A Crack in the Wall

Submitted into Contest #53 in response to: Write a story about summer love — the quarantine edition.... view prompt

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Romance

The San Pablo Apartments stank. No one lived there because they wanted to, they lived there when they had no options. To say it was a slum would be to grossly overstate the size of Laverican. It was not big enough to support any gangs or serious crime, only the occasional teen troublemaker.

The whole town had been hit hard by the 2020 pandemic, but the Joaquin neighborhood had been especially hit hard. These were the living places of the downtrodden. Not of gangs nor criminals, but of seasonal and migrant workers and their young families. Of people clinging to an American dream that they knew excluded them.

*****

“Mama, why can’t I go play soccer with Alex?” Juan asked the tired Maria. It was still the early days of lockdown when children still thought this was just a school holiday of some sort.

“Because there is sick air outside” Maria oversimplified for her son’s understanding. She had just gotten home from a shift cleaning at a local hotel. She didn’t have the energy to argue with a 10 year old over how dangerous this new disease was or wasn’t. All she knew is that she wouldn’t have money for a doctor if it came to that. “Come help me make dinner instead, so it’s ready when your papa gets back”.

*****

“Ashly, it’s time for you to do your worksheets” Carrie said hollowly.

“No, if you don’t have to go to work, then I don’t need to do my take home school” Ashly taunted as she kept playing with her dolls. Carrie groaned. She wished she could explain that the hair salon she worked in was closed for the moment and how bad that was. No work, no money for the bills, no way to support the two of them. But the 9 year old just wanted to play. 

****

As time went on and with nothing else to do, Ashly explored every inch of the apartment. Her mother and her had been living there for a few months already, ever since her mom had broken up with Karl. Ashly hadn't liked him anyway, he smelt bad and his apartment was even worse. Upon being confined to house Ashly only had so much to do. Her mom was normally on the only computer doing something about trying to find other work. She cried a lot. Ashly felt bad, but didn’t know how to help and it only seemed to upset her mom when she tried to cheer her up.

Beside the water pipes that ran through the bathroom and into the wall of Ashly’s bedroom, there was a crack. It wasn’t’ very big, just small enough she couldn’t reach her hand through, but it went all the way to another apartment. Ashly peered through it with wonder. This was a magic portal to another world.

“Hello?” she knocked lightly on the wall for good measure.

Juan was startled when his wall started talking to him. No, there, a crack. It was a person talking through the wall.

 “Hello? Who are you?” With that simple greeting, a first contact, a seed of something more.

*****

“Juan, I heard you made a new friend today” Victor dug into the spanish rice his wife had prepared.

“Yeah, her name is Ashly, she lives on the other side of my wall. She likes dragons and bugs. She’s cool for a girl, I only wish I could hear her better. There’s a crack by the pipes that we talk through”.

 “I have an idea”, Maria looked at her son, “when I was a girl, my sisters and I used to tie together cans with string and it was a telephone”.

“Do you think that’d work? And we’d run the string through the wall?” Jaun was blown away by the ingenuity of his mother.

“I’ll talk to Ashly’s mother this Saturday for you to set it up”

*****

“Carrie is a nice lady” Maria told Victor as he brushed his teeth, “I got to meet Ashly too, she’s a bright little girl. I’m glad that Juan met another kid here, it’s been hard on him not seeing his friends”

“That’s good, just make sure he doesn't drive them crazy” Victor finished rinsing out his mouth.

“I’ll talk to him about giving her space” Maria smiled warmly. “I’ve been worried about him being by himself here for so much of the day, but Carrie hasn’t been able to find any salon work, so she’s there most of the time. I’m glad there’ll be an adult that Juan can contact if he needs”.

“So, you don’t think you’ll cut hours at the hotel to watch him? What are you planning to do once school starts?”

“I might pay Carrie to keep half an eye on Juan, but you were right, I don’t think we can afford for me not to go in. I hope that they open school in the fall, I don’t think we have much of an option”.

“Let’s hope this covid thing ends soon” Victor kissed his wife as they settled in for the night.

*****

“Ashly, I think you should let Juan win once in a while” Carrie put the casserole on the table. “Chess isn’t fun if you lose all the time”.

“But I let him pick the story when we play with his action figures. I still don’t get how it’s different than playing with my dolls” Ashly set the plates around the table.

“Let him think he’s getting better at chess” Carrie smiled, glad that Ashly had someone to spend her time with. The Garcias were a nice family. Of all the people to be stuck next to during a lockdown, Carrie was glad it was them. 

*****

“My mom’s hair studio closed down for good. She says we're going to move in with my grandma when the lease here ends” Ashly said sadly.

“When’s that going to be?” Juan felt a cold prickling feeling starting in his stomach.

“End of next month”

“That’s soon”

“Will we still be friends after I leave?”

“We gotta, you're one of the coolest people I know. Where does your grandma live?”  Juan felt a sense of longing loss that he didn’t quite understand yet.

“All the way in Kansas”. 

“Oh, that’s really far. I could write letters to you”.

“Let’s do that. I hope we don’t move again after we get there. Do you think you’ll move after your dad finishes picking all the apples?”

“I don’t think so. I like it here, I have friends once we can go outside again. Besides, my mom still has her cleaning job”.

****

“Tonight’s the last night I get to see you” Ashly said melancholy through the can telephone.

“I’ll miss you too”

“I have something before I leave. I’m going to run and put it on your door. Grab it then come back”

“Well, this... is nice?” Juan examined the strange talisman.

“It’s a good luck charm. Everyone knows pennies are good luck. I found that one visiting grandma once. It was in the rode, I’m sure that hole makes it specially lucky”

“Thank you. Both of us need some luck right now” Juan held the shot through penny closely. Years passed. Pandemics ended and the world reopened. Kids fell out of touch. But Juan always kept the charm that his first crush had given him all those years ago.

August 07, 2020 22:08

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