Palo Alto Weekly 18th Annual Short Story
Better A Man
by Carolyn Rennels
He carefully sketched a jaunty cap atop the woman's flowing hair.
There. She was finished. Carlos stood back to survey his work,
dark eyes narrowed in concentration. Not bad, he finally decided.
Not a masterpiece, but not bad.
Of course, nobody in his family would care about his art.
"They would be more concerned with their stupid bread," Carlos
thought bitterly. The Vensuelas were bakers, and had been for generations.
put bread before everything. That was what was said, at least. It was true
of every member of Carlos's family except two. One, of course, was himself.
The other was his grandfather.
Francisco Vensuela had come to America when he was only eighteen,
leaving his mother and eight siblings in Mexico. He had a guitar
slung around his
and six dollars in his pocket. Francisco's dream of becoming a musician
out, but as he frequently told Carlos, "Better a man with a shattered
dream than a man with no dream at all."
"Well," thought Carlos, "My dream doesn't have
a chance to be shattered. Not with this family, anyway."
Carlos's dream, as it had been for years, was to attend the Art University of
California. The university was ancient, and had been running for over one hundred
years. The instructors there were legendary, many of whose names had appeared
multiple times in the text of the local paper. If Carlos could only attend the
university, even for a year.
"Carlos!" His aunt's syrupy voice floated through the
house to his room, breaking through his thoughts. Hurriedly, Carlos
drawing and thrust it in a drawer beside his bed. It was an old drawer, it's
rusty with age, but it would have to do. The last thing he needed was
for Aunt Rosa
to find his work. Meanwhile, his aunt had appeared in the doorway.
She was a
short, rounded woman, black hair piled on the top of her head in
a large, messy bun. Her mouth opened in dismay when she saw Carlos.
"Carlos! I look for you everywhere! Why you not with your father in bakehouse?
You sixteen, but can't bake even a roll!" Aunt Rosa rambled
on in faulty English until finally Carlos gave up and walked dismally
He couldn't bake. He just couldn't. Carlos lay sprawled on his bed four hours
later, his father's exasperated voice still wringing in his ears.
"No, Carlos! This bake for ten minute, not twenty! What we do with you?" Carlos
didn't care what they did with him. He sat, lost in thought, until
a voice broke through his thoughts.
Carlos looked up, startled, and found himself gazing into his grandfather's kind
"Oh, grandpapi, it's you," Carlos muttered.
It was a child's name, but Carlos knew he would never call his grandfather anything
else. Out of all his relatives, his grandfather was the only one who understood.
Suddenly everything that was troubling him burst from his mouth.
Carlos knew that he sounded like a child, knew he was screaming, but it didn't
matter. He raved on.
"They expect me to be like them, but I hate baking, I hate it. And I hate
them, too!" Carlos didn't know if he really hated his family,
he only knew that everything was going wrong. He looked up into
and yet not knowing how he could be helped.
"Let us talk," said his grandfather quietly.
Hours later, Carlos lay on his bed, his grandfather's weathered face pasted in
his mind's eye, his words still circling through his mind.
"Carlos", he had said, "I have heard of your dream of the university.
I have talked to your parents. You may go, they say, although," with a slightly
pained look in his eye, as though remembering a bad memory, he continued, "they
were not especially pleased. The choice is yours, Carlos. I cannot
help you make it. Think about it."
Carlos was thinking. He had lain like this for over five long hours, and still
he felt like a feather floating in the sea, lost and alone.
The next day, it was as though he was a different person. It was typical of his family to be impatient with him, but was it his imagination, or were they sharper than usual? Papa could have asked more kindly. Aunt Rosa could have waited a little longer before starting up on him again. Then there were the looks.
the day, Carlos's family continuously threw him sharp, shifty
glances, as though observing a possible enemy. It was as though
a stranger in his own home.
By the end of the day, Carlos was just as mystified as he had
been the day before.
Sunlight pounded through Carlos's closed eyelids, waking him. Slowly
he opened his eyes, dread seeping through him. This would be just
another day of feeling
like he didn't belong. Quietly Carlos slipped into his clothes
and trudged his way downstairs. Upon reaching the kitchen, Carlos
didn't even glance at his mother
and father. What was the use? Mutely he crossed the room and reached
for a ceramic bowl to hold his cereal. It was only then that he
noticed how quiet the kitchen
had suddenly fallen. Startled, Carlos spun around to face his parents.
Nothing could have prepared him for the sight that greeted his
Carlos's mother was slumped on a wooden chair, tears pouring down
her face, leaving trails of makeup in their tracks. His father
sat with his arm around her, trying
to comfort his wife, a grimace of sadness on his own face. When
she saw him staring at her, Carlos's mother wailed and ran to throw
her arms around her son. By now
Carlos was thoroughly puzzled.
Looking desperately around, he caught sight of his grandfather
leaning against the white plaster of the kitchen wall. Looking
up, the old man gave Carlos a
happy smile. All at once, Carlos understood. By now his father
had joined his mother in locking his arms around his son, the three
of them forming a tight
"Please forgive us, Carlos!" sobbed his mother. But Carlos didn't need an apology. Wordlessly he hugged his mother and father with all his strength. He knew now that he would go to the university. But right now, that didn't matter. They were all thinking the same thing. No matter what happened, no matter how different they were, they were family.