Monday, April 13, 2015

Picadillo a la Habañera

On Thursday morning, Ángel woke up drenched in a cold sweat.  He sat up bleary-eyed and racked his brain, trying to figure out what had happened the night before.  As he pondered, each detail slowly returned, more vivid with each passing second.

Ángel had been following a young boy out of a dark tunnel.  The sides of the tunnel were coated with grime and Ángel had to step over large chunks of rubble on the floor as he struggled to keep up with the boy.  But Ángel knew that the boy would lead him out of the tunnel, into the light.  He followed the boy for hours, tracing a seemingly endless path of labyrinthine passages.  Finally, a light emerged in the distance, and Ángel began to speed up, hastily stumbling over the odds and ends that filled the tunnel, trying to grasp the boy for support as he reached for the end of the tunnel.  In his haste, Ángel knocked the boy over and continued without him.  He crossed the threshold into a brilliant light, but he looked back and saw that the boy had not come with him.  The boy lay in the shadows of the tunnel, nursing a fresh wound.  No matter how hard he tried, Ángel could not enter the tunnel again.

Ángel had renounced any belief in a righteous God soon after the Spanish Civil War, but he still believed there was some kind of alternate spiritual dimension that occasionally interacted with reality.  He could travel through time to revisit old times and old friends with such vividness that seeing the future did not seem too far fetched.  Dreams were powerful, and Ángel did not like the feeling of this dream.  It came so soon after Ángel had taken in a new child.   It didn’t seem right.  It could not be a good omen.

Despite his nervousness, Ángel continued preparing for the day.  He began to prepare a dish of rich paella, but he stopped.  Ángel pondered the dream and the Cuban boy, and decided to make sure that the boy felt at home.  He reluctantly cleaned up the paella that he had started, and began preparing a new dish, picadillo a la Habañera.  The leftover smells of the paella still wafted through the air, and they floated among the new Cuban notes of the picadillo.  Ángel was no longer at home, in Spain.  He had started a new journey.

On his way out of Dreamwood Terrace, Ángel bumped into a reclusive-looking middle-aged woman.  She gave him a knowing look, and turned away.  As she left, she spoke over her shoulder, “Good luck with the new developments…”

A New Son

On Wednesday, Ángel’s life was turned completely upside down.  He woke up as normal and made his way to New Hope Children’s Home.  But the moment he entered the building he was overwhelmed by a raucus cacaphony.  The hubub of an energetic debate emerged from the conference room of the Children’s Home.  Overwhelmed with curiosity, Ángel decided that he had worked in the background long enough.  He shambled up to the old oak door and peered inside.

Through the scattered voices and excited traces of conversation, Ángel gathered that New Hope had been given a new child, a young Cuban boy who’s family had immigrated to America only several weeks before.  The family fled from persecution by Raul Castro, but they had no greater luck in America.  The small, ill maintained apartment that they rented had a gas leak, and an accidental had caused an explosion.  Everyone in the family but the boy died.

The boy had not lived in America long enough to learn English, and the New Hope did not have the resources to develop a language program for him.  Moreover, New Hope was already occupying above capacity, and Ángel knew that they could not justify accepting another child.  Sensing that he would not be much help in such a trying time, Ángel slipped out of the room again and shuffled down the hall to begin his daily activities.

Ángel did not get far.  The new Cuban boy sat alone in a room to the side of the hallway, looking at his feet.  Ángel could not resist entering the room.  As Ángel peered down at the youngster, he heard his father’s voice and felt dust in his face.  Ángel looked up and saw the walls of a bullfighting arena, and he was back in Spain.  “¡Ataca!  ¡Ataca!  Cuídate, mira a la izquierda.  ¡Ahora sí!  Tienes el control,” his father yelled from the side.  Ángel nervously eyed the bull, absorbed in the fight.  He felt his father’s caloused hands on his shoulders, and leaned away from the fight into their comforting embrace.

Ángel knew that he could not allow this child to grow up alone.  He made his way back to the meeting room and announced that he would foster the child.  He had saved up the money to be able to, and he was able to speak Spanish.  He was the perfect fit.  Everyone agreed, and Ángel’s coworkers quickly filled out the forms for him to foster the child.  By the end of the afternoon, Ángel was the legal guardian.

As Ángel walked home with the boy, he suddenly felt very old and very tired.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wanted and Unwanted Memories

For the first time in nearly 70 years, Ángel looked out of his window when he woke up.  The clear blue light of midmorning washed over him, painting him in a soft, flattering light.  Ángel had slept in through his alarm, he realized.  He quickly got dressed and made his way down the street.  New Hope was giving haircuts in exchange for donations, and the fundraiser was expected to be the largest of the year.  Ángel needed to attend.

Across the street from Ángel, a young woman gazed into the fountain, her hair floating on the breeze.

Ángel stopped.  He knew this woman.  He had seen her before.  The creaky cogs in his mind began turning, slowly searching his vast vaults for some connection.  Suddenly, he realized.  Hazel.  She had grown up at New Hope, playing and laughing and eating for nearly 10 years before Ángel’s eyes.  Another piece clicked into place.  She had been in the Home just a few days before, and he had caught a glimpse of her just as she turned a corner.  How stupid of him to not even think of it at the time.  Why had he never talked to her?

Ángel approached the woman to see if she might remember him, and there was suddenly a deafening screech of tires.  A blue bomber swooped low over Ángel, dropping its cargo over the Popular Front troops.  There was a smattering of gunfire and Ángel heard the scream of a man as the ground exploded next to him.  A dismembered body fell out of the sky onto Ángel, and he caved under the weight.

Ángel returned to the present and found himself kneeling on the sidewalk.  Once the noise had lowered to the excited hum of onlookers’ conversations, Ángel looked up and tried to process the scene.  It from people’s conversations, he gathered that a blue Subaru had come careening around the corner toward Hazel.  A young man had ducked in to push her out of the way, but had pushed her into Ángel.  She glanced off of him and went tumbling into a sinkhole in the middle of the road, where she was lying presently.

Ángel had not come for this.  He left and quickly ducked into O’Harley’s to recover.  The smoky room served to obscure his thoughts and dull his senses.  Ángel sat down next to a young man and ordered a whiskey.  The young man was inebriated and apoplectic about the rates on student loans.  He began to yell, and Ángel was overwhelmed by the noise.  He left the bar without even looking at his drink.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


The bell tolled at New Hope on Monday.  Ángel broke down in tears in the hallway.  The child was 3 years old and died of a bad case of bronchitis.  Ángel had not known the child.  He would never know the child.

Through the iron tones of the bell, Ángel heard the incessant clinking of a Ruby semi-automatic pistol.  He watched as a young Republican embraced his newly wedded wife with tears in his eyes and went to stand facing a courthouse wall.  He heard gunfire as his best friend collapsed to the ground next to him, having taken a bullet to protect him.  He felt the heat of the explosion that took his abuelita.

The bell tolled for the child, but also for the countless men and women Ángel had watched die and the countless men and women he had neglected to watch die.  It tolled for Ángel.  When Ángel had committed suicide in 1939, he had succeeded.  The villagers had saved a walking carcass of a man.  Ángel floated through life, blissfully unaware as countless children passed through the doors of the New Hope Children’s Home.  He listened with ears of tin as molten-golden marriage bells rang in delight and brazen alarum bells rang in fright.  He sailed in serene ignorance as the years passed below him.  Men had sacrificed for Ángel, but he had cut his thread from the web of life.  He had done nothing to justify their loss.

Ángel was not happy.  Death would soon take the body of Ángel Ortega, and he feared it.  As he sobbed on the wall in New Hope, reality pounded upon him with each mournful moan and groan of the bell.  Ángel left the Children’s Home muttering to himself.  “La Parca ha venido otra vez.  La Parca vendrá pronto para mi.”

Thinking of no where else to hide, Ángel made his way to O’Harley’s.  He stumbled through the door, made his way to the counter and ordered a whiskey.  Each sip tasted of blood, but Ángel continued drinking.

As Ángel sipped his whiskey, a young man sat down next to him.  The man was in high spirits, and quickly downed six shots of Cuervo Silver.  Several minutes later, he was slumped over, with a dejected look on his face.  Ángel looked over at the sorry man.  He did not frequently talk to strangers, but this was as good a time as any to start.  Besides, he recognized the stranger’s face.  “What’s your name, son.”

"Lane Masterson."

"I thought so. I've seen you with your wife a few times back at the apartment."

"She's not my wife, or girlfriend anymore for that matter."  The man began to cry.

Ángel was not used to this, and the tears frightened him.  He turned away and contemplated the young man.  After sitting at the bar for almost an hour, Ángel spoke.

"They say life is bittersweet, but I can't say I have often tasted sweet life. I can tell you are in great pain, and I can tell you that you shouldn't be here as well. Not like this at least.  You want some advice son?"

"What the fuck do you know about pain?  What do you know about a drug taking your soul, calling you night and day, ruining everything you ever thought would make you happy?”

Ángel reeled.  His mind flashed to his abuelita, her cottage in pieces and her baking dishes shattered in the street.  He took several seconds to collect himself.

"Wipe your nose off.  Do not speak to me again like that.  I can tell you a lot about pain.  I don't normally talk to people like you, or people at all.  But you remind me of myself in a different time and place.  You’re not lost, not quite yet, but you are close.  Listen closely.

“You can not run away from reality.  You have tethered yourself to a false happiness by separating yourself from your problems.  As long as you surround yourself with an illusion, you can never be happy.  You must break free.  You must run break leave your crutches behind and begin to walk for yourself.  You want to get a better life?  Quit fighting your emptiness and sorrow with an artificial high.  Find what truly sparks your heart.  Find meaning.  You can chase empty promises and false dreams all day long.  They will never fill your emptiness."

Ángel paid and returned to the tranquility of his apartment.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Red Flags

At 5:00 in the morning a sharp rap pierced the air of Ángel’s apartment, echoing through the rooms like gunfire.  Ángel slowly got up and answered the door.  A group of four police officers stood outside.

The police chief produced a warrant, and stated, “Sir, we have evidence that you are involved in a local narcotics ring.  Please stand aside as we search your house.”  The officers filed in and began systematically overturning every cabinet, cupboard, and drawer in Ángel’s house.

As one of the officers searched Ángel’s room, he pulled a small package out of Ángel’s dresser.  He shook it and it exploded in a flash of crimson and searing white.  Fabric streamed out in the wind, unfolding to a blood red rectangle.  The three-pointed star of the Spanish Popular Front hung menacingly in the center.

As the fabric of the flag blew in the breeze, there was a metallic clinking.  A Ruby 7.65 mm semi-automatic pistol fell out onto the bed, clinking against a dud Granatwerfer 81 mm mortar shell.  The traje de luces hanging on Ángel's wall glowed in the harsh light of the flag.  The acrid odor of blood and gunpowder and tears filled the room.

When he was fifteen, Ángel had found the dud mortar shell as the dust settled on the rubble of his abuelita’s house in the countryside of Granada.  The other other shells that hit the house were not duds.  That was just a month after Franco took over the Spanish government.  The dust from the house still filled the grooves in the mortar’s surface.

Before the attack, Ángel had planned to be a bullfighter, following in the footsteps of his papa.  He finished his first bullfight a week before the attack, and was training for another.  He had a life planned with María, one of the girls from his hometown.  They would get married and move to Barcelona, by the sea.  The day after the attack, Ángel joined the Spanish Popular Front.  He never saw his papa or María again.

A week after Ángel joined the Front, his hometown turned against itself.  In a single blood soaked day, the Republicans systematically purged the town of anybody of any power.  Fascist regulars passing through three days later annihilated the remaining Republicans.  When Ángel returned the next year, all that remained was the tattered Fascist flag that the regulars had planted when they left.  Vinieron, vieron, vencieron.

Ángel fought for three years with the Popular Front, three years in which his life depended upon his Ruby semi-automatic pistol.  He razed countless villages himself, leaving behind his own tattered Popular Front flags.  In 1939, Ángel found a bridge and tried to fly away.  He fell one hundred meters into a shallow river and broke most of the bones in his body.  Local villagers found him floating face down in the water and took him to a local hospital where he spent nearly a year recovering. When he was released from the hospital, Ángel swore against war, against violence, against love, and against Spain.  He packed his belongings and headed to the United States.

When the contents of the flag fell onto the bed in Dreamwood Terrace, Ángel fell to his knees.  There was a deafening silence.  It was broken by one of the officers.

“Fucking Red.  I’m watching you.”

Just then, a young woman paused by the door.  She muttered to herself as she took in the pitiful scene inside.  Ángel looked up and caught her gaze.  She quickly turned and went on her way.  Ángel was mortified.

Ángel was not a member of a local narcotics ring, so the police officers found no evidence to substantiate their accusations.  They filed out of Ángel’s apartment.  One of the officers spit on Ángel’s doorstep as he left.

Ángel did not go to work at the New Hope Children’s Home that day.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


On Wednesday, Ángel took cooking duty in the New Hope Children’s home.  Ángel enjoyed cooking, provided the ham was good and there were enough olives in the pantry.  As he cooked, Ángel floated on wafts of steam.  He drifted up through the open window of his abuelita’s cottage and perched on the stovetop.  He watched as she added a pinch of azafrán and to a dish of pipirrana, and he breathed in the rich air.  As he dreamed, Ángel heard the distant slam of a door.  He paused and started a slow, creaky descent back into reality.

Ángel glanced up from his pot.  His eye caught a wisp of hair suspended in the air as the person it belonged to disappeared into the next room.  Ángel was sure he had seen that hair before.  But then again, why was this hair different from any other hair.  Ángel had worked at the orphanage for close to 70 years, and he had seen countless wisps of hair.  Wisps of hair came and wisps of hair left.  Wisps of hair got married, got jobs, had babies.  Ángel was very nearly bald.  Ángel stayed.

Indeed, Ángel had never grown personally attached to any of the orphans who walked the halls of New Hope Children’s home.  They, the children and their hair, were all part of the great tragedy of life.  Ángel had separated himself from the great tragedy of life.  He had also separated himself from his hair.  He was happy.

Ángel let the visitor pass out of his mind and continued cooking until his shift was done.

On the way home from New Hope, Ángel noticed pinpoints of light floating in the warm air.  They soared and ducked in a frantic chaos, weaving a swirling nebula around him as he made his way down the street.  Ángel was struck by the beauty of it all.

Entranced by the glitter that cloaked him, Ángel strode past Dreamwood Terrace and down Main Street.  A door emerged from the night and Ángel entered.  The door belonged to a bar.

It had been a long time since Ángel had been in a bar, and he was not used to drinking.  He ordered a shot of whiskey and took a sip.  The whiskey tasted of oldness, of gunpowder and blood.  The bartender asked Ángel what his story was.  Ángel did not want to tell his story.  His story did not belong in this world.  It did not fit here.  Ángel muttered a quick goodbye and hurried home.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


The alarm clock rang at 5:24 on December the 17th, but the clock face read 5:30.  The alarm rang at 5:24 because Ángel Ortega had set the clock forward only 54 minutes when he adjusted it for daylight savings time.  Ángel didn’t mind the temporal error, though.  It was nice to have a few extra minutes to ponder the comings and goings of the world.  And it gave him extra time to get out of bed.  Lord knows he needed that.

Ángel fumbled for the off switch on the clock, and as he rolled over he was caught in a fractured mosaic of red light.  He had forgotten to close the blinds the previous night and the garish light of a streetlamp invaded his room, shattering on the sequins of an old traje de luces which hung on the wall.  Ángel closed his eyes, awash with an uncomfortable nostalgia.  It was not good, this in the morning.  Ángel hurriedly padded over to the window and shut the blinds.  His head did not clear for several minutes, but he was soon shuffling around his flat preparing for the day.

After a light breakfast of toast and juice, Ángel wrapped himself in a worn overcoat, buttoning it up to his chin to protect himself from the wind and fog.  It had been raining for the majority of the past week, but Ángel was not bothered by the weather.  He wasn’t bothered by much of anything that happened around him anymore.  He was too old and too worn for that.  Ángel nudged a gnarly cane off the rack, coaxed the door open, and made his way from his first floor flat outside.  As he ambled down Dreamwood Avenue, Ángel passed in and out of the circles of light from the streetlamps.

When he made it to the New Hope Children's Home, Ángel put his coat up in the closet and began organizing a to-do list.  Ángel only lived in Dreamwood Terrace because the owners of the children's home had decided he was too old to work the night at the shelter.  He did not mind.  The walk gave him exercise and fresh air, and he could not work the late shifts that he worked when he was younger.

After a long day of laundry, maintenance, and cooking, Ángel finished his work and headed home.  He was sore, but he was happy.  Neither was unusual.

At 7:00, the power at Dreamwood Terrace flickered out.  Ángel had already dozed off in a ratty armchair, with a heavily dog-eared copy of Macbeth in his lap. He was unperturbed as his neighbors scurried around searching for candles and flashlights.