Short Story – Toad part 2 of 3

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The two month delay because of the strike meant the real estate developers were way behind schedule to get 120 townhouses framed on their big Rowntree 3 project.  In order to avoid stiff fines for not having the homes ready for their buyers to move in on time they had to get the project done in a ridiculously short window of time.  As a result they were paying top dollar and brought in any and all guys who could swing a hammer.  Diego could swing a hammer.  He could also stand around with his hammer in his hand and talk while you work.  You would think he was single and had no one to talk with at home and so he used work as his therapy.  Paco wasn’t single either, he just looked that way.  His family was back in Guatemala where he hasn’t been in the three years he has been in Canada.  

“Donde chingados esta mi coche?” said Diego, freakin out. “NO me dices esto,” he says, with his eyes scrunched shut and pulling on his short black hair.  His new-to-him cobalt blue (no sunroof) 2016 Chevy Cruze is gone. He stood still for a few seconds playing a very brief mental movie in his mind called Fear.  

Fear of his girlfriend/mother of his daughter cell-yelling when he wasn’t home by 5:30. If he was driving he couldn’t text but when he declines her call that drives her crazy.  Then he would text her to say he would be another 30 minutes and she would think to herself why is he texting if he is driving.  Or maybe he isn’t driving, he is with una vieja and I’m gonna pull his hair out and feed it to her and pull his hair out and feed it to her.

Then, according to the script, when he gets home he can expect:

‘I told you not to get a car.  You know you can rent a car for like 80 bucks a day so to take my mother to Niagara falls you don’t need a car.   So you can’t say it was for me or for my mom or for the baby.  It was for you because you don’t want to wake up early and take the bus.  

‘Or stand in the fuckin cold at the bus stop,’ Diego, the pudgy whiner, imagines himself saying.

Paco looks at the screen on his cell and sees it’s a call from Diego –  he already regrets recommending this guy to Gus.

“One second Gus,” Diego turns away and sings as much as he talks his greeting. “Que pasa hermano?” 

“Alguien robó mi pinche coche.  Vieron algo?”

“No me dices esto bro,” said Paco without caring. 

“Preguntale brother,” insists Diego. 

“When are you gonna learn English cabron?” said Paco.

“Askem bro, por fa,” said Diego thinking his Spanglish would help his cause.

As Paco drops his hand with his phone to his hip he puts it on speaker.

“Hey Gus, Diego’s car is gone.  Do you know anything?” Asked Paco. 

Gus motioned with a quick flick of his chin towards the side street beside the job site. 

“No idea. Remember. I told you earlier. Tellem – Don’t park there – they will towem. And fuck me.  Looks like they did just that,” said Gus, restraining a  stupid-people-do-stupid-things-laugh. 

“Is that what you yell this morning?” asked Paco.

“Ya. I saw you nod and smile,” said Gus.  “So I thought whatshisface would move his car.”

“Porque no me dijiste pendejo?” Diego heard everything over the speaker. 

“Sorry bro.”

“Where take it, you know?” Diego yelled into his phone so Gus would hear.  His love of his car overcame his fear of speaking English.

“You gotta phone the city. They impounded it.  Shouldn’t be too far.”

“Impounded?   What the fuck,” cried Diego.

“Diego buddy Tabarnak, they towed it.  That’s all I know.” said Gus looking at Paco with wide eyes that asked ‘who the fuck is this guy?’.

“How much pay?” persisted Diego.

“Dunno. Couple hundred bucks maybe.”  said Gus accepting his steaming hot coffee,  “Thanks Dimitri.”

“Couple hundred?”

Gus was a few years older than Paco but both of them were in their 30’s.  Over the past few years they had been on a few projects together.  Gus liked Paco but didn’t make friends on the job because when push came to shout Gus couldn’t have any favourites.  But there was that one time when the concrete guys saw his name on his hard hat and started talking shit like, ‘Paco, where’s the taco?’ and all of them laughing.  Gus in a very calm voice actually said to their foreman.

“If you and your fuckin clowns don’t shut it and say sorry to my guy then there might be an engineering report that says the drainage is not to grade and this whole slab needs to be repoured at your expense.  And I don’t think your butt ugly money grubbin boss is gonna like that.  Are we clear?!”  Said red faced Gus staring the foreman straight in the eyes.

“We are,” said the pissed off foreman.

“I want to see you in the site office now.” Gus yelled at Paco,

At this point Paco had been with the company only a few months so he wasn’t sure where he stood with management.  Once in the trailer Gus keeps talking,

“Did you hear what they were sayin? Calice” Gus swore in French.  His French is still really good but he only uses it for choice swear words.

“Is no big deal,” said Paco.

“I am not going to school those fuckin morons on Latin cusine am I?”

“No,” agrees Paco, having no idea where this was going.

“Guatelmans don’t eat peaches tacos,” said Gus pacing around the trailer with the awareness of his poor pronunciation but in the moment he felt he had earned some cultural credibility by trying to swear in Spanish.

“You are so right Gus,” said Paco wondering if this out-of-character burst of Latino solidarity maybe came from a previous life when Gus was a Mayan curandero.

So now when Gus gave the ‘kill it’ signal with his hand at his throat Paco took it off speaker.  

“Diego, come back and I will help you later,” said Paco and hung up.

“Hey Paco, what did you think I said?” asked Gus.

“When?”

“This morning.”

Paco laughed at himself and shook his head.

“I thought you say, tell Diego he’s a fuckin toad.”

“I said – tell’em if he doesn’t move they’ll fuckin towem”. 

Maritza was gonna kill him.  It was Diego’s first day on the job and he was losing more money than he was making.  He relieves his self inflicted stress by comforting himself they will start receiving the child tax credit very soon. Diego says once the baby arrives she will want a car.  But she says they have a bus stop right out front and the No Frills supermarket is 3 blocks away.  She keeps repeating that you don’t need a car in the city. It’s a waste of money according to her dad. 

Maritza remembered her dad being there in person for her eighth birthday. While he worked in the US for 6 years they would Facetime but it felt weird. It was sad when he would sing Las Mananitas on her birthday. As he sang her mom would bring the gift that he sent money for from Oregon where he was driving a tractor in a vineyard.  He was close to Canada but never went there.  He figured the Americans would grab him at the border before he crossed.  He should have tried, he says to his wife now that he has been sent back.  If they wouldn’t have let him travel to Canada then they just would have sent him back and it is the same result.

He got deported when he got in a car accident in town with a lawyer who had been drinking.  The car accident meant he came back home which made her happy but that is where Maritza got the idea cars were a bad idea.  Plus the maintenance.  But when you get one, if you can’t afford a good one – don’t buy one.

Her dad taught her English even though he and Diana, his wife, knew that meant she would be more apt to leave when she got older.  Also he wanted to prove that being away so long has brought some benefit to the family.  He had sent more money than he could have made if he stayed in Mexico but he hadn’t been there for the childhood of their daughter and son.  Or for their marriage.  At least he came back.  He was faithful to his family – to his wife not so much. Reynaldo, his son, was bad at school but good at soccer.  He was a good striker being tall for his age.  He didn’t show potential so he had no future as a pro player.  It was fun for now but difficult for later.  Maritza was the bright light of the family.  

Before she gave birth Maritza worked as a Cook A in a restaurant for 2 years while Diego would spend about 6 months in each job.  She worked till she was 7 months pregnant and then couldn’t handle being on her feet all day.  The restaurant liked her from the get-go and had offered her a full time job after a few months.  That way she could apply for a work permit.  Diego also got a work permit being her common-law spouse.

She was really scared when she got pregnant.    But now they had to rely on Diego’s income for the whole family.  Maritza knew that was a recipe for a stress fueled, argument filled disaster.  She needed something she could do while the baby was sleeping.

Also she didn’t know,  maybe they would cancel her work permit and it wouldn’t give her enough time to apply for permanent residency.  Rhonda, the manager of her restaurant location was so supportive but it was not her decision – it was the owner’s: Mr. Jackes.  But she would speak to him.  He had various restaurants and other businesses on the go.  Maritza knew Mr. Jackes was a lawyer and had met him briefly once when he came to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  

A few weeks later Maritza was tying up her apron and looking at her belly when  Rhonda called her into the tiny, cramped office.  Rhonda motioned to the only chair in front of the desk.

“Have a seat Maritza.  How are you doing?”

Feeling fine,” she said, seated on the edge of the plastic chair rubbing her belly.  “We just had other doctor’s appointment, all good,’ she said, putting two little thumbs up in front of a weak smile.  “But obviously I’m nervous.” 

“Yes, of course. Obviously no heavy lifting.  Get Clifton or someone to help you,” said Rhonda.

“Yes, thank you very much.”

“Listen Maritza, I talked to Mr. Jackes last week.  I explained to him your situation and I told him you were an excellent person and an excellent team member, fast learner and that it would be a good idea to find a way to keep you on board.  And of course for your work status right?” Rhonda looked into Maritza’s dark anxious eyes.  “So he called me this morning and he had a very interesting idea.”

Maritza nodded as if she was riding a bike on a bumpy road and wrung her hands.

“His idea is for you to transition out of the kitchen into an IT role.  Updating websites with promotional materials for his restaurants and stuff like that.  What do you think?”

“Wow,  sounds amazing.  Thank you so much.  Because…”

“Because in a few months you can’t be in the kitchen all day on your feet.”

“Yes, of course,” Maritzasat back and laughed, then she breathed a huge sigh, then she cried as the stress left her body and joy germinated – all in succession over the course of ten seconds.  She looked at Rhonda and smiled  and suddenly she hiccuped.  They both laughed.

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