Yesterday, by the time sunlight filtered through my office windows, I’d written the first three pages of a short story intended for this blog. Hunger made me stop and eat breakfast, which ended with a glass of grape juice.
As the burning star climbed a few degrees above the trees surrounding my home, the pale natural light began to turn golden yellow. The rays spilled over the treetops and awoke the Mexican bird of paradise on my patio. Its bright incandescent flowers opened up.
Warm light bathed me inside the dining room, passed through a stained glass partition, broke into a rainbow of primary colors, and tinted the carpet, the furniture and the wall
This time of the year, Arizona takes a breather from her customary hellish heat and turns into paradise.
I’d be a fool not to go out and enjoy the pleasant cool breeze.
Outside, the giant Saguaros and palm trees projected long striped shadows. I caught a fleeting glimpse of the cottontail rabbit family living under the cactus grove in my garden.
Overnight, yesterday’s clouds had melted into rain, and around my feet the morning dew created a shimmering blanket of liquid diamonds. Without a cloud in sight, the elegant palm tree canopies softly swayed against the sharp blue sky.
A cherry red Chevy truck entered my driveway. Secundino, the Mexican gentleman who has pruned my trees for the last eighteen years, alighted from the cab.
“Buenos días,” he shouted, while removing his blue cap with a Ford decal. His broad smile showed two missing teeth.
Secundino’s onyx black hair is long and shiny with silver streaks over his copper colored ears. He walks straight and looks directly into one’s face with a determined stare. It’s not an arrogant look, but the frank open glance of a hardworking man whose ancestors built an empire with pyramids as majestic as the Egyptians built. Their capital city, upon a lagoon, rivaled The Serenissima Venezia.
“Don Eduardo, it’s time to trim the palms,” he said in the melodious Spanish accent from the state of Sonora. I have not been able to stop him from calling me “Don” Eduardo.
“That’s what they called my grandpa. Eduardo is enough for me.” I’ve said this to him lots of times to no avail. “Don Eduardo makes me feel older than I am.”
Each time he looked at me, bobbed his head up and down, and said: “Muy bien, Don Eduardo.”
“Okay, Secundino, go ahead. They are shedding leaves and pods over my neighbor’s gardens,” I said. We shook hands, and soon after he climbed up the sixty-plus foot high trunks and nestled himself among the frondose canopy. Enormous fan-like waxy green and brown fronds started flying over my head like free floating kites. I ducked for cover.
I watched with admiration. No one would believe he is seventy years old.
I started collecting the falling fronds, not because he expected my help, but because I, too, love the physicality of hard work, especially on a temperate day like this.
A passing SUV stopped by my house. I recognized the driver, a man past the prime of his life who lives facing the park a few blocks away and often walks his huge furry dog by my house. On occasion we chat if I happen to be outside. We have become more than acquaintances, but less than friends.
His house is opulent. An ample carport extends over the semicircular driveway. A second story overlook surveys the nearby mountains and palm trees in the back yard.
He joined me. Our conversation started with idle chat. We both kept talking with tilted up heads and eyes fix on the top of the palms and Secundino.
We grew tired of blowing air mindlessly. It was he who started talking about the politics of the day. At first his words went in one ear and out the other, until the underlying content of his words made them stay inside my head, like water rising up behind a dam.
As a child, Mother used to tell me, “Polite people don’t talk about religion, politics, or money.” Maybe that was the reason she was loved by so many people. She listened to me and everyone else with such intensity that we felt compelled to share with her our innermost worries. To Mother, time didn’t matter when she was consoling a human being. She engaged us in a Socratic conversation. We could talk to our heart’s content about our soul’s problems. She punctuated our diatribe with thoughtful monosyllabic comments, and suggestions. “Aha, I see, calm down, try to do this or that.”
Everybody left her side comforted, peaceful, and reborn. Needless to say, to my chagrin, I’m not like her.
This neighbor of mine kept talking faster than usual. He seemed agitated and started revealing his dehumanizing paleoconservative leanings. Something he said prompted me to ask, “Are you having business problems?”
My mistake. I had broken one of my mother’s politeness rules. His hate for the government in general, and President Obama in particular, spewed forth. His stereotypical political opinions increased the pressure against the imaginary brain dam inside my head.
“Doesn’t everybody these days? These unions are pestering me.” He stopped to light a cigarette, but could not stop venting his innumerable grievances against liberals, minorities, Muslins, and foreigners. I’m not sure if he made distinctions between legal or illegal ones. He loved the idea of a taller, longer, meaner wall at the Mexican border.
The man had fouled my morning, I wanted him to go away so I could decompress my head and reseed my thoughts with love.
“What can I do for you today, my friend?” I interrupted. “I want to get this done before noon.” I pointed at the fronds piling up at the foot of the palms.
“I saw what you are doing. The palms in my yard need pruning, too. I called the landscape company that takes care of my garden. But they said the palms are too high and they no longer can reach the canopy with their cherry picker. You think your guy can come by after he finishes here?”
I looked up and yelled in Spanish: “Secundino, do you want go to this cabron’s house and trim his palms later on?”
He was coming down from one of the palms. He stopped midway down the trunk and yelled back in Spanish. “Of course, Don Eduardo. Tell him thirty-five dollars each, and I can do them tomorrow early. I have two other jobs today.”
I said to my neighbor: “My Mexican friend says . . . and proceeded to translate Secundino’s words.
The man smiled. “Tell him I’ll see him tomorrow anytime.” He lowered his voice. “My landscapers used to charge me forty dollars.”
I felt relieved when he shook my hand and left. Secundino was now on the ground. He approached me while I was organizing fronds in manageable heaps.
“I guess the man doesn’t know what cabron means in Spanish,” Secundino said.
I had called my neighbor an old goat, to indicate to Secundino that he was not a good friend of mine. He understood and asked fifteen dollars more than he charged me.
About the Author
Eduardo Cerviño Alzugaray, aka E. C. Brierfield, is the author of several novels and numerous short stories. His recent autobiographical novel, Cuba the Crocodile Island, is based on his internment in a forced Communist labor camp during the chaotic beginning years of Fidel Castro’s revolution. This is the reason why he published it under his family name, rather than his pen name.
A few of the characters’ names, except his own, have been changed to protect the identity of persons still residing on the island. Although many of the book’s characters have passed away, they are still present in the author’s memory. Some are remembered with enormous affection and others as a painful, if significant, part of the author’s spiritual growth, but none with rancor.
Thirty years after leaving the island, family issues brought the author back to Cuba.
While he stood in the Cathedral Plaza like any other tourist, a soldier approached him. After a few awkward moments, the officer identified himself as the lieutenant prominently described in this novel. His haggard appearance made him unrecognizable. He was inquisitive about the author’s life in the US. Satisfying his curiosity was a vindicating experience for the author. As the author attempted to pull away and continue his sentimental journey, the officer was reluctant to let go of his hand.
As an architectural designer, Eduardo has traveled extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Latin America. He has lived in several countries, but his principal residence has been in the US since 1968.
He resides in Arizona with his wife and writing collaborator, Les Brierfield.
The author appreciates with all his heart the time you have dedicated to reading his work.
You are invited to visit the author’s website:
To purchase Cuba the Crocodile Island, please visit