THE SALSERO

JOSHUA ALAN DICK

“You’ll be nothing there. A piece of mierda. This big—” Luis’s father squishes two fingers together to show his son how big he will be in los Estados Unidos. “You’ll work until your hands bleed. Until your corazón bleeds. Until you’re so tired you can’t walk. But you’ll make three, four, five times as much as you can here. Stick it out, hijo, and you can save up some real lana.”

Luis follows in the footsteps of his father, of his uncles, of half the men in the state of Jalisco. He sneaks across the border to find work in Los Angeles, spending eight thousand pesos to be stuffed into a semitrailer filled with immigrants and poultry. He plans to save enough money to buy a house in Mexico, then return to Guadalajara in a year or two, marry his novia, Rosalinda, and raise their children.

When Luis arrives in Boyle Heights, L.A., he moves in with an uncle, Paco, who lives in a squalid studio apartment with a dirty bathroom and a tiny kitchenette. Luis sleeps on a couch in the same room with his uncle, who sleeps on a mattress. Every few months Paco sends a little money back to his wife and two daughters in Monterrey. Paco works construction and comes home in the evenings reeking of body odor, fresh cement, and tar. He spends most of his paychecks on tequila and Negra Modelo. He gets drunk and hollers at the TV as he watches his Mexican soccer games on Univision. Luis vows that he will never waste his money and his time like Paco.

After what seems like forever—three months, two weeks, and six days—Luis finds a job at the food court on the Santa Monica Promenade, sweeping and mopping the first and second floor patios every morning, and setting out tables, chairs, and umbrellas. The men’s bathroom is cleaned and restocked five times a day, garbage bins changed nine or ten. Most of Luis’s time is spent clearing tables: McDonalds cups, Baja Bud wrappers, Wolfgang Puck silverware, half-eaten Subway sandwiches. Working eleven and twelve hour days, making six bucks an hour—cash, under the table—he manages to save a few thousand dollars. He stashes the twenties inside a suitcase behind the couch where Paco sits and watches his soccer games at night, cursing and spilling beer, then stumbling over to his mattress as Luis collapses on the couch.

* * *

Luis meets Ruben about eight months later. Ruben is a waiter at Yankee Doodles. Luis is wiping down tables in the McDonald’s patio when he sees Ruben devouring a burger. Ruben calls him over, introduces himself, and tells Luis about his job and his green card.

“Got my own place in Korea Town,” Ruben brags. “Make good tips at Yankee. But I make a lot more at the casinos. Texas Hold ‘em. I hit up Indian Wells every weekend.” He invites Luis to go with him some time.

Luis tells Ruben he is saving money to buy a house in Mexico for his novia, Rosalinda.

Ruben laughs. “Another pinche Mexicano saving up to buy his first piece-of-shit casita south of the border!”

Pues—”

“Listen,” Ruben says, “I’m headed to the Monsoon Café tonight, this nightclub. Let’s go.”

Luis thinks about Rosalinda and their future in Mexico, about all the money he’s saved by not going out. “I can’t,” he tells Ruben. “But thank you for the invitation.”

Ruben grabs a napkin, wipes his mouth, and takes another huge bite. “Hermano,” he says. “You need to get out. Meet some chulas. You’re working too hard. Come on, I’ll pay your cover. I’ll even pick you up. There’s a salsa band playing tonight.”

A salsa band. Luis isn’t good at much, but he can dance. His father had swept his mother off her feet dancing mambo the night they met and Luis and his brothers and sisters grew up listening to cumbia on their parents’ transistor radio. He was learning merengue by ten, had mastered cumbia and salsa by twelve. Luis is skinny and not very tall, his brown eyes set widely apart; he isn’t attractive like Ruben, who is handsome and well-built. But Luis can dance.


They arrive at the nightclub around ten. Luis follows Ruben past sharp-dressed Los Angelinos eating battered seafood. The restaurant is filled with sweet and sour smells. They climb some stairs and wait in a short line for the back room where the salsa event is being held. Luis wears a black dress shirt Paco lent him, his darkest blue jeans, and a scuffed pair of boots. In his white-collared shirt, baggy black jeans, and tattoos, Ruben looks like a famous rapper.

When they enter the back room the place is packed. The Puerto Rican salsa slamming out from speakers is deafening. The band is a nine-man squadron: trombones, piano, bass, congas, and three singers with rhythm instruments in hand. All around the band, salseros dance and spin in bright dresses, dark suits, shiny shoes. The ceiling is decorated with eastern tapestries. A chandelier hangs from the center. People walk around the dance floor with glasses of wine, fruity drinks, and Coronas. A dozen scents of aftershave and perfume mingle as they do outside the department stores Luis passes on the Promenade, but could never afford to shop in. Ruben stops in front of the bar, shakes hands with other spruced up guys. He orders a couple of Coronas, and hands one to Luis.

Luis takes his wallet out, shouts through all the noise, “Cuánto?

“Don’t worry about it,” Ruben says, slapping Luis on the back. He lifts his Corona. They toast. Then Ruben grabs a girl and is swallowed up on the dance floor.

A few minutes later, Ruben reappears with the pretty Mexican girl he’s been dancing with. “Luis, échale!”

She and Luis squeeze through the crowd until they arrive at a spot close to the band. Luis leads her around in cross body leads, double turns, hammerlocks. He makes the girl look like a spinning flower in her pastel dress, and it is all she can do to follow his lead. He notices the smile on her face, other women who can’t take their eyes off him, and men who seem impressed.

Toward the end of the night, a young woman wearing black spandex tights, a small turquoise T-shirt tied at the waist, and black highheeled dance shoes crosses the floor and holds out her hand.

As they dance, Luis gazes at her pale features, her light blue eyes, her blond ponytail that keeps brushing his face.

She asks what Luis does for a living. He tells her he’s a waiter at Yankee Doodles.

“You’re the best dancer here,” she says, as the band finishes their set and the crowd applauds.

They walk over to the bar together.

“I buy you a drink?” Luis asks.

“Sure.”

Luis squeezes between a couple other Latinos, stands in front of the bar, and waits for the bartender’s attention.

“A margarita,” she says into his ear.

He orders her margarita and a Pacifico for himself.

She tells Luis her name is Stephanie.

“Luis,” he says. “Mucho gusto.”

Mucho gusto.”

He asks if she speaks Spanish.

“I minored in it when I got my BA. I’m studying business at USC now. Te gusta Santa Monica?

“Claro que sí.”

They go back and forth between Spanish and English. Luis notices she uses the word like the way Mexicans use the word este—as a crutch. When he points this out they both laugh.

“You are, like, a very nice dancer,” he tells her.

“Well, este, I took ballet lessons when I was younger. I had this ridiculous dream of becoming a prima ballerina at the San Francisco Ballet.” She smiles and takes a sip from her margarita. “My sister went on to dance at the Boston Ballet, but when I auditioned for all these bigger companies they said I was too tall.” She stands up straight.

Tu eres muy alta,” Luis says. “You are taller than me.”

“Si,” she says. “Soy demasiada alta. So, being a demasiada-alta-dancer, I quit ballet and stayed on this coast, while my sister moved to the other. And that’s that!”

Pero bailas bien.

“Thank you. I’m like, at least a better salsa dancer than my sister. And she didn’t get into USC.”

Stephanie asks where Luis lives. He tells her Santa Monica.

A plump girl in a peach dress appears out of the crowd. She has dark hair and a complaining face. She puts her hand on Stephanie’s shoulder.

“You ready to go?” she says.

Stephanie asks her if she’s alright.

“I got fucking stepped on—stabbed—by some chick’s high heel. And some Mexican was grinding on me earlier.”

Stephanie introduces Luis. Sally nods curtly. Luis tells her it’s nice to meet her.

“Luis is an amazing dancer,” Stephanie says.

Sally glares around, and again asks Stephanie if she’s ready. Stephanie nods, then says to Luis, “So, este, can I give you my number?”

“Like, of course.”

Luis hesitates, feeling a pang of guilt as he glances past Stephanie at a slender, smiling, dark-skinned Mexican woman who reminds him of Rosalinda.

Stephanie recaptures his attention and asks if he’s going to take out his phone.

“I accidentally leave it at home,” he says, his third and final lie of the evening.

Stephanie grabs a napkin, asks the bartender for a pen, and jots her number down.

Sally tugs at Stephanie’s elbow. “Let's get the fuck out of here.”

* * *

Luis keeps the sweat-stained napkin with Stephanie’s number on it inside his suitcase, near the stash of money he’s saved up to bring back to Mexico. Along with the seventy dollars he sends Rosalinda each month, he’s managed to put aside a considerable amount of money for the house he plans to buy in Guadalajara. Every other week, a few days after Paco receives his bi-monthly paychecks, Paco asks if he can borrow fifty bucks to send home to Monterrey—“For my wife’s car payments,”
one week, “For the baby,” another. Luis lies to him—he knows Paco’s family would never see the money. It would be spent around the corner at the liquor store. When Paco asks, Luis tells him he doesn’t have any cash. Paco grunts without looking up from the television set. Luis remembers that first week he moved into the apartment when Paco, on top of the three hundred dollars he took for first month’s rent, asked Luis if he could borrow four hundred more. Luis never saw the money again. He hides his eight thousand in cash below his socks and underwear.

Luis waits a few days to call Stephanie from a landline in the apartment, playing it cool as Ruben had instructed. When she answers the phone, and Luis, in his best English, reminds her, “It’s me, the man from the Monsoon,” she pauses, then replies, “Este, I thought you’d forgotten about me.” At that moment, Luis is struck with an image of Rosalinda saying something similar in Spanish at a café in Zapopan the second time they’d met. But the memory is drowned out by Stephanie’s sweet, sing-song voice, showering Luis with attention. Eventually he works up the courage to ask her if she “wants to go out sometime,” a phrase he remembers Ruben using. Stephanie suggests dinner on Saturday night and returning to the Monsoon nightclub. She knows a great sushi place on the Promenade. Luis understands only half of what Stephanie says over the phone, but he remembers the words “sushi” and “Promenade,” and “Saturday night.”

* * *

“Stephanie?” Ruben says, incredulous, sitting under an umbrella in the McDonald’s patio a few days later. Luis holds a tray filled with leftover Mexican food and a Baja Bud’s soft-drink cup. Ruben’s lips smack as he chews his double-bacon cheeseburger.

“That blond chick you were dancing with? Her name was Stephanie?” Ruben asks.

Si.

While Luis was at the bar talking with Stephanie, Ruben had left the Monsoon with the pretty Mexican girl, who it turns out he’s been dating. Luis had to get a ride home with one of Ruben’s friends.

Pues, felicidades,” Ruben says. “That girl was hot. I didn’t even know she gave you her number. And where did you learn how to dance? You gotta teach me some moves, hermano.”

Luis grins. “Si, te enseño.

“Dude, you could’ve had any girl in there. You were en fuego.” Ruben takes another bite of his cheeseburger. “Hey, listen,” he says, “I was thinking about it, and I’m sure you got some money saved up to take back to Rosalinda, this girlfriend in Mexico. You want to make some real money? Double or triple what you got? Let’s go to the casino. Ven conmigo.” Luis shakes his head. “Estoy bien.”

“No worries, bro. If you change your mind let me know.” He tells Luis about going to Indian Wells Tuesday night and winning five hundred dollars. “Just think about coming with me next time, alright?”

Está bien,” Luis says.

“And have a good time with Stephanie, hermano,” Ruben winks.

* * *

On Saturday, Luis gets to work early and leaves early. He borrows another dress shirt from Paco, pilfers more aftershave from the bathroom cabinet, and slicks his hair back.

Before leaving the apartment to catch a bus to Santa Monica, he kneels in front of his suitcase behind the couch. As Luis retrieves a wad of twenties from the bottom of his suitcase, Paco’s eyes are glued to the television set where his Chivas are winning 2-0. Luis counts sixty dollars and slips it into the pocket of his jeans. Then he pauses for a moment, remembering all of the hard-earned hours that he’d worked to save this money for Rosalinda—for them and for their life together. He feels guilty for pushing Rosalinda to the back of his mind—for filching money from their future. At the same time, he can’t forget Stephanie’s smile at the Monsoon, the way she squeezed his hand when they were dancing, and her teal eyes.

He thinks about drinks for himself and Stephanie, about the cover he’ll have to pay for both of them at the Monsoon on top of dinner at the sushi place. He takes out forty more dollars, then buries the rest — along with his thoughts about Rosalinda — and zips up the suitcase. Paco rises, pounds the coffee table with his beer bottle, and berates one of his soccer players: “What the fuck are you doing, cabrón?”

* * *

“Are you serious?” Stephanie asks, as they scan their menus at the restaurant. “You’ve like, never had sushi? In your whole life?”

Luis shrugs.

The room is tall and modern, with snow-glass and light-wood paneling. Japanese men stand behind the sushi bar, slicing raw fish, while aloof waiters dressed in black zing around tables.

“Alright,” Stephanie says. “So like, you should definitely try the salmon roll, and we can split a few things on the menu, and—tell you what—let me just choose a few things and we’ll share.”

When their food comes it seems to annoy Stephanie that Luis is a failure with his chopsticks. She shows him how to hold them, how to dip the fish into soy sauce, and how to scrape the slightest bit of wasabi (“It’s spicy!”) off for each bite.

“How is it?” Stephanie asks. “I can’t believe this is your first sushi! I mean, I guess they probably don’t have it in Mexico. But like, how long have you been here?”

Luis is about to tell her one year, and that the sushi tastes a little like the ceviche his mother cooks, when he finds himself choking on some wasabi. He starts coughing. He reaches for his glass of water and knocks a cup of green tea clear across the table, hot liquid spilling onto Stephanie’s white dress. Her chair screeches as she stands.

Hijole,” Luis says.

“No, no! It’s fine,” Stephanie says, glaring at her dress, her blond hair up in a bun. “It’s just tea. I’m fine.”

A waiter brings her a towel, then comes back with a mop and wipes up the mess. Stephanie sits down and dabs her dress, looking disgruntled. Then she says to Luis, with a broad smile, “It’s nothing, no problem.” She glares at her dress again and loses the smile.

They continue eating in silence, Luis trying to act normal using his chopsticks. Stephanie attempts to make him feel better by pointing out that her dress is drying with hardly any stain. “And I can get it out with baby-powder,” she tells him. “I always use baby powder.”

Luis pays the bill while Stephanie is in the bathroom. Adding in the drinks Stephanie ordered, the tax, and the tip, the total comes to about sixty dollars—a lot more than he anticipated.

When Stephanie returns she seems revived, her lipstick re-done and eyelashes touched up. “Luis, thank you for dinner,” she says. “It was your first sushi!”

Luis pays for their covers and three more drinks apiece at the Monsoon. He and Stephanie dance song after song, Stephanie getting drunk off her three mojitos. She kisses Luis on the cheek and becomes bolder with him on the dance floor, prompting Luis to become bolder with her, all of this eventually leading to one of those haphazard makeout sessions in the middle of the club (a moment that gives Luis a thrill that is more wonderful than anything he can remember, a thrill that makes him forget about Rosalinda). While Stephanie is in the bathroom again, Luis realizes he is out of cash. Two dollars left in his wallet.

Stephanie reappears, grabs Luis by the hand, and leads him through the crowd.

They amble out onto Third Street. She lets her thin blond hair down. Luis finds himself supporting her, catching her, like she is a child who’s just learned to walk. They pass a group of people entering the Monsoon, laughing and whispering and pointing at Stephanie. They are making fun of her, and, Luis fears, wondering what she’s doing with the Mexican janitor they saw at the food court this afternoon. He is suddenly worried that one of his co-workers may see him. They’re only half a block from his workplace.

Luis leads her in the opposite direction of the food court. They make their way among dark department stores, towering palms, and the lurid auburn glow of street lamps. The sound of overflowing bars blares in the distance, but the end of Third Street is empty and mostly quiet. Stephanie stops and faces Luis. His hand is around her waist.

She gazes at him with lazy eyes, fussy hair, her tiny mouth half open. She kisses him and Luis tastes mojito on her lips—peppermint and alcohol and lime.

She asks him, “Where’s your car?” Her head droops down, then slowly rises. “I’ll leave my car in the parking garage. We can take yours and”—she hiccups—“to my place. You can give me a ride.” She says it as if it’s already decided. “Let’s go.” She stumbles out in front of him. The faint melody of Guns & Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine drifts from Baja Cantina down the street. She looks back at him. “What?” She smiles and saunters over. Puts her arms around his neck.

No tengo un carro,” Luis hears himself say.

No—tienes—un—

“I don’t have a car,” he says. Then quickly adds, “I mean, I have a car. It’s at the mechanic now. I took the bus tonight. Just tonight.”

“Then—” She hiccups again. Luis peers down at their separate shadows on the paving stones of the Promenade. “Then I guess we’ll just take a taxi,” she says.

“Well, like, I could drive your car.”

She doesn’t smile. “No,” she says. “You’ve been drinking. I mean, we both have.”

She seems to have already forgotten asking Luis to drive her home in his car. He follows her past the end of the Promenade into the middle of an empty Wilshire Boulevard where she sways in her dress, her dance shoes clunking along. Her head drops as she moves past Luis, back toward the sidewalk. She shuffles along the curb, Luis close behind, until she finds the solid trunk of a ficus tree and paints it with her vomit.


Stephanie’s head rests on Luis’s shoulder in the back of the taxi, his arm tucked around her waist. She is drowsy, her eyes half closed, her limbs still. A sour stench fills the cab. The cab driver cracks his window, but Luis smells only her perfume now, feels only her tiny head on his shoulder, thinks only about how he doesn’t want this night to end. She tells him she’s sorry she got so drunk, and like, puked on a tree.

“There is no problem,” Luis says.

She sighs. “My sister got made prima ballerina in the Boston Ballet three days ago. My parents are so fucking proud of her. I hate her. Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Anyway, thanks for sticking it out with me. I know I can be a real pain in the culo. I can’t kiss you anymore. My mouth is all vomity. I want to. I like you. At first I thought it was just because you were a good dancer. But you’re sweet. You listen to me.”

The cab driver pulls up in front of Stephanie’s high-rise apartment. The meter reads 22.75 in crimson digits. Luis stares at the numbers, while the cab driver and Stephanie stare at him.

“No cash,” he finally says, looking down at his scuffed cowboy boots.

“Just use your card,” Stephanie says, with a wave of her hand.

“I left it at home.”

“It’s fine.”

She rummages through her purse and finds a credit card, then pays the driver and gets out. Luis follows.

“What are you doing?” she asks him on the sidewalk.

“I—Yo—No sé lo qué hacer.” Luis doesn’t want to leave her. He doesn’t want this night to end. He imagines the long bus ride home, then Paco mumbling and snoring, and Luis spending another near sleepless night in that stuffy room.

“You get in the cab and go home,” she says, “that’s what you do.” She takes his hand. “Listen. I had a great time tonight. But I’m vomity.” She hiccups. “And hiccupy. And I just want to take a shower and brush my teeth and go to bed.”

Luis nods.

“Oh,” she says, rummaging through her purse again. “I think I might have some cash.” She finds three twenties and hands them to Luis. “For the cab ride.”

Luis says he’ll pay her back.

“Don’t worry about it. And thank you for a lovely evening. Can I kiss you on the cheek? With my vomit lips?”

He smiles. “No me importa.”

Bueno.” She kisses him. “Buenas noches, Luis. Gracias por todo.” She turns and starts up the walkway. He watches her fumble around for her keys, swing into the building, say hi to the security guard behind his desk, then disappear. He gazes up at the twenty-story monolith. Patches of yellow light glare down at him.

* * *

Luis phones Stephanie the next day and finds himself hanging on her every word. He is ecstatic when all of the words add up to her wanting to see him again. She apologizes for her drunkenness, her vomit lips. Then she thanks him warmly for being so patient. She tells him she’ll be busy this week because of a really big project at the office she’s interning at, but that she’ll be having dinner with some friends on Saturday night. She’d like to meet up with him at the Monsoon afterwards, and she’d love to go out with him on Sunday as well. Her last phrase repeats in Luis’s mind for the rest of the day, with a particular emphasis on the word love.

* * *

Luis sees Ruben at the food court every afternoon, eating his burgers and slurping his large cups of Dr. Pepper.

On Thursday, Luis is surprised to find him on the second floor patio eating a thick steak and finely cut vegetables inside Wolfgang Puck’s.

“Jackpot, hermano!” Ruben says. “Two thousand dollars. I know how to play this shit. I had them all on the run. You should have seen it—my piles of blue chips all stacked up in front of me, all these old fogies looking worried, with their little red piles disappearing. I just waited really,” he says, cutting his steak. “Waited till I had the right hand, then bluffed the shit out of them.”

Felicidades,” Luis says, nodding, holding a garbage bag.

“So,” Ruben says, “I have a proposition for you.” He wipes his hands with a napkin, folds his arms. “Here’s the deal: You lend me eight hundred bucks and I pay you back nine hundred in a month. It’s like interest, see? Like a bond. Like when you give the government money and—”

“No,” Luis says, thinking about Paco and the money Luis never saw again.

“Whoa, I hear you loud and clear, man. Just trying to help you out. We could really make some money together.” He shrugs and tells Luis to think it over.

Then Ruben asks, “So how’s that puta you went out with the other night?”

Oye, no digas groserías sobre—

“Whoa, calm down. Shit.” He laughs. “What, are you getting married? So how’d it go, man?”

“Good.”

“You hook up?”

“We kissed. She—ella vomitó.

“She puked?” He shakes his head. “Another drunk white girl.”

No, no es así.

“Shit, ella te gustó mucho, huh? Well, just watch out,” Ruben says, tearing his steak apart. “These white girls come and go. I know you have this little Mexican girl waiting for you at home, no? Thinking about you night and day? Fiel. Muy fiel. Well, you won’t find a girl like that here, hermano. Less you got some lana.”

* * *

On Friday afternoon, the day before Luis is supposed to see Stephanie at the Monsoon, he is mopping up a mess in front of the sushi kiosk when he spots a familiar figure near the counter. She is chubby and dressed in trendy attire. Even from the back—that dark hair, tight dress, plump figure—Luis thinks he recognizes Sally, Stephanie’s friend from the Monsoon.

Before he can avoid her, she picks up her tray, throws a purse over her shoulder, and turns around. All of the smells Luis has grown accustomed to are obliterated by her apple fragrance. He stands—mouth agape, dressed in faded jeans and a stained white T-shirt, holding a mop he’d been using to clean up a spilled smoothie—face to face with Sally.

She smirks—a smirk that Luis scrutinizes in the days to come. Did she recognize him? Or was it the smug look she might give any guy with a mop? She shoves her empty plate into the garbage and marches out of the food court in her dress, high heels clicking on the tiles like a metronome, her sharp fragrance still hanging like a cloud in the air around Luis.

* * *

For the rest of the week, Luis goes back and forth between the images and words that are stuck in his head: Stephanie telling him she’d “love” to go out with him on Sunday. The smirk on Sally’s face in front of the sushi kiosk. What Sally said when they first met—“…and some Mexican was grinding on me earlier.” Luis wonders if he is just some Mexican. He knows this is what Sally thinks, but does Stephanie think it, too? And if Stephanie doesn’t think it, will she come to think it if and when Sally tells her that Luis is really just some Mexican janitor at the food court?

Despite his worries, Luis is hopeful. He gets butterflies in his stomach thinking about Stephanie and remembers that moment in the taxicab with his arm around her, her head resting on his shoulder. She said he listened to her; she said she liked him.

* * *

Saturday arrives and Luis calls in sick. In the morning he makes a trip to a thrift store to purchase a suit and wingtips for twenty dollars. He hands the clothes over to a dry cleaner to have them washed and pressed. On his way home, he stops at the grocery store to buy some more Old Spice for the bathroom and is so giddy that when he passes the spirits section he picks up some gold tequila for Paco.

Paco is grateful. He starts in on the tequila that evening, watching TV as Luis puts on his newly pressed suit, his aftershave and wingtips. Paco’s Chivas are losing 1-3. He sits on the couch drinking the tequila, looking sullen.

Before leaving the apartment, Luis says to him, “Suerte, tío.

Paco just grunts.


When Luis spots Stephanie across the dance floor that night, she offers a polite smile. Her eyes give her away. They are dull and pale, not the bright teal eyes that had been so attentive to him. A short glance across the dance floor, a slight smile—that is all.

She dances with him once but keeps a cushion of space between them.

Luis never says a word. He doesn’t even feel like dancing with other girls who ask him to. He hides his pain and leaves early.

On the bus ride home, staring out the window at the dilapidated buildings on Wilshire Boulevard, he tells himself that he should have seen it coming. The signs. Ruben telling him you have to have some lana to be with a girl like that. His father telling him he’d be nothing in los Estados Unidos. Him telling Stephanie all those lies.

In his mind, Rosalinda appears, like a bright star he hasn’t noticed for a time, but is suddenly there in the sky. Part of him feels guilty, another part grateful she’s so far away.


When Luis returns to the apartment around midnight, he is surprised to see Paco’s messy piles of work clothes, Paco’s small CD player, Paco’s workbag and tools, all gone. There are a few empty beer bottles and cigarette packs lying on the mattress and the coffee table. Then Luis sees the top of his suitcase flapped open against the wall. Most of his T-shirts and socks and underwear lie scattered on the floor. He hustles over and rummages through his clothes, unzips every small pocket in the suitcase, hoping against what he already knows to be true. He stands quietly next to the TV set, teeth clenched, hands shaking. He sits down on the mattress and holds his head in his hands. Closing his eyes, he imagines Paco behind the wheel of his old Superbee, racing up the 10, or the 405, or maybe the 101, with the bottle of gold tequila between his legs and nine thousand dollars on the passenger seat.

* * *

In the coming weeks, Luis talks to Rosalinda on the phone now and then. He tries to convince her things are going smoothly. His mother and father call. He tells them the same lies. His parents tell him what they’ve discovered about Paco—he blew all his money in Las Vegas, then came crawling back to Monterrey, where it turned out his wife and children were living with another man. No one knows where Paco is these days.

For a month or so, Luis tries to save his cash again. He works overtime most days and decides not to send Rosalinda money for a while, in order to save, then eventually forgets about sending her money altogether.

Ruben disappears. Clearing a table outside McDonald’s one day, Luis overhears some waiters from Yankee agreeing that it was bound to happen. The waiters laugh and talk about how Ruben had always lied and bragged about his winnings. How Ruben had asked to borrow hundreds of dollars from everyone and their mother. How eventually he lost everything he had at the casino and ended up back with his abuelitos in Tijuana.

The months crawl by. Luis dreads calling Rosalinda and his parents, so he rarely does. He finds it difficult and tedious saving money. He goes out salsa dancing, discovers some new clubs, impresses a lot of girls, buys them drinks. He realizes that his Mexican accent and everything that had gotten in the way with Stephanie probably makes it all futile, but he keeps going anyway, burning through his savings until he is close to broke.

In a desperate attempt to make more money, Luis starts gambling at Indian Wells on his off-days. He enjoys the blackjack tables. He loses sometimes and wins sometimes but is hooked on the idea of hitting it big one day. He settles into the couch with his Pacificos after coming home from work or the casino. Eventually he stumbles over to the mattress, closes his eyes, and dreams of Mexico.