Cinco de Mayo by Celia Perry

Celia Perry's flash fiction about an Arizona State University student whose Cinco de Mayo celebration goes very wrong.

Karen blamed her husband for the May 6th phone call. It was all Jeff’s idea to have Brian enroll at Arizona State after high school graduation in San Diego. Karen had hated the thought of their only child being so far from home. She didn’t think he was ready or even wanted to be there. But it was Jeff’s alma mater and he insisted it would be good for Brian to have a little more space. Space… from whom? She hated him for it. She would always hate him for it.

“Mrs. Peterson?” She made out a man’s voice, unfamiliar and heavily accented, through the static on the line. “I am Capitan Jose Ramirez of the Nogales police here in Mexico. You have a son named Brian Peterson?” Silence followed.

Karen felt weak kneed, leaning on the kitchen counter to steady herself. “Yes?” She paused. “But I don’t understa -”

“We have detained your son here until deciding if any charges will be made against him. Do you have an attorney in Mexico you wish to contact? He would be allowed to speak with your son. No one else, though, at this time.” Again, silence. Karen could hear her heartbeat growing louder in her ears.

“What? No,” she said. “This has to be a mistake. Brian is in school at ASU. He’s not in Mexico. He doesn’t even have a passport -”

“There is no mistake, I’m afraid.” Ramirez interrupted. “But since he is without a passport to return to the United States he will require a Mexican attorney. We will be in touch.” He hung up.

Karen’s hands trembled as she tried Brian’s cell phone. No answer. She left a voicemail and a text on Jeff’s cell phone before calling his office at the law firm.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Peterson,” his secretary, Linda, said, registering the urgency in Karen’s voice. “His schedule indicates a client lunch. I’ll try to track him down and have him call home as soon as possible.”

Karen tried calling ASU without success. They did not monitor the students and could offer no information on her son’s whereabouts or off campus activities. Karen prayed this was a mistake. A lost or stolen wallet might explain the whole bizarre thing. This was just crazy.

Within the hour Jeff called home, listening closely to what Karen could recall from her brief conversation with Ramirez. “Karen, I’m sorry.” Jeffrey hesitated. “I didn’t want to worry you. Brian did text a couple of days ago saying he and some friends were planning to cross the border to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I told him it wasn’t a good idea -”

“Not a good idea? Cinco de Mayo. What the hell, Jeffrey… a couple of days ago… and you didn’t think to tell me?” She couldn’t stop herself from screaming into the phone.

“Please, Karen, give me some time. I’ll call you back in an hour when I know more. I need to make some calls. Just sit tight.”

“Sit tight! Jeffrey, what are we going to do? You have to get him out of there. A Mexican jail? My God, this is a nightmare. Brian can’t be in Mexico.”

Early that evening, Jeff arrived in Nogales, met by Ramirez. He was told that three boys, including Brian, had been drinking heavily and instigated an altercation with several Mexican nationals. The fight had turned deadly for one of the Americans. Brian was detained and the third, still unaccounted for, was thought to have somehow crossed the border back to the United States. Capitan Ramirez led him to the cell to speak to his son. Jeffrey steeled himself amidst the stench and damp of the dark prison enclosure.

“Brian, are you okay?” he said.

The young man, dirty and disheveled, turned slowly, his head hanging low. Jeffrey suppressed a gasp and glanced back to be sure Ramirez had left the area before speaking.

“You’re not Brian. What’s going on here? Who are you? Where’s Brian?”

Trembling, the boy looked up, visibly panicked. Words tumbled out. “God, I’m so sorry, Mr. Peterson. I didn’t know what else to do. I’m David Barclay. I just want to go home. Brian said his dad was a lawyer. My parents are somewhere in Europe. There was no one to help me so I said I was him. Our wallets were stolen. The police didn’t have our names. I… I’m so scared…” Uncontrollable sobs followed.

“Where’s Brian?” Jeffrey repeated, straining to keep his voice calm. “Ramirez said one of the boys got away. Was it Brian? God help me… please, David, tell me it was Brian.”

“No one helped us, Mr. Peterson. They jumped us from behind. Four or five of them… I’m not sure. We were so drunk. It was awful. I remember getting punched and kicked… I think I must have passed out for a few seconds. Brian was fighting the hardest but they had pipes and knives. I was on the ground, watching. I couldn’t move. Then they ignored me and I think Greg was able to run because they all just laughed and kept beating on Brian. He wouldn’t stop fighting back, screaming for help… but no one came. It was… so terrible, Mr. Peterson.” Sobbing continued.

Jeffrey listened, a tight knot gripping his stomach.

David continued. “I’m so sorry… I couldn’t help him… I couldn’t. They killed him, Mr. Peterson… they smashed his head with the pipes… God, the sound. I knew he was dead.” David collapsed in Jeffrey’s arms.

The text arrived after midnight. “Karen. It’s bad… I’m sorry. I can’t do this on the phone. I’ll be bringing Brian home tomorrow. There’s another matter and formalities to handle here. I’ll text you my flight information as soon as I have it. Forgive me, Karen. I should have stopped him. ”

Somehow Karen knew Jeffrey was bringing Brian home to be buried. She also knew their marriage was over. There would be no future for them. No future at all without their son. She would go through the motions. Plan the funeral. Stand in attendance. Accept the offered condolences. She would do all that before telling Jeffrey why they no longer had a marriage. Why she couldn’t stop blaming him. And then; she would take her grief and leave.


  1. Ugh (in a good way). This story packs a whollop in just a few words. Seems very believable, and that made it easy for me to empathize with the characters.

  2. this is a fine story. mother´s premonition? it´s so well written with no unnecessary padding and with an excellent twist it made me think about the husband´s motivation for wanting his child to attend his alma mater.
    Mike McC

  3. All too believable. Nogales is a dangerous place. Good buildup of tension.

  4. A sad, realistic story that is well written and believable.

  5. Well done. I like the way it unfolds without sentimental emotion.

  6. Quick and tragic. Makes me wonder if Greg's account of the events would line up with David's...hmm.

  7. Yes, very readable. Moves quickly and leaves a big wallop.

  8. Enjoyed the dialogue. Ramirez sounded just right.