The Acentos Review


She reached for a small strip of paper in her pocket, a receipt from the pharmacy where she had stopped to buy Eleuterio medicine.  Clenching a black public phone between her neck and shoulder, her hand swept across the small piece of paper in a rush of flowing strokes.  She wrote in blue ink:  Jose, Saturday, 10am, Juanita’s.

Tijuana was too much for Eleuterio at that age, too many cars, too many shops, too many merchants selling candies and bright plastic trinkets, none of which his Tía Angela would buy for him.  The three day bus ride had left him tired, feverish, and already he missed his cousins.  All he had been able to do for fun was to scribble little crayon drawings on the margins of newspapers.  His nose had started bleeding, and his tía had dabbed the blood off and made him drink a bitter purple liquid.  He stretched his legs and was glad when his tía told him they had made it to the city of Tijuana. 


But they had only come there to get to Los Estados Unidos. The name sounded boring, but all along the three-day bus ride his tía had talked about it like it would be a new world, with a brighter sun and a bluer sky.  “The sun will be brighter there mijo,” she said while she stroked his hair, “everything’s going to be brighter—it’s going to be better.”  The bus ride had left them sweaty and tired, but they had luck, it was only their second day in the city and they had found a coyote that they could afford.  He knew a coyote was a kind of man who got you to Los Estados Unidos, probably because he was really fast. He knew about him because he had overheard his tía that morning.  They were at the lady’s house where they had spent the night, and his tía was helping him look nice in his nice blue shirt with the Mickey Mouse sown on the pocket. While she got him ready she talked to the lady, and they called the man coyote.

Eleuterio imagined him to have a shiny nose and maybe sharp yellow eyes.  But when they met him at Juanita’s Tacos y Antojitos—at the end of the corridor near the bathroom—he just sat down at their booth, in jeans and a gray t-shirt, and told them his name was Jose.  He didn’t even look old, maybe as old as Eleuterio’s cousin Edgar who was studying at the University back home.  He did look fast though.  He had thick eyebrows that streaked his brow, a broad nose, and dark forearms wiry with muscles. 

Tía Angela handed Jose a shiny plastic card across the table.  As she held it out to him in her small, calloused hands, Eleuterio caught a glimpse of it: there was his tía, with her schoolgirl face and her dark almond eyes.  The card said: Maria Estrada.  His tía had told him the day before, “I’m your mom, alright mijo?  If anyone asks you, I’m your mom, and my name is Maria.  It’s just pretend.”  He didn’t really understand, but it would be easy enough to pretend—whenever he heard kids talk about moms, they sounded just like his tía.

Jose shook his head.  “There’s no way this is going to work. You don’t look thirty-two.  And I mean, just look at this thing.” He plucked at its rounded corner with his fingernail and a thin layer of plastic began peeling off. “Who made it for you?” 

“The man said it was good.”

“I’m sure he did, Jijo.”  Angela’s face slowly fell.  “Look, don’t worry,” he said, and handed the card back to her.  “You don’t need that trash.  I’ll get you and this little guy across.” He smiled at Eleuterio and turned back to Angela. “I know another way.” 

They took a bus through the city, passed sun drenched crowds, gleaming chrome on rudely noisy cars, vats of cooking pork lard on the street.  As they went the cars started to dwindle, the land started to rise up in hills and to dry off. Gusts of sand swirled around the bus’s tires when they reached their stop.  The three of them stepped out the bus’s hissing door, and Eleuterio squinted and smooshed his hand into his nose and blinked off the dust.  Angela took him by the hand, and as he walked with her he noticed the brands on snack wrappers that had been tossed on the ground: Sabritas, Jumex, Dubalin, all their various packages mummified by the dry heat.  The houses on these streets were small, their wooden walls and aluminum roofs beginning to sag slightly, like they were starting to melt.  They bought three bottles of water in a wooden changaro built onto the side of a house, then kept walking through the streets, their uneven, weed-cracked pavement, then they stopped by a shop that had its metal-grate-door closed, pulled across its front like a cage.  Angela leaned on the window sill of the shop’s yellow walls, and took Eleuterio in her arms briefly, before she let him slide down.

“He’s a quiet boy isn’t he?” Jose asked.  Eleuterio looked back up at them with big, mute eyes.  Angela touched his cheek. “It’s good,” Jose said. He took a breath, and looked out to the other side of the road, the side that fell into a valley.  “He’s going to have to be very quiet.  The whole way to the other side.”

“You can keep quiet, right mijo?”

Eleuterio nodded, took this as a challenge.  He did not see why he couldn’t stay silent forever.  Jose returned his nod. “He really is serious,” he said, and smiled at Angela. “The path’s just down this hill, through that valley—can you believe it?  We might even make it by night fall if we have a little luck.  You have a water bottle right?”

Angela nodded.  “Jose,” she asked, “why do you charge so little?  Compared to the other coyotes, why do you charge half as much?”

Jose thought for a moment, and a smile crept on his face.  “Well, it means I’ll always have work.”

She waited in the silence that hung between them. 

“Look, a lot of different kinds of people cross for a lot of different reasons,” he said.  “The one thing in common is that most don’t have much money to spare, but we charge it anyway because it’s no small thing we’re doing.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t get worked up about it—whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.  But if you got that really cheap fake card, then I figured you just don’t have much cash anyway.  And I’ve lived a few years up there.  I know how it is—trust me coyotes don’t come from rich families.  I know how it goes for women who don’t know the language.”

“I know a little bit.”

“Well a little bit means you’ll understand how some rich lady wants you to clean her house, and that you’ll get the names of all the burgers at Rally’s.”

She looked him in the eye.  “But I can learn,” she said. 

He looked back at her, almost startled for a moment.  “Yeah,” he said, “you can.”  

They rose and walked up the dirt road that wound its way to the edge of the hill.  They stood on dry grass.  Below, they could see an expanse of rough land with patches of dark brush sprouting up, a land like a tortilla that has been overcooked.  They veered off the road and descended down the slope of the hill, down to the arid ground.  This was what people called desierto; Eleuterio had never seen one in real life.  He watched their three shadows walking together ahead of them, stark against the bright earth.  Eleuterio liked it. He would have liked to walk like that for a long time. 

Eventually the desert seemed to bloom, and the plants became denser, taller, a sharper green.  They walked through swaying grasses, marsh plants with funny brown fuzz on their heads.  And there were little bugs that seemed too small to be anything, but went on hovering around like dots spinning in the air. 

They came to the edge of a creek.  It did not seem deep; the land hardly curved down to meet its slow brown water. Jose crouched down near a patch of weeds that overlooked the surface.  Angela imitated him—and crouched—and Eleuterio imitated her.  “Chin, I didn’t think it’d be this full,” Jose said.  Eleuterio watched the brown waters passing by, watched as they lapped up an empty bag of Sabritas.  It seemed everywhere they went, even in the desert, people ate bags of Sabritas.  All around there were broken pieces of wood, soiled wrappers, glass bottles, and there was a single shoe just on the other side of the creek.  It was a little girl’s shoe, one of those black plastic ones that seemed indestructible and covered the toes in a plastic mesh.  “Wait here,” Jose said, and dashed off into the grasses.  Angela stayed, and Eleuterio went on staring at the shoe. Something in him began stirring. He thought of why it would just be laying there, realized that people were walking around all over, that there had been a little girl walking here, and that later on, maybe after he’d walked around here, some other person would, maybe another boy like him, or maybe an old man—an old man with a beard—and they might leave something else here so that people would know they had passed by. 

He wanted to leave something too.  His gazed wandered for a moment.  He stood up and carefully walked over to a broken piece of wooden board that was wedged in some grasses. It was small and thin—no wider than his forearm.  For a moment, he stared at the gray texture, at the fine lines cracking through the edges, those dark, splitting crevices that reminded him of people passing through. 

“Eleuterio, what are you doing?” his tía asked in a scolding whisper. 

Eleuterio walked back toward her, a little farther from her than he had been sitting, the piece of wood in his hands.  “Eleuterio, leave that alone—it’s dirty.”  Eleuterio looked up, remembered his promised silence.  He had no struggle in his face, not the berinches he could throw when he was denied a toy; instead, he had the look of a serene martyr.  “Leave that alone,” Angela said, but her voice trailed off, and she looked away, toward the swaying grasses. 

Eleuterio walked two more steps, slightly away from his tía, still within four or five grownup strides, but to a spot where she would have to turn around to see him.  He reached into his pocket and took out his two crayons, a red and a white one.  He took the white one and wrote on the wood: 


He did not know why he had been given a hard name.  When he was done he put the piece of wood down, carefully squatting to lower it to the ground.  His fingers in his right hand kept making small movements, like they wanted to keep writing.  He was looking at it with a mix of pride and an overwhelmed feeling: he had unlocked this magic, but was not sure if he could ever reach an end to it. 

Hurried footsteps tearing up soft dirt made him turn.  Jose was coming toward them, rolling a truck tire.  Its zigzagging grooves were still perfectly black, contrasting sharply with the raised parts that were pale with dirt. 

“Well, we’re in luck,” Jose said, holding it with chapped hands that were smudged with dirt, “I think this’ll do the job.”  He looked at it with some pride, breathing as if he had just run somewhere, some sweat beading beside his eyes.  He rolled the tire to the edge of the creek, inspecting it carefully. 

“Okay come on,” he said to Angela, “this is the most narrow spot; it’s the best we’re going to get.” 

“Ven Eleuterio,” Angela whispered, and held out her hand to him.  Eleuterio grabbed the piece of wood he had written on, and walked to her.  “Leave that Eleuterio!” she whispered, but Eleuterio held on to it.  Angela breathed in as if to continue the argument, but there was a sudden splash.  They turned and looked at the creek.  The tire was bobbing in the water, the waters licking its edges black.  The ripples began to settle.  Jose stood there, stooped a bit, his arms still hanging down in the aftermath of his throw.  He curled his lower lip in pleasant triumph, then turned to Angela. 

“Okay I’ll get to the other side, then send the boy over, alright?”  Angela nodded.  Eleuterio looked between the two of them, wondered if he should nod too.  Jose synched up his belt, then with three splashing strides he lunged onto a muddy island in the creek, onto the tire, and onto the other side.  The tire had sunk, but had had come up shining black, and Jose was wet only up to his ankles.  “See?” he turned to them, “it’s not that deep.”  The other two were silent.  “Okay, send the little guy over.” Jose stooped down as if he would catch Eleuterio in his arms.

“Mijo, you’re going to do what Jose just did, alright?” Angela touched his arm. 

Eleuterio stared at the water.  He remembered watching how all his older cousins and their friends would go down to the laguna, how they would jump and catch a tree branch and swing and jump off into the water, screaming and laughing like they were jumping into the sky.  He had never tried it. The water had always looked cold, green, deeper than he could imagine.  This was like that.  He held his silence.

“It’s just like playing.  You can get across, it’s not far.”

He stood silent. His fingers readjusted their grip on the wood. 

“Okay,” she whispered, “I’m going to help you.”  She looked at the creek, at the tire now lying stagnant with its black round face peaking out of the water, looked back at Eleuterio.  “I’ll cross with you.  Alright?  I’ll be with you.  I’ll be holding your hand so you won’t fall.  Will you do that?”  Eleuterio’s top lip hugged the bottom one.  “But first mijo, you have to let this go.”  She tugged at the piece of wood.  Immediately, Eleuterio’s grip tightened, both hands wrapping themselves around it.  He did his best to stifle any cry, but a slight whine came from his chest.  “Eleuterio!” she whispered, and snatched it from him.  “This isn’t a game!  This is serious!” As she held him by the arm he thought of how he had seen his grandma hit his tía and his older cousins Eliza and Lupe with a reed, of how she yelled at them sometimes.  Angela glanced at the stick and saw what he had written, saw his eyes watering and his chest heaving like a small animal’s.  She let go of his arm, and caressed it gently instead.  “Mijo, don’t cry.  We’ll do this. You can keep this okay?  I’m just going to toss it over to Jose.  He’ll catch it, he’ll hold it, and then when we cross over, we’ll get it back.”  She looked over to Jose, who was standing with his hands on his hips, mouth half-parted, squinting in the sunlight.  “Jose you can catch this right?  And hold it for Eleuterio until he crosses over?”

“Claro,” he said.  “Just toss it over,” he held out his hands in a catching gesture.

“See?  You understand Eleuterio?”

Eleuterio nodded, sadly as if he would never see that block of wood again.  Angela stepped to the edge of the creek, looked graceful as she leaned on her strong leg and held the other one back like a dancer.  She curled her arm back, holding the stick by one end.  It would have been a perfect throw… had the stick been denser, had the wind not caught it as it made its anemic turns over the creek.  It went lopsided, went down into the water with an unceremonious plup.  It made a lazy turn in the water, and then one end struck the tire and it stopped entirely.

Jose raised one hand, covering his mouth as if in deep thought, his cheeks bunching at the top.  Angela just stared at the stick, her mouth parted.  Jose took a deep drag of air, looked into the distance, then looked back at Angela.  “Don’t worry about it,” he said, “I’ll go back and get it. Come on, just come across now.” 

Angela stooped down, spoke to Eleuterio with urgent comforting. 

“Eleuterio, don’t worry—look where it landed.  We can still get it.  We just have to cross okay?  On our way across we can get it.  We just have to go now.”  She grabbed his hand and this time made it clear in her grip that this was as urgent as catching a bus at the Mercado.  They stepped to the edge of the creek. She held his hand to her ribs.  “It’s going to be alright,” she took a step back with him.  “We’re going to jump together.”

“Maybe you should just let the boy go first,” Jose said. 

“Here we go mijo.” 

She picked him up—both arms under his shoulders—stepped into the edge of the water and lunged as far as she could. She landed in the deepest part of the water, just shy of the tire, but she carried him above the surface.  He instinctively curled his legs up like a cat.  The brown water rose to her thighs, and struggling to stay on her feet, she placed Eleuterio on the tire.  He could have almost balanced on it—his tía was helping him—but he saw his name floating in the water, and he reached for it.  As soon as the thought came, he was slipping, and he fell. 

“Eleuterio!” Angela yelled amid splashes, and before he could sink down all the way to his neck, Angela was picking him up. 

“Chin,” Jose began to move as if to help, but by then Angela was wading through the water, making a sloshing sound of wet clothes.  Jose took the boy out of her arms, put him down, and held his hand out to Angela.  When they were both out of the water and her denim was dark blue up to her thighs and a big blot in the center of her shirt clung to her skin, Eleuterio had the piece of wood in his hand.

“I should have known it wasn’t going to be easy,” Jose said.  Angela exhaled through her mouth, as if she was going to laugh but was too tired. 

“You alright mijo?” she asked as she ran her hands on his arms, her eyes searching his.  Eleuterio nodded.  “His shoes are wet, his shorts…” 

“Well there’s not much we can do about it now—it’s hot out anyway,” Jose said, then looked vaguely north.  “We better get going.”  Eleuterio gazed back at the shore of the creek.  “Come on little guy,” Jose said.  Angela took him by the hand, and the scratchy sound of their steps in the dirt began moving. Eleuterio kept looking back, and then suddenly slipped from his tía’s hand and ran back toward the creek. “Eleuterio!” his tía called, but he kept running. He searched the weeds, gripping his crayon-written name to his heart.

“Eleuterio, get back here!” he heard his tía coming for him, but he kept searching, moving the limp grasses aside, feeling them scratch on his legs.  There it was: the little girl’s shoe.  He bent down, laid his wooden name next to it, and smiled. 


He ran back to follow Jose and his tía. 

They walked into the open land, and Jose turned to Angela, “You know, no one’s named Eleuterio up there. You should call him something different, you know, more Americano.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, Eli, Elliot, something.”

As he followed them, Eleuterio thought about how people would see his name next to the little girl’s shoe, how they would know he passed by on the way to his new home with his tía.  But then he began wondering if they had lagunas where they were going.  Maybe he would have liked to jump in the laguna back home, with his cousins, at least one time. Maybe he would have liked it.  But he looked at the sky above them and thought that his tía was right: the sun is bright in the desert.   



Marco Moreno Flores was born in Orizaba, Mexico, and raised in San Diego County.  He graduated from Pomona College in 2008, with a degree in Art.  Since graduation he has focused on writing and has a novel manuscript being submitted for publication.  He likes listening to classic rock and eating whatever is in the fridge.  Otherwise, he writes and meditates on the mysteries of the universe.