Suegro got bit by a rat last night. Suegro is my Mexican father-in-law. We all live together here in Hermosillo now that Natalia’s been deported from the United States. I packed up our stuff and followed her. I’d follow her anywhere. We don’t know what we’re going to do. No more working at McDonald’s for Natalia. No more driving a cab for me. Suegro was at his security guard post outside the Casa de los Soldados and he reached down into his bag to get a burrito. A rat was in there eating his burrito. Rats eat very quietly. Sneaky little bastards. The rat didn’t want to share the burrito and gave Suegro a chomp on the hand. Now he’s got to go to the doctor again because he’s scared of the rabies. It’s always something with Suegro.

He’s eternally complaining that he needs new shoes. Natalia and I have bought him new shoes many times. When we lived in Arizona, we always had money for new shoes. But he never likes the shoes that he’s given. Everywhere he goes, it’s the same refrain. He’ll visit Emma and Emma will say, “How’s it going, Apa?”

“I need some new shoes.”

And when he visits Isabela.

“Hija, I need some new shoes. How come nobody will buy me any new shoes?”

“Apa, we just bought you some new shoes last week.”

“They’re too heavy.”

Sofia came over to the house the other day. Sofia is kind of fat but still pretty. Natalia and I and Suegra and Suegro were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking instant coffee with powdered creamer. The milk had run out. Suegra had some tamales steaming in the big pot. Suegra is my mother-in-law.

Sofia said, “Apa, how are you feeling today?”

“I need some new shoes.”

Everybody at the table rolled their eyes.

“Didn’t Isabela just buy you some new shoes?” Sofia said.

“They’re too heavy.”

“What about the shoes we bought you?” Natalia said.

“Too tight.”

At the house Suegro always wears the same old rubber sandals. He doesn’t walk, he shuffles, he scoots his feet across the floor, like he’s cross-country skiing.

Sofia stood up from the table and walked in circles shuffling her feet like Suegro.

“I need some new shoes, how come nobody will buy me any new shoes? Nobody loves me or they’d buy me some new shoes…” she said in a grouchy gruff voice.

Sofia the clown. Even Suegro was laughing. He dabbed his eyes with his red bandana.

Suegro looked at me.

“I’ve got some ungrateful daughters,” he said. “No respect.”

“It’s not the shoes,” Suegra said. “It’s your old feet. You need some new feet.”

“Nothing wrong with my feet,” Suegro said.

“Just look at them!” Suegra said. “They’re all fat and crusty! And look at your toenails! You need to cut them once in a while.”

“If I just had some good shoes, I’d be fine.”

“You’ve got a closetful!” Suegra said.

The daughters have brought shoe catalogues over and they’ve gone through them with Suegro, page by page, looking at all the styles and colors and making sure the size was right. Every time someone brings him new shoes he puts them on and says they’re perfect, he loves them. But in a day or two he’s changed his mind.

Emma hauled him off to the shoe store last month. Somehow when he’s in public he walks normal, he’s a damned ballerina, he puts on a show, flirts with the ladies. He tried on a pair.

“Yes, I like these, these are good shoes.”

“You’re sure?” Emma said.

“Si, these are the ones.”

“I don’t want you to be complaining tomorrow that you don’t like them.”

“No, no.”

“I’m gonna sell all those shoes if you don’t want them,” Suegra said.

“Go ahead and sell them, you crazy old woman,” Suegro said.

“We might just sell you too!” Sofia said.

“Shit,” Suegra said. “Nobody would buy him!”

“Maybe a rich gringo would buy me and take me to the United States?” Suegro said.

“Ok,” Natalia said. “Your birthday is coming up, I’ll buy you some new shoes.”

“You’re my favorite daughter,” Suegro said.

“How old are you going to be?” Sofia said.

“Oh, eighty…eighty-five…” Suegro said.

“You’re seventy-three!” Suegra said. “Pinche Huichol!”

Suegro looked at me. “See what I have to put up with?” he said. “Why couldn’t I have had a son?”

“You’ve got a son!” Suegra said.

“Hmmmph. Well, he never bought me any new shoes. What good is he?”

In the middle of all this, my brother-in-law Arturo showed up on his motorbike. Arturo loves his motorbike. It’s good on gas. He’s always about town, popping in here and there, zip, zip, in and out of traffic, cutting corners, up on the sidewalk, he zigs and he zags, he zags and he zigs, he’s a bumblebee, big fat Arturo on his little motorbike, beep beep! He uses his motorbike to do his collections for the collection company. But he makes a lot of pit stops. He lands on every flower in town. Arturo knows when people are making tamales. He’s got a sixth sense. Antennas twitching in the air. The second the lid of the tamale pot is lifted, there’s Arturo at the door.

“Que tal, Arturo?”

“Good, good, how is everybody?”

“I need some new shoes,” Suegro says.

“Working, Arturo?” Natalia says.

“Always, always.”

“The tamales are ready, Arturo, how’d you know?”

“Just lucky, Suegra.”

The steaming green corn masa fork-firm in the husk. A bit of cheese and a green chile in the middle.

“You want some eggs, too, Arturo?”

“No, that’s ok.”

“How many?”

“Pues, two I guess.”

Arturo gets around. He’s a professional visitor. Nobody needs the newspaper, we’ve got Arturo. Cacharpas’ house in the morning, Suegra’s at noon, Isabela’s later on, his brother’s, his nephews’, number 1,2,3,4 and 5. Every burrito hustler and taco slinger in town knows Arturo. He sits down at the kitchen table, chair creaking. Old roly-poly, pork-pie, round face nibbled with freckles. Arturo is what’s known as a “guero,” a Mexican who doesn’t have the more common dark skin and black hair. His hair was red until it all fell out. His Grandpa was a German. He’s not as white as I am, but he’s close. He’s pushy and he’ll con you, but that’s normal. He’s always got an angle, a plan. He talks a good line, but he’d give you the shirt off his back or the shoes off his feet. His nose is always running, he sniffs and sniffs, all that pollen. Rheumy eyes a’twinkling.

“Doesn’t Emma ever feed you, Arturo?” I ask.

“When she’s in the mood.”

Natalia was at Arturo’s the other day talking to Emma.

“And Arturo? Where’s he at?” Natalia asked.

“Who knows?” Emma said.

“Is he working?”

“Working, that’s a laugh.”

Arturo came home while Natalia was still there.

“Well isn’t this a miracle,” Emma said.

“Hey, I’ve been slaving my ass off.”

“Oh, brother.” Emma said. “You’ve got tamale on your chin.”

Arturo wiped it off. He went into the bathroom for a few minutes. When he came out he said, “Well, I’m off.”

“Hold on,” Emma said. “We need some things from the store.”

She handed him a list.

“Chingado,” Arturo said. “And the money for all this crap?”

“You’re working, aren’t you?”

“It’s been slow this morning. Nobody wants to pay their bills.”

“Speaking of that,” Emma said, “the light bill is overdue, too. You need to go down to the office or they’re going to cut it off.”

“Jesus! This is why I never come home during the day. How am I supposed to do my job if I’ve got to do all this other stuff?”

He was mumbling to himself as he walked out the door and climbed onto his motorbike. Beep, beep! There was a taco stand near the office where the light bills were paid. Chato’s Chicharrones.

On his days off, Arturo washes his motorbike with great care. He uses a toothbrush. He polishes the tailpipe, oils the seat, hoses the gravel out of the tires, shines the mirror. His baby, his meal-ticket.

Years ago, Arturo inherited some money when his mother died. He started a car wash, complete with pressure hoses, all the latest scents and waxes. Things went well for a while, the money was coming in, cars lined up to the street. Arturo moved like his ass was on fire. He hired his brother and his cousin. Scrub-a-dub-dub! Ring-around-the-rosies! But, then they started to get sloppy. All the family came in and he would wash their cars for free. They started drinking beer while they were working, having parties at night. Party at the car wash! More and more people got wind of it and wanted free car washes and free beer. They set up a big grill and made carne asada. Free tacos! Some days they wouldn’t even open up, they’d just sit around and drink and listen to music. One day they hired a couple of strippers. Why not? Hot in the summer in Hermosillo. They soaped those slinky broads down, hosed them off, sat them in their laps, tickled their titties. Every boy, man and dog in the barrio was there. He hired a mariachi band, an accordion player, a big tub of Bacanora punch. Some roughnecks dropped by, windows were broken, shots fired, someone got knifed, they washed the blood down the drain. Hoot hoot! It went on for a week.

One day a bill collector showed up at the car wash. The water bill was enormous and hadn’t been paid. Arturo bought some time by getting the collector drunk, but soon after, others came. The water was shut off. Then the electric was shut off. The music died.

“Party’s over,” Arturo said.

That’s when he got a job with the bill collecting agency. Arturo always lands on his feet. He’s always got a scheme. Gold. Silver. Buy low, sell high. A little skimming off his employer, they’ll never be the wiser. Fuck The Man! Family first. He’s an idea guy. Ideas come to him while he scoots around on his motorbike. Putt putt. Used cars. Imports. Exports. Turquoise from the lower regions. Bootleg Bacanora from the back room. Storage facility. Hot dog stand. Computer repair. Copper recycling. Furniture restoring. Guitar lessons. Arturo’s a dreamer, we all love him. If you need someone to come pick you up in the middle of the night, he’ll be there. Car breaks down, he’s on it. Need any spiritual advice? Arturo’s got it. Need a grave dug? Christmas lights don’t work right? Arturo’s got you covered. No shit, he’d give you his bed, his last breath of air. He’s not ashamed to cry. He’d wander into a tornado to save a kitten.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t dish out the bullshit. Always joking, he can’t help himself.

Suegra grabbed her broom and started sweeping. We all munched our tamales and eggs.

“How many miles to the gallon you get on that thing, Suegra?”

“Shut up, pendejo,” Suegra said.

“Natalia,” he said, “I just came over to take Mateo to the table dances.”

“Keep it up, Arturo,” she said.

“Come on, Mateo! The girls are waiting.”

He winked at me.

Life wouldn’t be the same without him.

Or any of them.


About the Author

Mather Schneider's poetry and prose have appeared in many places. He lives in Tucson, Arizona and works as an exterminator.


Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash