I KNEW that a family from a nearby city had converted a double-camber roof barn on the property next to us into a large, comfortable, open-plan home. As the conversion had progressed, I had sneaked inside several times after the carpenters ended the day’s work.
They built a large bedroom in the former hayloft, and added a terrace outside the rolling door once used to stow bales of hay into the loft.
THE rumble of the construction crane broke the silence. I went out to watch. The crane lifted the massive blob of a young man’s body from the bed of a red pickup and hoisted him up in the air. Neighbors from the adjacent farm gathered to watch the surreal spectacle.
A bird flew by the crane and escorted the boy through his short trip.
The operator deposited him on a bed on wheels waiting on the terrace. Afterwards, I walked back inside my house.
“I guess I will never have direct contact with that young man,” I said to my mother that afternoon.
That’s how he entered my life.
The local TV station had gotten a whiff of the situation and dispatched a film crew. They transformed a moment of privacy into bizarre entertainment news.
Now I knew who would occupy the bedroom under the heavy rafters of the remodeled barn. On subsequent mornings, the boy’s parents rolled him out to the open terrace where he basked in the sunrise.
Curiosity molded my behavior. My bird-watching binoculars allowed me to spy from my house window.
His pale face reddened the first day. His large blue eyes and pleasant expression kept me watching.
“Gee, what could make a guy like him smile all the time?”
I made up my mind to visit him.
FOOD was an inappropriate housewarming present. Flowers? A plenitude of them carpeted the fields following a bee-filled spring.
He could use my softball cap during his terrace escapades. It didn’t cross my mind that the pink color could be objectionable to him.
To go, I chose the short way through the field where my father grew pumpkins for Halloween. One stood out above all others. Destined for the annual competition, we touched, hosed, and admired it every day.
My father estimated its weight at six hundred pounds or more. On my way to the neighbor’s, its waxy orange skin attracted my hand as a magnet draws a nail.
I noticed the young man on his distant outside perch. I’d learned his name from the news program, Mario Hidalgo. I was sure he was observing me.
A hummingbird buzzed my ear and hovered midair, inches from my face. The iridescence of his feathers and vibration of his wings froze me in place. The bird took off as fast as he had come. My eyes followed the trajectory of his flight until he landed on Mario’s terrace.
“I’m Samantha Jones, from the next farm over. Welcome to you and your family.”
“How sweet. Thank you. How old are you?”
“No reason. Please come inside. I’m Anna, Mario’s mother.”
I thought she acted with the guarded courtesy of a protective parent, but she guided me upstairs and out onto the terrace.
“Mario, you have a visitor. May we join you?”
“Of course, Mom.”
“Hi, Mario. I’m Samantha. I live over there.” I pointed.
“I’ve watched you come and go to see that pumpkin. Want to hear something funny?”
“I guess so.”
“Tell her, Mom. Tell her my nickname.”
Anna hesitated, turned to me, and said, “Pumpkin.”
Mario let out a genuine, ponderous laugh. It shook the bed. His flesh rippled like Jell-O, and we laughed with him.
“Please sit if you want,” he said.
His mother offered me a chair, and I accepted after a quick look around the terrace. From his high-up nest, Mario could enjoy the expanded horizon like a child in a tree house.
Anna measured me. “What can I offer you, Samantha?”
A cup rested by Mario’s side, close to his hand.
“Whatever he’s having would be fine.”
“Coffee, black, no sugar?”
“I’ll be back. Make yourself at home, please. ” She took two steps backward before turning and leaving.
“How old are you, Mario?’
“A very old twenty.”
If something is not done soon, you will not reach thirty.
He smiled at me and waited. I had nothing to say.
With his eyes on my face, he extended his arm in the air. The gesture distracted me.
A hummingbird appeared, another one flew in, and both landed on Mario’s arm.
His mother returned. The birds flew away, leaving me speechless. She looked at me as if she understood my amazement.
“Hope I’m not disturbing. I just wanted to welcome you. Being our new neighbors and all.”
“Don’t mention it, please. We love visitors,” Anna said.
Mario interrupted. “Maybe the Universal Spirit preordained our encounter as he chose the paths for both our lives.”
Wow, what kind of talk is that?
Mario and I started talking about school, and his mother put down the tray with coffee and looked at me. She relaxed.
I hope she knew I wasn’t motivated by insensitive curiosity.
Mario talked nonstop, and I learned of his interest about school, which he could not attend. Anna and various tutors had home-schooled him. He was eloquent, his prose lyrical at times.
“Do you like poetry?” I asked.
He pointed to still-unpacked boxes strewn around the room. “My books: novels, poetry, and history.” He pulled a book from under the pillows and handed it over. “Tales of the Alhambra, by Washington Irving, 1851 Edition. Have you read it?”
I began to feel inadequate in his presence.
“No. Tell me about it.”
He explained the content and its connection to a poem written by Alexander Pushkin and an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov. This conversation challenged me, but I liked hearing it. It differed from the kind of talks I had with my friends in town.
“Take it with you. I just finished it for a third time. Reading is my way to travel. I do not get around much, as you might imagine.”
Mario’s constrained body couldn’t tether his vivid imagination.
He gave me a short rundown of his family, city dwellers not enthusiastic about rural communities.
Mario’s health had declined in the city. In their suburban home, the patio door in Mario’s room looked onto a barren, fenced yard.
His father purchased the small farm to let his son enjoy the outdoors, the stars, or the sun whenever he wanted.
When fall breezes undressed the trees, golden leaves carpeted Mario’s terrace.
“Don’t clean them, Ma.”
“It’s a mess out here.”
“But I like the crackle of leaves under your feet. I imagine I’m walking on them. They and the birds are my visitors.”
In fact, flocks of birds flew away from the terrace every time I visited him.
Mario’s magical relation with birds puzzled me.
He hardly moved, and they flew all day. But we never talked about it.
We read and discussed books together. By mid-fall, we were the best of friends, and I was in love—but not with him.
MY high school’s Halloween Parade Committee met in the library. We took charge of the school float design. We developed a concept, selected music for the school band, and chose costumes for the float riders.
Mario’s friendship had increased my confidence and improved my vocabulary. Now my opinions turned heads.
“We need lots of your father’s pumpkins for the float,” Francis, our treasurer, said. “I hope he gives us a decent price and we don’t have to buy them at the supermarket parking lot.”
I would have to stand on my toes to kiss him, I thought. He looks gorgeous in his football uniform.
Francis’ olive complexion, black eyes, mane of hair, and square jaw excited me.
“Would you talk to your father?”
“Talk about what?”
“Did you hear a word I said, Samantha?”
“Yes. The pumpkins.”
He neither encouraged nor discouraged my infatuation. However, he glanced and smiled at me more often than he did the other girls, except for Roselyn. With her long legs and resemblance to a movie star, she made me jealous.
One afternoon we got a tip about the competing school’s float. It was similar to ours, but already under construction.
“Everybody will say we copied them. You have to come up with a different idea,” the drama coach said and sent our brains into a spin.
THE same afternoon, I visited Mario. He commented about the big pumpkin in my father’s garden patch. “It’s bigger than me,” he said and laughed. “I’ve given it a name: from now on, she is Cinderella.” We grinned.
“Okay. Cinderella does look a lot bigger.” As soon as I said it, an idea popped into my mind.
“Mario, would you like to go to the parade?”
His laughter faded.
“Are you kidding me?”
“Not at all. Would you like to go?”
No answer, only a questioning stare into my eyes.
“I’m sorry I asked. I did not think it through.”
An awkward minute later, Mario spoke.
“I would. I would like to go to the parade.”
THE committee loved my extreme concept. Ideas flowed like chocolate syrup, and the next day I called Mario’s house to ask permission for the group to visit him.
Anna remained silent for a moment.
“Let me put you on speaker. Tell it to his father.”
“WHAT? Do you want to parade my son as a circus freak?” Mario’s father yelled when I explained. “The cheerleaders’ boobs are not enough excitement?”
“Calm down, please,” Anna said. “Mario can hear you.”
Mario’s voice came loudly over the phone, “Daaad! It’s about time.”
“About time for what, son?” yelled his father.
“To stop hiding me. Despite what you see, Dad, I’m a human being. I’m willing to go if they take me. Descartes once said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’”
“What does that have to do with this?”
“Oh shit, Dad, you should read a book once in a while. I’m sorry to shame you. Let them come here and talk.”
Anna came back on the line. “Samantha, you are welcome anytime.”
THE project moved quickly. Every day, I kept Mario in the loop. Sometimes others came with me. We laughed and planned every detail.
“We need insurance for me,” Mario said, “in case the crane splatters me on the ground. Like an egg falling from the nest.”
One day I came too early. Anna asked me to come back later.
“We are giving him a bath,” she said.
I had never thought about it. The images that flooded my mind sort of revolted me.
“I’m sorry about that,” I said. “I mean, I’ll be back.”
I left, walking faster than usual. I looked back at the house and caught Anna’s sad expression.
God, help me be a better person.
MARIO turned anxious as the day approached. He obsessed over the move to the float.
“When alone, I watch Cinderella from up here. That pumpkin is growing like a sumo wrestler. Just like me.”
I ignored the remark, but the pumpkin’s girth had increased. Mario, too, had added pounds.
“Can’t explain it, but I feel connected to Cinderella,” he said.
Halloween morning, we moved the float below Mario’s terrace. The float depicted a vine and carved pumpkins crawling up a hill amid girls in rabbit and bird costumes. Atop the hill was Mario’s place. The crane flew him from his bed to the float. He sat inside a customized orange sphere as big as Cinderella. His voluminous arms dangled over the curved sides. A microphone would allow him to engage the crowd.
We drove away from the farm. Mario looked at the pumpkin. “Bye, my friend. I know how it feels to be stuck. I will tell you all about it when I return.”
The parade route through our small town overflowed with spectators. Happiness permeated the afternoon.
The school band marched in front. The girls on the float exchanged quips with Mario. His cleverness gave them a harder time than they expected. People applauded. We heard no pity, no cruel remarks from the crowd. Francis and others from the football team rode on the float.
“Get on the team, Mario,” a man shouted. “They need help. They are playing like sissies this year.”
Mario was a town celebrity.
BACK at the farm, the crane carried Cinderella onto a trailer truck to move her to the fairgrounds the next day. The truck driver parked beside the house and near Mario’s terrace.
When we returned, the sun had declined over the evening’s edge. The crane operator lifted Mario up.
“Would you raise me as high as you can before taking me to my bed, please? Then shut off the engine and let me rest a few minutes in silence,” Mario said.
The operator complied. He leaned back in his seat, lit a cigarette, and grinned, watching Mario floating in mid-air.
In the early darkness, I thought a bird landed on Mario’s knee.
“How did you feel up there?” I asked later.
“Like a hummingbird with lead wings. I had an out-of- body experience. My mind connected with Cinderella on the trailer. She wanted to know what I did today.”
Almost everyone had gone home. I was alone with Mario on the terrace, releasing the lingering euphoria. We heard voices and I went to see. Francis and Roselyn were looking at the giant pumpkin. Then they sat at the end of the trailer, their backs toward Cinderella.
“It was nice to win first place, and we did not spend the entire budget,” Roselyn said, unaware their voices carried up to us.
“We were lucky that Samantha convinced that freak to go along for the ride. We couldn’t lose,” Francis said. Rosalyn leaned on his shoulder.
“She is so naive. She thinks you are in love with her.”
“It saved us almost three hundred dollars on the cost of the pumpkins.”
“Poor thing. She should look in the mirror,” Roselyn said. “My gosh, Samantha is at least thirty pounds overweight.”
“I know, love. The two of them could compete with this huge pumpkin.”
My eyes got glossy. I turned my face towards Mario. His eyes flamed with anger. His clenched fists yellowed, and his bed shook as he attempted to stand up.
I heard a snapping sound and looked down. The cinch holding Cinderella had broken, and she was rolling along the trailer’s bed. Francis and Roselyn turned around, looked at the pumpkin, and saw me.
Surprised, they did not move. Cinderella barreled down on them. They jumped to the ground, but it was too late. Cinderella vaulted from her bed and landed on top of them. I gasped, and looked away.
“OH my God, Mario. My father said Cinderella weighed fourteen hundred pounds.”
About the Author
Eduardo Cervino, AKA E. C. Brierfield, was born in Havana, Cuba, and has resided in the US since 1968. He has traveled extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Latin America working as an architectural designer.
He is also a painter and his oil canvasses have been exhibited in the US and abroad.
He has written and published several novels and numerous short stories. He resides in Arizona with his wife and writing collaborator, L. S. Brierfield.