By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
“I’m not afraid of you,” Oscar shouted at the devil. “I’m ready to die.” But who, he wondered, would take care of his animals when he was gone?
Carlos, Francisco and a few others were sitting on a low cinderblock wall next to the driveway at Home Depot. As Oscar approached, a pickup pulled out of the parking lot, and the men swarmed it, shouting, “Take me,” “I speaking English,” “How many?” The driver shook his head and left without hiring anyone.
“The fat queer.”
“Seriously. He wanted someone to fuck him in the ass.”
“Give me a hundred bucks, and I’ll do it,” Carlos said. He saw Oscar and shouted, “Look out! A zombie!”
Oscar stumbled over to the group and sank to the cold sidewalk, rested his back against the wall. Sweat rolled down his face and neck; his T-shirt was soaked with it.
“Man, I’ve got to tell you, you stink,” Francisco said. “Last night it was so bad, it was like sleeping next to a dead pig.”
Carlos punched him in the arm and said, “Be merciful. The boy’s sick.”
“Sure, fine, so change beds with me.”
Waving Francisco quiet, Carlos crouched next to Oscar and asked him, “How is it today?”
Oscar shook his head, too exhausted to speak. He couldn’t even open his eyes. A police car raced past, lights flashing, sirens blaring, and to Oscar it sounded like the end of the world.
“Have you eaten?” Carlos asked.
Again, Oscar shook his head. Carlos moved closer to him, grabbed one of his arms and draped it around his neck. “Francisco,” he said, “let’s carry him to McDonald’s.”
“What about the painting?”
“A storm is coming. That cabron isn’t going to show up. Get over here.”
They helped Oscar walk across the parking lot to the restaurant and sat him in one of the plastic booths. Francisco left to meet a girl in the park, and Carlos joined the long line of customers waiting to order at the counter. Oscar watched the children in the restaurant’s playground. One little boy had such a serious look on his face as he climbed and crawled and slid that Oscar almost laughed. He thought of his son, looked forward to holding him once more.
Carlos brought Oscar a cheeseburger and an orange soda. Oscar managed to choke down half of the sandwich before the nausea set in. His hand shook as he reached for the soda, and Carlos grabbed it and examined the bites there.
“These are infected,” he said. “My father lost a foot that way. You’ve got to go to the clinic.”
“They know that I’m hurt. They may be watching it.”
“We’ll sneak in the back, then. We’ll put you in a disguise.”
Oscar pulled his hand away and shook his head. “It’s not important,” he said. “The devil has come for me today, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“You’re delirious,” Carlos said. “You’re blood is full of poison. Please let me take you to see the doctor.”
Oscar smiled, though it hurt his cracked lips to do so.
“You’ve always been a good friend, Carlos,” he said. “Remember in Zunil, when we stole that burro from the trash man, and it kicked you in the ass? I tell you, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.”
“You were supposed to have control over all the animals, St. Francis. What happened?”
Oscar watched an old man in a McDonald’s uniform mop up a drink that had been spilled on the floor. Was this the better life the man had dreamed of?
“We should never have come here,” he said.
“But we did,” Carlos replied, “and now here we are.”
Oscar pushed away the tray with the rest of the burger on it and sat up a little straighter. “Listen,” he said, “I want to go see Maribel and Alex. Could you give me some money for the bus?”
“If you promise to go to the clinic when you return,” Carlos said.
Oscar placed his hand over his heart. “I promise,” he said.
Carlos passed him two dollar bills.
Oscar sipped from his drink, then said, “And will you feed my dog tonight?”
Oscar felt stronger when they emerged into the fresh air, which was now heavy with the threat of rain. He was still sore, but his head was clearer, and he could walk without stumbling. He and Carlos banged fists when they parted in front of Home Depot, and Oscar blinked back tears because he knew it was the last time they would see each other.