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Handful of Dirt
by Jim Ruland

art by Robinson Accola
art by Robinson Accola
Bartender, this tequila is for Arturo. He was ambushed on his way back from town to buy a phone card for his mother. Eighteen rounds. His cousin Daniel, a singer from Sinaloa, heard the shots from the rancho and came running over the ridge. They got Arturo in the face but somehow he was still breathing. At the wake, Daniel told me he climbed into Arturo's truck, squeezed his head together, and sucked the blood out of his mouth—just as he'd seen Arturo do with his beloved fighting cocks. But it was too late. It's always too late.

Arturo loved banda, his Chevy truck, cold Tecate. He mistreated his wife, neglected his many children, had a terrible temper. Don't want to pay up at the cockfights? Arturo set fire to your marijuana fields. Default on a loan? Arturo show up at your house and put your pregnant wife into the street. He went too far, didn't think things through, but he was my wife's uncle and she was his favorite niece, and now he takes his ease on a hill behind the Ensenada boatyard.

They were taking Arturo out of the hearse when we got there. Somber men in black denim and off-white cowboy hats carried the silver box with gilt edges to the first of four freshly dug graves. Two of the pallbearers were Arturo's sons, one just three weeks back from Iraq. Two bands took turns playing and it was in the gaps between songs that I could hear the wailing of the women as they lowered Arturo into the ground. Everyone crowded around the grave to throw dirt on his coffin. I was afraid someone was going to fall into one of the dusty holes. Daniel emptied his Tecate into the grave and defiantly sang the corrido he'd somehow found the time to compose. The men went to work with their long shovels. I still have the gravedust on my shoes.

The sun beat down and the men retreated to the cool comfort of this bar while the women—except for my wife who wouldn't leave my side or I hers—went back to the rancho to recite the rosary. For a glorious hour Arturo's favorite songs roared from the jukebox. Daniel told the story how early one hangover morning Arturo coaxed me into drinking a cocktail of tequila, cocoa and milk straight from the cow's teat. Everyone laughed and slapped me on the back and just like that I was familia. Isn't that always how it goes? Soon as somebody leaves, someone else takes his place.

An earlier version of "Handful of Dirt" was originally published as part of Esquire's The Napkin Fiction Project. It appears here by permission of the author.

All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.



Jim Ruland is a veteran of the Navy, the author of the short story collection Big Lonesome, and the host of Vermin on the Mount: an irreverent reading series in the heart of L.A.'s Chinatown. Jim lives in San Diego and works in an Indian casino.

Read the interview.

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly on an as-needed basis.
Issue Twenty-One (June 15, 2008): Paper Mouse by Bob Arter «» The Folk Singer Dreams of Time Machines by Matt Bell «» The Bone Orchard by Randall Brown «» Disease Relics by Blake Butler «» We Decided to Make Porn by Brian Allen Carr «» The Baby Drop-Off by Natascia Casey-Dean «» The Cougar by Dave Clapper «» Anointed by Myfanwy Collins «» Sister Earth by John Colvin «» Soap by Katrina Denza «» The Interpretation of Light by Murray Dunlap «» The Hole by Ashley Farmer «» Repair Man by Kathy Fish «» In the Kitchen She Wakes by Stefanie Freele «» American Gothic by Scott Garson «» Lobster Girl by Alicia Gifford «» Pen and Notebook by Natalie Goldberg «» Memento Mori by Rosanne Griffeth «» BiC by Steven Gullion «» Parting by Evelyn Hampton «» Tuesday by Lindsay Hunter «» Waiting on Lombard Street by W.P. Kinsella «» Johnny by Nance Knauer «» Like Swimming by Jeff Landon «» Feeling Sad by Darby Larson «» Alone With Cooper by Ellen Meister «» The Angel's Visitation by Corey Mesler «» South Dakota by Mary Miller «» California Fruit by Meg Pokrass «» Home Made by Bruce Holland Rogers «» Handful of Dirt by Jim Ruland «» Steam City Girl by Paul Silverman «» Sugar by Claudia Smith «» The 13th Toast by Amy Sparks «» Gathering by Kelly Spitzer «» Tiny Shadows by Maryanne Stahl «» Double-Exposure by Thomas White «» Epistemology by Joseph Young «» Why This Isn't a Good Story to Tell by Shellie Zacharia «» Liquid by Michelle Zellers «» Real Estate by Bonnie ZoBell «» Interviews: Bob Arter «» Matt Bell «» Randall Brown «» Blake Butler «» Brian Allen Carr «» Natascia Casey-Dean «» Dave Clapper «» Myfanwy Collins «» John Colvin «» Katrina Denza «» Murray Dunlap «» Ashley Farmer «» Kathy Fish «» Stefanie Freele «» Scott Garson «» Alicia Gifford «» Rosanne Griffeth «» Steven Gullion «» Evelyn Hampton «» Lindsay Hunter «» Nance Knauer «» Jeff Landon «» Darby Larson «» Ellen Meister «» Corey Mesler «» Mary Miller «» Meg Pokrass «» Bruce Holland Rogers «» Jim Ruland «» Paul Silverman «» Claudia Smith «» Amy Sparks «» Kelly Spitzer «» Maryanne Stahl «» Thomas White «» Joseph Young «» Shellie Zacharia «» Michelle Zellers «» Bonnie ZoBell «» Cover Art "Five Years of SmokeLong" compiled from art by Marty D. Ison, Robert Dornberg, Malina, and Rebecca Gullickson «» Letter From the Editor
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