Excerpt from Whitefish Review #14, Hunger Issue
by DAVID ALLAN CATES
“Again gabacho?” Miguel asked.
“Sure.” I felt like another beer anyway. This was a good bar –the best I’d found. Expensive but there was lots of dark wood that looked warm in the yellow light, lots of leather on the chair backs and table edges, not to mention crowded. A man with a sheepskin hat and vest played the guitar, another played the bass, and another the violin. Tables of partiers sang along.
“Don’t look,” he said. “But one’s watching! She’s looking in the window. Flowers on her dress.”
I stood still for a moment, afraid to think. “Watching us?” I asked.
“Us?” Miguel laughed. “You, gabacho. Watching you!”
I pushed away from the bar toward the door and the sidewalk and I saw her turn away from the window and then I lost her for a moment in the crowd. The wrong color hair for Carla, but who knew? She’d changed it before. I saw her again at the corner, her back turned. Same height? I couldn’t be sure. I ran after her, my heart racing. I touched her shoulder and she paused as though expecting me, as though she knew. Then she slowly turned around.
What? she said.
I almost forgot what. I caught my breath and balance but only stared like an idiot. It was Monserrat, from the taco cart by the cathedral. She cut onions, peeled boiled eggs, chopped potatoes and chorizo, or whatever else she was asked to do by the other woman. I liked to make her laugh. She’d giggle at my pronunciation and the words I chose. She was tall for a Mexican woman, and she wore pink and white eye shadow.
I saw you passing, I said, speaking carefully in Spanish. May I invite you for a beer?
I felt embarrassed to be speaking to her out of context, as though having a life beyond eating tacos in the Zocalo was something to be ashamed of. I felt embarrassed that I’d hoped she was Carla and embarrassed at my disappointment. She must have noticed because she frowned and looked away. I let my hand slide down her arm to her elbow and pulled her back around.
In the bar I bought a beer for me and for her, and another for Miguel, who stood a few steps away, giving me room. I asked if she’d ever been in here before and she said no. Then she asked me if I had and I said yes, every night.
What else do you do? she asked.
She laughed. What else?
Walk, I said.
And wait, I said.
For what? She touched my face, traced what I imagined to be the rings under my eyes.
I raised my glass. Drink beer, I said.
She turned around then and I watched her in the big mirror behind the bar and wondered what she must think of somebody who does nothing but eat tacos by day and drink beer by night. I’d spent forty days here. Forty days of dressing myself twice daily, once for the heat of the day and again for the cool nights. Forty days of brushing my hair, brushing my teeth, walking the old streets alone. I felt seized by a ridiculous desire to tell her all about my real life, how for twenty-eight years I felt pretty sure I knew how a person got from point A to point B. I wanted to tell her about my work, and Carla, and about the house we had picked out to buy, our plans for a family, how we’d thought about it, talked about it, and talked about it some more. Just words. Blah blah blah. Monserrat kept her eyes on the beer glass, her black hair shiny in the yellow light, and I kept my mouth shut. What could I say in Spanish anyway?
Read the rest of the story in Whitefish Review, Volume 7, Issue 2.
David Allan Cates is the author of four novels, “Hunger In America,” a New York Times Notable Book, “X Out Of Wonderland” and “Freeman Walker,” both Montana Book Award Honor Books, and in 2012, “Ben Armstrong’s Strange Trip Home,” winner of a Gold Medal for Best Fiction in the 2013 Independent Book Publishers Book Awards. Cates is the winner of the 2010 Montana Arts Council’s Artist Innovation Award in prose and his short story, “Rubber Boy,” (Glimmer Train 70) is a a distinguished story in the 2010 Best American Short Stories. His stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines, and his travel articles in Outside Magazine and The New York Times Sophisticated Traveler.
Founded in 2007, Whitefish Review is a nationally acclaimed, nonprofit journal publishing the distinctive literature, art, and photography of mountain culture. Featuring established and emerging authors and artists, it weaves a diverse mix of stories, interviews and conversations along with a 16-page color art section.
The journal has featured interviews and the original work of such literary and artistic powerhouses as Tom Brokaw, Rick Bass, Douglas H. Chadwick, Russell Chatham, David James Duncan, Pete Fromm, Pam Houston, John Irving, Doug Peacock, Terry Tempest Williams, William Kittredge and many other distinguished authors, while also discovering and launching promising writers. Every issue also features a younger writer chosen by the editors, as part of their mission to discover new writers in their formative years.
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