TINGE Magazine - http://www.tingemagazine.org

Issue 8

The Brief Reign

 · Fiction

When the winds came, they called it tissue frenzy. Above a papier-mâché army, a neon-rainbow armadillo reigned. His name was Pablito. From his vantage point, he saw past the swap meet’s caps and hair, umbrellas and straw hats, over the tops of its canopies to the peaks of mountains that he felt were his rightful throne. Where he could be with his kind in the supreme glory of their glow. If he wished he could commandeer the box truck, leave his handlers, and take to the mountains. But what kind of armadillo king shows up in a dumpy old box truck? Pablito deserved a chariot, or a convertible, or a zip line.

Hanging from his perch above the swap meet, Pablito pondered the vast quantities of space beyond the blacktop. He pictured himself soaring through the cosmos. Stars stretching past him, sound shut off as he glowed a ball of neon light — Lord of the Universe. Then the buzz of the swap meet returned. As it bubbled, Pablito opened his oval eyes. In front of him stood a large man behind a little girl. When she smiled it looked like she was on the verge of tears. Pablito roasted below the sun, his tissue flaps browning and curling at their tips.

The man reached up and plucked Pablito from his perch — his reign was over.

* * *

They strung him up from the low limb of a public park spruce. Uncle Frito secured the rope, tossed the length, and tugged the fun. Rising into the air, the pull on Pablito’s back was muted by the squeals of eager children, bound so furiously in sweet anticipation their chubby arms and blushed faces trembled. If he concentrated, Pablito could feel the line sliced over his spine. It felt no worse than a paper cut, but it was all he felt. Like turning off a light. They had switched him off.

Auntie Clara bent over in denim capris that screamed at the seams. She balanced herself in front of a soggy-eyed little girl in a red and white polka-dotted dress. Sophie’s chin rattled on the verge of collapse. As Auntie Clara raised the folded white hanky to her eyes, Sophie backed away dodging the blindfold before dropping her head. The tears fell quick into a sloppy hiccupped fit. Inside, Pablito smiled.

It was she who had betrayed him. Taken him from the swap meet and fooled him with her petting. She cooed over him on the drive home, and for days she littered smiles over her ramblings. And those phony cries while the adults paralyzed him. Stuffed him with candies and treats.

Frito fussing, “Es dulce, mija. Don’t cry.”

Auntie Clara placed her hands on her hips, and stared down at Sophie. The little girl was no match for the woman. She caught her breath with heaving gasps and sniffled when Auntie Clara tied the soft knot behind her head. Frito produced half a length of broom handle, and some of the bigger children cheered. Auntie Clara took Sophie by the hand and guided her to the funny piñata swaying from the end of his rope. Frito let Pablito dangle for Sophie, but she only poked him a bit with the broom handle tip, and the lone time she swung, the stick dropped more than struck, a light thud upon Pablito’s purple rump — something softer than her petting.

Two little ones were given turns. The boy had the same success as Sophie, but the girl clipped Pablito’s yellow snout twice over. Then came Frito’s smaller boy, a runt of a child, a head too big for his slender frame.

“He’s a baseball player,” Frito called. “Big swing, mijo! Big swing.”

The boy was strong and accurate. Sure, Frito held Pablito in place a second long, but the boy swung through. A hoof was detached where neon pink blended into a bright yellow. A fun-size Snickers hit the floor. The boy followed up with a couple bashes to the body — mâché cracked, tissue tore. This was the beginning.

A smaller version of Auntie Clara blindfolded herself. She took the broom handle and shyly shuffled her feet forward. Pablito spun from his rope in front of her. The bashful girl was just that. She swung with force. Pablito heard the stick slicing below him.

Whoosh. Whoosh.

Pink tail struck, it detached at its red base and flew across the small party that cried, “Yay!”

The giant little girl bounced in the excitement of being praised, and her turn was over.

Then — the executioner. Behemoth. His denim shorts hung low enough to hide elephant calves that melded into ankles. The mass of him draped in an all-black T-shirt. His neck guarded by chins, his block-head manicured high and tight. The blindfold barely made it around. The stick looked smaller in his pudgy hands. Frito’s up and down jerking commenced, and the man-child took thundering swings. He breathed heavy through wide spread nostrils. When Pablito jolted to a stop, the broom handle hit and crashed through the blue-green shoulders of his shell. A shower of candy shot out his side. Everyone screamed, and the monster lifted his blindfold to stare Pablito in the eye before raising the broom handle to lop off the bright yellow head.

It fell to the ground — it felt like floating. Upon public park dirt, Pablito’s eyes pointed away from the people. Past the fence and the tops of homes, beyond rippled heat waves, Pablito saw his mountains.

He felt the forest ground below his hooves, his snout slipping through the wind. A breeze through papier-mâché tingled through the whole of him. Amongst tree trunks and bushes, atop tree branches, and around boulders, the neon glow of his armadillo brethren shown bright and Pablito knew he had made it.


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