White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
Edwin Wilson Rivera was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. Formerly employed as a laborer and dockman for a major port company, he currently resides in New York City. His poetry has appeared in Thieves Jargon, Word Catalyst Magazine, Pank Magazine, DecomP, November 3rd Club, Gloom Cupboard, and The Acentos Review, among others. His fiction has appeared in Global City Review and International Journal Families, and he has work forthcoming in Monkeybicycle # 7 and Born Magazine.

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A novel excerpt

Edwin Rivera

Miguel Angel Santana arrived at El Cemeterio de San Lazaro a little after one a.m. to visit his friend, Propha, with the remains of an eight ball, a twelve pack of Bud, a fifth of Crown Royal, and two women he’d picked up outside of his favorite barrita, Babenco’s. He led his retinue in a drunken march along the broken-glass streets, past boarded-up shops and cold cones of neon light, past the peeling brownstones and the falling-down townhouses and the squat formidable brick-and-stone facades of the Cesar Romero Housing Projects—, past the muttering junkies who circled about the front lots, the drug dealers who stepped in and out of shadows—, past the whores steeped in the recesses and intermittently lit by the burning tips of their cigarettes—, past the roughnecks and no-jobs and just-chillins and down-on-their-lucks draped over peeling benches, the curbs, on top of mailboxes, on stoops and rickety porches and huddled beneath liquor store awnings—; leading them finally through the pried bars of the cemetery gates, ducking and


sliding, mindful of the offcut sharpness. They moved blackly past the sunken headstones, the ivy-faced trail they navigated cutting haphazardly through the brush, and they wound past the tilted cenotaphs and the crumbling iconic monuments, the moon hanging dimly above them like the shell of a paper nautilus. Miguel led them in the darkness with half whispers and solemn tones, the voice of a man resigned to his sun-up journeywork, having already drunk beer and whiskey chasers for the duration of a double-shift. And though he’d enticed the women to join him by brandishing his quality snow and plying his picaro charms, he seemed more interested in the balance achieved by introducing the opposite sex to this manly ritual than he was by sex itself— the final drinks in the place of the dead, the last sniffs to welcome in the dawn— as if by doing so a new perspective would be opened up and the world could once again be viewed anew.

Propha, whose current living quarters was the woodworm shack standing at a slant beyond a rise thwarted by clumps of tall forsythias, had been expecting him, since Miguel, bound by this recent tradition, arrived always after midnight at the end

of the work week, always with beer and a little bit of cocaine, maybe some whiskey and weed, but never with women in tow. Still, being a gentleman even toward those who deserved neither gentleness nor the company of good men, Propha greeted them all with a friendly wave, a cordial bow, and set about planting thick ecclesiastical candles in the mud, hair a messy tangle and his eyes bloodshot behind his specs, lighting the candles one by one with nary a flourish.

—Let there be light—Miguel said. —And yea he found that light to be good. Señoras o señoritas, make yourselves comodo. Now that we’re all in, the fiesta’s about to begin.—

Miguel searched the grounds until he happened upon a loose tablet of stone and, after taking a few steps back, delivered a swift kick against its catty corner. He shaped his mouth into agonizing pain as he massaged the vamp of his shoe then smiled broadly at his silent audience. Squatting before the stone, he brailled its surface and beseeched the heavens for forgiveness. He tested the wind with his finger before he produced a baggie with a flourish.

—Cocaine is good for you—he said instructively, dumping the powder with a phoomph! and proceeding to mix and cut, chop-chop-chopping to get rid of the chippy with the fraying edge of an American Express, long-expired and racked with debt: he never left home without it. —It keeps you hot and it keeps you tangible. Orbidalo. If Freud were alive today he would have been a no good fiend. Forget the couch. He would have wound up on the streets giving the old alley suck. Cocaine is so good for the brains it makes you forget you have any.—

He scooped a hit up into his nostril; his scribbling fingers took in a freeze. He crouched before the flames and fanned them with a whoosh of his breath. The candles encircled the sawed-off monument belonging to a certain Gregorio Montenegro— a man Miguel and Propha had known fairly well— who had lived for sixty-one years before meeting his maker on the operating room slab of Mercy General, his chest ripped wide to reveal a stilled and pathetic heart, inky lungs and a sapped liver, and it was a tribute to the flesh and

spirit of mankind that Gregorio had lived as long as he did, for his wide girth often matched his immense passion for wide-hipped tumblers of warm Pisco, which he drank daily without fail; a man who devoured chicharron by the grease-stained bucket and pussy by the pound; a man so concrete of emotions, with family, with friends, that it would have taken a weep screed to sop the rivulets of sweat that poured along the thick seams of his stony face: but this is not his story. The revelers were not here to honor the memory of the dead, nor to commemorate the spirit of the living. One could say that they were celebrating the death of another moon, and the birth of yet another sun, awaiting the arrival of that water sapphire sky with its fine ring of eccentric heat.

Miguel’s jaw began to twitch so he produced a bottle of Brugal that he’d stashed behind a stack of planking— un chin de ron to keep them warm—and they passed this back and forth along with the beer and cocaine, cans popping with a hiss-snick and a spout of foam, one of the women spooning coke with a long tropical-hued nail, the other merely standing and watching, holding an unopened beer, shaking her head at the Brugal, refusing the cocaine;

Propha sniffing quietly, tippling gently, standing silently; and Miguel taking roaring sniffs, rifling the powder with a cocked-back head, crushing an empty beer can and hiss-snicking another, dumping generous amounts of coke along his thumb, hitchhiking on the vroom-vroom express and sucking-gasping like a strandline fish while ron shivered down his gullet.

—So watchu guys do? Take care a the cemetery and shit?—

This from the woman whose long tropical-hued nails flowered like scimitars out of every digit.

Miguel apportioned some more powder along his thumb and knocked it back, ready rock blasted one and one. Hot tines jabbed the soft meat of his brains; he appraised the woman with his vision triply keen. She was tiny, small-featured, and would have been pretty had it not been for the long curling locks that nearly swallowed up her face like the tired lacework of a widow’s veil. She wore bootcut jeans that rounded out her ass Latina-style and a scrolled-floral top that cinched at the waist too tightly. Her breasts were large, heavy, nipples prominent through the peek-a-boo shirt. Miguel

shook his head vigorously and tiny jewels spun before his eyes.

—Who us?—Miguel said, voice gargling from his packed throat. —We’re with the Law Review Board. We’re trying to determine whether we should draft an amendment in order to legalize cocaine. Not merely in consideration for the welfare or quality of life of this country’s citizens, who seem to require an astonishing amount of the narcotic, but more so in terms of capital gain. In the long run, cocaine will boost our faltering economy, and only then will we cut into our national deficit. Cocaine can build houses, feed the poor, and provide jobs for the ailing work force. It could pay for our wars and prop up puppet governments. And just imagine the import/export possibilities! The booming shipyards and rumbling factories. We can give the working man another shot at the middle-class dream. Together, we can work to make our nation solvent, and give our children hope for a brighter future.—

Propha grinned broadly when Miguel proffered a Clintonian thumb, complete with a furrowed brow and bit lip.

—You talk funny. You a professor or sutin?—

—I teach economics at Harvard University—Miguel said.

—Oh bullshit.—

—Ho-kay. Seton Hall.—


—The Chubb Institute of Technology.—

—You sutin.—

—All right, you got me. I’m a prosecutor on the prowl.—

The woman howled with delight.

—A defense lawyer engaged in the never-ending battle to attain truth, justice, and the American way to more and more drugs.—

—You killin me!—

Laughing so hard that her breasts strained the buttons of her scrolled-floral top.

Propha, as if in allegiance with the other woman, who sat silent and withdrawn beneath a wilding tree, busily rolled a cigarette with a practiced hand, obviously enjoying Miguel’s improvisations but saying nothing as usual in the company of strangers.

—Ho-kay, ho-kay, you got me. Te voy a decir la verdad, te lo juro. My friend and I are with the fire department and we brought you here to participate in our annual boot drive. Doesn’t seem to be much of a success though, eh? Looks kind of dead. But at least you and your compañera are here to make a donation. And believe me, it’s for a good cause. We need to purchase 10W30 in bulk, in order to grease up our poles. No no, it’s not what you think, please take your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about the poles that are common in every single firehouse in the country. There have been too many incidents of burning huevos, body hair catching on fire. And don’t get me started on the women firefighters. It’s locura in the firehouse! Campfires in crotchless panties. Flaming tits and flaming lips. We get so panicked we forget to fight fires and run out screaming while the short-and-curlies go up in a four-alarm blaze. So it’s a fucked-up situation,

como no. Estamos salao. It’s getting to the point where the jefes want to redo the firehouse without the pole, when all they need is a little grease to fix the problem. And what’s a firehouse without a pole? Like a Playboy jeva with no tits. It’s not right, it’s not natural. What would people think? That we’d lost our estribos, that’s what they’d think. Before you know it they’ll be calling plumbers to put out fires and firemen to stick their heads into toilets and that doesn’t make sense, does it?—

Placing heel against heel Miguel stepped out of his shoe, raised it, and offered it to the woman, who poured in a shot of Brugal.

—Your contribution is very much appreciated.—

—Any time, papa. Just give me some more of that good shit.—

—Mira, Propha! Look at this one, ah? She could steal a march on a stalking coyote!—

He wasn’t sure why he picked the two women up. It seemed like a good idea at the time, riding high on the cocaine express, beer and whiskey

temporarily relegated to a laggard approach. Yet it

was more likely that they were in the way and he,

like an agonized shark billowing after a thread of

blood, had swallowed up all the foodfish in his blind

ascent. He wasn’t sexually drawn to the woman—no

flashover of desire pricking his shorthairs, no

running fire of the heart—because there was

something deceptive about her that made him

wary, an exaggeration, a fiction, her face as false-

looking as a kachina mask made up for dumbshow.

Besides, he was still married, and he still loved his

wife, even if she loved and hated him—Elizah

running hot and cold like nature run amok.

—What do you do for work?—Miguel said.

—I type for a doctor over in East Orange—the woman said, —one of them proctologists, nice guy

but he ain’t all there you know what I mean?

(sniiiifff) Got a big old desk and my own phone and I

gotta tell you the people are so nice! (sniiiifff) I had

this old man yesterday, sweet little thing, he lost

some of his papers and he was crying and shit he

was so upset. (sniiiff sniiiif cough) And I told him,

I’ll take care of it for you, daddy, don’t you worry.

So I called him this morning and told him I found

his papers outside in the trash and I swear (cooough hack) sometimes I know where the doctor’s head is. And the old man he was so grateful oh my God! He bought me a perfume that I’m wearing it right now.—

She squeezed her breasts together and wafted her scent beneath Miguel’s nose.

—As sweet as mamey—he said, pretending to swoon, even though his sense of smell was shot, run through by a chemical flush.

Taking a popskull hit, the woman closed in on Miguel lithely, almost purring. —You look like a big-dicked nigga. You a big-dicked nigga?

He tilted back the Brugal and swiped carelessly at his streaming lips.

—Have to admire a forward-thinking woman—Miguel said.— Just lets it all out front to back.

—The front, the back, it make no difference to me, papi.

This cracked him up. Miguel Angel Santana, now Señor Rumbleguts, stumbled over a broken slab

and landed on his ass with a clackety-clack of teeth and a crunch-click of jaws. Laughing all the harder when he tasted blood. Laughing at his clumsy footwork. Laughing at the fading rind of moon and the careless peppering of stars. Laughing at himself laughing in this mirthless place, consorting with a chusma, a mute, and an equally mysterious man he thought of as his best friend.

—Coño—he said, grinning brutally. —Cambie la vaca por la chiva.—

He knocked back another fine hit, baying at the moon, and he divied out the same, the heavy drip corkscrewing down the back of his throat. The woman sniffed profoundly, gasped, heaved, her nostrils flared and dripping and her swimmy eyes coin-spun.

—Goddamn das good shit—she said, with a mouth full of pearls.

The other woman, slumped against the wilding tree and masked in the stipple-shadow of the dying leaves, watched the proceedings in a manner that made her look vaguely disinterested, aloof, her knees sprawled and head cocked at a listening angle

and her fingers absently yanking sprouts from the earth.

Miguel, still sitting, looked off into the distance, watching the bursts of light that shone occasionally through the barrier divides of the Hapsburg Bridge, rippling past in a zoom-blur, like demons racing across hell’s superhighway. His eyes danced with each lightshot passage, brain as alive and as full of heat as a high-tension wire. What a fucked-up day, what a fucked-up world, but night always has its own story to tell separate from the day because who you are in the day is not who you are in the night and if Elizah could see me now and if Miguelito could see me now and if Enrique could see me now and if . . .

A bird swooped out of the wilding tree and

soared into the sky, unleashing its woodnote call;

the trees with their variegate branches stood as

skeletal as the planted dead; a brown rat, its eyes

ferociously catching a glint of flame, scurried

through the brush, its tiny claws pocking the turned earth; and introspective Miguel barely moving a muscle, nature-locked, time-shocked, dimly reckoned back into his own grim recollections as he

watched the candleflames and the bridgelights, lost in his own thoughts, regrets, fears, for the hour of waking was drawing near and he so very far from sleep, the fiesta coming to a close as the cocaine haze whirled the clock hands and there will be no days of grace for the bill that is allotted, the debt paid out in blood and in vein, and once the stars dimmed and the sun began to burn there would be no other recourse but to shuffle on back to lonely home and lonely bed alone in darkness in light to face the various sins and transgressions, the morningcall of fluttering birds and the peaceful dawnlight creak no succor at all, so very far from sleep.

He took a desultory hit, trying to shake that bad feeling, the whiskey and beer shooting back to the fore with a vengeance, soon to be joined by their friend, Mr. ron. Cocaine running down, a dozen hits at best left in the baggie, whiskey in his pocket and ron in his hand. You get what you deserve, viejo. Paid in full. You work all your life and you get paid in full.

—You know what we’re missing—Miguel said. —All this fucking talking. Oye, Propha, que paso con

la musica, ah?

Propha remained silent, blowing rings into the sky thick enough to make a Saturn out of the Moon.

—We needed some Blades tonight, to talk to us about Pedro Navaja and the Latino news. We needed some Hector Lavoe, to tell us to crucify ourselves.

The revelers maintained silence, as if disquieted by Miguel’s sudden change of spirit.

—And you?—Miguel said to the silent woman. —Not a word all night. Want to talk? Want to sing? Ta y ta y ta?

But she looked away, her face masked in shadow. Miguel made as if to stand, in order to make himself heard and understood, and that is when the other woman leaned toward him, staying him with her deadly tropical-hued nails. Her heaving breasts were inches from his face. She whispered in his ear, her hand cradling his sandpapery jaw, the perspiration luminous on her cheeks and brow. He looked into her eyes and knew that he would have lockstepped to proper doom if need be, all judgment in abeyance.

She looked back briefly before leading him away, out of range of the flickering flames. Propha watched as they ascended clumsily through the brush, silently blowing his rings, and he turned slightly toward the other woman, who seemed unbothered by this play in events.

Miguel allowed himself to be led, zombie-walking through the dense shrubbery, their careless steps crackling the frosted twigs, tamping down the dewy stalks of watergrass and the clumps of dead nettle, tripping over the markers overrun by creeping charlie and roundleaf ragwort. They reached a dark clearing at the crest of a hill, and it felt as if they had been walking forever through stone and through brush, slogging over mud, catching handholds of the earth to climb and climb only to find themselves in this dark clearing with the flickering candleflames down below and the open sky spread out above them like the arena of judgment day. The few stars in their indecipherable patterns, the paper nautilus moon soon to burn out for the night, mitigated by day but unmitigated by any of man’s impositions, no matter how we channel and chart. Though we are mapmakers all we know nothing of the world beyond, almost as

much as we know of the world within, and this is what often troubled Miguel, how we could quickly give name to the stars in the sky but can never name what lies dormant in our own dark and secret hearts. How could we lay claim to knowledge merely in the naming of it? In truth, what we know is steeped in imperfections, and we are so helpless before the null and void. Isn’t this why we build and create? Isn’t this why we toil and suffer? Just so we can inscribe our own names into history’s ledger, however minutely. For the only truthful knowledge is the endgame itself: namely, that we existed.

(and oh how we wallow through our days, our lives like so much frostwork upon the glass—there in the breath of winter, gone in the thaw of spring)

Level with Miguel’s gaze, as if to offer proof of his philosophy, rose the upper half of the structure that so confounded anyone who happened upon it, the openwork of pipes and beams that rose beyond a four-foot stand of orchid rockrose and purple verbena, ribbed and hollowed like a holy apse carved into a mountainside, sewn through with copper wire and fireproof sheathing, filigrees of fiber-cement siding, bent and torqued steel, jagged

chocks of architectural glass, whatever could be extracted, hustled, and stolen from the bins and dumps and various work sites of the chameleon city. It was not yet known what this curiosity was seeking to become as it achieved greater height and grew more intricate and colorful in design, though it was sure to be razed once the work begun in the cemetery over eight months ago recommenced with its initial alacrity and devouring fury. Not even Miguel, close friend and confidant of the eccentric, kind, and furiously enigmatic Propha, was privy to his intentions. Propha’s work in progress was a genuine headscratcher, a work that was perhaps far more ambitious in scope than the very heart, hands, and mind that sought to manipulate it into cohesive shape could match. But if anyone could achieve a sort of supremacy in this life, Miguel had thought, than that man was Propha. If anyone will be remembered, it will be him. And me the adjudicator of by-history. Man on the wayside words words words and nothing more.

The woman kneaded his hands, drawing his attention outward. It was as if she marveled at their roughness, the prominent veins coursing from

knuckles to wrist, the unspruced hair over his joints, the patchwork palms more accustomed to iron and steel these days than to feminine softness. She forced his hands over her breasts where they manfully squeezed the abundance of flesh like plasterer’s putty, shaping and working at will though he did not look at her, refused to look at her, his eyes focused on Propha’s strange work and the dark land sprawled beneath like a tribal skirt. She moaned and squirmed with her head level to his throat and she nipped playfully at his jugular while her nails dug into the small of his back.

A horn blared, and the rattle and trap of a garbage freight labored over the rails to the east, the flashing lights of the lead car swashing over the brush and illumining the land below in all its disglory—the deep gouges in the earth waiting to be backfilled, the unruly tumbles of mounded earth, the ruins of mausoleums and monuments, tombstones jutting from the earth like slab-cut fingernails, a disheveled wasteland of broken stone and intermingled wrack—and then the lead car descended, casting all into semi-darkness once again.

—And there was light—Miguel said—and lo He felt that light to be good.

—What? What you say?—her mouth working at his neck like a hagfish boring through sea-meat.

He didn’t say anything at all, eyes casting about the semi-darkness and the near-darkness and the all-encompassing dark, not even when she lowered herself gently to her knees, unzipped him, and fished out his cock.








Copyright© Edwin Rivera. White Whale Review, issue 1.3

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