A short story by Daniel A. Olivas
Let me tell you a story. It’ll be the truth. Not that gabacho lying claptrap that you’ll get from the front desk. Even the Chicanos who sit up there lie because they want their pinche white boss to smile and pat their brown heads like good little beaners. So let me tell you a story. The story. The truth. Because I have no reason to lie. I have nothing to gain. So listen for a few minutes. And you can judge for yourself. Deal?
First I need to tell you something. I’m not a stupid man. I finished pinche high school. I’ve read shit. Some good books like that one about the
Mississippi River by that dude with two different names
and a big white mustache. Funny
shit. And I remember reading about this
Cubano who tries to catch a big fish and the pinche fish is so big it drags
that poor Cubano’s boat around the ocean for days even when the guy’s hands are
a bleeding mess from the fishing line.
Man, what a pendejo! But I felt
bad for him. You know? Fighting for something he wanted so bad that
he’s willing to bleed for it. Even die
for it. Ever want something so bad? I have.
So this is what happened. What really happened. My wife, Leticia, wants to get this job up in pinche
Yosemite cleaning rooms
at a fancy hotel or lodge or whatever they fucking call it. She sees this ad and she shows it to me. She says she’s sick of Canoga
Park and all the cars and people and
the hot days and she says it’s beautiful up in Yosemite
and shows me pictures from this book she checked out from the library on
Owensmouth. Leticia says she wants our
niño, Nicky, to have more than this and she waves her arms around our small
apartment. And I look over at Nicky who
is crawling around the floor playing with this beat up old yellow Tonka truck
that my Mom gave me when I was three.
And I look around our shitty little apartment and I think about my job
at the Ralphs and this pinche strike we’ve been on for so many weeks I’ve lost
count so we’re mostly living on Leticia’s check from cleaning houses in Encino
and West Hills and Calabasas. So I think
yeah, they must have a Ralphs or Vons or something up in Yosemite
where I can work and we can be around all those trees and animals and clean air
instead of the streets and cars and people everywhere. So I say, okay, let’s do it. Let’s go.
For us. For Nicky.
But this is where it gets tricky, you know? This is where the pinche cops tell you one thing and I’m trying to tell you the truth. Okay? Listen up. Look, there’s this buddy of mine, Lalo, who really is a gabacho but he acts more Mexican than me. His real name is Frank. Grew up in Reseda. Anyway, Leticia applies for that job, fills out a form that she got off the internet at the library and emails it up. And they hire her. Right away. She’s a hard worker with a lot of experience. And she’s no wetback, either. So, we need to get our shit all packed up and pull together our cash. That’s where Lalo comes in. The vato owes me money. Two hundred and fifty. A lot. I call him and tell him we’re fucking moving to nature and he laughs but he says it’s cool. Wish he could come with us. I ask him for the money and he says come on by. No problema.
Leticia had three houses to do that day and her sister’s been kind of sick lately so I have to take Nicky with me to Lalo’s place. It’s not too far, just in
. So I get all of Nicky’s shit to keep him
happy and load him in the backseat of my old Camry. I put on a Kinky CD and Nicky is happily
playing with a plastic, smiling bear he got in a Happy Meal last week. I’m in a real good mood because, you know,
maybe Leticia is on to something. I
think this especially with all this fucking traffic just to drive six miles and
it’s goddamn hot, almost a hundred and it’s not even lunch time. But life is going to get better and I’ll be
getting my money real soon. Winnetka
I pull up to Lalo’s apartment and I know I’ll be gone for only a minute so I pat Nicky on his head and say, mijo, I’ll be right back. He smiles and I lock the car and run up to Lalo’s door. Well, man, he answers it and he’s all fucked up. I could see it. His eyes are narrow little slits and, shit, he’s been crying, too. I say, dude, whattup? And he starts to blubber like a goddamn woman and he says his life is over. I say I need my money and he says, vato, come in for a second and talk. I look over to Nicky who is happy and I turn back to Lalo and say, only for a minute.
Now you have to believe me on this. He gives me a Coors and I take it just to be friendly and besides it was fucking hot and he has no air conditioning in that place. I didn’t do no hard drugs like the cops say. I don’t do that shit. Not since Nicky was born. Anyway, Lalo is crying over some pinche bitch and I can’t believe it but I listen. He’s my friend. I finish the beer and have another. Lalo is doing better. He lights up a little weed and offers me some. I only take one or two hits. No more. And Lalo is doing way better now and he lets out his famous hyena laugh at everything I say so I know he’s going to be okay. He says thanks and that he has my money and wants to get it for me. So Lalo stands up and walks to his bedroom. That’s when I hear it: a siren, people yelling, glass breaking. I jump up and look out the window. There’s this crowd around my car and police lights are flashing and I see an ambulance. I yell something, I don’t know what, and run out. I push through the people and start screaming and I know something’s happened to Nicky and I want to throw up.
Dude, give me a second. Wait. Okay? I’m all right. Just give me a second. Okay. I’m okay. I just want to tell you that I am a good father. I mean, I was. I wanted a better future for Nicky. Like that Cubano fisherman in that book. I wanted it so bad I would’ve died for it. I don’t know how I could forget about my niño in that hot car. My little, little boy. But I didn’t do it on purpose. And I wasn’t reckless or whatever the cops are calling it. I just forgot. That’s all. They took Nicky to the hospital but it was too late. And Leticia blames me. She took the car and went up to
Yosemite. Said she
couldn’t stay around here. Made her
think of Nicky. Doesn’t care what
happens at my trial. So, like I said, I
have nothing left to lose, see? I have
no reason to lie to you. Right? No reason at all. So you have to believe me.
[“Let Me Tell You a Story” first appeared in the Houston Literary Review and is featured in Anywhere But L.A.: Stories (Bilingual Press.]