Back to Issue Thirty-One

Freedom

BY ALEX PEREZ

 

Let me tell you about the time my grandfather found the machete we’d been keeping from him and swung it over his head as he walked past my nieces and nephews and finally positioned himself behind the three-hundred pound pig. For the past thirty years, since his arrival from Cuba, he’d been the one to take the rusty machete and dismember the pig, dropping fat and skin and entrails onto a giant plate my mother carried to the table where the entire clan waited for the juicy pork we Cubans love so much. My grandfather relished his role as pig destroyer, but now that he’d forgotten his name and was sticking black beans in his ears, the position, without his consultation, had been passed down to me, his favorite grandson. He hadn’t been consulted because all he did when spoken to was drool, which is what he’d been doing on that fateful December 24th three years ago. He was sitting there in his chair, drooling peacefully, unaware of the pig until one of my cousins said, “el puerco,” and my grandfather’s brain somehow reactivated. He jumped up, wiped off the drool, and went into the shed where my father had hidden the machete inside a trunk underneath twenty pounds of old carpeting. I watched it all go down from the kitchen as I sharpened the Japanese steak knife I’d bought from QVC in preparation for my first time as the destroyer.

“He won’t find it,” my mother said.

“Dementia,” I said.

“Dementia,” my mother repeated.

My father gave him a few minutes to finish peeing, which, other than drooling, was just about the only other thing he’d done in the last six months. He’d taken to pissing in different spots around the house, one time even kicking the cat out of the way and squatting over the litter box. Nothing shocked my dad anymore, so we knew it was bad news when he reached the shed, put his arms up, and started backpedaling.

“Dementia,” my mother said.

I didn’t know if she meant that my father had it now, but in those days it felt like we all did, so I said, “Yes, dementia.”

Then my father started running and my grandfather, machete over his head, draped in the carpeting like some decrepit Cuban Viking, stepped out of the shed. The family, everyone shitfaced at this point, scattered, running into the house, yelling, “Abuelo, abuelo, abuelo!”

Abuelo, very calmly, not even drooling, walked in between my little nieces and nephews—the only ones who hadn’t ran inside—and took his spot behind the pig, apparently not ready to give it up. We were packed in the kitchen now, watching as he brought the machete close to his face, opening his mouth, sticking his tongue out.

“He’s going to cut it out,” my mother said.

My grandfather licked the blade and punched the pig in the face.

“He thinks he’s a boxer again,” one of my cousins said.

“Dementia,” my mother said.

We nodded.

My grandfather started unbuckling his pants, preparing to piss where he had never pissed before.

“Go, Alex,” my father said. “I won’t eat that much if he pisses on it,” another cousin said.

I’d agreed to take the position as the new destroyer, so holding the handle of my Japanese knife, I went outside and walked toward the pig and my grandfather, whose penis, miraculously, had yet to make an appearance. I stood in front of the pig, noticing that my grandfather had caved in its face with the punch.

“I’m the destroyer now,” I said.

I held up the Japanese knife, and my grandfather, after saying something in the most unintelligible Spanglish/dementia-speak I’d ever heard, countered with his machete. Then he punched the pig again.

“Abuelo,” I said, “I bought this hundred dollar knife at two in the morning after watching a man slice through a tomato atop a cinderblock after which he sliced the cinderblock.”

My grandfather pointed at me with the machete and spoke in his language again. I couldn’t understand the gibberish coming out of his mouth, but I knew what he was saying: It was a mistake coming here. Why did I ever think it was a good idea coming here? Everyone started leaving, and so I left, and for what? To end up like this, pissing myself and wearing carpeting, standing in front of my grandson, the pussy. If I would’ve known thirty years ago that I would’ve ended up like this, I never would’ve left. I would’ve stayed on the island and lived my life and kept fucking my whores and riding my horses and I know for a fact I would have never pissed myself. Nobody in Cuba ever pissed themselves, do you know that? Only here do old people piss themselves and drool and forget everything and everyone they ever loved. And only here is your grandson an overeducated pussy with a beard who thinks a Japanese steak knife can do the job. I can’t believe I came here for this, for you to be the one to continue my legacy. Nothing against you, but you, you’re a pussy, just like everyone else here. Have you ever ridden a horse? Of course you haven’t ridden a horse. You haven’t ever even seen a horse have you? I didn’t think so. I can’t believe my grandson has never ridden a horse, especially when his grandfather was one of the greatest riders on the island. Did I ever I tell you about Bestia? Yes? It doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you again. Anyone who got on Bestia, Bestia would send to the ground. Bestia was the craziest, wildest, most beautiful horse anyone had ever seen, but nobody could stay on the son of a bitch longer than two seconds. Men came from all over the island trying to tame the beast, but Bestia only got crazier the more they tried to tame him. He just refused to be tamed. Eventually they gave up and left Bestia to roam free doing whatever it was that wild horses do. Sometimes you’d go to the beach and you’d see Bestia sitting in the sand, the calmest, happiest horse anyone had ever seen. Other times, you’d be walking home drunk, and Bestia, probably drunk himself—they say he broke into a rum distillery once and drunk all the rum—would be galloping in the middle of the street at forty miles an hour. He’d do that all night sometimes, keeping the entire block awake, but no one dare try and stop him, because the few who had, ended up being run over. One night, though, when I was fourteen, I was walking back from your grandmother’s house, and there was Bestia sprinting from one end of the street to the other. I’d seen him doing the same thing at least a hundred times, but something was different that night. Maybe it was the full moon. Or maybe I was drunker than usual. Who knows? What I know is that I did what everyone knew you weren’t supposed to do. I approached Bestia as he was deep in his midnight madness. You were supposed to let him just extinguish himself, which usually happened as the sun came up, but I guess I wanted a closer look. I wanted to come face to face with the great beast, and so I got closer and closer, so close I could hear his heavy breathing. He was tired, but he wasn’t slowing down, it was as if he couldn’t slow down even if he wanted to. Then, when he was at the opposite end of the street, I stepped off the sidewalk and walked into the street, a hundred feet away from him. Why did I do it? Did I want to die? I don’t know. But he came at me, and I’m proud to say, I didn’t flinch. I didn’t close my eyes either, which is how I saw him get closer and closer and bigger and bigger, until I saw him stop right in front of me. He was at full speed, and all of a sudden, he’d somehow come to a complete stop. He was so close that when he exhaled, spit and drool rained down on me. Bestia had baptized me. We stared at each other for a few minutes. He didn’t blink. I didn’t blink. Then I just hopped on him and said, “Bestia, go.” And Bestia went. No one had stayed on Bestia for longer than two seconds, but that night, Bestia let me ride him for three, four, five hours. We rode all night, me and Bestia. We traversed the neighborhood and the island, and even at fourteen, I knew I was as free as I would ever be. And you know what? I was right. I should’ve never gotten off that horse. I should’ve never gotten on that raft. I should’ve never come over here. I was free, and now, well, look at me. Look at me. Do I look free to you? Have I ever looked free to you?

He did not. He had not.

I placed the Japanese knife in the little leather holder at my side. My grandfather punched the pig again—tenderizing it?—and started slicing the meat like a man who would never slice and dice a pig again—he wouldn’t. He grabbed a piece and threw it in the air, another. I waved at my mother, who ran out with the giant plate, followed by the rest of the family, thirty, forty, fifty of us, even some Cubans I’d never seen before, and we grabbed the pig pieces my grandfather kept flinging in the air, passing them to my mother, who was now standing next to her father.

 

Alex Perez is a writer out of a Miami and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His short stories have appeared in Subtropics and Guernica, among others.

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