Olivia Peña


Olivia Peña is a Black-Salvadoran writer and MFA candidate at the University of San Francisco. Her work has appeared in Primary Treasure Magazine and Spectrum Magazine

Twitter: @OliviaPenya 

 The Paletero Man


Big Oscar’s Liquors neon lights were somehow brighter on a Friday night. Either that or Javi had only ever seen the flashing, “Booze, Ice, Cold” sign through half opened eyes—his first stop before weekend routes where even the coffee that Big Oscar swore was stronger than gasoline, could not keep his body fully alert all day. Big Oscar, who hadn’t taken a day off since two hooded out of town vatos tried to rob his store the year before, waved his giant hand when he saw Javi, standing on his toes, belly plopped on top of the counter.

Javi?” Big Oscar said, looking at his watch. “I wasn't expecting you for another few…oh, I’d say eight hours. Que paso? Thinking of selling paletas to kids after the bars now o que?” He said, pointing to Javi’s cart.

“You know I appreciate all of this, Os. And I can’t thank you enough,” Javi said, running his callused fingers over the smooth surface of the cart. “But I can’t do this anymore. And, you know, I wanted to come by and tell you to your face instead of just dropping the cart off mañana.

Ah, c’mon carnal. Hanging up the bell already, huh? You know, I knew you wouldn’t last. The youngest paletero I ever had running through here. I was even a little bit older than you when I started, and they still called me Oscarcito,” he said laughing. “You know that was my cart too. I only give it to the young bucks.”

Big Oscar was a paletero man turned liquor storeowner. Five years since his last route and still teenagers would rest their greasy elbows on his counter and ask for the usual. Sucking down their paletas or licking salty tamarind goop from their fingers in the air conditioning of his store. Reminiscing about the days when they would buy half-melted Big Sticks and watery snow cones from Big Oscar in the heat of the afternoon.

“Yeah, Os. And again, I can’t thank you enough for hooking me up. But I have to be there for my girl, you know?” Javi said, expecting Big Oscar, who knew everything about everyone to know how Rosa spent nights locked in the bathroom with only steam from the shower next to her. “It calms me,” she said, after a year of negative pregnancy tests. “Just at least let me have this. Please,” she would say, and then she would be singing quietly, both her voice and mist floating underneath the cracks of the door.

“I get it, carnal. My lady’s got the leash on me pretty tight too. That’s just women. Tell you what, throw a couple paletas in there and take the cart back to your old lady. Pull a couple out for her tonight. Butter her up a little. Then tell her this weekend will be your last,” he said, walking from behind the counter. “At least say goodbye. You don’t have no Big Javi’s for those kids to come running back to,” he said, reaching in the freezer for two paletas de sandia. Trust me. It works every time with the ladies.”

Javi grabbed both paletas and ate them on his way home. Rosa’s favorite flavor was bubble gum with frozen gumballs stuck to the bottom. The kind that stained her tongue an electric blue. He would bring her those paletas after his last route. It would be a surprise for her on Sunday when he returned cart-less, holding two paletas in his hands. Weekend mornings from then on would be spent with Javi still in bed, watching the sun peak over the sill of their fourth story window. “I did this for you, for us.  Para nuestra familia, he had practiced saying, sun spilling into every corner of their apartment.

In Javi’s mind, Riverside had always been a woman. Not the demanding kind of women he and Oscar joked about in the mornings at the register over steaming cups of café. Riverside was more like the only woman he had ever loved—naturally beautiful with hills like facial creases, the only shield from her incessant sun. Which is why, even when he felt like pulling away, he always stayed.

Riverside. She was even more electrifying in the mornings, fuming with premature heat at six o’clock as Javi pushed himself towards Magnolia Avenue. There was a dull breeze layering itself between cars parked along the street and his white cart moved like a reverse shadow in the gray, dusty haze before sunrise. Predictable, like Rosa, he could read the city much like the emotional creases of her face. And that morning, as most weekend mornings, she wore pure irritation as Javi got up to leave for his route.

He rolled over as quietly as possible in their squeaky bed and was met by Rosa’s demanding whisper, “Why are you leaving so damn early?” She said, eyes closed. And even somewhere between dreaming and reality, her tone made him want to tell her his plan. One final route. The goodbyes that were waiting just over the mountain, faces he would never see again. But in the end, he just stayed an extra thirty minutes—shaking Rosa awake, rolling her sweats past her ankles, sliding red laced panties down her prickly legs, and making love to her. She rolled over afterwards and continued whichever dream he had interrupted. Still naked, Javi got down on his knees and prayed, quietly, as not to wake Rosa, and quickly, so he could make it to Magnolia before the sun.

Big Oscar had already laid out Javi’s daily stash neatly in the freezer so that when he got to the liquor store, he only needed his coffee and to lay the paletas down in his cart as Oscar had done. It was earlier than usual, but the caffeine and light breeze helped Javi wake up his bones. Which were admittedly tired after Monday through Friday at the junkyard and his weekend paletero ritual. He could almost hear Rosa’s complaints; “you’re breaking yourself for nothing,” she would say. 34 years old and already Javi could feel the pains his mother spoke of.  She sang complaints. Conducted a chorus of worries and prayers, ringing like a song Javi could never get out of his head. Prayers for her boy who never chose this life. “Please, Dios, spare him the stresses we feel,” his mom was always singing.

When he was a boy, after long nights at work, his mom would lie on her back and put her feet up on the wall, “my aches have aches mijo. Getting old is a trap. It’s all a trap,” she would say. Even as a boy, and even though his parents did their best to shield him from their realities, Javi still learned the perils of parenthood. His dad worked as a mechanic until he was old and his hands were permanently stained with oils, his fingernails short and blackened. His mom’s hands raw from the years of dishwashing at whichever diner she could find work. So raw that she oftentimes had difficulty fingering through the endless envelopes accumulating on the kitchen counter, bills they received but couldn’t pay.

No matter how much his parents sang or prayed—it was never enough. You had either hungry kids or lonely ones. And that reality still sat like a ghost in every house and apartment complex in town. A sadness in every household of never being enough for your kids. Two parents, or none, all of Riverside’s kids faced the same fate. A fate his own children would surely face had he and Rosa been able to have any. The ghost didn’t live in their small apartment. But Javi worked as if it did. It was the reason Big Oscar had handed him over a cart in the first place.

“I need the extra cash, you know, para mi familia,” Javi said. Well aware that Oscar knew it was only Javi and Rosa. A week later, Javi had Oscar’s old cart and by the end of his first route his body was more tired than he remembered his parents describing. But no matter how tired he was at the end of the day, from the junk yard or the sun stained streets, it was Rosa, and only Rosa who greeted him at the door—and when he prayed, he prayed of creating a life, not preserving one.


Rosa tucked a brown CVS bag deep in her purse, undoing the top button of her collared shirt, and walking up the cement stairs to IHOP. Her cleavage spilled slightly over the top button, exposing the tiny tattooed crown on her on left boob and catching the attention of her coworker, Marie.

 “Girl, you’re trying to serve a little more than pancakes this morning, huh?” Marie said, clasping Rosa’s button together.

Cállate, Rosa said. “Javi had me up at all hours of the morning. I must have grabbed the shirt with the busted button.”

“And you must think I’m stupida,” Marie said, winking at Rosa.” She didn’t know Spanish, but learned enough from the kitchen workers and had even taken to yelling pinche tu madre when she spilled hot coffee, or got a bad tip—even though she had no idea what it meant.

Marie was Rosa’s first and only friend in Riverside. Javi insisted on moving back to his hometown to “settle down.” So two years ago he moved them from Chino Hills to the hottest city in the Inland Empire. As far as she was concerned, Riverside was a reminder of all that had gone wrong in her life. It was supposed to be a fresh start and it felt like that for a while. Just Rosa and Javi together without her parents around at last. In a city where, according to Javi, there was endless possibility for their family.It was hard to see the beauty of a place that had let her down. And now Rosa felt like the only things she liked in Riverside were Marie and Javi; and maybe the heat, eighty degree mornings with winters that felt like summers, waking to the sun, always spilling into every corner of their apartment—those things and nothing more.

Rosa watched the giant clock near the cashier, pulling her curly bangs back and smoothing the edges of her hair with spit. She had just finished refilling the ketchup on the big round table near the door when she saw Edgar sitting in his normal spot. The booth he chose was nearest to the drink station and had duct tape strung across a giant hole that a kid fell through once. She had suggested that he sit somewhere nicer; surely the tape was uneven and crunched every time he moved, but he’d reply with a wink, “then I wouldn’t get to see you as often.”

“And what can I get for you, sir?” Rosa asked, clearing the last of the cups from the table. Edgar looked up at her with his lips pursed out and laughed, a deep grumble shaking the table. The corners of his tattooed face pinched, and his smile sagged a bit at the end, his two gold teeth glistening from the light hanging over the table.

“Very funny, ma. I will have the usual.”

Rosa scribbled down one pot of coffee, two slices of bacon and a biscuit with gravy on the side. Even though she had already put in the order before Edgar came in.


The breeze had come and gone so Javi turned on the fan attached to his cart, allowing the lukewarm air to filer between his overgrown black hair. He walked purposefully towards Van Buren Avenue and slowed as he passed the sepia colored apartment building. Ringing his bell louder, Javi pushed his way through the complex—past the broken swing set, and the browning kiddie pool glazed over with dead leaves. Once he reached the cement pitted barbeque, he heard small footsteps running behind him. It was Luisito, and behind him, his mother was running and tying her hair in a sloppy bun on top of her head.

Hola Javi,” Luisito said, squeezing the back of Javi’s waist. He was big for his age and wore a yellow cape tied tightly around his neck, the strap nonexistent beneath the rolls that layered down to the top of his chest. Javi turned around, gave Luistio a high five, and stood to exchange saludos with his mom who was out of breath after chasing her son.

Spongebob paleta, Luisito said. “Oh, and a bottle of Lucas Acidito.”

Hijo, no. That’s nothing but salt.”

Mamaaa,” Luisito said, pulling on his mom’s checkered pajama pants.

Its okay señorita, Javi said. “I got the low sodium one just for him.”

Javi figured Luisito’s mom knew as well as he did that ‘low sodium’ still meant that there was enough salt in the bottle to season a week’s worth of meat, but she shrugged her shoulders and started counting change into her palm.

Lo siento, Javi. I have to go and grab fifty cents from upstairs.”

Its okay señorita, next time,” he said waving his hand. Luisito had red juices running down his elbows and yellow slosh around his mouth.

“Are you ready for our walk?” Javi said, shaking the curls on Luisito’s head.

It was their Saturday ritual. Luisito would ring the bell and yell with a mouth full of paleta until the kids came running from their apartments.

“Maybe next time, Javi, Teen Titans is coming on.”

Before Javi could say goodbye, Luisito was running towards his apartment, cape flying in the wind, rolls giggling, and drops of paleta juices laying a clear path from where he had been.

“They grow up so fast, don’t they?” Luisito’s mom said, giving Javi a nervous, warm smile.


“I see your gangster hasn’t missed a Saturday since you started working here,” Marie said, filling up a pot of coffee.

“Stop calling him that,” Rosa said, nudging Marie’s free shoulder.

“He told you he’s what, an entrepreneur?”

“Yeah, says he’s starting some kind of car business.”

“Where I’m from,” Marie said, smacking her lips. “Entrepreneur is code for drug dealer. Plus, no way he’s starting a business the way he rolls in with that fat Jesus piece on.”

Rosa rolled her eyes. It wasn’t the entrepreneur comment that made her think drug dealer. It was more of the amount of tip he left her every Saturday. Always a crisp fifty-dollar bill that smelled like his Curve cologne. She had romanticized him from the moment he sat down in her area. He had the freedom to work for himself (whatever it was that he did) and leave fifty-dollar tips while doing it. She could tell by the way he sipped his coffee, slowly, looking out the window, that he didn’t have a care in the world.

They really had nothing in common. Edgar liked his cars and talked about them between bites as Rosa refilled his café. Rosa biked to work even in the dry Inland Empire heat. Edgar was always talking about the next car part he was going to get imported from Japan or how loud the sound system was that he just installed, “It sounds like I’ve got two gorillas fucking fighting in there yo,” he once explained to Rosa. Which was ridiculous, but it took her mind off things. She grew to like his careless 20-year-old stories. She liked watching someone be careless. Like every Saturday, when it was time to pay, and he would run his tattooed fingers through a wad of cash, ignoring the wrinkled bills that fell to the floor.

“I know I say this every weekend. But you’re too pretty to be working here, ma,” Edgar said, dragging his loopy signature across the bill. He had finished his meal faster than usual and Rosa found herself working slower than usual. He told her a story about a 240sx he test-drove from a guy off craigslist. “So me and this dude from craigslist ended up racing some lil homie from down the street on some crazy shit. It was wild,” he said, making his hands an imaginary steering wheel. Rosa fidgeted with her hair and pushed it behind her ear. When Edgar stood up, he was a foot shorter than she was even in his black boots, untied with the laces dragging on the floor.  

“When I start this business, you come work for me,” he said. “I will put you up in my catalog.  I can see it now, JDM Resurrections: Car Parts for Cheap—your pretty face on the cover. You won’t have to wear that blue apron anymore.”

Had any other customer talked to her like that, Rosa would have called them a pendejo under her breath, and flipped them off from behind the drink counter. But with Edgar, she just smiled and thanked him for the tip. He rode away in his black coverable charger with the base so loud that Rosa could feel it in her chest as he screeched past the window. She had been so mesmerized by Edgar’s stories, that for a second she forgot that it was time for lunch. She grabbed her purse tightly and headed for the bathroom. Pulling the crumpled CVS bag out of her purse, Rosa slid into the lucky stall, the one nearest to the sink. It was the stall where Marie’s baby became more than just a thought. Rosa remembered the way she forced a smile when Marie showed her the positive test. Afterwards, she went home and cried before Javi got back. He wanted a baby, but she wanted one more. He wouldn’t have understood. Plus, it was easier to be sad alone. Javi’s disappointment mixed with hers was too much to bear. They used to sit on the bathroom floor together with the shower running to calm their nerves, and when the test read negative, they would plan things out right there in the misty haze. Eventually, after two years of disappointing showers, Rosa had taken to showers on her own, sitting on the floor with Javi on the other side of the door begging to let him in. That was when Javi took to his prayers, getting down on both knees after sex, praying to whichever God would bring them a family. As Rosa sat with the stick on the toilet paper dispenser, she found herself wishing Javi were there to say one of his prayers. She could never quite find the words.


The kids in the run-down condos on Hole Avenue were waiting for Javi. He could see them beyond the heat waves that settled on the horizon like fire letting out a sigh. Even the teenagers from the complex greeted Javi when he rolled up with his cart, giving him dap and talking mess.

“Ayo foo. I swear you get darker and darker every time I see you,” Beto said, reaching for the chicarrones hanging from the side of the cart. The older kids laughed, and one socked Javi playfully in the arm. Javi gave a weak smile and wiped the sweat from his forehead. No matter how many Saturdays he spent beneath Riverside’s sun, he always greeted her like a new friend. And today he was tired of her embrace.

Ay cheer up, Javi. We was just messin.

 There were eight other young kids lined up along his cart. They all knew the drill, line up by age. One by one, they greeted him with a high five. Until finally the oldest, Beto, dropped his money into Javi’s hand. Beto was nine when Javi first started his route. He watched him grow like a son, watched the mouth that had once only held a paleta mustache grow into a real one, jagged and patchy as it was. He watched all of the kids like they were his own, birthed from Riverside—just like him.

Javi parked his cart in the shade, sitting on the curb and pulling out Rosas favorite paleta. The preteens rode in the dirt parking lot with their dented scooters, jumping, attempting 360’s in the air off wooden ramps. Some kids played futbol with a ball patched over so many times it was almost completely covered in tape. Kicking up dust with every trick of their feet, every run around the lot screaming “goaaaaaaaalll.” The niñas jumped rope, sighing with their hands on their hips when one of the boys rode their scooters through their “banana, banana, banana split,” even though their tiny jumping legs hadn’t missed a beat. Javi watched and replenished the kids with paletas during breaks, and did so until his Riverside was pink and painted over the mountains. By then, the kids were peppering into their homes for dinner, the teenagers walking blocks to their girlfriends, everyone to their own separate lives. And even though he was cooled down and enjoying the quiet before his final stop, he did not want the day to end.


The apartment was stale and smelled like ripe bananas when Rosa got home. She lugged two IHOP bags onto the counter and yelled for Javi. He came out from the room and kissed her with hot lips. He was the darkest she had seen him all summer. As soon as he sat down, he tirelessly went over his day, as he did every weekend—barely stopping to drizzle hot sauce on his food. He talked about Luisito and his mom, how apparently Luisito had outgrown their Saturday ritual that Rosa knew all too well. He finished by talking about the kids from the condos on Hole, laughing when he mentioned how Beto agreed with her, “apparently I am getting dark,” he said, forking hash browns into his mouth.

He referred to the neighborhood kids as ‘his kids’ only once and in between the story of Beto and how they changed the recipe on his favorite paleta. Stories spilled from his mouth so fast that he probably hadn’t even noticed he said it. Rosa’s mind was back in the lucky stall. She waited over the suggested three minutes, but still the lines weren’t clear enough. There still was a chance.

Rosa didn’t reply. She had stopped really listening after the story of Luisito. When Javi first took the job, Luisito was only four years old. Had that many weekends passed? Rosa had never met Luisito’s mom, but she didn’t like her. If she had a son, she would let him have whatever he wanted. Whatever salty candies con chile his heart desired.

Rosa thought about telling Javi about the test. How at first, it looked like there were two lines. Tears burned as they collected in her eyelids and she almost screamed when she saw it. She could not believe it. So she texted Marie to come to the stall and held the stick out to her. Marie held it in her hands and kept shaking her head and saying she was sorry. “You’d think he would have knocked you up by now,” Marie said, trying to make Rosa feel better. “All that praying and shit he does has gotta work eventually.” Any other time Rosa would have laughed, gathered herself in the stall, and moved on until the next month, or the month after that. But she was tired—so, so tired.

Rosa tried to hide the story from her face. Javi had a way of knowing everything about her without saying a word. The stick was broken in two and wrapped in toilet paper deep in the metal box at work. She wished she hadn’t destroyed it. Rosa continued to second-guess herself; maybe Marie hadn’t seen it right. One line with a slightly faded second line could mean anything.

“And then on my way home I ran into Ricardo. Can you believe the kid still eats Rockaletas like chewy candy?

I’m surprised he can still do that,” Rosa said, fidgeting around for her purse. “Didn’t his dad get a good job and get him braces?”

“Yeah, but he needed them querida. His teeth were throwing up gang signs.” Rosa wanted to laugh—but couldn’t force a smile.

Full of hash browns and jelly toast with extra butter, Javi was passed out within the hour. Rosa laid next to him on top of the blanket and waited until she heard the dull hum of his snoring to leave. Picking up his greasy bag of food and turning the nob slowly, she was out the door.

CVS was the only store Rosa could think of that would be open, but she had to dodge scorched homeless with their pleading burnt faces in the parking lot before she reached the door. She slung her purse around her shoulder and put her hood on. There were so many tests to choose from---New Choice, First Response, cheap CVS off brand tests, $1.99 tests, and the fancy one where it says in bright blue letters “pregnant” or “try again sister.” Marie had referred to those tests as “that rich people shit.” So Rosa grabbed the bright pink box on the second shelf. She scanned the isles for a few snacks to place on top of the box. She was embarrassed by how many times she had gone to the store to buy tests. So much, that she had it down to a science. She knew which cashier had seen her twice in one month, and she knew to avoid the older women. Dodging their motherly stares, and good luck sweetie, darling. Poor thing, written in their eyes.

It took four bags of hot Cheetos and two packages of sour patch kids to cover the pink box at the bottom of the basket. Rosa went to grab a bottle of naked juice to balance things out when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She could smell his Curve cologne before he walked up and could hear his heavy boots stomping behind her. When she turned around, her smile calmed and she could feel the heat drown from her face. It was Edgar, in all of his gangster glory. Even at 11pm, his gold teeth were in and he wore his droopy bedazzled jeans below his butt. On his side, there was a little girl with eyes like gumballs, giant and perfectly round. She was twirling, ringlet curls bouncing around her face, and reaching for everything within her grasp. When she saw Rosa, she smiled with a wide, toothy smile.

“Nice to see you out of that blue apron,” he said winking at her. Grey baggy sweats were surely less attractive than a blue apron, but Rosa thanked him anyways.

“And who’s this pretty girl?” Rosa said, bending down. When she reached the girl, she stuck out her tiny tongue and then smiled up at Edgar.

“This is Isabelle. Say hi mija. This is daddy’s amiga.

From the ringlets in her hair and the way her smile sagged a bit on the end, Rosa knew as soon as she saw the girl that she was Edgar’s daughter. He had never mentioned her before, but talked tirelessly about his muscle cars and tattoos and 20-year-old things he was doing. “Even you,” Rosa said. As obvious as it had been, she could not process what she was seeing. Edgar looked at her confused, but before he could respond, Rosa was darting to the back of the store. Suddenly, she didn’t care about buying ‘rich people shit’, or being polite to Edgar, or showing her basket to nosy motherly cashiers. She brought the cheaper test back and pulled two blue packages from the shelf. There would be no doubt, “no fucking doubt this time,” she said aloud to no one in particular.


Javi’s body shook him awake, his knee jerking to the sound of the door creaking shut. He turned over to the absence of Rosa and massaged the outside of his nose. She had been doing this disappearing act for months—leaving in the middle of the night, slipping back into their life just as swiftly as she had left. As he was telling her his stories, he could see her eyes wandering—looking at something in the distance that wasn’t there. Sometimes, he thought he knew her better than she knew herself. But he would never say such a thing to her.

His paletero days were almost over. The kids that used to sit and have a paleta with Javi as he waited for the sun to go down were now watching the sun go down with their girlfriends—learning their favorite flavors. He had watched all of his kids grow up.

Tomorrow would bring his last walk through the apartments and condos. His last sweaty journey down Magnolia Avenue with the sun guiding him, painting the streets the same yellow, the same oranges and reds as the paletas he would never sell again. This thought helped him drift back to sleep. If this night was like the others, Rosa would be back by his side in an hour—the warmth of her breath filling his ears and her arms wrapped tightly around his waist.


The bike ride didn’t calm Rosa. Even at night, there was still a hot breeze blowing against her face as she pedaled into the dark. The moon the only light reflecting against the street, guiding her pumping legs home. She thought of Edgar and his cars and his perfect girl with the ringlet curls and her perfect little smile—her existence. Then she thought of fat Luisito, his stomach sloshing with Spongebob paletas and the rolls of his body lined with salted chile—his mother with her overbearing rules as if her child wasn’t already obese. Rosa knew these kids as if she had walked the route with Javi every weekend—she imagined their faces, and cursed their existence in her head.

When she got back to the apartment complex, she slammed her bike down and it crashed against the asphalt. She paced around and saw Javi’s cart glistening in the poorly lit carport. Behind it, there was a rusted toolbox. Rosa threw wrenches, switchblades, measuring tape and screws aside and picked up a hammer lying at the bottom of the kit. She had only wanted to chip the face of the cart so that the paletas were unrecognizable. And she had only wanted to make absolutely certain she had seen one line on the test and not two. She had only wanted a baby. She had only wanted a lot of things. The first swing she took at the cart ricocheted through her entire body and the groves of the hammer wedged into the top lid. So she turned the hammer around and swung at the sides, denting pictures of Rockaletas, Lucas, chicarrones, and endless pictures of bright-cartooned paletas. It hurt her forearms. She could feel the soreness in her armpits, but she kept swinging until R-o-c-k-a-le-ta was a dyslexic mess of chipped letters, and the cart had craters like mountains, visible even in the dim light.


Rosa’s body was warm against Javi’s back, just as he imagined in the tender time between sleep and reality. He greeted the sun as an old friend, peaking just enough so that orange rays filled the apartment. There was no interrogation this time, like there had been almost every weekend since Javi began to wake with the sun. He didn’t turn on the light, grateful that he hadn’t woken Rosa. Instead, he slipped into a loose shirt and secured a baseball cap on his head.

Before his first route, Big Oscar told him that even though he loved his liquor store, loved being the hub of jokes in the morning with construction workers over coffee. Loved cashing money orders for mothers and eldest boys on the first of every month. Loved all the neighborhood regulars who he greeted with conversation, sometimes with politics, neighborhood gossip, and always with warm smiles. Despite all of that, Big Oscar said he would always love his paletero days more.

Before he left on Friday, beneath the bright neon lights, iridescent pinks, purples and yellows dancing across Big Oscar’s face, Javi asked him how he knew it was time. How he could give up something that he loved so much. “When life pulls you in other directions, carnal, that’s no coincidence. Trust that feeling,” Big Oscar said, gesturing around the liquor store. His own paletero air-conditioned haven.

Javi flicked the carport light on and for once, felt a cold wind chill his arms. Riverside didn’t offer this; she was relentless in her existence. His callused hands touched the once smooth surface of his cart to find dents as deep as mountains, the distinctive colors of each paleta now a messy painting. He nodded. “Okay. Okay, okay, okay,” he repeated before trying to push his cart. Scuffed and dented, the wheels couldn’t even make it out of the carport. Javi thought of his Sunday kids. He got to say goodbye to the Saturday ones, charging half price for every paleta, staying and watching them play until the street lights went off. He didnt want to tell them it was his last day on that route. He would leave that to the next paletero man to walk the streets with Luisito and all of the other kids he had seen grow up right there on the concrete.

 Tears wouldn’t come to his eyes. He had prepared them for Sunday night with Rosa, sitting in their kitchen eating the last paletas he would ever sell. Her face lighting up at the newsweekends spent together, trying for what they both came to Riverside for.

He wanted to do his last route on foot or ask big Oscar to borrow another cart, or even ride by with his bike. But in the end, he flicked off the carport light and headed upstairs to the apartment.

Javi threw his body down on the bed and buried himself deep in the covers. Rosa moved closer to him and slung her leg over his waist, turning him over and pulling his body into hers. Her eyes were barely open and she kissed his flaming mouth, first the outside, then she stuck her tongue behind the roof of his mouth. She pulled down her own pajamas this time and between the bumps and groans of their bodies she whispered, “I love you. Te amo con todo mi corazón,” much like letting out a sigh. When they were finished, she kissed him all over but Javi could not turn around. Rustling the covers, she shot out of bed, her steps creaking the floorboards on the way to the bathroom.

He watched the sun sneak up alongside the mountain through their fourth story window as he imagined he would for every weekend from there on out. Riverside, gleaming with heat like the only woman he had every lovedferocious and unpredictable.

Water splashed and sizzled from the bathroom, steam seeping under the cracks—Rosa’s voice a song like Javis moms with a different tone. He got up and pushed through the bathroom door. It wasn’t even my cart, you know,he said. You had no right. And my kids…my  kids,” he stopped, choked by mist so thick, even the mirrors were weeping, condensation dripping like tears into the sink. “I won’t get to say goodbye to my kids.” His voice was deflated beneath Rosa’s who continued to sing over the sound of rushing water.How could you do that to me? I was doing this for us. Para nuestra familia,Javi said, resting his hands on the tile sink. Beside him, under the fog of the shower, a pregnancy test with two solid pink lines. Javi grabbed the test, running to the window and placing it onto the carpet next to him. Rosas voice grew louder and louder as he got down on his knees. Eyes closed, he lifted his head towards Riversides sun and tried to pray, but somehow he could not find the words.

© The Acentos Review 2019