Short Story – C4 and the La Paloma

    image      I hate the way it smells in here. It’s like every grandpa in America decided to die in the lobby. Tim would’ve been more into it. ‘It’s our history,’ he’d say. ‘Our family crest.’

            Capote starts at 8:50. I sit in the box office, ask a couple how many tickets they want even though there’s only two of them. They look like they’re in college and too cool for a normal theater.
They’re here for the art, and if anybody knows about art it’s two stuck-up rich kids sipping lattes.  Tim would’ve said ‘Enjoy your film experience’ or ‘La Paloma Theatre welcomes you’, something lame like that. I slide them their tickets and check out the girl.

            The La Paloma’s been around forever—literally forever. My great-grandfather worked here when it opened in 1928. There are two traditions in what’s left of my family: the first son is named Christopher, and that son has to work one summer at the La Paloma Theatre. I’m Chris the fourth, so my buddies call me C4. My parents stopped calling me when I left home. Before a month ago, I hadn’t talked to them in three years.

            I’m back in San Diego, just got a place downtown with two other guys. I get to be the slob since I pay the bulk of the rent. My other job’s in the Wells Fargo building a couple of blocks from my house—I’m in the mailroom and nobody will care for what company. It’s about twenty minutes from there to the theater. As another couple comes to my window, I think about the sign on the doors of Wells Fargo, the one about how chemicals used will give you three-headed babies. I walk into that building every day, go outside that building to smoke; I stand in front of my microwave naked and drank out of the Amazon River when I was down there.

            That’s where I got Tim’s email. Never thought I’d live in San Diego again. The place put me to sleep. But Tim was all into Old Town and the Gaslamp Quarter. Whenever he’d learn some useless fact about a building, he’d email it to me with ‘You’re gonna think this is cool’ in the subject line. I pretty much deleted Tim’s emails soon as they came. When I eked out of school, some buddies and I drove from Mexico to Chile. Last time I saw Tim he was running behind me as I left.

            “Mom and Dad mean it, Chris. They don’t want you to come back.”

            I hocked a loogie onto the driveway. “What, you missed the countdown or something?” I copied my dad’s voice. “‘The day you turn eighteen, you’ve got an hour to pack’, ‘You don’t come home for two days? Fine, you’ve got 45 minutes.’”

            Tim grabbed my arm. “But I’m gonna see you, right? When you’re back from wherever you’re going?”

            I opened my truck door. “Maybe.” I climbed in and grabbed my cigarettes.

            Tim stepped back as I turned the ignition. “Mom’s crying.”

            I lit a cigarette, laughed the smoke into Tim’s face. “But she’s still got you, the girl she always wanted. And when you’re sixteen you can work at that pit stain Theatre.”

            Tim scowled. “What’s wrong with that? At least I won’t be high all the time. How come out of everybody in the family you have to be a butthole?”

            “Whatever.” I backed out of the driveway.

            The next time I saw Tim was at Scripps Memorial. He sent his last email from a bed. I was in São Paolo, hung over one morning and checking my laptop when I saw the subject ‘This isn’t so cool’. I didn’t have a dime, so I ‘borrowed’ the money for a plane ticket from my buddies. On the plane, I didn’t care that I hadn’t showered in a week, that pretty much everything I owned was back in Brazil and would stay there. I just thought of my cigarettes, of each time I inhaled. No morning cough, no raspy voice—not even a dirty look from girls I had over. I thought of the times I tried meth and cliff diving.

            At the hospital, Tim’s hair was gone, all of it. No eyebrows, no eyelashes, no hair on his arms. He was sixteen but still looked thirteen. My parents were in the room with him, Mom crying. They looked at me as if I’d been gone five minutes. Dad frowned.

            “He got diagnosed eight months ago. Leukemia. We started chemo as soon as we found out but it was—”

            I ran to Tim’s bedside. “Eight months? You knew all this time and you email me two days ago?”

            Tim laughed a little, smiling with cracked lips. “Sorry man. I didn’t know where you were. I kept asking and you’d never say.”

            I yelled every curse word I knew, threw the chair Dad had been sitting in, knocked over Tim’s tables. Mom and Dad shouted for help and two orderlies grabbed me.

            “He’s going to hurt Tim!” Mom threw herself over him.

            They dragged me out and down the hall, but I wasn’t going to hit Tim. One time this kid in his class hit him. I got suspended for giving that kid a concussion. Mom told me later that Tim was laughing the whole time I went psycho. He died a week later.

            One minute till Capote starts, and four girls come in. One’s this fat chick who decided to actually dress like Truman Capote. It scares me because she’s spot-on. The other girls are dressed like the ‘40’s. My grandfather worked here in the ‘40’s, which Tim would have told those freaks. They go in the theater, and my boss closes the wooden doors. I can hear the projector from my box office, it’s that rickety.

One thought on “Short Story – C4 and the La Paloma”

  1. I really loved it. It has a fantastically personal voice and a very economic Language. You only say what’s necessary and that’s more than enough to pull me into the story beginnign ot end.

    Liked by 1 person

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