Dani Raschel Jimenez
As long as a wad of Wrigley’s flashed from the bottom of Micky Davalos’s shoes, he’d be sure to win his race. It was a rumor his fans had devoured, thanks to this one damn picture.
His left elbow is bent, shaping his arm into a perfect L. His back is all muscle, his legs baseball bats, round and curved on top, slender on bottom with two size nine-and-a-half stubs to carry the weight—a modern day Phidippedes—as the camera catches him keeping three steps ahead of the Kenyan. The clock above him blazes, “2:09:09,” amazing in itself, but that’s not what the photographer chose to zoom in on. Instead, the camera focuses on his right heel, a mess of gum and leaves.
Crimping the newspaper clipping in half, Micky tucks it back into his pocket, hoping to halt the memories. It doesn’t.
1995—the Boston Marathon. He’d been twenty years old. The gum dislodged on Heartbreak Hill. Micky stepped wrong, and his ankle crunched like a thousand hummingbird wings. Running fans groaned, and one woman screamed as the young Mexican’s body collapsed on the pavement. With half of his face pressed against the asphalt, he’d seen Luis’s hand buckle, the tiny Mexican flag he’d waved two seconds earlier tumbling to the ground.
Micky reclines against a street post and holds his bronze forehead with fingertips. His face, once angular and taut, is now round and fleshy. He could tweeze the excess hairs between his brows to tune up his looks, but people become livid when a homeless guy stares at his reflection in their store windows. Besides, looks stopped mattering a long time ago. Sunlight sinks into the rips in his cut-offs and highlights silver strands of stretch marks veering across the backs of his knees. His abdominals no longer divide his midsection into six neat parcels. Instead, they hang in one lump over his waistband.
He wonders, “Why did I invite Luis to go with me to Boston?” Luis, Wendy’s son, the boy who vicariously ran with Micky from his wheelchair. Micky would regain the use of his ankle but not the endorsement that had waited for him at the finish line. Nor Wendy’s affection. The executives’ excuse had come in the form of a memo: if Micky wasn’t strong enough to overcome a superstition, he’d never successfully carry their power gel. Cowards—why couldn’t they tell him face-to-face? They were the ones who’d suggested using the gum in the first place—a marketing technique, they’d called it. And Wendy’s excuse—well, she never told him. Or maybe she had after he’d already stopped listening.
Shaking away the flashback, Micky sighs. His shoes, black and grey synthetic material with three white bands draped along the sides, are spotted with mud and spittle. His laces sleep like snakes sunning themselves on the sidewalk. Frowning, he watches the pedestrian signal across the street appear.
There’s no need to obey—Micky’s not going anywhere. He loves a neon sign sizzling in the window of Martha’s Bar and Grill across the street from city hall. To some, the sign is a lariat, but for him, it is a flickering reminder of his first marathon victory: the easy stroll and wide curves of the trail. As long as that baby burns, he’ll stare at her day and night.
Dots cranes her neck and nips at his pant leg. He lowers his hand, and the Dalmatian nudges it. Her ribs are the Sierra Madre Oriental to the fleas crawling over them. Whining, she clips her teeth around hot spots festering on her sides.
His friend Cairo lumbers underneath the watched pedestrian signal, below the steps that lead to city hall. Nine peaked pillars guard the brick façade. Representatives from past and present council districts are etched into banners arching across the marble summits. A stucco fence wraps around the rest of the facility, and a tile mural of Aztec warriors and jaguars borders the top of the building, directly underneath the flat roof’s overhang.
On their way to work, men dressed in black slacks and women in grey skirts flock around Micky and Dots at the intersection of Avenida San Bernardo and Calle Houston every few minutes in synch with the boxed fluorescent signal.
Appear. Lose the flock.
Disappear. Gain a new flock.
One city employee, breakfast in hand, stops next to Micky. Another worker, hair uncombed and hem swinging around his thighs, rushes into the employee’s elbow. The paper sack falls and is promptly trampled.
“Aw, man.” The employee picks up the crumpled bag, peeks inside, and then tosses it to Micky. “Here, buddy.”
Micky catches it. “Thanks.” He shoves the goods into a cargo pocket. Dots noses at the pocket, but Micky pushes away her snout.
Appear. Lose the flock.
Cairo shouts, “Lucky break, man.”
Shutting one eye, Micky raises his hand and situates Cairo between his forefinger and thumb. The man crosses his thick arms and peers over at Micky’s corner. Cairo’s hair is fluffy with curls that are as tight as the security in front of the government office, and his shorts are just as shredded as Micky’s. While Micky’s shirt is spotted, Cairo’s is smart, solid, and swells with his pectorals.
Micky pinches. His subject flicks his middle finger. A grin breaks on Micky’s face, and he laughs. “Guess so. Looks like it’s gonna be another hot one, huh, Cairo?”
His buddy puckers his lips, dark as if stained with blackberry wine, and whistles towards the sky. “Sure does.” He drops his brown orbs to Micky. “Just like that one redhead in the grey flannel. Goddamnitman! She was fine in a way that makes you wanna take a girl home to Mama and feed her apple pie with a slice of cheese on top.”
“No wonder I didn’t notice her. Had a girl I took home to Mama once, and it didn’t work out. Now, I just want a girl for an hour, maybe two.”
Cairo laughs, a throaty one that rises from his abdomen. “Ain’t that the truth. There’s that one Latina—drops her eyes like a sweet geisha every time she comes around you, but you never notice.”
Micky snorts. “She probably avoids looking at me ‘cause she thinks Dots is my girl.”
“Nah, man. Maybe she remembers your old glory days.”
Dots, still whining, plops to her belly. Micky knows she’s hungry, but he’s never asked her to stay. She can leave anytime she damn well pleases. Maybe she stays for Rosa, the cook who once made the best chorizo and egg tacos. He figures that’s the reason: Dots fell in love with Rosa’s Café and the freebies the cook would dish out for the mutt. How that dog would devour the congealed eggs and greasy sausage, Mexican spices singing in the mix.
Micky turns and looks at his beloved bar and grill. The restaurant flows over half of the block and is adorned with tile arranged in alternating blue horseshoes and bay horse heads. Yellow blossoms bridge the gaps between the images. Martha hasn’t turned on the neon signs, but he still seeks out his prizewinning route. He remembers the rush of lactic acid, and even now rubs his thighs at the phantom pain. The flash of the camera and his arms in midair as the tape succumbed to his chest. How he was passed a plastic cup full of beer, the froth plugging up his nose, and was only eighteen.
His coach had grabbed Micky by the shoulders, yanked up his right arm, and bragged, “Boston, here we come!” Beer sloshed over his Adidas every time someone slapped his back. He conjures up the scent of yeast and sweat that pickled his shoe’s tongue afterwards—after every hilly run and endurance trek.
The squeal of brakes cuts into his daydream. Three men, bald and beer-bellied, smile from the insides of a white truck, the words “Health Department” plastered on the door, the numbers twelve thirty-four pasted underneath the handle. Five empty cages, a breeze rustling through the bars, sit in the bed.
“What do you want?” grumbles Micky.
The driver leans out. A lanyard dangling off his neck catches on the pick-up’s lock, a rusty and foggy knob. His city badge scrapes off flecks of oxidation. “New law. Got a bone for your dog.” A coworker, glove box door sitting on his knees, slings out a piece of crusted marrow. Dots scrambles to her feet, lowers her mouth, and chomps away. The bone splits into fragments with every crunch. The meat spills out, little red shards peppering her paws. Micky squirms and then kicks the bone further away. She chases it.
“Interested in getting her accepted into the shelter?” continues the driver.
“She’s not mine. You can take her to hell for all I care.”
The middle guy shook his head. “Oh, that’s not possible. We have a carbon-copy form that must be filled out and returned to the Health Director to determine if the dog is place-a-ble or not.” He folds the triplicate into an airplane and launches it out the window. Micky catches and unfolds it. The first sentence reads, “To alleviate overcrowding in the animal shelter, I, Health Director of the City of—”
Another worker interrupts, “All we can do is offer treats and bottled water to the canines.” At that, he throws out a bottle in the shape of a droplet.
The bottle bucks twice around Micky’s feet. He grunts. “How’s a dog supposed to open that?”
All three shrug. “We weren’t told to open it, just to give it out,” the driver explains. He shifts out of park with three audible clicks: reverse, neutral, drive. “We’ll come by tomorrow for the form, or to give her another bone and water.”
“Yes, tomorrow,” assert his buddies. They drive away.
“Idiots,” he mutters. Dog needs a needle in her neck, not another fucking bone or night with him.
Dots has moved the bottle against Rosa’s vacant restaurant and is pawing at it. Inside the bottle, waves crest back and forth as it spins against the wall. Her hips jut out like two antler prongs. Maybe Micky should turn in the form. Maybe then she’ll get in some decent grub.
“Hey, Cairo, man,” he shouts, “why don’t you come on over here? I got a question to ask you.”
Cairo shakes his head and cups his hands around his mouth. “No can do. The little guy up above you won’t tell the commuters when to cross.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Yeah, he’s been out for about three years. What do you think I stand here for? I ain’t just making sure this post stays up. I tell the people when to cross and when not to.”
Micky’s eyebrows inch upwards. “Why don’t you tell someone to come fix the light?”
“Gotta fill out a damn form for the government to come on out here and fix it. That bullshit’ll take too long, man. This way, it’s much quicker, and people still stay safe.” He points down at Micky’s shoes. “Now you—you got ol’ Dots to help you.”
Micky eyes the Dalmatian. She’s given up the fight against the water bottle and is now on her back, swishing side to side against the pavement. Her tongue lolls out placidly, and her stunted tail quivers. Her stunted tail, thanks to some moron. Micky remembers his first meeting with Dots. She was a spotted puppy with brown eyes and a rubber-band encircling her “happiness barometer,” as Wendy used to say when Luis’s Labrador retriever wagged about in excitement. Disgusted, he’d tried to pull off the band but only succeeded in prying off the deadened tip.
He now imagines each rib poking her organs, her intestines—there is no layer of fat to cushion them. Nor is there a public trash can for the dog to dig through ‘cause she won’t leave his side to find one. Maybe he will turn in the form.
A commotion down the street distracts him and draws Dots to her feet. A portly gentleman, jaw buoying, strolls down the sidewalk. He’s shrouded in a doctor’s coat and slacks. A sable curl bonds to his forehead, smooth and hulking. Underneath his arm peeks the head of a Chihuahua. Two assistants flank each side, four in total, dressed in identical black suits and red ties. A bevy of reporters shouting, “Mr. Health Director!” trails them.
The gentleman beelines for Dots and pivots towards the media. “Here is a perfect example! I have implemented the overcrowding ordinance to ensure dogs such as this one will not interfere with the general welfare of the city’s animals or cleanliness of the shelter’s facilities. The only way to acutely solve the animal overpopulation problem is not only to tax the breeders, as Councilman Payne suggests—” He pauses and inhales deeply. The reporters lean forward. Exhaling, he continues, “But to keep adoptable animals as such, and let the inadmissible ones gradually diminish away from old age or natural causes.”
“But Mr. Health Director,” a random voice calls.
The Director brandishes a ringed hand. “Of course, we won’t let the unaccepted dogs suffer. It would be inhumane. Our officers give out treats and water on a daily basis. Now—” Two assistants force Dots to sit while one whips a comb through his boss’s hair and the other fixes a water bottle in his palm.
The Health Director smiles and, plucking out the Chihuahua from underneath his armpit, hands it over to his help. “Shall we?”
Cameras whir as the reporters snap pictures of the duo: the Director snazzy in coat and tie, Dots shameless as she licks her ass, not even using a leg to censor herself.
Micky shades his eyes. “What’s all this?” Dots stands at the sound of Micky’s voice.
The Health Director turns and pats his shoulder. “Not to worry, old man. Just a photo op.” Lips peaking, he blows a bubble. It pops, and Micky smells piña colada. The Director winks. “Smile and enjoy it. Your dog’s lucky to be in the same shot with me.” He taps Dots once, then spits his gum onto the sidewalk. In front of Micky’s shoes. The Director points to the homeless man’s feet. “You might want to tie your shoes, son. You’re going to fall.”
Micky stares at the Health Director, but then a glimmer catches his eye. A familiar neon sign blinks from Martha’s window. He searches for his victory route, but the only image there is a lariat.
His throat tightens, and his heart races. Sweat forges rivulets through Micky’s hair, around his ears, and down his neck. He claps. “Dots, come.”
She pads towards him, her tail slapping against the Health Director’s pin-striped limb as she jockeys past. Micky bends over, kisses her nose, and then ties his shoes. Straightening, he pushes two fingers into the Director’s chest. “You have it wrong, sir. You would be lucky to be in the same shot with her.” Dropping his hand, he turns to the reporters. “My name’s Micky Davalos. This is Dots, and we have our own initiative: we’re running to Boston.” He whistles. “Come on, ol’ girl.”
The dog follows. A reporter with salt-and-pepper-hair presses down on his camera. The shutter explodes and captures a Dalmatian on the heels of a runner, his arms a bit wiggly, his knees a little rickety, but with a wad of yellow gum oozing out from the bottom of his sole.