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Rose Petals on the Shores of Puerto Nuevo by Michael Giardina -- Page 1

I was taught that every good bartender should have stories to tell, that a man of my profession must be energetic, passionate, and entertaining. I've never lived up to those expectations. My days are empty and my nights are filled with the routine. I don't have any stories.  I'm the kind of man who likes to listen, but that's alright. In my experience, customers love to talk. David was no exception. He was a frail and meager man; his eyes were always red, his skin pale, his movements anxious and jittery. His passion for acting led him to auditions, his auditions led him to failure, and his failure led him to bars. So I'm at the end of the line. I serve him drinks and he fills my nights with his fanciful stories.

Every night he continued his story and I felt myself becoming more and more involved. I began to write snippets of the story down and told my friends about this man's life, how it was filled to the brim with pressure, how I was the one he chose to ease the pain.

 There is a science to caring. You have to let pressure out in just the right way. If you take a needle to a balloon too rashly, it will burst; but, if you ease the needle in near the knot, you can control the airflow and leave the rubber intact. This is what I do; I ease the needle.

They say I need to get another job because every bar story becomes my own, that each night I become a new man, with new passions. I can't help it. I have nothing of my own, so I find myself drawn to men in need of escape. I love them for filling a gap. In return, I ease the needle. I release their pain with care.

David tells the same story every night. He hands me a rose and says, "This is for Birdsong. You knew my wife, right?" I nod my head. At first he hadn't the strength to finish the story, waiting till the start of each new night to continue where he left off. Now, having completed the story, David returns each night and tells the story anew. He never leaves out a detail. It's always the same story. Yet, I see him grow every time he tells it. I try to sleep at night, but I dream of his story.

 

* * *

 I imagine Birdsong asking a man on the sands of Puerto Nuevo for ceviche. "Pass the ceviche," she says. The wrinkled cook looks at her with indifference, rummaging around through blackish yellow bins, pulling fillets of corbina and red snapper onto a yellowed cutting board. He chops the fish with a dulled butcher's knife, mixing in cloves of garlic, cayenne pepper, and drops of lime juice.

"And the juice of three limes?" Birdsong says to the cook. He presses the ingredients onto a hardened tortilla shell. She persists, "y jugo de tres cales?"

Surprised to hear his native tongue, the cook eyes the bottle of cloudy liquid and says, "Dos."

"Why only two limes?"

"Dos. Sufficiente," he says, passing her the ceviche.

            She holds the hardened shell between her long, slender fingers and winces. Her throat begins to feel rough and swollen. "Pero es ceviche," she says, clearing her throat, "raw fish should always be prepared with the juice of three limes." The old cook ignores her. She takes a bite of the ceviche and shakes her head. Raw fish should always be prepared with the juice of three limes. Acidity kills bacteria.

 

            On a dusty trail, Birdsong kneels by a rose bush. She pulls a knife from her pocket and cuts an attractive rose from the bush. She holds it above her head, watch the petals quiver. All her life, Birdsong lived in rotting houses, protected by dusty rusted rooftops. She hated that life and fled for the western shores of Mexico.

            The men back home told her that her arms were like wings, that her voice was like the sweetest song, that she was everything a woman could be. But they always tried to touch her and too often succeeded. Their words were meaningless, their hands grotesque. It was David who convinced her to leave. They met on a subway car. She was crying. He came up to her, took her hand , and said, "Why are the tips so red? Why are you so cold?"

            Birdsong tucks the rose behind her ear, finishes the ceviche. A piece of red snapper slides down the back of her throat and she coughs uncomfortably. All she can think of is the phrase, "and the juice of three limes."

            Rounding a corner, Birdsong finds David sitting on a rotting barstool in the middle of an empty yard. She flies into his arms, embracing him. She takes the rose and slips it behind his ear. David's eyes, red and swollen, blink quickly and aggressively. He's been drinking. His chapped lips peel into a smile. Birdsong hugs him and says, "It's okay. Really, it is."

            "I'm sorry," he says, "It's just so hard."

            She puts the reddened tip of her finger to his lips, "It's not about that anymore."

            "But you said--"

            "I'll help you," she says.

            "You don't have to," he says, pushing her off the barstool. Her body seems to float effortlessly to the ground. Angry with himself, David joins her on the grass.

            "Last night," Birdsong says, placing her arms in her lap, "I had a dream where everyone in the world was a fisherman."

            "And you were a fisherman?" David says, taking Birdsong's slender fingers into his hands.

            "No," she says, "I was a bird, watching everyone."

            "But you said everyone," David says with a tear at the corner of his eye, "everyone in the world was a fisherman."

            "Yes," she says, "everyone in the world was."


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