Sometimes as I prepare meals, I say to the Echo Dot on our kitchen counter, "Alexa, tell me a joke."
Usually she responds with something corny like, "A man walked into a bar and said, 'Ouch.'"
Every once in a while, I request a story, and Alexa recites an anonymous piece of flash fiction. The stories invariably have simple plots. Like a Hallmark film or a Thomas Kinkade print, they also have sentimental themes.
After listening to a few, I wondered if I could write one. "Sanctuary" is my attempt.
The plot is simple: a young illegal immigrant walks to the food bank to gather breakfast for his family. How uplifting the theme is . . . well, that's something I'm unsure about, and I'd love your feedback.
Thanks in advance for reading!
Careful not to wake his family, Mateo pulled the motel room door shut and locked it then hurried down the sidewalk to the road. After a few moments, a break came in traffic, and he sprinted across into the bank parking lot. The electronic sign by the drive-thru flashed
22 July 2017
5:46 AM 82⁰F/28⁰C
It’s a GREAT day for a GREAT day!!!
Mateo hoped so. Lately he’d been worried. What if his family was deported? Or placed inside detainment centers?
He’d seen pictures of child detainees on the TV, boys who looked like him, separated from their families and packed into cells like Goya sardines.
The pictures frightened him.
Mateo crossed the parking lot to Fuller Street, pausing to look left. A few men in green work pants and t-shirts waited at the corner. Mateo’s eldest brother Sebastian was not among them. Strong and fit, Sebastian was usually among the first taken when landscapers’ trucks picked up workers for the day.
Grateful his brother had been selected early, Mateo broke into a run. In six years, when he was 17 like Sebastian, he would make money for the family too. For now, he would do what he could.
"Snowing" is slang for the presence of white people, usually lots of them.
At the firehouse, Mateo slowed to a walk. Two white men stood at the flagpole, watching a third raise the flag. Hunching his shoulders, Mateo turned his eyes toward the pavement.
Mami said Americans liked Mexican immigrants, despite what the people on TV said. “We are good, honest people— hard workers. White people, they like that. They respect it. Work hard and you will see!”
But Mateo, who had been called bad names many times and even spit on once, thought Sebastian’s advice was best: “When it’s snowing, keep your head down.”
Taking his brother's advice literally, Mateo did not look up until he reached the corner. There, across the street, the red brick face of the library peeked at him through a narrow oasis of tall, straight trees. His spirits lifted. With its long, tinted windows and solar panels on the roof, the library looked just like it should, he thought: solid and safe.
Mateo had been there many times and knew that the tiled entrance was bright and shiny clean, the rest carpeted sky blue. And there were many computers— entire rooms of them— and row after row of shelving filled with books. Miss Peggy, who worked the second floor where the children’s section was located, called them “stacks.”
Most importantly, every room was air conditioned. Even now Mateo, who was perspiring freely, felt a little cooler, a little calmer just looking at the big, square building. If officers ever came to deport them, he thought his family could hide there. Maybe live there. He was almost certain Miss Peggy wouldn’t tell. She liked them. She found books for them in Spanish and English, and never yelled when he and his little brothers played hide and seek among the stacks.
Where was your "sanctuary" when you were a child?
Quickening his pace, Mateo cut past the bike racks by the big glass front doors. A self-serve food bank sat at the back of the parking lot. He pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and raced toward it.
Each morning a volunteer in a yellow van from the food bank downtown restocked it. Mateo liked to arrive early before the food was picked over, although sometimes he was too early and had to wait for the van. Today he’d come at just the right time. Not only were the shelves full, but the parking lot was empty.
The bank, a yellow metal box on yellow metal legs, had Plexiglas doors with lever handles. Mateo opened the doors and quickly filled his bag: fruit cups and granola for himself and his younger brothers; protein bars for Mami and Abuelita; and two packets of the Nescafé Abuelita liked.
He wished he could bring many bags and fill them all, but Mami said no. “We must take only what we need to start the day,” she said. “Others rely on the bank for their food, too.”
Mateo closed the doors, making sure they latched, then turned toward home. Once Mami and Abuelita left for work, he would return to the library with his little brothers and wait in the shade of the tall, straight trees for the doors to open at nine.
They would not be alone. Many of the neighborhood children would be waiting with them. The library was a good place to spend a summer day. Cool, quiet, clean.
Have you ever written flash fiction?
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© 2017 Jill Spencer