By E. P. Tuazon
“It’s not too difficult to make something like this happen, don’t you think?” Edwin asks me, and I say he should know since he’d gone and already done it. We’re through several pints at a brewery in their outdoor patio area looking out at some train tracks running parallel and, beyond that, the city where we’re from. They ring a bell when the train comes by, “they” being the employees: the servers and the barbacks and the brewers. The rumbling happens, then the whistle, then the dusty gust and heaping force that wants to pick up everything like it’s got teeth, like it has a mouth to swallow the landscape whole and chew.
When the train comes, they stop what they’re doing and they ring these bells they got all around the walls. Customers aren’t supposed to touch them. Only they can. When you hear it, and your sitting on the outside, you gotta hunker down, less you want to ruin what you paid for. You don’t listen to the bells then you only got yourself to blame.
Edwin’s made twenty-grand marrying a twenty-something-year-old ex-beauty queen from the Philippines for a green card. I can’t believe he’s done it, but he has. I fight the urge to call it a miracle because it’s not. It’s just fooling to be, like a fly trap fools to be anything but.
What’s the opposite of a miracle, I ask him.
“Why?” He asks back, grinding his teeth at the end of his IPA.
I tell him it’s because whatever it is was what he’s done. He’s performed something as fantastical although in the opposite sense. Less like turning water into wine and more like dumb luck, like stepping off a cliff and walking straight across just because you didn’t look down. Dumb, magical, luck.
“That’s not nice, and it’s not magic, asshole. It’s fair. It’s an exchange.” He’s still got his phone open to her picture on the table. She’s surrounded by our empty glasses in scrubs and patients. She’s not a beauty queen anymore, but everyone’s still got stupid grins on about her. There’s more to her. She’s gone to medical school. Done the certification. Could’ve been a doctor except she had an easier time getting certified as a nurse in the States.
She’s too smart and too beautiful for him, I tell Edwin, it’s like she’s trading her hands for gloves, her feet for shoes. She should stay where she is. Why America?
“I’m not asking you to ask questions. I’m asking you for answers.” Edwin says, swiping her picture off the screen and disappearing the smiles. “But you’re one to talk. You were born here. You don’t know what it’s like. People over there in the poor provinces like where she and I are from don’t have anything to lose. That’s a dangerous way to live. Sure, there’s freedom, but freedom’s just pacing back and forth in one place. Everyone dreams of getting out of there, of being more.”
Edwin’s words strike a nerve. He knows what I told him about my mother. How age shed the right mind from her until all she did was pace from one end of her convalescent home to the other. There was peace on her face except when you tried to get her to do anything else like eat or use the bathroom or sleep.
If I could become him, I start, and he could become me, that would be something, but I didn’t finish my sentence. There was more to it at the end I was swallowing with the rest of my lager.
“If you were me, you’d still be over there.” Edwin says, sunlight blinking off our glasses as a cars pass, “If I was you, nothing would’ve changed. I would’ve still been in the same place as you are now, and that’s the difference.”
I ask Edwin what else he could give her that she hasn’t already paid for and he starts flagging down the server like we’re lost at sea, like his life depends on it. She comes by and she’s already picking up our empties before he can ask what he wants.
“Can we get another round?” Edwin says and she sputters a “got it”, already at another table.
I repeat my question but he starts to answering it before I can finish. “She has to stay married to me at least a year. That’s how these things go. In the meantime, we have to build a portfolio to share with immigration to prove we’re legit. We go on trips, parties with the family, shopping, the works. Take a ton of pictures, build a story. That’s where the romancing happens. That’s where I can win her over.”
I tell him I don’t know, but it sounds risky. I tell him that if he forces too many things in that portfolio it might look suspicious. Like if you dye your hair a certain color too thoroughly it doesn’t look natural. If anything, it’s just telling people, especially the ones who aren’t looking, you got something to hide.
“There’s no great gain without great risk.” He says, but I tell him his gain is his risk. I bring up Uncanny Valley and Occam’s Razor and all the reasons not to be perfect, not to want more, not to pursue miracles, when the rattling brims and the bells ring. Everyone outside takes hold of their glasses but our table is barren. In one swoop, the hunk of iron bellows and screams, glasses upturning, beers spilling, people losing. And, at the end of it, the aftermath is the same as it was before. The train goes from point A to point B before where we are and where we come from, before the mountains and the valleys and the sharp horizons sunk beyond our reach.
E. P. Tuazon is a Filipinx-American writer from Los Angeles. He has published his works in several publications and has two books, The Superlative Horse and The Last of The Lupins: Nine Stories and The Comforters. He is currently a member of Advintage Press and The Blank Page Writing Club. In his spare time, he likes to wander the seafood section of Filipinx markets to gossip with the crabs.
Art by Michelle Johnsen, art editor
Michelle Johnsen is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine, EcoWatch.com, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by AP, weather.com, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at] gmail.com.