Monday, August 22, 2011

Mateo’s Walk

A short story by Daniel A. Olivas

Though he just celebrated his fiftieth birthday, Mateo refuses to give up his search. He knows that Isabel lives someplace near downtown Los Angeles, no doubt on a street Mateo has walked along once, twice, maybe a thousand times. And though it has been more than twenty years since they had last seen each other, Mateo trusts his sharp eyes, eyes he inherited from his mother, eyes that could spot a jack rabbit in the hilly scrub near their small village in Mexico, his home from long ago. So, six mornings a week, Mateo puts on his baseball cap, slings a backpack onto his round shoulders, and walks ten blocks to work in the toy district, where he unpacks boxes, sweeps the floor, and sometimes acts as cashier when Mrs. Kim needs to get lunch or take care of other business. This job is safe, simple, and keeps Mateo free to walk and search and dream. Today he takes a different route to work, different from the route he took yesterday, and the day before. Mateo knows he must alternate his trips so that he can increase the odds of finding Isabel. The morning is hot already, almost eighty degrees, the Santa Anas--the Devil Winds--spreading their evil. It is not a lucky day. But Mateo remains hopeful, trudging along Spring Street, perspiration covering his face like a thin veil, wishing he had left his jacket at home today. He turns left on Fourth Street. A young man with tattoos running up and down his arms walks past Mateo, gives Mateo a nod, a smile. Mateo nods and smiles and continues. The young people are so nice here in downtown, he thinks. Suddenly, for some reason, Mateo stops in front of a cafe and looks through the plate glass window. Why he stops here, he does not know. He squints and eventually lets his gaze rest upon an empty table, a newspaper spread across it. Mateo wonders if Isabel had been sitting at that table, looking at the want ads, or maybe looking for sales, and then perhaps she had just stood up for a second to use the restroom. He waits. One minute. Two, three. But no one comes back to the table. Not Isabel, not anyone else. Mateo exhales loudly. He turns and looks down Fourth Street. It is time to get to work, he thinks. Mateo takes a step, and then another, picking up speed, as he walks without thinking. He decides to take Third Street tomorrow. Yes, Mateo hasn’t walked that street in a few days. Maybe tomorrow he will be lucky.

[“Mateo’s Walk” first appeared in OnePageStories, and is featured in the unpublished collection of stories, essays and interviews, Things We Do Not Talk About.]

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