A short story by Daniel A. Olivas
We sit on the bench waiting for the Orange Line. Rosario reads a Bolaño novel that I gave her last week for her twenty-fourth birthday. In truth, I’d bought it for myself but I couldn’t get past the first thirty pages so I wrapped it in some nice gold wrapping paper, bought a card with a smiling monkey on it (you can’t go wrong with a monkey card), and gave it to Rosario. She loved it, wondered how I knew she wanted to read it. I shrugged. Brilliant, I guess.
I should have brought a book with me. Rosario is buried in Bolaño and I just look around. No one is here, just us. And a long-haired throwback to the seventies who sits on the next bench over to my right. Rosario sits to my left. Where is everyone? It’s Tuesday morning. Yes it’s early, but don’t people work anymore? Funny question since I don’t work, not right now. Between jobs, as they say. And Rosario is getting her masters in English literature at CSUN, so she’s not really working, either.
I hear a clicking sound and turn. It’s the hippie clicking with his tongue. But he stops, suddenly, now that he has my attention. He smiles. He’s too young to be missing teeth, but he appears to have only about six or seven left in his mouth. He clicks again and I turn to Rosario to see if she notices. Nope. She’s in love with Bolaño. She’s even smiling. She’s on page 123.
The hippie clicks again so I turn back to him. He isn’t smiling anymore. In fact, he looks pissed. Not just I-spilled-my-coffee-on-my-new-pants pissed. But a really I-will-kill-you-you-son-of-a-bitch pissed. He leans on his left arm so that he can get closer to me without getting off his bench. He leans, squints and whispers:
I blink. I look over at Rosario but she keeps on reading.
You’re a Mexican, he says.
I turn back to the hippie. So, it’s a cool Tuesday morning, my girlfriend and I wait for the Orange Line to get to the Red Line so we can make my appointment downtown. And this hippie with no teeth is calling me a Mexican, which I am. I just don’t need a toothless hippie to tell me what I already know. And besides, the hippie could be Mexican también based on his looks. Or he could be Peruvian, or Columbian, or something else, but certainly Latino if not Mexican per se. As I ponder the reason for the hippie’s concern for my ethnic heritage, he adds:
And a Jew, too.
He licks his lips after saying this. If it weren’t for the missing teeth and unkempt hair, the hippie would be somewhat handsome. But this is beside the point. The point is, how does he know that I’m a Jew? I converted four years ago. A point of contention between me and my Roman Catholic girlfriend. But I’m ten years older than Rosario, been married once before. I’ve lived. I’m complicated. And I’m a Jew. The hippie couldn’t know that. My religion, that is, not my complexity.
The hippie doesn’t give up.
A Mexican Jew, he hisses.
I shift, not believing what he is saying.
Or is it a Jewish Mexican, he muses.
I turn to Rosario. She smiles, gently, lovingly, at Bolaño, of course.
Did you hear what he said? I ask her.
Rosario doesn’t look up from her book. I nudge her. She blinks and comes out of her love trance.
What? she says.
Him, that guy, I say, jerking my head in the hippie’s direction.
Rosario looks past me. Then she looks into my eyes and sighs.
No one’s there, she says.
I turn toward the hippie. He smiles and smacks his lips until they gleam like sardines.
I turn back to Rosario who hasn’t moved her eyes.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…
I know no one’s there, I finally say, adding a little laugh to sound believable.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi…
Rosario laughs and looks relieved. She pats my arm and turns a little too quickly back to Bolaño.
I look over at the hippie who still sits on the other bench, staring at me. I now hate him. I turn to stare ahead of me, at the parking lot. Three large crows pick at a greasy Carl’s Jr. bag. One crow, the largest of the three, hits a gold mine of fries and jumps back carrying two in its beak. The other two crows dive deeper into the bag, excited, in a fever now that breakfast has been uncovered. The hippie starts his clicking again. I keep my eyes on the crows. I will not look at the hippie. I will not look at the hippie. I will not look at the hippie.
I should have brought a book to read.
[“Orange Line” first appeared in The Coachella Review.]