Bakersfield by Vanessa Bernice De La Cruz

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The sunflowers were blooming somewhere far away and Belen sat in Tacos Mexico fantasizing about quitting her job. Again. Angel was in the bathroom. They were waiting for their food. Outside it sprinkled and someone was talking about dust storms. They were far from LA.

Ok. Not too far. Maybe two hours. But the mountains made it seem like ten. The fields made it seem like another twenty. If they kept going like this, they’d never get there.

Angel was quiet while they ate. He’d barely slept. Didn’t have much of an appetite since they got the call. Things had been rough for them both lately.

And the sky. The sky was all grey with wind so angry it kept shaking the trees against the few buildings lining the road in this tiny rest stop. They were an hour and forty minutes from the hospital. It probably wouldn’t be safe to drive later but they could still make it if they hurried.

Angel’s phone beeped. “He’s getting worse.”

She nodded. “Come on.”

They threw their trash away and hurried towards the car.

In the car, she held Angel’s hand while he tried to sleep in the passenger seat. They played music until the radio gave way to static and neither of them wanted to use their phone in case they missed some News. The sky became tan and she could hear thunder in the distance. The workers that lined the fields earlier were no longer in sight.

“What are you thinking about?” Angel was looking at her with his eyes half-closed. A half-smile on his lips. He would’ve looked cute if he didn’t look so bad.

“We passed the strawberry fields before we stopped to eat. I think the grapes are coming up. I’m wondering if the workers have better rights than they did before. I didn’t realize how many things I only know in past-tense.”

The radio went from quiet static to 70’s disco. They listened before that too, faded out.

“What else are you thinking about?”

“I’m sick of work and I really, really want to quit but who’s to say I’d even be happy if I did? What if it’s just me but if I left – I don’t have options but maybe my options are better than those my grandpa had and it’s weird how none of my family have had office jobs and some of them used to be out here working in a hundred degree heat just passing out in that heat and being in an air-conditioned building should be something I’m happy about but instead I’m just constantly aware that I’m the lowest on the office ladder and everyone else thinks they’re worth more. But really – what is worth anyway?”

“Worth is knowing that you’re taking their orders and answering their phones but you’re still you. Outside of them, you have your own orders and your own calls to make.”

“The only person I call is you.”

Angel laughed. “That’s still a call. I mean I know I’m not entertaining but. . .”

She laughed and hit his shoulder playfully. “So, what are you thinking about?”

“I can’t get on Twitter without getting depressed.”

They hadn’t laughed like this in weeks. But then they hadn’t seen each other in weeks.

His phone beeped. “He’s stabilized.”

“Thank god.”

His shoulders were tense again.

“So, I’m pretty sure I know why but why’s Twitter being depressing?”

“It’s selfish but there’s kids in cages, right? And the whole world knows it and it would be unfair to say no one’s doing anything about it but they’re still there and what can I do? We do the basics but it feels like so little and I feel powerless. But then also I’m being selfish because maybe it was in Esperanza Rising or in the unit about farm worker rights or maybe on PBS but I remember as a kid hearing about people with papers getting deported. And it’s bad enough if anyone gets deported but what if being born here isn’t enough? I don’t even know the side of the family that stayed. How would I reach them? What if they don’t like me because I don’t talk to my parents anymore?”

Belen nodded, thought about it. Looked back at him when she had an answer. “If you get deported then I probably will too. It’ll be a mass thing maybe, and it’s scary but we’ll vote Trump out, okay? And if not. We can meet in Tijuana. We’ll plan a meeting spot as soon as we’re out of this car. Then, when we meet, we’ll go to Michoacán with my mom’s family or Sinaloa with my dad’s. They don’t like me either but they’ll like you.”

He squeezed her hand, fell asleep. The half-smile still showing through his breathing.

She thought about work and quitting and thought maybe she could join the circus. But let’s be honest, she had no skill that could lead to an audition. If she could, she’d step into the ring and say, “Welcome to the circus. We torture animals and make money. How may I direct your call?” She’d directed so many calls in her life she may as well be a director. But she knew she couldn’t direct. Maybe she could be an air balloon pilot. But then she’d never even been on a hot air balloon.

In her head she worked on a cruise ship. Maybe she could sneak Angel on between voyages. Maybe she could convince him to join her too. But Angel hated boats. So, no.

She considered becoming a lawyer. But then she’d have to go back to school and get a bachelor’s and then go back to school again. Maybe she could have a stand and sell handmade windchimes. But then she’d have to learn how to make windchimes. Getting through the day was hard enough without adding that to the list.

Angel leaned against the seat next to her. He hadn’t slept much at all and didn’t wake up when she pulled over. The wind picked up and the visibility lessened.

Shaking, she turned off the car and turned off the lights. She’d heard Angel say that’s what you should do in a dust storm. Was this a dust storm though?

The wind threw tiny rocks at the windshield and she could see nothing but brown in every direction. She knew they were pulled over on the side of the road somewhere, on a grassy embankment she’d spotted before the weather enveloped them. Her heart was pounding. She tried to think of anything else. She didn’t want to wake Angel. He hadn’t slept in two days. He had to save his energy for the hospital.

When they met, they were still teenagers and sure, they were only in their twenties now but they were still hopeful back then. There were now a few years since. A few years of not getting the timing right. Of one or the other not being single. Of knowing the other had too much going on and waiting. Waiting past the days when depression or financial instability got the best of them. When various problems with their exes resurfaced. But then they had too much going on all the time so they stopped waiting. And now things were still difficult.

They’d been dating for six months and this was the first day they’d had together in a over a month. They’d both called out of work for the next day, something they normally couldn’t afford to do but they figured this was worth it. Planned on taking a day trip to Malibu and spending the rest of their time locked in her apartment.

But then they got the call. And Angel cried, not only at the news, but at having to cancel another attempt at a date. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry, it’s always something.”

Before this it was a lost job. Flu. The car broke down. Her apartment was broken into. She lost her wallet. He was called into work; she was called into work. An argument. Right now, the car rattled further into the embankment.

It was always something. It really was.


Tears fell on her jacket. She tried to swallow them back but the shaking car made doing anything difficult. Maybe it was her own anxiety but it was getting harder to breathe. It was dark. She couldn’t see beyond the dirt curtain draped over the windows. A rock hit the rear window. She heard a crack. She wondered if this was how they would die.

Angel’s hand reached over for hers. He was awake but he didn’t say anything, just reached for her hand. Squeezed it tight.

Looked out at the dust. The shaking.

Looked back at her and brought her hand to his lips. Stared out the window as if willing it away. Looked at her again. Nodded.

She nodded in turn.

“We’ll get through this.”

The dust cleared a minute later.

Then the lightning started.


Vanessa Bernice De La Cruz

Vanessa Bernice De La Cruz is a self-taught artist and writer from Los Angeles, CA. She has been scribbling and doodling for as long as she can remember but has only recently decided to share those things. You can find her hanging out with her cat, whining on social media @alienraynedrop, or you can visit her not fully constructed website

Her work has appeared in Cutthroat, A Journal of the Arts and The Black Earth Institute’s Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century

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