Issue #14 |

So Long to the Rearview

The next curve is a tricky one. Too much pressure on the gas and the van could tip. Not enough, and the truck a cigarette-length from your fender will send you flying cliffside. Or worse, they’ll overtake you ‘round the blind corner. This happens, and your regulars will click their tongues and say each second costs them money. You check the rearview with the crack across its length and missing top-left corner. Do a quick headcount. About equal per side, but the heavier ones are on the right. Plus, cargo weight up top will help, long as all four wheels stay on the ground. You tap the accelerator and turn the steering wheel, let the downhill force do the rest. Someone calls from the back. It’s their stop up here. Francisco leans out doorway, signals at the truck behind you that you’re pulling over. The van door slides open and Don Juarez and his pregnant wife climb out.

Moment Francisco has their fare, your wheels are spitting rocks and dirt as you swing back onto the asphalt. You’ve been up since before the roosters and got six hours left of sunlight. Up ahead you see someone flagging you down. You start to slow, but when you get close, you see it’s Hector—gold teeth shining like a beacon. You double tap the gas and he’s adios in the rearview. Francisco is giving him the bird, and you can’t see Hector through the dust, but you’re sure he’s doing the same.

“Fucking asshole,” Francisco says, sitting back down in his seat. He pulls his cowboy hat back on. Learned his lesson ‘bout not taking it off before leaning out the doorway.

“And broke,” you say.

Last time you picked up Hector, he stiffed you on the fare. Always that chance with him. But the van is full today. No rain yet, and people are out. No need to risk it. A motorcycle zooms by on one wheel. The woman on the back, baby ‘round her shoulder, leans into the driver’s neck. The baby looks at you. Is wrapped so tight it can’t move. Then they’re gone, down the hill, and you’re pulling over to let someone else out. Then it’s back on the road.

Behind your seat, a woman counts beads, prays for safety. Francisco rolls his eyes, tells her to shut up. He’s young. Late 20’s. Likes to act older. But he’s a good worker, so you keep him. Has helped you out of a few bad situations. Like the time the van did tip over, years ago. No one died, barely a wet eye from the passengers. He hooked you up with a mechanic who gave you a discount, so long as you agreed to transport the occasional sack of marijuana when needed. Now you get paid to do it. No one knows what’s in the bags, don’t even know they belong to you. It’s easy enough. Got one up there right now as a matter.

Another stop, and Francisco climbs up the back, unstraps a sack and tosses it down to a boy no older than yours is right now. The boy hands over money and is gone faster than Francisco can count.

“¡Hey!” Francisco calls.

“Let him go,” you say.

“It’s five short,” Francisco says.

Ten per head, five per bag.

“Chase him then,” you say.

Francisco looks in the direction the boy went. You look, too. Nothing but trees.

“Son of a bitch,” Francisco says. He hops back in the van. “Any of you motherfuckers tries that,” he says, shouting loud enough to be heard in the back. He taps his machete against the dash.

“¿Someone need to get off here instead?” he says.

The heads in the rearview are all shakes.

“Good,” Francisco says.

He slaps the side of the van, and you’re off.


You reach Quenotepegue. No one on board but you and Francisco.

“¿Gonna drop now?”

You check your watch. Ten minutes early, and you can make it back to Sacopiquapan without gassin’. Shift to first and up the streets narrow as bone marrow. Street vendors approach, mangoes, jamaica, horchata in hand. They peek in back, leave to find another van. You buy a pack of manias, orange Fanta, an hamburguesa, all without stopping. Up ahead, the chop shop. Pocket the keys. Francisco already out, no door on his side.

“¿Macón?” Francisco asks.

The man with the tire iron, face black from car grease, jerks his head towards the back. Gracias and through the door. Macón, shorter than you, doesn’t look happy to see you.

“But I got the merch,” you say.

“Didn’t ask for it. Not my problem.” Walks by you to next car and peers at engine.

“But you always want it.”

“Not this time.” Something about money, a fall out, and that you have to take it up with Gallo, and then he leads you out.

“Don’t come back,” he calls and waves goodbye.

In the van, Francisco is itching, slides his hand down the leather sheath of machete. He’s never used it. Likes to pretend he would if needed. Now what? Trip back with smoke up top?

“Just the fingers,” Francisco says.

You don’t say nothing back. Imagine what he’d do if you said yes. Piss his pants or tell his mom, then never see him again. Not worth the pain of finding someone new. You tug on your shirt, sent down from some place up north. Tighter fit than a year ago. Mustard stain from the burger on a logo you don’t know. Lick at it and pull it back down over the spare tire ‘round your mid-section.

“Can’t go back with this,” you say.

Francisco’s eyes follow the invisible line shooting from your finger. Thieves. Or worse: cops. Or worser: thieving cops. Risking enough travelling the 82 kilometers one way, not to say back and uphill with the slowness of porfavor rob me. No. You’ll take it to Sávvie’s. Maybe stay for five-minutes up front begging, then five minutes out back settling her boyfriend’s debt. Check your watch, and it says the stop will cost you extra. Shove the key in and shift into first. No complaints from the van, smooth purring like it agrees.

“Buckle up,” you say.

Francisco sighs, has heard that one too many times.


The brakes shriek outside of her house, but no horn. Kid could be asleep. Or maybe at school. You don’t know what day it is.

“Stay in the car,” you say. But Francisco already knows. His seat’s leaned back, cowboy hat over his face.

You step on a tire and untie the rope, swing the bag over your shoulder like Hispanic Santa. Except you deliver burdens. House door is white but the walls are green. Only house on the block not red or blue or pink. Stands out like envy. Not covetous of neighbors. They got nothing, too. Covetous of those who don’t have to be here. You kick a bag of empty trash dragged here by stray dog. Startle another with the sound. He growls and you bark loud. Alpha once. Back before the divorce. Before the knee joint problems. Used to fuck up and down this street ‘til the roosters went home. Got caught and kicked out. But it was your place, so you went back. So, Coralina packed up and skipped town. She’s in the capitol now. Took the boy, less than nine, with her. Don’t got an address or list of friends. Gone adios, and you: all alone now. Can only keep Sávvie, and not even. But she likes you for some reason. And you let her think there is one.

One knock, then two, and one for good luck. Then wait until Sávvie, maybe two years older than Francisco, appears behind the door.

“Fuck no,” she says and tries to slam it shut. But your hand is like a mongoose—in through the crack before she knows it’s you.

“It’s not what you think,” you say.

“Drugs,” she says.

“Okay,” you say. It is what she thinks.

“I can’t have that stinking up the house with Jalisco here,” she says. “And my mom. You know she’s sensitive to smells.”

You don’t know this. Why would you know this?

“Two days,” you say. It’s the same thing you’d said last time and then left it for over a week. You don’t smoke, you drink. But Francisco had convinced you. Asked how you could deliver without knowing what customers were receiving. Then you couldn’t think straight, got paranoid. The cops were watching. Couldn’t keep it at your place—the one with nothing but an old tv set, a bed with holes for sheets, and not much else.

“I can’t have it around,” followed by boyfriend’s name, she says.

It’s true. Homeboy took like an ounce, and Sávvie’s been fucking you with more frequency to make you forget.

“¿You don’t want me no more?” you say.

“It’s not that,” she says, crosses her arms to hide behind. “He asked,” she says. “But I can’t say yes until we’re done.”

It feels like a bus has landed on your chest. First Coralina, now this.

“¿You’d marry that asshole?” you ask.

“You don’t even know him,” she says and takes a step back. Then, “Get out.” Then, “Now.”

Homeboy’s debt was paid off long time ago. You both know it. Fucked before he took from the stash. He should have gotten it for free. Now, she wants to go straight. And the one she’s chosen ain’t you.

“Choose me instead,” you say. You think you mean it. Could you quit this whole thing and move to the country? Live on what? Not that you have much to live on now.

“That’s not who you are,” she says.

“¿Who isn’t who I am?” you say.

“A father.”

The sack of weed on your back holds bricks and lead. You shift under its weight. Coralina, when she left, said you weren’t a father to Isaiah. Hadn’t acted like one. Hadn’t stopped drinking, haven’t stopped drinking. But it was more than that, she’d said. Your fingers smelled like women from the bar.

“Wants another baby but won’t take care of the one at home,” she’d told her friends.

“Not the baby he wants,” they’d told her. “Just what the baby comes out of.”

“¿Is homeboy a father?” you say. Sávvie’s boy is almost two. Could conceivably be yours, but isn’t. You doubt it’s boyfriend’s either. Looks like muchacho who’s always hanging ‘round her front door when he sees someone come over. Smells like bread. Could work at the bakery or eat there a lot.

She doesn’t answer and you slam the door behind you. Bread boy is right outside, too. Same eyes and mouth as Sávvie’s boy. Married, your ass. She’s just tired of fucking you. You slap the windshield to wake up Francisco.

“Tie it up,” you say, dropping the sack.

“¿We’re taking it back?”

You don’t answer, start the van. He can hurry up or ride up top.

Moment his foot is on the step, you take off.

“Fuck,” Francisco says. Manages to climb in and sit down. “You almost left half of me back there.”

“We’re late,” you say. But it don’t matter no more. No way to make three more trips without driving at night. Can do only one more. Up until moments ago, could have made two. Stayed with Sávvie. Now, you got to end up in Sacopiquapan or pay for a place out here in the place you left behind four years ago when Coralina left.

Francisco holds his hand open to you. “Took some out of the bag,” he says.

“Put that shit away,” you say. “We’re giving it all back.”

“He won’t notice,” Francisco says.

“Customers will notice your eyes looking like Satan’s asshole,” you say.

This time Francisco laughs. “That’s a good one,” he says, and you hope Isaiah doesn’t grow up to be anything like him. Anything like you. And maybe he won’t. Not without you there to fuck it all up. Goddamn father of the year.


You’ve got 12 seats but 26 passengers. You’re halfway back to Sacopiquapan, when you have to pump the brakes. Up ahead, nothing but stopped cars. Line as long as the horizon. Worst part: no taillights. Engines are off. Get comfortable.

“¿And this?” Francisco says, as though this is his bad day, and not yours.

Groans from the back.

Guatemala is two-laned highway through its whole. Accident on one side, traffic for hours. Accident on both sides, fucked. No way ‘round, no way through. Surrounded by Jungle or cliffs or mountains. Stuck. And you here, homebound.

“Check the lanes,” you say.

Francisco hops out to ask about.

Up ahead, a man has hung a hammock from side of his truck.

Francisco comes back. Collision. Semi versus motorcycle. Blind spot, overtaking, seventeen-year-old kid stuck under axles.

You shut off the engine. No A/C anyway. Passengers exit, want to see the accident.

“We leave with or without you,” you call after them, just in case they think you’ll wait around. Some sit back down.

Soon, a boy in back asks can he pee.

Not your business.

Boy doesn’t move. You check rearview, see him uncapping Gatorade bottle.

“Not in here,” you shout. Point at grass.

“My mom said to stay put,” he says.

“Then hold it,” you say.

“I can’t,” he says.

You see him in rearview. Squirming like culebra. Up front, man in hammock fans himself with cowboy hat. Fine.

Boy in front, you follow him into tall grass.

“¿Can you?” boy asks, shirt hem under chin. Fingers at button above fly.

“¿You can’t?”

“Mom does,” he says. Van will smell of piss, so you do. Then face away and unzip yours.

After, boy thanks you, runs ahead. You emerge from grass, and line is same length ahead and behind. You look at the sky. Sunshine is being replaced by rain due south and coming. Police drive by, no sirens. No emergency. You light your daily cigarette. Usually saved ‘til after buzzed. Maybe you’ll have two today. One per lost love.

Francisco has gone and come back from scene with pictures, and do you want to see? No, but he is showing before you say. PR, news vans, coroner, no ambulance. Truck driver has survived, not a scratch. Family of boy in undercarriage asks for better roads. Francisco shows you recording.

“The highways are unsafe.” A woman, business suit. “Accidents every day.” She sobs into napkin.

You get it, toss your cigarette.

“I’mma show this around.”

“Van also leaves without you.”

He knows. Is over to next car with window down, asking do they want to see a video? You get back in driver’s seat, look in rearview. Half are still at accident, other half snooze or sit while they can. Man in his hammock fans away.


When you almost turn back, engines begin to roar. You see lights, hear car doors close. Rain is less than two nose hairs from you, and passengers jump in. But where is Francisco? Side mirror. Objects closer than, so then why does he appear to be in slow-mo? He trips in and stares ahead and you know. Eyes redder than taillights.

“Find another ride.”

“I won’t screw up the count,” he says and extends a Bud Light.

You can smell him from here, but you can’t do it alone. Rearview says some would try to ride for free. Better him high than you counting both miles and fees. You snatch the beer. Feel all fifty-six eyes on your hand, crack the can like white knuckles. The liquid foams, then coats your chapped lips. Reminds you of the taste and feel of Sávvie. Smack, smack, and wipe with your forearm. Grass outside, same grass as last two hours, suddenly interesting to all inside when you shove key into ignition.

Rain, so you flip switch for wipers. There’s a click but nothing moves. Blades remain in place. Francisco leans out and pulls. Now they’re halfway up and stuck. Car ahead pulls up and others notice. Honk their horns to let you know. Cop cars drive by window and one slows down, so you pull up. Squint through raindrops. Drive until you see car stopped not two feet up front. Brake, and Francisco falls out. He climbs back in, and what the fuck? You’re sorry but you can’t see shit. Car in front moves again and you follow. Slower this time. Too slow. You’re up where accident is supposed to be. Not even an oil stain no more.

You tap the gas, then the other pedal. You don’t trust yourself. Car horns grow louder. You hit accelerator again, but a car has tried to overtake in the rain. You hear the scrape. Feel it drive up the car’s side into your spine.

“Shit,” you say. Look at Francisco.

See blurred brake lights. Then American is at your window. Accent gives him away. Younger than you. Skinnier, for sure. He has pulled your door open. He wants to see your license and exchange information. But you don’t have any. None you’re willing to give anyway.

You try to pull the door closed, but he is standing between. Rain still coming down. You tell him you have nothing to show and he pulls out cellphone. Asks passengers for emergency number, but no one says nothing. You try pulling up, but car’s in the way. And you cannot see. You remember what’s up top just as he snaps, with flash, a picture of you with beer can in lap. He’s on what he says is live video chat. That the cops will definitely see. You pull cowboy hat further down face, but he insists it’s too late.

“¿What do you want?” you say.

And he is adamant he wants your license and registration. Say’s it’s rented and points at Toyota.

He wants money. You look at Francisco, but he shakes his head no. Moves fanny pack closer to his doorway.

“They want me to take a bribe,” kid says to phone. “Call the police.”

No. Last thing you need. Cars float past, reduced speed, but none stop. Want no part. You make attempt at door again, but boy doesn’t move. Another car squeaks by. Stops. Rolls window down in rain.

“¿What is going on?”

“This guy hit my car,” kid says.

“No, he ran into mine,” you say.

A look from the driver. Please, your eyes say. Please, I need some help. A nod, and you think the man understands. But no, he’s driving off.

The boy, you have his attention again, and he has something to say. He didn’t buy the insurance, and cannot afford to pay for repairs out of pocket. You get out. He steps back, afraid. Phone is his only weapon. You look at damage. Nothing bad. Your headlight’s adios. Black scrape down side of his car. You don’t know the cost, but you do know a mechanic.

“I don’t want his help. I want your license and registration.”

You can’t give it. Can’t afford this. Will get license taken. Maybe even jail if kid says intoxicated. Francisco is by your side now, machete by his. He’s making things worse. Boy points phone at him.

“Look,” you say. You can get all cash from passengers, but have nothing else.

“License,” says kid, “and registration.” Kid looks at Francisco. Studies his face like he knows him. “He’s high,” the kid says. Then he looks at you.

“He’s not,” you say. “We’re not.”

“But we do have weed.” Francisco says. “A whole sack you can sell.”

Cellphone light is bright in your face. Kid’s mouth is wide.

He got that on camera.

You want to say it’s a joke, but man from car window is back. He didn’t drive off. Was pulling over.

“I saw the whole thing,” the man says. Last thing you need. Man also has out phone. Says he’s a witness. “I saw him cut right in front of you.”

It takes you a moment. Then you understand. He’s come back to help you. This stranger, doing something your family would never.

“That’s a lie,” the boy says.

Another driver is now beside you. “¿What is going on?

“This kid caused an accident,” says first man.

Driver looks at kid, looks at you, sees Francisco. Man with phone points at kid. And you can feel it. Your eyes again. They’re pleading.

Driver shrugs off water. “I saw it, too,” he says. He waves over to his car, to passenger side. “This kid crashed right into him. Tell the other drivers.”

“That’s not true,” kid says. Holds phone out. “They’re lying.”

Others have come now. They circle around your van.

“It wasn’t my fault,” kid shouts.

But they all disagree. Are shouting at kid to get out of the way. Cars begin to honk again, and you feel like you are being rescued.

Kid, for a moment, doesn’t know what to say.

More and more of your people stand behind and beside you. It’s like they’re holding you up. You wonder if this is what it’s like to be cared for.

Kid continues to shout. “This man is using you all.”

A woman older than you. “You should be ashamed,” she says to the kid. “Having all of us out here taking care of this mess.” A family of people who don’t know you or your faults. They’ve come to protect you.

Kid begins to protest, but then closes his mouth. Takes one final look at you and turns back to his car. Kid opens door and engine turns over. Then you know you’re adios in his rearview.

You laugh and clap and breathe relief as crowd begins to disperse. You want to say thank you, but no one is listening. They are leaving, turning on headlights, driving by without another glance. They were helping themselves. Were tired of waiting. Would have said anything to get moving, out of the rain, out of the traffic, and home to their families. Then why were you in such a hurry?

“¿Should we go?” Francisco is standing next to you.

You turn to your van. Are soaked through to your soul. Inside, the little boy from earlier is waving or wiping at window. You wave back, but then he is blowing warm breath. You realize there is no way he can see you. Not through the rain, the lights in the van that come from cellphone cameras. The boy draws a smiley in the fog that he’s made. You stand in the rain and watch it disappear. The boy does not care. He breathes again and draws another. And you here, surprised by how fast it disappeared.

Jared Lemus is a Latinx writer who focuses on writing about Hispanic culture and issues regarding race, religion, sexuality, and politics. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Kenyon Review Online, PANK, The Coal Hill, Cleaver, The Pinch, and Joyland, among others, and are forthcoming in Kweli and The Cimarron Review.  He was …

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