Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued
Luco Reyes played a central role in the vacation reveries of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of women, and of not a few men. He was their fantasy fling, their Latin Lover. Only in such fantasies do clichés seem reasonable.
For them, a night of passion nestled in the taut and muscular arms of the barista from San Francisco would be enough to eliminate the need for other souvenirs. The sound of his musical voice, warm in their ear, making promises that only he could keep, would let them forget the braying of their children – at least for a moment.
Snug in their minds with the memories and rueful second thoughts of these travelers, the dark-haired man with the gray eyes was someone they could carry with them. The facade of Luco Reyes was a conveniently portable orgasm.
When Luco left the counter at the People’s Cafe, Luco the fantasy lover stayed behind. Away from the levers and the steam jets, the reality of Luco Reyes walked up Haight Street alone.
He didn’t mind living above the bicycle shop. They weren’t yet open when he left for the cafe
and he returned home long after they were closed for the day.
The apartment was typical of many in The Haight. The rooms were small and narrow. They were designed for maximum comfort in the days before universal central heating. The layout made a lot of people feel that they were living in a railroad car.
Luco was satisfied with the apartment. It was close to work and across the street were the trees, lawns and lakes of Golden Gate Park.
He had five rooms from front to back, sharing the second level of the building with an identical suite occupied by a retired Filipino shipyard worker.
The bedroom at the back was quiet and cramped, almost filled by the Japanese futon and an old dresser. A full-length mirror was glued to the closet door. For a nightstand there was a small barrel that once held roofing nails. Now a clock radio and a boudoir lamp with a peach colored shade sat on its upturned end.
The bathroom was overdue for modernization with the old, but once again in vogue, pedestal sink and claw-foot tub. A medicine cabinet had been bolted to the green painted wall. It held only a straight razor and a can of shaving foam. On the sink was a single toothbrush propped up on a half-rolled tube of Colgate gel.
When he moved in five years before, Luco painted the kitchen walls a bright, daffodil yellow. Along with the white appliances and red oven mitts and dishtowel, the room was cheerful and inviting. It was the only redecorating he had done.
While it was rather whimsical in the kitchen, the dining room was strictly utilitarian.
The large table and four mismatched chairs were Goodwill retreads in need of refinishing.
On the floor under the table were boxes, taped shut with “Dining Room” block printed on the unbroken seals.
The overall impression was that most meals were eaten while standing at the stove.
The temporary feeling of the dining room was carried into the living Room. There were similarly neglected taped cartons along one wall.
A large sofa, covered in a tightly woven brown fabric, hugged the far wall. It had the look of something from a hotel lobby. On the wooden frame, hidden beneath the durable upholstery, was stenciled the word “Sheraton.”
In front of the large picture window overlooking the busy street below, was a gray metal desk. The kind you would find in millions of offices worldwide serving as the platform for commerce large and small. The matching chair was tucked, efficiently, in its place.
The apartment was…a place to live. It had only one thing about it that made it seem more like a “home.”
On the wall above the sofa was an oil painting of Mission Dolores – the original Spanish settlement in San Francisco, a whitewashed adobe surrounded by a riot of rhododendrons. The Mission bell, glinting its pear-shaped brass in the bright sun, stood outside the wrought iron gate, ready to call the faithful to God’s table.
The placement of the picture ensured that it was the first thing that Luco would see as he came up the stairs at night.
Down in the corner, near the frame, the artist’ name was neatly printed: Alicia Reyes.
It was after two in the morning and he still couldn’t sleep. He had to be ready to open up the People’s Cafe at 7 AM. It was getting close to that time when it would be better to just stay up and avoid sleep altogether.
Sleepless nights used to be the norm, but in the last few years, things had gotten better as the memories lost their freshness. Now they were back. Once again there were nights when his brain wouldn’t slow down. The scenarios playing double-time in his head – what might happen if I do this or that? What might have happened if I had done this or that? What if…everything.
Luco knew that replaying the dark days of his life wouldn’t solve anything. Those ghosts were, more or less, at peace. Staying up all night and working to exhaustion didn’t work then and it wouldn’t work now. He knew that.
He had found comfort in writing his poetry ever since his childhood in a crowded frame home near Mission Dolores.
In 1776, Father Junipero Serra created Mission Dolores, the sixth in his chain of twenty-one missions along the California coast. On a sunny bluff overlooking the icy waters of San Francisco Bay it dominated the landscape.
Almost 195 years later, to the day, Luco Reyes was born five minutes away from that same mission.
Over time the shoreline of the bay was filled in to accommodate a growing population. The water was lost to sight and, eventually, Mission Dolores became a tourist attraction. Luco moved to the foggy streets of The Haight and left the sunny Mission District behind, a remnant of another life.
Fewer than ten people in San Francisco knew why he had left the old neighborhood.
Looking at the wall clock and seeing the hands creeping up on four o’clock, Luco resigned himself to no sleep, followed by a long day of mixed up orders, incorrect change and a quiet sadness in his heart. There would be no charming repartee with smitten tourists today.
Instead of his usual bedtime cup of relaxing chamomile tea, he brewed himself a full pot of Irish Breakfast tea. It would be a better stimulant to get him through the rest of the night until he could pull a double espresso for himself at the cafe. Some days, caffeine was enough. Some other days it wasn’t, but you do what you can with what you have.
With a steaming cup and saucer in hand, he moved over to the small desk by his front window. Sitting in his chair he could look out over Stanyan Street and the entrance to Golden Gate Park. There was always someone out there, regardless of the time or the weather.
Luco pulled his spiral notebook from the desk drawer and opened it to a fresh, blank page. He avoided looking at it and took his time selecting a pen. The stark whiteness of the empty page was always a bit terrifying. Once he got the first few words down on paper he would relax and let the juices flow. At least that was his hope.
The sun and moon are dark.
Days are black and nights are
absent of any comforting glow.
They left the sky despite my pleas.
They took all life and promise of tomorrow.
With a desert in my life. Featureless, arid. I see no horizon.
Is this my fate? To walk without a path.
A vacant here, a solitary now? Traceless.
He looked at the page and closed the blue paper cover. One more page among a hundred, filled with the same sense of isolation and marrow-eating pain.