GEOFFREY CRAIG - ONE-EYED MAN
Geoffrey Craig’s fiction, poetry and drama have appeared in numerous literary journals, including the New Plains Review, Calliope, Foliate Oak, Spring – the Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society, The MacGuffin, The Louisville Review, River Poets Journal and Scarlet Leaf Review. He has received two Pushcart Prize nominations.
In January 2016, Prolific Press published his novel, Scudder’s Gorge. Previously, Wilderness House Literary Review had serialized both his verse novel, The Brave Maiden, and his novella, Snow.
Four of his full-length plays (one co-authored) and ten of his one-acts have been produced. He has directed productions of eight of his plays.
Geoffrey has a BA (Colgate), an MBA (Harvard) and an MA in history (Santa Clara). He served in the Peace Corps in Peru and had a successful career in banking before turning to writing.
En el pais de los ciegos, el tuerto es el rey.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
He left behind a wife and two young children in his village in Michoacan. In the Hudson Valley, he shared a two-bedroom apartment with four other Latinos in a river town that had seen better days. In the two years since he had left Mexico, he had sent his wife eight thousand dollars. They would open a store when he returned. He wrote twice a week and lay on his narrow bed to read her replies.
He had left the village once before: to go by bus to Mexico City where he got a job with a construction company that built mansions for the newly rich. He learned to shingle roofs and met Marta, a pretty young woman with a head on her shoulders whom he married as fast as a rattler strikes. Used to a mud-walled shack, he hardly believed they could afford a small apartment in a modern building with running water. He didn’t at all mind working weekends as a gardener to make ends meet. They had a son with another child on the way when, perched on a roof, his staple gun jammed. He brushed away the sweat that stung his eyes and turned the gun over. The mechanism freed and shot a staple into his left eye. Blood streamed from the eye. A fellow worker wrapped a soiled cloth around his head, and the foreman sent him to the hospital. The next day, the company fired him. He returned to his village and set himself up as a carpenter, but work was scarce. He built a shack behind his parents’ house. Chickens scratched in the dirt, and a pig wallowed alongside a rusting wire fence. His daughter was born in the shack. He could not afford the midwife, but his sister helped out.
He arrived in Blue Heron Lake with the name Pedro Sanchez written on a slip of paper. A Salvadorian had given it to him in the restaurant in Mississippi where he had washed dishes for five months. Carrying his one suitcase, he walked from the bus depot towards the center of town keeping an eye out for cops. He had ridden the bus for three days, and his mouth felt gritty and sour. He shivered as the March wind cut through his light jacket. He looked longingly at a McDonald’s but kept going. The clapboard houses looked tired, and he wondered if there would really be work or if the guy in Mississippi had been full of it. But he hadn’t been able to save much money washing dishes, and he had heard there were lots of Latinos in the Hudson Valley. That would lessen his chances of getting caught and deported.
Two kids shooting hoops in a driveway stared at him. His blind eye had the glassy look of a dead fish’s eyeball. Whether it was the eye or not, he didn’t like the way American kids looked at him. A few blocks further on, he came to a store with “La Bodega” printed in large letters on the plate glass window. Three round tables occupied a space in front of a counter while four aisles of tightlypacked shelves filled the rest of the store. Two elderly men drank coffee in small cups and talked to a young, solidly-built woman behind the counter. She leaned her elbows on the top of the glass case which was crammed with cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar.
The conversation stopped when he entered. He set down the suitcase. He glanced at the cookies, nodded to the men and spoke in a deferential voice to the woman:
“ Buenos dias, señorita. I am looking for a Pedro Sanchez. Can you tell me where I can find...
“As it’s Saturday, I imagine you can find him at The Black Dog although it might be a little early even for that son-of-a-bitch to be drinking.” She looked him over. “I’ll run you down when I close.”
“That’s kind of you.”
“Would you like a cup of coffee and a cookie? On the house.” He hesitated.
“Sit down. I’ll bring it to you.”
He sat at the farthest table and pulled a book from his pocket. She brought over the coffee and two cookies and glanced at the book.
“English. That’s a surprise. What’s your name?”
“Is there a last name?”
“Not for the moment.”
When Ramona dropped him at The Black Dog, she said: “Tell that bastard to go to hell.”
Pedro got him a job with the roofing company where he and two other Salvadorians worked. The company had no qualms about taking him on.
“Unless he loses the other damn eye,” said the owner.
Pedro also fixed him up with a bed in his cramped apartment. The building was dilapidated even by Huron Lake standards. The spreading maple out front was the only reminder of the time when it was a well-kept, single-family home. Miguel’s roommates called the neighborhood, “El Culo” or “The Asshole”. For hard workers, and harder drinkers, the four men kept the place surprisingly neat. Miguel made five, two in one bedroom and three in his. He had a drawer in a sagging bureau and a bed. A galley kitchen and a living room, with a swaybacked sofa, folding chairs and a television, completed the apartment. The shower dripped.
A painting hung on a wall in the living room: a religious procession in a village with snow-capped mountains in the background. A cassocked priest, swinging a smoking censer, led the procession. Two bare-headed peasants followed, carrying a heavy cross. Most of the crowd had their heads bowed, but a few stared boldly in the direction of the unseen painter. One gnarled, old peasant grinned as if he were in on a private joke.
He spent the spring and early summer tacking down roof shingles. On Saturdays, he found odd gardening jobs in the town’s few upscale neighborhoods. On Sundays, he read and went for walks. His favorite ran through pine woods and dropped down a ravine, ending at the estuary upstream from a defunct marina. He occasionally stopped by Ramona’s to talk and play with her two young kids.
On the odd Saturday night, he went with his roommates to The Black Dog. He had one beer and would dance if one of the young women who frequented the bar asked him. He was tall with straight black hair and high cheek bones. His bad eye and reserve were part of the allure, but he never went beyond dancing.
Pedro told him the women had money on who would get lucky.
“You could have any one you wanted.”
“Why can’t I lose an eye?” Pedro laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. “By the way, the foreman says you’re the hardest working Latino he’s ever seen. You want to watch that.”
In July, he went to a Sunday picnic sponsored by the Women’s Guild of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. Bounded by the river, a dry creek strewn with boulders and scruffy woods, the park’s facilities included a baseball diamond, soccer field, open-air pavilion, playground and swimming pool. The Guild women had baked pies, cakes and cookies while the local Ecuadorian restaurant sold rice with chicken, skewers of grilled shrimp and lengths of sizzling sausage. The local Coke distributor had sent over a truck full of cases of Coke and bottled water. A part of the proceeds would go to a shelter. Children’s activities ranging from magnet fishing to face painting were held in the playground.
Coming on Ramona and her kids, he hefted Emilio into the air. The fouryear-old squealed and clapped his hands. “Me too,” screamed Marisol, his yearyounger sister. They headed towards the playground. Emilio raced to the jungle gym and started climbing. Marisol stayed behind, holding his hand.
“Go play” Ramona said to her, and she dashed off.
“They really like you,” Ramona said.
“Hey Miguel,” called Paco, one of his roommates, beckoning him to a group of men and a woman who were warming up with a soccer ball. “Have fun,” said Ramona and touched his arm. She moved like a cat, and her black hair swept over her broad shoulders and down her ample back. He had grown up playing soccer. His blind eye forced him to swing his head, but he was quick and agile. He found himself playing opposite the woman. She was lean with muscled calves. He was amazed at her ball handling. She cut around a forward and headed towards him. He challenged her. She took the ball to the outside, and he blocked her. She cut back. He stayed with her; and she passed off.
“You’re good,” he said.
“You mean for a woman?”
“So are you.”
A friendly rivalry developed between them. At one point, she received a pass; and he was moving towards her when a burly player named Carlos slide tackled her from the rear and sent her sprawling into the grass. Miguel helped her up.
“Are you okay?”
“I think so.”
Carlos stood there smirking.
“Why did you have to do that?”
“If she wants to play, she better learn to take it.”
Miguel hit Carlos hard in the stomach. With a gasp, Carlos bent forward. Miguel shoved him, and Carlos staggered backwards into the arms of another player.
“So had you, amigo.”
For the rest of the game, Miguel watched Carlos. With only a minute left, the left wing on the opposing team took the ball down the side, got around the defending fullback and sent a high pass towards the center. The woman, who had raced downfield parallel to the wing, rose like a rocket and pivoting, headed the ball over the goalie’s outstretched arms into an upper corner. Miguel couldn’t remember when he had last seen a goal that good.
“My name’s Gwen,” she said, coming up to him after the game. “What’s yours?”
“Thanks for standing up for me. I’m sorry it came to that.”
“Some men have a hard time adjusting to a new world.”
“What happened to your eye?”
No one in Mexico was ever that direct.
“An accident – long time ago: a staple shot into my eye.”
“Hasn’t hurt your soccer.”
Ramona approached with Emilio and Marisol.
“Ramona, this is Gwen.”
“How was the game?” Ramona gave Gwen a hard look.
“Gwen scored the winning goal with an incredible header.”
“How nice.” Ramona gave Gwen a harder look. “What brings you to town?”
“My boy friend’s family lives nearby.”
Ramona’s voice softened.
“Nice to meet you,” she said.
Miguel, Ramona and the kids filled plates at the buffet and sat at a picnic table under a spreading maple. The breeze off the river dried his sweat-soaked tee shirt. After finishing his rice and chicken, he grinned at Emilio.
“Want to go swimming?” “Yes,” Emilio shouted.
“Me too,” laughed Marisol.
“Finish eating first,” said Ramona. “Both of you.”
He splashed Emilio and Marisol in the kiddy pool and then took each of them in turn into the shallow end of the big pool. He supported them under their bellies while they kicked madly and flailed their arms. Ramona sat swishing her legs in the water and then jumped in to cruise around.
When Ramona took the kids to play with friends, he found a quiet spot under a tree. He read and occasionally watched Emilio and Marisol playing with friends.
“A year and a half since I’ve seen Marta and the kids,” he thought. “Maybe
I’ll have saved enough in another year.”
Carlos and two other men left the pavilion. Carlos noticed him and started in his direction. The other men held him back. “He lost his eye in a knife fight ... that he won.”
Miguel smiled, leaned his head against the tree and dozed off - coming to with a start as cold water splashed on his head and ran down his face. Pedro laughed like a hyena.
“Time to wake up, pal.”
“Did you have to soak me?”
“Too good to resist. We’re out of here. Of course, if you want to stay,
Ramona will give you a ride. She’s been dying to, but you’d better hang on tight. She gives a hell of a ride.”
Miguel scrambled to his feet.
“Listen my friend, I owe you but watch it. I’ve got a wife and kids back home.”
“And I like Ramona.”
He started for Pedro but stopped, shrugged and walked away.
“Sure,” said Ramona. “You can help me get the kids down for a nap, seeing as you got them all worked up.”
Ramona had the second floor of a two-unit house. Her parents and younger sister lived downstairs. Leaving two older children behind, the family had come from Nicaragua ten years ago when Ramona was sixteen. Her father, who had been an accountant in Nicaragua, worked as a clerk in a hardware store. Her mother, formerly a history teacher, was an administrative assistant at the elementary school. Ramona’s husband had disappeared shortly after Marisol was born. Last year, the whole family became U.S. citizens. They celebrated with a barbecue in the backyard.
With the kids down, Ramona put on a CD.
“I don’t think a cannon would wake them now.” She put her hands on his shoulders. “Dance with me.” They danced for one song, and then he stopped.
“Coffee?” she asked. “Or something stronger?”
She set the tray on the table in front of the blue leatherette couch. She sat next to him and served. They drank silently. She lifted her thick hair off her forehead and touched his hand.
“My kids adore you.”
“They’re wonderful kids. It’s a shame about your husband.”
“Better that he’s gone. I married much too young. My choice of men has not been too good...”
“Especially Pedro. I was lonely. All he wanted was to screw a girl with big … you know.”
“I can imagine.”
“My judgment about men has not been good ... until now.” She put her arms around his neck and kissed him. He pulled back. “Do you not find me attractive?”
“You are very attractive and a charming woman.”
“I’m married, as you know.”
“You could get a divorce. If we got married, you would get a green card.
What’s in Mexico besides your wife and kids?” “That’s enough.”
“You could keep sending them money. You wouldn’t be the only man here with two families.”
“You would be easy to love, Ramona; and Emilio and Marisol are great. But I miss my wife and kids more than my life, and I’m going back to Mexico as soon as I’ve saved enough. I’m sorry.”
“We could just be lovers then. How long has it been for you?”
“Long enough that waiting a while longer will make no difference.” “You are some man,” she said. She kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Your wife is very fortunate.”
He continued working through the rest of the summer and the fall; but except for a skeleton crew to handle emergencies, the company shut down at the end of November. The foreman told him to come back in the spring. By this time, he had sent Marta six thousand dollars. During the winter, he shoveled snow and did odd jobs; but despite the heaviest snowfall in years, he was down to five hundred dollars at the end of February and had sent no money home since the fall.
The roofing company began operations again in March. By late June, he had managed to send Marta another two thousand dollars but was again down to five hundred when he fell off a roof on a day of brilliant sunshine and scudding clouds. They were doing repairs at an older condominium development. He was getting ready to climb up the ladder when a worker who was already on the roof shouted that he was coming down to take a pee. He was the slowest man on the crew. Miguel shook his head, stepped away from the ladder and waited in the shade under the eave. The man glanced around and then quickly bent over as if looking for something. Then he edged down the steep roof and backed down the ladder.
Miguel started working where the other man had left off. He picked up a shingle and, stooping to hammer it in place, slipped on a loose piece of slate. He dropped to his knees, which might have saved him except that one knee landed in a shallow box of tiles. The box slid, and he tumbled to the side. Clawing at the roof, he careened backwards and dropped over the edge. His right leg hit the ground first and buckled.
The doctor who fitted the cast on his leg said he was lucky the fracture wasn’t worse but he still couldn’t work the rest of the season. He swung on his crutches out to the hospital parking lot where Pedro was waiting. The foreman told him he could come back spring. The cast came off in late September. Not even able to do odd jobs, he had ran out of money by then. Pedro said sorry but he would have to leave the apartment. Ramona carried his suitcase to her car in the pouring rain while he hobbled behind her using a cane. “Son of a whore,” she hissed in Pedro’s general direction.
He slept on her couch. Emilio and Marisol were thrilled. He played games with them and read them stories in both Spanish and English. Ramona watched them from the kitchen door, smiling hopefully. When she went to bed, she kissed him on the cheek. For almost a week, it rained every day. He read or looked out the window at the small backyard with its beds of purple and gold pansies. Ramona’s parents stopped by to talk. During breaks in the rain, he went for walks. He stopped by the library once and asked the librarian to show him how to use the computer after which he spent an hour searching the Internet.
“What are you looking for?” the librarian asked.
“What kind of information?”
On another walk, he stopped at a hardware store to buy tools. One night, after he had been at Ramona’s for almost two weeks, he told her that he wanted some air. A light breeze cooled his damp face as he walked down Franklin. He hadn’t taken the cane and stopped to rest under a street lamp. Two young girls glanced quickly at him before hurrying on.
“Do I look dangerous?” he asked himself. He made the sign of the cross and prayed for luck.
He put a letter in a mail box. He stopped in front of Buehler’s Jewelry Store and gazed briefly in the window at a gold necklace with a turquoise pendant. He glanced quickly up and down the street and then moved to the door.
He tested the handle and then took a heavy screwdriver from his pants pocket. He jimmied the lock and pushed. The door wouldn’t budge. He checked the street again and, taking a glass cutter from another pocket, incised a circle on the frosted glass that formed the upper half of the door. He gently tapped; and a circle of glass fell inwards. He reached in, slid back the dead bolt and opened the door. He stepped inside and smiled when he saw the glowing dot of red light high in a far corner. The alarm was where he expected it to be.
With light filtering in from the street, he made his way to a glass case. He could make out bracelets, necklaces and rings. He laid the screw driver and glass cutter on top of the case. He felt sorry about the damage he had done to the door, but there was no other way. With a small flashlight, he studied the contents of the case.
He looked up as he heard a car door slam. A powerful beam of light found him. He had to restrain a smile.
“Stay right where you are,” a sharp voice commanded.
The light shone in his eyes. He blinked. Both cops aimed their guns at him. “Very slowly, raise your hands. If you make a single move, we’ll blow your fucking head off.”
He did as he was told. One of the cops holstered his pistol and cautiously approached him while the other kept him covered. The cop cuffed his hands behind his back. The cop guided him out the door to the waiting squad car. At the station, as they poured themselves coffee, the cops laughed.
“These assholes are so stupid,” said one. “Haven’t they heard of silent alarms?”
As always, Marta felt a buzz of excitement when she opened his letter.
Every day my leg feels stronger. It is still not perfect, but I can manage without the cane. I am glad to hear that Pepe is continuing to improve at soccer and that Rosaria is studying hard. The last picture you sent is wonderful. Rosaria is so pretty. Like her mother. I will not be able to earn more money here until next spring, and I cannot wait that long to see you. Nor can I continue to live on Ramona’s kindness. We have saved enough to open our store if we’re careful so I’m coming home. I will probably serve some time; but with luck, I’ll be deported in a few months.
Your loving husband,
Miguel was represented by the public defender. He was deported after serving three months time.