UKArchive



UKArchive ID: 20337The Mexican Standoff by thegeeza
Originally published on October 8, 2007 in Fiction    

You can have all the success in the world but what have you really got? 1,451 words.



He had a fantastic life. He excelled in his career, had a wonderful family, money. He wore the finest clothes and his friends were people of power. People could only envy him. He was truly blessed. Henry Worthington.

He took his silk handkerchief and dabbed at his brow. The searing heat of the Mexican sun drew the moisture from everything: the ground; the wooden frames of the door and windows; as well as the perspiration from the bodies of anyone beneath its unyielding glare. He looked at the water machine and could see it was almost empty. He stood up and pulled a plastic cup from the dispenser beside it, placing it under the plastic tap and pulled the lever. As the water dribbled into the cup he noticed the other man in the room watching him. The cup was almost filled when the water ran out.

‘Hmmm,’ he said, cocking his head. ‘It ran out.’ He looked at the man in the room and smiled but the man carried on gently nodding his head and said nothing. Juan Sanchez.

Worthington sat down and took a sip of the cold water. Just as he took it away from his lips a loud bang startled him and his hand jumped, spilling some of the water into his lap. ‘My God!’ he said, standing up. ‘What was that noise?’

Juan slowly turned his head to the door and looked back at Worthington, who was brushing himself down. Juan’s dark Mexican features were covered in beads of sweat. He took a cigarillo from his pocket and lit it. The cloud of smoke travelled towards Worthington who sniffed at the air and grimaced. He sat down. He finished what remained of the water and crushed the cup in his hand. The men sat in silence, waiting for the train.

A small man dressed in the dark blue uniform of the railway company appeared in the doorway.

‘I am sorry,’ he said. ‘The train has been delayed.’

Juan bowed his head, sending a droplet of sweat to the dusty floor.

Worthington stood up. ‘Delayed?’ he said. ‘Why?’

‘I am sorry,’ said the man, edging away, back out of the doorway to the platform.

‘I said “why” dear boy, why is the train late? This is outrageous!’

The man stood, frozen, looking at the Englishman standing before him, his immaculate white suit looking out of place in the grubby waiting room.

‘The train,’ said the man, swallowing hard, ‘it hit a horse on the track.’

‘And, so?’

‘It stopped.’

‘But why?’

The man looked at Juan who was sitting forward, watching him carefully. ‘To pull the pieces of the horse from the engine, Señor.’

‘Oh,’ said Worthington. ‘I see.’

He brushed the chair with his hand and sat down. Juan crushed the end of the cigarillo against the wooden floor with his boot. They waited.

They heard the rumble of the train gradually turn into the roar of its engine and the sound of its giant wheels grinding against the rails. The driver blasted the horn as it came into the station and stopped. The lungs of the giant beast exhaled plumes of dirty steam. The sound of people and doors slamming came through the door of the waiting room and the footsteps on the floorboards came and went. The horn blasted again and the machine moved painfully forward and rushed from the station, leaving its smell wafting up the noses of the two men who had remained in their seats. Their eyes met. Worthington looked down and brushed his brilliant white trousers with his hands. They both heard the sound of the footsteps.

‘Daddy?’

Worthington stood up. ‘Sarah! My lovely Sarah, come here, won’t you?’

He embraced his daughter, pushing his backside out to avoid dirtying his clothing.

‘Oh Daddy!’ she said. ‘I’ve so missed you.’

He kissed the top of her blond hair and saw the shadow of the Mexican standing in the doorway. He closed his eyes.

Sarah pulled away from her father and walked towards Juan who had stood up. ‘Juan!’ she said. ‘It’s great to see you, again!’

A smile broke across his rugged Mexican features. ‘Come here,’ he said. ‘You look so beautiful.’ He pulled her to him. After he had squeezed her tightly, she stepped back. ‘You smell like a beautiful flower,’ he said.

‘A nice flower, I hope.’

‘A very nice flower,’ he said.

Worthington realised he was grimacing. He turned to the door.

‘Hello, Pablo,’ he said.

‘Father,’ said the man, offering his hand.

Worthington sneered at it. ‘I’m not your father,’ he said, taking the hand, covered in spidery black hair. The hand that had taken his daughter.

‘Father-in-law,’ said Pablo, ‘seems like too many words to say when speaking to a family member.’

Worthington smiled. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you can call me Worthington, can’t you?’

‘Pablo,’ said Juan, moving to hold his son. ‘Congratulations, you have done well. Your new wife is very beautiful.’

‘Pap,’ said Pablo. The distinctive cigarillo smell of his father comforted him.

Juan moved back. ‘I was very disappointed, when you ran away to get married. You know you have much work to do to please your mother, don’t you?’

Pablo nodded.

‘She … she cried for days, you know?’

‘I thought it best to move away from the arguments,’ said Pablo. ‘I hope you understand.’

Juan held his son by the shoulders. ‘You are a man, now, Pablo. You have to make your own choices in life. In your life and in the life of your wife and your unborn child.’

‘Yes, Pap. Thank-you, Pap.’

Juan smiled and shook his son. ‘Today, I am very proud of you,’ he said.

Pablo swallowed and shook his father’s hand.

Worthington adjusted his tie. ‘Sarah,’ he said. ‘What are your plans? Your mother would be worried sick.’

‘Señor Worthington,’ said Pablo. ‘I have bought a small house in a nice part of Monterrey, not far from my parents home. Here, Sarah and I will live and raise our family. You will be more than welcome to stay any time.’

Worthington considered the words for a few moments and turned to his daughter. ‘Think about your mother, Sarah.’

‘Mummy is gone, Daddy. She would have been happy for me.’

‘She didn’t want this for you.’

‘Didn’t want what for me?’

Worthington waved his hand around. ‘This,’ he said. ‘This stinking place.’

‘Daddy, stop it.’

‘And these … stinking people.’

‘Hey,’ said Pablo.

‘Daddy, you promised you wouldn’t.’

‘Your mother,’ he said softly, shaking his head.

‘Mummy would want me to be happy.’

Worthington was looking at the dust that had settled on his shiny shoes. He nodded. ‘She would, yes, she would.’

‘Pablo,’ said Juan. ‘We should go, the people are waiting. We are already late.’

‘Yes, Pap.’ He looked at Sarah. She nodded back to him and turned to her father.

‘Daddy, you know that you can come back with us, to the house?’

Worthington looked at her and smiled. ‘I have to get back,’ he said.

‘Please,’ said Pablo. ‘You are welcome to come.’ He looked at his father out of the corner of his eye. Juan flicked the discarded cigarillo with the tip of his boot. The tobacco that was left in the butt broke out onto the floor. ‘There is room in my father’s car,’ said Pablo.

‘Thank-you,’ said Worthington, looking up, ‘but I have business to attend to.’

‘When is your flight?’ said Sarah.

He looked at her and opened his arms.

He watched them as they went to the car parked outside the station. Pablo was holding his daughter’s hand. She turned back but he was not sure she could see him through the dirty window, hidden in the shadows of the blazing sun. He saw her looking backwards as the car drove away and raised his hand.

He turned to a noise behind him and saw the small man in his dark blue uniform. He was sweeping the floor.

‘When is the next train?’ said Worthington.

‘To where, Señor?’ said the man, without looking away from his task.

‘To the airport.’

‘Tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow?’

‘Tomorrow.’

‘Can you call me a taxi?’ said Worthington.

‘No, Señor.’

‘Why not?’

‘The telephone is broken, Señor. I cannot call.’ The man finished sweeping the dust and dirt into the corner. He walked through the door onto the platform and disappeared.

Worthington went through the main entrance and felt the full force of the Mexican sun. His brow immediately started to sweat, so he took out his handkerchief and dabbed his forehead. All that was before him was a collection of small white buildings and a dusty road. Juan’s car had disappeared out of sight.


(c) Steve Smith. 2007.



© thegeeza (thegeeza on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 20337
Archived comments for The Mexican Standoff
bluepootle on 08-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
Hello! I really enjoyed this. I liked the overtly stylistic start, and then the very sparse feel to it afterwards, and the dialogue was very convincing - although I would say that Worthington's early words - 'Shit! What was that?' wrong-footed me with the character. I think maybe 'My God!' might work better, or something along those lines.

I like the ending point very much as well.

Author's Reply:
Hi BP, hope all is well. Thanks for that - glad you liked it. I think you're right about the "My God!" part and will change that. Thanks, Steve.

e-griff on 08-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
as always, some crackling writing.
- In embyro? No - that's not right, just an emergent youth 🙂

I'll waft over errant commas, etc, and say that although I enjoyed the terse interplay between characters, my feeling is you may have been too intent on them to deal with the plot (no, I don't bloody know that for sure - how could I? 🙂 )

The end let me down. This powerful, successful man, marooned at a station with no train and no taxi? no way, Jose! contradictory.

It wouldn't hurt your theme to have the chauffeur-driven limo outside. And why is he there anyway, in a hot station. what's it all about?

I think you have an excellent central core of story, but you need to brush up the rest, je crois. It's like one of those lenses where the centre is in focus, but the surrounds are blurred. We need to get them in focus as well.

Nontheless, I enjoyed the read.

best G

Author's Reply:
Thanks, John ... glad you liked it.
For the marooned man at the station - he was lost, it was all lost. The limo would've been business-as-usual.
I did enjoy writing the characters though, I have to say... bit unusual.
Thanks - Steve.

e-griff on 08-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
no, steve, that's too easy (your answer)

the character you presented was not out of control. The character you presented would NEVER be marooned. At least, you didn't give us any rationale as to why he might be.

I see my problem as you 'shorthanding' - you really can't tell this story in short form. You have an idea in your head (which we don't share) and have only given us brief glimpses of your plot.

As I said, you have the focus of a story here .... now write the rest, complete it.

I'm hard on you because I believe you have talent. I have been gobsmacked by some of your writing. BUT - I don't see follow-through from you, hard work to fill and complete the story. You dip here, you don't immerse.

Cheeky I know, but I hope you know I'm thinking of you, not me. And (for the folks who don't know) we've known each other for a while. 🙂

best, JohnG

Author's Reply:
I always appreciate the time you take to give me your opinion - that's what I put it up here for. In this instance, I don't agree on Worthington never allowing himself to being marooned - for once, I saw him as being lost/out of control. I take your point about "shorthanding" - I do enjoy writing something with a hidden storyline that the reader almost has to make up him/herself, make them think - but I'll put some effort into something with a more obvious substance. Thanks for your feedback on this, John.
Steve.

reckless on 08-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
Hello Geeza. I think i remember reading something of yours a while ago. Nice to see you're still around. I liked this, atmospheric, economically written, and a good bit of ambiguity at the end. And Monterrey - Steinbeck land!!

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Reckless ... I'm still alive and kicking. Glad you liked it... Steve.

Rupe on 08-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
Very good piece, based on a strong theme with a good & different setting.

I liked the way you set Worthington up, but thought the 'dear boy' line was maybe going too far. No one really speaks like that, do they? Not even someone like Worthington. The only other bit that stuck out a little was 'Juan's dark Mexican features'. You've got 'Mexican' in there a little earlier, so we have the location in mind already, which makes the repetition of the word unnecessary.

I don't agree that Worthington would never be marooned. The whole point, as I see it, of the piece - OK, not the whole point but a big part of it - is that someone who is successful and masterful in one place or sphere should not assume that he is going to be so in another. Successful living calls for adaptability, empathy & a certain lack of presumption - these are all skills which Worthington, for all his qualities, doesn't have & the novel situation therefore leaves him powerless and foolish. If he turned up in his limo and was equal to the situation, you'd have a very different kind of story.

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Rupe,
You could be right about "Dear Boy" - but I do actually know someone who says that! One person, I hasten to add (and a colourful character), but one nonetheless.
Mexican features: I think they're quite distinct as a description, rather than repeating that he's a Mexican person (i.e Mexican is very dark, stubbly) - but I'll have a think.
I agree re: the marooning - that's what I had in mind. Having his getaway arranged (car etc.) would've been like moving from one meeting to another - this time, he met his daughter there, had the interaction and ... hit a wall ... was stuck.
Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad the setting worked - I'm not sure where it came from, never been to Mexico, but I had it very clearly in my mind's eye. (maybe an old film or something).
Steve.

RoyBateman on 09-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
I thoroughly enjoyed this - certainly different in many ways, not least in its location. I do feel that it's part of a longer piece and, while it stands alone - and probably would do, even better, as a film, in the written version the reader has the time to ask a few obvious questions: how did he get to the station? Not walking, obviously - in a taxi? Then he'd have a number and a mobile to get him back to wherever his own world is. If he was hoping to entice his daughter back, as seems to be the case, what would he do with her, stranded at the station? I don't always agree with other comments, but I also feel that he'd have some big limo parked outside - then, you have a problem ending this. The limo fails, leaving him stranded? I dunno - anyway, I'm not being negative, as this was a very enjoyable piece indeed!

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Roy. I'm glad it made you think about it, which is what I like to try and do. I think in this case, it almost doesn't matter how he got there, what he was planning to do, what he'd have done if it had gone differently. It's about him being there after his daughter has ran off to marry a Mexican - which probably didn't align itself too well to his grander expectations. I think the situation almost overwhelmed the normally sucessful man and he just didn't know what to do - was lost - metaphorically and literally.
I could add stuff to set the scene - but I think the message might get diluted if there was anything after the current ending.
Glad you liked it - I enjoyed writing this one more than a lot of my other stuff, actually.
Steve.

KDR on 12-10-2007
The Mexican Standoff
Hi Steve,
This had a 'retro' feel to it. I was almost 'seeing' it as a black and white movie, with Worthington being played by one of the old actors, a Cary Grant or Stewart Grainger type. Either way, the character seemed old-fashioned, overly class-conscious, careful to adopt affectations that he felt were necessary to his persona. Perhaps he even came from a poor background and these were symbols of having 'made it' which his daughter would neither need nor want.

As for getting marooned...that's easy. He asks when the train back to the airport will arrive. My take on it is that he has made a dash to Mexico to appeal to his daughter in person. He has taken the train from the airport, as he has had no time to arrange everything as he otherwise might. Now he is here, in Mexico, completely out of his element and not in control of the situation - a state which is clearly alien to him.
As a consequence of this and his assumed superiority, he is marooned at the station with any chance of comfort or reconciliation gone. He is alone with his pomposity in a place where it matters least.

So there is a lot of depth within such a short piece of writing. There may be scope for a longer story here, but as it is, this little snapshot tells the reader almost everything, anyway. If less really is more, this can truly be described as a great.

Cheers for the read, as always.

Karl

Author's Reply:
Karl - thanks. The way you saw it (in your second para) is the way I saw it too, so that's good. I hadn't seen it in black and white, in that way, but it is a very interesting way of looking at it.
Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting... Steve.