Phantasmangoria

September 11, 2008 at 2:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

The nose of the car breached the divide between broiling asphalt and dry, rocky sand all yellow-brown and shimmering with translucent wavelets of heat. It was an undeveloped lot just off the city street and right in between two nondescript concrete and glass strip malls. I continued on a few yards and parked behind a pale green palo verde, too stubborn like the rest of its bristly species to let the searing sun and miserly sky overcome its will to endure.

“You got the cash?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “Here.” She pulled a new ten out of her blood-red wallet.

“This won’t take long,” I said, hoping it wasn’t a lie.

“I’m coming with you,” she said.

“No, stay in the car.”

Dust puffed up and enveloped the toes of my shoes as my feet hit the desert earth. Sweat formed a thin film all over my skin. In the front of the lot squatted a rusty food service coach, the kind you can buy a taco out of if you’re willing to brave a few parts per dozen of insect viscera. I had parked somewhat behind and to the side of it. Walking around to the front I could see that it probably hadn’t moved in years, its tires exhausted and splitting and large swaths of paint having preferred disintegration among the grains of sand to continued service on the metal sides. A wide awning ran the length of the side closest to the street, and in front of the driver’s cab sat a no less dilapidated but probably more mobile van, the big kind from before suburban moms demanded a sleeker, more feminine silhouette from that type of vehicle.

A man clambered out of the back of the coach as I came around. He was ancient and weather-beaten like one of those ramshackle barbed-wire fences you encounter on hikes over the open range, face pitted and lumpy from sun exposure and grey-white hair untouched by any cleansing agent since the Carter administration. Outside of this rotting establishment I would’ve taken him for a wino. His gait stiff but hurried, he continued on without a word to the open cab and half sat on the driver’s seat, at last turning to survey me with his puffy, deadened eyes. They probably had cataracts. Still he said nothing.

I stepped in under the awning, dodging one of several hanging wreaths made of dried red peppers. I took off my sunglasses and nodded in silence to my taciturn, decrepit host before moving forward to the slapdash table bearing the mangos.

“Whatcha lookin’ for?” he rasped at last. I had set my hands on a few mangos in succession, giving each a light squeeze to test the firmness of its moist, nectary flesh.

“Mangos, old man. Or couldn’t you tell?”

“I can tell you which ones are ripe, if that’s what you mean to determine with all that intimate fondlin’,” he said.

“I know my way around a mango.” I continued to press my fingertips into the pliable red and green skins. Most felt a little squishy for my purposes.

The old man cleared his throat. “Well lookie here, son—”

“No, you lookie here,” I cut in. “I need these mangos for a fruit salad. A good one, none of that these-were-about-to-go-bad-so-mom-cut-em-up-and-threw-em-together crap. There’ll be jicama and cilantro. Now where do you get these mangos?”

He looked down at his feet and kicked the dirt. “I don’t like to talk about my sources. And they don’t like me talkin’ ’bout them either.”

“Oh, I’ve heard that line a thousand times. You wanna sell some mangos? Talk.”

“Son, these are the finest mangos you’ll find in town. I can vouch for that.”

Fuck it. I lunged at him and seized the front of his shirt with my left hand, then lifted, pulled, and slammed him against the side of the coach, pinning him there and moving my face in close. He gave a token squirm or two but seemed too indifferent to really struggle.

the dread mango nut weevil in all his infernal glory

“Where did these come from, old man?” I shouted, my voice lashing his eyes as their wrinkled flesh-shutters flickered rapidly up and down. “You bought them at a supermarket, didn’t you? Or stole them, more likely. But there they were, idling their freshness away under the pale glare of the fluorescent tubes, already exhausted from an odyssey that began in the dirty fields of India and went on through weeks crammed in a dank hold and a few miserable seconds sucking in radiation like a Chernobyl tick. Lest the dreaded mango nut weevil get us all, of course.”

“I swear, I didn’t…” he wheezed, his fetid breath washing over me like swamp gas. I fought the urge to retch. My right hand still clutched one of his mangos. Rearing back, I smashed it into the coach right next to his head. It exploded like a massive insect, spraying sticky orange glop all over the side of his face.

“Yeah, you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” I continued, my words popping out faster and faster like sparks from a bonfire. “You think I came here for the three-dollar basket your sign announces to every credulous idiot rolling by? Mangos come cheap lots of places, but you come to the bum in the jalopy on the side of the road for the good stuff, the juicy gold, the virgin fruit that hasn’t been blasted within an inch of its life by the FDA’s machines. I need the real mangos, dammit, the ones that come fresh as the morning dew on Eve’s bosom.” With my pulp-coated hand I gave him a brisk slap that snapped his face like a fresh latex glove.

“Alright! Alright! There, in the back on the right. Let me go, you son of a bitch!” I eased my grip, letting the fabric of his greasy shirt slip out. He bent over to catch his breath. “That basket’s different,” he said, eyes fixed on the ground. “Got it from the Mexicans. They bring a couple crates up each week.”

I felt them. They were as firm and supple as your high-school girlfriend’s ass. “Never been boiled or irradiated?” I already knew the answer just from the touch.

“No, no, I swear.”

“How much?”

“Eight dollars for the bunch.”

I pulled out the ten and dropped it by the man’s feet. “Keep the change.” Taking a plastic sack from the side of the table, I piled the mangos into it and turned to walk away. Just before crossing out into the sun again, I turned. “You’ve got strange ways with your mangos, old timer. You could have just told me at the start.”

He glared at me out of the corners of his eyes. “They ain’t supposed to be for sale. People who know the Mexicans, I guess, come around to grab ’em. Always the same folks, and they know which ones to get. They ain’t gonna be happy about this.”

I chuckled. “I hope they don’t slap you around too much.”

“They will. And then they’ll come for you. And they probably won’t knock first.”

“Tell them I’ll be waiting.” I stepped out into the shade, brushing a wreath with shoulder and snapping off part of a pepper. “Sorry, old man. You’ve got the change. We’ll call it even.”

Back in the car, I handed her the bag of mangos. “How are they?” she asked.

“We’ll have people knocking down our doors for this stuff, sugar.”

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