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Passing the Blues

Christian Vazquez 

Previously published in The Acentos Review for its 2020 December issue, the Big Muddy Journal 2021 issue, and Four Palaces Publishing Fall 2022 Fiction Anthology, Christian Vazquez is a gay 28 year old writer born in Brownsville, Texas. He is currently an English Professor at Houston Community College. His Instagram is christian77vazquez, and Twitter handle is @christian77v

As she looked at her reflection in the sideview mirror, she made sure her ponytail was intact. Different from the loose hair she always had, the impeccable ponytail assured her that tonight, tonight, she was not Marlina, but Marlon. Marlina, left behind in the campus worrying about her lectures and the papers that needed grading. Marlina, at her house watching the dishes pile up. Marlina, back in Brownsville bored within the emptiness of her apartment.

She was Marlon tonight, headed to Matamoros for one of his gigs. The piano was already playing in his mind as his car slowly moved in line at the border entry. The keys from the mind piano rolled with the wind. The depths and sharpness collided with the movement of the traffic. Finally, the guards at the booth let him pass. Off he went into Mexico leaving Brownsville behind in Texas along with the day itself.

Libertad was spelled out in cursive on a neon sign above the green building. The bright pink flamingo letters and green painting made him think he was somewhere tropical, but he knew that beyond this colorful pocket of Matamoros, lay the real Matamoros. Betraying like the ocean.

He was early.

“Marlon, qué temprano,” the young bartender said.

“Si yo sé,” he replied fixated on the bartender’s fuzzy black mustache.

He went directly to the restroom. In the mirror, he checked the appearance of his black jacket. Standing there where he himself met Marlon. He loved seeing him in his reflection, his true self. It was like standing still to breathe after a long run. Yet he knew that coming Monday he would return to being Marlina, the music professor.

Nobody inside Libertad cared that he used the men’s restroom, and maybe sometimes that was the saddest part about the green building with bright pink neon lights. The sad truth was simply that; nobody cared. Nobody cared that Libertad was the only place he felt he was actually living his life, and that as soon as he walked out he would return to being the zombie, Marlina. Marlina, who could not explain to her family and friends or even strangers in Brownsville that she felt like a man, that she had always felt a man, that it was so deeply entrenched in her DNA. Back in Brownsville everyone had seen her grow up. It would have required a constant explanation, a constant struggle to prove an existence that had always been there but just finally developed. In Matamoros they only knew Marlon. He breathed again.

Inside Libertad socialites came to see Marlon perform while furthering their social agendas. Gays, straights, lesbians, bisexuals, trans, all of God’s diverse creations mingled freely under one roof--at least inside the walls of Libertad.

Everyone had something to do there, and that disappointed him too. Nobody was there to just sit and absorb the small world of it all, the luxury of having this space to breathe, or to even ask him if he was okay. He only allowed this thought to linger for a minute before he adjusted his black jacket, his black hair, and lit up a cigarette.

“Marlon, por fin,” the owner said. She was a drag queen that reminded him of a pharaoh.

She gestured toward the piano and said something to the bartender.

A jack and coke awaited Marlon on top of the piano. He took a drag of the cigarette, surveyed the crowd. He was greeted by a cheer that he let it subside under its own natural terms. Then the keys awakened. He played what everybody was familiar with. The Goldberg Variations, varied, pulled, released, captivated. Applause as he savored his drink.

He smiled at the night’s crowd, and he thought of how funny it was that they probably thought he was just like them. They probably thought that he too had immense wealth or the privileges that came along with being a whitexican in Mexico, or from having old family money, illegal or legal. His only wealth was his talent. It was his talent that ultimately opened the doors every time he came to Libertad. Talent is what caused this crowd to clap as if they hoped to catch the truth his piano keys radiated in the air. A truth that privilege or money cannot touch.

More Applause. He raised his glass, and they raised their glass as well. He continued playing more upbeat melodies for an hour until he closed with “Once Upon a Time in Paris.” As his fingers found the keys, he saw himself not in Paris, but in the cold streets of Matamoros much like the evening before him. It had been one of the coldest winters. Even the grayness from the cloudy day had persisted. All of this resurfaced.

He had been looking for Brandon that night long ago. Cigarette in his mouth like always, smoke trailing behind him. They had told him he had been in the area. They told him that he was using again. They told him…told him… until Marlon decided to go search for him.

The freezing air slapped Marlon’s face as he found Brandon naked on the pavement. Marlon’s heart had sunk as he took off his blue coat and covered first Brandon’s skinny red and veiny arm, then his entire body. Although Brandon was alive and shivering from the cold, Marlon felt like he was covering the corpse of the fallen angel he still loved. He walked away, not sure if he was feeling cold from the night outside or inside of himself. Marlon had decided he never wanted to go through that again, never wanted to see the man he loved vulnerable like this. He never saw that blue coat again, or the lover he had buried under it on that winter night. The memories faded away, were buried deeper as time stacked upon itself.

The piano keys stopped. Marlon returned to Libertad, was welcomed back by applause from the crowd. His throat burned from the whiskey. The burning went to his eyes as he saw the same blue coat in the audience. A shadow of a man who had haunted his memories.

The crowd around him resumed their normal chatter. The playlist from the bar began to dominate the air. It was midnight. His show was over. The man with Marlon’s blue coat sat at the bar. It was him. Marlon knew it was him just from the nape of his brown neck, and as if that weren’t enough Brandon finally turned to glance at him from the distance. Their eyes locked, and both considered it disrespectful to avoid each other’s eyes. So, they silently looked at each other as they made their way to meet.

He held his stare to Marlon’s, who’s eyes betrayed his composure.

Other people tried to talk to Marlon, but he excused himself, making his way to Brandon.

“Brandon, pensé que nunca te volvería…” Marlon began but his words were cut short.

“Lo sé.”

“Discúlpame,” Marlon pleaded, hoping that was enough to get rid of the regret that had haunted him for so long.

“No vine por tu disculpa, solo quería devolverte esto,” Brandon said taking off the dark blue coat from his shoulders.

Marlon hesitated for a moment but let Brandon drape the coat over him. As the familiar fabric enveloped him, more memories resurfaced. The touch of Brandon’s hand, the warmth between them. With the coat off, Brandon revealed a black blazer, matching his black shiny hair.

Marlon was about to say something, about to articulate all the emotions that he had pushed down for so long, but Brandon turned and left before he could even utter the words. People were too busy amongst themselves to notice what had happened. They didn’t even know Brandon, but they made their way for him respectfully until he was out in to the cold night without a goodbye. He had been the most handsome man in the bar; the lustful stares validated it.

The conversations continued. The music resumed. The bartender’s fancy bottle jockeying, all moved once again.

The multicolored lights were flashing. The disco ball spun. The blue coat had found Marlon once again, and now it was him who was lost, standing there in the middle of Libertad. It was there though, that something had become clear; he would never hide under Marlina again. Never allow himself to turn into a zombie. Not even back in Brownsville.

Marlon couldn’t control the smirk across his face as his eyes began to water. People were beginning to notice what was happening. He heard his name being whispered.

He wiped away his tears, adjusted his blue coat, and stepped back onto the stage. With each step he felt Marlina dying, dead. The audience hushed, anticipating the impromptu performance. As he placed his hands on the piano keys, he knew that whatever was about to be played was not meant just to entertain a drunk crowd that tried to get the liquid courage to witness the slow, dreadful collapse of the world. The War. Congo. Palestine. Genocide.

Even before he heard the music coming from him, he knew this was coming from his true self, the truest he had ever been. He would bear witness. All of them. Tonight.

Marlon began to pour the blues out from his heart and onto the keys. The blues passed through him and strengthened the hearts of those who listened.

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