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Jun 2013
the old stone walls are still standing
though they no longer echo with sounds
of cornball jokes, bottle caps poppin’ off cokes
and the happy humming of a repaired motor
  
the old man was there when
the first car pulled in for gas  
28 cents a gallon, all fluids checked for free
spotless windshield guaranteed  
he hired that Mexican boy because he was polite
yes sir, and was the best **** 20 year old
grease monkey in the county
(hell, the state)
boy had one leg shorter than the other  
and had him a twin brother
whose two fine legs carried him that place,
somewhere between honor and complete disgrace,
called Vee-et-nam
but those strong legs couldn’t bring him home  
he come back in a box,
both his good legs blown clear off  

he hired Lolo the day before
his brother come home      
was hot as Hades at that graveside  
but he went and stood by the boy,
his sobbing mama, his sober father
and the hot hole in the caliche
where his brother was gonna spend
forever    

business was good  
the boy spent most of his time
under the hood
of Riley’s ‘51 Ford
or Miss Sampson’s Impala,
(white 1962, with red interior, clean as the day she bought it)  
Nixon beat that old boy from Minnesota  
told everybody he would end that crazy Asian war  
the right way  
but the old man had been
in those foul trenches in France,
killin’ krauts when he was 18  
and he knew there was
no “right” way  

he and the boy had many a good day
with the register cling-clanging,
mechanical mysteries being solved  
and a good hot lunch now and then
when the boy’s mama brought  
fresh tortillas and asada
or the old man would spring
for chicken fried steak sandwiches from the café

yes, many a good day

until
that hot July afternoon  
the day after we landed on the moon
when “they” came  
not from some lunar rock  
but from an El Paso *******  
where graffiti were their psalms
and switchblade knives their toys  
“they” came,
parked their idling ‘57 Chevy in front of the bay,
and bust through the front door
with a gun and a ball bat  
both had hair slicked back
with what looked like 30 weight oil,
“they” smiled, and smelled
of beer and sweat  
“Dame el dinero! Give us the money!
Give us the money old man, cabron!”  
the old man glared at them  
the bat came down and grazed his head,
cracked his shoulder  
“they” did not see the boy with the wrench
who laid the bad *** batter out
with one righteous swing  
the one with the gun did not aim
but pulled the trigger three times  
and two of those hot speeding streams
sliced through the boy’s throat  
the shooter was through the door and burning rubber
while the boy lay bleeding red blood
on the green linoleum floor  
the old man knelt over him, helpless  
saw his eyes close a final time
while the sting of the burned rubber
was still in his nose, and the hellish screech
of the tires still in his ears  

the old man had seen the dead before
piled in heaps in the dung and mud
of those trenches, faces bloated
with their last gasps from the nightmare gas  
but he hadn’t shed a tear
in the pale pall of the dead  
until that hot July day, with a man on the moon, all those miles away
and the best boy with a wrench in the whole state, Lolo,  
silent on the floor in front of him  

they caught the shooter
(sent him to Huntsville for a permanent vacation)
the one Lolo laid out with a wrench died
on the way to Thomason Hospital in El Paso
the ambulance driver was Lolo’s cousin  
and he may have been driving a bit slow    

Lolo was buried the day they came back from the moon
right beside his brother in that ancient caliche
his mother sobbed softly, “mi hjos, mi hijos”  
both boys now cut down
her left with prayers
and memories…  
the boys at the ballpark
their first communions
the grandchildren she would not have  
and the gray graves where they
would return to dust  

the Saturday after, the old man turned 69  
when he flipped his open sign to closed that day, he  
climbed the ladder slowly, painted over his store bought sign
with new white wash,
and red lettered it with “Lolo’s”  
not a person asked
about him using the dead boy’s name  
and things would never be the same    

the old man lasted another nine years  
until the convenience store started sellin’ gas
(they wouldn’t even pump)  
his hands were stiff with arthritis
and his shoulder stilled ached from the crack of the bat  
he closed on a windy winter Friday  
yet painted the sign
a final time that very day  
nearly falling, as he made the last red “S”  
but he made it down the ladder that last time  
and saw the boy’s name in his rear view
as he drove into the winter dusk
Inspired by a picture of  a long abandoned filling station in a small west Texas town--please note, though the name of the station is real, the characters and events are completely fictional creations of the author
spysgrandson
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