Manuel Aiquipa’s “Life AC” feels otherworldly. Its telling of economic hardships and the American Dream feels very of the moment, but he ties the present to the past, mixing in a supernatural element that gives the short story a little whimsy.
Learn more about Aiquipa and his inspiration at the end of this story. Happy reading.
By Manuel Aiquipa
Business is back to usual, I think, as I stretch my arms behind my head and sit at my desk in my print shop. The digital clock at the bottom right of my screen says 10 a.m. exactly. Kids are finally back to school after the long 2019 holiday break. I start sipping on my last cup of coffee of the day, freshly brewed from a cheap Mr. Coffee pot.
“Did you get a lot of orders yesterday?” I ask Omar, my brother and business partner.
“Yes. A lot. I haven’t been this busy in years.”
“Same here. I haven’t been this busy in five years.”
“Maybe business is back to usual. How it used to be years ago when dad was around!”
I start thinking of the good times. The early 2000s. My dad, my brother and I were print brokers and decided to find a brick-and-mortar location to move our computers from home. We found a spacious location on East Colfax Avenue where, shortly after our move, we bought a Ryobi 2800 press, a Challenger paper cutter, and a couple of vinyl cutters. It was 2002, and my family finally owned something: a print shop, a true print shop with a little rusty printer.
Things were good. We had a small but growing clientele and a bright future. Fast forward to January 2020. After a long and bumpy ride, the Ryobi is still in the same spot in the back of the shop, abandoned and replaced by a Xerox C60, all in the name of speed and convenience. I didn’t think we would still be in business, 13 years after the iPhone revolution, printing thousands of folders for tax preparers and NCR forms for numerous businesses.
“I need to work overtime these weeks,” Omar says. “Hopefully it’s not just another burst like it has been lately and we keep cooking for the rest of the year.”
I head to my car at the end of the day and come across Maricela, my neighbor and owner of a successful hair and nail salon.
“How are you?” I ask her as she is closing her door, getting ready to go home probably.
“Really good. Finally catching up on sleep as things are starting to wind down.”
“You’re not too busy these days?”
“Not much. Finally. I had been working 12-hour shifts up to New Year’s Day.”
“The posadas kept you busy, huh?”
“Yes,” Maricela says as she gives a last twist to her door key and gives me a bright smile.
It’s been a nice day. The future looks bright. New decade, new me.
My mother, all hunkered down in her apartment, gave me the advice to start a journal. She already started one, in order to document history unfolding. I still think it’s an overreaction, of course, and I’m more concerned about the bleak economic future that awaits us.
And I still believe it’s all an overreaction as I wait in my car to get a drive-thru COVID-19 test — just in case. I’ve had a rough dry cough for the last two days. As the long line of cars slowly snakes around Fairmount Drive and then Lowry Boulevard, I start to write on the back of a couple of old rectangular bank statements. As I approach the end of the main line that will eventually bifurcate, I’m welcomed by a volunteer wearing a white bio-hazard protective suit, just like in the movies. She marks my windshield with a brown marker and tells me to wait four more hours for a test whose results would take at least four business days to see. Everyone starts urinating around the trees. A policeman tries unsuccessfully to stop me from doing so, too. He gives up. He doesn’t give a shit, I guess. Nobody gives a shit.
No school. No job orders in days. The world is coming to a halt. It would be nice if we could put the breaks on rents and mortgages, too.
I keep in touch with my mom by phone twice a day, at least, and my dad, who now lives in Peru, once a day.
My mom decided to self-quarantine days ago due to her age and a bad bout of pneumonia she had years ago.
“This morning was the last time I went to the store,” she tells me as she starts sobbing. “All the aisles are empty, just like in Peru during the ’80s,” she continues trying to control her voice. “You were too young to remember.”
I was too young to remember people fighting for the last bag of rice in the supermarket. I was too young to remember the old and polite taxi driver fleeing with a trunk full of groceries after he had dropped us off at home. I was too young to remember hyperinflation, the dark nights spent around candlelight listening to my parents’ conversation on the doubling price of life’s necessities. I was too young to remember the blood, the decapitated corpses, the gruesome pictures of dead people shown on the front pages of most newspapers at newsstands, at a time when a victory of the Shining Path was not a matter of if, but when. Will my kids be traumatized for the rest of their lives after listening to the daily conversations I have with my wife about what’s going on nowadays?
Education starts at home they say. Parents have to be teachers, parents and workers these days. First two are doable, I realize after we’ve done an hour and a half of homework. The third one is more challenging, though, as I cannot bring my customers, the copy machine, or the retail space home.
Tell that to the news people, politicians and to the young rich, cool, and beautiful influencers on Instagram.
“I was having weird dreams,” my wife, Marie, tells me after she wakes up. “I was dreaming there was a plague around the globe” she continues and laughs. “Happy birthday, honey,” I tell her as she hugs me and sighs.
“I have an interview with Amazon tomorrow. $15 an hour. You should apply,” my brother tells me.
That’s always a good backup plan. King Soopers is hiring, too.
“People are always going to eat, so there will be plenty of jobs in that sector.” I remember a guy said that right after 9/11, and I never forgot. I can go back and work for the Man since the existence of small retail businesses belongs to the history books now.
Seems like good news on the fight against this pandemic is disappearing from my favorite news websites. On the bright side, it’s nice reading messages from young people offering to help seniors and people in need on Nextdoor. I guess not all of us are a bunch of hoarders and selfish shoppers. Most humans are good and some, I assume, are bad. I decide to go to the shop for a couple of hours in the afternoon. It’s sad seeing no cars parked in the parking lot or on Colfax. The four beauty salons on my block had to close today. The 100-year-old building looks eerier these days. I’m starting to feel scared of the virus and its subsequent risks if I contract it. I decide to leave after an hour.
On my way to my car I run into Maricela again. She looks sad. She’s not wearing any makeup and looks as if she’s aged 20 years overnight.
“We have to close until April 30,” she tells me. “I’ve been texting with our landlord, and he told me he could help us with the rent since he knows it’s going to be tough for everyone in the next months.”
“Good luck with everything. See you soon.”
I’m doing my homework in my living room. The china and the ceiling fan start to tremble. People walk out to the streets as they always do during a tremor. This time they start screaming, though, and their cries wake me up. I sit up, my heart pumping so hard it feels like it’s going to shoot out of my chest like a missile. It’s just a nightmare based on old childhood memories.
It’s 1:29 p.m. Today I decide not to watch the talking heads on the Sunday morning shows. I’ve been listening to music a lot these days. I’m listening to “Houses in Motion” right now, one of my favorite songs on Remain in Light. As I’m writing in my diary, my wife is talking to her mom, and my children are playing peacefully in the back room. I’m looking at the ceiling fan in the living room. It starts shaking, just like the wooden floor beneath my feet.
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