Taco Mission


Keith tries to explain to Big Baby why they don't have anything to eat. He says his paycheck bounced. He says a burglar cleaned out their pantry. He says the Russians, man, the Russians. Big Baby isn't buying it for a second. He's called Big Baby because he is, for real, a big baby, and he's about to throw a fit in his highchair. Can you blame him? Thirty one years old and the size of a boom box.


~

The two of them set out to eat at every taco stand in the city. Hell with groceries. Hell with cooking. We love tacos, Keith says. Big Baby says dah-dah. He can talk, but shouts adorable things out of instinct. There is pride in their voice, the mission set out in front of them. With a little math, they figure there is somewhere between eleven and three hundred taco stands within the city limits.


~

Keith ties Big Baby to his back with a couple knotted garbage bags before pedaling the bike towards the first shop. Some Native American tribes called it a papoose, but they don't know that. They don't care. The journey has begun. Their focus is sharp. Bobbing up and down on Keith's back, Big Baby recites "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" out of memory. He forgets a line or two, but they're both too hungry to notice.


~

Free tacos are rarely good tacos, but they have no other choice. Grease seeps through aluminum wrapping. It streaks down their arms. Keith wipes his hands on the decrepit taco truck. Big Baby puts his whole hand in his mouth, licking out the creases between his fingers. When someone notices, he puts his whole foot in his mouth. Why the hell not, he says. Goo-goo-gaa this, asshole.


~

Things have been getting worse. At night, Keith looks at himself in the mirror. There are a lot of problem areas, but he's focused on an ingrown pubic hair. He can see it mining below the others, reddening the mound it creates. When squeezed, nothing happens. It hurts. He's scared that someone will think it's a wart or something syphilitic. He's scared that he'll never find someone to think that.


~

Big Baby sits still, thumb in mouth, as the bottle rests on his head. If everything goes right, Similac will spill over his bald dome. If things go wrong, he'll be dead. The small crowd is silent as people clench up and wait, then there is applause. Once the smoke clears and Keith empties the shell from the revolver's chamber, the two eat. Exhausted, they head home on bike and back in silence.


~

In one day they eat five tacos at five stands. There are more than eleven in the city they realize. A lot more. The farther out they go, the more they see. Parts of the city seem like giant purveyors of taco. More appear each day, every closed taco stand replaced with two newer, shinier stands. No man can eat all a city's tacos, Keith says. No baby either. And yet, for some reason, they press on.


~

Taco Time is all the time. It adds flavor and subtracts years from their lives. Hot sauce and diced tomato flow through them the same as blood. Keith has trouble peddling his bicycle to the next stop. Big Baby has aged—looks nearly two. They wake in the night craving ground beef as they sit hunkered over the toilet. Unable to sleep, they plan out the next day, the next shop, the next taco.


~

Keith starts the hustle right, says if my baby here can talk then you feed us tacos, but the guy isn't buying it. Big Baby crawls over anyway, avoiding the broken glass scattered on the asphalt until he's right beside the brightly colored truck. He pulls the teething ring out of his mouth and starts reciting Othello, talking about love and Iago. Keith isn't sure if it's right or not. Taco guy is freaking out.


~

Big Baby's miniature arm is taut and swollen like a boiled hotdog, so when he's nicked with a chainsaw, Keith figured all the fat would squirt out onto the parking lot. Mama, Big Baby cried out, Mama, but there was only Keith. They rub some sour cream in the wound and wrap it with cellophane. The show must go on, the tacos must be earned. And they are. They are earned.


~

Keith tries to dig out the ingrown hair, but can't find it anymore. His whole pelvis is inflamed and swollen. Genitalia perched on a mountain of zit. Big Baby isn't looking too hot either. Especially in the arm area. Keith looks up a word to describe it. Fester. Verb. To form pus.


~

No longer can they bike, no longer can they perform. If they reach a stand they are fed out of pity. Motionless, they lay on the ground, taco men pour left over beef into their weakened mouths. Their t-shirts, stained orange from past feasts, stick to their chests. They sleep wherever their legs give out. In the heat of the sun, they crawl to the shade of a taco truck. Sometimes they make it. Often, they don't.


~

There are no more taco stands. No more tacos or taco men with little paper hats. There is no more Keith. There is no longer a mission. Big Baby is adopted by a lesbian couple, fed baby food, nursed back to health. He slims down, he gets booster shots, he does not forget what he promised Keith. Soon he will continue. Soon he will finish. Soon they both will pedal out to the land of lettuce and tortilla.  

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