A Fairy Tale by Daniel A. Olivas
One Monday evening, as he walked home from his dreary job making things nobody needed, Pánfilo Velasco saw two coffins that floated just within his peripheral vision. This did not alarm him in the least. Rather, Pánfilo knew that he was weary and that sleep was just the balm he needed.
Pánfilo entered his small, empty house, bathed, and went to bed without eating dinner. Sleep enveloped him within minutes.
And so began Pánfilo Velasco’s last dream. Faces from his life flickered and ebbed into view. First, he saw his beautiful mother, Hortencia, as she looked in a photograph that appeared on the front pages of all the newspapers the day a jury convicted her of murdering the Benedetti triplets who had lived two houses down. Hortencia never looked so exquisite! She hung herself during the fifth year of her incarceration, though some say that the guards killed her out of disgust. But Pánfilo could only be enchanted by his mother’s face. He smiled as he fell deeper into his dream.
Hortencia’s face faded into that of Pánfilo’s brutish father, Octavio, who did not understand the poetry of wine nor the splendor of certain shadows that fall upon the ground during the months of September, October and November. Oh, Octavio’s loutishness was the true crime, worse than a triple murder! Pánfilo stirred and struggled with his sheet, his heart racing.
Octavio’s face eventually bled into darkness. Pánfilo’s heart slowed, his limbs quieted. Soon, Pánfilo’s dream vision filled with the countenance of his first lover who went by the title “Countess” though her real name was María de la Cruz. She was the most famous prostitute who plied her trade within the town of Pánfilo’s childhood. In her prime, the Countess taught many a young man the ways of love, for a reasonable price. Pánfilo’s loins grew warm and he let out a low moan.
Suddenly, the amorphous surroundings transformed into a beach. Pánfilo found himself standing at the edge of the water. He looked down and saw that he carried his mother’s draped body. The Countess, perched upon a gigantic heart, commanded the frightened Pánfilo to step into a small boat that floated in the water before him. “What shall I do with my mother’s body?” he asked. “Toss her into the boat, mi amor,” she answered. And Pánfilo did what he was told. He settled in near his mother’s body and the boat started to move forward of its own volition.
As the boat steadily moved across what appeared to be an endless lake, Pánfilo forgot about his mother’s body that lay at his feet. His stomach rumbled and he allowed his mind to drift to wonderful memories of delicacies he had enjoyed throughout his life. Pánfilo remembered so many delightful foods: toast with melted cheese and roasted red chiles … slices of New York pizza … sweet blocks of candy that resembled prehistoric amber … salted pecans … charred marshmallows … succulent bits of ham and lamb.
The boat finally reached the other side of the lake. Pánfilo lifted his mother’s body and put it upon his back. He stepped out of the boat onto the warm sand. Pánfilo grew angry with himself because he had forgotten to ask the Countess for further direction. But no matter. He would trudge forward. As he did, Pánfilo noticed that the terrain changed. He saw objects that reminded him of a mobile that hung over his bed when he was a child. And Pánfilo’s burden grew heavier as if someone had dropped a large bag of uncooked rice onto his mother’s body.
After marching across the sand for a very long time, Pánfilo realized that the terrain had grown more fantastical with each step. Indeed, the shapes he saw seemed to become something more than terrain, something akin to a language. No wait! Not merely a language … but a hieroglyph, ancient and mysterious, that spoke only to him. Without much effort, he deciphered the message. Pánfilo now knew what he needed to do.
Pánfilo, armed with knowledge, finally reached the place where he could allow his mother to rest. He looked up and saw a large boulder shaped like a hand holding a ripe fig. The boulder balanced upon a pedestal of rock that jutted up from the sand. With a strength he did not possess while awake, Pánfilo inserted his mother between the boulder and the rock. When he had completed this sacred task, Pánfilo offered up a benediction: “Sleep, mamá, sleep.”
After a few moments of silence in honor of the dead, Pánfilo started his long trek back to the boat. The sun warmed his body and the gentle sand seeped through his toes with each step. But his serenity was dashed when the long-murdered Benedetti triplets captured him. They did cruel things to Pánfilo, things too ugly to describe. But he remained strong, and cried for help but once.
Those Benedetti monsters! They are nothing more than three evil bastards who deserved to be murdered! But even the atrocities they visited upon poor Pánfilo had to come to an end, more out of boredom than mercy. They released Pánfilo, bruised and bleeding, and told him to leave RIGHT THIS INSTANT or else they would begin again with their tortures. Pánfilo limped away as fast as his battered body would allow. But in his heart, he felt proud that he had laid his mother to rest.
Pánfilo made it to the boat which seemed to be waiting for him like a loyal dog. He got in, sat down, and closed his eyes. Pánfilo could feel the boat move, sliding slowly across the vast lake in the direction from where he had come. He eventually felt a presence near the boat, floating out before him in the water. Pánfilo’s eyes popped open and what he saw made him smile. A few yards from the boat’s bow floated three figures amidst flotsam. Ah! There is justice! The three figures were none other than the Benedetti triplets, wrapped tightly in tarpaulins, surrounded by the malevolent debris of their short lives. The boat slid by the bodies and Pánfilo grinned in satisfaction.
In time, Pánfilo’s boat reached the shore. His bruises and lacerations had miraculously healed, and he felt as fit as a young boy. He stepped out of the boat. The moment his left foot touched the sand, Pánfilo fell into darkness, fast and dizzying, deep, deep, deep into an abyss. And it is here that he saw his mother’s face once more: elegant, loving, familiar. And Pánfilo smiled because he knew that she would be his mother forever.
Before Pánfilo hit bottom, he awoke from his dream, a smile still upon his face. He sat up and looked around his small room. Pánfilo knew that he had shown the ultimate love for his mother, even though it was in a dream. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat in silence. But then he realized that this would be his last dream. There would be no more. He knew this as well as he knew his own name. And with that, Pánfilo Velasco closed his eyes and wept.
[“The Last Dream of Pánfilo Velasco” first appeared in The Fairy Tale Review (Emerald Issue, 2014). To read an interview I gave regarding the story, visit here. The story will be featured in my as yet unpublished (i.e., searching for a home) new collection, The King of Lighting Fixtures: A Novella and Stories. Image: “The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dalí.]
In other literary news...
◙ On Saturday, December 27, Danny Romero returns to South Los Angeles to read poetry at Graham Library, 1900 E. Firestone Boulevard at 3 p.m. Romero grew up in the Florence area and worked at the local library branches in the late 1970s. His poetry and short stories have been published in many anthologies and journals. He is the author of the novel Calle 10 (Mercury House) and a book of poetry, Traces (Bilingual Review Press). Romerao now teaches writing and literature at Sacramento City College.
◙ Writing for the El Paso Times, Donna Snyder reviews Xánath Caraza’s bilingual story collection, Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings (Mouthfeel Press). Snyder says, in part: “Caraza’s stories vibrate with the sensuality of the female body as it moves through heat, reacts to a man’s gaze, responds to the rhythms of jazz, or fills the memory of a man being subjected to torture. Her writing is filled with the redolence of jungle, copal and flesh, the pungent taste and feel of food and drink, the gratification of tactile details.”