The Day of St. Francis
Francis’ truck practically drove itself. The drive was in his blood after nine years. He inhaled menthol and grinned foolishly at the blinding sun as it crested Benedictine Hill. He could still smell the fresh citrus of Anita’s skin. She was likely naked and snoring in his bed at this hour. It was October 4th the feast day of his patron Saint Francis and smiling was called for. The day was blooming and longing to be picked.
Bus 105 drove from the hills of large houses filled with people who don’t know how to smile, to sparkling glass high-rises where people work and don’t know how to smile. Very few people rode bus 105. This was a blessing for Sandy. On her morning ride, she rested her head of long blonde curls on her arms and dreamt of fluffy white wedding cake icing every day without disruption. In the fall, she made thousands of phone calls. By spring, she was sending thousands of e-mails. As summer nestled in, Sandy traveled to the beaches of the south, where she tanned and taught herself to smile again.
From 3rd to 18th street, the stretch of Domingo Boulevard where Sandy worked is covered in the vivid colors of revolution. Here, numerous murals offer a pictographic history of the neighborhood. If one were to travel north to south, they’d be greeted pleasantly by the past. If one were to travel south to north, they’d learn something.
Roberta was young and didn’t know how to hold a cigarette. Every passing tourist somehow knew this. Still, she feared the day this would change. The weeds tickled her toes as she walked to Lulu’s Tacos. Lulu was dead, but her tacos were divine. Monday through Friday Roberta wore a lime green apron and took money from construction workers, street performers, and laborers protesting the construction workers. In return, she gave them tacos. It was always hard saying good-bye to each and every pico de gallo-sprinkled taco.
It was whispered that before Lulu died, she made a secret pact with a monk in San Sebastian to bless the humble taco stand. She made this secret pact by fax because e-mail had not been invented yet. Roberta quickened her pace. It was Taco Tuesday and the getting was good.
The great sun swaggered to the center of the sky, ridding us of our shadows, if only momentarily. The freeway traffic had slowed to a crawl, but Francis didn’t mind. He’d recently found several crumbs of sesame seed cake in his beard. Furthermore he was ahead of schedule and the air conditioning in his truck had decided to keep him cool again.
Across town, Cedric adjusted his long black wig as he skated through traffic. He’d missed school again, this was more important. Tambourines and bass drums pulsed in his earphones and he hummed to himself as car horns followed his trail, like rats to his piping. He cut between lanes and swished past bumpers, tearing his skirt in hot pursuit of Domingo Boulevard.
On the corner of Fifth and Domingo, among the handbills and painted faces sat Cedric’s Uncle Oscar on his stool cradling Penelope, his tired acoustic guitar. Usually at the lunch hour Oscar would strum Penelope for the Kansans, and Nebraskans, and Alaskans and their coins and paper money. Sadly, most days these far off faces did not notice the old man and his song. To make matters worse, at the stroke of ten this very morning Penelope’s big E string snapped and Oscar was without his love. His nephew was en route to deliver a new string, but this did not stop his salty tears from streaking the painted roses that decorated his guitar. As afternoon arrived, tourists absent-mindedly wandered back and forth laughing and snapping photographs, but they did not hear Penelope sing or even whisper as they ventured by. Oscar wrenched at the brim of his dusty fedora in the day’s heat, desperately warding away evil spirits. The old man glared across the hot asphalt at Felix Degusta. With his toothless smile and broken maracas, Felix would win all the coins and paper dollars of passersby on a day like this. Oscar shook his head in dismay.
Sandy was glad for the clicking of her high heels because they chased away the sound of her stomach’s angry grumbling. She shouldered her purse and strode out of her office and into daylight, heading for Lulu’s. Today was Taco Tuesday and the getting was good.
As Francis’ truck swerved onto Domingo, narrowly missing a man leaning on a guitar at the corner, Roberta returned from her break only to find a line for tacos stretching past the fruit stand and around the corner. Between customers, she gazed longingly at the bright colors of the apples and bananas and oranges. To her, each color sang a different note. The harmony wafted to her counter and her lime apron as fajita steak sizzled at her back.
Dog’s barked and paced as Cedric skated past the graffiti and palm trees of Fargola Park on his way to Oscar. When he cleared the last bench and leapt from the road’s curb, Sandy took her place at the end of Roberta’s line for tacos, in front of the fruit stand.
Perhaps the sweat of the midday heat caused Cedric’s eyeliner to sweat into his eyes. Perhaps Francis’ air conditioning cooled him into a hazy place of forgetting. But Francis did not see Cedric as he narrowly skated past his bumper.
It is murmured to this day, between housewives and their laundry and red-faced men and their tequila that on this particular afternoon something changed on Domingo Boulevard
As the next customer approached her to place an order, a bright light erupted before Roberta. All customers saw, waiting for tacos outside Lulu’s stand was a boy in a wig, dress, and roller skates tearing past the front of a delivery truck. The truck driver immediately screeched to a halt, honking and spitting all manner of obscenity and indiscernible malcontent out his window. The subsequent noise following the boy’s negligence caught him off guard. The boy lowered his earphones and spun in horror back at the truck, losing his balance. He tumbled over a large woman with long blonde hair at the end of the taco line. The terrified woman squealed and fell to the ground, breaking a heel and sending the young cross-dresser over her shoulders and into the fruit stand. This caused juice and color to explode and scatter across the boardwalk.
This is what the construction workers, and street performers, and laborers protesting the construction workers saw. But to Roberta the scene was a celestial quickening, and before her stood St. Francis in the haze of heaven’s light. He was dressed like a bum, a peddler of the streets, but the young girl knew the divine when it was before her. He smiled at her and although he had no teeth, she felt a warmth in her heart that danced to her fingertips. In one hand he carried a pair of traditional maracas, but mystically she did not hear the beans shake. The saint proceeded to scamper past her counter and snatch a taco from a waiting order, then sprint from the stand.
Although the recipe never changed, from this day forward Lulu’s Tacos no longer drew long lines. Not even on Taco Tuesday, when the getting was good. The fresh tomatoes, spiced steak, and fluffy tortillas did not enchant the taste buds of Domingo Boulevard any longer. Within a year the small taco stand folded up.
But once Cedric managed to stand, covered in the juice of mangos and watermelons, he gave his uncle the new big E string. Henceforth Penelope sang like she had never before. Oscar’s tragic solemn notes broke the hearts of the tourists as they passed his stool. His fiesta melodies brought on clapping and filled his rusted out tip-jar to the brim. Even the guitar’s painted roses grew lush, radiant, and stunk of burning young love.
Scott William Baumgartner came of age in the Great Plains, now he kicks around the City of Angels in search of coffee and a view.