My mother called, "You have to go to Pipi's funeral."
"Because it's Pipi's funeral and he's Colleen's brother and you have to go."
"But I barely knew that guy."
"It doesnąt matter, it is out of respect that you go."
"But I havenąt even seen Pipi since I was a kid."
"That's no true. Your Uncle Carl is married to Colleen, and you owe him that much."
"I saw my uncle and Colleen 5 or 6 years ago. They never even called me when Anna was born." "So what? You need to go!"
I hung up and told Karen what was going on. It was around nine in the evening. I was getting ready to watch a movie on TV. The phone rang again. It was Tina. She told me that Mom had called her and that she was going to the funeral. I asked if George was going, she said maybe. She asked about Karen and the baby. They weren't going because Anna was already asleep. Tina and I stayed on the phone for a bit and talked about Pipi and how he died. No one knew.
Tina asked me, "You remember at Gina's wedding when you said, 'How are you doing?' to Pipi and he thought you said, 'how's Nancy?'"
"His wife. She died two months before Gina's wedding. He got really mad at you, until Rick settled him down and told him that he misunderstood what you said."
Tina said, "After, he apologized to you but you were wasted and didn't notice. He left right after he apologized to you. That was the last time I saw him."
"I don't remember."
Tina didn't seem that upset by my mother telling her she needed to go the funeral. My dad called right after I hung up Tina and asked me to please go. He sounded upset.
"Colleen and Carl deserve that from you, don't you think?"
He told me to wear a tie.
Last year, I heard Carl filed for bankruptcy. My dad and Carl still saw each other once in awhile at the casino on Krome Avenue. The cousins only saw each other every few years at funerals, hospitals and weddings. I showed up around ten at Memorial Plan. The funeral home was in between a strip mall and right next to the 24-hour cafeteria my dad liked. I drove into the parking lot and saw bunches of people outside smoking, hugging, smiling, and laughing. Some were walking away. I saw Tina and George outside. Rick and Gina were there too, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. They got it from the cafeteria next door. They asked me if I wanted some. I didn't take any.
Colleen came outside where I was. I gave her a hug. She only patted me on the back as I squeezed her. I asked her about my Uncle Carl, she stayed quiet. Colleen still looked like a pig. Then her daughter Lisa came up to me and said hi, another pig but younger.
My mom and dad came out too. I greeted everyone. My father was talking to everyone from the casinos and some bookies in the parking lot. Everyone liked him, because he would lend people money and he paid his debts. My mother didnąt say much, she smoked and listened to people's conversations.
George came up to me and asked if I had seen the body yet, I said no. My sisters kept telling me to go inside and have the decency to go see the body. Pray over it or something or at least bow your head quietly and walk away like this was meaningful.
No one was next to the body, except my nieces and a few empty recliners that faced the casket. Behind the casket were these big wreaths in the shapes of horseshoes. None of the horseshoes had the name Pipi on them. All of them had the name Norbert written across. Probably the name his father called him by. Pipi looked like a white bag of skin crammed in his casket. I couldn't remember him at Gina's wedding. My little nieces were running all over the funeral home and playing hide and seek next to the casket.
Everyone was outside forgetting their kids and Pipi.
My nieces saw me and asked, "Did you see--it's cool, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess."
My nieces ran passed me and out the door.
Everyone was either in the lobby or the parking lot. A few remembered me. I remembered them, younger, quieter and better off. I asked about Uncle Carl, no one said anything. No one asked about Anna or if I had a job or what I was doing. Inside no one had seen Uncle Carl or mentioned him. I walked out again to the parking lot. After a while, we were saying dick and pussy jokes like we always did. My sister's kids were laughing. My dad was screaming and stuffing his face with something from the cafeteria.
My mom talked about a practical joke she played on my dad's friend. I didn't realize she had it in her. Everyone was mean and cruel and laughing, and we were happy.
I asked my Dad where my Uncle was. He said, "Not now." When I asked him, the few heads around him walked away. My dad kept looking over my shoulder watching them leave and placing their faces with the cars they drove.
"I'll tell you later."
We were alone. "Just tell me now." I told him.
"I can't." He tried whispering but it wasn't like him.
"But nothing. Why don't you come to the house tonight?" My dad said.
"It's almost twelve."
"It doesn't matter, does it? What do you got to do?"
"I got to call Karen and let her know."
He gave me a quarter. I went to the pay phones.
Karen answered, "When are you coming home?"
"Later, a lot later. I'm going to my dad's house after."
"You promised to wake up with Anna tomorrow."
"You always do this shit."
"Come on donąt get like that. I am at a funeral."
"I am hanging up."
"But wait! I'll wake up with Anna tomorrow."
The phone was still in my hand next to my ear. George came up to me and was sort of smiling, maybe laughing. I hung up.
"What's going on?" George asked.
"You and Karen fighting?"
"Nah, itąs not like that anymore." I told him.
"Really?" George kept smiling.
"What have you been up to? Hey, that's a nice watch."
"Ah, you like that shit, huh?" George smiled and lifted his sleeve.
"Yeah, where did you get it?" I asked.
"I bought it."
"That shit looks expensive."
"Tina's got one too."
Tina saw us talking by the payphones and smiled at us. George blew smoke out of his mouth and smiled back. Cars kept leaving.
George kept smiling and said, "Yeah, well, you know."
"No. I don't. You got a new job or something?"
"Nah, I'm still at the same place but things are a little different."
George worked at Service Merchandise in the warehouse driving the forklift and receiving TVs, VCRs, stereos, portable phones and computers.
George said, "I got a small thing going on the side."
"What it is it?"
"What are you doing with them?"
George said, "Well, sometimes people have to pay for stuff on the receiving end of the warehouse or they have to show us their credit card slip to approve the purchase. We keep copies of those receipts in the warehouse. The receipts have the numbers on them with expiration dates and signatures. So, what I do is I write 'em down and then I buy shit with it--in mail order catalogues or over the phone. One time, this lady left her card right on her hood while I was putting her TV in the trunk. She drove away and I pocketed it. I got some nice stuff from that one."
I said, "It sounds good."
Tina smiled at us again while we were talking. George turned out the cigarette and blew the smoke over his leg grinding the cigarette.
George told me, "You know what? You're not like Rick when I told him! It's good to tell you."
I almost felt that way.
It was twelve-thirty and George kept on, "You know it's nice for your sister to want something and now I can get it for her. It feels good to have nice shit. Then you don't feel so bad when everybody else's got it."
"Yeah." It's all I could say.
I walked up to my dad, who was talking to a guy wearing flip-flops. A good friend of Pipi's who hadn't been doing very well. My dad told me, "Yeah! I'm leaving in a few. Meet me at the house." The guy in the flip-flops looked away not wanting me to see him. My dad put his arm around him.
Tina came up to me and told me she was going to Dad's house too. She had heard something about my uncle from Gina and Rick. My dad told her the same thing. I got in my car and waited in the parking lot. I thought about what George had said. It made sense. He would be better off like that, if he didn't get caught. They both needed it, maybe all of us did. Maybe I could make Karen happy.
The cars slowly rolled out of the lot. I followed my dad's car home. We went inside, my dad grabbed several bottles of heart medicine from the kitchen table and asked us into his bedroom. He had the bottles cradled in one arm and went through them picking the ones he needed. My dad looked at every pill before swallowing it reading the small printed names. My mother came into the room and shut the door. My grandmother was sleeping downstairs. My sister's kids were passed out on the couch. George and Tina sat on the floor. I sat on my dad's side of the bed. My dad took off his coat and shirt. He stayed in an under shirt, standing and ready to talk to us.
We asked, "What happened?"
My mother started talking. My father told her to shut up. "Carl is in jail for laundering money…"
Tina asked, "What, why?"
My mother stayed quiet and knew why. Tina already knew a bit too but wanted to hear how it happened.
My dad answered, "I introduced this guy to Carl at the casino. I told Carl not to get involved with the guy. He didn't listen. The guy turned out to be a snitch. There was going to be a small cut for me but Carl cut me out when I told him I didn't like the guy. Carl tried blaming me- that it was my fault he had gotten caught because I introduced them. The guy was a snitch! I didn't know him at all except the few times I saw him playing at the machines. All I did was introduce them." My dad drank some water out of coffee cup and rubbed at his chest. "I had to pay out 4000 dollars to a lawyer to get me off. Even though they knew I had done nothing and knew nothing. Before the trial Carl called me and asked if he could tell the lawyers that I was the one that introduced him to the snitch. Carl thought he would get less time. I told him sure. My lawyer assured me they had nothing on me."
"Carl is in jail right now?" I asked.
"Yeah. He went in three days ago. I went in to go see him yesterday."
Tina asked, "Why did you go see him? When he tried to blame you for him laundering?"
My mother backed her up, "Why'd you go see him? That Shit! Are you stupid?"
"Yeah, he is my brother."
"How's he doing?" Tina asked.
George stayed quiet and lit a cigarette from my mom's cigarette. I tried remembering Carl and what he was like and if he had ever told me something that made him better. It never came to me.
My dad coughed and started talking again. "It was bad. Carl hadn't slept in 2 nights when I saw him. He's sleeping on a top bunk and can't get up to his bed cause he's fat and pushing 60. They don't even have a ladder for him. He says it takes him about 30 minutes to get up and no one will help him up. At night the lights go out 10:00 and the only sound is him struggling to get up in his bunk. People start bitching at him. He says he's scared and doesn't know what to do with himself. At night he lies there and tries to sleep but he doesn't. They might give him a sedative eventually."
My mother rolled her eyes and shook her head at her cigarette. My dad drank some more of his water and kept on. "Um…Carl came out to the visitor's area and he could barely walk. He was wearing a pair of slip on shoes that were too small on him. His toes had busted out the front and he was limping."
My mother said, "Poor asshole."
My dad kept talking, "He comes over and sits down and starts telling me that they are not giving him his medicines. He starts crying and breaking up. I grabbed his hand and he settled down a bit. He told me he's gonna need some money to buy a few things like clothes and soap. I couldn't give 'im the money. I had to leave it up front with a guard and then that money would go into a kind of charge account, where he could buy things. They have a store inside the prison, open on Wednesdays and Fridays. He started telling me he was gonna start reading and get his G.E.D. He stopped talking for awhile and grabbed his stomach. He looked over at the vending machines and said, 'You think you can get me something?' I got him a coke and a cheese sandwich. He took it down and stared at it a lot. We talked about Colleen. He told me she couldn't make the drive to see him. He kept asking me what time it was. He kept telling me, 'It's almost time for you to leave isn't it?' I was glad.
"A few minutes later a doorbell chime rang through the visitor's area. All of the inmates stood up. Carl and I walked together to the exit. I told him I'd leave the money for him up front. We kept walking and I told him I'd come by next week. He didn't respond. I looked up as we got close to the exit but he was on the other side of a glass wall. He was just looking at me, not following the line of inmates and was watching me leave. I didn't realize the guards had taken him down another exit where the glass wall was. I was just looking down, trying to get out and making conversation. He kept waving at me from behind the glass. I finally walked out."
"Poor asshole," my mother said again.
My dad didn't lift his head back up. "You know, when he tried to put it off on me--about the laundering shit. I kept hoping they would sentence him soon…But seeing him in those small shoes and him asking me for food. It was…"
My dad made a noise and put his hand over his face. My mother seemed pissed at what he was doing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After high school graduation, Luis
had a third grade reading level and had never read a book. Luis made several failed attempts at community colleges, vocational tech schools and even art school. Luis had some successful art shows but dropped out. Luis gave up the art school and college idea and began reading and writing on his own. Luis started writing short stories five years ago and has been working for the last two years on a body of work. This is the first publication of his written work. Luis Campos is 28 years old and lives in Florida with his wife and kid.