J.M. Guzman

Art by Sean Aldous

It is only at night that his house becomes a castle.  

The first time it happened, José said, “I deserve this.”

And of course he concluded that. It was the way of a man who wore the face of a boy and discarded all his lovers. In the morning, I watched him from the walls and burned out a lightbulb in anger.

At the time, it was all I could do. He chalked it up to Santo Domingo’s frequent electrical troubles.

“I’m going to hate you,” I said.

“Okay,” José replied. I don’t think he heard me. He was probably just talking to himself.

Later, he asked the air, “¿Dónde está mi maldito zapato?”

It made me even angrier.

Did you know?

Before the sun was pushed out of the sky, José brushed his teeth in spite of the coffins that crowded each corridor. Rot was beginning to penetrate the floor, spreading steadily, like spilled milk.

And the mirror in his bathroom reflected an insult. It was another personal statement being made, one about the infection of age killing skin and teeth. Blood filled José’s mouth, and he spit red slurry into the sink.  The aftertaste of iron and mint was the result of coming back home.

Did you realize?

The second time the house changed shape, he didn’t see it morph. He blinked to a changed, awakened place. Light switches were lanterns and the ceiling was stone.

It was perfect.

Ruined patriarch with all that entitlement, but no longer with nothing to show. He had a gothic world that crooned against the forests of la Republica Dominicana, sitting dark and gaunt underneath brash lightning and intermittent rain. It was almost a mural.

Or maybe a shield. 

After all, child support letters could not reach across the sea. The world that wore the face of a Caribbean city could not register him as anything but a returned islander. The king of a summer castle.

No, no. What’s abandonment?

The only stories that can be told within that castle are those of triumph, of Queens barbershop money and beautiful women at his hand. The return from America is the story of winners, always and always.

But those who are stomped underfoot?

We work at erasing José from our pages.

Toxic? No, how could he be?

Children? They could fend for themselves. It was character building.

When the castle became a house again, José called someone to get in touch with his son. He wanted to remember he had a child, but did not know how to say sorry for a lifetime. He did not really want to apologize to an adult, either.

Can you see where this is going?

Right before the third time the castle was turned, José saw a ghost or perhaps a doll. A boy, maybe his child, but he could not tell which one.

José saw me.

He didn’t say anything. In fact, he turned on the light in the room and continued eating arroz con habichuelas.

I was not surprised.

Dulce, Yesenia, Esther: they have names even if he pretends otherwise.

They don’t need him and in fact never did, but José wants to pretend he didn’t betray them. It must be so easy to never be wrong.

Truthfully, José is never talked about anymore. He simply has stopped mattering. The Dominican women have jobs, lives, dreams, and they do not look for the book that threw them away.

And now?

“Yeah. Surprised, aren’t you?”

I yell this.

He blinks and for a second I think he sees me. And I can tell: my magic trick does not amuse him.

José says something about dios, but he isn’t a god fearing man, not really. He simply mistook the milk left on the countertop for a ghost.

I am too dark for him to notice. And further still, you cannot haunt someone who closes their ears and shuts their eyes.

It took me a long time to learn that lesson. And when I swallowed it into my bones, I still tried anyway.

Learning is never as neat as we pretend it is.

This is how a castle decays:

In between the footfalls of thunder, there is the suspicion that the world will crack open and spill something out.

I walk out of that yawning hole. You see, I am the reagent of his life.

No, no. That’s a joke. He is more vaguely cognizant of me than melancholic.

On the fourth night, José blinks at the transformation of his world because, oh yes, he notices something is off. It isn’t me that he cares about, not really, he’s recognized me before and walked away from me but it’s the corrosion in the walls, the rainwater collecting on the floor.

Poor, poor old boy.

Riches to less riches.

The rags come later.

As the forest roots in his walls and warps the architecture around him, José is convinced no one has ever felt a sadness like his. He is the only person who knows suffering. It is that boring, old existential pain. When America spit him back out, José learned to be like its poets.

It gives me no pleasure. I weigh his hurt in my hand, and it is not heavy enough.

His castle is dead, infected with the memory of my presence.

But no. That last part is a lie. Let’s not pretend I mean so much to him.

As he stands in the mausoleum-castle, all alone with no money, I ask:

“Did you breathe me in? Did you feel something? Did you even know me enough to learn how to miss me?”

He cannot hear me but that is for the best. There are no answers to those questions, no conclusions to bridge reconciliation. It is the same thing as wondering if someone knows how to regret.

José’s castle is a buried home.

We could talk to each other, but I don’t have the words.

©2018 by J.M. Guzman

J.M. GUZMAN is a Dominican-American that writes about ghosts, coffins, and all the things in the dark. He has fiction that appears or is forthcoming in Fireside, Daily Science Fiction, and Lackington's. You can find him on twitter @jmguzman_.

Back to issue 5 - spring / summer 2018