Arts/Literature

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Waver” by David Osmundsen

“ERES UNA PUTA!” Alejandro Judaz waved the gun like a child waving a flag at a parade. Marela would’ve laughed at the melodramatics on the TV screen if Miguel hadn’t been shrieking so loudly. Why did his grandmother have to be at jury duty today?

“SHUT UP BRAGUILLAS!”

Marela slammed the front door of the two-family house behind her and marched into the frigid February air. She fastened her pink scarf around her head and across her lips. She heaved a five second breath into the cloth, which caught her warm breath and kept her lower face from freezing. Her fingers clenched in and out, in and out, keeping her blood flowing through her hands.

Marela didn’t mind cold weather. She made sure to mention this when she applied to be a waver at the Freedom Tax office three weeks before. Sharon, the woman who ran the office, responded with “It’s a good thing you don’t mind the cold, especially with this cold snap they’re saying is coming on the Weather Channel.”

When Sharon finished looking over the application, she glanced Marela up and down. “OK, so if you’ll just come over here, so you can see the screen…” Marela walked to the other side of the desk. “I’m just going to show you a little video of what a waver does.” When Sharon pressed the “Play” button, she unleashed a blaring beat proclaiming “I’m sexy and I know it” and spectacular sights of hyper people in turquoise cloths and foam Lady Liberty Crowns spinning “Get $50 Now!” signs and doing cartwheels, backflips, kick-lines, and… was that waver twerking?

“Of course it’s not required for you to shake your butt or anything,” Sharon explained when the video ended. “But if it gets the customer’s attention, that’s great.” Marela nodded, knowing she couldn’t pull off backflips or cartwheels. Or butt-shaking.

Sharon pushed her chair away from her desk and stood. “So what I’m going to have you do is put on the costume and wave outside for about fifteen minutes or so, just to see how you do out there.” Her heels clacked against the floor as she walked to a wooden door. When she opened it, a cold wind wafted into the fluorescent-lit room from the darkness. “The costume is in a box at the bottom of the stairs.” Sharon reached into the dark and flipped on a switch. “Just follow me. Watch your step. My husband almost broke his leg going down there.”

Marela nodded and followed Sharon down the stairs. Each step creaked in pain beneath their feet. The box at the bottom of the stairs was already opened. The turquoise cloth that had been on display in the video was inside it. Next to it was a pile of foam Liberty Crowns. Sharon picked a cloth out of the box and said, “This one should be your size.”

As Marela slid the cloth onto her body and placed the foam crown on her head, she thought, It’s money it’s money it’s money…

In the flickering light of the basement, Sharon thought that the applicant looked like one of those ragged villains on one of her son’s video games. “OK, that looks alright…”

Sharon led Marela back upstairs, once again crushing the wooden planks on the staircase into submissive squeaking. As Sharon flicked the basement light off, she instructed, “So when you’re out there, just be really bubbly and energetic. Be happy. And don’t forget to smile. Can you smile for me?”

Marela slowly opened her mouth, revealing years of yellow decay.

See? That’s a pretty smile,” Sharon said through clenched teeth. Marela noticed a tiny dot of red lipstick on her front right tooth. “So when you’re ready, you can head out there and wave, and we’ll see how you do

“Thank you.”

“Do you have gloves, or something to keep your hands warm?”

Marela shook her head. Sharon nodded, went to her purse, and took out a pair of gloves.

“You can use mine for today.”

Marela took the gloves and put them on. “Thank you.”

She opened the front door of the office and stepped into the arctic climate. She lifted her gloved hand and alternated it back and forth like a pendulum. When she opened her lips to smile, she wondered how it would feel if the air froze the slippery liquid that surrounded her yellow teeth. She couldn’t let that prevent her from smiling, though. If she smiled enough to get this job, her newfound income would atone for any discomfort.

The street was quiet except for an occasional car. A few people walked in and out of the 7-Eleven across the street where Pedro worked. She fought to keep her smile up at the thought of him working across the street from her. If another place had hired her before, she likely wouldn’t have to be in plain sight of the store. But it only served as a reminder of what happened last winter.

He had made a bet with his friends that he couldn’t get laid that night. She was walking home from her friend Juanita’s house when she saw Pedro swaggering by her. She recognized him from the 7-Eleven—the cute stock boy with the gap-tooth who always smiled and winked at her whenever she went there with her mother. “How are you tonight?” he whistled.

“I’m fine.” She twirled the frayed edges of her pink scarf between her fingers.

“That’s good.”

Pedro flashed a gap toothed smile at Marela. An invisible hook shot out between the gap in his teeth and lodged itself inside her head.

“You going home to your mama’s?”

“I was thinking about it…”

“You have a curfew or something? You a good girl?” They inched closer and closer to one another. Marela lifted the right side of her lips.

“I’m only as good as you want me to be.”

“Hmm…”

Marela’s mind switched off as she and Pedro’s lips made contact. He took her back to the two family house his family lived in—the other family had just moved out, and his parents were fast asleep—and won the bet he had made with his friend earlier.

Marela didn’t hear her cell phone ring in all her ecstasy.

The next morning, he woke up to sunlight igniting her face through the window, almost like she was reborn. She woke up and smiled at him. His lips pried open slightly, just barely revealing the gap-tooth. As he stroked her raven-black hair, his guilt over the bet increased until he couldn’t not tell her about it. When he did, she smacked him.

“Is that all I was to you!? Just some stupid money!?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

Marela got dressed and stormed out of the house, not caring whether his parents heard her or not. When she got home, her mother asked her where she was. “I fell asleep at Juanita’s.”

“You didn’t answer your phone.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

“Always answer your phone when I call. You understand?”

“Yes, mama.”

She tried to forget him. But the gap-toothed smile. She shivered in hatred of it… then felt warmth emanating from the image inside her head. She tried to perish it, but it relentlessly throbbed in her head.

While her mom worked at Chipotle, Marela stayed at home and watched telenovelas. She wasn’t addicted to their romantic plots—rather, she enjoyed the hammy acting and the sexy bodies, particularly from Alejandro Judaz, the perpetually shirtless lover. His line delivery, with misplaced inflections and comically contortioned facial expressions, was as subtle as an elephant doing the Macarena on a dump truck. But she rubbed herself with fervid intensity as she imagined how he would lift her, how he would kiss her, how he would lick her, how he would fuck her…

One day, her fantasies were interrupted by a wave of nausea that turned into puke in the toilet. This incident turned into a morning ablution—wake up, puke in the toilet, shower, dry up. Her mother, noticing this pattern, bought her a pregnancy test. When the test came out positive, the older woman slammed the walls, smashed her daughter’s cell phone, and demanded that Marela pack up and leave the house.

“Useless!” her mother shrieked as Marela left the house with a backpack of shirts, pants, underwear and her pink scarf. “Eighteen and useless! Doesn’t go to school, doesn’t have a job, doesn’t care about anything except watching stupid telenovelas! Useless puta! Puta!!!”

Marela’s first thought was to try and find a way of self-aborting the baby. But she remembered that one story about the girl who tried to self-abort with a kitchen knife and killed both her baby and herself. When potential death failed to appeal to her, she tried to move in with other relatives, but her mother had called all of them and told them of her useless daughter. When they turned her away, Marela knocked on Juanita’s door and her friend took her in. “You can stay here, but you gotta find a job in a month though,” Juanita warned her. “If you don’ pay yo’ rent, someone else is gonna.”

Marela spent a month applying everywhere from a Diner to a Shop Rite to a McDonald’s. Their managers either told her they would keep her application on file, or that they needed someone with a little more job experience. She filled her leisure time, as it were, with telenovelas, and fantasizing about Alejandro coming to take her away.

But he wouldn’t want me like this, she thought sadly, rounding her hand along the circumference of her expanding stomach. He wouldn’t want me like this…

After a month, Juanita came home from cashiering at the local deli to find Marela rubbing herself to the television screen. After accusing her of only using the house as a room to masturbate in, Juanita forced her friend to pack up and leave. “You gotta get yo’ shit together, gurl!” Juanita screamed as she shoved Marela out the door. “You can’t just rub yo’self to Alejandro Judaz all day! You gotta get a job! You gotta do somethin’ with yo’ life!”

“I’m trying!”

“Try harder!” SLAM!

Marela heaved her shoulders and faced the only option she had left:

Pedro’s agitating gap-toothed smile.

When she told him he was going to be a father, he covered his face with his hands. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” he asked.

She explained how her mother and Juanita both kicked her out, and asked if she could stay with him until she could get on her feet again.

“If it were up to me, you could absolutely stay here,” he replied. “It would be good for the child to live with me. I’m just not sure about my parents.”

Indeed, Pedro’s parents weren’t thrilled by their son becoming a father at age 20 when he only had a GED to his name, but after the initial shock of the news, the conversation quickly shifted to a more pragmatic strategy meeting about how the situation would work. The result of this was that Marela and Pedro would live in the recently vacated half of the house. His parents would cover half of their rent until the couple got on their feet. Pedro also promised he would go back to school so that he could get a better job. He would apply online to the local community college that night. When the baby was born, Maria, Pedro’s mother, would look after it while Marela tried to find work. Pedro’s father would pick up a few extra shifts at the supermarket to cover the extra rent.

When the meeting was over, Pedro told Marela that he had a feeling it was meant to be. “I’m glad you feel that way,” she replied.

One month after Marela moved in, Pedro asked Marela if she was OK. She was so quiet all the time.

“Yes, Pedro. I’m fine.”

“Then why do you look so sad?”

“I don’t know! I just am! Stop asking, damn it!”

Pedro tried to massage her arm but she yanked it away from him.

“You’re gonna be a great mommy,” he assured her. “And I promise I’ll do anything for our child. I applied for the community college like I said I would.”

“How are you gonna pay for that?”

“I don’t know. Whatever happens, happens. You just gotta trust me. Let me do all the work. You stay at home and relax. Just worry about the baby.”

And thus began the days at home. When Pedro worked an all-day shift at the 7-Eleven, Marela watched Alejandro on the TV set in Pedro’s parents’ apartment.

When Marela’s baby was born, its potato-like form wriggled and writhed in her arms. Pedro beamed down at it. When he asked to hold him, she quickly held out the baby boy in front of her and let Pedro take him.

Pedro’s gap-toothed smile shined as he bounced the baby boy in his arms. “Miguel… Miguel… I’ll do anything for you.”

Marela closed her eyes and slept off her labor.

In order to relieve the boredom the new mother would inevitably feel, Maria suggested that they move the TV set into the young couple’s apartment. “I don’t really watch it much, except for background noise,” she explained. “You also need your telenovelas to keep you sane—trust me.” When the TV set was moved in, Marela spent her mornings watching soap operas while in the other half of the house, Maria would bounce Miguel on her sumptuous thighs, its mother’s eyes closed in ecstasy as she imagined Alejandro whisking her away to a shimmering mansion where he would rip off their clothes and plunge both of them into fiery pleasure and liberating—

WAAHH! WAAHH!

Maria knocked on Marela’s door, shattering the young mother’s fantasy. When Marela stood up and answered the door, the older woman handed off Miguel to her. “He wants his mommy,” she explained.

Those were the worst days—when her bliss deferred to maternal duties. When she had to look at Miguel’s clenched face, tear-soaked and purple, instead of Alejandro’s shiny brown skin and sleek hair…

***

As she waved in front of the tax office, Marela managed to keep her teeth on display for every passerby of the store. She kept her hand up and waved it back and forth. A few drive-bys honked at her and gave her thumbs up. One even yelled, in his manliest manly man voice, “FREEDOM FUCK YEAH!”

Money, Marela thought.

Pleased, Sharon beckoned her inside and told her she had the job. When Marela accepted, Sharon said “I know it’s a pain, having to be outside in this cold weather, and having people honking and yelling at you. But if you just bring your own scarf and gloves, you should be fine.”

Marela wanted to tell her that it was easy for her to say things like that. Sharon, from what she saw, spent all day in her pantsuit and golden necklace and diamond ring and magenta lipstick seeing clients and smiling at them as she magically did all of their taxes for them.

But she only nodded.

“I’ve had many jobs like this,” Sharon continued. “My first job was a parking attendant for a lake, so I spent hours out in the sun, which was the polar opposite of this, heHEhehehe!” Sharon smiled and her eyes squinted in amusement at her own joke. Marela kept her mouth in a firm straight line. When Sharon’s face returned to pleasant neutral, she said, “I know it’s not the greatest job in the world, but it does really help me bring customers in. And I always let you guys bring your iPods to let the time go by faster, so if you have an iPod, bring it.”

“I don’t have one.”

“OK… Well if you have any sort of music playing device, feel free to bring that.”

“I don’t have one.”

“Well… you’ll find a way to make the time pass. It goes by before you know it.”

“OK.”

“Alright, so you’ll start tomorrow, I can put you from ten to two. And it is nine dollars an hour, and you’ll get a break every two hours. That alright?”

“Yes.” Even seventy five cents above the minimum wage was still money.

“Alright. Well, thank you. See you tomorrow!”

And thus, Marela became a Waver for Freedom Tax Service under the employment of Sharon Bridger. When she told Pedro about it, his eyes flared.

“How can you work now!? You have a son, Marela! You need to look after him!”

“It’s money, Pedro!”

Pedro’s father silently examined his gun. Maria, who had been bouncing Miguel up and down in her flabby arms, injected “I can watch Miguel, it’s no problem.”

“We don’t want to make you do any more than you have to, mommy,” Pedro explained.

“I don’t mind—you both want to get on your feet, I think Marela is doing a very good thing by working. And it’ll be a little extra income, which is good. It’ll prevent her from being trapped inside all day.”

“But she can’t be away from her own child. She needs to be around for him!”

“You’re the one working at the store all the time,” Maria commented. “Maybe you should be around more.”

Pedro crossed his arms and violently shook his head. “No no. I need money to go back to school.”

“I need money too,” Marela injected. “And I want to start working. This is the first time someone’s actually hiring me. If I don’t start now, when else am I gonna start?”

It was eventually agreed that Marela would take the Waver job, and Maria would watch Miguel when neither parent could.

“I don’t mind watching Miguel,” Maria stroked the baby’s thin, black hair. “It’s nice to have a little one around again.”

***

The bare-chested and buxom man held a gun to a big-haired, skinny woman with mascara running down her face. “ERES UNA PUTA! ERES UNA PUTA!” he shouted, waving a gun in her face.

“YO NO SOY! YO NO SOY!”

Against the cries of the actors encased in the TV set, Miguel’s cries persisted against his mother’s pleas. “SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP!”

Marela’s hands clenched tighter when she walked past the 7-Eleven. Open, close. Open, close. Fist, palm. Fist, palm. Her shift started at ten o’clock that morning. Pedro would get off an overnight shift at ten o’clock. They agreed the night before that while Maria was at jury duty, she would stay home and watch Miguel until he came home. If he saw her now, he would think—

“Marela!”

Pedro came out of the 7-Eleven, his dimples making his cheeks glimmer in the morning sunshine.

“You waving today?”

Si.”

“Isn’t mommy at Jury Duty today? I thought we’d agree you’d stay home until I came back.”

“She has a cold, but she’s fine enough to watch Miguel.”

“Hmm…” Pedro eyed Marela. “Everything alright?”

“Yes. I’m fine. Don’t ask me that.”

“You know you always say that, and it’s really starting to piss me off.”

“Pedro, can we not do this now? I’m late for work—

“No, we’re gonna do this now. I am sick and tired of you sitting around the house all day watching telenovelas when you’re home. Mommy spends all her time and energy watching Miguel while you sit on your fat ass and do nothing for him!”

“I’m working. Isn’t that enough!?”

“It’s taking you away from Miguel. He needs you!”

“Your mommy makes him laugh and smile, he’ll be fine.”

Marela marched past him and walked toward the street. Pedro grabbed her arm and yanked her back.

“You telling me the truth? Mommy is really at home watching Miguel and not at jury duty?”

Marela slowly nodded. “Si.

Pedro released her. “OK… I’m gonna go home and get some sleep. See you later.”

“OK.”

Pedro turned around and trudged down the street. Marela immediately directed her gaze at the Freedom Tax Service building across the street.

When Marela opened the glass door and walked into Sharon’s office, she saw her employer leaning over a man’s shoulder. “Not sure what’s going on with this thing,” he sighed. “There’s probably something going on with the Wi-Fi.”

“Of course, it would happen to me.”

“Lemme try something else…”

“I’m gonna call the guy and ask him to come in.” Sharon pulled out her iPhone and began to tap on the screen.

“No, you don’t have to call them, I think I can figure this out.”

Sharon looked up from her phone to see Marela in the office. “Oh, good morning, Marela. This is my husband, Alex. Alex, this is Marela, she’s one of my wavers.”

“Nice to meet you, Marela.” Alex didn’t get up from his chair.

“Your costume is downstairs. You can get it yourself.”

“Thank you.”

Marela opened the wooden door and glared into the darkness below. She flipped on the light switch and walked down the creaky staircase. When she emerged from the basement, she walked toward the exit when Sharon grabbed her shoulder with her shiny manicured hand.

“Marela, are you OK?”

“Yes.”

“You look tired. Did you get a lot of sleep last night?”

Marela shook her head.

“You can go home and sleep, if you want, I can call someone else in—

“No. Please, I need to work today. I need the money.”

“Listen, if whatever’s bothering you is going to distract you—

“It won’t. I promise.”

Sharon looked towards the ceiling, as if trying to grab what to say next from the holes in the ceiling tiles.

“I have to be honest with you. Every time I have you waving out there, I don’t get a lot of customers.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just difficult having a baby.”

“Yes, I know how that is, I have a son. But all my other wavers bring in at least five customers. I’ve noticed the number of customers drop whenever you work. I know it’s only been three weeks, but you can’t let your personal life get in the way.”

Marela nodded. “I understand.”

“I’m honestly not sure about you being out there today.”

“I’ll be fine, I promise. And I’ll smile just for you.” Marela flashed Sharon her stained smile. Sharon slowly nodded, her eyes downcast.

“OK… If you really think you’re up for it…”

“I am. Can I borrow your gloves again today?”

Sharon shook her head. “I don’t have them. I lost them at the movies last night. I don’t know where they went. I must’ve dropped them and someone must’ve stolen them.”

“Oh… OK.” Marela turned towards the front door when Sharon’s voice held her back.

“Just one more thing.”

“Yes?”

“Do you have another scarf? That one looks a bit used up.”

Marela shook her head. “I don’t.”

“OK… I guess you can wear it today, but next time you come in, I want to either see it clean or a new scarf entirely.”

Marela nodded and went outside, the bell dinging behind her.

 

“SHUT UP! JUST SHUT—

Marela grabbed the remote control off the top of the TV and threw it at Miguel. His crying intensified in volume and passion. Marela crumpled on the floor, slamming her fists into her ears, attempting to somehow punch out her hearing. She wanted to go back to the night she slept with Pedro and tell him to fuck off. Then she wouldn’t be trapped here with this whiny and stinky brat who couldn’t say what he wanted.

In a flash, she realized she didn’t have to live with it.

She grabbed the pink scarf off the floor and wrapped it around Miguel’s neck. She pulled the ends of the scarf, constricting it around the baby’s neck, hoping to forever close the mouth that would someday resemble its father’s.

“SHUT UP! JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP, BRAGUILLAS!”

The crying stopped. Marela held the infant, now a fourteen pound mass of dead weight, and placed it in its cradle, the pink scarf still snaking around its neck.

Alejandro and the woman continued yelling in the background. Or were they making love? Marela turned the TV off before she could register what was going on onscreen. Silence buzzed through the room. She looked down at the lifeless infant. Her lips were a neutral straight line. Her eyes were dry enough not to cry. Her hands remained flat at her sides. She wondered what would happen if Pedro came in here and saw—

She couldn’t think about that. She had to work. She had to wave for Sharon Bridger and make money so that eventually she could get out of here and leave this town and Pedro forever. The baby had to be the last thing on her mind. She took the pink scarf from the baby and hung it around her neck.  

 

Marela walked back and forth on the sidewalk, waiting for someone to pass by. She kept her face in a perpetual frown until she saw a car drive by. Then, she directed her smile at them and quickened her waving to them. The car drove by, uninterested and apathetic. She returned to her frown.

Suddenly, she saw a dark but familiar figure carrying a black bag and storming across the street from the 7-Eleven. At first, she thought Alejandro Judaz had popped out of the screen and was after her in a romantic rage. Her lips quivered spritely at the thought of a romantic hero pursuing her like that.

It was Pedro.

He stopped and glared at her. She turned her back towards him and continued waving at a few oncoming cars.

“My baby’s dead.”

A car honked at her. She smiled and waved at it.

“Did you hear me? My baby’s dead.”

Marela stood with her back to him. Pedro stormed up to her and grabbed her shoulder, yanking her around to face him.

“Did you do it!?”

“I’m working, Pedro. Leave me alone.”

“Answer me. Did you do it?”

Marela waved and smiled at a passing Nissan. She continued for a minute after the Nissan had passed.

“Did you do it!?”

Her silence was confirmation enough for Pedro.

The office door ringed open and Sharon stepped out with Alex.

“Excuse me, sir, my waver here is trying to work.”

Pedro looked at Sharon. “You know what this puta did!? She killed my baby!”

Sharon stiffened. “Marela. Is this true?”

Pedro reached into his black bag and pulled out his father’s gun.

“You killed Miguel! My baby!” he cried, pointing the gun at Marela.

“Sir, p-put that gun away!” Sharon stammered and pointed.

“Hey! Put it down!” Alex yelled.

Marela felt her lips reflexively turn upward. The back of her mouth began to quiver, then vibrate, and when she couldn’t keep it in anymore, she barked out a laugh.

So like a telenovela! She thought.

“Why are you laughing!? WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING, PUTA!?”

Marela’s laugh reverberated from the front of the Freedom Tax office, to the 7-Eleven across the street, and down the street to the two family home where one of the rooms had a cradle that held the residue of a three-month life.

“Stop laughing! ERES UNA PUTA!

Yo no so… HA… yo no soy una—HAHAHA! HAHAHA!”

Her laughs continued to reverberate and bounce off the brick walls of the God forsaken buildings and the Godforsaken lives that ran businesses in this town. She laughed at Pedro, at the baby, at Maria, at Sharon Bridger, at Alex, and at Freedom Tax Service.

“HAHAHAHAH—

BANG!

Marela clutched her stomach and grimaced. As she crumpled to the ground, she looked to her employer in appeal, hoping she would call the police, take the gun from Pedro, something other than stand there with her hands quivering over her mouth. When Marela landed on the sidewalk, blood oozed from her abdomen and framed her lifeless body. Pedro walked to her body and stood over it. He cocked the gun towards Marela’s face.

BANG!

Blood and bits of brain poured from her forehead. Pedro spat in her face, dashed the gun onto her nose with a piercing CRACK. He then took the gun back, shoved it in the black bag, and stormed down the street. Alex held his wife, both of them shivering in the cruel and freezing air and too paralyzed from shock to go after the murderer. Keeping as calm a voice as possible, Alex told her he would dial 911 to remove the body. Sharon nodded and trembled as her husband pulled out his iPhone and dialed.

Marela’s turquoise cloth and pink scarf soaked up as much blood they could, then discharged the red runoff onto the sidewalk.