Gabriel Matthew Granillo is a writer and photographer. His works have appeared in both print and online journals including Postcard Poems and Prose, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Timberline Review. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is an editor at Oni Press.
Eddie V. on the Silver Screen
Siéntense mijitos, and I shall tell you the story of Eduardo Vásquez. Ever since he was a little boy, Eduardo Vásquez knew he wanted to be un actor. He and his brothers, Angel y Hector, would perform variety shows para la familia. Angel had the voice of, well, an angel, and he sang and played the guitar. Hector was as strong as un toro, and he would crush his papá’s empty beer cans on the sides of his head. His poor mamá would raise her hands up, like this, and cover her eyes. But Hector never got hurt, and he would always laugh at the end. And Eduardo would act. He would recite poetry and plays and lines from talking movies. But his magic, his true gift, was in sus ojos. He had big brown eyes. Like jewels, they sparkled in the light, and through them he could tell a story of love, hate, sadness, jealousy, longing, or pain—all with one look. His mamá and his papá would watch him perform, and they just knew that he was going to be a star.
And one day they took Eduardo to an audition for a small part in a big movie with the great Don Degas—see, before he became a president, before he had schools and airports named after him, Don Degas had been an actor in many, many Westerns. At the audition, the room was filled with other little boys waiting with their parents, and they were all auditioning for the same role as Eduardo. The role was for “Mexican Boy.” It only had a few words of dialogue, but it was for a big movie with the big movie star Don Degas. And while all the other little boys, all of whom looked almost like a mirror image of Eduardo, rehearsed their lines, Eduardo waited with, como se dice, una silenciosa confidencia. Every now and again, as they waited, a man with thin hair on his head and a big beer belly hanging over his belt came in from another room. He had a cigar clamped between his teeth, like this, and a clipboard in his hand, from which he called out names. The boy to whom the name belonged would rise with his parents, and the man would take them into the next room and close the door. Soon after, they would come out and leave, and the man would call another little boy and his parents into the other room. Down and down the list the man went, until finally he said, “Eduardo Vásquez?”
Eduardo stood up, and with his big brown eyes he glanced at the man. And the man, who had hardly enough time to pause and look at the boys whose names he had been calling, stopped. And he smiled. He led Eduardo and his mamá and papá into the next room, and he introduced Eduardo to suited men sitting around a wooden table. The men looked up in their chairs and gasped, for each man sitting there knew that their search was over. They had found their “Mexican Boy.” And the man with the cigar in his hand said, “Gentlemen, this is Eduardo Vásquez.” As Eduardo repeated the lines he had memorized, his big brown eyes gazed into the distance, as if his soul was adrift in a faraway dream. The room was quiet when Eduardo finished his lines. So quiet you could hear the clock tick-ticking. Finally, the man at the center of the table said, “Well, you got the part, kid. There’s something special about you, different from all the other boys out there. But that name, Eduardo Vásquez, feels like a mouthful. How about Eddie V.”
And that is how Eduardo Vásquez got his new name.
By the time he was nine, Eduardo Vásquez had acted in a few movies here and there, mostly uncredited work as “Little Boy” or “Mexican Boy.” One time he even played “Native Boy” in a movie called West of Nothing, or West of Nowhere, or Nowhere West, no me acuerdo bien, but all of the roles were small and he only had a few lines. But it was 1945, I think, when he played a big role for a movie called The Horse Thief. It was his first role with a name. And that name was Chico. No last name. Pero ahora tenía un nombre. He had many, many lines in that movie, but my favorite goes something like this. To the horse thief, a real nasty man, he says, “Sorry, mister. This horse isn’t for sale. And by the looks of you, even if she was, I wouldn’t sell her to you for a million pesos or all the gold in the world. You’re an awful man, with an awful heart, and the only way you’re getting this here horse is through me.” Think, this little boy standing up to this big bad horse thief. Yes, the boy was brave and he spoke so elegante, pero he was scared. You could see it in his eyes, the way the shook ever so slightly. But he stood there anyway. Oh, you must watch it. Anyway, Eduardo Vásquez saw more and more roles with names after that, and he even got to voice act in a cartoon. He voiced una cucarachita who was always hungry for food but he was too small to eat any. La cucarachita always wanted a burrito. He’d say, “a burrito, a burrito,” but he never could eat it. It was so funny.
Eduardo’s good fortune went on like this for a few years. And then one day, at the age of thirteen, his good fortune had turned bad. Like most children at that age, Eduardo began to change. No longer was he a little boy. He was becoming, come se dice, todo un hombrecito. His cheeks were not so big and puffy anymore, and little hairs began to grow above his lip. He had started to grow un bigote. Like Tío Marcos. Miren, like this. Even though he would shave it, his mustache would grow back in just a few days. Movie producers and big Hollywood folks stopped calling him to come play Mexican boys in their films. Eduardo would show up for auditions in rooms filled with boys several years younger than he was, and his magical eyes, those ojos which used to shine with innocence, had grown pale with bitterness. He began to hate those little boys who looked like him but were so much younger. When a little boy would walk out of the audition room wearing a great big smile, Eduardo knew they had gotten the part, and he would wonder what made them so special and why he wasn’t anymore.
Eventually Eduardo decided to approach one of these other little boys after their audition. In Spanish he said, “¿Y a ti, qué te hace especial?” The little boy just looked at him. He just stared at him with this quizzical kind of look. Eduardo demanded, “Dime. ¿Lo que te hace especial?” Still the boy said nothing, but his parents spoke up. “Lo siento,” they said. “El niño no habla español.” Eduardo grew hot with anger. He said to the little boy’s parents, in inglés so the boy would understand, “He doesn’t even speak Spanish? How could he be ‘Mexican Boy’ if he doesn’t even speak Spanish? I deserve this. I worked hard to be special. What did he do? Nada.” The little boy and his parents drove off, and Eduardo walked home cursing his bad fortune and those little boys.
That night, Eduardo couldn’t sleep, so he decided to go for a walk. He walked for hours and hours until he came upon an overpass lined with tents and cardboard houses. It was a place for, como se dice, personas sin hogar. There were shadowy figures huddled around a fire in an oil barrel, and a dog with three legs came up and circled around Eduardo before hobbling off. Eduardo quickened his pace, and when he came to the last encampment there was a poor man in a ragged trench coat and a dirty white cowboy hat, smoking a cigarette. He leaned with one foot on his trailer, which was overflowing with objects. From a quick glance, it all looked like tantas cosas, pero when Eduardo looked longer, he saw fancy rugs and tapestries hanging from a clothing line. There were boxes overfilling with jewels and diamonds and gold and silver. Statues and paintings. Trophies and medals. Books, maps, clothing, shoes, cutlery, crystals. Bones. “Disculpe, niño,” the poor man said. “Don’t I recognize you from somewhere?” Eduardo shook his head and said nothing. The man tossed his cigarette into the night and rummaged through his things, and he retrieved an old poster for one of Eduardo’s first movies, a movie called Gallant. The man pointed at a little boy in the corner of the poster wearing a straw hat and looking up into the sky, and he said, “This is you, no? You’re Eddie V.”
Eduardo nodded. “How did you know?” he asked.
The poor man pointed at Eduardo’s eyes. “Está en tus ojos,” he said. The poor man asked what a young actor like Eduardo was doing around this part of town at this time of night. Eduardo told him about how he wasn’t receiving calls from movie producers and how he couldn’t land parts like he used to. He told him of his changing body and of his bad fortune, and of the new little boys who couldn’t speak Spanish and didn’t work as hard as he did. The poor man nodded and listened until Eduardo had finished, then he said, “What if I promised you that you would never change? What if you never had to worry about those other little boys or those movie producers ever again? What if I could promise you a long life in the movies? What if I could do all of these things?”
Eduardo was curious, but cautious. And he knew there was something more to this poor man and his pretty promise. “And what do you want from me in exchange for such a promise?” Eduardo said.
The poor man held his belly and laughed. “Qué inteligente. Bien. You see, I am a keeper of objects, but not just any old objects—a keeper of objetos valiosos. I grant many wishes and fulfil many promises, and in exchange I ask for an object of substantial value. It can be anything, anything at all. So long as it holds value to you. If you are interested in my deal, come back tomorrow night with your object, and I will see to it that you return to your life on the silver screen.”
The next night, after everyone had gone to sleep, Eduardo searched his family home for an object of value. There wasn’t much to choose from. See, even though Eduardo had acted in several movies, he wasn’t a big Hollywood actor, and many of the acting jobs he did get had paid very little. His parents, too, were working people, and they didn’t make much. Enough to get by, but not enough to indulge in extravagant gifts or hard-to-find delicacies. Eduardo’s search led him to the garage where he dug through boxes and boxes of books and magazines and newspapers and family photos. There, buried underneath dusty sheets, he found a wooden crate, and inside were artifacts from his Grandpa Luis’s time in the first World War. His grandpa had been un guerrero, and he had been given many awards for his service during the war. So when Eduardo opened up that wooden crate, and he saw those shiny medals, he knew he had found his objetos valiosos. He took the medals and set forth to find the poor man.
The poor man was sitting on the rear bumper of his trailer when Eduardo arrived. He smiled at the sound of Eduardo’s approaching footsteps. “Welcome back, mi niño mexicano,” he said. “What is it that you have brought for me tonight?”
A chill seemed to sink into Eduardo’s veins, and the poor man’s gaze felt icy cold. Eduardo shivered as he spoke. He said, “I’ve done what you have asked. I’ve brought you an object of value.”
The poor man said this next, almost like a snarl, like an animal revealing its fangs. He said, “Show me.” And Eduardo reached into his back pocket and took out the medals, which he had wrapped inside of a kitchen towel. The poor man reached out with his long and boney fingers, and he peeled the folds apart, uno por uno. The poor man said nothing when he saw the medals. He didn’t go “hmm” or “ahh” or “yes” or “qué bien.” He said nothing. After a moment, the poor man folded the towel back over the medals in Eduardo’s hands, and he said one single word. He said, “No.”
Eduardo was confused. He cried out to the man, “¿Por qué no? Why is what I bring you not good enough? It holds significant value, like you said.”
The poor man grabbed his belly and laughed, the way the hyena laughs. He brought his pale finger to his face, like this, and he wiggled it back and forth. “No, no, no, no, no,” he said. “I said ‘so long as it holds significant value to you.’ Do these medals hold significant value to you? These medals, they belong to your abuelo, no? For his service to this great country in the Great War, no? Perhaps I should make a deal with him. Or with your papá, who was given these medals on the day your grandfather died. Lung cancer, no? So sad. Perhaps I should make a deal with your papá instead. Creo que sí. I guess you’ll never return to the silver screen.”
Eduardo fell to his knees and wept. He said, “What must I give? What is it that you want from me? Please tell me. I’ll give you anything.”
As he spoke, the poor man walked in circles around Eduardo. “What is it that you find most valuable?” he asked. “Think. How did your parents know you would become a star? Why did those movie producers choose you out of all the other little Mexican boys? How did I recognize you?”
Eduardo looked at the poor man who had stopped circling around him. The poor man grinned at the sight of Eduardo’s big brown eyes, so precious and so innocent, adrift in a faraway dream. “Yes,” the poor man said. “These are what you value most.”
Eduardo Vásquez disappeared that night. Vanished without a trace. His parents and his familia never heard from him again. Some say he simply ran away. Others say the poor man fulfilled his promise. They say that whenever you watch a movie with Eddie V. that’s actually him on the screen, his spirit. They say that his soul lives on through his movies, so Eduardo never has to change, and he never has to worry about those other little boys or those movie producers ever again. And they say the poor man, the keeper of valuable objects, keeps Eduardo’s eyes in a jar at the foot of his trailer door. Buenas noches, mijitos.