$250. The Coyote wanted six hundred. Six months of scrimping and saving, and this was all he had to show for it. He’d eaten ramen every day, he bought day old bread, dented cans, and he walked to work. He’d asked for a raise, or some sort of change. However, the restaurant was strapped for cash, or at least that’s what his manager told him. Six months of hard work and Miguel was only $250 in the black.
He’d already paid rent, he’d already bought enough bland and outdated food to last him another two months. It was the Coyote that was his problem. He had said that there were unforeseen expenses relating to the transportation of his Maria. Last Tuesday, on his way home from the gas station where he bought his cigarettes, Miguel had called the Coyote from the usual pay phone. As Miguel tucked his change and an ill-fated state lottery ticket (it had come free with the purchase of two packs of cigarettes) into his wallet, he listened to the sound of traffic and the ringing on the other end of the line. In Miguel’s weary state the sounds merged into one soothing melody.
When an unpleasant voice suddenly spoke into his ear, Miguel was startled out of his momentary stupor. The Coyote began the conversation with his usual sinister politeness. Miguel listened as the faceless man told him of the many dangers the desert held for unwary travelers. He listed off the usual threats: vultures, cacti, snakes, scorpions, and -of course- Coyotes. Miguel knew what he meant.
After the conversation Miguel asked his manager for the raise again. He’d done dishes, he’d sliced so much celery it made him physically sick to smell it anymore. He had mopped, he had swept, and he had taken all of the garbage out. The young immigrant had performed every single mind-numbing task the manager could think of, and still there would be no raise.
The neighborhood kids who worked in the kitchens in the afternoons and on weekends, tried to make small talk. Miguel replied in kind, made jokes, his English was decipherable, just not pleasant. Despite their mutual attempts it was beyond the abilities of either to connect with the other; they could not know his existence.
Every morning at four Miguel unlocked the restaurants back door. For the last six months he had been tasked with baking the restaurants bread. This morning was no different from the last six months. The monotony of the morning seemed to stretch into the future, giving Miguel visions of himself as a withered old man opening the restaurants doors hours before the sun rose, and locking them hours after it had set. Immediately upon entering he turned on the ovens. They took an hour to heat up, a hurried tortuous hour. While the ovens transformed the backroom from a cramped ugly workstation to a hellish one, Miguel had to unload the day’s shipment of fresh produce.
The days labor was long and monotonous. Celery was sliced. Soup stock was boiled. Bread was baked. Long lines of glistening produce passed under Miguel’s knife. With each slice of the knife another hungry, bloated, mouth was fed. At ten o’clock that evening the manager finally let Miguel clock out. After a short conversation about the impossibility of a raise Miguel began the trek home.
Halfway to his apartment Miguel stopped at the pay phone he used to contact the Coyote. He was going to ask for more time. But the words stopped in his throat when the Coyote greeted him on the other end of the line. The Coyote talked for several minutes, and then with a chuckle he bid Miguel farewell.
When the line clicked off, Miguel went numb. He went to the liquor store and overdrew his bank account several times. Then back to his apartment. His mind glazed over, and hours later, he realized that he had turned on the television and opened a now flat beer. Between Wheel of Fortune and the nightly news the lottery numbers were announced. Remembering the little scrap of paper in his wallet, Miguel checked the numbers, and began to sob.
It never happened. It couldn’t have happened. Even if it had happened it was too late. Miguel wandered the streets for a few days, with the ticket clutched in his hand. It didn’t matter how much money this insulting scrap of paper was worth. He had bought it because of the promotion; really he had wanted the pack of cigarettes that came with its purchase. He almost threw it away, but instead, he tucked it into his thin, worn down wallet, then the only piece of paper the faded leather held.
She was dead, and he was rich in America; the wrong half of the dream came true, and it was now a nightmare. He wandered the streets for days, clutching that filthy insignificant scrap of paper. Somewhere in a dessert far away a coyote howled at the moon as it ran across the sands.