They’re calling it the storm of the decade. That’s what everyone is calling it. News anchors, weather men in their near twenty-four-hour coverage, the people who are filing into the restaurant right now. Storm of the decade. I can see why, too. Last night at work, me and Jared saw a tree get torn down across the street by the sheer anger of the wind.
‘And people say climate change isn’t a thing,’ said Jared, shaking his head. ’91 two days ago and now it’s hailing. If this keeps up, we’ll have snow for Christmas.’
That wasn’t the only tree felled last night. Apparently, half a dozen cars were destroyed by falling trees and branches. Roofs were caved in. Lawns mauled by hail, streets still currently flooded. The intersection at Pacific Coast Highway has been closed off until they can remove the excess water, though how they’re going to do it is definitely a mystery to me.
It’s still raining today and has been since the early morning. It cleared up a little bit just around noon; it gave me enough time to walk Galadriel (Dee brought home little rain boots for her paws so that they don’t get too wet in the rain and they are the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen in my life), and after we were done, it started lightly drizzling; it was only until I got to work that it really started pouring down, as though the gods had reopened the floodgates of the heavens again, ready to birth a world anew.
Even at work, while I’m absentmindedly polishing glasses, I feel as though the weather has me unfocused, slightly erratic, like I’m hungover. As though I’m functioning mostly on autopilot. Maybe all I need is a cup of coffee, I think, as I reach for a mug.
‘Table two is ready for another round of drinks,’ I can hear Jared call out, shattering my thoughts instantly. I feel as though I’ve been doused with cold water, but I nod, looking up at the table, two girls drinking the pinot noir we serve by the glass, light, supple, drinkable, with hardly any dryness or sweetness at all. Maybe that’s why we serve it for happy hour. I head over with two carafes, filled with six ounces of the wine in each, and smile at them as I refill their glasses.
‘How is everything going?’ I ask, kindly. They seem full of anxiety, of anticipation, of perhaps failed hopes and aspirations. As I bend to pour the last drop into the slightly weighty, red-haired girl’s glass of wine, she sighs, and rests her chin in her hand.
‘Terrible,’ she says, monotonously. She sighs, and for a moment, I can see a dull, blue tinge accent her movements. It’s gone when I blink. ‘We’re supposed to be in Aruba right now and our flights have been cancelled because of the rain.’
I feel a pang of sadness for them; I too know the feeling that a cancelled flight brings. ‘That’s so sad, I’m so sorry to hear that,’ I say, honestly. I look to the other girl, dark-haired, with a flat face, her eyes a little glazed, perhaps from this being her fourth glass of wine. ‘When do you suppose that you’ll be able to fly out?’
‘By Monday,’ says the dark-haired girl. ‘So much for winter break.’
I sigh, looking up and staring out the window. The sky is dark, the rain falling in thick chords, the wind screeching with a ferocity that shoots the rain like missiles to the left and to the right, giving it the illusion that the rain is falling sideways. And then, flashbacks, like a rapid-cut montage of images from a movie reel, flipping back to the days when I was younger and living in a tiny, cramped apartment with my Abuelita in South Central Los Angeles; sweltering summers, melting onto the cracked and diesel stained sidewalks, kiddie pools during the day and gunfire at night, Abuelita burning lavender and cedar while we sleep so that in our dreams we imagine the gunfire to be fireworks bursting in the air, cutting the dark sky with something that looks like the Northern Lights…
Candles and crystals on shelves in her Botanica down below us, filled with books of forbidden knowledge and obscure lore lining the walls, crystal mason jars of herbs, little hand-sewn bags of good-luck charms and protection…stories of her native village outside of Bluefields in Nicaragua, where she learned about palms and runes and the ancient myths of our people, the Maya…and once or twice, an age old ritual to calm and temper the wind, to please the Juracan, to tempt him away from vengeance and destruction…
For a moment, I was lost in my thoughts, trying my hardest to remember that ritual, the only way to invoke the wind without a mere petty offering to him in the form of coins and dollar bills and cornmeal…but I cannot remember, and I sigh, blinking. The images are gone and I am back at the restaurant, standing by the window, idle.
I wish I could do something to help. If only…
‘Lucas!’ The thoughts are banished once more, this time by the harshness in Jared’s tone. ‘I’m not working alone today; can you greet the people who sat at the bar?’
I sigh, turning around, and offering the sincerest of smiles to the two ladies I was talking to. ‘Good luck with Aruba,’ I say. At first, I am sorry I couldn’t help. But then, I remember: it’s only a game.
I was still half running in the maze of my own thoughts when it came time to close the restaurant. As much as I tried to fight it, images of forgotten games, of smoke rising and chalk circles, of naguals and little dances we’d perform, me and Abuelita, her berry black eyes alive with the fires of another world, her wide smile, her dark, short, curly hair smelling of sandalwood and cinnamon, hands clapping to the rhythm of a sometimes imaginary, sometimes real beat. All those games, fun, insignificant, very real at one point in time – and then?
Mother married a Catholic. And then everything became a game.
Apparently, I was so absentminded while these thoughts were swimming in my head that even Jared, who I’ve come to understand is perhaps one of the least empathetic people I’ve ever met (perhaps because he genuinely is unaware or he just genuinely doesn’t care to become aware, who knows), even asked if I was okay.
“I’m fine,” I told him after he asked, and he shrugged to himself.
“Just wondering. You’re awfully quiet.”
I left the restaurant at about a quarter ‘til midnight but when I walked outside, the wind was warm and inviting; the storm had dissipated. For now. I could see a rim of clouds encircling the city, almost perched above the mountain range that formed the LA basin in the distance. How anticlimactic, I thought, as I sighed, feeling the wind in my hair and my clothes. I didn’t feel quite like going home just yet so I decided to take a stroll. I had forgotten just how nice it was to take a walk on a wintry night in Southern California. The breeze fresh against your face, the smell of the sea hanging thick and low in the streets; the feeling was almost as though lightning had struck, everything was charged with a sort of magic, an energy that radiated out of the air, as though life’s impossibilities were becoming possible after all.
I guess I had been walking for a while because when I looked at the time, it was a minute to midnight. And then, as I looked up, I turned to my left, where I found myself standing outside of a bar called The Pub. I hesitated. Why?
I don’t know. It wasn’t particularly inviting. The neon red and blue lighting wasn’t revolutionary, the darkened windows did little to reflect the inside of the establishment, the walls were a particularly dirty beige that looked grey in the moonlight.
And yet…I entered. Something about it drew me to enter. I pushed past the door and was greeted by sticky floors and the stale stench of beer and when I looked at the bartender, I knew instantly why the air outside was charged with lightning.
“Heya stranger,” he says to me, sticking pint glasses into the fridge. “Long time no see.”
I smile. Of course this happened, of course I would wander in here. I had not forgotten about him, you see; in between being lost in memories of living with Abuelita, Noah had resurfaced in my head intermittently. Of course, whenever he’d show up, it was usually followed with a feeling of regret. When I met him at the Library Café, our encounter was shorter than I would’ve liked; he had to run to work and so did I.
‘I’ll see you again, though, right?’ I remember asking him, as we both stood up. Lightning cackled outside, and the winds began picking up.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ he said, adjusting his mustard yellow beanie. ‘I’ll come visit you at your restaurant. Come visit me at the bar, though, okay?’
He leaned in, gave me a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. And then he was gone, leaving behind the faint scent of Irish Spring bar soap and oranges in his wake. And before I could stop him, I realized too late that he had not told me what bar he worked, had not given me any contact information. He was gone, and I wondered if I would ever see him again.
The fates had a different idea, though. There he was, standing in front of me, badly illuminated by the dim neon lighting, his voice barely audible underneath the blaring music mix of Britney Spears and Madonna and Kylie Minogue. Somewhere out in the universe, a pin dropped, and three ancient crones cowered around a golden thread, spinning it and weaving it, until they managed to plot this specific trajectory. Maybe this wasn’t fate, but it sure seemed a lot more romantic that way.
“I didn’t know you worked at this bar,” I tell him, smiling.
He shrugs, pushing up his glasses. “Now you do,” he smiles, giving me a wink. “So. What can I get our resident gypsy?”
Gypsy. There was a word that made me feel very uncomfortable. Gypsy. Like I was one of the Romani people, tortured, chased off, spat on, discriminated against, forced to flee not with the turn of a card or a black cat crossing but from pitchforks and torches, taking off in their caravans the moment a whiff of a malevolent omen is made present, forging passports and visas, stowing away on boats and trains, conducting parlor tricks in Piazza del Duomo, or playing the latter half of An Irish Party in Third Class on accordions behind the Basilique de Sacre Coeur, selling beads and stones on Canal Street…the life of a gypsy is romanticized and demonized to the point of almost no return. Tent people. River people. Untrusted street rats, Zingaro, Gitano, Siopsach…the many preset notions of what it means to be a Gypsy. I’ve met them before on my travels with the wind. Kind, sweet people, hustling for a better life, squeezing pennies to make dollars. Quick-witted, independently educated, wholesome people, longing for a home. A gypsy boy taught me how to count cards when playing poker and blackjack in Milan. A woman in Prague once told me if I needed to pitch a tent to do so next to a holly tree, for it brings the good fortune of the Holly King.
But still, I was named one. Zingaro. Gitano. Siopsach. I may have lived like one, but I am not a member of the Roma people. Most people forget that the term ‘gypsy’ doesn’t refer to someone who suffers from wanderlust and the need for archetypal adventures, but rather deals with an entire community, fragmented, broken, cut to pieces, scattered to the wind…not unlike my people. Most people forget we exist too. Ninos del Viento, Children of the Wind, followers of the Juracan. The Romani aren’t the only ones who follow him.
Of course, the name of the god changes. Zeus, Chaac, Vayu, Murat, Aos Si, Pazuzu. Deities of a more ancient world, a simple one. A forgotten world, now with the new gods, Yahweh, Allah, the LORD, Jesus, prevailing far and wide throughout the lands.
I realized I hadn’t answered in more than a few seconds and I looked at him, smiling. “Child of the Wind is more like it,” I said.
His chocolate brown eyes lit up mischievously. “Child of the Wind,” he repeated, his small, half-smile growing. “I like it.”
The more I looked at him the more I felt a familiar warmth in the pit of my sternum, my torso, my chest. We were locked in a moment, in battle, over who would cave first, who would ask that fateful question, the Knight of Swords versus the Knight of Wands, with the people in the bar screaming and clapping and watching, throwing confetti and making bets, all being entertained, wondering over and over in their minds, who will prevail?
I decided that the climax would not be at that moment, so I ordered a Jameson on the rocks and we talked in between him serving other patrons of the bar. Much of what I had suspected about him was confirmed in conversation; he was thrown out of home in Newport Beach, where he grew up, when he graduated from high school, worked in modeling for a little less than a year until he quit at the absurdity and the ill treatment he received. Moved first to West Hollywood with a few friends, but as some friendships fall apart unless they’re forged from the fires of Mount Doom, he decided to move to Playa de Oro.
‘So, now you live here?’ I ask as he poured two shots; one for each of us.
Again, he shrugs, his smile full of mischief and trouble. ‘I’m working on it,’ he says, slyly, before raising his shot glass to me. ‘Alright, cheers.’
‘Wait, to what?’ I ask. ‘It’s bad luck to cheers without giving thanks for something.’
A few seats down the bar counter is a man, impatiently drumming his nails, coated in black nail polish, matching his lipstick and fingerless gloves, before he sighs. He’s balding, I can tell from even beneath his hat, and for some strange reason, the air around him seems to give off a greenish, greyish sheen, and he sparkles, not just because of the glitter caked on his face.
‘What’s a gal gotta do to get a drink around here, bartender?’ he asks, his voice hoarse and aged with a lifetime of cigarettes.
‘Keep waiting and ask nicely,’ replies Noah instantly, his eyes not leaving mine. ‘Why don’t people understand this, be nice to your bartenders?’ he asks, rolling his eyes and smiling. ‘Alright, you call the cheers, then.’
‘Okay,’ I say, thinking hard. ‘How about…cheers to this? To friendship.’
‘Is that what we’re calling this?’
‘I don’t see why not,’ I say. ‘It’s at least the beginning of a friendship.’
He bites his lip and looks at me, the mischief still there in his dark eyes, but somehow, he seems softer, more accessible. I don’t have to reach for his thoughts to know that he feels that same warmth in the pit of his sternum that I do. ‘I knew you were good people,’ he says, before raising his glass again. ‘Cheers to that, Lucas.’
And with that, the clinking of glasses signaled something new; on the nose, as though a candle had just been put out, acrid, smoky, yet had a lightness to it, like ozone, like the end of a rainstorm. On the tongue, the taste of the Jameson that travelled through my lips, like leather, like citrus, as sweet as tobacco yet as bitter as an orange peel. We drank and closed the ceremony with another clinking of glasses against the bar counter, and when our eyes met, for that moment, nothing else existed.
Nothing else mattered.
‘Vodka soda, pretty boy.’ His voice was like an assault on the senses, as though my nerves had been fried momentarily. The man with the glitter, his sheen a darker green and grey, with sporadic bursts of red, was suddenly next to me, his face twisted permanently into a scowl. ‘I tried waiting but you prefer to flirt instead of doing your job. Add a splash of cranberry to it as well.’ he snapped.
Noah turned to look at me, an eyebrow raised, sharing a smirk with me before he turned to the man and nodded, grabbing a glass and filling it with ice obediently.
‘Only a splash, a girl like me has to watch her figure. We can’t be thin and pretty like you,’ he says, rolling his eyes.
Noah tells him the price, eight dollars, and there’s some grumbling from the man as he digs up wrinkled dollar bills from his too-tight jean pockets and tosses them onto the counter disdainfully, grabbing the glass of alcohol in front of him.
‘Service here is lousy,’ he says, clearing his throat as he stands up to walk away. ‘Don’t bother expecting for a tip.’
I could feel anger running through my forearms, as though they had fallen asleep. I feel the sudden urge to strike him but I remain rooted to my spot. Instead, I turn to my drink. ‘Don’t listen to him,’ I tell Noah, his face furrowed in confusion and disgust. ‘People are assholes. Some people aren’t.’
‘I know,’ says Noah, shaking his head as he clears glasses from the bar. ‘You’re not.’
This makes me laugh. ‘You don’t know me well enough yet, buddy.’
‘This is true, but we’re gonna change that, right? After all, we are friends now,’ he says, his eyes narrowing on me as he leans against the counter closer to me. His jaw can cut glass, his eyebrows thick, but not bushy, and his face like a Greek statue, carved by the gods themselves. He is undeniably beautiful on the surface, but there is something about what rattles around in his head, the strange sounds of madness and brilliance and laughter, that intrigues me.
And then: ‘Do you want to grab a quesadilla?’
The words were sudden, instantaneous, like the turn of a card, imbued with the quickness of the changing wind. I hardly recognized them until I realized his reaction.
‘I would love to grab a quesadilla,’ he says, his smile ear to ear. Around him, I can almost see red and purple sparks shoot out of his head. Excitement. Intense excitement.
Outside in the blowing wind, I can almost hear it whispering to me. This will be the beginning and the end of everything. And somehow, I am okay with that.
I stumbled into an Uber at around two in the morning, pretty drunk, and pretty sure that I’d been, as my best friend back in New York, Elliot, would say ‘acting like a peacock in heat’, all night long until closing time. Slaphappy and hazy, I didn’t care; Noah gave me his number at the end of the night, so in my own drunkenness, I was still pretty satisfied.
I barely noticed that the storm had picked up again until I was halfway home. Blinding streaks of lightning tore through the sky, rain hammered against the streets, the winds came with the fury of cheated gods looking for blood. The drowsy car ride slugged to a stop eventually, and when I looked up, foggy and a little unfocused, I could see the faint outline of my house, illuminated momentarily by a burst of lightning that shattered the sky.
I thanked the driver and stepped out, only to be completely drenched within seconds of rain pelting at me mercilessly, the water lukewarm and turning my clothing into scraps of cloth that were pasted uncomfortably against my skin. And then, something caught my eye; a lone sliver of light shining through the window of the living room, as though someone was awake and awaiting my arrival. I approached the door, jammed the silver key into the keyhole, twisted, and quietly pulled the door open before I entered the living room.
Mother, Dee, and Percy were all sitting on the couch, nursing mugs, and on the mahogany chest in the center of the living room stood a half-drunk bottle of tequila. Before I could say anything, a whiff of sandalwood and cinnamon levelled me heavily, and as I looked at the figure that was moving closer to me out of the corner of my eye, I realized I didn’t need to look up to know who it was.
‘Hola, mijito,’ she said, her berry black eyes snapping with glee. ‘Como le va?’
Abuelita was here.