Am I running away?
by Armando Gonzalez
Fernando was in the living room, sitting on the couch and watching T.V. He was watching iCarly, a show he knew he would get made fun of for watching if he ever admitted this to others at school. Although he had already seen the episode where Carly finds out the cool, hot kid likes to collect peewee babies, he wanted to watch T.V. because he did not want to get a haircut.
He had done everything that morning very slowly. He took a slow shower and let his thoughts wander. He did this often, and liked doing this because in part it was relaxing, but he felt there was some other reason why he liked doing it but he could not figure out the reason. Of course, that morning when he took a shower, he really let his thoughts wander so far beyond himself that it was as if his mind was slowly leaving his body, so that when his thoughts eventually returned back to him, he felt like he was in someone else’s body that just so happened to be called Fernando. He would annoy parents when he did this, most particularly his father, who wanted to avoid using too much water for the fear that the landlord would tell him something. Since he always locked the door, his father would have to pick the door lock with something that looked like a small metal cane.
When he went inside, he would tell Fernando, “Cuando no vas usar el agua, apágalo.”
Fernando would just say, “Okay.”
Fernando had done everything he had to do that morning. He had even brushed his teeth. Now he just had to leave the house, go over to the beauty salon that was about a block away, and get a haircut.
His mother, who was in the kitchen washing dishes, began to call him, “¿Fernando, qué hora es?”
“Son las tres.”
“Ya se está haciendo tarde. Vete a la peluquería antes que tu papá venga, o se va a enojar.”
He went into the kitchen where he knew the semi-wrinkled ten dollar bill would be, waiting for him on the kitchen table. He picked it up and looked at it. He looked at Alexander Hamilton’s hair, which was a wig, but Fernando was unaware of this. Although he didn’t really like the way Hamilton’s hair looked, Fernando was jealous because his hair looked longer than his. He wondered for a short time why it was that men back then were able to have long hair but now had to have short hair.
He said goodbye to his mother and started heading over to the beauty salon, slowly walking. But it didn’t matter how slow he walked because it took little to no time to reach the beauty salon. He stood in front of the beauty salon and hesitated to enter. He touched the tips of his bangs. It wasn’t long or anything, about medium length size to be exact, but it got long enough for his father to tell him to get a haircut. He knew that he would have to get a very short haircut and would be angry the whole day. He also knew that if he didn’t get the haircut, his father would get angry at him and would force him to get one. It didn’t seem like there was any room for compromise. He did not like fighting with anyone, especially grownups. He felt adults for the most part knew more than him, but sometimes he felt adults were just as clueless as him.
He finally went inside and went towards the glass counter. On the glass counter there was a yellow legal pad with a list of names crossed out and others that were not. It was the sign-in sheet. He picked up the black pen next to the yellow legal pad and wrote his name.
Fernando walked towards a chair and sat down. It was a Saturday, a popular day to get a haircut, and just after noon, so the wait was going to be a little longer. In the beauty salon were mothers who had brought their children to get a haircut, one that was presumably going to be short. He saw men there, too. They looked like they were by themselves and all had short haircuts. The men who sat in the beauty styling chairs were getting their hair cut and looked like they enjoyed having short hair. Some of the hairdressers, who were mostly women, had a variety of haircuts. Some of them had long hair, medium hair, and even short hair. Some of them even had their hair bleached or dyed another color like red.
There was one gay hairdresser, or at least he appeared so. Fernando noticed that most men, if they were not in any kind of hurry, did their best to avoid having their hair cut by him. His father told him once, after he had his hair cut done by the gay hairdresser, that he thought that that man was weird.
The beauty salon had gotten more packed since he walked in, and now every chair was taken. With so many people the hair salon had now gotten hotter. One of the hairdressers went to turn the air conditioner on, but it was going to take time for the place to cool down. Fernando decided it was probably better to wait outside, even if there was a chance he would not hear his name called out. He just wanted to get out.
Fernando got up from his chair and waited outside. There were two men standing outside, too. He leaned against the wall of the beauty salon and as usual began to get lost in his own head. Across the street was the field of the middle school he would soon attend next year. From what he understood from movies, middle school was usually not a great time for most kids. He wondered what he would be like when he was in middle school. He had typical middle school self-conscious thoughts: Would he be popular or unpopular? Cool or uncool? Outgoing or shy? Smart or dumb? Funny or unfunny? Interesting or boring? Mysterious or unmysterious? Handsome or ugly?
Regardless of these thoughts, Fernando fantasized about having a good time. He was also getting to that age when he started to notice girls sexually and how he liked being around them a lot more than most boys. He thought of having a girlfriend, but then he wished he had not thought of this because he did not know whether he was fit to get one. He felt boyfriends had to be strong enough to get into fights. He did not feel he was this kind of strong.
Maybe I am strong in other ways, he thought.
Just then a hairdresser opened the door.
“¿Está Fernando aquí?”
The two men looked at the hairdresser. Then the two men and the hairdresser looked at Fernando. Since he was lost in his own thoughts, it took him a couple seconds to register what was going on.
“¿Qué?” said Fernando.
“¿Usted es Fernando?”
He was about to say yes when the thought of being strong in other ways occurred to him. In the moment he was driven by emotions instead of reason.
The hairdresser said okay and went back inside.
Fernando immediately regretted what he had done. His heart was beating fast. He tried to calm himself down and thought of going back inside and telling the hairdresser that he had misheard, that he was in fact Fernando. But he was too ashamed to do even that. In reality, there was nothing to worry about. If he had simply gone back inside and told the hairdresser that he was in fact Fernando, she would most likely think nothing of it. But this was a big deal to him, as it was the first time he had ever truly done something for himself.
As if he was no longer in control of himself, Fernando’s legs began to slowly walk away from the beauty salon.
He was walking on a sidewalk, unsure of where he was going or what he was doing. He came to a crosswalk and pressed on the traffic light button. As he stood there waiting for the white walking man sign to come up, he began to think where he should go. All he knew was that he did not want to go back to the beauty salon or home.
Am I running away? Fernando thought. No, I can’t be running away. I have nowhere to go. I only have ten dollars…But it feels like I am running away.
The white walking man sign came up. Fernando walked to the other side of the street. While he thought about where he should be going, he mindlessly walked straight ahead, as if turning right or left would be wrong or be too much effort.
He arrived in a part of the city where there were many homeless people on the sidewalk. Some of them were either sleeping on a piece of cardboard or a mattress. Others were leaning against the wall of a dollar general store, thinking who knows what. It did not matter if one wanted to walk to the other side of the street because they would be there as well. Fernando had no choice but to walk on another street in order to avoid them altogether. He decided to take a right.
But even when he made a deliberate effort to avoid them, he saw one coming his way. He was a lanky homeless man with a blond and entangled, stiff beard. He had long blonde hair that looked like it had not been washed for days. Fernando wondered what his parents thought of his having long hair. He was shirtless but had a shirt hung around his neck like a shemagh. Fernando tried hard not to make eye contact with him. When the man finally got next to Fernando, he asked him if he had any change. He smelled extremely sour, so it was hard for Fernando not to make a disgusted reaction.
For a split second Fernando thought about giving the ten dollars to the homeless man because he felt sorry for him. He remembered what his father told him about homeless people, that they were all lazy people who didn’t want to work. He decided against giving the homeless man the ten dollars. Maybe if he had a dollar he would have given it to him.
Fernando shook his head. The homeless man, with a blank expression, said nothing and walked away.
Eventually the sidewalk ended and he was now facing a street divider, which to him almost felt as if it was demanding Fernando to make a choice, to either go left or right. Since he still had no idea where he should go, he thought it best to go somewhere where he can rest so he can think about it better. To his right he saw a McDonald’s. He thought McDonald’s would be a good place to rest and walked towards it.
In the McDonald’s he walked towards a table near a window and sat there. Once again, Fernando had to think about what he was doing.
Do I ever plan to go home? he thought. I know I have to go home at some point. But I still haven’t gotten a haircut. I know my father will get angry with me and probably force me to get one. There is still time to go to the hair salon to get a haircut. As long as I come back home with shorter hair I don’t think my parents will care too much if I come home late.
Fernando looked out the window for a while, staring at nothing in particular. He understood the simple fact that boys were supposed to have short hair and girls were supposed to have long hair, but at the same time he did not understand.
So what if I do have longer hair? It’s not the end of the world.
He touched his bangs.
Why does it matter so much to my father that what I am touching is a little long?
For some reason, Fernando had the strange feeling that someone was staring at him. He looked up and noticed that a woman, who was sitting with a man and two boys, and was a table away from Fernando, was staring at him. He assumed she was the mother of the children and the man sitting next to him was her husband and the father of the children. When Fernando made eye contact with the mother, she looked quickly away. Fernando thought nothing of this. But he then noticed other people, other parents, and even the cashier, were giving him stares too, as if he was strange looking. Their stares creeped Fernando out.
Do they know I didn’t get my haircut? he thought despite knowing how such a thought was nonsense.
Then he knew why. He was the only child in the McDonald’s who was all by himself. The other children were probably with parents or an older relative. Fernando thought maybe they thought he was homeless and was perhaps watching other people eat, although he did not exactly have the look of a homeless child. He felt his face grow a little hot. He wanted to leave as soon as possible. But, as soon as he got up to leave, he felt his stomach grumble. He was hungry. He remembered he had a ten dollar bill. His hands trembled as he took the ten dollar bill out of his right pocket. There was Hamilton once again with his long and white wig. This was the bill he was given to get a haircut, but now he was thinking of using it to buy something to eat at McDonald’s.
At first he was reluctant, but he realized that as long as he did not spend more than five dollars, he would still have plenty of money to get a haircut because it was exactly five dollars. But he wondered what his parents would think when he didn’t give them any of the change back.
I can say that after I got my haircut, I got the sudden urge to eat something at McDonald’s, thought Fernando. He figured it was such a simple reason that the worst that could possibly happen is his parents telling him he should have let them know before he went.
Fernando went to the cashier and ordered himself two cheeseburgers and a meal. It was $4.89. He now had $5.11. Just enough to still get a haircut. He ate his two cheeseburgers and fries and small coke without feeling too much guilt.
After he was done eating, he decided it was probably time to go home. If he still wanted to get a haircut, it was his last chance, that is, if he did not want to be dragged by his own father to the beauty salon. Images of his father yelling at him and grabbing him by the shoulders formed in his mind. He no longer hit Fernando, but nevertheless, he was still afraid of him. Even though he knew others would find this a little silly, to Fernando, yelling and hitting almost felt like the same thing. He asked someone in the McDonald’s for the time and she told him it was about to be three. He started to feel anxious again. He walked quickly out of the McDonald’s and planned on going back to the beauty salon.
He stood in front of the beauty salon. The place was much more packed with people since it was now later in the afternoon. He entered again, this time with shame, and avoided eye contact with any of the hairdressers that might have seen him enter the first time. When he walked towards the counter and looked at the names written on the yellow legal pad, he saw his own name was crossed out. He wrote his name on the yellow legal pad again.
He looked around to see if there were any empty seats. He saw one, but it was between two seats that were occupied with people, an older man with a grown out buzz cut to the left and an older woman to the right with a long ponytail.
When he went to sit down on the chair, he noticed how fast his heart was beating. He started to wonder what his parents were thinking. The thought formed in his head that his mom was probably thinking why their son was taking so long to get a haircut. He could picture his mother being worried at the moment and his father either driving home from work or having just arrived home. He could picture his worried mother telling his father that Fernando had not come home. His father would most likely get furious. “¿Cómo que no ha llegado? La peluquería está muy cortita.”
He was shaking now. He wanted to get his haircut right away. The walls to his right had pictures of men with combovers, tapers, undercuts, buzz cuts, short spiky hair, spiky quiffs, fades, etc. He didn’t even bother to look at any of them because he thought maybe if he got the shortest haircut that his father would not be so mad at him.
“Fernando,” a hairdresser called his name.
Fernando stood up immediately and walked over to the hairdresser that called his name. Luckily she was not the same hairdresser that called him the first time, or that would have been embarrassing. The hairdresser was a short, skinny Mexican woman who had a pixie haircut with highlights. She led him to the stylist chair. He sat down and looked at himself in the mirror. He had an overgrown hairstyle and, at most, his fringe barely passed his eyebrows. He secretly wanted to have long and flamboyant hair like a male anime character.
Only after the hairdresser put the hair cloth on Fernando did she ask him: “¿Cómo quieres tu pelo?”
Although he was feeling anxious before about his dad yelling at him if he arrived home late and without a haircut, Fernando did not respond right away. The hairdresser stared at him and asked him again.
Fernando told her to give him a short haircut, a number four on all sides.
Just then, his father came into the beauty salon. Fernando could feel someone staring at him, hard, to his left and turned to see his dad standing near the entrance. His father, while looking noticeably angry at Fernando for taking such a long time to get a simple haircut, at the same time had an expression on his face of approval. He walked over to where Fernando was seated.
“¿La lista de gente era larga?”
Fernando nodded his head.
“¿Qué tipo de corte de pelo vas a agarrar?”
“Un número cuatro en todos lados.”
“Eso está bueno.”
Fernando just looked straight ahead and said nothing.
“Voy a estar sentado. ¿Okay?”
Fernando nodded again.
The hairdresser reached into a counter drawer for the hair clippers and turned it on. As soon as he heard the buzz, Fernando went stiff, and suddenly he remembered once again what he had told himself earlier in the day which made him run away for a short while: Maybe I am strong in other ways.
When the hair clippers got near his hair, he moved his head away, which surprised the hairdresser.
From where he was seated, he heard his father yell “¡Fernando, quédate quieto!”
Fernando did not listen. Without having to think about it, he got off his chair and made a run for the door. When he got near the door, his father, who was so caught off guard by what was happening, had to register what was going on, and because of this, he had lost a second or two that would have enabled him to grab Fernando. This resulted in his father’s failure to catch Fernando, as he only managed to snatch the hair cloth off him.
He ran as fast as he could without ever looking back. His father kept calling out his name. Without looking both ways, Fernando ran across the street to the middle school’s chain link fence. Cars honked at him and the wheels of cars screeched on the pavement and people yelled things at him, mostly in Spanish. He did not have a second to think where he was going to turn when he got near the chain link fence. He turned right. Soon after he made the turn, he almost ran into a short Mexican lady selling flowers to cars. He kept running straight ahead. He no longer heard his father calling out his name. Either he was too focused on chasing him or he had stopped chasing him.
Now I’m going to get it, Fernando thought.
About an hour or so had passed since he last ran away from the beauty salon. He was back to running away, except now it felt much more official. Whereas before he was scared enough of his father to return back to the hair salon, now he was too scared to even go back home. He had no idea what he was going to do now. All he had in mind was to be as far away as possible from his home.
By now he was walking by the Santa Ana riverbed. He stopped walking and looked down at the riverbed, which was bone dry. He decided to walk down the riverbed, where he could hide easily and sit down in some shade under the overpass. There was a homeless person sleeping at the very bottom of the riverbed and using a black backpack as a pillow. He had a blanket, coated with some dirt, wrapped around himself. Fernando made sure to avoid stepping on any broken glass bottles or any sharp object. The place smelled like piss and shit. Fernando sat down on an incline. And once he did, he realized just how tired he felt. Altogether, he had been practically walking the whole day, and because he felt very tired, he thought of absolutely nothing. For about half an hour he simply listened to the cars pass him from above. Occasionally people on bikes would pass by him and some would look at him with a concerned face.
Despite how dirty and smelly the place was, just listening to nearby sounds and sitting underneath the overpass was extremely peaceful for Fernando. It was something he didn’t know he needed.
However, he got the sudden urge to take a massive dump. The McDonald’s had finally wanted out. He had about three options: he could go back home, find a nearby place with a restroom, or take a dump where he currently was. Fernando knew he was too tired to walk long distances, so the first option was out. Besides, he didn’t want to face his father, at least not yet. He wanted to do everything he could to avoid the last option so he tried hard to think of restrooms that were nearby. He noticed there was a park next to the riverbed, so he figured that was probably his best option.
He walked slowly to the park so as to not let the poop come out. He got near a lake in the park which smelled of duck poop and saw a young looking couple sitting on a bench and thought about asking them where the nearest restroom was. Once he got closer, he realized it was two women who were sitting very close to each other, almost like they could kiss each other on the lips at any moment. Fernando was slightly uncomfortable when he saw them, but at the same time he didn’t really care if it was two women who were sitting so close to each other, he needed help, so it didn't matter who it came from. Also, by this time he really had to go to the restroom and had no time to be picky. When he got near them, he said, “Excuse me.”
Both women turned their heads around to look at him. They appeared to be hispanic. The one on the right was wearing a septum piercing. Fernando noticed that they smelled like something but couldn’t identify what exactly the smell was though. For him, it neither smelled good or bad. He noticed their eyes were very red, too. He had never smelled marijuana before. They also didn’t look like those kinds of women, the kind to get close to other women. They had long hair, wore tight jeans and both spoke in feminine voices. In a few words, they basically looked and sounded like normal women.
“Hi,” the one sitting on the right said. Both smiled and laughed a little more than was necessary. They seemed pleasantly surprised to see a child, all by himself, approach them.
“Do you guys know where the nearest restroom is?”
Both had to think for a few seconds. Then the one on the right pointed with her finger in a direction and said: “If you keep going that way, you will see a dirt track. There is a public restroom right next to it.”
As Fernando walked over to the public restroom, he heard the two women talking silently and laughing. They were probably talking about him.
Once he saw the dirt track, it was easy to find the public restroom. When he entered the public restroom, he noticed there were no doors for the toilet. There was just a wall to cover yourself on one side and that was it. He was scared that someone might walk in on him while he was taking a shit, but he had no time to worry about that, so he walked over to the toilet and sat down and did his business. He wasted no time.
After he was finished, it dawned on him that, once again, he had no idea what to do next. He figured he needed to find a place to sit down and think for a little, just like he had done when he was at McDonald's. He saw a ledge nearby and walked towards it to sit down, which was in front of the dirt track. He watched people jog. When he noticed how golden the people’s skin appeared, he realized that it was soon going to be dark. It was going to be dangerous for an early adolescent like him to walk the streets during the night when different kinds of people came out. He thought about how this might be his first time ever walking in the dark.
Fernando’s stomach rumbled. He was getting hungry again. The thought of buying food with the five dollars he had occurred to him. If anything was going to force him back home, it was going to be food.
Suddenly, the idea of buying a bus pass occurred to him. He remembered that he passed by a bus stop near the riverbed. He knew the one-day bus pass cost five dollars from the times he took the bus with his mom to places like the pediatrician when his father could not take them. If he took the bus he would definitely be able to get home before it got fully dark.
He walked over to the bus stop. When he got there he noticed that there was no one sitting on the bus bench. He chose not to sit down because he did not want anyone to sit next to him, especially since it was getting late.
It didn’t take long for the bus to arrive. When he saw the bus coming he saw on top of it bright orange letters which read “Golden West Transp Center.” He took the five dollars out of his pocket before the bus pulled up next to him. For a second he thought how it was a little funny that the money he was given was used for anything but a haircut. Who knew what his father would do to him when he arrived home with no money at all? At this point though, Fernando was tired and hungry and just wanted to get home, so he sort of didn’t care what his father did to him anymore. It was a bit of an amazing feeling, to not care at all anymore, he thought.
The bus pulled up next to him, the doors opened, and he got in. He inserted his five dollars into the fare box. He felt like the bus driver was staring at him, but he chose to ignore this feeling. Few people were on the bus. He sat on the seat all the way in the back on the right side of the bus, which was right next to the window. When he looked out the window, his mind wandered. He had many thoughts, and they went deeper than usual, almost like he was at home showering again. He expanded on a thought he had earlier, which was why his father wanted him to get a haircut so badly. Of course, he was not a stupid child. He obviously knew that his father wanted him to have shorter hair so that he looked more like a boy than a girl. But what amazed him is the fact that this simple thing of having longer hair, which was really nothing to get upset over, was something that made his dad uncomfortable, like he was a child like him, who was uncomfortable with the dark.
Although he felt that he was becoming less and less scared of his own father, he still wanted to avoid a harsh clash with him, as hopeless as that sounded.
What can I say to my father? Fernando questioned himself. How can I convince him that there is nothing wrong with a boy who wishes to have longer hair?
The bus was getting close to Main street, where he knew he had to get off. He thought of staying on the bus until he knew what to say to his father. Fernando thought and thought, but it seemed like there was just nothing he could say to convince his father that long hair was just as good as short hair, regardless of whether you were a boy or a girl. He knew his father was a very stubborn man and wanted things his way. He vowed to himself to never be like his own father.
He pulled on the yellow string to get off at the bus stop on Main street. As the bus stop wasn’t that far away from his home, he decided to walk the rest of the way home.
The walk home was a quiet one. He did not walk fast. There didn’t seem to be any good reason to do so other than to make his parents worry one less minute. He couldn’t imagine his father being worried about him at the same time being angry at him. He just couldn’t for some reason.
As he walked home, he passed by a church called Saint Anne’s. He looked at the bell tower and wondered what it was like to ring the bell. Fernando was not very religious, but he was not entirely against religion either. He had some questions about religion, whether one needed religion to be happy. Anytime he had a question like this, his mother always insisted that you did need religion to be happy, as if this wasn't obvious enough to Fernando that any free moment she had, his mother would devote that time to praying. Or when his mother would be in the kitchen cooking dinner, meanwhile she would have her phone on the kitchen table playing loudly some YouTube video of a catholic priest giving a sermon. In stark contrast to his father, his mother was a lot gentler and timid. He remembered once he asked her what it was that made her want to marry his father. Besides some other characteristics, the first thing that came to her mind was that he was a very hard worker. Fernando wasn’t sure if being a hard worker was something he liked enough in a person to want to want to marry them, but he understood.
He was now standing below the green Old Mcfadden and Main street sign. In just a few more steps he would be home. He stood below the street sign for a few minutes, getting himself prepared for his parent’s reaction. It was eight thirty p.m. Once again, his heart was beating fast. All kinds of thoughts about his father were going through his head. It was easy not to care when he was away, but now that he was a lot closer to his home, all his worries came back to him and he felt the tension in his shoulders, as if someone were squeezing them.
He started walking. He was scared but he continued to walk. As he got closer to the front window, he saw lights coming through a gap in the curtains. They were home. He walked up the red steps towards the black steel door and knocked on the metal screen. He heard footsteps. The knob of the door turned, the door swung open and before him stood his father.
The next day he was at the beauty salon again, this time with his father standing by his side. His father did not say anything to him when he arrived home. But the next morning he gave him a short, but assertive and even threatening sounding lecture.
“Ese si quieres quedarte en esta casa, necesitas obedecer lo que te digo que hacer. No quiero que vuelvas a correr porque solo te digo que te cortes el pelo.”
“Pero nada más es pelo.”
“¿Ese nada más es pelo, por qué no te lo cortas?”
Fernando only nodded his head and said okay, making little to no eye contact. His mother stood by, saying nothing.
“Vamas ir al peluquería. ¿Estás listo?”
He nodded his head.
So there they were again, in the beauty salon. His father told the hairdresser to give him a number three on all sides of his head.
“Por fin ya se va a cortar el pelo,” the hairdresser said.
“Sí, ya era tiempo.”
Both the hairdresser and his father chuckled. Fernando did not chuckle.
The hairdresser took the hair clippers out of the drawer and started. It was an easy haircut and of course no scissors were needed. It didn’t really matter where she started. She started on the top. Fernando saw his father in the mirror, with his arms folded, and with a satisfied look. He could have killed his father right there and then. He had all the necessary emotions boiling inside of him.
Armando Gonzalez was born in Santa Ana, California and continues to live there. His parents migrated from Mexico and met here and married. He has no schooling in creative writing, and “Haircut” is his first published story. He is Mexican American/Chicano.
Rinconcito is a special little corner in Somos en escrito for short writings: a single poem, a short story, a memoir, flash fiction, and the like.
Pictured is an open cannister of Scho-Ka-Kola, a caffeinated chocolate produced in Germany starting around 1935 and distributed to many German soldiers during World War II. The protagonist of “Out of Range” recalls widespread starvation in the years following the Spanish Civil War, coinciding with World War II, and a fortuitous encounter with Nazi chocolate.
Out of Range
by Olga Vilella
It happened sin darse cuenta apenas. One minute, Josefina Corrada was the exceptional mujer she had always been. A responsible professional. Puntal of the eight o'clock Mass de San Aloishús, even in the worst snowstorm in February. A mother who never disappointed. And the next day, she consigned everybody to hell.
“Se me van a hacer puñetas, todos. Y el que me esconda las llaves, me va a oír.”
Which is how she came to be waiting for Dr. Haddad, that day. Maybe she should send la familia that funny meme of the cat. Pa’l carajo…a mí nadie me manda. Even Joey, the only among her relatives she could stand these days. But el guaifi seemed to be down.
Certainly not to Josie, there was no reasoning with Josie lately. When Josefina thought of her eldest, she had to ask los cielos what sin was she paying for in this life, to have been saddled with such an ingrate of a daughter. Who never called, unless she needed something. Trite, trite, and verging on the caricature, but oh-so-true.
A flash of memory sparked in Josefina's mind. She blinked then, assaulted by a draught of icy air and un recuerdo. The pinkie finger in Josie’s left hand, curved slightly inward. The dedo that was a replica of her own. And then she closed the screen pa'quick. No thinking of la Josie. La que me va a armar cuándo se entere.
Swipe screen left. Not for anything Josefina was the only one among her friends that Twittered and Instagrammed and Facebooked and TikToked. A brief smile lifted the corner of her perfectly drawn mouth!--Cherris-in-de-esnow de Reblon—with the next image popping up in her head. A circle of silvery heads, jostling around, whenever she showed las amigas how to get on? in?—maldito inglés—social media. Yet again.
A small whoosh brought her back to her surroundings. Another blast of frigid air fell on her shoulders from above, like a shower at Varadero Beach Club, on a morning in August. Dios mío, ese aire acondicionado me va a matar de pulmonía. Y esta camilla.
A little face, all eyes, peered then from around the curtain of the cubicle. An orangey tube—¡cómo el presidente!—was poised firmly between his lips and a bag dangled from a grubby paw. ¡Un Chito! Food from the gods. Now forbidden by Josie. The sight made her stomach rumble, not for the first time. Josefina tried her nicest smile. Kids usually responded to her abuela charm, but this one was not parting with one curly bit.
El niñito left quickly, but the curtain of the cubicle had parted long enough for Mrs. Cou-rra-dah to catch a glimpse of a group in scrubs planted around the nurses’ station. Call me “mom” one more time, anda. See what’s going to happen to you, mija. Will you look at the size of those culos? People are really unattractive these days.
“Body shaming, grandma.” “Don’t call her china, grandma, she’s Korean.” The list of her many social sins clacked like dominoes in her memory. Swipe definitely left.
But Joey’s gently reproachful face, a caramel Mater Admirablilis, refused to budge, once invoked. “Grandma, be nice. I love you, but be nice. Te quiero mucho,” repeated to signal no bad intent, pronounced in that cute gringuita accent of hers.
Joey, tan bella, mi niña. Joey qué no salió a su mamá, that’s for sure. “If those people are Italian, I’m china. Coreana,” Josefina spurted out loud, almost choking, on a breathy yelp.
Look at the time, caballero. Deja, que estos van a trinar cuando yo termine con el presidente del hospital. ¡A mí! Qué me hagan esperar a mí, Josefina Corrada, la primera doctora hispana de Jersi Sity.
But the memory of her granddaughter’s brown eyes still hovered, stubbornly, before her. It was getting late. And Josefina was so tired. And more shook up than she had thought when the car stopped spinning. Tired, hungry, in need of reviving. “Latte with an extra shot,” she heard Joey order in that papery hoarse voice of hers. Even Joey, even her.
“Un café con leche, mijo. Cargadito.” These days, saying those words, en español, felt like an act of resistance. En español, like it or not. Café con leche. Y tu MAGA que te la metes por dónde no te da el sol. Besides, calling out for a café con leche at el Estarboc also conveyed, loudly she hoped, what she thought of people willing to pay más de cinco pesos for a latte. Café con leche, guanajos.
“Well, dear heart. It is a fallen world,” as Catalina always repeated, while dusting her bolster of a chest. She knew las niñas would worry about her when she didn’t show up. But she was also sure they went ahead and ate. At this point in their lives, not one of her friends was going to delay ordering lunch because one of them didn’t show up. They would never eat.
Maldita vejez. ¿Quién te prepara para esto? ¡Nadie! As if there were any medical textbooks that could prepare you for the indignities of old age.
The carefully calibrated contempt in the voice of los jóvenes at the cellphone store. The looks of disdain when you don't put away your wallet fast enough. As if they were never getting old. As if. As if. That movie with la rubita de Beberli Jills. How they had laughed, she and Joey, escapadas, both of them. “No PG-13 movies for her until she's old enough, mom.” As if Joey didn't hear worse every day in school, so guanaja.
I wonder what's taking Dr. Haddad so long. Had she been in her right mind, she would have refused the ride to the ER. What had she done instead? Let them wheel her, in while making un chistesito. And not even a good one. “What happened to la ambulancia de los guapitos?” At least, one of them—dominicano by the looks of him—had laughed. “Lady, that's the next crew. And they won't be here for a while.”
“You think you’re really funny, don't you, abuela?” As a matter of fact, yes, she thought she was pretty funny. Even Joey turned on her these days.
For nearly seventy years, she had been a good girl. Not anymore. ¡Se acabó! She was now primed for war. Ready a dar guerra like the warrior she had once been. The buena hija who told her father she was going to medical school during that lunch, so, so many years ago. Dios mío, cómo se puso, loco furioso.
Contrarian, contrarian, cómo eres, Enrique used to say. The faces from other days of conflict crowded the small space around the gurney. Her father hitting the lunch table with a fist, the afternoon she told him Enrique was coming to talk to him. Certainly, she was marrying him. And she was moving to La Habana con él. Y mamá, llora que llora. Why couldn't she understand? She left México con papá.
Igualitica, igualitica que tu padre, Enrique used to say. David Juño, cerrado cómo un puño. The man who refused to ever go to el paseo once the war was finally over. “Cara al sol/con la camisa abieeeertaaaaa.” Somebody would intone the anthem of the Nacionales in the middle of la Alameda and the crowd would pause, as if paralyzed. Shifty eyes taking note. Black shirts and a sea of raised hands, saluting. An arm lifted, stiff like a gravestone, like el Caudillo's, meeting Hitler in Hendaya.
Not that don David had any use for the other side. Not after what they had written on the doors of the apartment building in Madrid. “Muerte al dueño de este edificio.” And Lelia's daughter dying during the siege. She died of a pneumonia, they said. We knew it was hunger.
“Recuerda, Pepiña. En este pared, unos españoles asesinaron a otros españoles.” Y el hambre por todos lados. As many maids as any house would want, to be had for a pair of alpargatas and their keep, during those years of darkness. Niñas, niñas todas. And then the years of that other war. Grey uniforms, all over the city. The whole of the province, all of Galicia, was overrun by them. On leave from the German submarine base in El Ferrol, la tata Rosalía would whisper, moving away from their Nordic raptor eyes. And Amelia, all blonde trenzas and blue eyes, pretending she was a refugee. “Kinder, kinder, schokolade.” After all these years, those words remained fresh in her memory, as bittersweet as the taste of that chocolate long gone.
Better make sure next time Joey took her to el Cosco she bought enough garbanzos. And a big bag of those small Esniqers.
“My dear colleague, what is this I hear about you still driving?” El doctorcito Haddad. Here we go....
A native of Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, Olga Vilella is currently at work revising Los que llegaron, a historical novel based on the unsuccessful attack by the English to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1797, a work that seeks to upend Caribbean notions of race, religion, and ethnicity.
It does not flicker
A Quiet Night on the Boulevard
by Jacob Teran
The block was not as active tonight. Olympic Boulevard is one of the gateways to enter our urban domain known as South Sapro Street and, on this night, it is absent of travelers and hostile combatants.
You can hear the last metro bus making its way down the Boulevard to the depot drop off—final destination. A long day of picking up hard workers, tweakers, cholos, and dropping them off to where they need to go.
Neither juras pass by with sirens, nor local tweakers roam the block looking for a potential vehicle to break into, just, the calm and quiet sound of the wind and train that makes its presence known to our barrio. These nights seldomly visit my barrio and when the sweet sound of silence makes its way to Sapro, the tranquility is always welcomed.
I am in my messy room of my mom’s 2-bedroom apartment that I have not cleaned for days, lying in bed. I can feel the temperature drop from my open window as the smell of rain and burnt cannabis roaches permeates my room. I slip on my already tied DVS skating shoes, grab my hoodie, and make my way out into the abyss of my barrio.
I head to the local Valero Gas Station to pick up a blunt wrap to indulge with my homeboy, Iggy. A light haze of cool droplets penetrates the dark sky making the lonely night that much colder. The smell of wet asphalt is refreshing with each sloshing step that I take. The local Valero was the place to buy a 3-pack of some cheap beer if no one was in the mood to go to Superior Market. The fluorescent lights beam blue and yellow, and read, “Valero Gas Station” with the “o” turned off or perhaps, dead. The people inside know me and even though I am still a minor by age, they never card me when I buy a pack of frajos, especially blunt wraps.
As I make my way back on the wet asphalt of the Boulevard, I can smell and hear all sorts of familiar elements that ignite my senses. Across the street from the Valero was Cedar Ave. Someone was always washing their clothes on the corner of Cedar and the Boulevard in the evening. An old steel clothesline is engulfed with colorful socks, white t-shirts, and blue jeans. Probably a small family since I always see a group of three to four kids playing in the street just before the sun sets. The scent of Suavitel Fabric Softener always reminded me of my Abuelos in Boyle Heights, as their neighbors used a similar product for their clothes.
The next thing I immediately notice is the fresh scent of cannabis burning nearby. It must be the homies from my block congregating at Cheddar’s pad since he lived two houses from the corner of Cedar. The thick skunky aroma of indica burning in the street at night always felt like I was home—a comforting feeling. Suavitel and marijuana were the telltale signs I am home.
Between Cedar and Sapro, an area on the Boulevard, is where I feel the most alone as I walk. As I walk pass Cedar, I look to the left side of the Boulevard stretches to its desolate side of abandoned buildings bathed with graffiti. To my right was a long fence of white wood that closed off the side of an apartment. This wooden canvas is marked “SLS,” for SAPRO LOCOS, the acronym for the locotes on my street. Other times, they were crossed out by the rival barrios in the surrounding area and down south of us, passing the railroad tracks, beyond the Boulevard and away from the domain of Sapro.
The spray on walls, scribes on windows, markings on wooden fences, trees, light posts, and curbsides, are all voices without faces that speak. A language that only people that live here understand.
I walk under the streetlight between Cedar and Sapro, probably the most remote section of the Boulevard where peculiar occurrences would take place. In this desolate part of the Boulevard, voices could be heard with not a single person around, tall, shadowy figures have followed people only to disappear in a blink of an eye, and the streetlight itself would flicker violently when someone walked under. I could never account for the first two things that homies and neighbors have spoken of, but the streetlight flickering, that was real. Probably some glitch with the wiring under the asphalt, but, whatever rationale could explain, it always made me feel like some ominous entity was following me.
I walk under it tonight. It does not flicker.
I pass by the streetlight and eventually the Cliff to walk across Sapro to a dark grey Astro van. I could see the radio’s light slightly brighter as I approach the van’s sliding door. I knocked on it twice before opening it to be greeted by my homeboy, Iggy,
“Fuckin’ Guill! Finally! Ah Ah! Ah!” Iggy’s laugh was always amusing. Iggy or Iggs, always sounded like his laugh was backwards.
“’Sup G, was’ crackin’?” Coming into the van, we shake hands.
“Nada güey, posted trying to get faded. ’Sup with you? Where da bud at?”
“Shit, I thought you had it.”
“Lying ass vato! Ah! Ah! Ah!”
I pop out the grape flavored swisher I bought from Valero as I come in slamming the sliding door after me.
“Firme! Grape will go good with this shit.”
Iggy starts cutting up the swisher with a dull razor as I begin to break up the sticky indica from the baggie I was clenching since the odd streetlight. Iggy hands me a ripped Home Depot cardboard he used to dump out the tobacco from the swisher. Bone Thugs’ “Resurrection” is playing in a CD player he installed for his mom’s van’s radio. The music suits the quiet night and the session we are about to have. The dank bud begins to stink up the van with a skunky aroma as I break up the sticky flower that sticks to my fingertips.
We start conversing about the extracurricular activities that have been making the block hot: South Siders and Veil Street have been coming through our block and hitting up their placas in our area. A few tweakers from a few blocks away stealing the vecinos’ recyclables. Really typical mamadas that occur in our barrio. Sometimes we laugh about it. Sometimes we get into heavier conversations.
I hand the cardboard with the potent shake I just broke up to Iggy, “Trip out G, isn’t tonight quiet as fuck?”
“Fuck yea, Guill…but…” Iggy licks the wrap’s end to seal the blunt, “…it’s firme, I like nights like this. Don’t you?”
“Yeah, it’s just trippy,” I kept looking down the Boulevard from the second-row window of the van. Usually, a suspicious car or jura patrolling would pass, but nothing.
Iggy hands me the lighter, “Do the honors and spark it up, Guill! Ah! Ah! Ah!”
I light one side of the blunt and roll it around slowly as if I’m hot roasting a pig, making sure the cherry got an even burn. I take a couple of light hits as if I was smoking a cigar to get the cherry just right. As the smoke enters my lungs, I can feel it spread throughout my chest making me want to cough. I hold it in and exhale through my nostrils, feeling the euphoria of both weed and Krayzie Bone’s lyricism.
Iggy is chain-hitting the blunt and seemed like he forgot I was in the session with him. He looks halfway towards me from the driver’s seat, “…Guill, I wanna tell you some shit that some OG told me a while back. This vato was a firme ass foo, a real one. The shit he said was the truth dog, palabra, and I still believe this shit to this day.”
I looked at Iggy thinking ahh shit, this foo is faded. “Handles, G.”
Iggy put the blunt down to his chest as it continues to burn, “And I don’t give a fuck what anyone says, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise either. You gotta believe this shit, Guillermo. You’re gonna have foos try to press you, call you a bitch and all that…but fuck that.”
I was thinking, Iggy is never going to get to the point, “Yeah Iggy, handles, I hear you foo.”
Iggy turns as much as he could to the seat behind him where I’m sitting, “You don’t got to be from nowhere and still be G wid’ it. A lot of foos think you gotta be from somewhere to be hard, claim a hood, get into mamadas and put in dirt, and all that bullshit, but chales, güey.” He pauses and takes another rip from the blunt.
“Escucha güey…Just be you dog…and that’s keeping it gangster.” A bit of mota and street wisdom Iggy shares as he takes one big rip and lets out a huge cloud of smoke that makes him start choking and laughing.
Iggs passed the almost finished blunt back to me as he was coughing all over the place. “Damn, foo, you aight, haha!” “Hit that shi…that shit…Mem…” Iggy kept coughing and all I could think about was why he was telling me this.
I sit there as Iggy is coughing his lungs out and felt this was the most genuine thing my homeboy ever told me. Growing up in the hood, I always thought I would eventually get jumped in the hood when the time came. But what Iggy just confided hit me profoundly. I couldn’t stop thinking about it during our session.
We kill the blunt and hear a few of Iggy’s primos coming back to interrupt our private hotbox. Fuck. Who is this? There are a chingo of us on the block and whoever comes to a session either has weed or none.
“Eeeeee, look at you scandolosos right here,” Iggy’s primo Fat Boy always loves putting people on blast.
Iggy looks up and blasts back, “fuck you dick, where were you when I hit you up earlier to blaze it?” Fat Boy smirks. “Don’t even trip, I share my shit homie, not like you assholes,” Fat Boy starts opening up a bag with his own weed that he had.
Looking to me, Fat Boy laughs, “’Sup Memo, where’s all da bud at? You and Iggy are straight holdouts.”
I smirk and laugh. “Dick, you foos had your own VIP sesh, so Iggs hit me up. Got ends? Still have some leftover yesca.” Fat Boy ignores me as his brother Scraps and Cheddar come through pushing themselves in the van talking mumbling and complaining that Iggy and I were smoking without them, although they just smoked without Iggy and me.
“Hey dick, my Jefa is gonna come out trippin’ with all you foos in here being all loud and shit,” Iggy always snapped when unexpected dudes came, even if they were his primos.
“Don’t even trip, my Tía loves me,” Fat Boy said as he was breaking up some of his bud nudging me for the cardboard with the leftover bud on it.
“Not you fat ass, you’re burning the spot,” Iggy capped back as he was looking for a track to play on the van’s CD player stereo. Scraps, Cheddar, and I all started busting up laughing from the exchange between Iggy and his primo, Fat Boy. DJ Quik’s “Pitch in On a Party” surrounds the van’s speakers as the van gets louder and I kept thinking about what Iggy told me.
Fat Boy looked back at Scraps and Cheddar, “Shut the fuck up turkey and you too cheddar.” Fat Boy’s hermano Scraps was chubby like Fat Boy, but shorter. Everyone called him “Turkey” or “Danny DeVito,” which he hated. Cheddar had pretty poor hygiene when it came to his teeth. He never brushed his teeth, and the result made his dientes look like picante corn nuts.
“Dick, you’re fucked up,” Cheddar shakes his head.
“You’re a scandalous vato too, ‘Gay-mo,’” Fat Boy looks to me. The homies would either call me “Guill” or “Memo,” short for Guillermo. Other times, “Gay-mo,” because it sounded funny to them, and I also hated it.
“Just be you dog,” I pat Fat Boy hard on the back of the shoulder.
“Fuck, let’s go finish this shit out in the front of your pad Fat Boy, you burned the spot.”
“Fuck it, let’s bounce then,” Fat Boy said as we all get up to leave the van.
We all walked to the front of Fat Boy and Scrap’s pad. Their mom was asleep, so we had to creep and crawl if we didn’t want to get kicked out of the yard. Fat Boy and Scrap’s oldest brother Beaker wasn’t home either, probably getting all pedo with some lady that he would always say he was going to marry but then break up with weeks later.
We all post up on the bed of Beaker’s 1987 El Camino, laughing quietly, talking about how cold the night was. We start packing bowls from Cheddar and Scrap’s weed pipes and begin a new rotation. Iggy’s stomach was bothering him, so heads to the restroom. The four of us, without Iggy, sit in the back of the El Camino getting faded as the night continues to get colder and quieter.
Suddenly, a car comes out the cut from the corner of the yard where we are posting up, on the Boulevard. Fat Boy and Scraps lived at the corner of our street and had thick bushes that made it hard to see who was walking or driving by, especially at night.
* * * *
We then see four shadows running around the corner of Fat Boy and Scraps’ pad outside the fence. The moonlight was our only aid in seeing through the darkness. One shadow stood at the corner keeping trucha, while one other dude stood outside of the gate. The other two shadows came up to us in front of the fence where we happen to be sitting.
“Where the fuck you from, Ese?! This is big bad Southside Greenwood Gang! Fuck ‘Scrape’ Street!”
The bald shadow brandishes a .45 cuete and points it to each of our stunned skulls. All of us with our sweaty palms open, shield our chests, afraid and frozen in an already cold evening. The nefarious shadow, only three feet away from the silver diamond-shaped fence that separates us, stands fiercely. The streetlight reveals his inked face, a black spider web trapped his entire face with the center of the web starting from the shadow’s nose. Eyes as black as obsidian, stabbing us with his soulless glare, listo for anything.
“Hey dog…we’re from nowhere…we don’t bang. I live right here,” Fat Boy being the oldest of us speaks, shaken up, choosing his words carefully. The shadow looks at him with disdain and then all of us. He points his cuete at each of us asking us individually if we claimed Sapro Street. With our arms raised, palms open, not knowing what to think or do, we deny because we are in fact not from the hood, yet.
“I don’t give a fuck! You’re caught slipping out here! This is Southside Territory! Fuck Sapro Street! Bitch ass levas! The spider webbed shadow looks to his homeboy for confirmation to off us right then and there. The shadow raises his less dominant hand and cocks his cuete. Coming back from the restroom, Iggy comes out to a situation he was somewhat familiar with.
The second shadow by the fence gate sees Iggy and hails out, “Who the fuck are you?! Southside Greenwood Gang, ese!”
Iggy opens his palms towards the second shadow, “Hey, I don’t bang dog. I live right here in the back, this is my Tía’s pad. These are all my primos, we’re just right here burning some bud. My primos are kids G, they ain’t soldiers. We are family right here.” Iggy being much older than us already knew the street lingo—along with his street intellect and rhetoric, Iggy’s response disheartens the shadows.
Although this was a typical night in my barrio, we never had a neighboring group roll up on us like that. This night made me realize the brevity of life, the choices I make and the words I choose influence what can happen next. Iggy’s words echoed in my mind and made me realize a lot of shit—life is short and can be taken in an instant. I want to change and do better, but it’s difficult when you have no direction or positive influences. But Iggy made me think and that was perhaps one of the most impactful things someone ever told me.
The dude with the cuete throws up his insignia, claims his hood one last time so we could all remember it, and dashes off to the car with the other shadows and drove off into the abyss.
The rain never came but the smell remained…Some fuckin’ quiet night.
Jacob “Jake” Teran is a proud Chicano living in the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles. Jake is a 2nd generation Chicano who was born in Montebello, Los Angeles, east of Los Angeles. He has published one short fictional story at his community college at Rio Hondo College and a master’s thesis for his graduate program, where he obtained his Masters Degree in Rhetoric and Composition. He is currently teaching composition to several departments in two colleges that include indigenous and Chicanx literature. Jake currently lives in the San Gabriel Valley where he is working on a novel based on his experiences growing up in his barrio that deals with gang lifestyle, drugs, violence, and finding one’s identity in a chaotic concrete jungle.
Emerald powder onto the elote
Winner Extra Fiction 2022