In the Castros’ living room hung a family coat of arms. The Castros had been noblemen and lords in some century or other in some castle or other on the opposite side of the world—and there was the colorful coat of arms to prove it. They were different from the Fonsecas that way: the only things the Castros held on to from their poorer days were those they’d marshaled up from many generations back. On the walls of the Castros’ living room, besides the coat of arms, there was nothing but photos of the boys in team uniforms and a diploma granted to Baby Girl for having finished her degree in psychology. Psychology. For fuck’s sake.
They descended a freezing staircase. The basement was full of shadows cast by a dim corner lamp backlighting a dozen chains with hooks from which hung calves, turkeys, and half a cow. The Redeemer didn’t say a word but at the sight of his raised brows, Castro said We don’t trust outside meat.
In a room adjacent to their private abattoir he saw Romeo, laid out atop some boxes. One of his legs was falling off the side, as tho he’d made a quick move to get up. They encircled the body in silence. Only the Neeyanderthal rubbed his hands together, saying Damn it’s cold. Vicky approached and began to study what was once Romeo. The Redeemer noticed he was dirty, that he still reeked of alcohol and had marks on his knuckles but no sign of blows to the face. Vicky examined his head and opened his shirt and palpated his ribs, sunken, beneath a blue bruise. The Redeemer turned to the Castro kids, whose hands were in their pockets.
What went down, muchachos?
The Castro kids were spitting images of their father, differing only by the quantity of hair on their heads and the way their flesh fought what was going on inside each of them. The older one jerked his shoulders up and down in a childish gesture and said We didn’t do jack. I mean, we talked shit earlier on, but we didn’t fight.
We liked him, said the younger one, sneaking a look at his father and continuing. Our jefe here always says the Fonsecas are fuckin users and climbers, but the son was a good kid.
So what’d you say? This was on Lover’s Lane, right?
Mhm, said the older one. We saw him on our way into Metamorphosis, and since he was going somewhere else we thought he was headed for the swanky strip club, so my bro here said Hey, pretty boy, this ain’t Vegas you know, and he said Fuckin deadbeats, I come here cos I carry big bills, not loose change. Stuff like that.
But we were just smacktalking, said the younger one. Even if it sounds like we wanted to fight.
There’s some people you just mess with, that’s just the way it is, said the older one.
The Redeemer nodded. He knew what they meant.
That was early, the older one said. We took off after a little while to hit the other clubs, and we were on our way when we saw Romeo again, he was pretty looped, in the parking lot— no idea where he was going but he was staggering back and forth—and that was when he got hit by a van. It was backing up and I don’t think they even saw him.
The Redeemer stiffened in shock but didn’t dare turn and look at Vicky to corroborate what they were saying.
A van? You’re telling me a vehicle did this to him?
S’right. Tapped him and took off. Me and my bro here went to see if he was okay. He wasn’t breathing good but said not to call an ambulance, said it would pass. We picked him up and put him in the back seat of my car. Then we took off too, but on the way he asked us not to take him to the hospital, said please just let him hang with us a while, lay low and then he’d go home.
The Redeemer walked over to stare at the boys, straight into their eyes—back, forth, one, the other—searching for signs of a leaky lie.
And you didn’t lay a hand on him. That was it. You’re sure.
The boys nodded.
Well, said the older one, not all of it. We brought him back here and we were going to call a doctor but when we got him into the house he suddenly got real real light, and then heavy, and it took us a few minutes to realize he’d died since we didn’t think he was doing that bad.
Here? Kid was sick and you brought him down here?
No, upstairs, we were in the living room. But then someone called.
A girl, the younger one piped in.
Yeah, a girl, and she said the Fonsecas had Baby Girl and weren’t giving her back till we brought them Romeo. Which is why we didn’t call and brought him down here instead, so he wouldn’t rot.
The Redeemer turned to Romeo, whose hands Vicky was now examining. Romeo looked rough, but like his rough had come from earlier stuff and not from dying, as if the only thing dying had done was ashen up his skin, but you could tell there was prior pain.
Give us a minute, the Redeemer said, not turning to anyone in particular, and the Castros left the room.
By the way, the Mennonite said. Someone’s out to jack you up. Boyfriend of one of your neighbors. Watch your ass, amigo.
Fuckit, how did little beau slick get word? And how did the Mennonite, who wasn’t even from around here, know about it?
You giving me a tip-off or a warning? he asked.
Both, but not cos anybody told me to. Little punk’s got no balls of his own and was looking for a hardcase to rough you up. Guy I know got asked and I’m just passing it along, free of charge.
The Redeemer shrugged no-big-thing shoulders and asked So, what about this?
The Mennonite crossed his arms and eyed Romeo.
I think they’re telling the truth.
Not entirely, said Vicky. I buy the story about the truck but that doesn’t explain his hands.
Oh, the Mennonite said. That was me.
The other two stared.
He looked a little too tidy to have died in a brawl.
He didn’t die in a brawl.
But his father isn’t going to believe that, is he? Why make matters worse by saying they didn’t lay a hand on him? Those two families got bad blood between them. So let them believe what they want to believe, let them bury their boy like a hero. They’re not going to simmer down when someone tells them to, they’ll do it when they’re worn out. So tell them what happened, but let him look like he had a fight first.
Vicky looked as if she was about to say something but thought better of it. And then she said: Why wouldn’t he want to be taken to hospital?
Now that part I can’t explain, the Mennonite replied.
They walked out and Romeo remained alone once more. They went upstairs to the Castros and before they left the mother appeared, frightened and pale, and demanded Now tell me what they did to my little girl.
The Redeemer decided the Mennonite’s strategy wouldn’t wash with her and said: More or less the same as what happened here. A tragedy with no one to blame.
What are you saying? That she’s dead? That each of us ended up with the other’s body by accident? Is that what you’re telling me?
Something like that, yes.
The mother stared straight at him and said Those things just don’t happen.
* * * *
Some sad fuck so much as takes a bite of bread and we got to find a name for it, he thought. Or an alias anyway. That’s about as close to the mark as we get.
Banished man alias Mennonite. Broken man alias Redeemer. Lonely old soul alias Light of my life. Ravaged woman alias Wonder where she’s gone. Get revenge alias Get even. Truly fucked alias Not to worry. Contempt alias Nobody remembers him. Scared shitless alias Didn’t see a thing. Scared shitless alias Doing just fine. Some sad fuck alias Chip off the old block. Just what I was hoping for alias You won’t get away with this. Housebroken words alias Nothing but truth.
From THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES. Used with permission of And Other Stories. Copyright © 2016 by Yuri Herrera, translation copyright © 2016 by Lisa Dillman.