The Baked Potato, Part One: The Windst-r

This is a short story written in blog form. I have not lent my hand to short story writing in a long time, and I have never tried to write one as a blog. There will have to be some revising made as I go through the process. Kim gave me an idea, and it’s churning around in my head, churning enough to make butter. I think it’s one of those that can keep me going to the finish. It shouldn’t take me away from Malvada for too long, and I can justify it by saying that any creation is good creation. Let’s see how it turns out. It should be fun.

Without further ado: The Baked Potato

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Miguel learned to read English from copies of The Brownsville Herald his father brought with him when he returned to their home in Matamoros every morning, another pedestrian crossing from Texas to Mexico on the New Bridge from his position as a night janitor at the newspaper. Miguel especially liked the comic-strips, and of these, Peanuts and Garfield were his favorites. So it was that the evocative phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” stuck with him for his entire life.

Tonight it was true. They sat, the whole family together, in a dark parking lot in the beige Ford minivan with the “a” missing from Windstar, the dent in the left rear bumper, and the license plate that said Tamaulipas, Mexico, incongruous identification in Sacramento, California. There was Miguel, his wife Cristina, their daughter Laura, their son Raul, and the baby in the car seat. There was only one more diaper for the baby. Miguel knew they had towels in amongst the personal belongings filling the back of the Windst-r. Cristina had insisted they bring a whole stack of towels, knowing they would come in handy. When Miguel argued that, between the towels and Raul’s toys, they were taking up too much space with things they could buy in their new home, Cristina refused to budge, giving him one of her famous scathing, dark-eyed looks at the thought that he would make his son leave his friends and not even allow him the comfort of his Transformers.

Sitting in the driver’s seat, Miguel smelled the baby’s uncleanliness in his nose and tried to think whether it would be better to use the last diaper or the towels. Finding a laundromat at night-the digital clock on the Windst-r’s dashboard said 9:12-was not a possibility. In the United States, even finding a dumpster had proven difficult. The generic trash bags they had filled with the other diapers, the plastic refuse of peanut butter crackers and Lunchables and the rest of the awful food they had been surviving on for the past three days, had begun to press up against the back seats and now even stretched out past the headrests into the small spaces his children had become accustomed to having as their own. Miguel worried that the thin bags might break and make the minivan even more acidic than it already was, make the tears run from the corners of Cristina’s exhausted dark-circled eyes, make the children begin to fight again. Anything that caused upset voices to rise inside the tiny world of the Windst-r had the potential to send all of them over the edge. Miguel knew the portable toilet the rest of them used for relief while holding a sheet up for privacy was full too.

There was nothing Miguel could do about the trash bags, the diapers, or the port-a-jane. The climate had turned to winter as they drove North. Outside the air was cold enough to bite, and Miguel’s primary goal was to keep as much warmth inside the Windst-r as he could, no matter how bad it smelled, because they had less than a quarter tank of gas and he couldn’t keep the engine running all night. Miguel turned now and asked Laura to find the towels. They could use them as blankets. He noticed that outside the minivan it had begun to snow. The big, wet flakes splatted on the windows, occupying Raul for a moment. The boy looked at the spots where the snowflakes landed, haloed by the dim yellow lights of the parking lot, then reached a chubby finger out to touch one, as though trying to capture the crystal shape that splatted down from the sky. The glass was too cold and Raul pulled his finger back. Miguel realized that his son had never seen snow before. Beside him Cristina slept, or pretended to sleep, and Miguel did not want to disturb her.

They had planned the journey for over a year. It began one afternoon in a garage just down the street from their home in Matamoros, where Miguel and his brother Carlos were being paid to make a garage door opener. Carlos took bicycle sprockets and 1-3/4 amp motors from old clothes dryers at the junkyard. Miguel welded the two pieces together and wired them to a three-position switch to change the polarity and the direction of the motor. Miguel had just finished oiling the chain on the “new” automatic garage door when Carlos pulled a plastic bag out of his pocket and showed it to his brother.

Miguel asked, “What is that?”

Carlos looked around the garage to make sure they were alone, grinned, and shuffled his feet. “Dinero,” he replied. Miguel peered at his brother as though Carlos was crazy. “Mucho dinero,” Carlos insisted, “Way better than making garage doors open and close.”

Miguel insisted. “What is it?” He needed to hear Carlos say the words, so he could chastise him. Carlos had always been the more impulsive of the brothers. He was better at finding ways to make money, and with three children Miguel was grateful to their uncle for any extra, legal income, but Miguel also knew that Carlos was impulsive, and incredibly stupid.

“Alquintran negro,” Carlos hissed, pushing the plastic package into Miguel’s hands.

Miguel felt the gummy, oily outside, the contents like sand, and threw the packet onto the garage floor. That evening he told Cristina.

 

 

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