the edge of him into the edges of her,” will stay with me a long time.

  2. Comment by Patricia SC on December 15, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Love it!

  3. Comment by Gessy Alvarez on December 15, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Tremendous control yet the writing is smooth and honest…The ending left me breathless. I feel completely invested in this world and can’t wait to read the rest of the novel.

  4. Comment by Hannah on December 15, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    It leaves me hungry for more……..

  5. Comment by Eugene on December 22, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Beautiful…”as if the broken clock from the bar was contagious.” I just loved it…

  6. Comment by Tereza on January 2, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    I second Ru Freeman’s comment about the rawness and intimacy, and also want to add how much I appreciate your use of humor, which really reveals a sense of sadness and isolation underneath. There is a great depth underneath the seemingly mundane that is seen and heard here. The turns in your writing are nimble and unexpected, yet leave a very strong and complex impression. So glad I stumbled across your writing.

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