Cue the Mariachi
[by Matthew Dexter]
Made it to the majors with only two minor cancerous lesions festering inside my lower lip from six years of Skoal Straight, two tins a day, bit the other growths off and got some surgery in Guadalajara to remove the previous four, but didn’t tell the manager about them, nor that I was gay. Couldn’t. I’d lose my position in the starting rotation.
Texas Rangers’ doctors conducted the most thorough check-up before they signed me: blood work, conditioning, week-long physical, poking stethoscopes into my eardrums, hairy nostrils, orifices I never knew existed. Just wish I didn’t have to grind my lip against my teeth all day to make it look normal. You can’t see the bumps from the outside; not yet anyway.
They signed me for $2 million with a $5 million dollar bonus if I rack up twenty wins my rookie season; $1 million extra if we get to the World Series. Need to stay healthy to have a chance. Must keep in favor with teammates, manager, coaches, and owners; can’t let them know the madness inside me. One good season, playoffs, then the lesions can be removed during off-season. No need for curing cancer during a pennant race.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may be fleeting in the American military, but in the clubhouse it won’t be repelled for at least another decade. I keep to myself, elliptical treadmill, pink Bubble Tape in back pocket, I stand on the mound. They don’t know underneath that gum is magic: brown heaven. No need for circular maroon tin anymore. I keep the fatty in the back upper corners now and never spit. I blow bubbles as I pitch.
Managers watch with orgasmic delight, haunting expressions, pitchers watch with envy, hitters with sticky fingers tugging underneath their cups with scorn, punishing their testicles as they expectorate on the plate. I’m a pinch better than all the rest. Spring training made me number three in the starting rotation, my face in sports sections all across the country. American Embassy denied my entry to the United States four times; but one visit from a couple Mexican millionaires and the immigration papers were at our ranch the next morning. Signed them Jorge and my VISA granted under the table. There was a brown paper bag full of fresh, pink, five-hundred peso bills with Ignacio Zaragoza faces staring me in the eyes. My nickname is The General. Fans party like it’s Cinco de Mayo when I pitch. In spring training they begin wearing sombreros, drinking Coronas, chanting “General” after every strikeout.
By June there’s mariachi playing outside the main entrance to Texas Rangers Stadium in Arlington. By Fourth of July they have it blasting on the loudspeakers every time I strike out an opposing batter. Racists in other stadiums paint their faces brown and give me the finger as I stand on the mound and juggle the rosin bag. I don’t see them. Envision the faces of my family: my mother watching the only television set in the household, an old black and white one with rabbit ears. She’ll be a millionaire by the time the playoffs roll around.
We’re 110-40 heading down the home stretch. My English is almost perfect. The weather is getting frigid in many northern cities. Twelve games left and we’re sitting with comfort and swagger; first in our division. We clinch a playoff birth with little difficulty. Our season seems destined for the World Series. I rack up 22 wins with an ERA of 3.14. There’s pie on the faces of all the racist haters. We face the Yankees for the shot at the Series. Move up to second position in the rotation. Three new lesions fester in bottom lip. My fellow pitchers can tell something is wrong.
“It’s only stress,” I say. “Bite my lips when nervous. Mi familia needs this.”
They look at me and then at the dirt and spit. They scratch their crotches in the dugout; offer me Bazooka Joe and sunflower seeds in the bullpen. Stoic coaches and the Hall of Fame manager–who I’ve given life to–a one year contract extension–shake their heads; scream when I’m on the mound.
“We love you,” teammates say.
If they only knew the half of it….Game 6 rolls around and I’m pitching a no-hitter, three outs from winning the American League pennant. That’s when it happens. The fans drown out my visions. My hands are slippery and the ball feels like velvet. I can see the river tried to cross so many times to enter this country, then pitch it high and inside, grind it against their cleanup position’s face. The batter spits on his cleats, transforms into a Mexican volcanic cantera fountain, and pounces upon me. Even without anabolic steroids he is a monster. When the scrum breaks apart my lesions are open and blackened pouches garden the grass between my teeth. The umpire offers me a towel, or maybe it was the trainer, but all I remember is the silence of the crowd and the last note of the mariachi.
Matthew Dexter is an American writer living in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Like the nomadic Pericú natives before him, he survives on a hunter-gatherer subsistence diet of shrimp tacos, smoked marlin quesadillas, cold beer, and warm sunshine. His stories have been published in hundreds of literary journals and dozens of anthologies. He wants his elegy to read: Dear Liver: Sorry.