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The squirt
Short story

November 7, 2001
The Iranian

The car stereo was blasting and Santos was cursing at the top of his lungs. As his anger mounted, his speed did too, dangerously. The wheels of his pick-up truck screeched louder and louder at every corner. Filthy vulgarities poured out of his mouth, their venom rendered even more acidic after being filtered through his beer-stinking breath. The maniacal rant was all directed at his boss, who had just fired him for showing up at work late and drunk one too many times.

"Damn foreigner," Santos spat out repeatedly, his fists banging down on the steering wheel, "Come over to MY country and give ME orders... I'll show you what I'm made of one of dem days. You just wait... I'll make you squeal like the pig that you are..."

The pick-up truck was veering violently between lanes, causing the other drivers to swerve suddenly out of the way. The honks and jeers did not slow Santos down though, they just egged him on.

Finally, the Oak Lounge was in sight and he pulled up in front of its door. Only a few cars were parked in the lot at this early morning hour. Santos recognized each of them. They were all his little drinking buddies, though he had never exchanged but a handful of words with them since he had started hanging around there: Doggie, The Old Man, Seraline the Slut, and Maggot. Oak Lounge's most loyal customers. They had all probably been coming here longer than Santos had been alive. Except for Seraline, who was closer in age to Santos. But all the boozing had taken the freshness from her skin, and the life from her eyes and she was starting to resemble the other walking dead in there. Santos was on his way there too and he knew it. But he didn't care. Especially not today.

The angry young man pushed the door open and was greeted with groans of disapproval at the sliver of sunshine he had allowed to momentarily pierce the darkness inside. He hopped on his usual stool, right in front of the small TV placed on the top shelf of the wall, behind the bar. Paulo was chewing a cigar nervously and watching the game up on the screen.

-- "Gimme a beer," Santos grumbled.

Paulo sighed.\

-- "What the heck are YOU doing here at this time? I got enough trouble when you be comin' in the evenin'... Ain't you gotta job?"

-- "Just gimme a beer will ya? You a cop or a bartender?"

-- "Watch it boy... Ain't that long ago you was tryin' to sneak in here with a fake i.d. You watch your balls can back up what your mouth dishes out..."

With that, Paulo slid a beer towards the young man. The other patrons around the bar snickered, including Seraline. That slut. Today she was hanging on to Doggie. Must've been his pay day. They already had a few empty glasses in front of them, and the ashtray was full of cigarette butts.

Santos drank his beer in silence all the while mulling over in his head the scene with his boss that morning. "Stinking foreign pig, ordering me around in that stupid goddamn accent of his," Santos raged.

* * * * *

-- "Elias, wake up honey, your breakfast is getting cold! Eliaaaaaasssss... Honeeeeyyyy!"

Inside a blue and white bedroom, illuminated by happy rays of sunlight, a twelve-year old boy with scruffy hair and bright freckles lifted his blanket over his head.

-- "Just one more minute of sleep," he muttered dreamily to his mom, who continued calling him with her girlish, soprano voice.

-- "Eliaaaassss... Don't make me use the secret weapon... Honeeeeyyyy. All right, you asked for it!"

With that, a pretty young woman dressed in a mauve T-Shirt and capri jeans opened the door to the blue and white bedroom. From behind her, a German Shepherd pup ran wildly inside and jumped up on the bed. He proceeded to pull away the cover Elias desperately tried to hold onto. The young woman burst into laughter, which sounded like a thousand chrystals swayed by a gentle breeze.

-- "Good boy puppy! Now kiss! The pancakes are getting cold! Kiss, puppy, kiss!"

The dog, who had been waiting for the signal, started showering his little master with thousands of sloppy licks of his tongue. Elias tried to resist but was soon overcome with a fit of giggles. He grabbed the pup from behind the ears with one hand, and rubbed his sleepy eyes with the other hand.

-- "All right, all right, you got me, you got me!"

Now fully awake, the little boy caught scent of the delicious blueberry pancakes which had made their way upstairs to his room from the kitchen down below.

-- "Mmmmm... blueberry, my favorite!"

The trio made their way downstairs where the young woman served her son breakfast, and in turn, the little boy surreptitiously fed his dog bits and scraps under the table.

Afterwards, another circus show before Elias got cleaned up, dressed, and gathered his books. He almost missed the school bus, which was pulling away as he made it to the bus door. His mom and the pup, who had been running behind him, said good-bye to him, each in their own way, the dog with much barking and jumping, and the young woman with a lot of hand-waving.

-- "Don't forget Elias, after school, you are to go help your father at the store. And don't forget to bring tomato sauce before you come home. I'm making spaghetti tonight!"

Elias waved back from the back window of the bus and gave the thumb up sign.

* * * * *

It was noon but inside the Oak Lounge, it was only time to drink one more beer. The Old Man came over to sit by Santos's side.

-- "Hey, what's da matta with ya kid? You awful quiet today."

-- "Leave me alone Old Man. I ain't got any money to buy you booze. I got fired today."

-- "Ah so that's it, is it? The old turd gave you the boot did he?"

Santos couldn't help snorting.

-- "Turd is right They all look like turds don't they?"

-- "Hehe... Smell like dem too..."

The Old Man chuckled at his own joke.

Paulo frowned and told them to shut up. He was deep in the game and their snickers distracted him. He had some real dough at stake and his team wasn't looking good. It put him in a foul mood. And if these clowns were gonna insist on pushing his buttons, he'd have them out on their behinds so fast. "All right, all right , Paulo," said the Old Man. "I'm going back to my seat.

Santos looked at the emaciated figure of his companion getting off the stool and walking to the other end of the bar. He looked like a brittle little skeleton with clothes on. How old was he? Sixty? Eighty? A hundred? No one here knew his name though he had been coming here longer than all of them. They just called him the Old Man. As Santos continued to follow him with his eyes, his gaze came across Seraline once again.

She was sitting alone now. Doggie must have gone to the john. Or out to get some more smokes. So lost was Santos in his rage that he hadn't even noticed him leave. The young woman was smoking absent-mindedly, one elbow resting on the counter, in a little puddle of scotch she must have spilled from her glass. It was her drink of choice.

Santos felt a mixture of disgust and lust when he looked at her. Her hair was a fake yellow. It stuck at her temples and hung limply down to her shoulder plates. Her face had a bloated look and greenish hue, like a pickle in a jar, and wrinkles had formed too soon around her lips, making her blood-red lipstick run like that of an old lady's. But she still had an amazing thirty -year-old's body, her sweater pulled tightly over a pair of perfect, supple breasts. No bra. And her naked legs, crossed under her plaid skirt, were moving to and fro, to an imaginary rhythm. Santos fantasized about putting his hand on their creamy smooth surface, working his way up from the ankle to the rounded knee, and even further north, to reveal what he secretly abhorred and desired.

By now he was a foolhardy drunk. So he stumbled off his stool and staggered over to the object of his desire, who didn't even bother to acknowledge his presence. Just kept on sucking on her cancer-stick and staring blankly at the T.V. screen up above. "Hey... Sera... Seraline," Santos started hesitantly. He paused. What could get her attention? "You need a refill?"

She turned her head, finally interested. "You got dough, squirt?"

"I ain't a squirt And I can prove it to ya Baby," he mumbled, as he put one trembling hand on top of her knee.

At first Seraline looked stunned. Santos wondered whether she was goning to slap him. In fact, he wished she would do so and put an end to this torture. He was unsure of what to do next and was beginning to have second thoughts.

And then, something came, which was a thousand times worse than a slap across the face. She began laughing at him. She was cackling really, like the old witch that she was. The other folks started snickering at the scene, especially as Doggie showed up, back from the john. "You trying to move in on my girl, squirt?" the burly construction worker exclaimed jokingly.

Santos was seeing red. Nobody would take him seriously. Well, he would prove to them he was more than a boy! He took his hand off Seraline's knee and raised two fists towards her companion. "You wanna take this outside, Doggie?"

It was now Doggie's turn to laugh. He was twice the height and weight of the scrawny kid before him. "Hey squirt, why don't you let me sit here and drink in peace. Come back when you grow a set, all right?"

Even Paulo was laughing now, momentarily distracted from his game. There was no choice now for Santos but to lower his fists and get back sheepishly to the other side of the bar, back on his own stool. He felt all the sting of the ridicule he had heaped upon himself. He knew he should have left this place and never come back. But where did he have to go? The prospect of his messy stinking trailer on the outskirts of the town was just too depressing to bear, even in the midst of his drunkenness. What he really wanted was one more beer.

* * * * *

The whistle went off and the coach screamed "Game Over!" A pack of little twelve-year-old boys in turquoise and gold uniforms cheered and started dispensing high-fives. Elias, cheeks were flush with all the excitement of winning, but added to it was the secret pleasure of knowing she was there in the stands, watching him run, jump, and score. She was the girl with the violet eyes and the dark braids, who sat to his right in homeroom. She was already quite the young lady, always prim and proper, with a deep, serious stare that contrasted with the fiery gleam Elias perceived in her eyes. He was too young to know what he was experiencing: his first crush. All he knew was that her hair smelled of lavender, and he never ever in his wildest dreams could imagine speaking to her.

In the locker room, the boys were showering and changing. There was much patting on the back and cries of victory still being bandied about. Elias had had a good day and he wasn't really looking forward to spending the rest of it at work, helping his dad out. Even though he loved his father, he wished just for once, he could join in some of the after-school fun that his other classmates were engaging in, like going to the mall, or the arcade. But he dutifully finished putting on his clothes, and with his schoolbag in tow, he started the long walk to the store.

His father was behind the counter, reading the newspaper, a frown on his face. But his face brightened at the sound of Elias, greeting. He came around the store counter and gave a hug to his only son, the apple of his eye.

-- "Dad, today we had a pop quiz and it was on history so all the kids were like ooohhh noooo and..."

Elias continued with the same frantic pace to describe all the events of his school day, up to the winning game. But he never mentioned the girl once. His father smiled. He had recently intercepted certain glances from his son on the rare occasions when he could get away and come pick Elias up at school, and he had a pretty good idea that the little, serious looking girl with eyes like two bright stars held a special meaning in his son's life. But in his wisdom, he would just remain quiet until it was the right time. His son would come to him on his own, and when he did, he would be ready to teach him the best lessons he could to smooth over the rough bumps that life had in store for him.

-- "Dad, can I stand behind the counter today?"

His father was hesitant at first. But there were lots of heavy boxes to unpack in the back and he had no help today. Perhaps this would be a good idea. And he would be just a few paces away.

-- "All right son, but mind you keep your focus on the customers, and not on your comic books."

Elias happily hopped over the counter and started swiping it vigorously, as if to demonstrate his good will. His father smiled at this image then disappeared into the back room. As soon as he did so, Elias slowed down the intensity of his swiping then stopped altogether. After a few moments of silence, when he was sure the coast was clear, he slowly opened his schoolbag from which he retrieved, handling them like they were Fabergé eggs, a pair of crisp new X-Men comic books, freshly exchanged at school against his mother's very popular Nutella sandwich.

* * * * *

Normally Paulo would have stopped serving him much earlier but he was too caught up in the now disastrous score of the game and the accompanying dark thoughts about his bookie, to keep track of the monstrous amount of alcohol Santos had imbibed so far. The angry young man felt he was on some strange planet now. The walls were spinning around him. When he glanced at his drinking buddies around him, their bodies kept contorting like snakes, changing shades. He was not sure he could distinguish the Old Man from Doggie, or Seraline from the Maggot anymore. From the TV screen, he heard words, but he had trouble putting them together in a string to make sense of them. By the time he had reached the end of one sentence, he had forgotten what the beginning was.

Suddenly, Paulo cursed, louder and angrier than before. Had the game finally ended? No... That wasn't it... Something was going on... Some weird musical notes, a melody of impeding doom or urgency. It was the news broadcast. "Now what the kinda emergency news flash do they wanna interrupt my game for? Bastards!" growled Paulo.

But with the first words of the news anchorman, he quieted down. In fact, the other patrons also turned their attention to the screen. Santos tried to decipher the words as best as he could in his state. At first he thought he was too drunk to understand. The anchor man was describing something that was simply impossible. It could not be true, could it? But glancing at the people around him, including Seraline who had started to sob uncontrollably, her mascara running in dark rivers under her eyes, he knew that the horror he was hearing was the truth.

The Prime Minister had been assassinated while on an official visit overseas. Someone had walked right up to him from the crowd, to his convertible car, and shot him in the face. The murderer had screamed out "Death to Oppression" as he shot the charismatic young Prime Minister to smithereens. The blood and brains had splattered all over his children, aged nine and six, sitting terrified beside him in the diplomatic car.

This was unbelievable, a nightmare. The young, bright, handsome Prime Minister! He represented the best of Santos, country. He gave him pride and self-respect, the feeling that his homeland was the best in the world. And now assassinated? Butchered? By a foreign pig! Like the foreign pig that had fired him this morning! For the first time, Santos felt a kinship with the Prime Minister. They both had suffered at the hands of those bastards! And amazingly, the alcohol-induced torpor that had invaded his brain seemed finally to lift. His thoughts came into sharp focus. Raging focus.

Santos knew what had to be done. The pig who had fired him was going to pay for what his countryman did, all the way across the ocean. Instead of feeling brood and despair, like the rest of the bar patrons around him, Santos felt elation. He now had a purpose in his life and once he accomplished that purpose, he would finally prove to them all, to Doggie, to Paulo, to Seraline, to all of his countrymen, that he was not a little boy, a squirt. He was a hero.

He pushed the doors of the Oak Lounge open and hopped into his pick up truck.

* * * * *

Elias, deeply engrossed in his X-men comic book, had turned the knob of the store radio down to almost imperceptible volume. He did not pay attention to the frantic broadcast emanating feebly from the speakers. In the back room, his father was humming a strange sounding song, probably from the old country.

The sound of the door being slammed open finally tore Elias from the world of his superheroes but it wasn't until the customer came near the counter that the little boy noticed the shotgun in his hand.

"GOD BLESS..." Santos screamed the name of his country before blasting away the "enemy".

* * * * *

The trial was swift. A nationalist political party which had ran unsuccessfully in the previous election on a platform of xenophobia and family values hired the whitest-teethed lawyer they could find to defend Santos. The verdict was unanimous: Not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, due to the understandable traumatic shock of the Prime Minister's assassination.

Elias's father, sitting in the front row of the courtroom, wept audibly as he looked at the jury of his peers handing down the verdict. But the mother sat stone-faced. Her face was like a tightly pulled mask, white as chalk, from which no movement could be detected. Her eyes were dead, her lips tightly shut. It was only at the end of the trial that she gave her first visible sign of life. As the murderer of her son walked by her, free of all chains, she looked up and smiled at him.

* * * * *

One year later, as Santos was walking out of his trailer, more bloated and smelly than ever, he noticed a familiar looking woman accompanied by a magnificent purebred German Shepherd. They had emerged suddenly from the shadows, like ghosts. The visitors approached him confidently and Santos was in the process of bending down to pet the dog when its owner suddenly shouted:

"Kill, puppy, kill! That's right... Good dog!"

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