A Short Story — 1/

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In the Fall, when the temperature of the Bay would drop and the wind blew ice, frost gathered like flies on the flesh around Henry Oldez’s room. It was not a heavy frost that spread across the paralyzed lawn, but one that just covered each blade of grass with a fine, white, almost dusty coat. Most mornings, he would stumble out of the garage where he slept and tiptoe past the ice speckled patch of brown and green spotted grass, so to make his way inside to relieve himself. If he was in no hurry, he would stand on the four stepped stoops and look back at the dried, dead leaves hanging from the wiry branches of three trees lined up against the neighbor’s fence. The picture reminded him of what the old gallows must have looked like. Henry Oldez had been living in this routine for twenty-some years.

He had moved to California with his mother, father, and three brothers 35 years ago. Henry’s father, born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, had traveled across the Mexican border on a bent, full jalopy with his wife, Betria Gonzalez and their three kids. They were all mostly babies then and none of the brothers claimed to remember anything of the ride, except one, Leo, recalled there was “A lotta dust in the car.” Santiago Oldez, San for short, had fought in World War II and died of cancer ten years later. San drank most nights and smoked two packs of Marlboro Reds a day. Henry had never heard his father talk about the fighting or the war. If he was lucky to hear anything, it would have been when San was dead drunk, talking to himself mostly, not paying very much attention to anyone except his memories and his music.

“San loved two things in this world,” Henry would say. “Booze, Betria, and Johnny Cash.”

Betria Gonzalez grew up in Tijuana, Mexico as well. She was a stout, short woman, wide but with pretty eyes and a mess of orange golden hair. Betria could talk to anyone about anything. Her nicknames were the conversationalist or the old crow because she never found a reason to stop talking. Santiago had met her through a friend of a friend. After a couple of dates, they were married. There is some talk of a dispute among the two families, that they didn’t agree to the marriage and that they were too young, which they probably were. Santiago being Santiago didn’t listen to anybody, only to his heart. They were married in a small church outside of town overlooking the Pacific. Betria told the kids that the waves thundered and crashed against the rocks that day and the sea looked as if it were endless.

“Like our love,” Betria would say with a twinkle in her eye.

There were no pictures taken and only three people were at the ceremony: Betria, San, and the priest.

“And God,” Santiago always added.

Mitchell Duran is a freelance writer. He earned a Master’s in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University in 2019. Find more work at Mitchellduran.com

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