This edition of Friday Night Fiction was inspired by Ian Johnson. Thanks for commenting on the blog, Ian! Please email your mailing address to me at theteresajusinoexperience[at]gmail[dot]com, and I will send you a purdy, signed, handwritten copy of this story! It will be the only handwritten version of it IN EXISTENCE you lucky thing! 🙂 Thanks for helping me exercise my prose muscles.
And now, for the rest of you, here’s the story inspired by Ian’s Three Words…
By Teresa Jusino
Ever since Abuelita died, Adelaida’s parents always made her come straight to the truck from school. Luis and Gabriella, her older brother and sister, both had jobs now, so there was no one to take care of Adelaida at home anymore. She walked two L.A. blocks all by herself every day, and even though some of her friends felt bad for her, because she had to walk alone and couldn’t go home, she was still really proud that her parents treated her like a Big Girl.
Tienes hambre? her mother asked her when she walked around to the back of the food truck that day. Adelaida shook her head, but her mother knew better, and Adelaida smiled when her mother poured her a cup of horchata and put some warm tortillas on a plate for her. Adelaida’s father had set up a place for her in the corner of the back of the truck, and so she enjoyed her snack surrounded by stuffed animals at a Little Tikes table as the steam from the grill filled the air and her mother began preparing grilled meat for the upcoming dinner rush.
Adelaida was born in California to Mexican parents, so she was just Mexican enough to drink horchata regularly, but just American enough to still think the word “horchata” was kinda funny. She was chuckling to herself about the word, over-pronouncing and elongating it (“hoooorchaaaataaaaa….hoooooorchaaaataaaaa…”) to make her mother laugh (or make her annoyed. One or the other.) when her father poked his head inside the truck.
¡Ven afuera!, he said, smiling. Adelaida was intrigued, and so she did as she was told, and exited the truck. What she saw when she got outside made her squeal with delight.
Tied to a lamppost in the parking lot where they ran their business, was an eight-week-old dachshund puppy, who immediately began to wag its tail when it saw Adelaida. ¡Ay, que lindo, Papi! Adelaida exclaimed, running over to the dog and kneeling on the ground to play with it. It climbed up on her lap and started licking her nose, which made her squeal. Adelaida’s mother looked out the back door of the truck, and she didn’t look pleased.
¿Y, qué es eso? she asked, giving Adelaida’s father a pointed look.
Ella necesita algo para entretenerse, he replied. Estar aquí sola con nosotros trabajando…? Eso no es bueno.
Lo que no necesitamos es otra boca para alimentar. Adelaida’s mother frowned and went back into the truck.
Adeleida agreed with her father. It would be good for her to have a puppy so she could have someone to play with. Watching her parents cook food for people was no fun, and she was tired of her stuffed animals. She was glad she could have a real one!
She called the puppy Horchata, because he was brown like cinnamon and you put cinnamon in horchata and it made perfect sense to her. For weeks, Adelaida ran to the food truck after school to find Horchata laying down by his water bowl waiting for her to walk him around the empty parking lot. When Horchata was 13 weeks old, Adelaida walked him as far as she was allowed to walk in the parking lot before turning back, then let go of his leash and raced him back to the truck the way she always did. And he won, the way he always did.
When Adelaida caught up, kneeling next to Horchata on a patch of grass behind the truck, she heard arguing from inside the truck. Something about money and responsibility and stuff that she couldn’t really understand, because her parents’ Spanish was getting too hard. Then, she heard her mother say,
…después tu compraste ese maldito perro! ¿Y porque? ¿Para que ella te quiere mas que a mi?
And she heard her father say,
¡Lo compre, porque ella necesita alguien que la demuestra afección mejor que tú cuando yo no estoy aquí!
And her heart sank. She didn’t realize Horchata could be so much trouble! But she knew what she had to do. She didn’t want her parents to fight anymore, and if they fought over the dog that much, she shouldn’t have a dog anymore.
Adelaida reached into her school bag for some construction paper and a crayon and made a sign. She picked up Horchata and his bowl and walked to the edge of the parking lot. Her heart breaking, she snuggled the dog one more time, allowing him to lick her nose and cheek, before putting him and the bowl in an old shopping cart. She wheeled the cart to a lamppost next to some parked cars, stuck the sign onto the handle with tape, and ran back to the truck before she could change her mind.
Mom! Come here! Look! Brian called out as his mother packed their groceries in the trunk of her car.
What is it, honey? I don’t have the energy for games right now…
Brian’s mom looked over at the lamppost near her car and saw a puppy in a shopping cart with a sign on it that had “PLEASE TAKE CARE OF THIS DOG. HIS NAME IS HORCHATA” written on it in crayon. It was whimpering. Brian’s mom looked around and didn’t see anything on that side of the parking lot except a food truck.
Can we take him home, Mom? Please?
Who would leave a poor little dog like this in a shopping cart?