from Segovia’s Author

Matthew Roberson

Not long after Sarah suggested (pretty declaratively, for a suggestion, really) that Rob haul himself and his stuff out the front door to somewhere, anywhere else, he wandered across his colleague and not-distant neighbor while out for an evening’s walk of the dogs. In most circumstances, Rob and the neighbor interacted professionally, in all senses, in terms of where: at meetings or other university events, and in terms of how: politely and respectfully (and without a lot of warmth). Interesting times, though, tend to shake things up, and that evening, on that dog walk, Rob stopped to comment that the yard being tended by the colleague/neighbor was in particularly great shape, and that it was a wonderful night to be out and about, and that his wife, quite surprisingly, had told him to take a hike.

Small college towns being what they are, the colleague/neighbor probably already knew, as did (probably) half the university (even as soon as the morning after Sarah had suggested Rob go his merry way (Rob realized later)) but that night he (the colleague/neighbor) betrayed no knowledge of the calamity and simply nodded and expressed sympathy and offered condolences and asked how Rob was holding up, all things considered.

Rob, who didn’t himself know how to understand what was happening, stammered, in a slightly froggy voice, that, well, everything was all up in the air, to be truthful, and who’s to say, and time would tell, and it would be a heck of an adjustment, and, geez, it would be a big change for everyone, kids and dogs included (which he said while getting down on one knee to scratch lovingly behind the ears of the older dog, who simply wanted to get a move on). First things first, Rob said, on what turned out be a surprisingly fateful night, he had to find a new place to live.

The neighbor/colleague (who probably should have checked with his wife before offering, but who was probably moved to see Rob in such glum circumstances (and, no doubt, also pretty happy at the thought of having a reliable cat and house caretaker at absolutely no cost)) said to Rob that he should move in here, gesturing behind himself with a thumb, for the foreseeable future, because he, the neighbor/colleague, and his wife would be living abroad in his upcoming sabbatical year, and their house would otherwise just sit empty, and it would give Rob time to get on his feet, and it was the least they could do!

At first, Rob simply stammered, and said he couldn’t, shouldn’t, it was too generous, but, then, after giving it all some thought, said, well, okey-dokey—and that’s exactly what he did, move in, in slow, baby steps through the first month after his colleague/neighbor turned over the keys. Or, rather, he moved in his stuff (while keeping his physical self firmly at home with Sarah, and the kids, and the dogs).

He started with a suitcase containing the clothes he would take if going away for a conference, and he plopped that just inside the front door of his new abode, and let it set for several days, until it got in his way when he moved in a couple small boxes holding books he would need for teaching, at which point he moved the suitcase into the middle of the living room, where it would be out of his immediate way, and the boxes sat instead inside of the front door for several days, until they got in his way while he moved in his computer, which took the place of the boxes, which got moved to the living room, while the suitcase got moved to the bottom of the stairs, and so on, and so on, until a pretty remarkably long time had passed, and there was a long line of his stuff snaking in from the front door, and his clothes still hadn’t made it to the guest bedroom he insisted on using (though the neighbor/colleague had made a determined point of offering up the master) because he, Rob, considered himself an impermanent fixture in a time-limited housesitting situation that would end, he felt sure, somehow with his moving back home, which was really all he wanted, and was determined to make happen, though Sarah had suggested (again, rather declaratively) that he not bug her about the future, because she needed time to think.

Eventually, it became clear even to Rob that the moving process had to end (especially after Sarah said as much) and he took final leave of his family on a Sunday afternoon, box of toiletries and assorted pills (which only grew in number with each passing year) under his arm and gave a beleaguered smile and wandered up a block and across the street and then waved to his family (still clearly in view on his, or, rather, their front porch) as he simultaneously struggled to hold said box and unlock his new front door.

They waved back.

So installed, Rob was of course in a position to walk across the street every afternoon and down the block after work and pop into the house he and Sarah had bought now more than half a thirty-year mortgage ago and let the dogs out and get dinner started (on nights it was apparently still his turn to make dinner) and make sure the kids were doing homework or practicing the piano or taking a shower after practice, or whatever it was they really needed to be doing but would 99% of the time put off indefinitely in favor of YouTube or Netflix or anything, actually, that involved a screen. This was on nights he didn’t go directly home with the kids after picking them up after school or after-school activities or wherever. He was also, of course, welcome on nights he didn’t cook dinner or deliver the kids home, because it wouldn’t be fair to ask him to contribute on some evenings and send him packing on others.

Rob also spent almost all weekends at home, too, because life doesn’t stop because the week does, he explained to DAUGHTER, and there was stuff to do around the house!

“But you and Mom are separated?” she asked.

“I suppose,” he said, though he didn’t elaborate. Eventually, he said, “If that means getting a little distance.”

“Very little distance,” DAUGHTER said, before seeing on Rob’s face how that sounded. “I wish it were no distance!” she added.

“Yeah,” Rob said, considering. “Well. Yeah.”

Which is exactly what Sarah said (“Well. Yeah.”) when Rob wondered aloud, not long after, not long after one dinner, after the dishes, as he was readying himself to wander out his one front door and down the street to his second front door, that is, if he needed to be sleeping down the street after spending most of the rest of his time as usual with his family. “Well,” she said. “Yeah,” before saying in a no-nonsense manner that there had to be some change, somewhere, even if not everything, before suggesting, her face lapsing into contemplation, and a certain sort of happiness, that life now was not unlike way back when they were dating—but still living apart.

“With the addition of dependents,” Rob said. “And the promise of marriage counseling,” which they both knew was in the cards—when they found someone they could together accept.

“And comments like that,” Sarah said, her expression returning to its usual guarded state.

Before Rob could apologize, she changed the tune, noting that she didn’t think much of Rob staying on as Associate Dean, not just because Vern wanted him to.

“Interim Associate Dean,” Rob said, with the emphasis on interim, “and it will be for one more year, at absolute most.”

“Like it was for just this semester,” Sarah said back, waving him off, “at absolute most.”

“Well,” Rob put it in, “it’s not just for Vern.”

“Oh?” Sarah asked. “Then what’s it for?” She didn’t elaborate, because they both knew that they both knew that there was no obvious reason he should keep the job, which, on the whole, he said he hated for its dull routine and reams of paperwork and endless meetings, and for which he was largely unsuited because it required being around people for more than minutes at a time. Not even the extra money made it worthwhile. They’d done without it before and could again.

“Uh,” Rob said.

“It’s all about Vern,” Sarah said. “And I don’t even see why he needs you. He just says he does, though, and you go along?”

“Not exactly,” Rob said, uncomfortable where this was headed, which was scrutiny of him— which never ended well.

“For an opinionated, rigid person,” Sarah proceeded, “you’re awfully impressionable.”

“Sometimes,” Rob agreed.

“I mean, one person says one thing, and you see the value of it, and then the next person says the opposite thing, and you nod your head along in agreement.”

Rob nodded his head along in agreement. It’s not that she was wrong. “You’re not wrong,” he said, and raised his hands in a gesture of appreciation—of himself. “I’m an open-minded guy,” he said, hoping a laugh would maybe direct the conversation to an end.

“It’s clear we still need you around, not at meetings all day every day of the week,” she said, and then added, “The kids need you.”

“It’s true,” Rob said, suspecting but not saying that she needed him, too. He added that Vern had promised again and again that family would still come first, any time Rob said the word.

“Yeah,” Sarah said, sitting back in her chair, considering. “We all know Vern has a complicated relationship with the truth.”

“True,” Rob said.

“And it’s not like you’re the only person who can help the college adapt its online classes.”

“Absolutely right,” Rob said, thinking, though, that he might do a better job than most.

“Then, what?” Sarah insisted, though now looking away, seeming to consider that maybe a separated spouse didn’t have the right to press so hard. She offered a half-hearted shrug that signaled that perhaps Rob didn’t have to answer if he didn’t want to. He knew he did, though, even if he hadn’t planned on explaining at just this moment.

“The kids are growing up,” he said, which didn’t explain anything, as Sarah’s puzzled look suggested. “And you’ve never loved this town,” he said, understating the case, if anything, given Sarah’s long years of commentary about the lack of stores, lack of restaurants, lack of things for the kids to do (besides sports), lack of culture other than student plays and student oboe concerts and student poetry readings (though they did try, you had to give them that), lack of diversity, and, perhaps most foundational, lack of hills. Not a decent mountain in a hundred miles, she’d said more than once, or more than a million times, and not in words so polite.

“And what?” she asked.

“Well, an administrator can make a move, even if it’s lateral,” he said, which they both knew was untrue for the average professor, whose job opportunities shrank every year he or she stayed at a given university, because (on the whole) while his salary went up, his promise sank, and why would an institution on the hunt hire a middling associate or maybe full professor at twice the cost of a spunky new PhD whose promise was, well, so darn promising? “And I’ve been thinking that maybe, once the kids are off on their own lives, I could find another administrative job in a city somewhere,” he said, “a non-interim one, and maybe we could end up nearer the kids, wherever they land.”

“We,” said Sarah, appearing surprised by Rob’s logic, which apparently she hadn’t imagined—or imagined he could consider.

“Yes,” he said. “Us. At least that’s what I was hoping.”

About Segovia’s Author

Since I don’t write creative nonfiction, let’s start by introducing a character who we’ll call Rob. We’ll get him situated, and go from there. Okay?

Like this:

Rob’s recent, hesitant, and theoretically temporary move into university administration coincided almost exactly with the disorienting moment his wife, Sarah, a woman who’d never been patient with Rob, but had been unfailingly tolerant, had reached a saturation point and couldn’t absorb any more of his bullshit (is what she called it, to be clear) and suggested that Rob find someplace else to live, and fast, before her frustrations and overall unhappiness created a scene unpleasant enough to scar everyone involved (especially Rob and Sarah’s two children, who probably didn’t need to witness that business).

So, in other words, long story short, in a moment of great upheaval, Rob found himself not just in a new office in his building’s Dean’s Offices, where he was temporarily installed in a surprisingly large converted closet—but also in a new home (which, oddly enough, was also not far from where he originated, this particular residence being the home of a colleague on sabbatical and just one block down from the house from which Sarah had ejected him). Got it?

(And, because I maybe muddied things by starting with that bit about creative nonfiction, I, Matthew Roberson, English professor, am still (and have always been) happily holed up in the home I share with my own impatient and largely bullshit-intolerant wife and my two awesome kids, and my wetted finger testing the wind suggests everyone is happy enough to have me around. (And, I would never, on threat of death, be talked into taking on any administrative job ever, ever, ever)).1

Commented [MR1]:

And I’m not offering this caveat to comfort those who are thinking, Oh, Christ, this is gonna be some autobiographical fiction-as-life explanation-slash- therapy (which it’s not, I promise, if that was worrying you) but as a reminder to everyone who should probably already know better that even in the fiction of someone who styles himself Joe Pomo (lite?), believing, you know, that life and fiction are inseparable, and that we write our lives as we go, and so on (see Sukenick), it doesn’t mean there’s any kind of exact correspondence between the two!

Anyway, where we’re headed (not to say all this other stuff is beside the point) is that before being assimilated into the administrative collective, Rob—an English professor in creative writing—was writing (or trying to write) a novel about the classical guitarist Andres Segovia, and I imagine you’re (mostly) all thinking, I’ve heard of that guy. You’ve heard of him and don’t know the first thing— and don’t give much of a shit about finding out more?

This is not an accusation, just a statement of fact.

It was the realization Rob came to over time after, for example, loping (or moping (or whatever)) down the hallway at work or shopping for eggs at the Meijer and running into friends or simply friendly souls who, looking for conversational fodder, asked after his latest work—i.e. “What are you working on these days”—before nodding along with his explanation that he was writing about this guy, Segovia, iconic Spanish father of classical guitar, titan of music in the twentieth century, and so on and so on, until eventually a good fifty percent of them would say, “Oh, that’s interesting” in a tone suggesting exactly the opposite. 2

Commented [MR2]:

Though, in the interest of full disclosure, there was the one much older, long-retired colleague living a few blocks over from Rob, who was in the habit of foraging for dead branches on lawns up and down the street (probably for use in his fireplace (because what else could he have up his sleeve?)) who’d one morning while on the hunt replied to Rob’s description of his work in a positive tone, saying, “Oh, I might actually be interested in reading that,” meaning, Rob guessed, that for this older dude, Andres Segovia was appropriately high culture and therefore necessarily deserving of attention, which, you know, felt kind of elitist to Rob, and if anything made him actually feel worse, overall, about the project.

And who could blame them, really, because—unless you have some private, longstanding interest in the actual person of Andres Segovia—what is the point? Maybe he was once a relatively engaging public figure who caught the interest of people who didn’t know a guitar could do that; and maybe, at the time, the classical music crowd picked him up in an even more sustained way, attending his concerts in (relatively) enormous numbers, even if they had no especial interest in the instrument; and maybe heads of state loved him, for all sorts of reasons3, having him in to play at all sorts of seats of power, not least being the White House, for example.

Commented [MR3]:

Reasons included the fact that Segovia was distinctive, distinguished, and one hell of a performer.

But as far as famous historical figures are concerned, he doesn’t seem to have the chops. He’s certainly not infamous, not someone in the category of a character like Casanova, that dirty dog, whose shenanigans are still so out of the bounds that it seems his story will always be told (and has been in dozens of films, books, musical compositions, dramas, and even TV shows)? Is Caligula in that category? Yes. Marquis De Sade? Yes. Byron? Yup. Charlie Sheen? Gross, but, yeah.

But who would expect him to be infamous? How about simply still famous, like the novelist Henry James (himself the subject of over a dozen books) a member of one of his country’s most distinguished families, a writer so productive and revered that he was nominated for the Nobel prize? Nope (though perhaps also because Segovia didn’t have a personal life atypical enough to generate gossip even today (suggesting that even in the case of a great artist, prurience is still a factor)). Other famous and famously interesting figures? Picasso? Joyce? Warhol? Woolf? Da Vinci? Michelangelo? Shakespeare? Rowling? We just don’t hear his name in that company, right?

So, maybe, finally, more to the musical point, was he like Mozart, a flamboyant prodigy the subject of more books and movies (one winning all sorts of Academy Awards) than you can shake a stick at (at least to someone just interested in making a general point here); or like Beethoven, whose romanticized deafness created such a compelling contradiction in his life and work; or like Bach, who composed tunes still banging enough that they’ve been covered by Tenacious D?|4

Commented [MR4]:

And, yeah, this is a pretty thin analysis of what makes for fame, if that’s even the right word, but it seems to suit our purposes, and if you want a fuller disquisition on the topic, there are a few books that pop up in an Amazon search: Notes on Fame, A Short History of Celebrity, The Cult of Celebrity, Claims to Fame, Stargazing, and Fame Junkies.

Well, maybe, in fact, he was, because—on the musical hand—there’s no denying his talent and artistic achievements, and, on the other hand, he had as dramatic and compelling a personal life as any of the above, starting with the moment at age two when his impoverished and probably self- interested parents literally gave him away to childless relatives who we have to guess offered them something valuable in return (as well as the promise that they could offer baby Andres more opportunities as an “only child”). What about young Segovia’s relentless fascination with the guitar, which he pursued against all enticements to play more respectable instruments, as well as all threats of punishment if he didn’t stop plunking on that unsuitable folk instrument? How about the ways the untimely death of Segovia’s beloved uncle/father forced Andres Segovia to strike out alone in pursuit of his musical career? The worldwide travel he undertook to build that career? How his travel, in part, saved him from the violence of the Spanish Civil War? The friendships formed, animosities built? The marriages (and divorces), affairs? The suicide of his son in 1937? The lifetime of perhaps overweening ambition (driven by insecurity or lack)?

This is the story the other fifty percent of people who asked Rob about the book, however—even though they’d never heard, of course, these details of Segovia’s life—seemed to think had to exist, after all, if Rob was taking the time (aka years of his life) to tell the man’s tale, and they inquired about it, as in: “Why Segovia?” or “What got you interested?” which Rob heard, mostly, as, “Ah, ha, well, then dish, because there’s gotta be something good” (as in something juicy) and he tended to follow, then, with words about, you know, abandonment, divorce, suicide, and so on. See above.

Commented [MR5]:

Still believing, apparently, even in this incredibly cynical (realistic?) age where it’s common knowledge that anyone who wants to can create his or her own fame (Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian) that there’s, nonetheless, something essentially noteworthy about historical figures who haunt our memories—instead of understanding that those folks, too, simply had someone to tell/make their stories (and build their brand?).

Sometimes, though, Rob heard a skepticism in the question, people’s suspicion that if the details of Segovia’s talents and troubles were compelling enough to have heard about, they would have already heard about them (instead of seeing that it was up to Rob to fashion them into a fabric compelling enough to capture people’s attention5), and what they really wanted to know was the real story, closer to home (which they would undoubtedly elaborate upon themselves, later, in their own nosy, gossipy, and surprisingly intuitive imaginations) about why Rob wanted to write about Segovia, which is to say, what was his dealio?

Which, in fact, proved that people are pretty damn smart, because there was something to that question, and, if Rob had been inclined to answer it, it could have followed a number of paths, maybe including the story of how he’d himself studied classical guitar his entire life, and at a very early age had been deeply impressed, affected, imprinted by the enormous, framed poster of Segovia his instructor had hanging over lessons in his living room—a portrait showing a darkly dressed and string-tie wearing and bespectacled Segovia sitting watch over all efforts at the craft, stern and serious but also kindly and sage, a portrait that initiated Rob’s decades of fascination with the original god of the guitar world, the master, Segovia.

A variation on this story sometimes presented itself to Rob, and there was something more satisfyingly dramatic about the idea that as a kid he’d been desperate, freaking DESPERATE to play guitar, so eager he’d begged his perpetually cheap parents for weeks and months on end for an axe, a bitchin’ Telecaster or even just a satisfactory steel string acoustic he could use to strum along to the songs on the radio, and what they’d eventually allowed, after they’d made him wait for a holiday, was all but a child’s toy, a ¾-size nylon-string classical guitar, of all motherfucking things, and the lessons they’d arranged with a rumpled and sweaty middle-aged man in a sweater with holes apparently everywhere were an agony made only tolerable by Rob’s secret, half-hour long fantasies about sticking a knife in the eyes of the “guitar god” watching down over them from his framed poster. Segovia, said the instructor. The master. Fat little fingers, Rob thought as a child, and as an adult some part of his hatred remained, until he came on the idea of exacting some sort of novelistic revenge by taking down several pegs the arrogant old shit who’d somehow ruined his dreams.

But both stories also seemed awfully contrived to Rob6, who was allergic on the whole to simplistic boilings-down of character and motive, or the ridiculous idea that the course of someone’s life could be determined by one or another childhood experience.

Commented [MR6]:

Except for the bit about Segovia’s fat fingers, which genuinely struck and stuck with me, Matthew Roberson, who, as a kid, sometimes happily, sometimes not, took all-purpose guitar lessons under a poster of Andres Segovia and wondered at how the old master had made do with such fat little sausages on the ends of his hands.

Maybe more to the point, though a whole hell of a lot harder to explain, and much less interesting as a story, was Rob’s adult interest (as a professor and writer (and very amateur guitar player)) in Segovia’s accepted reputation as a Modern master, an iconic, transcendent force of virtually unreachable artistic greatness who existed, for the most part, to lead the less skilled and less fortunate in understanding the guiding power of truth and beauty—and how Rob (Joe Pomo (lite)), though most certainly a fan of successful art, thought that whole narrative of the artist god was colossally full of horseshit, as one-dimensional and simply contrived as any lousy yarn (see above) and was completely taken with having a truly fresh Modern master to attack78 (because, after all, all the literary masters (Joyce and James and Faulkner, and other men, mostly) in Rob’s direct line of sight had already been successfully undercut (as gods, though, not as awfully good writers)).

Commented [MR7]:

Which is kind of a strong word.

Commented [MR8]:

And, admittedly, Segovia’s “sons,” like the brilliant Australian musician John Williams (NOT the guy who wrote the Star Wars music) had already given old Andres a once-over for being an authoritarian pedant—but not in the literary way Rob planned.

Or, more practically speaking, there were Rob’s own suspicions about why—while Segovia wasn’t famous famous famous—three famouses—he was nonetheless famous famous while other classical guitarists before and after (who were also often talented composers, btw, which Segovia was not) weren’t even famous famous, making Rob believe that like a lot of “great” artists, Segovia’s relentless self-promotion and networking and usefulness to the interests of others and pure luck made all the difference, which, you know, Rob had seen a lot of over the years in the world of writing, and, well—yuck.

It was, of course, kinda cool, too, for Rob to think about how writing a novel around a historical figure opened up all sorts of questions about the complicated interplay between “truth” and “fiction,” the “real world” and those stories we make up about it, which—well—let’s not belabor that point…

Segovia

Abuelita was left to nudge Andres from the coach. The boy’s mother and father were already out on the cracked sidewalk stones in front of the building, the father impatient, arms crossed. As always, thought Abuelita. Useless. She made a sweeping motion with her hands, Go on, she said, and flipped the fabric of her grandson’s coat. Go on, she said, and Andres finally slid across the seat’s cracked leather.

Please, Abuelita said to the driver, who sat up front, unmoving, as if waiting to be asked. She gestured. All the bags piled behind them, tied on, and the driver couldn’t be bothered to help take them down? Did he not understand they had arrived? The bags, she said, as if it needed explaining before he finally jumped to the street.

And you, she said to HIM, who was still the boy’s father, for a time, at least. The bags, she explained again, indicating with her head. His reaction, when it came, was loud, exasperated, contemptuous.

Are we at Auntie’s, Andres asked.

Yes, Aurelia said. Auntie Maria. They were going to her home for a visit. They hadn’t told him more.

He had to see something was unusual, though, and wonder at the coach, which was an extravagance, or the luggage, or the presence of his father, who never attended gatherings, even at his own home—and the mood of his mother, they all felt it; the entire trip she’d sat staring ahead instead of at the sights that thrilled Andres through the coach window, the shopfronts from a new vantage, and the people in richly-colored clothes in busiest streets. Mama, look, he’d said, again and again, though she hadn’t.

And now they were here, in the littered street in front of the second-floor flat Maria and Eduardo had rented for, what, two or three or even four years now, and the boy was excited to be somewhere other than home, and his mother moved as if underwater, weighted and out of her element.

Yes, fine, Abuelita said to the driver, who had roughly stacked their bags on the edge of the curb before asking if that was all. She imagined a strong wind would send their belongings tumbling into the street but found in her coat pocket the amount they’d settled on. And an extra coin for the man. Less would be churlish. Fine, go, she thought, as he slapped the horses away, before she looked up to the windows levered open upstairs and the displacements of light she thought were the figures of her other daughter and her husband waiting, holding back from appearing on the balcony to wave and shout hello.

So, she shouted. Eduardo, come down. Maria, she shouted, send your husband to help, then wondered if she needed to have shouted at all, because Eduardo came immediately out the narrow door that led to even narrower steps upstairs, first shaking that idiot man’s hand, and then hugging her, and finally resting a gentle hand on Aurelia’s arm before swinging Andres up for a kiss. At last, someone as excited as the boy, who struggled from under his uncle’s smothering cheeks before leaning forward again to tangle a hand in his sideburns.

Welcome, Eduardo said, loudly. ¡Hace tiempo que no te veo! Please, let us go in—as if it were that simple.

Maybe it was. Turning, Eduardo led them up the cramped stairs, walking almost sideways so he could talk while pushing the biggest suitcase up ahead—now half with his knees, and now he almost seemed to crouch and push it forward with the crown of his bald head. The boy was just behind, his hand in his uncle’s, his face turned to the open hall and door above. Behind the boy his mother, carrying nothing but still moving slowly, as if she couldn’t raise one foot up one step and then the other, and another, and behind her that man, impatient, wanting to push at his wife but knowing better with Abuelita just behind. Without herself there, Abuelita imagined—no, knew—he would be prodding, ugly words coming out his stupid mouth.

But Abuelita was there, even if a few steps below, winded after only half a flight. She was there, and would be always for her daughters, and for this grandson, Andres—or another one of the grandchildren, it didn’t matter which. Abuelita would be there for any of them.

This obligation, she thought, it happened when love settled somewhere under the skin. It was not a feeling concentrated in the way Eduardo looked at the boy. It was years of work of washing clothes and setting food on the plates and cleaning up after that turned love into caring for more than caring about, but it was still love, and she was still caring for these girls, who should be the adults now, she thought—though a part of her wished Aurelia didn’t look ten years older than her age in her bag of a dress and crooked hat.

And the other one, Abuelita thought, noticing that her older daughter hadn’t yet appeared upstairs above them. Too foolish and frightened to know what a gift she was being given. What if he is unhappy, Maria had said the past week, bunching her hands or ticking them through her hair, or what if I don’t know how to take care of him? He’s already a little boy, not a baby I can raise.

Not one consideration of the boy.

They clustered in front of the apartment now, on the worn wooden hallway floor and its equally faded braided throw, and Abuelita asked, Well, and raised her eyebrows.

Well! Eduardo said, though he seemed to take pause before putting his palm against the worn wood of the door, to push, to let them inside, into the wide and open living room, and Maria, waiting.

Even with all her time, and all of Eduardo’s money, Abuelita thought, not for the first time, Maria had furnished the front room with only a small sofa that looked too frail to hold even one person, and a table no wider around than a puddle, and a rocking chair under which lay a rug meant to muffle the chair’s rhythm over the wood floors. It looked too small, the rug, Abuelita thought, and she wondered how often the chair tipped over the edge.

Every other room the same, with one or two pieces of necessary furniture and nothing more. The room Eduardo and Maria had set aside as the boy’s—Abuelita didn’t even need to look to know it held only a small bed and a dresser. Maybe a nightstand. That would be something, she thought, if they’d gotten the boy a nightstand, and maybe even his own lamp?

For a moment, they stood in a small clump inside the door, the room quiet but for sounds of the street carrying up and through the open windows. Eventually, Abuelita removed her shawl, and handed it to Eduardo, who nodded, smiling, agreeing, of course, before also taking Aurelia’s coat and that man’s hat and stepping to the hall closet.

Welcome, Maria said, speaking finally, politely, too politely, gesturing broadly, indicating what, Abuelita wondered—that they should spread themselves through the room? She couldn’t mean that they should sit, for there was no way they would all find space on the furniture. Why hadn’t the girl at least put out food, around which they could collect?

To be fair, Abuelita allowed, as she shuffled into the room ahead of Aurelia, who did the same, and then that man, all of them looking around to the walls and ceiling, as if the apartment were a museum but with the artwork hidden—to be fair, how does one host a morning such as this?

At least the foolish girl had bought toys, Abuelita noticed, finally, in the silence—a new set of blocks, and a wooden horse, a board on which the boy could draw with chalk, though they were all piled awkwardly to the side of the room. Or maybe Eduardo had bought them. What did it matter? She watched as they all seemed to see the toys in the same moment as the boy saw them and started forward, looking to his mother for permission—but the girl, her girl, Aurelia stiffened, her face setting into a mask that looked as if it would shatter to shards if she ever smiled again. The toys, and the permission, they were not hers to give. Only the boy was, and he had already been given.

Had Aurelia not imagined what would happen when this time came, the six of them together to move the boy in—about what she would need to say and do? Had she only gotten as far as deciding to give the boy up and couldn’t think farther than that?

They were children, all of these people, living their whole lives waiting for someone else to take charge.

This girl, especially, she had always looked to Abuelita for answers, and when Abuelita’s answers no longer satisfied her, she turned to that man, as if he could show the way, but her husband—he knew nothing. Abuelita could take pleasure knowing he would end up alone in an attic apartment somewhere, someday, thin from soup and sour wine, his children visiting as a chore—if she didn’t have to imagine her daughter beside him, in the same miserable state.

How could the girl even now not see this man couldn’t help her, that he didn’t even care to assist her as quiet in the room grew, and they all now turned to look at the boy, who still waited.

NOW, Abuelita thought. Now was the time for the older girl to step in, to say something, to make things right, but all Maria did was stand by herself, still, watching, and it was up to Abuelita, as usual.

Eduardo, Abuelita called, after another frozen instant, Eduardo, she said, until he returned from the hall—and, thank goodness, he knew to straighten and smile and put a hand through his hair. He walked over to kneel by Andres.

They are for you! he said, pointing. Your toys! he said, and reached to them and held out a block for the boy—and Abuelita took some comfort again that at least one of her girls had found a man worth something.

But Andres did not take the toy. Instead, he moved solemnly to wrap a hand in his mother’s dress, the room still silent.

Abuelita thought, briefly, that the day could be saved if they all simply took up talking as if everything were fine, letting the boy wander back to the toys on his own, when he was ready, and then they could soon enough sit down to a lunch, if Maria had prepared at least that in her kitchen, and perhaps even enjoy themselves before telling Andres he would be having a holiday with his uncle and aunt, which would make less of a shock for him, Abuelita thought, and she could get his mother outside and away before she made some scene.

But before she could say a word, of course, the father.

Andres, he snapped. Go play, and what had that man expected, the boy started crying, looking as if he would climb his mother’s dress to find her arms, and Aurelia, stricken, started crying as well, and Abuelita whispered shhhh, casting about for some help with the boy, looking to Maria and then at the boy, and back to Maria, and then the boy, who, finally, finally, Eduardo swept up onto his knee as he sat down in the stiff-backed rocking chair.

Giving the room an encouraging raise of his eyebrows, Eduardo paused just briefly, considering, and then took the still-crying boy’s small arm in his hand and swept up, and then down, up, and then down.

El tocar la guittara, jum! he began to sing, in a thick hum, out of tune, and then he laughed, and swept, and strummed. To play guitar, jum!

No tiene cencia, jum! he sang, so badly but with such feeling. You need no science, jum!

He tapped a foot, which made his knee bounce, and Andres bounced with it, no longer looking to his mother but instead at his own hand in his uncle’s.

With a rolling flourish and sweep of their wrists, Eduardo sang more. Sino “juerza” en el brazo, jum! Only a strong arm, jum!

He hugged the boy to him as he gave a final up and down of his arm, and the ending line he less sang than whispered in Andres’ ear.

And perseverance, jum!

Then he started again, singing El tocar la guittara, jum! grinning his gap-toothed smile with such pleasure, and strumming up and down so that even Abuelita imagined she could see the guitar he held, and hear it—though thinking it funny the only thing she had ever seen Eduardo play was cards, laughing over drinks with other men at family events, even as he lost—until, finally, the boy calmed, and smiled himself, and said JUM with his uncle, and it seemed for the moment all would be well enough.


Matthew Roberson is the author of three novels: 1998.6, Impotent, and List, all from FC2. He also edited the collection, Musing the Mosaic: Approaches to Ronald Sukenick, from SUNY Press. His short fiction has appeared in Fourteen Hills, Fiction International, Clackamas Literary Review, Western Humanities Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Notre Dame Review, and others.