The Guy Who Thought He Knew Me
by M.O. Walsh
This guy had a brick for a face and no shoes on his feet. He sat there next to me and laid out his life like he was talking about somebody else, you know how people do.
So, who is Nelson Diaz? (he said). A spic? Born to two white parents in the aisle of a subway train? Maybe. Maybe not. But we do know this: Nelson Diaz is a man who, at thirteen, decided to take everything literally. I mean, everything.
But don't worry (he told me), these weren't lingo things like, "Give me a break" or "I'm freezing to death." No, Nelson Diaz wasn't a moron. He had never been that.
If he had been anything, it was slender and lean and any other thing that makes old guys go gay. He was tall, muscled, hung. Whatever you wanted him to be.
(This guy is acting like we are old friends so I say, Who are you again? But that is just what he is trying to tell me. And the whole time I am just wanting to make eye contact with Sissy the bartender. She is my ex-wife and it's like pulling teeth to get a drink from her now.)
So, the type of things (him talking here) that young Diaz concerned himself with were things like following orders, tying knots, and paying the asking price. Things his mother taught him.
This worked well, sure, for most of his years. He made top grades in school and he even had some girlfriends, despite (what he called) numerous misunderstandings with women. And Nelson Diaz even got married, if you can believe it, to the second ugliest girl at Poloma High, and they had sex with no toys but just them for twenty years, with three children thanks to it. And he can even show you the scar that showed up on his chest from the moment she died in the car with their kids.
But this (he assures me) is not meant to suggest that Nelson Diaz now leads a boring life. This is not meant for pity. In fact, Nelson Diaz is a scratch golfer who trades stocks online after midnight because that is when he can be the most naked he can be.
The real problem for Nelson Diaz was that his mother, whose father was from Mexico but was whiter than new socks, was a pragmatist. She told him that brushing his teeth in lines instead of in circles would lead most certainly to death. And that food fresh out of the microwave was no better than nuclear waste. And she believed that everything she said was like water for the thirsty.
She once told young Nelson Diaz that being a widow was more like a window because people see through to your pain. But, until his own wife died, he had always thought she meant pane. So, do you see why life can be hard for Nelson?
Obviously (this is me talking now), I hadn't ever seen the toyless sex he claimed to have, or the children it produced, nor did I know if his mother was really a widow. And I didn't even want to think about him naked at midnight, clicking the mouse with his yoo-hoo. But still, these are the things that Nelson Diaz told me, when all I wanted was a drink from my Sissy because it's like the ice doesn't melt when she makes them.
This guy Nelson Diaz is still wet from jogging, I'm guessing, and he keeps kneading his thigh with his thumbs. Then, right after he orders some cauliflower with cheese sauce (seriously) from Sissy, he confesses to never letting his gas tank drop below the halfway point. He just can't do it, he says. And then he repeats it. He also confesses to believing that beaches are made of dinosaur bones, crushed into sand over time. It is better like that, he says, if you think about it.
And Nelson Diaz is sitting really close to me now and all he has on is this tank top with some pink running shorts that outline his genitals and are shameless, really. He needs some peanuts, he says. They give him energy. So he leans all over and looks behind the bar. He's got scratches on his feet and, like I said earlier, this big kind of block-looking face like a brick.
Because you see (him talking now), Nelson Diaz had a father who loved money more than anything. He'd pet his money and kiss its four corners. Then he would stack it up, tie it with rubber bands, and bury it under the house. That's what Nelson's mother told him. It was better, she said, to think of dead fathers that way.
So, how can you blame Nelson for hating the man? How can you blame kids for anything? Because it is easy to get confused when you turn thirteen in such a dramatic way. And so now, Nelson doesn't know if he should go back and dig up under the house or what. Is there money under there or nothing? Is there ever anything to be gained?
I (me talking) watched Nelson put his hands on the bar. The heat from them made the wood foggy, and I really felt for him at that moment. I felt for this Nelson Diaz sitting next to me at the bar. Because, when Sissy came back, it had been at least ten minutes since he ordered. And I knew what Sissy would say, because I could see it all over her face that she didn't like this guy.
She was going to tell Nelson Diaz that not only did they not have peanuts, but they didn't have cauliflower with cheese sauce either. And, not only that, but they didn't serve food at all because as she had just remembered, they didn't even have a kitchen.
And I was really into Nelson's mind right then, because when Sissy told him that, she acted like it was normal for a person to forget about having something big like a kitchen. To forget about something that you either walk through or you don't, each and every day.
And I've always hated how Sissy bent the rules of everything. So, I tried not to watch her but failed.
She wiped down the beer taps like she didn't have a care. Then she raised her eyebrow at the Diaz guy who was just sitting there next to me, not hurting a thing.
"What do you want now?" she asked him.
Nelson Diaz was confused, I'm sure, because he saw the way that she hated him for no reason. He could feel, just like I can, the way that every thought in her head is as pointed and sharp as a saw blade.
And I should have told Sissy to leave him alone right then because, after all, I was still there. But I am starting to think I don't really matter anymore. That she can chew me all day and never get full. So, instead of saying anything, I grabbed Nelson by the back of his head and slammed his face against the bar.
Everyone looked at me, and Diaz slid right off of the stool. And when he jumped back up, he stuck his hands out in front of him like he was playing piano or something. I mean, his hands were really out there. Sissy threw a napkin at him because his head was bleeding.
Then she turned back around, but not before glaring at me, and started checking the bottles for empties.
And Nelson Diaz, the guy who thought he knew me, kept his hands out in front of him the whole time. As he tiptoed, backwards, out of the door.
About the author:
M.O. Walsh was born and raised in Baton Rouge, La. He is currently living in Oxford, Miss., and writing in the MFA program at Ole Miss. His work has appeared in the Absinthe Literary Review, been anthologized in French Quarter Fiction, and is forthcoming in this December's issue of the New Orleans Review. He is at work on a novel and collection. He has a family, some friends, and a dog.