Driving to Ventura

An excerpt from "Assumption and Other Stories"

By Daniel A. Olivas
Published on LatinoLA: April 6, 2002

Driving to Ventura

It?s not dramatic, not really. Not in the least. Not like the movies or TV. It?s kind of small and gnarled, but swift as a sparrow, with a pitiful muffled sound of PAM! PAM! PAM! And then there?s this silence except for a ringing that?s far off, like it?s coming from some other room, but I know that can?t be true because we have a one room apartment, not counting the bathroom, so the ringing must be coming from the upstairs neighbor. Or maybe from the people who live right under us. So, I push my ear down hard against the orange shag carpeting because I?m on the floor now. And I listen, listen hard. I hear his breathing above me and I want to shush him but I don?t. I try harder to hear where that ringing is coming from. But it?s not coming from that nice Vietnamese couple below. It?s right here. Right in my head.

I should have known the first time we went out. Three years ago this May. We were both broke so we went to Tommy?s on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, near the Beef Bowl, and got these big, greasy chili burgers each with a tomato slice the size of a deck of cards, chili-cheese fries and king size cups of Coke. We actually laughed a lot as the chili dripped from our fingers and chins and onto the table and our clothes. The Santa Ana winds were blowing hard so it was a warm night. The stars kind of twinkled, just a bit, their energy being sucked up by the city lights. During a lull in the laughter, Mike leans towards me, his blond mustache carrying bits of chili, and he says, ?You want to be my little Mexican bitch?? I blink hard trying to understand what he?s saying. He leans closer. ?Well, do you??

I love the Ventura Freeway. Especially when I?m driving north. Away from the Valley. There?s this point when you pass Canoga Park, West Hills and then Calabasas and you know you?re on your way. It doesn?t matter where. But you?re on your way because you can feel it.

Momee was pretty much like me. Or is it the other way around? Anyway, she fell hard for the good-looking ones without regard for anything else. Take my Pops for example. Handsome as all get out. Kind of looked like a suntanned John Wayne, but way better looking. No crooked smile like Wayne?s. Actually, no smile at all. He and Momee used to yell at each other but Pops never hit her. She said he was with other women. Usually, she called him names and he called her names, and then she?d leave with a bang of the door to stay with Grandma. It happened a lot when I was five or six. Pops used to sit and drink in the dark when she left and I?d lie there listening to him mutter. On the fifth or sixth time this happened, he came to my room and laid down next to me. I pretended to be asleep. And he would cry, shaking like a small jackhammer, and he?d smell my hair. And I?d pretend even harder to be asleep.

I like driving to Ventura. It?s a good, clean drive. This time it?s not just a drive. My bag is packed and sits right behind me in the back seat. This time is different in every way. After the PAM! PAM! PAM! I heard a crack. Cheekbone, left one, just caved in. He never broke a bone before. But that was it. When he drove me to West Hills Emergency, the doctor asked me how this happened. Mike shoots me a look like he?s saying, okay, it?ll be okay, just lie for me this one more time. But I shoot him a look and his eyes pop open and he knows that my look says, no, not this time, I will not lie. And I didn?t. That was two weeks ago. He?ll end up serving time because I?m pressing charges. I like my lawyer. Cool lady. She says, Elena, time to begin a new life. What do you want to do? And I think. It doesn?t take long. So, now here I sit, in my Honda Civic, listening to B. B. King and driving to Ventura. I?m on my way.

?Driving to Ventura? appears in Daniel A. Olivas? first short fiction collection, "Assumption and Other Stories", which will be published by Arizona State University's Bilingual Press next year. This story was first published by online literary journal, Outsider Ink (Spring 2001).

About Daniel A. Olivas:
Daniel A. Olivas makes his home with his wife and son in the San Fernando Valley. Visit his Web page at http://www.homestead.com/DanielOlivas/olivas.html

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