Rumpus Original Fiction: Nacho
for Gabino Iglesias
The truth is, Abundio Abarca de Jesús had grown accustomed to the lump on his neck. The mass sat just below his right ear but did not cause any pain or discomfort. Three months earlier, Abundio had noticed a small, barely perceptible nodule when he slathered on Barbasol shaving cream on November 1, his birthday. Abundio remembered how intriguing he found this new feature—if that was the correct word for it—and eventually anticipated the slow but certain growth he perceived each morning as he commenced his daily ablutions.
When he finally mentioned it to his mother during their once-weekly phone calls, Amaranta Guadalupe de Jesús had exclaimed: “Mijo, you must see the doctor about it!” Since his father had succumbed to lung cancer six years ago, Abundio knew what his mother feared. So, he agreed to mention it to his doctor during an upcoming annual checkup. “I promise to show it to the doc, Mamá,” he added. And his mother knew that her son’s promise was as good as gold.
Dr. Yesenia Reyes pressed and prodded Abundio’s lump as she hummed an indistinct melody that must have sounded quite lovely in her mind’s ear but did nothing but annoy her patient who sat uncomfortably in a backless rough paper robe without anything to shield his skin from the over-active air conditioning system other than his boxers and argyle socks. Finally, she pulled back, looked up into Abundio’s wide eyes, and said: “I suspect it’s not malignant. But let’s do a biopsy to make certain, okay? We can do it here, now.”
Abundio and Dr. Reyes stared at each other in silence, each waiting for the other to buckle. Abundio lost that battle, as he always did with his doctor.
“Good. Let’s get you prepped.”
Four days later, Abundio received a phone message from Dr. Reyes. He had missed it because he had taken a wonderful afternoon nap that day, and in order to get the most out of this special time of peace, he had turned off his cell phone. When he played the message, this is what the message said: “Good news. Not cancer. It’s what we call a benign lipoma. Nothing to worry about. We can remove it, and you will be good as new, save for a tiny scar. I have an opening next Thursday. Call my assistant, and we’ll take that baby out of you.”
Abundio played the message three times, and each time he listened to it, he grew a little sadder. He let his mother know, and she was relieved. “¡Maravilloso!” she exclaimed. And then she added: “Is the doctor single?” Abundio ignored this last question and directed his mother to other news about his job which was not exciting but worked as a perfect deflection.
“I got a great annual performance review, Mamá,” he said.
“Por supuesto,” his mother responded. “They are lucky to have my son!”
The benign lipoma floated in a small jar that Abundio had set on his nightstand when he came back from the doctor’s office. At first, when Dr. Reyes had asked him if he would like to bring it home, Abundio had laughed in the belief that this was nothing more than obtuse doctor humor. But Dr. Reyes did not smile and waited for a response to her question. So, Abundio said: “Sure.”
Abundio did not like the clinical, somewhat impersonal term of benign lipoma, so he renamed the mass of tissue something a bit more friendly: Nacho.
Each night, before Abundio turned off his nightstand lamp, he would tap the top of the jar three times and say: “Good night, Nacho.”
Sometimes Abundio would add: “Sleep tight and may you have pleasant dreams.”
Not surprisingly, Abundio’s kind and thoughtful care of Nacho did not escape Nacho’s notice. Nacho’s once pinkish pallor, over the course of a week, ignited into a vibrant burgundy. Nacho’s fleshy mass responded as well by growing just a bit each night while they both slept.
One morning, Abundio realized that Nacho was bulging within the tight confines of the little jar, so Abundio retrieved from the attic an old fishbowl that had once served as a lovely home to three guppies he had named Nina, Pinta, and Santa María, but all three were now long deceased and buried at sea with a flush of a low-flow toilet. The fishbowl now had a new purpose. Nacho seemed quite content in his new abode and continued to flourish.
Eventually, Nacho outgrew the fishbowl in a somewhat remarkable and astonishing manner. This is what happened one Sunday night: Abundio plumped up his pillow, turned to the fishbowl, tapped it three times, and said, “Good night, Nacho. Sleep tight and may you have pleasant dreams.” Abundio then turned off the lamp on his nightstand, snuggled into his plump pillow, and fell into a deep sleep. The next morning, Abundio stirred. As he slowly awoke, he sensed someone standing over him. Abundio opened his eyes and above him was Nacho, no shorter than five feet, eight inches, leaning down to examine Abundio. But since Nacho had no eyes, Abundio was not certain what Nacho perceived.
“Good morning,” said Abundio.
Nacho pulled back and stood erect. “Good morning,” said Nacho.
At the sound of Nacho’s greeting, Abundio thought, Nacho’s voice is much deeper than I would have expected. And then he wondered, How does Nacho speak without a mouth? Many other questions came into his mind, but Abundio decided that they could be saved for later.
“Would you like some breakfast?” asked Abundio.
“Oh, that would be delightful,” said Nacho.
Abundio put on a robe and trundled into the kitchen with Nacho following close behind. He prepared a large pot of coffee and chilaquiles as Nacho sat patiently at the kitchen table. The two new roommates ate their delicious breakfast in contented silence. Nacho eventually drank the last bit of coffee that had cooled at the bottom of his cup.
“Would you like more?” asked Abundio.
“Oh, yes,” said Nacho. “You make the best coffee.”
This warmed Abundio because no one had ever complimented his coffee before. He poured another cup for Nacho.
“Mil gracias,” said Abundio.
“Por nada,” said Nacho. “And these chilaquiles are to die for!”
They eventually set up a simple but workable living arrangement. Nacho slept in the living room’s foldout couch and Abundio kept his bedroom to himself. Abundio cooked their meals while Nacho eventually got the hang of cleaning house, which he did when Abundio was away at work during the day. On weekends, they stayed in, watching movies on the flatscreen, reading magazines and books, playing board games. At first, Abundio missed Nacho’s nightstand presence, but over time, they fell into a placid and fulfilling routine.
Abundio eventually told his mother about Nacho. After giving her as many details he could think of, she remained silent.
“Mamá, are you still there?
“Mijo, I have never heard of such a thing before,” his mother ventured. “But you live in a big city, and I know many strange things happen in such big places.”
“Mijo, isn’t it strange?” she pressed her son.
“Mamá, what is strange for one person might be very normal for someone else.”
“Pues, mijo, most people make friends at school or the office or even at Mass,” she said slowly, sensing that perhaps she was pushing her only son a bit too far.
“But this is different, Mamá . . . ”
“Sí, diferente, mijo . . . ”
“I don’t have time to make friends, so I feel lucky I have Nacho.”
“Pero, mijo, it is not normal.”
“And what is normal?” said Abundio attempting to control his temper and the conversation.
“Pues, normal is what you see on TV . . . ”
“Your telenovelas are normal, Mamá?” said Abundio with a snicker.
“Ay, mijo, never mind,” she said, surrendering. “It is your life. And I am sorry.”
“Sorry for what, Mamá?”
“I am sorry your father and I could never give you a brother or sister . . . ”
“Mamá, don’t . . . ”
“We tried, but it was not in God’s plan.”
And with that, mother and son said their goodbyes and ended the conversation.
Eventually, during their weekly phone calls, she would ask Abundio about Nacho, and he inevitably would tell some funny story about what Nacho had done or said. His mother could not help but chuckle at these stories, and in the end, she was happy her son had a new friend, and she never again questioned Abundio about it.
Then one day, everything changed.
On a Wednesday, Abundio came home from work and could not find Nacho. He searched each room of the house—he even spied into the attic with a flashlight—but Nacho was not to be found. Abundio started to panic. Should he call the police and report a missing . . . missing . . . a missing what? No, the police must not get involved. So, Abundio heated some leftovers, quickly ate his dinner, skipped desert, and then made a large pot of coffee to keep him fortified as he waited at the kitchen table for Nacho to return from who-knows-where.
After three hours of waiting—and four-and-a-half-cups of coffee—Abundio heard the front door open then shut. Abundio decided to play it cool and to wait for Nacho to come into the kitchen. After a few moments of silence, Nacho slowly sauntered into the room, deliberately retrieved a cup from the cabinet, and poured the last of the coffee. He took a sip, let out an almost imperceptible burp, and sat down across from Abundio.
“So,” said Abundio, unable to stop himself from inquiring. “Where were you?”
Then, Nacho said: “I went to Lake Balboa.”
“It must be twenty miles away from here.”
Then, in almost a whisper, Nacho said: “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“How beautiful it all is?”
“How beautiful what all is?”
Nacho leaned forward. “All of it.”
Abundio was at a loss. He had no idea where this conversation was headed.
Nacho answered: “The strong tree branches that seem to be reaching for the clouds. The rippling lake water with all types of ducks and geese paddling wildly. The people—children, adults, grandparents—of all shapes and sizes and colors speaking a multitude of languages. And the music coming from small, portable speakers. I heard Vicente Fernández’s buttery baritone for the first time!”
“Ah, yes, my mother called him Chente. She loves his music. Which song was playing?”
“’Tu Camino y el Mío.’”
“My mother’s favorite,” said Abundio. “It’s such a sad song.”
“Yes, it made me cry,” said Nacho. “Such heartbreak.”
“Yes, such heartbreak.”
They sat in silence, wrestling with their own thoughts.
Finally, Nacho said: “Why do you think the man doesn’t open the letter?”
“You know, in the song,” said Nacho, leaning in toward Abundio. “The man finds a letter written by his love, but he doesn’t open it. He just drinks wine and somehow he knows he’s lost her. But we don’t really know for sure, right?”
“Well,” ventured Abundio, “I guess sometimes we just know.”
They sat in silence, each pondering the lyrics of Fernández’s musical lament.
“It’s so sad he passed away,” Abundio finally offered.
“What?” said Nacho. “Who passed away?”
“Vicente Fernández. My mother said that she thought he’d live forever.”
After a few moments, Nacho observed: “But, in truth, Vicente Fernández lives forever through his music.”
“You are quite a philosopher.”
Nacho raised his coffee cup: “To Vicente Fernández.”
Abundio raised his coffee cup: “Vicente Fernández.”
Nacho added: “¡Presente!”
Abundio echoed: “¡Presente!”
With that, Nacho stood and said: “Time for bed.”
Within ten minutes, both were in their separate sleeping quarters, snoring softly in unison.
The next morning, Abundio awoke as the morning sun came through his window. He felt refreshed, at peace, knowing that Nacho was safe at home. He got out of bed and went into his bathroom. As Abundio slathered on Barbasol shaving cream, he gently fingered the raised scar on his neck just below this right ear. Abundio smiled. After shaving and showering, he walked through the living room and saw that Nacho had already closed the foldout couch and neatened up. Then wonderful aromas of coffee and chilaquiles wafted into Abundio’s nostrils. This was new! Nacho had never made breakfast—or any other meal—before. Abundio sauntered into the kitchen to welcome the new day.
Abundio beheld a perfectly set kitchen table: a full coffee pot, a skillet brimming with steaming chilaquiles set carefully on a trivet, cloth napkins, a small vase with a single pink rose in the middle.
But something was very wrong.
Nacho was nowhere to be seen.
And Abundio suddenly noticed that there was only one place setting.
Abundio broke into a cold sweat. He scanned the modest kitchen for clues. Then, he saw it: A small white piece of paper folded neatly leaning against the gleaming toaster. On the paper was the name “Abundio” written in lovely cursive writing.
Abundio crept up to the note, snatched it, and held the paper wondering what he should do. He held it for seven seconds before deciding that he should open it. And as he read and re-read the note—also written in a beautiful, cursive hand—the reality of Abundio’s new situation slowly sunk into his consciousness. He let the note fall from his fingers, and it floated gently to the tiled floor. Abundio crouched to retrieve it, but then felt himself falling onto his knees. The note looked blurry, and Abundio realized that his eyes brimmed with hot tears.
Abundio’s body crumpled, and he shook and trembled. He could feel his chest heave without control. And at that moment, Abundio realized that his life had changed forever.
Rumpus original artwork by Liam Golden