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A Phoenix Fiction Writer Rising From The Ashes of Nonfiction




Ave Maria 
by Michael T. Martin

Diego fidgets, sporting a big smile, straddling a backwards chair, his arms crossed on the chair back facing the vinyl dinette table scattered with pungent beer cans and spicy food. Trumpets blare from a radio filling the room with background noise.

“What's so funny?” asks Jesus, looking askance at Diego while leaning back in his chair, sprawling his lanky body but keeping his hand around a can of beer on the table. In his mid-twenties, Jesus is the oldest of the four young men gathered around the table, Diego's the youngest, perhaps 18. The mid-day Tucson sun illuminates the floating dust of the dinette area drifting through a screen door to the backyard.

Diego appears happy to have gained the attention, his smile expanding amidst a scraggly light beard with mustache plus a crew cut. Like the others he wears khakis or cutoffs with t-shirts or tank-tops.

“I was just thinking,” Diego begins eagerly but is cut off.

“Yeah, that does strike me as hilarious.” Jesus laughs and takes a sip from his beer can.

“Careful you don't pull a muscle,” interjects Martinez leaning against the wall, shirtless, muscular and clean shaven except for a large mustache. His hair is combed straight back.

Marcos, slightly more rotund than the others with a small mustache, laughs from his seat on a low cabinet, “He pulls his muscle every night.”

Martinez makes a face at Diego, “Give Maria a call, dude.”

“I was just thinking I haven't seen her in a while,” counters Diego.

Amid a pause in the conversation Jesus stops his beer can just before taking a sip, furrowing his brow, “She used to be over here all the time.”

“Yeah. A regular locomotive pulling trains,” says Marcos.

“Where'd she disappear all a sudden?” asks Diego.

Martinez leans forward, while still standing against the wall, “I hear she's in a 'committed' relationship now.”

“A committed relationship? Maria?” Diego sounds astounded.

“Just watch your language around Jose, okay?” continues Martinez, “He and she are a number now.”

Diego's smile has become a wide grin, “The number is sixty-nine no doubt.”

Martinez raises both hands shoulder high, “I'm just telling you, they're sweet on each other.”

“I'll bet he's mostly on her,” razzes Diego.

“Either way they are always together now. He fell hard,” Martinez replies.

Marcos laughs while standing with his crotch protruding, “With Maria we were all hard.”

The others laugh and point at Marcos.

“Don't he know about her rep?” asks Diego.

“The guy just arrived a month or so. Maybe not,” says Jesus.

“Another wetback in love,” razzes Diego.

“Who you calling a wetback? Your mom's still in Mexico,” chastises Martinez.

“I've been here long enough to pack Maria's butt,” replies Diego.

Martinez waves his hand like he's pushing him away, “That ain't sayin' much. Like what, two months?”

“He ain't wearing a shirt because it's still drying outside on the line,” says Diego pointing at Martinez.

“Stop using that slur. He's just un-doc-u-men-ted,” replies Jesus.

“Right, wetback,” answers Diego.

Jesus reacts aggressively pointing at Diego with his beer can, “Don't call me a wetback, my family has been here forever.”

“I suppose they came to America on the Mayflower,” jests Diego.

“They did not come on the Mayflower,” says Jesus pointedly.

“Oh, maybe it was the Nina, the Punta, and the Cunta Maria,” says Diego.

“You mean the Santa Maria. And no Mexicans came to America in the Santa Maria,” says Jesus.

“Every Mexican-American I know came in the cunt of Maria. She gets around,” says Diego.

Marcos chimes in, “That girl's like an alkaline battery.”

“Alkaline battery?” asks Martinez.

“Yea, Ever-ready,” says Marcos.

“With her red hair she's more the coppertop,” says Diego.

“Spare me,” replies Jesus laughing.

Diego points directly at Jesus, “Hey. You took her out a while back.”

“I never even kissed her,” replies Jesus.

“You never even kissed her!” Diego sounds skeptical.

“Naw, the whole night she never got above my waist,” replies Jesus sipping his beer.

“Whoa. High five dude,” laughs Diego reaching. The others chuckle as Jesus leans forward to slap Diego's palm.

“Real nice cunt on that babe, though,” says Jesus, “I even ate a little of it.”

“Pink taco, dude,” laughs Diego, “I'll bet she was jalapena.”

Jesus suddenly leans back in his chair again, holding his can of beer.

Another young man walks into the room staring at a cellphone held waist high in front of him. Everyone suddenly becomes quiet. The newcomer looks around the room at the silence.

“Hey, Jose, wassup?” asks Diego.

Jose coldly stares at his cellphone, “My girlfriend's dead.”

“What? Your cellphone's dead?” asks Marcos.

“No. Maria's dead,” replies Jose with a trembling face, “Car accident.”

“That's funny,” says Marcos.

Jose gives him an angry look as his muscles tighten.

“Hilarious,” razzes Diego sarcastically.

“No, she can't be dead,” Marcos frowns, “I was just talking to her on the phone.”

Jose looks directly at Marcos, “That's what they said.”

“Who said?” asks Marcos.

“They said she was talking on the phone and ran a red light,” answers Jose weakly.

Marcos looks completely confused, “What the fuck? When?”

“About an hour ago,” replies Jose.

“That's when I was talking to her. She hung up on me,” says Marcos.

“She didn't hang up on you, asshole, she was killed,” interjects Jose.

“Maria? That cunt Maria?” asks Diego.

Jose moves aggressively toward Diego. Jesus and Martinez stand up between them.

“You've got to be joking,” continues Marcos.

“Do I look like a fucking comedian?” says Jose, turning aggressively towards Marcos.

“Maria?” asks Diego again.

Marcos is still shaking his head, his voice faltering, “She can't be dead. I was just talking to her.”

The conversation pauses as the five men comprehend the circumstances.

Jesus slumps into his chair while lamenting, “We were just talking about her.”

Martinez leans plaintively toward Jose, “Everybody loves Maria. This can't be true.”

“How do you know this for sure?” asks Jesus.

“My sister texted me,” replies Jose, his wrinkled face fighting tears, “It's on the TV news.”

“Jose. I'm sorry,” says Martinez stepping to put his hand on Jose's shoulder. Jose lowered his head.

Jesus stood suddenly and threw his beer can against the wall.

“It can't be Maria, not our Maria,” says Jesus angrily, staring at the wall.

“Whoa, Jesus,” says Diego.

“Shut up. Asshole. You didn't really know her,” snaps Jesus at Diego.

“You knew her?” asks Jose.

“I knew her, and I loved her but,” says Jesus trembling, “but I knew about her too and I didn't treat her right.”

“What about her?” asks Jose, slowly comprehending.

“She just, she had too many friends,” says Jesus, “I wasn't able to handle it. But she never hurt anyone.”

“This may not be the time,” suggests Martinez quietly to Jesus.

“I always thought she would be there for me,” says Jesus, “and then she was gone.”

“What do you mean then?” asks Jose. He looks completely forlorn and confused.

“Maria wasn't anyone's,” says Martinez to Jose, “until you came along.”

“We all loved her,” says Jesus, “until you came along. Then she changed. She was like a flower that just bloomed when you came along.”

“You knew Maria well?” asks Jose.

“I knew all she wanted was to be loved,” replies Jesus looking away, “we all took advantage of her for that.”

“What do you mean you took advantage of her?” asks Jose puzzled.

“Then you came along and she had no time for us,” says Jesus, “for me. Still I was in love with Maria.”

“Jesus?” says Diego.

“That was what I asked her,” interjects Marcos animatedly, “I asked her why she didn't come around anymore. She said she was in love. Then she hung up on me.”

Suddenly everyone looked at each other in a momentary silence. Even the radio ended a song and sat quiet.

“She didn't hang up on you god damn it,” yells Jose in an angry voice without moving, “she was killed because she was talking to you.”

Marcos leans forward palms up like he was catching a medicine ball.

“But she was telling me she loved you,” answers Marcos with a pleading look.

Jose stood still for a long time, not moving even his eyes, though tears formed at the corner of his eyes. The radio began playing a somber instrumental.

“I've only been here a short time,” he says finally, “I only knew her a short time.”

“It's funny,” says Marcos. Jose gave him an angry look. Marcos shook his head and continued, “No, listen, we knew her a long time but we never really knew her. Jesus is just saying we thought we did, but we didn't respect her. You did. You gave her life and love after all these years. She loved only a short time, but it was all with you.”

Jose silently looks at Marcos for several seconds before looking at the floor and sagging, “It doesn't help.”

Time froze. No one moved or spoke. Except for Jesus, who started to sob.


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