Jason (jcreed) wrote,
Jason
jcreed

Had trouble sleeping last night, but as a consequence I woke up in the middle of dreams and wound up remembering them better. There was one about wandering around in the winter in Basque country, finding these huge deposits of ornate wooden chess pieces that had slits cut into them so that they fit neatly into equally ornate boxes that had complementary slats. And then there was an oceanliner whose cargo was horribly toxic chemicals that was going to crash into a coastal building, and everyone was screaming in english and spansih and basque and I woke up.


"I have a photographic memory," he tells me, "for the prices of things when I was a child."

"I can still open up the books in my head, and read off: plain bar of
chocolate, ten centavos. Candied almonds, six. Hard candy in the shape
of mosaic tiles, which tasted like citrus and toast and cinnamon,
three centavos for a tiny bag. Chewing gum, three. Long strips of
cooked, hardened maize, coated in a thin layer of dark chocolate, five
a box. Jellied things that were sweet and at the same time a salty
kind of licorice, four for a little row of them, on white cardboard,
wrapped in plastic, six centavos and a half.

But in the end there was only one thing we ever wanted to buy at that
store. It wasn't hard to guess what it was, if you knew any of us, or
if you were a child there at the time. It wasn't the newspapers. It
wasn't the cigarettes. It certainly wasn't the icons, the figurines,
the cheap little rows of identical teary faces and punctured, bloody
hands that really, when you came to think of it, had nothing to do
with religion, had nothing to do with grief and brutal martyrdom and
steadfast, heavanly, blind parental love --- not that I ever did think
about it until much later. The only things we bought were on the back
wall, where they sold candy and plastic toys, and inexorably one item
cast its shadow over all others.

It was the Chococor\' urranos. It was three hands across, back when
our hands were small and dirty and uncreased by labor. Its name was
just a nonsense word that evoked chocolate, but to us, it was like the
seventh name of God Himself. It was a word you didn't pronounce
lightly.

It was a chocolate bar, scored into forty-eight squares, four by
twelve. The chocolate was a holy mystery, an alchemical mixture that
held in it at once the aggressive bitterness of darker chocolate (a
flavor that hinted at something altogether more adult than us: I
recognized it later in life as the way a woman's face looks when it is
too late at night to see her clearly) and the light, sweet tones that
the milk-diluted chocolate we normally ate somehow attempted to
reach. But I feel like I am committing a heresy even while apologizing for the
comparison. It is sinful: the Chococ\' urranos was like nothing
else. Each square had at its center a tiny semi-liquid drop of cherry
liqueur and, below it, of caramel. That was it. But it was legend to
us. It cost twenty-nine centavos and a half.

We constantly pleaded with our fathers on saturdays for money to buy
one, making our case like little attorneys, going soberly over the
evidence. How our behavior at home had been so exemplary during the
last week, how our performance at school had shown signs of
improvement this time for sure. How we wouldn't think twice about
helping with dinner, how much we really loved both our parents. How we
already had three or four cents saved up, so that their charitable
contribution was only, what? A mere twenty-six at most. But father
would each time frown at me and then wink, and give me a quick hug,
lifting my feet out of my sandals, set me down, and leave for work
without another word.

There was just the one time when my friend Pavolo confided to me a
great secret: that he had discovered, having made a wrong turn walking
home from school the previous day, a trash heap in an alley that he
had never seen before. He had told no one but me; he would tell no
one. We would go see it tomorrow.

We went: it was as we hoped. It was a place undiscovered by us, and so
there was still the shine of metal beneath the paper and rinds and
nut-shells and dirt. By the time the sun began to set, we found a
five-centavo coin, (it was minted thirteen years before: we marvelled
at the strangeness of inanimate things being older than us, and at the
beauty of the hawk in flight engraved on its back) a half-five or two,
and dozens of singles.

We left the alley as rich men. Between us we had thirty-two
cents. There was no question what we would buy with it, but it
suddenly occurred to us to doubt who the treasure rightly belonged to:
Pavolo had found the site, but then I had found the overwhelming
majority of the coins. Of course, he knew that would happen. That (on
top of the fact of our friendship) was why he chose me to come with
him.

We passed the store without buying anything, sixteen cents resting in
my pockets, sixteen in his. We walked towards our neighborhood without
saying anything.

There were two bicycles leaning against my house: mine, and the one
that belonged to my brother, who had gone off to the army. He later
died in an accident, but I only thought of him then as the one I had
to run away from, to avoid being beaten up.

It was decided, the burden of dispensing justice lifted from us,
shouldered on to whatever gods of chance we believed in: we would race
from one end of the street to the other. Whoever touched the
rain-rotten post (which, though as we told the story was a grave
marker for a man who had killed six of his own children in madness,
was actually only a broken sign that once advertised the price of a
hair-cut) first, would receive all the money.

Pavolo won.

He was the more practiced cyclist, and I let him use my brother's
bicycle. Either advantage would have given him victory.

But he returned later that afternoon, to find me playing dispiritedly
with a stick or two, and tried to give me half Chococ\' urranos. I
refused it. That wasn't what we decided. It was all his. One didn't
eat half. Nobody had. That wasn't the point, I protested. You don't go
into a store and hand over twenty-nine centavos, and give the girl
behind the counter an extra half-five tip (because you think, somehow,
that you'll want her to think well of you later) and eat {\em half} a
Chococ\' urranos. It was his.

But he was deaf to me. I studied him for a while: the chocolate was
sticky on his hand, but it wasn't because he had eaten any of his half
yet. I don't know how I knew it at them time: his half was still out
of sight, wrapped up, in his pocket. There wasn't a trace of
bitterness in his unmoving eyes. His lips weren't tight and angry, as
they would have been, if his mother had found him with his prize, and
squeezed the whole story out of him, sent him to give me my share.

It was a good thing she hadn't found him first, because he {\em wanted} to
give me my half, unbidden.

I for my part only agreed to the bicycle
race because I knew he would win it: I felt the money really belonged
to Pavolo in the first place. It was his discovery. That meant
everything. He never needed to involve me. I only turned into one
afternoon what would have taken him two or three. No big deal.

He only agreed to the race because he knew he would win, too. So that
he could stand there, stubbornly waiting until I took my half, and
finally laugh when I did, and sit down with me as we ate together:
something with a meaning that was only present to us as children. It
is lost to me, now, a forgotten name.
Tags: stories, writing
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