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Same Names —
Different Faces

Fiction by Xavier F. Aguilar

 
Cover art
© Aaron R. Aguilar, 2011
 

About the Author

Like Running Water

It Came From the Sky

Same Names—
Different Faces


Also by X.F. Aguilar:
Garment of Flesh
In Autumn’s Grace
From My Father’s House

chapbooks-online.com

 

 

As I approached the glass doors they slid open and a cool rush of air pushed the heat from my body. When the panels closed behind me it was like being transported to a part of the world where everything is correctly constructed. The overhead lights revealed a handful of people wearing red vests and knee length pants; it was dress significant to their proper order. Outside the temperature had peaked at 95 to make it the second hottest day of the summer.

Two steps into the store and his smiling face greeted me. “Mr. Fiesta, how are you?”

“I’m good. How are you?”

To recognize the man who stood almost a head taller than me was no easy task and a puzzled expression gave him a clue. “It’s me, Bill Clover.”

There he stood, in real life, wearing the same grin he displayed through the high-school years we palled around together.

“Bill, what’s up?” The last time I saw him was on a riverboat cruise some ten years past.

“So,” asked Bill, “How’s life been treating you?”

“Not too shabby,” I responded.

“Guess who I saw last week?”

I really didn’t want to play any guessing games so I just shrugged my shoulders. Even in 10th grade Bill would always begin his conversations with a guess or a dare.

“Don’t know. Who?” I tried to look concerned while wiping perspiration from my upper lip.

“Hi stranger,” interrupted the voice.

My eyes focused on the image of Ben Joffe in his usual attire of a pressed white shirt and dress pants. We all knew that Ben’s dad was a business owner and that he expected his only son to display the integrity of family value.

A look of disdain showed on Bill’s face. He fell silent to his revelation and turned away to look at a display shelf. The turning of his back to Ben was an indication of his dislike of Jews.

“Still wearing the garments of success,” I joked.

Ben laughed aloud. “Just trying to keep Papa happy.”

The intercom informed that someone needed help at ‘Hardware.’ It was hard not to notice that my Hebrew friend had gone bald. The remaining hair grew along the sides of his head then met at the rear, more than halfway down.

We three stood transfixed in past memories and present reality. To run fast and far from one another may have been the best thing to do, but, we had become prisoners of collective time. In that place we gazed at each other and shared the candor of who we once were and what we had become.

divider

In 1963 I opened a pack of Black Jack chewing gum as Bill and I walked along Main Street heading north. We were on the 800 block as we passed the Joffe Chicken Store. The sidewalk was always littered with feathers and the stink that surrounded the wooden building was offensive. White paint peeled from the framework and large windows displayed; JOFFE CHICKEN STORE. Bill covered his nose with his hand as we passed by.

“Ben’s dad sure has a good business,” I said.

“I guess,” Bill replied.

It was mid-October and the Halloween gilding became more apparent as we neared the retail shops. The trees that lined the sidewalk had begun to turn garnet and tangerine in color and the wind was just a bit more nippy than that of September.

“What’s the matter,” I asked, “Don’t you like chickens?”

“They sure do smell.” Bill then took his nose between two fingers and squeezed. Our eyes met and we both laughed at the gesture. “Still, they make some good eating.” Again we laughed aloud.

The broken concrete served its purpose well as our footsteps took us to the area where the body had been found in the last week of August. It was there and then that a young female was found propped up in the seat of a green Ford pickup with a gunshot wound to her head.

“The cops never did find out who killed that girl,” said Bill as to speak his personal thought.

“Nope. Never did,” I agreed.

“They say she must have been shot just as the train blew its crossing whistle.”

“I suppose that’s why no one heard the shot.”

Bill looked to where the rusty pickup had been found. “The shooter is long gone by now.”

“Or living right here in our town,” I added.

divider

In the winter of 1960 I turned 12. I didn’t have a birthday party with cake and games and music. That’s not the way my life was. Ben Joffe, who is a couple of years my senior, did wish me a happy one and handed me a signed photo of himself. He told me to tell my mom to come to his dad’s store for a free chicken.

The day my mother went to get the bird I went along. It was snowing as we walked the five blocks against the wind; I remember my mom taking hold of my hand at each street crossing we came to. She pointed to various buildings and told a little history of each as we made our way.

Ice made a crunching sound as our feet pressed down and against. It was good to enter the chicken store despite the reek and feathers matted with blood. Pulling off my hat I moved slowly so not to fall on the slippery floor. I scrutinized the windowed cooler to see the many parts of cut chicken as labeled; legs, breast, thighs, etc.

When Mr. Joffe entered from the killing room his white apron was splattered with blood of the capon. The mustache he wore was thick and black as the vinyl recording he had listened to the evening before. He wore a white net over his hair and his deep set eyes were dark on a round face.

A few days later Ben and I were out sledding on a desolate slope at a nearby park when we heard thunder booming in a mouse-colored sky. Motionless, the two of us looked up as we spoke simultaneously, “What was that!” Far away, over the hills, across the frozen stream, above the tree line, we watched the air turn red and gold and purple.

“Did you see it,” asked Ben with emotion.

“I sure did!”

We walked away from the summit dressed in our bulky coats with fur lined hoods to protect us from the cold. A couple of times we stopped and looked to see if the colors were still visible; they were gone. It was unique to view what we did that winter’s day and it was something that keeps the memory alive.

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© 2011 Xavier F. Aguilar