(Note: This is from a chapter that introduces one of the main characters, a small-town Mexican doctor whose town is about to be decimated by the drug war along the border)
The doctor unlocked the front door to his office and stepped into the small waiting area. The space was a testament to his wife’s organizational skills and taste. The concrete walls painted a cheery orange. Five wooden chairs and a coffee table piled with magazines. A plastic water dispenser with coned paper cups. An explosion of blooming plants in the windowsill, which his wife had insisted would dispel any air of sickness in the room. He pulled open the curtains and slid open the balky window. A breeze sifted through the potted flowers, filling the room with their scent. He filled a cup with water and poured a dribble into each pot.
Irma arrived a few minutes later, leaning heavily on her cane, her face red from the walk. He waited for her to catch her breath. “I’m beating you to the office every day now,” he said, smiling at her. “Not that it means anything.”
Irma pointed a bony finger at his nose. “If you say the word retirement, you will feel my cane on your thick skull,” she said, walking past him and into the examination room. “If you paid me a decent wage I could have retired years ago. You are still a terrible employer.”
“My love, no morning would be complete without a dose of your sunshine,” he said as he followed her through the door. “Beatriz is first this morning, can you fetch two bottles of prenatal vitamins from the back, please?”
He heard a muffled clattering from the storage room and Irma muttering an indecipherable complaint. He smiled and pulled a fresh length of paper onto the reclining examination table.
He turned on the portable stereo perched atop of the green supply cabinet and closed his eyes as the music began to flow from the small speakers. Bach’s b minor mass. It was quickly drowned out by Irma’s grousing and clanking. Then by her static-stricken portable radio in the waiting area, tuned to her favorite evangelical preacher’s morning show. The doctor could hear the preacher’s nasal, rapid-fire voice: Where do you turn when man’s love fails? Where do you turn when your health fails? To our savior Jesus Christ, my friends…
The radio was drowned out by a long shriek of squealing tires. A motor roaring, coming closer. He reached the door in time to see the metallic pickup truck race past the office, the young men from the plaza piled into the bed. The lid to the toolbox was open, and one of them was handing rifles and clips to the others. Just before the truck reached Calle Morelos and disappeared, he saw two of them pull black ski masks over their heads.
Doctor Zambrano stood in the doorway until the truck disappeared down a side street. “Irma,” he called over his shoulder, “bring me the phone.”
©2014 Dave Harmon