“Forgive me, Blas, please move. Say something,” Sal said. “Lo siento, sorry, sorry, sorry,” he muttered. It was his plan that landed them both in this rat-infested jail. His best friend lay curled on the filthy floor next to him. Badly beaten, Blas struggled for his life.
“They only keep prisoners here for seven days. The guy in the next cell said so,” Sal said. “You can hold on.” Blas did not move. Sal could do nothing for him but blabber on and try to sound hopeful. “He also told me first-time prisoners give los ratones, the rats, names! Can you believe it? I named this rat Chaco.”
To keep from going crazy, he turned to talk to the little brown rodent. He desperately wanted someone to talk to. At least Chaco listened.
“Chaco, I know where to find a big block of tasty cheese, queso,” Sal said. His mind ran in circles thinking how his plan went so wrong. Like some loco, a crazy man, he talked to a stupid rat. Chaco ran in circles too, his whiskers twitched. “My part worked perfectly. But my fat friend here stumbled during the getaway. Beaten, then arrested, now we are stuck in this tiny cell with you, little whiskers.”
Sal didn’t mean to put all the blame on Blas. He talked to the rat instead of looking at his friend. Blas, usually ready with a song or a joke, looked so bad that Sal hardly recognized him. His eyes bruised, his lips swollen shut—maybe one of the old stories would rouse him.
“Señor Chaco, I will tell you a story about our Papás. Sì, sì, they were friends, too, and told us many tales when we were boys,” Sal said. “Stories about their work as blacksmiths for El Rey, the King.” He checked to see if Blas was still breathing, then continued in a whisper.
“Their ironwork filled the King’s royal palace. They made candelabras used for the holy mass and enormous bells rung for missionaries who crusaded round the world. We believed every word they said.” Blas would not respond. Sal felt so guilty he continued telling stories to the rat.
“Be careful, Chaco. Believe only half of what you see, none of what you hear. En verdad, in truth, our fathers barely scraped by as lowly blacksmiths.” He stood and stomped around the tiny cell. “Nuestra España, our Spain, holds nothing for the low born, like you, me and Blas lying here.” Chaco cut off the conversation. The rat scampered away through a crack in the wall. Sal’s stories stopped, and with them, the memories of his boyhood full of dreams.
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