The Acentos Review

 
 

The shop was near empty when Rose walked in. This was the benefit of taking the day off from work and going on these explorations and adventures, as she thought them to be, on a weekday. She had just gotten out of a movie at the Century multiplex. Tinseltown was closer to her house, but Bobby said he hated it because it was too ‘ghetto.’ While just a couple of weeks ago, someone had been shot dead in the parking lot, making Rose burn with embarrassment at Bobby being proven right, it wasn’t just the multiplex (which she started calling a multiplex after his first trip home from school because “plays are produced at theaters; movies are screened at multiplexes”) that Bobby thought so lowly of. It was all of Corpus Christi, all of his home.

She went to the first feature of a foreign film, Chinese, she thought, but she wouldn’t dare guess, because Bobby would probably correct her and tell her something about the rich cultural differences that separate the countries of Southeast Asia. She had learned about those rich cultural differences when she was in college herself, and she wondered if her forgetting them spoke to the differences in quality of education between the one she got at CCSU (which she still forgets to now call Texas A&M CC) and the one he got at Stanford. That was probably it, she thought, but also that he was just so much smarter than her, so much more intelligent.

She wouldn’t have ever gone to a foreign film before, not even one in Spanish (they were so hard to understand with their heavy Spain- and Mexico-Spanish dialects), but she was trying to understand her son and his likes—trying to get closer to him by conforming to his aesthetic sensibilities, to become someone her son would like, say to spend an evening with, rather than someone he only loves and spends time with out of appreciative obligation.

One word she had managed to remember from college was the word ‘philistine,’ and when he said it she had to leave the room so she could cry the tears she tried so often to hold back.

“I don’t mean to disparage the whole of Corpus as being ‘ghetto,’ because that connotes a certain socioeconomic status,” he said, trying to backpedal as delicately as he could out of a comment he’d made at the dinner table that offended Beto, her husband, his father. He had always spoken that way; Stanford didn’t do that to him. “It’s just that there’s a culture here which is such that one can’t be challenged or even stimulated intellectually. There’s no art, no progress toward it or high culture. It’s a city of… of… philistines.”

It would have hurt less if he’d just stuck with calling the place ‘ghetto.’ Rose knew what she did and didn’t have, and that she raised her son where and how she and Beto could afford to. So their neighbors were a little shady. They were still good neighbors. So their neighborhood was down-run and their house a little small. It was still their home.

“I mean, this town doesn’t even have a Starbucks,” Bobby said finally, as if the town’s lack of a franchise coffee shop was all the proof his point needed. When his father didn’t change his angry expression, Bobby shook his head, said “sorry,” and bowed his head to face the carne guisada, rice, and beans, Rose had made special for him. Rose excused herself from the table and didn’t leave her room until dinner was done and Bobby had left to see some friends in town from school and some who had never left.  

That was five years ago. Since then, a girl and a PhD program brought him back to Texas, and Rose had been trying her best to bridge the gap that separated them. She had made progress, but it mirrored too closely their geographical separation. Sure, he wasn’t in California anymore, but there’s not much difference between Stanford and Lubbock when your husband doesn’t fly and your son is always so busy. She read authors she heard Bobby talk about and saw movies he said looked good during the coming attractions at the multiplex (they caught a movie every time he came home). She would talk to him on the phone about the books and movies, and when he would start in on his talks of theory and subtext, she would always fall back on the same line:

“Son, I teach the third grade. I haven’t read a book without pictures or seen a movie without talking animals for as long as I can remember. At least not without you.”

She had joined a book club and taken to watching movies that even Bobby hadn’t talked about. She was happy to report to him that she had even joined the art society at the Corpus Christi Art Center (“Yes,” she told him. “We have an art center,”) which held monthly wine tasting parties. Bobby seemed amused, if not wholly pleased, by her efforts. It was in this spirit that she went to the multiplex that morning, and walked into the newly built Starbucks, just two days after its grand opening.

A wall of coffee smell met Rose at the store’s threshold. It was thick and heavy and it made her gag. She walked to the seat nearest her (a plush armchair), sat down, and put her head between her legs.

Why did she react that way? Why was she so affected by the smell of coffee? She liked coffee, drank it every morning. Could this all have signaled another distance separating her from modernity and from culture and from Bobby? Of course not. She hadn’t been sitting for but a couple of minutes when she got up, shook the nerves out through her arms, and laughed at her own silliness. Dr. Heckman, she supposed, had been right to prescribe her the medications when Bobby first left and she couldn’t bring herself to face a day or go anywhere without having panic attacks and crying spells.

But that was so long ago. She had taken cycles of her meds, gotten better, and weaned herself from them. She could probably remember the last time she had an attack like this one, but she didn’t want to, so she didn’t try.

She walked up to the counter of the shop and was intimidated by the menu board until she heard the man in front of her order a coffee. He called it something else, but she was sure he’d ordered a plain Jane coffee. When it came her turn to order, she said, “I’ll have the same as him.”

“One venti coffee, coming up,” the girl behind the counter said with a smile. Rose had taught her some years ago, but forgot her name, so didn’t mention it. 

Rose prepared her coffee with half and half and three sugars, sat back down on the push chair, and looked around her. It was an okay place. New. Trying to be new, hip. She took a sip of her drink and couldn’t see how a place that charged this much for coffee, which she admitted right off was strong, could usher Corpus into some new strata of relevance. Would this place raise the literacy rate? Would it lower the teen pregnancy rate? Would it make people drive better? No. It was just one more thing that could be crossed off of the list of things the city didn’t offer. If only a respectable bar and a decent music scene could pop up like this coffee shop did, out of nowhere in a shopping center that one always drives by but never notices until there’s a banner announcing a grand-opening or going-out-of-business sale, her Bobby could come home.

She sat there allowing herself to relax, to be lulled by the heat and caffeine of the coffee. She enjoyed her days off. She started taking her sick and personal days, ones allotted in a given semester, then the back days accumulated in years of never calling in and never taking off, when the depression hit. Then, they were spent in her room or in the kitchen, cooking up feasts that she and Beto couldn’t possibly have finished themselves. He would reassure her, telling her how delicious the food was and that he would take the leftovers to work for lunch and to feed his crew members.

The lost days became standard operating procedure, and were tolerated kindly by her principal, especially after Dr. Heckman faxed in an excuse. When the medicine started working, when Rose got used to the change, her days off became less about crying, then less about silent meditation, then about taking advantage of the calm, uninhabited world around her. She hadn’t taken a sick day in a while, but seeing that the Starbucks opened up, she decided that she would.

Beto had been so nice about it all. Bobby’s leaving had been hard on him too, but not as hard, and that hurt Rose at first. But when she started taking her days and seeing Dr. Heckman, he was as supportive as he knew how to be.

“Mamí,” he told her, “they don’t give you back the days you don’t use when you retire.”

She finished her coffee and stood from her seat, a little jittery from the caffeine. She threw her cup away and walked over to a sales display that had caught her eye. Pounds and pounds of different blends of coffee… bean grinders… coffee machines running around $300 each… She settled on buying a coffee mug. She had a thermos at home, and the mug cost $25, but it wasn’t just about function. Nothing was anymore.

She picked a stainless steel one with the corporate logo emblazoned on it. She bought it from the girl, Cindy, Rose learned from her nametag. It all came back to her.

“Cindy Diaz, you were always a good girl in my class,” she said.

Cindy lit up, took the newly bought mug from the counter, and washed it out. She began to fill it with coffee.

“Mi‘ja, you don’t need to do that,” Rose told her.

“It’s on the house Mrs. Hernandez. We give free coffee to cops and firefighters, why not the other front-liners of civil service?”

“Spoken so well Ms. Diaz, but I’m already shaking from the first cup,” Rose smiled.

“No problem.” Cindy cleaned out the mug and filled it with steaming hot chocolate. “In appreciation of a great teacher,” she said, handing Rose the mug.

Rose walked away, happy. Before she reached the door, Cindy Diaz spoke to her, tiptoeing over the partition that separated the preparation area from the storefront: “I’m in college,” she announced, awkwardly. “I work here part time. I graduate this May.”

“I knew you’d make it, mi ‘jita. I’ll see you next time.” Rose waved goodbye and took her phone from her purse as soon as she got in her car.

She regretted dialing Bobby’s number right after she did. What if he was in class? The tone of his voice when he answered set her at ease.

“Hey mom,” he said, sounding like he had just been laughing at something someone he was with said. “What’s up?”

“You’ll never guess where I am.”

“If you say Lubbock, we’ll grab lunch.”

“Oh, I wish. No, I’m at the brand new Starbucks in Corpus.” She didn’t have any real expectation of what he would say in response.

“Wow, you guys have a Starbucks? It’s about time,” he said.

“I know, we’re always about a decade behind the rest of the world.”

“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “It suits Corpus. Starbucks is the Wal-Mart of coffee shops. I bet the opening was in the news and everything.”

Rose got a familiar feeling in her stomach and the faint onset of an ache in the side of her head. “You know what.” She turned the car on. “I think it was.”

“Typical.” She could hear his eyes rolling. “Trick the Christians into believing they’ve made it. Like they’re not still where they are.”

“Yeah.” She forced a chuckle. “Anyway, I saw a former student working there and she’s in college and she gave me free hot chocolate, so. I guess I just felt like hearing your voice.”

“Thanks mom. This dissertation is killing me. Why did I pick Chaucer, ma? Why?”

Rose laughed because she knew she was supposed to. “You can do it mi ‘jo. You’re so smart. I know you can. Anyway, I better go. My break’s almost over and I have to get back to school.”

“Alright mom, I’ll call you and dad tomorrow. I love you,” he said and waited for her to say, “Love you too,” before hanging up.

Rose looked at the coffee mug in her cup holder and rotated it so that the Starbucks label faced away from her. Without thinking or feeling, she backed out of her parking spot and pulled away from Starbucks. She saw Cindy Diaz wave at her from the shop in the corner of her eye, but couldn’t wave back because she had already pulled onto the South Padre Island Drive feeder lane. There seemed to be a lot of cars on the road for a work day. She got onto the highway and headed south.

In a few miles, she could exit Ennis Joselin to drive over to the university on the island like she sometimes liked to do to see the twenty-somethings laughing and walking and talking—matriculating. She would probably keep going south, though, and end up at the national seashore. Watching the waves lap up the litter on the beach to carry it away to far-off lands or to sink it at the bottom of the gulf always calmed her down, made her feel better, like it was her that was being whisked away, or at least crushed under tons of cold, dark, peaceful pressure.

 

Lost Days



Rene S. Pérez II




Rene S Perez II was born in Kingsville TX and raised in Corpus Christi, where he currently teaches high school English. He earned a BA in English from the University of Texas and a MFA from Texas State University. He has completed a collection of short stories and is a few commas away from finishing his first novel. His stories have appeared in Callaloo and Pulp!. He's working on getting them published in something with just his name on the cover, but right now he'll take what he can get. He feels his aesthetic makeup is 33% conjunto, 33% hip-hop, and 50% heavy metal. He's married to a good woman who can read and who isn't above telling him a sentence doesn't work.