Sean Kirkpatrick sat at his home desk that morning, peering at his iPad and listening to what sounded like war drums off in the distance. . . Rapid, pounding beats, oompha, oompha, oompha, coming from subwoofers, he guessed, playing ranchero or banda tunes, he concluded. The music, an irritant, although Sean would never admit it, seemed close today, or maybe it was just the wind. There is a hell of a blow of Santa Anas this morning, he thought, carrying the noise from over there . . . from inside the neighboring barrio. Sean blocked his tribal inkling, a failure toward xenophobia, he reminded himself, his white privilege.
Mid-November and the cold twist of air blew from so many directions that after a few hours of that dusty crap in one’s face and eyes, one could only hope for a deluge. Rudiments of earth: dirt, fecal matter, pestilence and disease, and God knows what else, cast a brownish haze against the otherwise smoggy horizon of the San Gabriel Valley. And Sean lived in one of the higher-end townhome villages in the Valley, a recently built complex, fully equipped with clean-and-green solar panels, on-demand-water heaters, water-saving toilets, and an LED light bulb in every socket.
On Sean’s desk sat a steaming bowl of steel-cut Irish oats and a hot cup of organic green tea. Logged into his iPad was the Los Angeles Times editorial page. While savoring the wholesome taste and texture of warm oats in his mouth, he scrolled through the op-ed pieces, laughing quietly at the brilliant political commentary.
Twenty-seven years old, medium height and slender, with wavy, brownish hair and a well-groomed mustache and beard, Sean sat comfortably blasé in his much-treasured Sierra Club twill shirt. The garment included the latest in renewable material: hemp, wool, cotton, not to mention recycled plastic bottles transformed into soft and comfy Eco-Spun fiber.
A car alarm went off, causing Sean to look out there. He had hoped his dual-glazed windowpanes would block more noise, but not so. It seemed the sirens went off daily, if not hourly. The damn sound always blared from the same kind of cars: early-model Japanese compacts, usually without hubcaps, and hardly ever without an Hecho en Mexico decal stuck to the rear window. But it was the unregulated exhaust spewing from the tailpipes along with the oil spots left on the street from the cars’ leaking engines that irked Sean the most.
The pounding beats returned—oompha, oompha . . . then an accompanying accordion wheezed out its raspy pitch. Banda music. The noise wouldn’t carry so quickly if it weren’t for that damn wind, he considered; one more climate anomaly caused by carbon-spewing machines, wreaking havoc upon Mother Earth.
He stood from his desk, stepped over to the window, and watched the nearby eucalyptus trees twist and bow against gusts of high pressure. Swarms of more crap lifted in a flurry, causing a large vortex to take shape near his window. Kansas spinning counterclockwise into Oz, he mused.
Trooping along the sidewalk in front of his townhome were two Latina madres holding onto their wind-whipped hair scarves while they pushed along their baby strollers and stolen shopping carts. His eyes shifted toward a noise, a vile clamor, pricking volts of angst against nerve endings—a leaf blower—in a gardener’s hands, prodding through the grounds and blowing more crap all over the place. “Aren’t there enough particulates in the air, dumbass?”
Sean thought about a humanities professor he once had at Berkeley and the professor’s frequent mantra during lectures: “We’re all nothing more than fleas scrounging around the ass of an elephant. . .”
He returned to his iPad, now linked to a left-of-center newsfeed and listened to the latest:
More bad news on the economy. For the last several years already, billions of dollars have been infused into the banking system through the Troubled Asset Relief Program known as TARP. Yet experts aren’t sure when this infusion of funds will stimulate the economy and stem the ongoing tidal wave of unemployment and mortgage foreclosures that were caused by the greed of Wall Street Banks and their underwriters . . .
In other news, right-wing extremism has yet again raised its sinister head as reports of the far-right group Save Our State amass along our Southern border. With their heated demonstrations, seemingly bent on disrupting the peaceful flow of Mexican immigration, the Save Our State Coalition continues to preach their hateful battle cry of xenophobia . . .
Sean’s thoughts began to drift, pondering the absurdity of it all and the size and scope of the elephant’s ass. He focused on a framed photo of his fiancée Megan propped on his desk. He gazed at her flaming red hair and crystalline green eyes. She was brutally smart, hot in bed, but most importantly, she was a passionate, kick-ass progressive. Like Sean, she was a social worker for the county of Los Angeles, which was how they met, working a case. And, like Sean, she was a zealous ambassador for the downtrodden of the world. Because he shared his townhouse with her, he learned early on about the delicate divide of living with a woman. In fact, because of Megan’s vast network of friends and associates and the many weekend-long seminars she attended regarding the promotion of her career, she was away often.
Because of this Sean hadn’t spoken with her in a couple of days. But knowing her quick wit and sharp tongue, he realized early on that to preserve their relationship, he would allow her a very wide berth. The running joke in the office regarding Sean and Megan had to do with whips and straps, balls and chains, and busted balls, in particular. Sean was never put off by the snide remarks or by his and Megan’s occasional separation. And even though their like-mindedness was one of trust and unconditional freedom, he still felt the need, for the sake of romance, to coalescence with her regularly: homemade candlelight dinners, a bouquet of roses, or tickets to a local Democratic Party fundraiser.
Oompha, oompha, oompha. . . Sean eyed the window, directly in front now, loud enough to rattle the windowpanes and tinkle the spoon inside his now-empty cereal bowl. The howling cries of Señora Santa Ana joined in, whipsawing the stucco walls, seemingly pitching the whole building to one side. He checked for any phone calls or text messages on his iPad. None from Megan, but two messages from his mom; of course, from his mom, the only lawful female currently in his life.
The faraway melody of a Latino’s tenor voice crooning from a car stereo penetrated the windows, ricocheting forlorn lyrics of heartbreak and shame: the Mexican version of crying in your beer music. Holy shit, my neighborhood.
Back to the newscast:
Meanwhile, those on the right continue their . . .
Sean stood and quick-stepped out of his room, then shuffled downstairs to the kitchen and poured himself more of the antioxidant called green tea. It became apparent as he stood there keeping his attention away from the invading caterwauls coming from the street and that cold, static wind twisting outside that an angst, cavernous and involuntary, stirred inside him as if a fast-approaching game changer was moving toward him.
Through the front-door peephole, Sean spied what appeared to be an early-model Honda parked inside his parking stall. A jarring fusion of banda and hip-hop music boomed from the car stereo. He thought the driver mistook his unit for another, but the faded blue compact sat still with what looked like four people inside. Damn thing better not leak oil in my parking spot.
The music stopped, and through the fisheye lens, he watched fuzzy shapeshifters exit the car and approach his door. He recognized one of the visitors, his fiancée Megan. Behind her were three Latinos, day laborers, it appeared, darting their eyes around the premises as if their being there had more to do with mischief than with good tidings.
Before Sean could open the door, Megan used her key to turn the deadbolt. She then pushed her way in. The three men followed her inside.
“Megan,” Sean sputtered. “What’s going on?”
“Esperar aqui!” she told the three men, who all nodded and stood obediently. “I’m here to get my things,” she said, marching through the living room and toward the stairs.
“What are you talking about, get your things?” Sean said, trailing behind her. His thumb stabbed toward the doorway. “Why are these guys in our house?”
“Shut up, Sean,” she snapped, “Just shut up.” She hurried up the flight of stairs. Sean eyed the three men for a moment, then followed his fiancée.
“What the hell, babe,” Sean said, “did something happen—an accident? Did your car break down?”
“My car is fine, and this is not my house. It’s your house in your exclusively white gated village—and don’t call me babe!” Inside the bedroom, Megan pulled a large travel bag from the closet and began stuffing the bag with clothes, trinkets, miscellanea. She entered the bathroom and rifled through the cabinets and drawers, retrieving more stuff.
Sean’s heart picked up speed. “Are you going to tell me what you’re doing, Megan?”
“Shut up, Sean, just shut up.”
He caught a glimpse of her face as she pushed past him. Often, her temperament was prima-donna bitchery, but today she was especially nasty.
Sean asked, “Where’ve you been? I haven’t heard from you in almost three days.”
“I’ll tell you where I’ve been. I attended a week-long seminar at a National Council of Nuestra Raza conference and have been born again—made to see the light of you racist pig gringos!”
Sean winced. “What are you talking about, Megan?”
“My name is Melisandra now—comprende? Mi nombré es Melisandra!”
“Melisandra? What the hell’s wrong with Megan?”
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with Megan; it’s a white European name derived from the imperialist expansionists of colonial Europe. Yo soy Melisandra—Latina for strong and determined—Melisandra, got that?” The beautiful luminance of her emerald eyes, locked in a fierce gaze, caused Sean to ease away from the peculiar entity shoving through his bedroom.
She pulled another travel bag from the closet and continued packing her things. Tossed items landed on the bed, a collection of what was once his and hers: a clock radio, a reading lamp, a vibrating sex toy.
“Who are those guys downstairs, Megan?”
“Yo soy Melisandra!”
“Megan, who the hell are those three guys downstairs, and why are you with them?”
“They are my hombrés now, and I’m rescuing them from you racist white men, from the bonds of machismo and how you white devils brainwashed them with your slave owner ways, and how you killed the noble spirit they once had.”
“Jesus Christ, Meg—are you calling me a racist?”
“You’re white, aren’t you?”
“Have you looked in a mirror lately?”
She squared herself in front of him, and there he saw it, inside those green corneas—flickers of madness. A menstrual cycle run amok? A brain tumor?
“And I’ll tell you something else,” she said, “I’m also doing them—comprende? I’m doing each one of those hombrés, and I like it, all three of their uncircumcised manliness, pure and natural before the white colonial dominance invaded their land and forced their acts of circumcision and sterilization upon them.”
Sean’s life force, the chi that pulsed through his veins, had stopped, or so he wished. His thrashing heart was now a sledgehammer. His head began to swirl, the same way the wind outside continued its dry, cold assault. It was something Sean had never felt before, had ever believed existed—evil—arbitrary and mad as if blindsided by a stray bullet and left for dead. He spoke, although meekly, as any emasculated romantic would, “I bought you roses, babe; they’re being delivered this morning. It’s our one-year engagement anniversary today, remember? I was even planning a hoagie run over at the Saucy Pickle Deli, an early dinner, just you and me.”
Megan pressed her hands over her ears. Her eyes bulged; her nostrils flared; then ear-splitting screams launched from her mouth. She paced through the room, continuing to shrill.
The three Latinos rumbled up the stairs and entered the bedroom, peering anxiously at their maestra. Sean shouted at the intruders, “Get the hell out of our bedroom!”
They all looked toward their commander and empress, seemingly waiting for orders to rough up the gringo. Megan ceased her shrills and shouted, “Abajo, ahora! Rapidamente!” The three men exited the room and rumbled back downstairs. Megan approached Sean. “Don’t you dare give me that Saucy Pickle shit!”
“Jesus Christ, Meg . . . you’ve gone off the deep end! You really have!”
“And I’ll tell you something else,” she said, “I found out through searching my family’s history that my great, great, great uncle, Patrick O’Riley, was a defector of the American army during the Mexican-American War in 1846, and he fought for the Mexican army. You know why?”
Sean shook his head, simply staring at his fiancée, mad as a loon.
“It was because of the Anglo manifest destiny and how the white fascists of the day believed that the whole continent belonged to them simply because they were of a superior race, and so they marched their armies and caravans of white supremacy across the land, decimating the Native Americans and the Mexican people and the great land of Aztlan.”
“That was a hundred and seventy years ago, Megan. Don’t you think it’s time to—”
“Time for what?”
“Goddamn it, Megan—”
“Shit . . . Melisandra! Will you sit down so we can talk about what the hell you’re going through?”
“And I’ll tell you something else, my uncle died in the battles for Texas, and his name is now inscribed on a plaque in Plaza San Jacinto in San Angel, Mexico City, honoring the San Patricios, the St. Patrick’s Battalion. So, like him, I am a liberator, an expatriate—Yo soy Melisandra!”
Sean drew in a deep breath and rubbed his eyes. With slow, heavy steps, he paced through the room until he turned and said, “So I guess this means we won’t make it to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, huh, Melisandra?” He offered a feeble, half-cocked grin.
She stepped toward him and slapped his face, causing him to stumble back. “Thanksgiving is a racist desecration of the Native Americans—you xenophobic pig!”
“It’s just a fucking holiday!”
She lifted her two stuffed travel bags, then exited the bedroom and hurried downstairs.
“Vamonos, patriotas!” she shouted from below. The front door opened, then closed. The wind thundered outside, lashing against the building. . . Howling curses and cruel laughter, Sean thought.
He watched from his bedroom window the piece-of-shit Honda pull out, then race down the street, its stereo pounding out that banda, hip-hop, or whatever the hell kind of music it was. While running his fingers along the hand-sized welt seared on his cheek, he saw in the center of his parking stall a large, freshly spilled oil spot.