In the next circle of trailers, a neon, baby blue cross buzzed on, reminding him it must be Saturday. He hadn’t prayed the Rosary all month, and needed to for his mom. Maybe some meditation would bring his problems into better focus.
The Temple consisted of two walls made of sheet metal affixed to the back of an ordinary trailer and a roof made of bright green tarp. Like most Temples, it was presumably open to the public at dusk, and it allowed offerings before a three-quarter scale statue of the Virgin.
On one wall, cubby holes held cultured tissues. Loose mats of cells wobbled in bubbling liquid behind acrylic windows labeled ‘R. Runner’, ‘Ocelat’, ‘Algee (Cretac.)’, among others, each with prices in Byte or a number of physicals for trade. Adjacent shelves held dried leaves and paper-bound books, including what looked like spirals of photocopied scientific literature. On the opposite wall was a counter for any sales to be made. A steel pew divided the room.
He used a match to light some candles at the Virgin’s feet, knelt and began his prayers alone. When he finished, he sensed someone standing behind him.
He recognized Chueco from somewhere he couldn’t place in his childhood. Chueco’s skin had darkened, and his belly had expanded. He wore the same wrinkled, oily clothes as before and now half of his head lacked hair where a large surgical scar arced from front to back. Matteo noticed a metal sheen hidden underneath Chueco’s thick curls of hair.
“Es el joven de ‘ita?! Matteo, Matteo, oh, ah, como estas ‘ita?” said Chueco, amazed at something or other.
“She’s… she passed away. I was healing with the Rosary,” Matteo said and noticed Chueco’s armband, “ You’re the Curandero of this Temple?”
“Ay, no,” he said, and sat heavily, then motionless without a breath on the pew. He stirred after a moment and looked at Matteo as though for the first time, “Si… You look familiar.”
Matteo raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I’m Estrellita’s son, just like you said.”
“Un hijo! Since when? Ah, si, si. Matteo! Que grande estas! I remember your mom and your dad. You know we went to school together.”
“My dad?” he replied, but quickly thought better not to challenge the old man’s memory any more. Matteo was drawn to a half dozen magnets stuck to the side of the pew. He picked off a flat stone that displayed a chalked, red drawing of an bison. Etched on the backside was the year 1987. “Where’d you get this?”
Chueco got up and was now bending over behind the counter, thumbing through a crate of cassettes and newspapers. “No se. It erase my memory. Every time,” and then he chuckled.
“Well, the place looks real good, Chuec’,” said Matteo.
Chueco shot a suspicious look at Matteo. “You were in jail. And you’re sick.”
“What… how did you — ”
“Lo vi en un sueno. Dejame ayudarte. You need it,” he said.
“Cuanto?” said Matteo.
“Ay, no puedo,” said Matteo.
“Por favor. For your mom,” said Chueco and there was no arguing with that.
“Ok, voy a diagnose,” said Chueco. Matteo hadn’t had clergy check him out since he was a boy, but he remembered the process.
As he stretched out on his belly on the pew and peeled his shirt off, Chueco disappeared to his trailer. He returned with a deck of tarot cards and a cold egg.
Kneeling beside him, his hands rolled the egg around the grooves and bumps on Matteo’s back in precise, fluid motions. Matteo wondered if Chueco was forgetting his identity, or perhaps where he was.
He put the egg on an oversized, clean ashtray on the counter. Taking the cards in one hand, Chueco bent them, launching them towards the egg. He then picked it up and arranged the five cards that were closest to the it into a star inside of ashtray. Then he cracked the egg, pouring semi-solid contents onto the cards.
“That old cascarone trick, again, huh? I never get the confetti,” said Matteo.
“Portate bien. Your mom taught me how to do this one.”
Chueco reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver ring that was strewn on prayer beads. With the click of an unseen button on the ring, it scanned the ashtray offering and a small hologram of Walter Mercado appeared, hover-pacing over the cards. He spoke about Mercury and Alpha Centauri and ended with talk about iron and hemoglobin, finally morphing into an animation of red blood cells flowing down arteries.
“Pues, there you have it,” said Chueco. “Tienes mala sangre.”
“Heh.” Matteo put his shirt back on. He’d solved what made duds, well, duds. “Gracias, Chueco.”
“Toma esta,” said Chueco, handing him a bottle.
“Okay. I’ll see you soon.” Matteo walked out as an elderly couple came into the Temple and sat on the pew. There couldn’t have been a worse diagnosis.