Uncle Gilberto, by Stephen Halpert
An excited Gilberto arrived at his friend Ramon’s. He was expecting they would be off to attend the highly anticipated world soccer challenge match that afternoon.
Rosa opened the door. Behind her stood Ramon. A sad expression on his face. Their little girls Maria and Sophia rushed up to Gilberto. Each grabbed one of his hands. “Uncle Gilberto,” they cried in unison. “You’re going with us to the carnival.”
He looked over at Ramon. “But I thought we were going…”
He peered from Ramon to Rosa. “I am?” His friend spread his hands, his all too familiar there’s nothing I can do look on his face.
“The carnival is only here for three days. You can always find a soccer game.” Rosa said firmly. “Besides you promised your daughters…”.
As though on cue the little girls jumped up and down, pumping Gilberto’s arms. “You’ll come on the rides with us,” they yelled. “Daddy says they make him sick.”
Gilberto looked over at Ramon who smiled back weakly and nodded. Gilberto sighed and the little girls let go his hands and rushed to their mother who was holding their jackets.
At the fairgrounds the smell of cotton candy, fresh pizza and hot buttered popcorn captivated Gilberto’s senses.
As he headed toward the food tent, Rosa, in a commanding voice proclaimed. “The food sold here makes you fat and shortens your life.”
Gilberto couldn’t help but wonder how Ramon could put up with a domineering woman like Rosa. A licensed personal trainer, Rosa had already enrolled the little girls in karate classes. She was trim, taut and statuesque. It had to be love, Gilberto thought, nothing else made any sense.
“One won’t hurt,” he said cavalierly as he headed for the refreshment stand. He returned with four large swirls of green, blue and pink cotton candy and handed them out. The little girls cheered as though he were the Great God Gilberto. Rosa stared hard and said nothing but accepted her cotton candy. Ramon smiled appreciatively. “Thanks Bro,” he said, patting his friend on the shoulder.
In the distance, accompanied by blood curdling shrieks, the rides dipped and whirled. Clutching his hands and holding tight onto their cotton candy the little girls dragged Gilberto to the ticket window. “Loop de loop,” they chorused.
“Ride is safe?” He smiled, buying three tickets.
The woman selling tickets smiled back. “So far no fatalities,” she said. “That particular ride’s been around forever. Everyone does loop de loop at least once in their lifetime.”
Laughing excitedly, the little girls pulled him to the small wooden seat attached to thick metal cords connected to a swirling gigantic loop desperately in need of being painted.
The little girls squeezed in on either side of him, waving their cotton candy like flags. To his dismay Gilberto saw some cotton candy attach itself to his new sweater. The attendant grinned as he buckled them all in. Slowly the wooden seat began to move. Both little girls screamed loudly.
“Don’t scream!” Gilberto shouted. “Please be nice!”
But hearing that only seemed to make them scream louder. The seat began spinning even faster. Then as the chair seemed to have jumped its track, it was hurled out into the sky, and everyone screamed at once.
Gilberto clutched the two little girls. “Please don’t scream,” he repeated. He was being rational. Obviously, they knew what he was saying and therefore as children, would respect and obey adult authority. The five year old let out a bellow, most of which was aimed at Gilberto’s left ear.
“No,” he tried, as she waved her cotton candy in his face.
They rocketed through the air for what seemed an eternity until finally the ride slowed down. Gilberto looked sadly at his brand-new cotton sweater now decorated in cotton candy.
“More, “they cried. “Let’s do it again, Uncle Gilberto.”
His stomach grumbled. He could taste his breakfast. “Your mother will take you,” he promised.
Rosa glared but said nothing.
“Yes,” he said, looking at her. “Now it’s your turn.”
They cheered. Rosa looked at him and glowered. “Let’s go find the Merry Go Round,” she said clutching her pocket book and looking annoyed.
“Ice cream,” they both cried as they passed by the brightly colored stand.
“Yes,” Gilberto said. “Ice cream it is.”
Rosa could have spat. She seemed that upset. She frowned at Ramon. “You know what white sugar does to you, she warned.”
He nodded, said nothing, and smiled weakly at Gilberto.
They sat at a round wooden table under a red umbrella. Gilberto ran the show. “Big chocolate cherry Sundaes,” he told the waiter.
Each of the little girl looked lovingly at their Uncle Gilberto.
“Uncle Gilberto,” the older one asked. When are you going to get married?
That question caught him by surprise. He paused and looked thoughtful. “Someday. And then I will have my sons.”
“Or daughters,” Rosa interjected. “Women are born every minute.”
He looked helpless. “But I must,” he pleaded. “It is a family tradition to have sons.”
Rosa sighed audibly.
The little one asked. “Uncle Gilberto are you going to marry Auntie Lola?”
Rosa raised her eyebrows but said nothing.
Gilberto shook his head no. “No..” he smiled. “Your Aunt Lola is a very nice woman but I’m too young for her. She needs an older kinder person. Someone to take her to the doctors when her legs give out.”
“But,” the older child proclaimed. “Mama says you’d make each other happy.”
Rosa rose abruptly. “Enough of this.” She eyed Gilberto. “Never believe the words of a laughing child.” She clapped her hands finalizing her argument.
Gilberto nodded. “If I were twenty years older and ready to retire, I’d make her a perfect husband. But I am too young.”
The little girls nodded and smiled at their Uncle Gilberto. “If you did marry Auntie Lola then you’d really be our uncle,” the older one proclaimed.
“And always take us for rides at the carnival,” the younger one said assuredly.
Back at Ramon’s Gilberto said good bye politely thanking Ramon’s little family for their company. Driving back to his condo, however, he swore vigorously to no one in particular.
“Why,” he shouted to the heavens can’t men do what they want and expect to do without interference from their wives? If I didn’t want my sons, I’d never get married.”
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