Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chapter 3: Franklin Torres

Beads of Sweat is the working title of a novel about running.  This novel chronicles one high school cross country team's quest for a state championship.  But it's also about hard work and discipline and brotherhood.  I welcome any feedback (good or bad) anyone has to give.  If anyone, has an in to the world of literary agents and/or publishing, drop me a line.  To catch up on previous chapters, scroll down and click the Beads of Sweat label.  This chapter is the first of several intermittent biographies of members of the team.  Thanks for reading.

Seven years old, he boarded the plane holding nothing more than a raggedy velveteen rabbit. 

            -Be a good boy, his madre told him.
            -Si mama, he responded.

            He walked down the long narrow terminal of Internacional Benito Jaurez and felt a part of himself dying.  He kept looking back at his madre; she kept getting smaller and smaller.  He was confused and afraid; he was told that people were only supposed to look like ants once he was up in the airplane but it was happening now, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.  She waved and held a handkerchief to her eyes.  He was a strong chicano but that tableau made him cry.  He tried to fight them but the tears kept coming, and he kept looking back.  One last time and she was gone.  He learned a hard lesson at the terminal that day, a lesson that he would bring into parts of his life that he could never have imagined existed: never look back.

            Franklin Torres ended up in Springfield.  His tio and tia picked him up at the airport and took him to their two bedroom apartment.  They had three kids, each one of them younger than Franklin.  He soon became the little jefe over his cousins.  But jefe only in the way that he was in charge of making sure all the chores got done, which often meant Franklin solomente doing the dishes, mopping the floor, folding the laundry, making the beds, and taking out the garbage.  He would scold and admonish his little cousins; they would poke jokes at his English.  This was how he learned the language.  He learned punch lines, then the jokes themselves, and then finally why they were funny.  That was the hardest part.  Right up there with trying to figure out why he lived on a street, in a town, and at an address.  Muttafooker to the preposition, he would mutter quietly.

            In time the language came to him through more than osmosis.  At the age of nine he started listening to national public radio.  Riding home on the school bus at the age of ten, he found a tattered Ender’s Game with a half chewed library card doubling as a bookmark.  A serendipitous find, for on that day he discovered two great things: the Springfield Public Library and science fiction.  He devoured Ender’s Game and begged his tia to take him to the mysterious address on the library card.  He wanted to see if such a place really existed.  After weeks of nagging she relented one lazy Saturday afternoon.  Now that he was there, he wanted to see if what Oscar told him was true: you could take the books without paying for them.  It was true!  You could!  He could take any book from the library free of charge as long as he promised to return it.  In this world, he wondered, why would anybody steal anything when you could take books for free?  He felt indebted to Oscar for revealing this secret to him.  He offered to return his library books for him because, Franklin bragged, his tia brought him to the library every other Saturday.  Oscar dismissed the offer and accused Franklin of wanting to steal his books, but within the month Oscar’s madre was picking up Franklin and they were both going to the library every weekend. 

            Sitting in big oversized chairs, they would read the backs of the books in a loud whisper.  They would fight over the ones that sounded the best. 

            -I’ll let you read that one first but you have to finish by Friday.
            -It’s 700 pages.
            -Fine.  Give it to me then.
            -Okay, okay, I’ll read it in a week.
            They really hit the jackpot when the SPL had multiple copies of the same book. 
            -Look, look! Dos copies of Star Wars.  Then a four-eyed wide pause.  Dos copies of all the Star Wars.  They held hands and danced in the aisles.  Star Wars!  Star Wars!  Star Wars, they hushed in unison all the way to the circulation counter. 
            -You have to promise not to watch the movie until you’ve read the book, Oscar said.
            -What movie?
            -The Star Wars movie.
            -There’s a movie?
            -Yeah.  You didn’t know that?
            -Well, I heard of it.  I remember it now.
            -Oh sure, Franklin…Well, anyhow, you can’t watch it ‘til you’ve read the book.
            -Just promise.
            -Because it’s my mom’s rule.  She said you can’t watch the movie before reading the book.  She said the book’s always better anyways.
            -You mean your mom thinks books are better than TV?

            This factoid about Oscar’s mom only strengthened the secret crush he had on her.  Up until now, he thought he was the only one in the world who liked books better than TV.  Everybody at school said that books were a fool’s errand when you could just watch them on what the americanos called the boobtube.

            This is how Franklin and Oscar spent the next three years of their lives.  They started with Orson Scott Card and Star Wars and by the end of eighth grade they graduated onto the nonpareils of the genre: Adams, Dick, Tolkien, Asminov, Vonnegut. 

            Oscar was the only kid in school who didn’t mark him an outcast for his science fiction, not to mention his accent, threadbare clothes, and less than desirable address.  He would always be eternally grateful for his first amigo in los estados unidos. 

            So Franklin read and read and read some more.  By the time he entered high school, he had about three years worth of pent up energy that needed an outlet.  He found that outlet pinned on the freshmen class bulletin board:

Cross Country Team News
Freshman Runners Wanted
All Are Welcome
No Experience Necessary
Practice Begins on the Track at 2:30
                                                                                Be There!

1 comment:

Wilesthing said...

I like it. The blending of a few Spanish words made me almost feel like I was reading a Dan Brown character development...and I like Dan Brown.

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