Rebeca Abidail Flores

Welfare Line


Rebeca Abidail Flores is a Salvadoreña and Mexican American artist from Fresno, CA. Her work is centered on ideas of work and play and how land interacts with culture and community. She has an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco and can be found skateboarding around or on Instagram: @Vatopose. 

Inspired by the drawing, "Welfare Line" by Emmanuel Mayoral. 

The buildings downtown are modern, crumbling, and the Department of Social Services is no different. It’s morning, birds sing and fly from gingko tree, the yellow building, to cedar tree. The line lingers impatiently as people start to release themselves from their morning sweaters. Above them a clear blue open sky. Nothing to hide the sun. The heat is coming. The front door swings open as people push in to take a number and then go back outside to join the line and wait for a seat. The line leans against the bulletproof glass, leaving hot breath and cigarette stench on each other. The sun continues to vibrate in the sky and the human line twitches in wait.

Inside the waiting room, the air is prohibited from freshening up. The front door’s glass is dirty and held ajar by a small wooden door stop. An act of community to let air in but no fresh air enters. Every row is filled, and no seat is vacant. It’s summer and in the Valley, the only thing the heat does is rise, just like the gas prices. The line listens for the thunderous voice. They are dependent on one booming voice calling out numbers. One voice, a consistent ripple of sound, has the power to scurry the humans and release them from their positions.



On the back wall, above a row of people waiting is a nailed brown sign. A young mother sits with her knees screwed together holding onto her baby. In her hand a crumpled-up piece of paper with the number 57. She is sitting between two men whose legs are so spread out that if it wasn’t for the armrest, they’d each have one leg on her lap. The baby’s dirty foot kicks against her skin as the young mother watches her oldest son play with the shoelaces of an old man. He looks to be asleep in the corner snoring quietly. The young mother calls her son over, he obediently scurries to her and sits in front of her. With crayons he draws a happy sun on the warm tile. Above the young mother’s family there is a brown sign that reads: “Improving the health, safety, and well-being of America.”



Each number is called one by one and the number of people waiting increases by two. The building’s air conditioning is being fixed, and the waiting room feels warmer than the outside. A man wearing paint-splattered jeans hangs his head low and putts his nose in his shirt to discreetly smell himself. He’s holding a scrunched-up piece of paper with the number #29 in his hand. His phone vibrates against his leg.

“Manny, are you coming into work today? I need your help with this house, man, it needs to be done by today.” The voice on the call sounds hurried. 

Manny turns to glance at the clock behind him. “I’m busy right now.”

“Now? It’s a big house man, come help me out. I beg you.”

“I’ve been swearing to my vieja that I’d come downtown and sort some shit out.” He scratches the back of his head in an impatient manner.  Manny continues, “I’m so close. She made the appointment for me and even ironed my shirt. I’m so close.”

The voice on the call sounds frantic. “Please, man, please. I heard them talking. The supervisor might be popping up today.”

The painter takes his nose out of his shirt. “Hang on for as long as you can,” he tells the caller. Manny glances at the clock behind him one last time and he sees a boy drawing on the floor. The thunderous voice calls a number, but Manny doesn’t care, he already has his back to the check in window. Again, he hears his number, but he keeps walking, his face warm, his nose red, his forehead sweating.






Outside, ears are waiting for their number to be called. The young boy closest to the front door calls out calls out the number 30 just seconds after he hears the booming voice. He holds a cold bottle of Mountain Dew to his face to keep cool.

A group of homeless men walk together pulling a dirt-covered grocery cart behind them. One man pulls the cart slow by a single shoelace. His palm blistering with each step he takes. His partner walks beside the cart, holding a white sign with only two words written, HUNGRY. PLEASE.

The men pass the line and begin the routine.

“Spare some change?” they ask.

A young woman wearing a braid scrunches up her nose and walks past them avoiding eye contact. She pushes the front door open and enters the waiting room. When she reaches the check-in window, she exhales a deep breath of relief and takes a piece of candy from the jar. 

She meets the booming voice. “You called my number at the right time,” she says, smiling.




An older woman has her eyes glued to the movie playing on an out-of-date tv. Her eyes are briefly distracted by a pair of red shoes at the check in window. The picture on the tv is a little discolored, blurry, and a lot boring. She stares at the neon green line running straight through the screen. A light leak probably from someone hitting the t.v. or maybe it’s just that old but it doesn’t matter, she takes out a pen, a brown piece of paper and starts to write on top of her purse. She attempts to describe the green light leak but instead makes a list: Eggs, pick up Jose from school, find time to masturbate, clean house, watch baby, find out why I’m so tired.



Two humans in wait:

“How long have you been waiting?”

“An hour.”

“I just got here. Did you see that the Warriors lost?”


“These chairs hurt my back.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“You wanna come outside for a smoke?”

“No, I’m good.”

“Okay but you’re not good, brother. Tell me if they call fifty-two.”




A blue Honda honks causing a jolt in the line. A young woman wearing a dress runs outside and starts arguing with the driver. She yells at him, “No. I’m not ready yet.” The line does their best not to pay her attention but they’re there, present, and this is the most interesting thing that’s happened since the office opened and the wait began.

A young man gets out of the car and slams the door shut. “Why the hell not?” He pulls her arm.

She follows in the direction of the pull. “They haven’t called my number yet.”

He scoffs at her. “Did you even get a number? Are you stupid Theresa?” His voice hoarse. 

She yells at him again, tears running down her face. “Yes, I got a number.”

“This is your fault. I’m late for work.”

“Leave then,” she says.

The line is fixated they watch him release her arm and start the car. Near the front door is an empty Mountain Dew bottle, the young woman grabs it and throws it at the car, but she misses. “You’re really leaving?” she shouts. The car screeches and the line adverts their gaze for a moment, remembering they must give the appearance of manners. Their ears track the blue Honda to the end of the block, it backfires, then the young woman swings the front door open. Her round chest heaving. Theresa sits directly across from the brown sign. No equity looming above her no well-being insight only the wait.



Near the bathroom, a woman wearing large hoop earrings answers a phone call. She hides herself in the corner trying desperately not to be overhead. It’s her sister. She grew up around loudmouths and she doesn’t want strangers to know that she’s one too. Since Alejandra moved back, she’s had to deal with running errands and tracking their mother’s medication. The truth is, Alejandra can’t wait to return to her life, and if she’s being honest, helping her family annoys her. 

“Yes, it’s a big deal to use Mom’s address for the paperwork,” Alejandra says, while pacing back and forth.

“Why? It’s where you live now,” her sister responds.

Alejandra’s voice is a whisper. “You’re putting me in a box so I can’t leave, so I’ll be trapped, like you. Like everyone else here.”

“You’re being dramatic and ungrateful,” Sister says. “Like you would know what it’s like to stay behind.” The phone call ends.

This is an argument they’ve had before. Sister doesn’t understand, Alejandra thinks. She closes her eyes. Breathes. Doesn’t want to cry. Applying for benefits solidifies that her life is over. With every number that passes Alejandra grows more impatient. She has no idea what she’ll do once she reaches the woman behind the glass at the check-in counter. No idea how she’ll convince the woman to give her a slide on her unfinished paperwork.






A man looks around in panic. “Did they just call number thirty-five? Oh shit. I think that was me,” he says, pushing himself through the people in the office. He reaches the window and puts his hand on a woman’s shoulder pushing her out of the way. 

“Aye. Ma’am, sorry.” The woman in front of the window steps aside.

He looks at the woman behind the voice through the glass. “My number is thirty-five. My name is Miguel, I’m thirty-five.”  

She speaks into a wired mic attached to the bullet proof glass. “You have to take a new number.” The voice a boom in the waiting room.

 “What? Why? I’m number thirty-five.” His face gets hot and red.

“Sir. I called your number, no one showed up, I moved on to the next.” She glances at the woman standing behind him, waiting.

“Yeah. I know. I was outside in the heat and I didn’t hear the number.”

“Sir. You have to take a new number.”

Miguel clears his throat. “No. That’s bullshit. No, I’m not accepting that.”

“You’re not the only one here today, sir. Take a new number and take a seat. Or I’ll call security.”

Miguel looks into her eyes and knows her voice is final.

“Please,” he begs. “Please.”

She shakes her head no and beckons the woman waiting to the window.

He takes a new number walks away from the bulletproof glass. He returns outside, the line is much smaller now. The sun high in the sky. The concrete outside hot burning through the bottom of the soles of his shoes.

An old man stands closer to Miguel and looks at the number in his hand and asks him, “What number are you now?”

Miguel sighs. He closes his eyes and swings his head back, resting it on the yellow wall. “One-oh-one,” he says.  Miguel’s eyes stay closed, opening just to meet the old man’s gaze.


“One-oh-one,” Miguel repeats. He moves closer to the front door and returns to the wait. The gingko tree provides so little shade Miguel looks up and between leaves, sees a blanket blue sky joined by its star. How strange, he thinks, how strange the sun moves minute by minute, hour by hour, to set in the west. How strange that the sun too waits in line. 

© The Acentos Review 2021