Story: The Double

By: Lee Oleson

double
When Coco was fourteen Marco, his father, was shot dead in a robbery. Marco was working behind the counter in a corner grocery when there was a stick up. After the thief took the money he didn’t have to kill Marco, but he did.
After that Coco went crazy for a while, running around all night, somehow getting into nightclubs when he was fifteen, running around with women, doing all the drugs, carrying a knife to protect himself and using it, ignoring school, getting his girlfriend pregnant, so having a kid at sixteen, splitting up with the mother soon after, and finally going to work and then – working.
Now that’s behind him. Coco’s recovered, more or less, he’s established, he has a steady job, he’s playing it straight, and he’s remarried and has been married for eighteen years. He has two more kids and he’s been paying child support for his original kid until she’s out of college, in two more years.
Coco’s doing all the things he should. He just bought a house, with a big mortgage and a lot of fixing up to do, a lot of expenses, so there’s pressure. Everything he makes he spends fast. He works nine or ten hours a day, Saturday mornings too if he has a chance, then has part-time gigs evenings and on weekends, to keep up. His wife wants the new house fixed up quickly, and there are the two kids, one is fifteen and one is five, with totally different personalities. Both are male and like Coco at those ages, a little crazy.
Coco’s wife Maritza isn’t an easy person to satisfy, sometimes impossible. She’s a shopper and a spender, loves to buy things, loves shopping sprees, loves pretty things to wear and decorate the house. She loves their beautiful house with all the expected furniture and gadgets and a swimming pool, a big yard, and a couple of nice cars, along with Coco’s work van.
Maritza works too – she makes as much as Coco – and pushes him to do more, to make more, to fix up the house, to move up, to improve himself. Coco, who works in a factory, has a long way up to go. She doesn’t care if he works in a factory, he’s making a lot of money there with his fifty five hours a week. What he needs is self-improvement. Is he trustworthy? She isn’t sure. She has questions. Any woman would. Coco has a wonderful personality – maybe too wonderful. He makes her jealous; he would make any woman jealous, the way he acts. He’s very short but handsome and engaging, and that’s fine, but he has so many friends, friends all over. When he drives around town he’s always waving at people, people are always yelling out to him, “Hey, Coco!” and getting him to stop to say hello, with long conversations. Maritza thinks he’s too popular, too many of his friends are female, and they love to talk to him too much. Coco swears there’s nothing improper going on with these friends, they’re just friends. His wife says she believes him, but still she’s jealous, and anyway she doesn’t believe him. How could she? She hates having so many women around him, coming up to talk, gazing at him, looking deep into his eyes, sometimes even calling the house to engage in friendly conversations. What woman would like that?
They’re just being friendly, Coco says. Well, she says, maybe I don’t want them to be that friendly or friendly at all. Do I want you to have friendly woman friends? No!
Maritza and Coco are in a diner with the kids when one of Coco’s female friends arrives to say hello. Coco’s female friends all look the same: they’re too thin, they wear barely enough clothes, they wear high heels, and they always kiss his cheek. Maritza wonders why they don’t ask him for his autograph?
Coco laughs. He has a wonderful sense of humor. “Honey,” he tells her. “They kiss me on the cheek – there’s nothing to it.”
“I don’t kiss you on the cheek,” Maritza says. “Why do they?”
“I’d like it if you did, you know that.”
“I’ll tell you what,” she says. “I’ll do it and why don’t they stop?”
“Honey, they don’t mean anything by it!”
Maritza doesn’t care if they don’t mean anything, she doesn’t want it to happen. What woman would? She’s thinking of what she should do to put a stop to it. Some threat or enticement. Then Coco cracks a joke and laughs. Maritza can’t help herself, she laughs too, and Coco forgets what she was talking about, and before she knows it she does too.
Maritza is an extremely attractive woman, everybody knows. Coco has no doubts she’s attractive because, for one thing, his girlfriends are always telling him. “Your wife is so attractive,” they say.
Coco, who’s so good on the uptake, can’t resist. “She’s attractive,” he says. “Yes, but she’s cold.”
“What do you mean ‘cold’?” Cynthia, a girlfriend, asks.
“She doesn’t like to touch me,” Coco says. “I tell her, ‘Honey, I need someone who is more affectionate. You don’t like to hug or touch or kiss.’”
Cynthia can’t help herself, she feels sorry for Coco because though his wife is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous, so much of the time she’s unaffectionate and Coco, an emotional person, suffers. Coco works in a metal fabricating shop and is at work by six in the morning and works overtime every time he’s asked, for as long as he’s asked. He also has a job in deejaying in a bar and he does freelance work setting up musical equipment for parties and quinceañeras. It’s a life of hurrying from one place to another, a hard life, and there’s something about it that doesn’t make sense.
Cynthia hangs around at the club where Coco works part time on weekends. He’s a DJ at the club and a good dancer and though he’s short, he’s glamorous, or he likes to think so. Women are always falling in love with DJ’s – that’s what everybody says and there’s truth to it, though it isn’t so true with Coco because he’s married and he knows if he has an affair his marriage will be over quickly. He had an affair once, years before, and his wife has never forgotten, will never forgive him. She brings it up from time to time, assuring him there’ll be no second chance.
He has to be careful. There are these women who swoon over him at the club, ask him to dance and flirt with him, touch him, smooth his hair, brush up against him, and call him up at the house and also come up and kiss him on the street, and they don’t mean anything by it? Maritza asks. They mean something but they’re not serious, Coco says. It’s just being playful, it’s a fantasy they have. Coco knows nothing will come of it. We all need our little fantasies. Coco explains this to Maritza.
“They just want to flirt,” he tells her. “Nothing serious.”
“Not serious?”
“They just want to have fun.”
“What kind of fun?”
“Fun fun.”
“Sex?” she asks.
“No!”
“Sex is fun.”
Coco is not having affairs with these women, but loves dancing and flirting, loves the way they throw themselves at him. He doesn’t tell his wife how so many of them give him snapshots of themselves bent over from behind, panties down, showing every detail. It’s a fad these days – raunchy, nothing more – but his wife would never understand. Nowadays women, some women, are bolder about these things.
Coco keeps these photos locked in a special drawer of his toolbox at work, so if Maritza happens to come into the plant and happens try to open the toolbox she can’t get to them. If his wife ever saw the photos – well, his marriage would be gone, Coco tells his friends, as if it’s a joke. Ha, ha, Coco says and knows it’s no joke.
Coco likes to make people laugh, he jokes about everything, but his marriage is very important to him. He won’t have an affair because he knows it’s impossible, in their little town, for him to have an affair without word getting out. The network of busybodies and spies and blabbermouths and rumormongers, turncoats, and traitors, reaches everywhere, touching every nook and cranny, so everyone knows everything. It’s impossible to hide a secret like that, useless to try. Included among those who would betray Coco are women who make passes at him and are turned down, no matter how diplomatically. Some of them take it lightly, try again, or forget about it, but others feel slighted, they feel resentment, which can turn into rage, and some of these women want revenge. They’d love to punish him by turning him in and see him get his just reward.
Maritza knows if Coco does something wrong it will get to her, the truth will out. Coco can conceal, cover up, lie, deceive, mislead, forget to remember, and do all the rest just as well or better than most, the truth will out anyway.
Maritza doesn’t have to spy on him, she doesn’t have to try to catch him unawares at the club, she doesn’t have to listen in on his phone calls at home, she doesn’t have to use a network of friends and informers, carefully instructed, to check and double check and report on him, yet she does. It is absolutely necessary for her peace of mind. She would do it even if there weren’t all these girls hanging around him. Do you think she’s some kind of fool?
Coco says that such jealousy means you fear what you would do, given the opportunity. It means you don’t trust your own desires and so you project that lack of confidence onto your partner. Coco thinks this explanation is pretty sophisticated and he’s used it many times.
Maritza doesn’t believe it for a minute. She’s not about to jump into bed with someone other than her spouse. She has no such desire. Coco has the desire and everybody can tell. He radiates it. He talks about it with his friends and even if he didn’t say a word, all you have to do is look at him, look at his face, to know.
One day Coco is walking down the street and he comes upon a fellow who looks exactly like him. Well, not exactly. The second Coco has longer hair, he has earrings and tattoos, he walks with a swagger, and he looks like he’s on drugs—has that look, which, to Coco, is unmistakable. It’s a cultivated look and this Coco Number Two has it. Coco knows the look and the swagger because years before he lived in the drug world and got out of it. He learned a lot – enough – of what there is to know about drugs.
Even with the differences between him and the second Coco, the second Coco looks so much like Coco himself that for the real Coco it’s like looking in the mirror. If Coco didn’t look closely, he’d think he was looking at himself. It makes Coco uncomfortable.
The young man’s name, the second Coco’s, is Johnny Corkle. He has no job. He drives a Honda with custom paint, four barrel carb, twin cams, expensive rims, custom disk brakes, and in the trunk a 90 amp stereo that shakes the street. It’s a kid’s car –
nothing Coco would consider. Johnny lives in an apartment in a shabby part of town. Coco has a wife and two kids, lives in a respectable neighborhood, has all the gadgets, a good job, he’s a homeowner, he has two spotless cars and a practical van, well-maintained, which he uses to carry around his thousands of dollars of sound equipment for freelance DJ jobs. He’s a go-getter.
Coco finds out a lot about Johnny Corkle, though he’d prefer not to know anything. Because they live in the same small town and look alike, friends and family often confuse one with the other, and Coco keeps hearing details about Johnny Corkle.
People say Johnny is a drug dealer, which is most likely true. The fact that he denies it means nothing. He has no employment, no apparent income other than drugs, which he brags about to friends and uses openly. Most of Johnny’s friends are barely employed or unemployed. They dress like pirates, with headscarves and gold chains and shirts open at the chest and drive flashy cars, with no apparent source of income. Some are drug dealers, some deal in other crime – fencing, petty theft, grand theft, burglary, extortion, the gun trade. A few have ordinary lives and ordinary jobs and indulge in drugs on the side; these call themselves recreational users. They think of drugs as an ordinary part of life, a concept that Coco rejects.
Coco wants nothing to do with any of this. He’s tired of people confusing the two of them. Maritza’s friend Yolanda comes up to her and says, “I saw your husband walking down Blackwell Street the other night with this woman and it wasn’t you, Maritza, I tell you. She was hanging all over him. Your husband is so cute. He has girlfriends like that? How do you stand for it? The girl was cute, was she ever, and, Maritza, I swear, your husband was smoking ganja, right in the open, I could smell it, and for sure he was drunk too, I mean drunk and yelling! He smelled drunk too and looked drunk and he was yelling like a real drunk, I tell you. And you should have seen that woman, hanging onto him, and what she was wearing—or not wearing. These days some women dress to look naked. Well, she was awful pretty, but…”
“Honey,” Maritza tells Coco. “You know what Yolanda said? She saw you on Blackwell Street the other day, walking around smoking pot and drunk and staggering around and you were with this cute girl who hardly had any clothes on and she was pressed against you, she was part of your shirt! Honey? Did you hear what I said?”
“I heard,” Coco says.
“What was it, honey? I know it wasn’t you but I don’t know what to think. It wasn’t you, was it?”
“You know it wasn’t,” Coco says.
“You’re sure?”
“Honey,” Coco says. “We were together the last few nights, every moment. I was putting in countertops in the kitchen, every night, remember, and we went over to your mothers and we had hot dogs and ice cream with the kids and one night we watched this music videos show. We were together every minute.”
“Yolanda was sure it was you!”
“How could it have been? I was with you! Are there two of me?”
“No, honey,” Maritza says. “There is only one of you, fortunately. One is enough. Two of you would be too much.”
Coco is tired of this. They’ve had this conversation too many times. “It was Johnny,” he says.
“That Johnny?” Maritza asks. “Is he still around?”
“He’s still around.”
“I thought he moved out.”
“He moved out but he moved back.”
“I thought he was in jail.”
“He was. Now he’s out…”
“When did he get out?”
“When did he go in?” Coco says. “When did he get out? Maritza, you know I can’t keep up with him. He’s in and out. All I know is now he’s out.”
Maritza believes him, or part of her does, the other part doesn’t believe a word he says. She can’t help it. Even if she is with Coco all night, every moment, and a girlfriend calls her the next day to say she saw Coco the night before with a chica in a miniskirt dancing, bodies stuck together, at Casa Puerto Rico, part of Maritza believes it, she can’t help herself. Maritza knows it can’t be true, can’t possibly be, but finds herself believing it. Deep down she knows it’s true.
She thinks that although Coco was not dancing with the woman at Casa Puerto Rico on Saturday, he would like to. It’s what he wants. That’s the truth and everyone knows. Isn’t that worth considering?
She doesn’t tell Coco this, or she doesn’t tell him every time she thinks it. It doesn’t work that way. What happens is that after someone tells her the latest outrageous, unbelievable report about the second Coco, Maritza waves it off, sometimes doesn’t think about it for days, and then she finds herself feeling sullen, angry, betrayed, hurt, abandoned. She doesn’t know why but she doesn’t want to see her husband, doesn’t want to talk to him, except to pick a fight with him, a shouting match, even in public, and the last things she feels like is to go to bed with him. She feels bitchy. She isn’t usually that way. When she was younger, before she married Coco, she was never that way. He brings it out. Then she feels in love with Coco all over again, though she knows what a mistake it is, she can’t help it, she feels in love.
Her mother, with much wisdom, counsels her. What about the truth? Berta, her mom, says. The truth is that Coco is not cheating, has never done that (except with that one woman years and years ago), and though he flirts with the girls, and, yes, that’s a bad habit, he’s not unfaithful. He hasn’t betrayed her and won’t. She can trust him.
Isn’t the truth, her mother says, that Maritza was the one a few years before who walked out of the marriage? Maritza left him – and for months too! Isn’t that the truth? Maritza was the one who walked out, who said she wanted to see other men, which she never ended up doing, but she was the one who wasn’t sure she wanted to be married anymore. Maritza. It was then and only then that Coco had his affair – when he was separated from Maritza who demanded the separation!
Maritza acknowledges that, but that was so long ago and this is now, and now they are married with two children and she remembers what Coco did, never mind the circumstances, and she’s suffering horribly from jealousy, from feelings of betrayal, coming in waves.
Her mother tells her jealousy is a disease that can ravage and destroy, destroy her and her marriage. It’s a cancer, once started it spreads and consumes. Don’t let it happen! Maritza agrees. She has to control it, and she can. Coco is trustworthy. He has not betrayed her and will not. She’s letting her imagination, her anger at what Coco did in the past (under exceptional circumstances) take over. Why is she angry at him? She doesn’t know. It’s torture for her.
She picked Coco because he was such an engaging, attractive man. The women were flocking around him and she won out. Why are women still flocking to him?
After a while she calms down. She acknowledges that her imaginings have no basis in reality. Her fears subside. She recovers, partially, from the disease. She knows it can come back any time.
One day Coco hits a streak of luck. A credit card company accidentally gives him double credit on an $800 item he returned. Suddenly he has a credit on his bill for $1,600. It’s a gift of $800. Coco has the feeling he has the system beat, as if he won in Vegas. The feeling changes a few days later when he gets a bill from another credit card, for $15,000, for things Coco has never seen, did not purchase, had nothing to do with.
The bill has been sent to his address, to Coco P. Marquez. Before he opens it, he knows something’s wrong. His name is not Coco P. Marquez; it’s Coco Marquez without the “P.” He has no middle name.
There is a Coco P. Marquez he knows about, living in Florida, over a thousand miles away, who’s wanted by the police. Coco has seen pictures of Coco P. Marquez and knows that he doesn’t looks like that Coco. It doesn’t matter. According to various credit card companies and credit institutions, Coco P. Marquez and Coco are the same person.
Coco tells them that although his mother’s maiden name starts with a “P” and though many Hispanics list that name as part of their name, he has never referred to himself as Coco P. Marquez. His social security number is different from that of Coco P. Marquez, the one in Florida, so there should be no confusion.
For years he has paid a lawyer to solve this problem. The lawyer, with all his expertise, can’t fix it, which is a problem that is complex and getting more complex as laws change and things tighten up. The tightening up is necessary, the lawyer says, as part of the War on Terrorism. The lawyer explains how it’s necessary to deal with many financial institutions, agencies, police departments, bonding institutions, and also private companies which sanction bounty hunters.
There are bounty hunters searching Florida for Coco P. Marquez; they receive a report he has gone to South Carolina, to Charleston, then a report that he’s gone further north, perhaps to Delaware or Maryland or farther north.
One night Coco gets a call from someone asking him if he’s Coco Marquez. Coco is uneasy. The man does not identify himself, but there is something about his voice, a gruffness, that makes Coco uncomfortable.
“You are?” Coco says.
“Who are you?” the voice says.
“I’m Coco Marquez,” Coco says. “Who are you?”
“Don’t worry about that,” the man says. “You better get down here.”
“Where?”
“Columbia, South Carolina.”
“What?” Coco says.
“I’m giving you a chance to turn yourself in,” the man says. “You can meet me here, in Columbia, at the police station, the main one. Then I won’t go after you. I’m offering you a deal.”
“You’ve got the wrong Coco Marquez,” Coco says.
“I’m offering you a deal.”
“What?” Coco says.
“It’s easy to find you,” the man says.
Coco explains that he is not Coco P. Marquez, for it’s Coco P. Marquez that the man is looking for, not Coco Marquez. The bounty hunter doesn’t believe it and doesn’t care. His paperwork is skimpy. He doesn’t know what Coco is talking about, thinks it’s a lie, an evasion, but then the bounty hunter gets caught up in other business and doesn’t drive north to grab Coco. For the moment it’s too much trouble. It’s just a matter of time before Coco comes to South Carolina or Florida – everyone does at one time or another – to be picked up. He’s on the list. Over the phone the bounty hunter tells Coco this, threatening him outright.
Coco hangs up and calls his attorney, the one who specializes on this problem and has charged Coco thousands of dollars over years, doing all he can, solving nothing. The attorney assuages Coco. There’s no immediate danger, the attorney says. The proper papers have been filed. The state has been notified. Things will be straightened out. Be calm.
Coco’s girlfriends at the club, and also other girlfriends around town, have heard about the mix up, though they don’t know the details. They don’t worry about it. Some of them think it’s funny. Anyway, many of them don’t know Coco as Coco but by the name he uses at the club, Hot Dog, a name he uses often. So many of Coco’s club friends don’t know he’s called Coco, have never heard him referred to by that name, yet know details about his life, consider him a best friend. Most know his wife too, though she rarely comes to the club, a place she finds distasteful.
Once, during a bout of jealousy, Maritza comes into the club during a Halloween party. She’s disguised as a pirate and masked, so no one will recognize her. She wants to spy on Coco to find out if the reports she’s heard are true—that Coco is often seen sandwich dancing, that is, dancing with a woman close right in front of him and a another right behind him, close.
Maritza goes to the bar and orders a drink, to test her disguise, and no one there recognizes her. She goes into the room with the DJ and dance floor, where Coco is, to spy on him. Before she arrives someone whispers to Coco that his wife, in disguise, is in the club. When she appears Coco, who has just been having a great time sandwich dancing, is doing nothing considered improper. Weeks later he mentions to Maritza that she was at the club in disguise. She’s outraged.
“How did you know?”
“Someone told me.”
“You cheat!”
“Cheat? I wasn’t cheating.”
“That proves you cheat! Someone told you!”
“They told me after you left. It doesn’t prove anything!”
“I know you were doing something!”
For several nights after that Maritza won’t let Coco touch her. Then she calms down. Why, she asks herself, why do I drive myself crazy?
Johnny Corkle, the second Coco, never comes to the club, rarely comes to that part of town, and Coco P. Marquez is far away in South Florida. That Coco is on a crime spree. First Coco P. Marquez gets in trouble in the Florida real estate business, committing felonies relating to mortgages, titles, transfers, and also credit fraud, then he is charged with robbery and extortion and, later, a carjacking. All this takes some time to accomplish and Coco P. Marquez has built up a considerable reputation and in that part of Florida, he’s a name in the news.
Most of the time Coco doesn’t worry about either of the other Cocos. They live in different worlds, different lives in different worlds, and he has his own problems to deal with.
One day he’s pulled over for running through a red light. He doesn’t run the red light, he goes through a green light behind another car that stops in the intersection to make a turn. People in the crosswalk delay the turn. By the time the car ahead of Coco makes the turn, the light is red, so the light’s red when Coco makes the same turn. The police don’t stop the first car but stop Coco and ticket him.
“What!” the policeman shouts at Coco. “I can’t believe what I saw! You drove right through a red light!”
Coco starts to explain.
The cop loses his temper, looks like he’s going to explode. He takes Coco’s identification, driver’s license and registration, and jumps in his squad car and drives off. Coco doesn’t know what to do. After a couple minutes he gets out of his car. Then the cop comes back at high speed, stops, jumps out of the squad car and demands that Coco get back in his car. Coco gets back. He gets a ticket for $185.
He’s determined to challenge it. He calls to set up a court date and looks forward to the fight. He’ll testify about the facts of the case, which will exonerate him, he’s sure, but he forgets the court date until a week afterward. He is hanging around one evening, enjoying himself, when he realizes he’s missed the court appearance. It’s not the kind of mistake he often makes. He’s good with details. He keeps up with myriad details at home and at work, his whole life is a mass of details and he’s up on every one of them. At work in the factory he is paid well, treated as a privileged worker, because he’s so good on details, hundreds, even thousands, of them. He doesn’t mess up. At home he’s always mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool, finishing the deck, painting, performing intricate remodeling projects, because he loves it, capable of it, and also at the insistence of his wife, who demands these things, and who, he suspects, won’t love him unless he does them.
His wife dresses fashionably, she’s knockout, and requires a beautiful house, fully appointed, and with all these things she loves. He wonders if without these things she’d stop loving him. Perhaps. He believes this and doesn’t believe it. It can’t be true – how could it be true?
One day a notice of a warrant for Coco’s arrest comes in the mail, for missing the court date. It’s not an impossible thing to solve: he has to take off work the next Monday morning and go to city hall and post a cash bond of $500, no checks or credit cards accepted. Then he gets another court date for a few weeks after that and then can settle the traffic ticket by giving them money, five hundred.
Coco and his wife make a lot of money so this is not an impossible problem, it’s a detail, an annoyance, or it would be just that if relations between them were better.
Maritza is more upset by reports about Johnny Corkle, the other Coco. She keeps hearing stories about him. Johnny hangs out with disreputable women and, some people say, he traffics in them, they’re prostitutes and he’s a pimp. Maritza knows better than to think this has anything to do with her Coco. But she wonders. Johnny, like Coco, always has women around. Sometimes Johnny has a woman on each arm. Not all his women look at all like prostitutes or addicts, some are stylish, some beautiful, they could be Maritza or Maritza’s girlfriends.
Coco says it’s easy to distinguish between himself and Johnny Corkle, how can people confuse them? Their faces are similar, and their build, but not their dress or manner or anything else. They’re both short, and both are Puerto Rican, both like the same music, and both lived in the same part of the state before they moved to Dover.
It is not possible, Coco says, that Maritza believes the reports that mix up the two. Maritza feels resentment against him for other reasons, who knows what? She uses the reports as excuses to take it out on him.
Coco is much more concerned about the activities of Coco P. Marquez who, even if he never leaves Florida (and if the bounty hunters never get farther north than South Carolina) causes Coco serious problems. Coco receives a notice in the mail from the state that his driver’s license is to be suspended. It’s because, the notice says, that through a computer hookup the state has discovered that Coco is charged with serious traffic offenses in Florida and has not contested the charges and various warrants have been issued for his arrest in Florida. If Coco doesn’t show just cause, his license will be suspended. Coco knows what to do and has the lawyer who is charging him thousands to file the necessary paperwork with the department of motor vehicles, which delays the threatened action.
Maritza is sympathetic to Coco’s problems. And she loves him. She doesn’t just say she loves him, she really does, and anyway things are going well.
A couple years before they bought their three-bedroom house with a big basement and a backyard and had the money to put in a pool. Coco carries a picture in his wallet of a $1,500 grill he’s set up on the backyard deck for barbecues with friends. Coco jokes that he has a picture of his girlfriend in his wallet and brings out a picture of the grill. “You want to see a picture of my girlfriend?” he says, bringing out the picture. Everybody laughs, even Maritza.
The winter before it snowed so much that once or twice, when Coco was shoveling the driveway, he threw snow onto the street. This is against a town ordinance. Homeowners are not allowed to put snow onto the street. It’s a serious problem, homeowners shoveling snow onto the street. The town does not have the resources to clean this extra snow off the streets. There have been articles about this in the newspaper and speeches by the mayor on this question and it’s such a serious problem, or so the officials say (Coco doesn’t believe a word of it), that there’s an announcement of a crackdown, promising that violators will be brought to justice. Even then the law is not usually enforced. It depends on who you are and if someone turns you in and other things, things Coco doesn’t completely understand or prefers not to think about.
He rents out the basement, which is also against a town ordinance, and in order to rent the basement he puts in a bathroom, without a building permit, and does extra wiring, without a permit, this illegal too.
Someone reports Coco’s illegal construction to authorities, and Coco gets visit from a town officials, then a fine for not having the necessary permits. What makes Coco nervous is that he knows it’s illegal to rent out his basement, whether or not he has building permits. He worries but not much. It’s not his nature. Things are going well. His kids are behaving – though it’s necessary to supervise them carefully. They have impulses, enormously destructive, which have to be watched out for – the same ones Coco had in his youth.
There are debts. These are Coco’s biggest worry. It’s easy to transfer monstrous credit card debts to new credit cards for no interest for six months, but then those debts have to be transferred to new credit cards before interest starts taking effect. He and Maritza go out on weekends to buy things for the house. When he comes home from work Maritza makes sure that Coco puts in time, sometimes till eleven at night, finishing the latest project—a new door, new molding, new floor covering, a new deck, fixing up the gutters, the pool, finishing the basement.
Coco complains. Sometimes he says that Maritza’s love for him depends on whether or not he is making sufficient home improvement progress. This isn’t absurd; he believes it, deep down. He wonders if she would have stayed with him if they hadn’t bought their new house, for hundreds of thousands of debt. After he completes a project, Maritza is especially enthusiastic in bed. Coco wonders, is this love? The first thing she says to him after work is about the latest project. How is he doing? She means, how is he doing with tiling the bathroom or putting in a new door frame. He resents this. He says, is this love? Can it be? She laughs. He’s cute, she says, the way he talks. That’s why she loves him, he’s cute, he’s always telling jokes. He wonders.
It’s the debt, piling up, that he thinks about most. He’s working all the time, making money at his job, doing DJ jobs on weekends, and Maritza has a good job too, and they owe more than ever. Their mortgage payment is $3000 a month and that’s just the beginning. There are thousands in property taxes and the credit card debts from things bought at Home Depot and Lowe’s and also the bogus credit card bills connected to Coco P. Marquez that keep arriving and there’s clothes and electronic toys for the kids.
It’s pressure on Coco. Sometimes he wonders if he can take it, if he can go on, or if he should go out and live in a van or under a bridge – there’s a bridge north of town that people live under, mostly Mexicans. When he retires, Coco jokes, he’ll join them, or before he retires. Sometimes Coco isn’t sure it’s funny, that it’s a joke. After all, he says, not everything is funny. When he says that, people laugh.
There’s an older, attractive woman who comes to the club and loves to dance with him, always laughing at his jokes, and she invites him to her house for a drink after the club closes for the night. He asks his friends at work what he should do, should he go to her place? No one will know, he says. His friends at work offer varying bits of advice. They’re not sure.
One day his wife suffers a relapse. She gets a report that Coco (she knows it’s Johnny Corkle) is driving around town in a convertible with a beautiful, thin Dominican woman at his side. Johnny drives with his sound system loud enough to shake windows a block away. Nancy, one of Maritza’s friends who should know better, asks her why Coco does this. Doesn’t he know better? Maritza loses her temper at Nancy and when Coco comes home she accuses him. Coco tries to explain. She won’t listen. She’s had enough. She wants him to quit his DJ job and stop running around with women, stop flirting, stop being out to all hours every weekend, supposedly deejaying, but really doing— what? How can she know? She can’t keep track. Who could? No wonder she’s jealous.
Coco starts sliding toward a nervous breakdown. That’s what he calls it. He’s heard about these things from somewhere. He’s doing something wrong, he’s not sure what. Maybe it’s everything he’s doing. Too much is happening. He can’t take one more thing. He doesn’t know if he can go to work, which he has been doing unfailingly for so many years, hardly missing a day and working as many nine and ten hour days as he can.
He has avoided drugs for years and has been faithful to his wife for years and now he wonders if he should be unfaithful or maybe go on drugs, especially maybe he should be unfaithful. He tells Maritza. She thinks it’s another joke and laughs. He laughs too and thinks, why am I laughing?
He gets this thing in his head about Coco P. Marquez, running around Florida on a crime spree, using his name, and no matter what the authorities do, no one seems to be able to do anything about it, or to stop confusing the one Coco with the other. Maybe they don’t care.
What if Coco takes leave from work and travels to Florida and finds Coco P. Marquez and confronts him and maybe twists his arm or takes out a few teeth—has a personal confrontation? It’s a stupid idea, but Coco considers it. It’s his state of mind.
Coco calls Archibald, a cousin in Florida, who, as a favor to Coco, has been keeping up with the career of Coco P. Marquez. Archie lives in Flagler Beach where the local paper runs stories about Coco P. Marquez’s criminal activities because he graduated from the local high school and people in the area know him. Stories about Coco P. Marquez are headlined “Local Man…” “Local man indicted for card theft.” “Local man sued for credit card fraud.” “Local man charged with participation in identity fraud ring.” “Local man charged with carjacking.” One story details how Coco P. Marquez faked his own suicide and then was found in a mental hospital, claiming to be someone else, then saying he didn’t remember who he was, and the next story reports he has escaped the hospital and has disappeared, perhaps going to Colombia or California and the next story is that he’s charged with ticket-selling fraud in Panama City Beach, and is arrested, and gets out on bail, which he jumps and disappears.
Then there’s a story that Coco P. Marquez is back in jail, the story sent to Coco by his cousin Archibald, clipped out of the paper in Flagler Beach. There’s a picture of him, Coco P. Marquez, in a jail jumpsuit, looking bored and tired. He wears dreadlocks and looks nothing like Coco, and, besides, Coco’s hair is clipped short. The story quotes a police official saying that Coco P. Marquez’ crime spree is over for good.
Coco doesn’t believe it and anyway he has other concerns. He knows his neighbors are complaining about his renting the basement apartment, which is not supposed to be occupied, and the town officials are ready to take action, but Coco needs the five hundred dollars a month rent he’s getting for the basement. He can’t do without it and, in fact, he’s so far in debt he’s thinking of raising the rent.
What bothers him most is the Mexican he rents the basement apartment to. Javier, the Mexican, is a construction worker, quiet and retiring. Coco has never heard him say more than two words at a time. The Javier has no female friends, so there’s not that problem, and he doesn’t drink or listen to loud music. When friends come to visit him it’s just a few friends and they’re quiet. There are no problems that way.
It’s something in Javier’s eyes. Coco charges Javier $600 a month for the basement (he’s just raised it from $500 to $600), which is cheap, really, for a studio apartment, it’s a bargain, and Javier never complains and always pays his rent on time. But Coco doesn’t like the feeling he’s a landlord. He has to be a landlord, he has to rent the basement, in order to make his mortgage payments. Even with renting the basement he’s falling behind on the payments, along with other bills.
Coco doesn’t like being around Javier or Javier’s friends, who are day laborers, impoverished, like Javier. It makes Coco uncomfortable, as if these people are accusing him of something, though they never say anything to him or accuse him of anything. It’s something in their eyes he sees or imagines.
He knows he has to change something about his life, make adjustments, or change everything. Maybe he should go have a drink with the beautiful woman at the club who invites him to go home with her, and forget his marriage.
One Saturday instead of working on the pool – it has to be sanitized – and the deck, which has to be re-stained, and the lawn too, he decides to get drunk, right at the house, right in front of everyone. Maritza can’t believe it. She has a list of things, starting with a trip to Lowe’s, they have agreed to. There’s going to be a barbecue on Sunday in the backyard and it will be even more fun with a few more projects completed.
Coco drinks tequila and beer. He doesn’t care if Maritza and his kids see him. He turns on the Saturday daytime TV and watches. There are music video shows that are pretty good, so he watches them. He can watch music videos for hours. After hours of music videos he feels better. He’s recovered but he can’t do anything. He’s supposed to DJ that night and he can’t. He’s supposed to organize the barbecues the next day and can’t.
He goes out to a bar he normally doesn’t go to, one by the railroad tracks, a narrow building that people say is the narrowest bar in the state, only twelve feet wide, a place that’s famous for selling a beer for a dollar. The bar is one hundred and eighty years old and looks it, but is charming, some say. Coco can’t figure out why, it’s such a rundown place, and he can’t figure out why he’s there. It isn’t charming to him, it’s a dump.
He sees Johnny Corkle there, in a tiny booth in a corner, with a girlfriend. Coco has seen her before. She looks like a prostitute or a junkie, though she doesn’t look bad, he decides. Some prostitutes are pretty and anyway the hooker look is in, so women who’d never imagine prostitution imitate the look. It’s fashionable. Johnny, as usual, looks like a bum and drug dealer, he looks slovenly. The two of them come over to Coco’s booth and Johnny introduces his girlfriend to Coco, but for some reason calls him Hot Dog, his name from the club where Coco deejays, though Johnny never goes to the club. Coco is wondering why Johnny is calling him Hot Dog. He decides it’s part of the disorder of things.
“Hot Dog,” Johnny says. “This is Mary.”
“Hi, Mary,” Coco says. He is always polite and friendly.
“Hi, Hot Dog,” she says. She is taken with him. “You’re cute,” she says. “Johnny says you’re a good dancer.”
Everyone knows Coco is a good dancer. Coco beams, though he knows Mary is drunk and being a friend of Johnny’s she probably doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but he likes being in the presence of women.
The three drink together. Coco continues with tequila and beer and Johnny and Mary drink whiskey. They all get drunk. They say a bunch of things they don’t mean. Coco feels better. Johnny isn’t such a bad guy, even if he is a criminal and even if some people think he’s Coco. At moment Coco doesn’t care what people think. Maybe it would be better if he was Johnny. Maybe they’ll end up in the same place anyway—in jail or an early grave or a mental institution. Who knows? Coco doesn’t know. There’s nothing more he can do. He doesn’t worry. He’s good-natured, not a moody person, and as he and Johnny and Mary sit in the booth and drink and drink and have fun, he doesn’t
consider consequences.
By the time he gets home he’s feeling better. Though he’s blown his DJ job at the club – blown it! – he starts to think about details about his life, things that need to be done. It’s late Saturday night and everyone else in the house is asleep, even Maritza, but he doesn’t feel like sleeping, he can’t. He notices that no one has picked up Saturday’s mail. It’s the kind of thing that if he doesn’t do, no one will. He’s the conscientious one, the hardworking one, the well-meaning one, detail-oriented, and considerate. He goes through the mail, opens every item, including bills and the usual credit card offers.
He has to transfer his credit card debts to a new card, to avoid paying interest for another six months, so he looks carefully. One application makes him stop short. It’s from a company based in Florida. Coco wonders why this company in Florida is sending him an application and when he reads the name on the application he knows: the application is not for him, it’s for Coco P. Marquez.
At first he wants to call his lawyer who’s charged thousands to get rid of this problem, then Coco decides it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t get to him. He’s thinking about something else. It’s the middle of the night and he begins to dissolve. It’s not slow. Within a few hours, by about dawn, it’s well advanced. He’s dissolving.
That Sunday, despite having had no sleep, he’s acting normal, no one knows the difference or how he feels, but the next Monday morning after a few hours at work he decides he’s sick. He tells his foreman and goes home early from work. On his way home all he can think about is women, but not women who are obtainable – there are obtainable ones – but unobtainable, fantastic, women who only exist in dreams or photos or movies or videos or the mind’s eye. The ones who are readily available are sure to cause headaches, in fact he gets headaches thinking about them, unless it’s only in an utterly fantastic way.
He doesn’t want a home life anymore. He knows he can no longer supervise his kids or make nice to his wife. He’s no longer interested in her, can no longer think about her in the affectionate way he did before.
He gets home early and as soon as he’s home he decides to leave. He doesn’t worry where he’s going. There’s the problem of money. All his money is tied up in his house, his projects, his family. He needs quick cash. He can no longer work nine or ten hours a day in a factory and do DJ stints on the weekend for money. He’s never been much of a drinker and he left the world of drugs when he was a teenager and can’t go back, doesn’t want to, but he wants to do something destructive. It’s an allure.
His only chance is for him to become entirely another person – a person who perhaps has the name “Coco,” a person who looks like him, with the same body, the same photo and driver’s license, but not the same person. It isn’t easy, turning into a completely different person. A lot of things about it are impossible. If he leaves his family – this would be the second time he has abandoned a wife and child – there would be child support. For years he paid child support for a child from a first marriage and still has to finish paying it off.
The arm of the state can follow him anywhere, he knows. Anywhere. There’s no place he can go where the state won’t track him down. That’s what the state does, it tracks people, makes sure no one can escape. You can’t get away from it. His one chance is a thorough-going change of his identity, with all the necessary supporting papers, but these days that’s more and more difficult – almost impossible. They know who you are; who you are is the sum of your life. There’s too much to change, too many obstacles. Is another form of life possible? Asking that question gets you in trouble.
He’s sitting around, home from work, divvying out his life, which is falling apart. It’s midmorning. His kids are at school and his wife’s at work. They don’t know he’s home. No one else will be home for hours. Perhaps in those hours he can figure things out. He waits. He feels himself dissolving more quickly. Dissolving isn’t the word for it. There’s no word for it. Anyway, if he doesn’t watch out, there will be no more of him left; he’ll be completely gone, disappeared.
He looks out the window of his house, into the backyard, and sees the swimming pool he’s worked on so much, the pool he cleans every week, that he has landscaped around. He waits. He thinks about his friends, his co-workers, his wife, his kids, his parents, he thinks about Coco P. Marquez and Johnny Corkle, the other unfortunates – for now he thinks all are unfortunate, including him – all part of a mistake.
As he dissolves he’s helpless. He waits. Soon his wife and kids will be home. Something will happen. Perhaps he’ll pretend to be normal or be unable to pretend. He waits. He doesn’t know what will happen. He knows the person they find at home, the one who looks like him, in his own house, won’t be him. He’d like to be what he was. It was an adventure and now it’s over. Something else, someone else, is starting up, or getting finished. He wonders what, who that person is, the person they find at home, who it will be.
He calls up his brother Fernando who works in the trucking business. On the phone Fernando has only a moment to talk and realizes immediately something’s terribly wrong with Coco. Fernando comes up with excuses, leaves work, and arranges to meet Coco in a coffee shop.
“I’m blowing it,” Coco tells Fernando as he sits down.
They are in a booth. The waitress comes and goes. What?” his brother says.
Coco says, “I’m screwing up. I’m leaving.”
“Leaving for what?”
“I’m the wrong person,” Coco says.
“What you talking about?” his brother says. “You all right?”
“No,” Coco says.
“What’s wrong?”
“Don’t know.”
They talk for hours. Fernando calls the trucking company and says he’ll be gone for the rest of the day, it’s a family emergency. He takes Coco to his place, a second floor condo with a 54 inch flat screen TV and a mattress on the floor, and tells him to sit down and relax, offers him another cup of coffee and something to eat, then he calls Coco’s house. Maritza and the kids still aren’t there yet, so Fernando leaves a message. The message says Coco won’t be home soon and explains nothing.
Coco is talking to Fernando, talking and talking, blabbering, showing a state of mind that unnerves his brother, especially what Coco says about being the wrong person.
“What do you mean?” Fernando asks. “Wrong person?”
Coco says, “I’m leaving.”
“Leaving, for where?”
“Going into hiding.”
“Hiding from what?”
“I have to tell someone before I go,” Coco says. “You’re the one I tell. Explain to Maritza and the kids.”
“What do I say?”
“Good bye,” Coco says. “That’s what you tell them.” Coco shakes his brother’s hand, walks out, gets into his van and drives off.
Neither his brother nor anyone who knows Coco sees him again. Fernando tries to explain to Coco’s family and can’t. Maritza screams at Fernando, screams at everyone, sobs and accuses everyone, accuses herself too, for being a fool, she falls apart a hundred times, does her best to pull herself together for the kids, doesn’t, and after two years divorces Coco in absentia. His two boys spend much of the rest of their lives wondering what happened to their father. Maritza says she can offer no explanation. “He just left,” she tells them. “I can’t figure it out. I’ve given up trying to figure it out. I can’t think about it anymore.”
She sells the house and rents an apartment. She doesn’t date, she has nothing to do with men romantically, although she has no problem dealing with them professionally. All men are this way, she says. It isn’t just Coco, it’s all of them. They’re children. They don’t know what they want. They’re impulsive, like little kids, with no understanding of themselves. She never hears from Coco, that’s the worst part. No card or letter or call, no word of explanation, no word at all. Is he alive or dead?
Coco moves to Florida. Why Florida? He doesn’t know. He gets a job in a convenience store in Central Florida using dubious but serviceable papers and rents a room near where he works. After a year he gets on full time at the store. The pay is not much but there are health benefits and a two week vacation after two years. He becomes one of several assistant managers, which means that frequently he comes in early or leaves late or both and he has a lot of responsibility and he doesn’t make much more money. The regular customers like him. They trust him. He’s honest. He doesn’t pretend he’s someone important; he’s a nobody, he’s hardworking, one who does the best he can, most of the time. His ambition is to get by. He’s polite and has a sense of humor. That much from the previous Coco has survived.
By this time he can afford a one bedroom apartment. He does not have a girlfriend for a long time, then has a girlfriend who works assembling windows in an aluminum window factory. She’s worked there for years. She has a five-year old son. She’s not glamorous. She doesn’t know all the dances. She doesn’t know that Coco knows all the dances. He’s quiet. He has a few friends. He goes along with things. He doesn’t talk about his past, just says he used to live somewhere else, doesn’t mention where. He doesn’t explain more than that, he can’t. He isn’t the same Coco there was before, though he might look the same; he’s another Coco altogether.
Because his papers lack authenticity he suspects it’s just a matter of time before they track him down, for child support for his two kids with Maritza and his one kid before that, and why shouldn’t they? He tells himself he should pay child support, it’s his responsibility, but he’ll postpone it as long as possible and if it doesn’t happen—he’ll let it not happen. He can barely remember the way he was before, how he thought.
Coco tells his friends that in his previous life things didn’t work out. He says this in the tentative way he talks now. There’s no telling, he says, maybe things won’t work out this time either. These comments are vague enough that people don’t quite understand, can’t grasp what he’s getting at, and it’s not as if he can explain. Nobody worries about it. A lot of people are that way. Everyone likes him.
Coco’s quiet, he doesn’t impose on anyone, doesn’t intrude. He still has a good sense of humor, one thing that has survived from the previous Coco. When you tell a joke he laughs and sometimes, not often, he tells jokes himself.

THE END

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