Some of my favorite fantasy stories don’t necessarily have anything supernatural in them. This is José Iriarte‘s first fiction sale.
Carmencita sways into Ana Teresa as they stagger down the sidewalk, shooting pain up and down Ana Teresa’s bad leg and nearly knocking her over. The sour stench of vomit wafts off of Carmencita. She says, a little too loudly, “You’re a good friend. I’m glad I’m stuck here with you.”
Ana Teresa is in no mood to listen. It’s Carmencita’s fault they’re walking through Miami’s Little Havana at two o’clock in the morning, drunk and underage.
“Thanks,” she says anyway. “We’re not stuck, though. Keep walking; we’ll make it. If we’re lucky, your parents and my grandparents won’t even find out.”
Carmencita shakes her head. “I don’t mean here. I mean, yes, here, but not here on Eighth Street. I mean all of it. We’re all stuck here. ¿Entiendes?”
“No, but that’s okay.” She doesn’t expect Carmencita to make sense right now anyway.
“We’re stuck at Casa Varadero. Nobody . . .” she trails off. Ana Teresa puts a hand on her friend’s arm to steady her. “Nobody ever leaves,” she finishes at last.
“I’ll leave.” Damn right she will leave. She has too many awful memories tied up with the ancient apartment building for her to stay. Two more years of high school and then she is done with Casa Varadero, done with Little Havana, done with Miami, even.
“No you won’t,” Carmencita says, her head shaking. “It’s a curse. Or something.”
Ana Teresa frowns. “Don’t be stupid. It’s an apartment building, not a jail. People leave all the time.”
“Yeah? Like who?”
Several darkened shops and businesses fall behind them while Ana Teresa tries to think of an example. She stares in the windows while she focuses. A bakery with a giant hand-lettered sign that says, “Pasteles de todos tipos.” A Spanish bookstore. A Domino’s Pizza.
“Hector,” she says at last.
Carmencita snorts. “Weekend neighbor. Doesn’t count.”
“Osvaldo and Cristina.”
“What are you talking about? They’re up on the third floor, right over you guys.”
“Now. But they used to live on the first floor, and then they moved away when Osvaldo got a job in Vermont.”
“Right, but they moved back when Cristina’s asthma flared up. Which means I’m right. You can leave, but you always end up back here.”
She shrugs. “Whatever.”
Carmencita drapes an arm around her. “Like I said, we’re stuck.”
Ana Teresa wrinkles her nose at another wave coming off of her companion. Tequila, garlic, and ropa vieja.
“I will leave,” she mutters. “Count on it.”