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SEARCHING – a Serial Novelle CHAPTER 4: Down

By Patrick Cabello Hansel

Angel could have turned west toward the shelter; could have, probably should have. But he was too intoxicated by the smell of bread, by the sure knowledge that he now knew her name. Luz Maria: the light, and the mother of Christ. It was enough for him to just stand there in the wind and breathe in the world. If you asked him later—if he could remember anything—he would have told you that at that moment his life was complete. He had heard the owl and heard the voice. He had smelled the bread. But now, he had seen her, talked to her, he could almost feel her breath on his skin.

He stood there for a few minutes, his eyes toward the gray sky, his skin almost singing. He tasted the first piece of bread right in front of the store on Lake Street. Bread, even day-old, tastes better when given by the hand that is love. Coffee sweetened by a word, the hint of a smile, christens the heart. Angel would remember the taste of that food for a long time—not in his mind, but in his body.

But maybe it was his body that pointed him in the wrong direction. Maybe it was something in his feet that turned him toward the alley, the shortcut to his friend’s apartment. Bobby would let him crash that night. Bobby knew what it was like to be without a home, wondering where shelter would be found. So Angel’s feet moved him, his bread and coffee and his joy, up the alley, into the darkness.

The first blow was from a fist, the second from a hammer or club; then boots, sticks, a bat. Angel felt pain after pain after horrible pain, and then a kind of peacefulness came over him as he began to lose blood and consciousness. It was like the feeling people who drown get when they stop fighting. It was death wrapped in quietness.

The men were hooded, of course. They hid their faces and names but not their deeds. Their deed was left in the alley, unconscious and half-dead, under words that long ago had been painted on the wall: “Honor the World”. Angel lay there, and the world passed by. A police car rolled by and did not stop. Customers stopped in the beginning of the alley to light a smoke, looked up the dark passageway, and saw what they thought was another drunk. They did nothing.

Around 10:00 pm, the sky began to shed that kind of winter skin that has no set name. It was not snow, it was not rain, it wasn’t even sleet. It was a mix of all these, a mix that Minnesotans know as the beginning of sadness. Sadness and wisdom that says, “Turn inward”. It had no effect on Angel—it did not stir nor sting him—but it brought Ahmed out for his first evening walk in Minnesota weather. And it compelled Uncle Jaime as he left the back of the bakery to turn into the alley. It was as if a small but steady hand was pushing him forward.

Together they met, Jaime and Ahmed, in Spanish and Somali, in darkness and the wet skin of the winter sky. Together they bent over Angel, lifted him, and began to carry him to safety.

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SEARCHING – a Serial Novelle CHAPTER 3: Bread

By Patrick Cabello Hansel

Angel walked west. He had fifty cents and hunger in his pocket, and the latter was outgrowing the former. Where could he go with two quarters, with the strange word that rang in his ear: “lotten”? With the sound of the owl?

He smelled it before he saw the light, softly illuminating traces of snow on the sidewalk. The bakery, named for an angel. The conchos and cuernos and his Mom’s favorite cookies pulled him in by the nose. Mr. Bussey had told him that the bakery had made the Guinness Book of World Records once, for making the World’s Largest Dog Biscuit. He remembered that a young girl, shy and pretty, sometimes worked the counter.

When he walked in, she was there, taking an order for a birthday cake from a mother with two kids: tres leches, with Dora the Explorer painted on the frosting. She had on a lilac sweater, with one sleeve pulled up higher than the other. A tiny gold cross hung below her neck. Her dark blue apron was softly floured. After the family left he stood in front of the counter for a long time.

“Buenas tardes”, he finally managed to get out.

“Buenas noches”, the girl replied. She showed no signs of impatience. Or interest.

“Solo tengo, um, fifty cents. Tengo hambre—I’m really hungry”

“Supongo que si”, the girl replied, and motioned to the wall behind her. Angel scanned the wall, as if a message was there. He saw the prices for full sheet cakes, halves and quarters. Pictures of Pooh Bear, Tinkerbell and Spider Man. A list of flavors: ronpope, fresa, coco. A clock. If there was a message there, he couldn’t see it. He looked back at the girl and shrugged his shoulders.

“Momentito”, she said, and went into the back. Angel thought he could hear a male voice talking with her, but couldn’t make out the words. After a moment, she reappeared, with a large man in a white apron.

“Este es mi Tío—my Uncle Jaime”

“I understand that you are hungry and have no money”, the man said.

“Yes sir. I mean, no sir. I mean, yes I am very hungry, and no, I don’t have any money.”

Her uncle handed him a sack filled with bread and cake, a styrofoam cup of coffee. Angel thanked him, the man wished him good luck, and went back to the ovens. The girl took a newspaper from the counter, tore off a corner, wrote something on it, folded it and gave it to him.

He was hoping that it was her phone number, but instead he saw a notice for a homeless shelter run by a church. It said you needed to be there by 8 pm to get a bed. He looked up at the clock. It was 7:15. He still had a little time. He smiled at the girl, and she smiled back. He wanted to comment on something: her eyes, her hair, some feature. He felt like Aladdin, trying to talk to Princess Jasmine. Finally, he said, “I like your cross”.

She blushed a little. Her eyes looked down, and her thumb and first two fingers instinctively rubbed the thin gold.

“Gracias” she said, her eyes. “It’s from my Mom. She’s in Guanajuato”

“My name is Angel.”

“Yo soy Luz. Luz María García Rivera, a sus ordenes.”

A sus ordenes. At your service. He hoped that she would be, for a little while at least, but then several customers came in. He said goodbye, and that’s when his eye caught the sign on the wall behind her: it was the seeing eye in the triangle, the one on the back of the dollar bill. Was that what Luz had wanted him to see? What could she possibly mean?

He went off, searching for shelter.

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SEARCHING – a Serial Novelle CHAPTER 2

By Patrick Cabello Hansel

Angel stood on the corner of 17th and Lake, smoking. Alone. He wasn’t used to being alone. He lived with his mother and father, three brothers and three sisters in the upstairs and attic of a house built in 1907. On weekends, he hung out with his friends. He went to the Mall, he went to Block E, he kept moving. The few part-time jobs he’d had were around men with trucks, unloading wood, shingles, produce, moving from the sweltering heat of the summer to the walk-in cooler: men shouting, boxes of lettuce and avocadoes, hand trucks and ladders, men up on roofs, cash paid at the end of the day, the week, the job. Bowls of pozole and a cold Jarritos on payday, the men telling jokes, wiring money home. Angel didn’t like being alone.

But this evening was not like all the others. He had heard the owl, and swore he could hear it now, standing under the dark purple awning that advertised “Baraka Rugs”. Baraka—sounded like that guy running for President, he thought. He looked around at the building—how long since it had burned and sat empty here, its windows boarded up with plywood covered with posters: Get Tested for HIV. Una Solo Noche: Los Lobos del Norte. Student Walkout for the Minnesota Dream Act. Too many signs, Angel thought. Too much to worry about.

Then he looked up at the top of the building: Gustavus Adolphus Hall. What was that doing here? He knew Gustavus Adolphus was a college—Mr. Kasson, his counselor, had tried to interest him in applying there, but Angel wasn’t going to some school out in the cornfields. Plus, where was the money coming from? College was a dream act, for sure, he thought. That’s when he heard the owl, only this time it sounded like a voice, a voice saying something like: lotten.

Angels’ first response was to run. Someone was after him, someone meant to get him. But who? La Migra, who had stepped up its raids, even after the trouble they got in for taking over the church parking lot? The patrol cops, who stopped every kid they saw, especially if he was dark? The gang his cousin had been in? Someone sent by his family? But no, the voice was calm, quiet almost, and clearly said over and over: “Lotten”

Lotten? What the heck does that mean? It sounded like something he’d heard Miss Dolores sing when he went to visit the old ladies at the nursing home during last year’s service project. It wasn’t lotto—it clearly had an “n” on the end. But what it meant, and who it was meant for was not clear to Angel.

What was clear was that he was hungry. Hungry and alone. He couldn’t go home, and didn’t want to go anywhere else. He searched his pockets and found two quarters. Where could he go to get something to eat with that? Where would he find the sustenance he needed? He started walking west. There was no light left in the sky; the only guide was Angel’s stomach.


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SEARCHING – a Serial Novelle CHAPTER 1

By Patrick Cabello Hansel

Angel swore it was an owl. It was calling from a tree hidden deep behind the locked cemetery gates. He remembered that an owl calling meant death, but for whom? Himself? One in his family? A friend who had a death wish? He tried to see the owl through the fog that was beginning to creep in from Cedar Avenue, but he could not. It continued to call, lonely, vigilant, demanding.

Angel tried to laugh about it: of course there’d be an owl in the cemetery. Nothing but dead people there! But he didn’t know anyone in that cemetery. They didn’t bury Latinos there. They didn’t bury anyone there anymore. Mr. Bussey, in his 4th hour history class at Roosevelt, had talked about the Civil War veterans buried there, the heroes of the Underground Railroad, the first murderers and their victims. It was the old dead who laid there, the ones who had grown tired of being restless and wandering, the dead who had settled in for the long millennium’s wait for the final trumpet.

No, this owl was calling for someone outside. Someone still living, who didn’t know their number was up. That was a fact: death was on the prowl in the neighborhood. Death had an appointment, and death was never tardy. Angel shuddered for a second at that fact. Then he began to shake as he realized something else: he had been chosen to hear the owl calling. He had been called to be the messenger. The one who might be killed for bringing bad news. He, Angel Augusto Cruz Rojas, the first born of seven, was the one who must tell the story.

Angel pulled his hoodie over his ears and started walking. He was intending to go see Sammy and some of his friends downtown, but he turned around, walked quickly passed the bus stop, made a sharp right across the street, and headed west on Lake. The sky over the Global Market ten blocks away bore the faintest trace of pink from the sun that had set nearly an hour before, and the wind was straight in his face. When he stopped two blocks away to light a cigarette, it took him several tries to keep the flame lit. Even from that distance, he could swear he heard it. The owl was calling him. But to do what? To tell whom? Angel needed to find out.

Patrick Cabello Hansel and his wife, Luisa are pastors of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at 28th Street and 15th Avenue in Midtown Phillips. He is also a writer of poetry and short fiction.

 

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