The Tale of El Guapo


Part 10

El Guapo Goes to the Big-City

Depression is such an ugly word, but right now it just seems to fit.

The stupid orange tabby cat just vanished in spite of my careful surveillance. I’d like to know how he pulled that off.

The little girl and her family are all angry with me because of a stupid TV goat; I’d like to know about that too.

I tried to break the rope that ties me to the fencepost, but I nearly broke my neck instead. I did manage to pop my head out of the collar, but now my ears sting like they’ve been scrubbed raw with sandpaper.

I get blamed for everything that goes wrong, as if everything were somehow my fault.

Because everyone is mad at me, they don’t spend any time with me. My only friend in the world is Maggy. I wish she were here; just the sight of her cheers me.

Maybe I’ll go search for her. I’m foot-loose and collar free...and rope free too. I’ll head into the big-city because that’s where she spends most of her time. I’m bound to find her at one of her favorite restaurants or hangouts.

Now I don’t feel so bad.

I begin my trek by heading northeast toward town. I know where I’m going because I’ve been this way many times before. I leave the little girl’s house behind, along with the fencepost and rope, the mailbox, the little barn and goat corral, and the few leafless trees scattered across the property. Maybe I’ll return before dark; or maybe not—I’ve got no schedule to keep.

With the gusting breeze pressing at my back, I move swiftly into the uninviting terrain of the South Plains. There is nothing between the distant horizon and me. Well, nothing but frequent patches of sand and tufts of brown, dry grass; and shrubs, brush, prickly pear cacti, and every sort and size of weed; and stunted, sprawling mesquite trees; and scattered tumbleweeds: some free roaming, others stationary prisoners; and yuccas, with their long, spindly stems that remind me of the pointed ears on that little dog I saw on TV last night. Okay, there’re plenty of things that too often hide the horizon and compel me to meander here and there as I advance toward the big-city. Meandering gives me the pleasure of using my keen nose to investigate every little thing I pass (not the cactus, though...never the cactus).

Suddenly my nose catches a whiff of something that demands my attention. It’s nothing I’ve ever smelled before; therefore I must investigate. My nose takes charge leading the way, and soon I know exactly where I am, because I’ve been here once before. In moments a gaping hole appears before me: the abyss.

A few weeks ago, I saw a stupid little goat heedlessly plunge into this hole. There is a pungent, putrid stench wafting freely from the opening: interesting, but unappetizing. It smells like something only a cat would eat...and maybe a coyote.

Beneath my feet and around the hole, I see that the soft, sandy dirt is pitted with numerous dog tracks, but my nose insists that these are from coyotes. The breeze must carry the stench for many miles across the plains.

Seeing the abyss makes me think of Maggy. She was with me that day when everything tumbled out of control. It also helps me remember my purpose: I’m on my way to find her.

With renewed vigor, I set out in a trot toward the big-city. I try to maintain a quick pace, but too often I am forced to seek roundabout pathways past unyielding obstacles of brush, cacti, and formidable walls of tumbleweeds.

I must also occasionally pause to pluck a painful goat-head or sand burr from a paw. Because I have to use my teeth, the sand burrs are bad about piercing my tongue, gums, and lips. I wish the little girl’s father were here. When she unintentionally pierced her own hand with a fishhook, her father got it out in no time. I’m sure he would do the same for me.

When I cross the path of a growling, obstinate polecat, I am forced to hike a long way around him, a very long way.

Polecats aren’t cats at all. They’re black, like me, except where I have some white mottling across my belly, they have white streaking along their bushy backs and tail. I suppose they’re called cats because they’re such cowards; they don’t fight at all. It’s disgusting what they do instead, utterly disgusting.

Soon enough, I come upon the black asphalt road that leads into the big-city, and my heart leaps because I know that I’ll soon find Maggy. Not too far from this road is a hamburger joint that she frequents, and that’s where I’ll go first.

As I press on, more and more houses begin to appear on either side of the road, and from them, loud barking dogs hidden behind tall fences call out to me, warning that I am violating their territories; they are ignored.

The houses abruptly end at an intersection of broad, multilane streets where traffic is practically flying low from every direction. I have finally arrived at the big-city.

I know I am close to my destination because the wind, now blowing from the east, carries the aroma of frying hamburger patties which sets my mouth to watering. All I need to do is turn right, cross the road at a slight angle, and in a couple of minutes, I’ll be there.

The busy street becomes a problem though. I keep trying to move across the road, but too many of the speeding cars are challenging my right to be there; some of them loudly bellow their indignation as they charge past me. Let it never be said that El Guapo does not accept a challenge.

Almost immediately, a cowardly screaming car launches a surprise attack from the rear. “El Guapo challenges you!” I scream in return, and with a quick twist, I bound toward my attacker. Being a true coward, the terrified car abandons all pretence of dignity, and abruptly swerves aside, out racing me by mere inches, fleeing my confrontation without a backward glance.

Determined that the next one shall not escape so easily, I swing around in a wide arc past the middle section of the street, and prepare for the next challenger. Instead I must jerk around the other direction because of a terrible, screaming screech, but I react too late—my attacker is already engulfing me.

Instantaneously, I am reliving a nightmare for which I had no previous memories: the school bus attack. For the first time in my life, I suffer terror: pure, ugly terror. My body goes limp and collapses to the ground as the horrible memories burst free and seize my mind. I relive that moment when I was about to latch onto the fleeing bus, but the situation abruptly reversed: the growling, snarling bus turned on me, grabbing for me with its grimy, faceless under-parts, beating me and knocking me senseless.

This time, however, my body shakes uncontrollably as I lie paralyzed on the dark asphalt, completely overwhelmed by my own terror and panic. The heaving chest of the noisy monster, hovering less than an inch above my stricken body, over shadows me as the victor claiming its victim. The searing heat of its fierce breath is hot upon my flesh, and my lungs rebel against breathing it in. This is morbid. Why doesn’t it just eat me and be done with it?

I’m really not sure if I’m alive or dead, but I can hear voices from the front of the car and I realize the monster has become silent. I think that there are people on their hands and knees, peering underneath the bumper at me, but I can’t compel my disobedient head to turn around to look.

Gazing behind the front tire, I can see a bit of daylight shining on the pavement. I hear the car door open; first one pink sneaker appears, and then another, but the girl they belong to quickly joins the small crowd of people at the front of the car.

“Did I kill it?” she asks in distress. “It just ran out in front of me...I couldn’t stop!” She’s about to cry.

“I don’t think you hardly hit it at all,” another woman says. “I think it was smart enough to duck down when it turned and saw you.”

“Here,” a school-age boy says, “let me get it out from underneath your car.” With that, he darts beneath the front bumper, grabs my hind legs and smoothly pulls me out into the small crowd of people. “Look,” he says, “it’s not a dog-tag, but it says his name is El Guapo.”

Still shaking wildly, I merely lie there, an unwilling prisoner inside my own body. Soon unfamiliar hands are poking me here and there, searching for injuries. The woman finally says, “See, I don’t think you actually hit him at all. He’s just terribly frightened, like a little drowning rat.”

Little drowning rat? In spite of my shaking body, I sit up, turn my head toward her, look directly into her eyes, and give her the fiercest “bad to the bone” glare I can manage.

“Oh, look!” the school boy says; “He seems to be coming around.”

With that, everyone expresses confidence that I’m going to be okay, and the small crowd quickly disperses. The girl in the pink sneakers gently lifts me, carries me into the car, and places me on the passenger seat next to her. Soon we are speeding into the heart of the big-city to her small apartment. She talks to me sweetly as we travel. She lives alone and thinks it will be grand to have me for companionship. I just want to find Maggy.

—El Guapo (rabid by choice)

(via ghostwriter)

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