A Shit Gig
Flash Fiction - Originally published in Malposition Magazine, Issue 1: October 2021
By Angelique Imani Rodriguez
As soon as you walk in you know the gig is going to be shit. Jorge called you just an hour before, telling you his drummer has the flu and could you make it. Three a.m. and you were exhausted, but you needed the cash, so you said yes, knowing you’d regret it later. You untangled yourself from your lady, who kissed you with lips warm from sleep when you said you’d be back.
El Paraiso is across the street from Happy Land on Southern Boulevard, where just a year ago, a dollar’s worth of gasoline cooked 87 people alive. A few blocks over is where your boy was killed for his Triple F.A.T. goose, holding groceries for that night’s dinner. A former strip club gone cuchifrito scene bar, the windows are covered in waxy black paper to keep the sun out and any nosey motherfuckers from looking in. It’s dim inside, red and purple bulbs making everyone look sick and garbled Fania playing from a fading jukebox. Everyone in here is either too drunk or high to notice the dank of it. Drunk couples move to the music, making out or grinding off-beat.
Jorge and the guys are setting up on stage, what used to be where girls shook their asses. You smirk as you watch Jorge try to maneuver instruments around the stripper poles that still stand. You set your congas down. The bartender’s cute, with frizzy cornrows and red lipstick, but she smiles with missing front teeth. You order a Heineken and nod at a man sitting at the bar, his hand gripping a cup of something dark.
He smiles at you, asks if you’re the drummer. You nod.
“Well, shit, man…get up there.” He juts his chin out to the stage. You notice his chain, peeking out from a collared white shirt that glows pink in the light. It sparkles against his collarbone and ends in a shimmering medallion. He notices you staring and smiles.
“Nice, eh? San Miguel…my protector. You want another beer? A bump?” He extends his hand. “Blanco.”
“Papo. Nah, I’m good. Gave that up. Bumps and chains like that. Every time I be tocando las congas, they always pop, like God’s ripping ‘em off.”
“Supongo que tus muertos no te quieren encadenado, hermano. Next beer on me.”
You shrug, walk away, wondering what your muertos would say about diamond angels on your neck in a paradise that looked like Hell.
Jorge looks frazzled by the time you get situated but for just fifty bucks for three full hour-long sets, he better kiss your ass. The band starts the first set and the couples start grooving. Soon, you zone out Jorge’s off-key singing, the way the piano player keeps missing keys because he’s nodding off. You keep your foot kicked out just enough to nudge him back into playing.
A woman starts dancing, her skirt licking flames around her thighs, her hair whipping her temples damp with sweat. She’s cutting the fuck out of that rug and no one can stop watching her. Including Blanco. You’re busy making sure your guanguanco is on point and keeping the piano player from passing out on his ivories, but you see Blanco walk up to her, his face soft and smiling. She smiles back, shakes her head. Blanco says something else. The light catches the medallion of his necklace, like San Miguel is ready to dance too.
That’s when you see another man watching Blanco chat up the dancing woman.
Everyone else is smiling. He isn’t.
You try to keep focus on the rhythm you’re playing. You look away for just a second.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
You flinch then freeze, your eyes moving to the dancefloor. Wine blooms across the front of Blanco’s shirt. He falls, hand out to the girl as if he were still asking her to dance. The shooter turns him over, rips the chain off of his neck, yanks the now screaming woman towards the door, and they run. Jorge and the rest of the band cower behind the bar with the bartender who cries into her hands. It’s just you and the piano player still on the stage. You’re cold all over as the barbacks walk to Blanco, nudge his body with their feet, then drag him outside to the curb.
Surprisingly there are couples still standing on the sides of the dancefloor, waiting as if Blanco were just a spilled drink that was going to be mopped up. When the doors close and the light of the growing dawn is shut out, people dance around streaks of his blood the barbacks missed with their dingy mops.
Someone put more money in the jukebox.
You go outside, nauseous. You don’t realize you’re scared until you light your cigarette with trembling hands. You think of a grimace in a sea of smiles. You think of gasoline and feathers. You think of concrete and black windows.
That’s when you see Blanco next to the streetlamp, his chest rising and falling, slower each time. You walk over to him, look down into his face. He looks shocked, tears falling from the corners of his eyes. He opens his mouth and blood spatters onto his chin.
When it happens, it’s like a light goes out. He sighs and then he’s gone.
You run to the corner bodega, buy a dusty white candle and a bunch of wilted daisies that are sitting in a bucket next to crates of yucca and aguacate. You vomit in between cars before you set them both by Blanco.
He looks like a boy in the dawn, baby-faced. You light the candle and cry over his body, wiping snot off your face with your sleeve, praying.
You imagine a diamond San Miguel burning in the other man’s hands.
The sun is a rising mango when Jorge comes outside. You hear soft sirens getting closer. He doesn’t look at Blanco’s body when he speaks.
“What a shit gig, right?”