Stress Rattle

David Tomas Martinez

Friends, I do not sleep. I eat; I sip; I worry. A lot. I think of my manuscript, trapped under the desk of the judge of a book prize, unbeknownst to him, whimpering and calling out for crackers and water. I think of the judge, a man with mismatch socks and shoes with springs, taking a walk around his block; the park is wonderful around this time of year, except for the children on the rusted monkey bars yelling like girls with braces and blonde pig tails around a boy with tight corduroy pants named Davy Jones. I think of my childhood, watching the Monkees and liking Davy because my grandmother called me Davey as she asked me if I preferred Coke or Milk with my dinner. The answer was always the same, but she always asked. In those days, I lived across the street from her in East San Diego and I went to Hamilton Elementary. I was the crossing guard. Having to wake up early was the result of such power. I started as a sign holder until I earned my whistle. My responsibilities consisted of getting no children killed, making adults late to work, and twirling a stick. I think of many sticks, but mostly the sticks the attendants in movie theaters waved. The stick's urgent motion made be believe my seat was important, as if the woman with four kids following the large man with a tub of popcorn, two sodas, and Jujubes was an airplane she dutifully followed with carts of luggage undulating through the light of the tarmac aisle. I think of planes and how the first time I rode a plane I was 33 and flying to Houston and the flight attendant was a woman in her early fifties with the type of figure women in their fifties that are flight attendants have now, and probably have always had. She was pretty. Because she gave me wings for my first plane ride. She asked if I was flying alone. I said no, my mother was 10 rows forward. Mother waved enthusiastically, when they made eye contact. She asked why I was flying, and I told her I was a poet and I need to get my first apartment, in Houston. We talked periodically throughout the flight, her esculent words, like "Future doctor, you won a drink of your choice for being so darn cute!" tasted so good. So good I didn't tell her I wasn't going to be that type of doctor. I often think of Scotch and things going fast when I remember when I saw a women kiss my father when we went to that bar in Tijuana where you paid women in short skirts they pulled down or up as their heels clicked against the floor to cumbia songs. They were paid with overpriced beer. For each bucket they received coupons, and customers that paid off the guy with the tequila and a whistle who walked around teasing your manhood could get any girl taken away from any guy, no matter how much they had spent. I think of the next morning, where my dad was like a cat pawing at a dead kitten with apologies and menudo. He wasn't sure what I remembered. I did not, friends, sleep that night, but I ate and sipped and worried as a woman from Sinaloa slowly circled her index finger around my knee while slivers of ice walked around the living room thinking about how I have to teach and what if my book doesn't get published and I don't care if I have three years left without ever actually sleeping around a green beer bottle.

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