Ernesto B. Reyes


Ernesto B. Reyes is currently an undergraduate at CSU Fresno where he studies creative writing and literature. He has been published in the San Joaquin Review, Flies, Cockroaches & Poets, and Subtle Fiction, and hopes to pursue an MFA in creative writing. He enjoys spending time with his family, either in Fresno, Los Angeles, or in Mexico, and his favorite writers are Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Jorge Luis Borges. 

Poco-A-Poco or: A Young Man with Two Lines


Francisco wakes up before the crack of dawn to get ready for work. He’s now accustomed to waking up this early, but he hasn’t yet gained his full consciousness. With his eyes barely opened, he puts on a long sleeve shirt, some wrinkled jeans he finds on the floor, and a short sleeve shirt.

Fully clothed, he goes to the restroom to wash his face with cold water. There’s very little clarity in the mornings, but the only thing apparent is for Francisco to not make any noise, especially on his way to the kitchen. Once he slides his way to the kitchen, however, he sees his older sister, Gabriella, who is four months to pregnant, whisking some eggs in a frying pan.

‘I wrapped your burritos for later,’ she says, without turning back.

‘In aluminum?’
‘Yes. You won’t have a microwave to heat them up.’


Francisco pulls up a chair and takes a seat at the kitchen table, which he and his older brother, Alejandro, bought with their own money. It’s old, the kitchen table, and chipped on the sides, but it still works. “It still holds the food on the table,” Alejandro likes to say. The little ones, the older ones have noticed, like to do their homework at the kitchen table instead of their own room.

‘What are you making?’

‘Scrambled eggs and bacon. Do you want orange juice?’

‘There’s some in the refrigerator. Tienes brazos y piernas.’

Francisco doesn’t say anything. He gets up promptly, but instead of getting juice, he gets a plastic cup from the sink and fills it with tap water, and goes outside to wash his boots off, which are partially covered in good old-fashioned dirt. He gently pours the water onto his boots. When he comes back inside, he sees his brother getting out of the restroom, pulling up his pants and putting his belt on.

‘I don’t understand why you clean your boots every morning, they’re just gonna’ get dirty again.’

‘I like having clean boots before I go to work,’ Francisco says. The two walk into the kitchen; they’re welcomed by the slight of a plate for each of scrambled eggs and bacon.

Alejandro turns to his sister and gives her a hug. ‘Muchas gracias mi hermana.’

De nada. Do you want some orange juice?’

‘That would be nice.’

‘I’ll pour you some,’ Gabriella says.

Francisco just stares at his two older siblings as he puts on his boots. He ties them extra tight.

The three of them sit at the table, and before they eat, Gabriella grabs her brothers’ hands and she says the Morning Prayer; she thanks the Lord for another day and hopes for their Mother to come back from her trip to Guadalajara, Mexico, safely. Once “Amen” is said, the two brothers scarf down their eggs and bacon, and for Alejandro, orange juice to wash down his breakfast. They get done fairly quickly and wash their dishes even quicker.

They rightfully give Gabriella a kiss on the cheek. Before they leave, they get their wrapped burritos and place them in a black plastic bag. They also get the tools: grape knife, gloves, hats, scarves and bandanas.

‘Los quiero mucho,’ Gabriella says, looking at both of them. The three give each other a hug; Francisco and Alejandro leave, quietly, before the little ones smell breakfast.


There are about a dozen workers today, and they’re all waiting for Rick to arrive. Rick is the guy who tells them which row to start with. While they wait, Alejandro gets a flyer out from his pocket, incredibly folded and badly wrinkled, and gives it to Francisco. On the flyer there is a man wearing a white suit, sporting a huge handlebar mustache.

Saroyan Writing Contest? Where did you get this?’
‘I found it posted somewhere in town. You don’t want it?’
‘I do, it’s just—’

‘—because I can give it to someone who wants it.’
‘No, I want it.’

‘Submit one of your stories. The deadline is coming up.’

Francisco looks over his shoulder and whispers: ‘But they’re not any good.’

Nunca lo sabras.’

Before Francisco can say anything in response, Rick shows up. Francisco puts the flyer in his pocket, afraid it might be taken away. ‘You’re all early,’ Rick says, ‘I like that.’ He has this austere way about him, but today he’s seems to be in a good mood. He doesn’t waste time on ‘Good mornings’ or ‘How’s everyone today?’ No, he gets straight to business. Rick has a cup of coffee in one hand and a clipboard in the other, and he starts calling off names of the workers and the rows they’re assigned.

Once Francisco and Alejandro get their numbers, they part ways; Francisco heads to his row, with a stack of tan paper-trays in hand, and starts dropping them on the ground. His routine is simple: he drops one stack, walks twenty steps, drops another stack, walks another twenty steps, and so on until he reaches the end of the row. He then walks back and spreads each stack out, covering the whole path with trays.

He squats down and cuts a handful of grapes, and throws them onto this wide plastic container. Once the container is full, Francisco empties the grapes onto the paper-tray, and moves on to the next. When he’s done for the day, he gets an index card or a piece of paper and writes down his name and how many trays he picked. On an average day, he picks about 350, maybe 400, trays—on a good day, around 600. This is what his weekly, 10 hour days consist of. It’s not even 7:00 a.m. and his boots are already covered with dirt.

He has to move every part of his body, and not by choice—his ankles, his shins, his knees. Because of this, his legs are strong, and his upper body—back, shoulders, forearms—convey the muscular appearance of an elite track star or basketball player. But he doesn’t play sports. He doesn’t have that luxury. One of his friends once asked why he didn’t do anything fun from time to time. I wasn’t given that option, Francisco told him.

It was as simple as that.

Though he’s going to be a senior this semester, he’s already 18, almost 19. Because he was held back a year, he feels this extra sense of maturity. Once in a great while, Francisco will have some time off to hang out with his friends, but they always like to do things that are rather costly and expensive. Regardless, the one day that Francisco has off, Saturday, is the day he goes to the Public Library. Sometimes he goes and reads a book or two; sometimes he goes just to go. He likes talking to the people who work there. In many ways, this is his sanctuary—his home away from home.


Alejandro and some of the other workers decide to take their break, and they go to this small grocery store called Country Corner Market that’s just around the block. Involuntarily, Francisco is the one who drives them all in a van to the grocery store and back. He’s the ‘designated driver,’ his older brother jokes. The van smells of dirt, sweat, and bad breath, though no one cares—no one except Francisco.

When they get to the store, the workers get out of the malodorous van in a rush, not because they’re short on time, but because they like thinking of themselves as a herd of bulls. Some of them walk inside mannerly, while others rush in. Some are still wearing their bandanas but pull them down around their neck once they walk inside; most take off their gloves and some even take off their shoes, either because they don’t want to dirty the floors or because they want their feet to get some fresh air.

One of them, a stout and sturdy man named Theodore—everyone calls him “Ted”—likes to take off his shirt when he goes on break. It can be scorching hot or freezing cold, it doesn’t matter: the shirt still comes off.

Before he walks inside the store, Francisco tries cleaning himself off; he takes off his boots and starts pounding them on the ground. He’s one of those that say ‘Hey’ to whoever is working that day. Unlike some of the other customers, he doesn’t haggle over the items—or harass the cashier for not knowing fluent Spanish. The workers, Franciso has noticed, always form themselves into a miniature stampede, but with the exception of Ted at times, they’re all fairly well-behaved and polite for the most part.

Often times, when they go somewhere, they keep to themselves, and head in their own separate directions. Some of them will follow Alejandro, others will follow Ted; they typically direct themselves to the chips and warm foods section. Alejandro walks over to the beer and gets a Coors Light. He turns to Francisco, who is right beside him.

‘Do you want one?’

‘You know I’m not old enough.’

‘I know. I’m just making sure.’

Ted walks up to the counter and lifts his thick hands in a welcoming gesture. ‘I’ll pay for these pendejos,’ he says.

This didn’t happen very often, but it did happen, and the workers break whatever line they were trying to make, and start putting their stuff—bottles of water (both sparkling and mineral), bags of chips, sour candy, beef jerky, pizza pockets, chicken strips, tamales, beer—on the counter for the cashier, Brenda, to ring up. Scott, another cashier, comes and helps her bag the items.

Francisco is outside of this small herd, looking at the display of books and magazines. He picks up this one that catches his intrigue, What Work Is. This book doesn’t look like the rest, Francisco thinks to himself. He starts skimming through the pages and finds out it’s not a book but rather a collection of poems. He sees that it is the only one left—or at least displayed. Once the stampede clears, Francisco goes to Brenda:

‘How much is this?’

‘Oh, it’s free—’


‘Yeah, the author donated them. My boss was an old student of his.’

‘Oh. Are they friends then, your boss and the author?’

‘Good friends,’ Brenda says.

Francisco looks outside and sees his brother, making conversation with Ted and the other workers, drinking his Coors through a straw and with a bag covering it.

‘Can you do me a favor? Can you save this for me until, like, Saturday? I just don’t want to—’

‘Sure, I can save it for you,’ she smiles, and he blushes.

Muchas gracias—thank you.’


Before he goes back to work, Francisco eats the burritos that his sister made for him. Bean, cheese, and rice, with some green salsa in the center—his favorite. She made two for him and three for Alejandro. Even though he was on lunch and starving, he wasn’t thinking about his food or his hunger. Instead, what he was thinking about, at least in this moment, was poetry. The structure and arrangement of the words had a strong hold on Francisco’s imagination, especially when he discovered a new book. This reaction wasn’t anything new to him, but he feels these intense and spontaneous moments of literary inspiration. He thinks about this, about the words, before he moves on to his next obsession: Brenda’s gaily blue eyes and beautiful brunette hair. Another inspiration of his, he considers.

‘You gonna’ get back to work?’ Alejandro yells, breaking Francisco’s concentration.

‘Yes,’ he mutters, and curses under his breath.

Back to the routine: cutting, filling, and emptying. He’s almost finished for the day, which is a good thing. There’s beginning to be little to no area for him to take cover from the burning sun. Francisco’s hat is soaked and his bandana covered in dust. His lower back starts to ache and his legs wobbly and slow. His posture begins to greatly slouch and his breathing becomes irregular.

Huge, salty drops of moisture from his skin roll down from his forehead onto his cheeks and from there to his chin before they fall to the lumpy, stern ground. A drop of sweat gets into Francisco’s right eye, which temporarily burns and blinds his vision. He removes his bandana from his mouth and wipes the sweat from his eyes and forehead.

He takes off his hat for a moment and feels the scorching sun beaming right at him. With this, he feels cool. There’s a much needed breeze that passes, but it’s short and brief. He closes his eyes and imagines it is winter. He sits down on the dirt, physically tired, legs fully stretched out, his mind is still full of energy. Still with his eyes closed, he thinks about Alejandro for a minute, then about Gabriella. He thinks about the little ones—Andres, Mariela, Camila. He thinks about his Mother and wonders when she’ll be back. He thinks about his godparents, tía Maria and tío Salvador, who are probably at the house right now with Gabriella and the little ones. He remembers when he was a ‘little one’—before he had to grow up and start work.

Francisco wonders if Alejandro ever thinks about this, about when he was a little one. He proceeds to wonder how his family would react if he were to bring Brenda home. He wonders how he would react if he were to bring Brenda home.

Maybe it’s this heat that’s getting to him, maybe it’s the day’s work—all this up and down, but beyond his logic, he starts to think about his first day back to school after the death of his father. He remembers this kid named Matthew, red hair and freckles, who loved to draw on the concrete with chalk. When Francisco returned, Matthew came up to him and said he was really sorry. He reached into his pocket and took out a piece of chalk, and handed it to Francisco.

‘This is my favorite,’ the boy said.

Francisco took the piece and instantly started crying. He hugged the boy.

The last time Francisco cried was on his first day of work. It wasn’t so much for the work itself that made him upset, though the work was hard, but rather it was having to wake up so early that really bothered him. Alejandro threw his boxer briefs at Francisco and said they were going to be late. Francisco threw the boxers back and said he didn’t want to go.

‘And you think I want to?’ Alejandro said. ‘Levantate, perezoso.’

Francisco remembers getting up and feeling hot tears run down his face. He hates to cry, which is why he solemnly does it, but for that one morning, he didn’t know how else to react. The tears were more out of frustration than of sadness that day.


Back to the ground, Francisco opens his eyes and grabs a handful of dirt, and watches it slowly disappear from his fingers. He does this a few more times. After the moment is gone, he reaches into his pocket to get his notepad and a black sharpie. He writes down two lines that have been in his head all day, screaming once he sat down. Once he writes, he feels a sense of accomplishment and pleasure.

There, that’s it—it’s out in the open, he thinks to himself. It’s only him and his brother that know of this hobby, and he wants to keep it that way.

Before he entered high school, Francisco was seeing a school counselor, Ms. Munoz. He was advised to write something, anything, whenever he would begin to feel depressed or upset. This was completely normal, he was told.

‘But don’t just write,’ Ms. Munoz said, ‘—create.’

‘Create? Create, what?’

‘Stories—create a story. Write. You have a lot to say, Francisco. Tú los sabes. I know this may seem strange, but I believe this will do a lot of good,’ she said. ‘I know it will. A teacher once told me that by creating stories, you’re able to get away from reality while also exploring it.’

He was in a room with tan colored walls, the same as his paper-trays, sitting on a beanbag. On the walls were all the degrees and certificates that Ms. Munoz had. She had three M.A. degrees: one in Counseling Psychology, one in Education, and one in Creative Writing. When Francisco didn’t know what to say, he would just stare at the walls. He remembers those days clearly.

He reads over the two lines, the two lines of the day, before he puts his stuff back in his pocket. He gets back up and brushes himself off, and squats down again to cut another handful of grapes—his routine. He does this until Alejandro tells him it’s time to go. Once the two brothers get back home, Francisco takes off his boots and starts pounding them on the floor, knowing they’ll get dirty again.

© The Acentos Review 2017