Juan Rodriguez, Jr. was somewhere in the middle of suburbia with a woman. They were in her toasty apartment, she was sitting on her couch sipping a glass of chardonnay. Her pet cat pawing across the carpet quiet as sleeping death. Juan’s vision was fuzzy. His palms clammy and his pace was slow while he circled around the apartment scanning in wonder.
“So… is anyone else coming?” he was a swaying tower of meat marinating in alcohol.
“Um, no. Why would anyone else be coming?” On her brown oval peachy face, round eyes blinked.
“Because. You said more people were going to come here for an after party. The people from the Christmas party, no?”
“No. I didn’t. I don’t know why you would think that.” She angled herself at him. Right elbow on the arm of the beige striped couch. Her stare a bit ominous.
The cat frisked along the top of the couch. That allowed him to break his eyes from her leer. He began to question his thoughts. Waiting… for the idea to pop in his head.
Where was everyone? She did say there was an after party, right??
“Why don’t you take a seat,” the woman declared. As he began to make his way to the couch, he noticed one other glass of wine and the chardonnay on the coffee table.
Did she poor that when we walked in?
The clock showed half past eleven and it was dark out. Luckily he had the car with him. It was a silver Forenza, a rental.
Maybe I should go?
“Is this my wine glass?”
“Mm-hmm.” her eyes were on the television while sipping her glass.
He took a sip trying to look casual as his brain was figuring out how drunk he actually was. His focus was on everything in eye view but could only put together split seconds of the moment he was in.
Wait…Why am I sipping this?
Placing his glass down, he got a sudden urge of panic. Looking left and right seeing that they were now sitting next to one another, sipping wine, in an apartment off of SR 350 in the middle of nowhere, Indiana.
She was staring at him. As he looked back at her, a guilty feeling of forced intimacy crossed his chest, causing his heart to quicken to a pace of discomfort.
“Wait. This isn’t… are we going to?” His brain hurt. He sounded like a fool.
“What? Going to what?” Her face now caught contorting from worried to defensive. She placed her wine glass down and tugged at her sweater upward covering her neck.
“Were we gonna…? Did you think I was going to…with you? Did… we?” His eyebrows sunk along the top of his nose in thought. Now he was staggering to stand.
“What are you talking about, Juan? No.” The spite on the end of the ‘no’, heavy.
“I’m just gonna leave.” Juan’s heart hammered as he moved forward to the stairway, down to the front door. As his feet lopped and plunked their way toward the car his hands scaled along his body sinking into each of his pockets, meeting seams. No keys.
The terror itching forward along his scalp while he jerked the car door handle. It flapped back, smacking an echo through the cold December air, ricocheting off the apartment complex. Outside smelled like ice and crisped brown leaves. Now in the car, a tight bounce to the upholstery kept his momentum inward smashing into the center counsel. The Forenza door cranking back on his calf.
“Ouffff- chinga la madre!”
Looking on the floor in front of him then the passenger seat next to him, and the floor in front of the passenger seat… no keys. The back seat was empty and now he was kneeling on the wet concrete driveway in black dress pants and a shiny red button down shirt. It was about 20 degrees outside while his arm bent at 90 degrees underneath the back of the driver seat, in the dark orange-yellow lighting from the street lamp. No keys.
Did I leave them inside? No, no, no!
Sitting back in the driver seat of the car, pounding his palm against the steering wheel he began cramming his cold dry hands down the side of the counsel. Looking in between the gap for anything shiny. It was so warm in her apartment compared to outside. His breath hung in the air like a scarf around his shoulders as he stood outside now. No keys.
I’m going to have to go back inside.
Looking around, the complex roofs slated down to the front face of the apartment buildings with a fluorescent light next to each door. They all looked the same, like stale frozen books stacked side by side in a bookcase. He hadn’t noticed the similarity as he left. Wondering why he hadn’t bothered to look back. He couldn’t even remember how he got there.
It was #14, no #15. Or wait… #17, #13?
He stood blowing wine scented breath trying to concentrate. Wriggling his fingers in tight fists ached from the winter chill.
“Screw it, if it’s not #14 I’ll just apologize.” Knock-knock-knock.
The outside atmosphere a sleepy orange hue floated on the oil slick black parking lot road. No answer so he continued. Knock-knock-knock!
Dogs barked. Big, husky barks in the apartment to his left. He backed away almost half way to his car. Looking around, no lights turned on. All windows were dark.
Was it #14? No, I’ll try #13. But those dogs? Were there dogs barking when we got here? Did I over react? What if it wasn’t what I thought… maybe she was just wanting me to relax so I didn’t have to drive home. NO, because then why would she give me wine?
She was about 36 or 37 years old. A bit heavy, and stood about five feet-nine. Juan remembers her sitting on his lap at the table where everyone had pitchers of beer in front of them. It hurt. They were smoking and playing Christmas music. Now he was here. Cold, second guessing why he was even standing outside her apartment and then began to feel guilty and embarrassed. He thought maybe she went to bed? He lost track of time not remembering when he left.
“Did she fall asleep…what the fuck.” He moved in front of #17 where the dogs were barking loud and unseen through the curtain and window. Juan was trying to reason whether or not this was the door. He knocked with slight hesitance.
She probably didn’t hear him knocking. He’ll just say her name, she’ll hear him and let him back in to look for his keys. That’s reasonable, but that’s not what happened.
I hope I don’t wake the neighbors.
As his chin pointed upward, he hoped for her oval face to pop up in a window. No face.
Blue and red lights blinked from the second floor windows when a bright white spotlight swallowed them up. The orange hue of sleep had awoke. And it took the live form of two police officers with questions he only had right but wrong answers for.
“You smell like alcohol, been drinking?” Yes.
Please don’t brethalize me.
“Let me see some I.D.” (pause)
Where are my car keys?
“We’re going to need you to submit to a breathalyzer. You’re drunk in public. Where did you come from?” Here. Well, I was at a Christmas party.
Shut the hell up!
He felt agitated and went into defense mode. Blabbering on about how he couldn’t find his car keys. That was all. Trying to get them not to ask which apartment he had come from because he still hadn’t figured that out.
“You weren’t thinking about driving were you? Because then we’d arrest you for a D.U.I. too.”
“Too? No officer, I was going to call for a ride and get home.” Juan held his breath hoping he didn’t smell like alcohol still.
“We can’t let you go home. You’re drunk.” The cops were a tall dark blue dooming silhouette.
“No. I’m not drunk, please.” A female cop leaned forward and her grey eyes matched his Suzuki, which is exactly where she went. She started roaming through the car while the male officer approached him with the alcohol detecting device.
I’m going to jail. This is real.
While the mechanism was beeping, he looked past the plastic breathalyzer tip toward the grey-eyed officer pivoting out of the rental’s driver seat with a black Suzuki key dangling from the the ring.
Astonished, he spoke out to her, “Where did you find those?”
“I found the keys under the driver seatbelt. They were stuck pretty good.”
At least I don’t have to pay for a lost rental key.
Relief warmed him from the below freezing December darkness. It was short lived as the police officer interrupted, “Were you drinking here?”
“Um, yes well, I was at a friend’s house.” Juan pointed toward the complex.
“What’s her name? Does she live in these apartments?” The officer squared up to him now, seeming taller and more enforcing.
He tried to answer but found each attempt more and more doubtful. He questioned whether or not this was her fault, she just needed to open the door and he’d leave after he found them. They were there the whole time.
How did I lose the keys before I went in her apartment? Who called the cops?
He had been too loud, dogs barking, a man peering next to windows and shouting a woman’s name outside around midnight.
What the hell are you thinking?
“Take a seat in the car for us here so you can stay warm.” The officer sounded kind, and as he helped Juan to the cop car he slowly cuffed Juan’s hands in a swift motion.
“Hey, wait. What’s going on?!” Juan was stunned, asking to be let go.
The female officer poked her head in the front seat window, “Sir, I’m going to need to ask you to calm down. You are under arrest and we’re taking you to jail but we’re going to need you to sit tight for a moment and stay warm.”
To hell with staying warm.
“You can’t do this. Please, I need to get home.”
That night Juan never got home. He was booked in Porter County Jail while his car was left at the apartment complex. Since the keys weren’t in the ignition the cops couldn’t impound the vehicle, besides there was no way of knowing whether or not Juan had a friend who lived there. As the officers got back in to their vehicle, Juan slumped along the window. He had to get bailed out the next day by his mother. Outside the courthouse Juan received a copy of the arrest report. It stated he was disturbing the peace and that the woman had felt Juan was trying to force himself in her apartment. It stated that she was scared for her safety and that she thought Juan was going to try and take advantage of her. She called the cops to come to her safety because according to her, he was drunk and irate banging on the doors while shouting. Like an idiot walking with the papers in his hand wearing his shiny red shirt, he stood out against the white snow and grey sidewalks. His dry brown ashy hands, stinking body, and shiny red shirt. He stood out. Thinking of Aida.
That memory blasted through his mind as he looked out the window to his left. Sitting in the car outside his home. Staring straight into the eyes of his brother Santos. His brother was smiling as warm breath escaped his mouth, Santos pointed downward.
“Hermano, lower your window.”
Juan looked away from him and up toward Aida’s window in the sala.
“El Cielo” will be continued. Muchas gracias for reading. Please feel free to comment.