Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By L. Burton Brender

For Jim and Anthony

My older brother, Jose, he is a man. He has 16 years and he has been a chambelan. Two times. The first time he was the escort for this very pretty girl who called herself Rosita, but I do not think the second time should count. It was for Isabella. Isabella, she is not so nice, and besides she is our cousin. 

Jose was the first of los tigres.  Back then, it was him and Raphael, the older brother of Antonio, but Raphael grew up and moved away. Jose, he still lives here, and he has just got his license. Now, there are girls to drive around in his pickup truck, and he is too big to be a tigre

These days, los tigres are Antonio, Luis, Alejandro, and me. I have 11 and a half years and I am the more old. I may not be a man yet like Jose, but I am a caballero—a knight. That is what it means to be a tigre: we are knights. We are strong of heart, and we have no fear.

The first encargo, the word wants to say “quest” in English, was against a snake. It was right here in the city, where is the house of my tía. Our city is big—it has a bus station and train tracks. I have been to the bus station, but my mamá told me never to go to the far side of the tracks. It is peligroso. Anyway, I remember that behind the house of my tía there was a very prickly bush and inside we found the snake. It was green and wound up like a leather rope. We got our bats and we beat the ground and shouted, “Go away, snake! ¡Vete!” 

And it did. As it slithered away, we jumped and cheered our victory, but then we became very serious. We faced each other, touching together the ends of our bats, and swore an oath by the Virgin, our padres, and all the animals we have ever loved: whenever there was danger, we fight. It was a sacred bond. I am sad to say, though, that even in a city as big as ours, there are not dangers very often.

When we made our oath, the animal I was thinking of was my cat. I call him Torpedo, which is the same word in English as it is in español.  He used to be the cat of Jose, but my brother has cosas de hombres to do now and cannot be bothered with a gato. So, he is my cat. He is called Torpedo because he is very fast and very brave.

Torpedo, he is my best friend and he likes to play with me when I go to bed. Always when I am almost asleep, my toes stick up under the covers and he will get down low and jump at them. One night, he bit my big toe and I hit at his tail. He was too quick, though, and got away.

Yet, he can also be sweet. At nights, after he is done attacking, he lays on top of my chest. I know he is not sleeping, though. He is keeping watch for los monstruos. My tía says there are monstruos in Mexico. We came from Chiapas, where there is el cucuy, the bogeyman, and el nahual, who looks like a big wolf but is really a brujo, a witch-man.

My papá, he says that in America there are no monstruos. “We are too busy for them in this country.” When he talks like this, he always reshuffles his eyeglasses in a way that makes him seem like he knows everything in the world. But my tía, she does not agree. Sometimes I hear her talking to my mamá, when they all think I am asleep. 

On one such night, Torpedo, he attacked my toe again and ran out. I followed him and in the kitchen my mamá and tía, they were talking.

, but there are, Juanita! Have you no heard of the Bigfoot? He live not too far from here!”

“Ynes, there are no such things. No monsters in Mexico and no monsters here in America.”

“I seen them, hermana! Here in the town. They call them las arañitas.  They call to you but they no people. They are spiders with the faces of people—of children! One night, I coming back from the club and it called to me. ‘Hey, hey!’  I go, and there it is. In the dark, it have a face and eight legs!”

“You counted them in the dark, mi querida? I know how you come home from the club. You have a few y son las piernas de los muchachos que cuentas!”

My tía, she squealed and hit my mamá but it was not hard. My mamá, she is like my papá and does not believe in monstruos. I do, though, and I believe my tía. Still, if mamá found me up, she would be worse than any monstruo. I grabbed Torpedo and we went to bed. 

It was about a month or so later that Torpedo, he got out of the house. It was my fault, and I felt really bad.  Mamá says cats live longer inside and I want Torpedo to live a long time. But, he does not care what I think. I remember it was summer and the doorbell rang. There was the mailman with a package and when I answered, Torpedo, he ran out very fast.

I cried all day.  Mamá and papá said he would be OK, but I did not know that. They went out that night and looked but my papá had work early and he and mamá both went to bed. They took me with them but I could not sleep. I looked out the window all night.

In the morning, I went to the houses of los tigres. I declared we had an encargo. I did not look very brave when I said it, though. I cried. I told them that my Torpedo, he was missing. Luis, he started to laugh, but Alejandro, he did not think it was funny and punched Luis. Luis did not laugh anymore.

We split up. Antonio, he went down to the school, Luis to the bus station, and Alejandro with me to the park. Alejandro said there were lots of birds in the park and when his gata got out, she was there in a tree. I got real excited at this story.

But Torpedo, he was not in the park. We checked everywhere and all we found were birds and a dog that had no home. I looked at the dog with squint eyes. Did he hurt my Torpedo? But, I saw no blood, and I did not want to think about it. We went back to my place. The other tigres were already there. 

Luis has only nine years, so I was not surprised when he found nothing, and besides, he did not really care about the encargo until Alejandro had hit him. Antonio said he did see a cat, but Torpedo, he is striped, and this one was not. I sat down and tried to be strong but it was hard. My friends, they sat with me. They talked about things like cars and vaquero hats and all the other cosas importantes of life, and for a while I did not feel so bad. 

Soon though, mamá, she came out and said it was time for dinner. As I ate with her, my papá and Jose, they did not sit.  Mamá said they were going to put up photos of Torpedo from my last cumpleaños.  I said that was a good idea and prayed to the Virgin and her Son that it would work.

After we ate, my mamá, she said it was the hour for bed.  Papá and Jose came back about that time and Jose went to his room to listen to music. He is a real American man. He likes Taylor Swift. 

Mamá and papá went to sleep, but I was sick in my belly. I imagined Torpedo in a tree. Maybe the dog from the park chased him. Or maybe worse.

And then I knew what I must do. My Torpedo, he needed me. I could not have fear of the night or even mis padres. I had a little fear of Jose, he hits even harder than Alejandro, but he would not catch me. I took my linterna and went on hands and knees to the front of the house. The music of Jose was so loud that no one heard me leave.

I turned on the linterna because the shadows, they were melting together. With my little light, I first went to the park. It is not nice at night. The trees were giants and I called to each one for Torpedo, but there was no answer. I looked for the dog but he was not there, either. The truth? I heard nothing. No dogs, no cats, no birds. The night, it seemed like it was listening. 

I went to everywhere I know. Torpedo, he was not by the supermarket or the place that sells cheap hamburguesas or underneath the bench in front of the fire station. I became desperate, and thought of the one place where none of us had yet looked.  Mamá had said never to go past the train tracks—but what if Torpedo was there? I walked several minutes to los trackes and when I arrived, they looked like little iron walls in the darkness. Standing next to them, I paused, took a deep breath to make myself all big inside, and stepped over. 

It was muy oscura. My linterna was only a small fire in a great darkness. I said to myself over and over again, “Los tigres tienen no miedo”—but I tell you I did have fear. I wished the crickets would sing so I would not be alone. 

I called, “Torpedo! Torpedo!” But there was nothing. It was not cold, yet I shivered.

It was then that I heard it. “Meow!” But it was not a cat. It sounded more like some niño pretending to be one. “Hey,” I whispered very loud. “I am looking for my cat, he is called Torpedo.” 

Again, nothing. I stopped and lifted my linterna. Then I heard the voice again: “Hey!” It was in front of me, where there were trees.

I called, “Do you know where is Torpedo?” I ran forward. My heart was excited, it went loudly, and I thought that this boy must hear it from inside my chest.  In my haste, I did not look where I was going and stepped on a branch. It broke with a loud snap, but I did not care. I rushed to the trees and shone my linterna.

And I no moved. In the tree was white, like the nido of a spider. In the white, I saw it. Its piernas—but no, they were not legs. Not like those of a niño. It had patas, like the stalks of an insect, and they were everywhere. I thought first there were many monstruos, but I saw only one face. It was awful. Attached to the patas there was the head of a bebé, like a boy of many fewer years than me. The thing, it rested on the nido and said to me, “Hey.”

It was then that I heard moving. Beneath the thing, in the nido, something shuddered. The patas of the monstruo, they tried to keep it back, but they could not. A furry head, it popped up. 


The monstruo, it looked down at Torpedo, then turned its ugly face back to me and said, “Meow.”

I had fear. I wanted that I run back to mamá and papá, or that Jose, he would come, or that los tigres, they would attack all at once. But, they were not there and I had no time to get them. 

I put the light of my linterna in the face of the monstruo. That did not please it. I saw two patas pick up Torpedo, who made an angry noise. The nido quivered. The monstruo, it was going to attack. I then remembered the branch I had stepped on. I looked behind me and saw that it was long and pointed. Then I recalled another thing, that which we tigres had sworn to each other the day we defeated the snake: whenever there was danger, we fight. I grabbed the stick, turned back towards the monstruo, and pointed my new lanza directly at it.

I struck the monstruo on the head. That also did not please it and I heard the thing hiss. I thrust at it again, sometimes getting the patas and sometimes the face. It grew very angry, and as it did so the mouth of the monstruo spat more white, like the stuff of the nido. It made my hands stick to the lanza. 

Suddenly, it was up on its patas. Two of them still held Torpedo while the other six reached for the ground. I had much fear, because I saw now that the monstruo would not stay and fight, but rather, try to escape with him. 

It was then that mi corazón, where is the strength of a caballero, it told me what to do. I spoke as loudly as I could, my voice cracking as it fought through my dry throat, “¡Yo soy un tigre, y yo tengo no miedo!”

I shoved my lanza one last time and hit one of the black eyes of the monstruo. Dark sangre came and the monstruo, it made a loud noise. I heard leaves crush. It had dropped Torpedo! The monstruo, it screamed and jumped away into the darkness.

I went to Torpedo. He was covered in the white of the nido, but he breathed. He was silent until he saw that it was me, and when he said “Miau,” it was so good mi corazón broke!

I stumbled towards home with Torpedo in my arms. Soon, I came back to the train tracks but on the far side of them, I heard the noise of a truck. I looked past the tracks and then had more fear than ever. It was the pickup of Jose. I thought to run back into the darkness—but then I saw his window roll down. My brother motioned for me to come quickly, which I did. I stepped over los trackes, away from the monstruo, and back into the land of my family and friends.

I got into the passenger seat. Torpedo was very weak, and only laid in my lap. Jose, he did not say a word, but reached over to brush the white from the face of the cat. I saw then that Jose, just like me, loved Torpedo very much.

Soon, the face of the gato was clear and Jose, his eyes rose to my chest. I followed his look and saw for the first time that the white covered my arms and shirt, too. Perhaps the monstruo had also intended to do to me everything it had meant for Torpedo. Jose seemed to think the same thing, though neither of us spoke. He hit me on the shoulder, but not very hard. Then he put his pickup into gear and drove us home. As I rode, I wondered if I had not misjudged him—perhaps Jose was a tigre still.

When in the morning mis padres, they found Torpedo next to me, they were very happy. In the night, my gato must have cleaned himself, because there was not much white left except for a spot he had missed on his side. My papá, he said the white, it looked like spider’s web, though it was strong as thread. Butagain, he did not believe in monstruos, so I said nothing. Jose, however, looked at me with a smile. I stroked Torpedo, and he purred.

I told mis amigos that afternoon about the battle. Luis, he said that it was not true and Alejandro hit him again. Antonio, he me abrazó, but I saw in his eyes that he did not really believe my story, either.

The next week my tía, she came over again. She and my mamá, they had café, which after a while made mamá need the bathroom. When she was gone, for a moment it was just mi tía y yo. She knew that Torpedo, he had been missing, and she had heard mis padres talk about the white earlier in the evening. To me she said, “You seen it then, m’hijo? ¿La arañita?”

I said nothing, but she knew.

“Oh, mi valiente, what did you do?”

I stood straight and tall then, for I was a caballero, and again my heart told me what to say: “Tigers have no fear.

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