Now and Then

By Francine Prose

 

That first year in San Jacinto, Oliver memorized the sound of the bells and which churches they belonged to, so when the clock struck midnight on their first New Year’s Eve, Ollie said, Listen! That ping-ping-ping is Santa Rosalia, that funereal boom is San Ildefonso, that giddy ripple down the scales is San Bernardino. The city had fifty churches, and Oliver knew them all. Their new expat amigos were impressed that Ollie had so rapidly learned something they didn’t know, though they’d lived in San Jacinto absolutely forever. Someone asked Oliver if he was a musician as well as a chef, and he’d said no, he played the spoons.

That night, when they got home, Warren poured one last terrifying shot of mezcal and told Oliver that frankly no one gave a raton’s ass about the bells, they’d all been dying to sneak off and kiss someone else’s wife or husband or make out with someone’s dog, instead of which they’d had to listen to Ollie show off, blabbing about the fucking bells for twenty brain-poaching minutes. The only reason they’d humored him was because it gave them another excuse to compete about how long they’d lived in San Jacinto. Sure enough, when Ollie thought back on the evening, the expressions on the guests’ faces morphed from amusement to ennui, a transformation so shocking that he began to weep with toddler-like howls of confusion. Warren said he was sorry, he loved Oliver. Swearing off the mezcal would be his New Year’s resolution. They’d had make-up sex on the patio and gone for a swim in the pool.

Oliver knows that few people might think this memory sweet, but this morning, the sweetness of it is so painful it makes his teeth ache, and it’s all he can do not to weep again in front of the Stevens family, four disgruntled tourists who have come to learn, from Ollie, the secrets of Mayan cooking. Awkwardly grouped in the kitchen, all five, Ollie included, are wishing they had canceled. Another party of four called in sick this morning, and when Ollie makes the mistake of mentioning this to the Stevenses, they look as if they’ve been tricked, like teenagers just figuring out they’ve been ditched by the cooler kids. Oliver can read Mrs. Stevens’s mind: the cooking class is expensive and, in the weeks since it seemed like a fun idea and she’d emailed their reservation, she’d lost all desire to be initiated into the mysteries of cochinita pibil.

Ollie has been offering his cooking classes, twice weekly, for 10 years, long enough so that from the moment Luz opens the door and ushers the students into the kitchen, Oliver can tell how the class will go. The reviews on Oliver’s website testify to how many visitors have been thrilled by his tiled kitchen and copper cookware, by the eight-burner Viking efficiently co-existing with the fire pit and the clay oven. They praise Chef Oliver’s ability to make them feel at home and his amazing knowledge of Yucatecan culture. His students applaud the patience with which he teaches them how to wrap the meat in banana leaves tied with string, how he makes it seem like a game when the bulging packets fall apart or explode. Everyone admires his stately colonial house − a former governor’s mansion − with its jungly courtyard garden and its tiled pool, and the reticent loveliness of the chef’s Mayan helpers, who seem more like family members, and who smile forgivingly at the ragged ugliness of the students’ handmade tortillas. No one fails to marvel at the deliciousness of the meal prepared, under Ollie’s tutelage, by the students themselves, the feasts miraculously alchemized from such unpromising, leaden beginnings.

Or almost no one. Inevitably a few arrive with their hearts hardened and their minds made up, with their own ideas about Mexico, students who seem to have expected someone ... someone what? Someone less American. Less middle-aged. More confident. Less gay. Less ferret-like. More showbiz. More or less of whatever they imagine Oliver to be. Their lips move in synch with his when he pronounces the names of the chilies, and their eyes dim when he explains how the conquistadors adapted or resisted the indigenous diet. These are often the students who gaze with undisguised pity at Luz and Salvador, as if they are Ollie’s indentured slaves instead of his well-paid employees.

Today, four such students scan Ollie’s beloved home as if in search of escape routes and emergency exits. Jim and Dana Stevens and their daughter, Harper, are gringos from the Chicago suburbs, but the son-in-law, Alejandro, is Mexican, or Mexican-American. His faint accent sounds, to Ollie, more moneyed Dallas than Spanish. Harper and Alejandro have not been married long. Both, especially Alejandro, with his glossy playboy earnestness, remind Ollie of all those kids “into” computers and “tech,” those children who, chattering their incomprehensible pidgin of circuitry and digits, rose up from nowhere and conquered the world just before he and Warren left it. Now when he and Warren talk about their wise decision to leave the States, they speak of adventure and the good life, and, like the friends they have made, a prescient comparative bang-for-the-buck real estate savvy. What Oliver has never said is that he’d begun to feel as if he and Warren, a published but not hugely successful author of children’s books, were standing on a pier, watching a boatload of Harpers and Alejandros sail into the future without them. The most sensible, dignified route for them to take suggested literal travel in the opposite direction.

 

IT'S A PERFECT San Jacinto day, but the Stevenses have brought inside the sort of inclement weather that swirls around couples who have argued on the way to a party. Oliver wishes he knew more about the Mayan calendar! If only one could calculate its five unlucky days and, forewarned, clear one’s schedule of ill-starred engagements like this one.

Oliver tracks the disturbance to Harper, who appears to be smoldering in a pre-eruptive volcanic rage. Sparks rain down on her parents, and a few, having nowhere else to land, shower lightly on Ollie. At first Ollie thinks the problem might have to do with the marriage. Often he has noticed a particular tension in the eyes of women whose husbands are prettier than they are. Harper too might be pretty but for the uncannily pink reflectiveness of her taut immobile face. Botox is one of the many new developments in American life that Oliver has followed with avid interest but from a safe remove. La Cochinita, the little pig, is the secret name he gives Harper, preemptively, to defend himself, if only in his thoughts, just in case she decides to focus her fury on him. Mostly, Ollie loves his work, but one drawback is the necessity of submitting, like Saint Sebastian, to the vague fumings and barbed insults of the rare malcontent. Fortunately or not, 20 years with Warren have taught him that meanness is rarely as personal as one might suppose. All manner of buried griefs, frustrations and mortal fears are more likely to fuel an insult than any real flaw or mistake on the part of the person being insulted.

By now most of his students would be exclaiming over the kitchen, but for the Stevenses it is just a backdrop for the drama they have been trapped into enacting. By now the kitchen’s many aesthetic and ingenious features would have provided a good 10 minutes of de-icing conversation. Without that there is only ice, and to break it Ollie asks the Stevenses if they have been enjoying their stay in San Jacinto.

Jim says, “Beautiful city! But next time we’re bringing ear plugs.”

Dana says, “We’ve been here five days, and my poor husband hasn’t slept a wink. Those darn bells ring every fifteen minutes right outside our window.”

In their email, they’d mentioned the hotel. El Presidente, Ollie recalls. The bells of Santa Teresa. He too heard them last night as he unwillingly crossed and recrossed the border between wakefulness and sleep, a perilous zone in which the bells sang to him of the martyrdom of the saints whose churches they crown, the burnings and mutilations, the gouged-out eyes and lopped-off breasts, the screams that lasted for days. And yet he couldn’t help feeling that, if he listened closely enough, the bells might reveal where Warren was, in the shadow of which ornate or simple church, which steeple, which tolling belfry.

Warren didn’t come home last night. Of course this has happened before, for nights at a time, once for almost two weeks. Some years have been worse than others. Without discussing it, they have agreed never to discuss it. For awhile, Ollie hoped that the explanation might be something besides the obvious, but that hope died when the awful Daphne, who does all the expat gardens, reported having seen Warren at Pedro’s with a movie-star handsome local boy. That it was Pedro’s, where the waiters wear sombreros and bandoliers and which the expats avoid, told Ollie all he wanted to know about the age and social class of Warren’s new friend. Always these friendships have ended, sending Warren home in severe but unspoken need of Ollie’s love and consolation, and Warren has rewarded Ollie with flashes of the playfulness that Ollie first fell in love with, and of the quirky endearing charm that, before he met Ollie, Warren had saved for the books he wrote and illustrated about dinosaurs and owls.

Last night was exceptionally trying, which is why Oliver has been thinking longingly of that first year when he learned the names of the bells, that first year when Warren had not yet begun taking his nocturnal holidays from Ollie.

“Is this your first trip to Mexico?” Oliver asks Jim Stevens.

Harper says, “Alejandro’s family comes from the DF, so we’ve spent a lot of time here. But this is the first for Mom and Dad.” So much is being communicated in this deceptively simple response that Oliver only has time to decode the surface layer of territorial defensiveness, and aggression. Alejandro has inherited, and Harper has married into, something more authentic than Ollie’s bogus acquired knowledge of the country he has invaded and colonized.

“Well!” Ollie says. “I’m sure you’ll love San Jacinto! Here we say that the bells in the main cathedral were installed in a single night, by a crew of angels.”

Jim and Dana smile amiably. Harper glances at Alejandro, who avoids her eyes as if he senses that they are conveying a searing critique of the conversation.

Unsatisfied, Harper asks Oliver, “Who is we, exactly?”

“The people who live here, dear,” Dana says, and now Harper’s panicky eye-roll, directed at her husband, deciphers yet another encrypted level of this kitchen drama. Harper is petrified that her parents will, with every word, expose themselves to her husband as the ugliest of the ugly gringos from El Norte. Oliver senses that Alejandro is far less judgmental than she fears. He loves his wife, and these well-meaning Midwesterners are her family. His family now. But Harper cannot see this. Her love for him has convinced her that a position must be taken, and for now her position is that her parents − and by extension Ollie, who was her mother’s idea − are only slightly removed from the wicked captains of industry who exploit the workers in the maquiladoras along the border.

“Let’s go out on the patio,” says Oliver, hoping that the bitter orange trees and the spectacular bougainvillea may excite these jaded souls who have failed to be aroused by his kitchen. But the minute they step outside, Ollie realizes his mistake. Today is some sort of school holiday, and Luz and Salvador have brought along their eight-year-old daughter Carmela. Luz has put Carmela to work shredding turkey for the panuchos. When the Stevenses see the girl, even Alejandro does a double take, and Harper, having caught Ollie red-handed in the act of using child labor to run his sordid business, wheels on him with a righteous, accusatory glare. Oliver introduces the students to his staff, and explains that Carmela is the star of her class at the Ursuline school. Sadly, there is no graceful or even decent way to mention that Ollie pays the modest but, for Carmela’s parents, prohibitive school tuition.

When Harper compliments Luz and Salvador, in Spanish, on the beauty of their daughter, Ollie watches their suspicion warring with politeness. Predictably, politeness triumphs, and when they both say thank you, Harper, emboldened, asks Carmela if she’s enjoying her day off. The child nods shyly, which only convinces Harper that Ollie has taught the child to lie about his abusive labor practices.

Luz is making tortillas by hand, and when Oliver asks the Stevenses if they’d like her to show them how, they say no, no thank you, they’re perfectly happy watching. Ollie catches Dana warily regarding the tortilla, wondering if they will be required to eat something that has been so lengthily patted into existence by a Mexican person, or, to be fair, by anyone not wearing gloves. As Harper reads her mother’s face with ferocious daughterly intuition, Dana catches her daughter’s look, and their wordless back and forth is so volatile and fraught that Luz and Salvador have to try hard not to stare.

 

OLIVER IS ACUTELY AWARE of how slowly time is passing, as he was all last night. Having learned to tell time by the bells, he’d endured whole lifetimes in the quarter hour between San Francisco and Santa Clara. Now, without the tortilla-making, which many students find to be the highlight of the class, there will be thirty minutes more to fill with demonstrations and fun facts.

Well, one thing to be said for time is that somehow one gets through it! A lunch will be cooked, eaten or not. The students will thank him or not, and leave. The lesson will come to an end, he hopes, without humiliation and disaster. The house will return to order and calm, Luz and Salvador will take Carmela home. At some point during siesta, Warren will return, blow a kiss at Ollie and rush to shower off the scent of someone else’s hair tonic or cologne.

It’s almost reason for optimism! As Ollie herds his recalcitrant flock back into the kitchen, Harper nearly trips on a planter as she turns and gapes, with stagy horror, at Luz and Salvador following them with heavy silver trays of ingredients. Alejandro hardly notices, and only now it strikes Oliver that he has grown up with servants. Either Harper doesn’t know, or has forgotten, so fixated is she on her vision of Ollie’s big fat gringo thumb squeezing the last gasps of life from those fragile indigenous bodies. Ollie tells the Stevenses to spread themselves out along the granite counter at which, he reminds himself, many people have delighted in learning how to recreate authentic Yucatecan delicacies in their own home kitchens.

As always, he begins his speech about Yucatecan food being a prototype of what today we call “fusion cuisine.” Jim Stevens seems to have drifted off, and it occurs to Ollie that Dad may have found a way to catch up on sleep, standing on his feet.  Dana and Alejandro fake interest, while Harper, the master communicator, somehow makes it clear that she would cheerfully choose evisceration at the hands of a Mayan priest over uttering, in this lifetime, a phrase like fusion cuisine. Ollie’s no-fail little joke − Question: What was Spain’s most useful export to the New World. Answer: The Pig − fails to elicit a twitch. If this were stand-up comedy, Oliver would be bombing, his delivery stiffened and his timing thrown off, his amusing remarks rebounding from the hard rubbery surface of his unreceptive audience.

Harper says, “I think it’s a fair trade, don’t you? Lard and bacon in return for syphilis, genocide, and the wholesale destruction of entire civilizations.”

“Dear!” Dana says. “Don’t be harsh!” Alejandro’s slight nod at his wife seconds his mother-in-law’s brief but heartfelt plea for civility and patience.

Oliver finds himself grinning moronically, as if Harper has told a joke, funnier than his. How gratifying it would be to order them out of his house, to sit down and write them a refund check for their pitiful four hundred dollars, regardless of how far he knows that money will go in San Jacinto. But the smallest self-indulgence − no, self-protection − can come around and bite you. The story goes up on some travel website, and prospective students think twice before PayPaling their hard-earned dollars to a small-time cooking teacher who carries on like a famous temperamental chef.

He runs through the list of ingredients, holds up blocks of red and black spice paste. He points out the display of chilies, in attractive handicraft baskets. No one wants to guess at the scale on which their hotness is rated, no one perks up at the mention of Wilbur Scoville, the inventor of the Scoville units for measuring spiciness. Imagine inventing such a thing! No one wants to imagine, nor does anyone mime fear and trembling when he holds up the near-lethal habanero pepper. “Muy picoso, as we say.” Ollie is excruciatingly conscious of how often he says “we.” No one giggles when Oliver remarks that Mexican cooks learn early not to rub their eyes, and gentlemen, please remember to wash your hands before you go the john. He decides not to mention the other course he offers, the guided tour of San Jacinto’s marvelous central mercato, where the students shop for the food they cook and eat together. A trip to the market with Harper? Something scandalous would happen, gossip would spread, he could never go back there again. He skips over the translations of the more colorful names of dishes. Stuffed sandals, Moors and Christians, mermaid soup, nose of the dog.

Thankfully, the hands-on segment is somewhat less traumatic. Chopping squash and cilantro and wrapping the pork in banana leaves gives the Stevenses something to focus on besides their private rancors and abraded sensitivities. Alejandro and Harper work side by side with the easy camaraderie, the commodifiable sexiness of an attractive young couple accustomed to cooking together. Dana moves like someone who, after 40 years in the kitchen, is not about to be stumped by anything new. Her husband’s goofy ham-handedness provides the occasion for a few good-humored laughs at Dad, giggles which almost draw mother and daughter closer until Harper remembers to stop laughing. Santo Domingo is striking the hour. Could it really be noon already? Ollie loves that about cooking, the harmonious marriage of total abstraction and total concentration, the way it makes time pass so fluidly and gracefully that suddenly, bing! an hour is gone, and your delicious lunch is ready.

 

THE PIG IS IN the fire pit, the panuchos stuffed with beans, the soup bubbling on the stove.  Oliver shows the family into the dining room where he tells them they can relax and wait until lunch is ready. He braces himself for Harper’s response to the mural that bands the walls, a scene from Spanish colonial life, set on this very street, when the house was the governor’s mansion, presiding over a neighborhood populated by colorfully dressed indigenous people, Spanish grandees in black, and ladies with parasols and long white dresses, like brides. Harper looks at the mural and snorts. Ollie will not lower himself to explain that Warren painted the walls, his gift to Oliver in celebration of their new old house, their new reinvented life.

Ollie tells them the food will be ready in an hour, and points to the sideboard where Luz has planted beer and sodas in tubs of ice. Dana goggles at Ollie, struggling with a question that wins. “Is the beer ... included in the fee?”

“Si claro,” says Ollie indignantly. Why should this insult him as much as anything Harper has said? Is that this woman’s image of him, a grubby expat so hungry he’s planning to bill his students for a few extra pesos. A big mistake on Dana’s part, her question sets her daughter off again, though oddly, her rage at her mother is now in defense of Ollie. But it’s only the anger itself and not its cause that matters. Harper leans on her elbows and beams a dark look at Dana, settling back in her chair only after Alejandro touches her arm.

Ollie says he’ll check on them later, he needs to go stir the soup and make sure the cochinita packets are buried exactly right. After awhile, he hears voices and turns to see that Harper and Alejandro have gone out to the patio and pulled up chairs and are talking to the staff. It’s a protest of sorts, against Oliver’s suggestion that they “relax” in the dining room, and beyond that a rebellion in which they are taking Mexicans’ side against their gringo oppressor. They are treating the workers like human beings instead of invisible shadows existing only to do their master’s bidding. But doesn’t it occur to them that Luz and Salvador might not think it was wise to side with them in this mini-revolution against their employer? Ollie would never scold his staff, but this young couple are too certain in their presumptions to bother plumbing the depths of his loyalty and fondness. And doesn’t it occur to them that in a few hours they will be gone, and life here will continue as if they never existed?

Though she asks boring questions − how long have they worked here, do they have other children, how does Carmela like school − Harper seems warmer and more vibrant than she has been all morning. For the first time Ollie glimpses the energy and spirit that must have attracted Alejandro. But he can hardly bear to observe the forced good manners of his staff, the courtesy that mirrors his own and for the identical reason: livelihoods may be at stake. Who is the oppressor now? Ollie would like to ask.

On his way back to the dining room, he pauses in the doorway. Dana and Jim sit across from each other in profound uninflected silence. Ollie thinks of his last visit home, when his parents were alive. He’d stood like this in the doorway of their Buffalo house and thought, I have absolutely no idea who these people are. The silence was what baffled him. Was it happy or sad or resigned? Were they revisiting some past joy or dreading their own, or the other’s, death? The silence was a new trick his parents had learned in his absence. Now a similar silence overtakes Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, separating or cushioning them, Oliver cannot tell. Fleeing to the kitchen, he pretends to be busy, as if anyone cared. Something about that self-consciousness, that sense of being watched and judged and found wanting, reminds him of being with Warren, whom he has almost forgotten in his anxiety over these sullen students.

Ollie is grateful for the respite from his worry about Warren, just as he is for the fact that Warren isn’t home while Ollie struggles with this unusually challenging class. Warren scrupulously stays out of sight when Oliver’s school is in session, and yet he has an uncanny sense for what sort of people have been in his house. The few times when things have gone badly − that woman who threw an inconsolable fit when she burned her tongue on the soup − Warren has either blamed or sympathized with Ollie, depending on whether his current mood was restlessness or contrition.

With a long-handled pair of tongs, Ollie removes a banana-leaf packet from the pit, cuts the string, and fills the kitchen with fragrant delectable vapors. He summons Harper and Alejandro, who return obediently to the table. Luz and Salvador carry in bowls of soup, and Ollie reminds his students to add lime and more cilantro.

“Fabulous!” says Harper, as her husband and mother attack their bowls like demonic soup-eating robots.

Jim says, “I can’t believe I cooked this!” and everyone smiles at gaga old Dad taking credit for something he hardly knew was occurring.

Dana invites Ollie to join them, but he says, “I generally don’t ...” even though he generally does. Instead he returns to the kitchen, thinking, as he goes, that really, you can’t say enough for the healing power of food. The power of food in general, and delicious food in particular. A prayer from childhood returns to him. All will be well, and all will be well, all manner of things will be well. Or is it a line from a poem? An early bond with Warren was that both were readers. Maybe if they read more now, they would quarrel less.

He joins Luz and Salvador and Carmela, who are eating panuchos and listening for the silence of the spoons that signals more soup should be offered, or else it’s time for the pork. Instead they hear raised voices, and Dana rushes past them, creating a buzzing or whirring disturbance, like when a bird or bat or giant moth is trapped inside the house.

If Oliver was given a chance to redo the house renovation, the one thing he would change is the proximity of the washroom to the table where the staff works and eats. Some students find it embarrassing, in which case the helpers discreetly vanish until the guest reappears from the bano. But today Luz and Salvador, Ollie and even little Carmela remain, transfixed by the noisy racking sobs from behind the locked bathroom door.

A  few minutes later Harper appears and knocks.

“Mom?” she whispers.

“Go away!” yells Dana.

“Mom, come out,” Harper begs. For someone has who has monitored every shrug and tic and blink, Harper seems remarkably oblivious to how closely this intimate exchange is being observed by strangers. Ollie is never sure how much English his staff understands, and so he cannot guess what they are making of these crazy gringos who have paid a fortune to lock themselves in the toilet and cry while the comida gets cold.

“Please come out,” Harper says.

After a silence, Dana says, through the wall, “I didn’t do this to hurt you. I didn’t sign us up for this stupid class to make Alejandro feel bad. I thought it would be fun.”

“We know that, Mom,” says Harper. “Alejandro doesn’t feel bad. But he says he’ll never speak to me again if I don’t apologize and be nice to you and persuade you to come back to the table.”

The doorknob turns, and Dana appears, tear-streaked and puffy, but grinning. Harper puts her arm around her mother’s thin shoulders and gently leads her back toward the dining room. Ollie hadn’t noticed how much taller the daughter is.

Ollie and Luz and Salvador dish out plates of pork, but when they bring them out, they are surprised to see the Stevens family hustling toward the front door. Thanking Ollie, they wave aside the pork, as if he is offering them poison, and they seem appalled when he asks if they want to take the poison back to their hotel.

After they leave, Ollie and his helpers

gaze at one another, mute with gratitude and shock, like the stunned survivors of an earthquake or flood. What will they do with the food? Luz believes that eating rich party food on weekdays causes influenza, especially in children. But now Oliver suggests that they must have a neighbor for whom hunger is more of a danger than the health risks of eating pork on Tuesday. Together they clean the kitchen and straighten up the house. Luz, Salvador, and Carmela leave, and Oliver is finally alone.

He goes into his bedroom, turns on the fan, and lies down. He thinks of Harper’s remark about trading syphilis for bacon, and of his own clownish smile in response, and he hears himself groan aloud with fury and mortification. He gets up, takes a bootleg Xanax, and begins to drift.

In the last of many troubling dreams, the only one he remembers, Ollie is a boy again, back in the chilly Buffalo house, which his father is dismantling, brick by brick, beam by beam. He needs to warn his father. He tells him, “Wait! You may need the roof,” and his father says, “I won’t.”

Oliver wakes to the noise he has learned to hear in his sleep: Warren’s key in the lock. Night must have stolen into the house when Ollie was unconscious. He gropes through the dark to find Warren in the front hall, lit only by the street lamp and a sliver of moon through the transom. The moonlight is uncharacteristically cruel, deepening the creases in Warren’s forehead and alongside his mouth. How tired he looks, thinks Ollie, and how passionately Ollie loves him. He longs to cherish Warren, to protect him from whatever he has been seeking, perhaps in some part of the city which Ollie knows only through the bells of the saint entrusted with transmitting the neighborhood’s urgent, hopeless prayers to God.

“Come in, amor,” says Oliver, glad to be standing outside the circle of light so that Warren cannot observe his happiness and relief, nor can he see Ollie blushing at the absurd, reflexive hospitality of his inviting Warren into his own home.

“I live here,” Warren says gruffly.

He steps aside, and Oliver sees that he’s not alone. The light bounces tiny stars off the eyes of a beautiful Mexican boy, surely no older than twenty. Ollie thinks of a story he read long ago about a nervous traveler in a foreign country who turns a corner and finds himself surrounded by ragged children staring at him from the shadows. All he can see in the dark are the children’s eyes. “Like feral kittens” is the phrase that has stuck in Ollie’s mind. In the story, the traveler suddenly realizes that he cannot tell the difference, he no longer knows if there is a difference, between suffering and menace, between poverty and danger. Ollie has never felt like that, all these years in San Jacinto. But now for the first time he understands the doomed traveler’s sense of having come to the wrong city and wandered down the wrong alley.

Outside bells are ringing. Santa Rita, San Isidro. Oliver smells alcohol, and beneath it, something smoky. Cigarettes and incense. Brimstone, Ollie thinks.

“Oliver, meet Miguelo.” Warren’s voice is furry, and he speaks as if each word is being painstakingly chosen from a long list of alternate, probably better words. “Miguelito is half Lebanese.”

“I’m not half anything,” Ollie says. “Buenas tardes, Miguel. Quieres comer? Are you hungry, Warren?”

Ollie feels heavy and stupid with sleep. Soon it will be morning, and he will awake to the melodious birdsong of Luz and Salvador’s conversation, and the gentle, percussive slap and pat of their palms against the tortillas. There are just those few hours to get through, a short time between now and then. There is nothing to do but get through the time, and no way else to get through it.

This and other stories can be found in the current issue of Artenol. Order yours today.

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