Broken Slate

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Miguel lost count of the number of times he awoke each morning before sunrise and sat at the edge of the bed, his hands gripping and pulling at the mattress, stomach heaving with nausea waiting for the sun to rise as if it would bring any solace. His hands pushed down, straightening his back. Both legs bounced in place, each to a different rhythm, shaking the bed hard enough to awaken his wife Maria. Maria lay on her outstretched arm night gown falling limp to that side, flowing like white water over her exposed ample breasts. Maria watched him for a moment then crawled over to Miguel on all fours, draping her arms gently over his shoulders, pressing the back of his head to her bosom. “Miguel”, she said. Her voice like a child’s, soft and sweet, soothing.
“Te puedo ayudar, corazon? What’s wrong?” she asked.
“It’s nothing,” he said.
Maria rubbed the back of his head with her breasts. His eyes closed. His legs stopped bouncing. His breathing slowed and his grip on the mattress loosened. She kissed his neck, in a line to his ear. His head fell back deeper into her bosom. She pulled away from him and crossed to the other side of the bed. Miguel fell gently back onto the bed. Maria lay on her side. Miguel turned over and stood on the bed on all fours, looking at his wife.
“Make love to me, Miguel.”
Miguel looked at her for a moment. Then all at once he felt a rush of pressure throughout his body. He weakened. His heart beat relentlessly. He grew dizzy.
Miguel is a young Puerto Rican, living in Brooklyn with his hardworking loving Papi, a proud mother, married to a loving and doting wife and father to a five year old girl, seems discontent and wonders why. Miguel has a good job that pays him well, working with Papi at the moving company, and comes home everyday to a happy clan. He participates in many familial and extra-familial activities, but still feels empty. Like butterflies fluttering in his empty belly.
Miguel stands alone in the backyard of the tenement they live in. His Papi had long ago renovated the back courtyard before the family had moved in, before Miguel was born.  Miguel was born into and played in it all his life with his friend Andy. He recalls his childhood. The new world the backyard had become for them. The fantastic lands that each corner and brick planters had become in their imaginations.
As always he could feel the ground tremble underneath. He always believed there was something under the slate courtyard; as a child he imagined a great dragon, as an adult he often imagined it to be just water. He stood on the cold spot, that stretched across the yard, and lay his head down on the ground, as he did when he was a child (flashback), and pressed his ear to the cold stone to listen to the dragon roar.
Miguel talks with a neighbor from the other building that shared the courtyard. They whisper about the old man in the rocking chair, who is always at his window, looking down on the yard. Papi often visits the old man, but rarely talks about him. Mommy knows little about him.
Miguel talks with his friend, Andy, about their childhood and the games they played.
MIguel tells Andy he is considering breaking the slate to open the ground. Andy thinks he is crazy.
Cold night. Misty. Miguel awakens to the roar of the dragon in his head. He can’t sleep. He walks to the window overlooking the yard. Then prowls the apartment, listening to the others as they sleep. Miguel steps out and goes down to the basement and takes the sledgehammer from his Papi’s tools, sacred tools that were once used to build the yard, which he would now use to destroy it. He goes out and listens to the court yard ground. The fierce rumble below his feet. He finds the loudest point and begins to beat the ground there.
Papi is asleep. He awakens, realizing the danger.
The neighbors awaken calling out for him to stop the noise. The old man watches. He stops rocking. Papi comes rushing out, but not before Miguel breaks the ground.
“What have you done? What have you done, Miguel?”
Papi stares at Miguel, his face quivering, exasperated.
“What good have you done by destroying the courtyard? By exposing the water?” Papi looked Miguel in the eyes. Miguel’s eyes dribbled with tears.
“I don’t know,” said Miguel. “I don’t know, Papi. I guess there is no good in what I have done. But I don’t do it to achieve anything good.”
“Then what?”
It was there and I knew it. But I needed to see it. I needed to see that it was there. That it really was just what I thought it was.”
“Mi hijo. No te entiendo. What did you think was underneath?”
“Water.”
“Agua?”
Miguel walks away leaving everyone baffled with an answer he certainly feels is sufficient.
“Agua, Miguel? Bueno, entonce . . . then what?”
Miguel stepped through the door into the basement hallway, and was gone from sight.
“Miguel! Answer me, carajo!”
Papi immediately begins to repair the courtyard.
Miguel takes vacation time from work. His wife is a little upset about that. She would rather they had gone away. It is a waste of time sitting around the house drinking beer, sleeping, eating and watching your retired Papi repair the courtyard.
The following Monday, Miguel calls into work and tells his supervisor, Papi’s closest friend, that he will not return.
The friend rushes over to speak with Miguel’s Papi. Miguel watches from the window as the two talk outside. He can’t hear what they are saying. The friend leaves. Papi then enters the building. Miguel could hear through the daytime silence of the building Papis heavy footsteps sound louder as he neared the top floor where Miguel and his wife lived.
“Miguel!”
Miguel sat at the kitchen table drinking beer. Papi found the door unlocked and stepped in. Miguel greeted him with delight. Papi was angry. He then berated him for being so lazy and taking advantage of the family’s kindness to him.
“I didn’t ask for it,” said Miguel.
Miguel continued to spend his days at home, mostly alone. But often walking to see old friends down at the old social club, where the Latin music rippled through the summer silence, keeping everyone up until late at night. During the day he often sat alone outside on the stoop drinking, then at the end of the day greeting his family as they arrived home.
The family, distraught and angered over Miguel’s sudden breakdown.
Miguel would spend his evenings alone in the courtyard, standing over the freshly laid slate, and then walk the presumed path of the underground water flow. It flowed toward the old man, who sat still at the window, in the dark, looking down on the courtyard.
The next morning, breaking his two-week-old routine, Miguel stood at the point of the flow where it met with the wall of the old man’s building. Everyone came to him to wish him a good day, even Papi.
After everyone was gone, Miguel walked outside of the building and followed the assumed flow of the brook into the street, then through and out of the neighborhood.
When the family returned home that evening, Miguel was gone.
As time passed for them, they all believed Miguel was gone for good.

 

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