HAPPY ENOUGH • by Alex Z. Salinas

Walmart doesn’t pay the best but I’m happy working there. Happy enough. It’s probably because I work a shit-load of overtime and don’t have student loans. Also Sally’s low-maintenance and cool. She gives me foot massages and more just for bringing her fries and ice cream from McDonald’s. It’s literally the least I can do.

I moved out of my dad’s right after high school. I’m 20 now so it’s been 2 years. I’ve loved every second of it even with the bills. Sally too. We have an iguana named Paco. Sally named him that. Paco’s alright.

My dad’s a good dude just to be clear. When my mom died when I was 5 he took it hard. I remember him coming home from work and drinking beer until he cried into the sofa pillows. They’d be soaking wet. That was dad’s routine for the longest. It was sad stuff. Anyway he really likes Sally but he didn’t approve of her spending the night when I was at the house so I thought fuck it. When I graduate I’m moving out. So I did. And I’m happy.

One night after work not too long ago I hung out with some of the guys. My supervisor Ignacio was there. He’s a good dude because he approves my overtime. He doesn’t do that for everybody. After a while one of the guys pulled out a joint and lit it and passed it around. When it got to Ignacio he passed. Nobody said anything because he’s Ignacio. When it got to me I also passed. They gave me shit but I didn’t care. I wanted Ignacio to notice. As we were all leaving Ignacio walked with me to my truck. He said I made a smart move back there and asked if I was in school. I said naw. He said he went to college and it was alright but the only reason he was a supervisor was because of his college degree. In history. Fucking history. That’s what he said.

When I got home Sally was asleep. I was off the next day. When I woke up I told Sally about my chat with Ignacio while she got ready for work. She knew where I was going before I finished. She cut me off and said if I wanted to go to college I better apply now and stop talking about it. Talking’s for punk bitches she said. I looked at Paco and he was indifferent. Then I smiled and lifted Sally off the floor and kissed her all over.

I didn’t know anything about applying to college so I went on Google and typed St. Jerome’s. That’s the college nearby. I read a little about St. Jerome’s and got bored. I found the Apply Now button and clicked it. They wanted to know everything. There was a whole list of things. I scrolled down and saw they also wanted an essay. Jesus I thought. The question was what does freedom mean to me. Shit if I know. I’ve been out of school 2 years.

So I called my dad because I thought of Uncle Rudy. He’d been in prison since I was little for robbing a bank and shooting a cop. When my dad answered I told him about my application and asked if he was planning to visit Uncle Rudy anytime soon. My dad was thrilled I was going to apply to college but wanted to know what the hell Uncle Rudy had to do with anything. Long story I said. Are you visiting him or not. No he said. Okay I said and hung up.

If you want things done right you’ve got to do them yourself. So I went on Google and looked up the prison. I called the main line. Prisons have main lines. I learn something new every day.

In a nutshell they told me I had to book an appointment. They said I had to be put on a waiting list and be approved. But he’s my uncle I said. It doesn’t matter they said. Can’t y’all expedite the process I said. Rules are rules they said. I learn something new every day.

So I thought YOLO and drove down to the prison. I walked right in and asked the front desk lady to see Uncle Rudy. You the guy I just talked to on the phone she said. What guy I said. Nevermind she said. Then she repeated the thing about the waiting list. Jesus is there a damn list for everything I said. She stared at me the way Paco did. I laughed.

Then get this. As I was leaving the prison some old dude approached me. He said he heard me mention a Rudy. He said he knew a Rudy. My uncle’s name is Rudy I said. Rudy Villegas. That’s him he said all excited. Rudy’s a good man. A godly man. He said they used to read the Bible to other prisoners. It helped them sleep better at night. Wow I said. Perfect timing I thought. Then the old dude asked me what I was doing there. I told him about the essay and how if I wanted to know about freedom I should ask a prisoner. My uncle Rudy. Because he’d know. The dude grinned then wrote down his number on a piece of paper. He said call him later.

So I did. I called him again and again. He never answered. Not once. I didn’t leave any voicemails. I didn’t even know his name.

The whole thing pissed me off. I felt duped. Lied to. I didn’t want to write essays or even see Uncle Rudy anymore.

I have a job and Sally. We have an apartment and a pet. I’m happy. We’re happy enough. What more could I want. That’s textbook freedom.

Maybe one day I’ll email St. Jerome’s a family photo of me and Sally and Paco. All of us smiling and free.

Alex Z. Salinas lives in San Antonio, Texas. His flash fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction, escarp, Nanoism, 101 Words, 101 Fiction, ZeroFlash, and the Pecan Grove Review. He has also had poetry published in the San Antonio Express-News and the San Antonio Review.

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