Highway 50

March Web Feature

Highway 50
Ahsha M. Vigil

The payphone beeps loudly, the operator’s monotone voice pours through the earpiece. “Please deposit one nickel for five more minutes. You have thirty seconds before I must disconnect the call.”

The hitchhiker looks for another nickel in his empty pockets. The phone goes silent and beeps loudly. The hitchhiker sighs and exits the telephone booth, taking a drink from his flask and lighting a cigarette. He looks to the East, over his shoulder towards the shallow grave of his companion. He decides to forget about his time on the desert as he climbs back into the rusty old Buick and turns his wheels west.


The man is an actor, aspiring to be the next bigshot in Hollywood. He, like most of his peers, has nothing to his name. His mother would fret over him and call him a fool if it wasn’t for her comatose state guarding her from what she was better off not knowing. It protects her from knowledge of how and where he’s been getting the money to keep her alive, from knowing that the money has run out and she doesn’t have much longer. He walks down the side of an unknown desolate stretch of highway in the middle-of-nowhere Nevada, hitchhiking back to Los Angeles. The road signs guide him, updating him on how far he is from any other human life form every twenty miles or so. The pavement radiates heat and aside from the mirage on the horizon, only dry, and dirty land stretches as far as the eyes reach. There is rarely an automobile passing, always a semi-truck traveling in the opposite direction. The hitchhiker expected more traffic, but he doesn’t completely reject the solitude. He rather prefers it for his humble reflection of life.

A billboard stands tall a little way up the road, its big red letters warn him of approaching civilization. “BETTY LOU’S DINER! GAS AND GOOD EATIN’!…3 MILES!”

He stops for a moment, looking up the road, licking his lips. He empties his flask, gulping the liquor down his throat. A new motivation to keep walking. The hitchhiker hums to himself, a tune he heard years ago. It keeps him better company than the tumbleweeds that play chase in the distance. He closes his eyes and strolls mindlessly, recklessly. The mid-day heat beats down on him. Sweat drenches the layers of clothing and drips from his face. He stumbles and opens his eyes, his vision blurs. Perhaps I was a fool to think I could go it alone. That fella back in Austin wasn’t feeding me a line. I ain’t gonna get back to Hollywood for dang near a week if I gotta keep up like this. Ma won’t last that long.

The diner comes into view. The faded, pink, stucco building stands out against the gray-brown landscape. A busted, neon, arrow sign flickers and flashes. In front of the diner stand two gas pumps. The parking lot is empty. Dull green weeds creep up the sides of the building, finding a home in the cracks and chips of the stucco. There is only a battered screen door to guard the entryway.

The hitchhiker walks in and a tiny bell rings above his head. A ceiling fan rattles and echoes throughout the empty diner, drowning out the jukebox’s melancholy tune. Everything is red and green patent leather or velvet on aluminum chrome and walnut wood. The inside of the diner is much more pleasing to the eye than the unkempt outside. The nicotine-stained air is hot and dense. The hitchhiker seats himself on a swivel stool at the bar, extinguishing the privacy of employee gossip.

The waitress and the cook draw back from each other. The waitress sets her cigarette in an ashtray and turns to the hitchhiker. She places a yellow paper menu in front of him. “Well hello, Sugar. Can I getcha some coffee?”


“You got it, Babe.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have a bottle too, would ya?”

“Sure, we do.”

The hitchhiker holds out the empty flask. “Mind topping me off?”

She smiles and takes the flask.

“Thank ya, ma’am.”

They are silent for a moment. The waitress hands the hitchhiker his renewed flask. “So, where you headed, Mister?”

“L.A.” The hitchhiker takes a swig and places the flask in his pocket.

“Another one of those hot-shot wanna-bes, yeah?”

“I was out on loan for a minor part in one of them new movies. They called me in day before yesterday. Cut my vacation short to go speak three lines.”

“Hey, it’s better than nothing right? Tell me more about Hollywood.”

The hitchhiker shrugs. “There ain’t really much to tell ma’am.”

“Oh c’mon. Hollywood’s so glamorous.”

The waitress sets the water down in front of him and leans on the counter flirtatiously. She continues to coax him with small talk. He looks at her over the menu now and then, raising his eyebrows and nodding or shrugging slightly. Occasionally, he interjects, hoping she’ll be satisfied soon enough and return to her cigarette.

“So, why’re you walking to L.A?”

“Hitchhiking.” He corrects her before continuing. “My car broke down back in Eureka, something with the tranny. Don’t got the money or the motive to fix it.”

“Must be lonely. Can’t imagine having no company out on the road all by myself.” She pauses. “You know, I always wanted to—”

The sound of the doorbell cuts her off, saving her from the rejection of the hitchhiker. A man walks in and seats himself at the end of the bar near the window, so he can watch his Buick accumulate rust. The waitress jumps at the new opportunity for amorous toying. It must be a slow day. She abandons the hitchhiker and rushes to the drifter’s side.

“How are you today, Honey? What can I getcha? Water? Coffee?”

“Coffee, please.”

“Sure thing, Baby. Let me know if I can grab anything else alright?”

He plasters on a faux smile and nods, trying to mask his disinterest. She notices and takes leave. He has seen this waitress a million times, different places and names, but to him, they are all the same. If he would let her, she’d fall in love with him for the day, only to be left behind tomorrow when he turns his wheels in another direction. There have been so many short-lived love affairs that he’s unsure where all he’s had a lover. He never stays in one place long, has no reason to. He has no wife and no kids— at least not to his knowledge. He’s a drifter, a loner trying to make it by traveling the country selling the miscellaneous trinkets for some CEO from back East.

The hitchhiker and the drifter take notice of each other. The drifter’s curiosity eats him from the inside out. Crazy fella out here by his lonesome without a car. Wonder where he came from.

The hitchhiker plays his curiosity off as the intrigue of the unknown. The hitchhiker doesn’t want to know the drifter’s story. Wonder where he’s headed. Maybe he can help me get to Cali faster. They watch each other for the duration of the drifters stay.

The hitchhiker studies the drifter and follows him out when he departs. “Excuse me, Mister. I don’t mean to be a thorn in the side. But which way you headed?”

The drifter points west. “Need a ride?”

“If it ain’t too much trouble.”

The drifter nods towards the passenger door. “Saddle up, Cowboy. Make yourself comfortable.”

“Say! Gee thanks, Mister.”

The drifter displays himself as humble, a wall to camouflage his loneliness. The desert blurs as the car picks up speed. The hitchhiker looks out the window as they drive. The men are silent for a long while. The drifter pulls a cigarette out of his shirt pocket, offers one to the hitchhiker.

The hitchhiker nods. “Got a light?”

The drifter pulls out a card of matches, tossing them at the hitchhiker.

“Thanks.” “That gal back there sure was talking up a storm.” The drifter pokes at the man.

“Why ain’t you offer to take her with ya?”

The hitchhiker shrugs. “She’s getting paid to make a pass at every fella that comes through there. We both know that.”

“Seemed pretty stuck on you. She looked at you like you was the shiniest penny in the jar.”

“Oh, hang it up, Mister.”

The drifter puts his hands up for a moment, chuckling. The hitchhiker tosses his cigarette butt out the window. They fall quiet for some time again. In the distance, the men can see a thunderhead; the dark gray storm looks like it could be violent. They watch as the sun sinks into the desert, tired of scorching this side of the planet until tomorrow. The drifter flicks a switch, and the headlights illuminate a mile marker.


The hitchhiker puts his feet up on the dashboard and pulls the flask from his jacket pocket, takes a big gulp. He gestures to the drifter. “Want a sip?”

“I’ll wait.”

“Suit yourself. More for me.”

The drifter lights another cigarette, unsure what else to do with himself. The hitchhiker takes another swig, and another for good measure. “So, we stopping in Fallon or what?”

“We won’t be there for another hour—”

“That ain’t what I asked.”

“We can stop if you need to.”

“I might.” The hitchhiker takes a big gulp of liquor and burps loudly. He is silent for a moment, taking another sip before speaking. “How far are you going anyways?”

“Aw heck, Carson City maybe? I ain’t got the slightest idea if I’m being honest though. I go ’til I can’t no more.”

The drifter looks over at his intoxicated companion. The hitchhiker lifts his head and screws the lid back on the flask. “How far you taking me?”

“Far as I can. State line, maybe. Depends on how long we’re headed the same direction.” Fear rises in the hitchhiker’s chest. State line won’t be close enough. That’s three days’ worth of walking at least. He retrieves his pocketknife and begins to clean his nails. In the clouds, electric charges battle for dominance. Thunder shakes the land. The hitchhiker uncaps the flask, takes another swig, and places the flask back into his jacket pocket.

The drifter breaks the uneasy silence. “You’re quite the swigger, Cowboy.”

“What of it?”

The drifter falls quiet again.

“I said, what of it, Mister? Don’t go giving your two cents where it ain’t due.”

“Ease up, Cowboy. Don’t blow a fuse. I was just trying to make conversation. I wasn’t looking for trouble.”

“Bustin’ my chops ain’t the way to do that, Mister.”

“C’mon cool down, man.”

“Aw, shut the hell up would ya?”

The drifter’s knuckles turn white, he clenches the steering wheel, biting his tongue. The air outside stirs and a gust of wind shakes the car around a little.

The hitchhiker becomes more agitated. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to drive, Mister?”

“If you don’t like my driving, I can let you out.” The drifter’s dry voice echoes in the hitchhiker’s head. The drifter slows down to counteract the wind.

“No. No. You can’t let me out—” The hitchhiker pales and panic courses through his veins, sending him tumbling over the edge. His hands shake, his vision flashes black. The drifter notices the change in the hitchhiker and pulls over.

“Don’t spew in here now, Cowboy. You don’t look so hot.”

“You can’t kick me out here, Mister. I gotta get back to Hollywood. My Ma needs me to get that part.”

“What are you getting all cracked up about? I was just trying to let you out if—”

“I said you can’t kick me out!”

The hitchhiker lunges at the drifter, pocketknife still in hand. The drifter jumps and reaches for the hitchhiker’s wrist to stop the impending blow. The drifter’s eyes cloud over with pain as the stainless-steel point penetrates his abdomen.


The hitchhiker looks over his shoulder at the rusty-old Buick as he steps into the telephone booth. He picks up the phone and dials the number.

The operator comes on the line instantly. “Please insert one dime for ten minutes. Thank you.”

The hitchhiker puts a dime into the machine. He hopes the call won’t take long. The dial tone hurts his already throbbing head. There’s a click on the other end of the line.

“Hello?” A man’s sleepy voice pours through the phone.

“Hey, man. I’ve got a problem, I really screwed up—” The hitchhiker trails off, unsure.

His companion on the other end of the phone grows more alert. “What’s eating you?”

“I killed someone man. I mean I think it’s okay, not a big deal, but—”

The other end of the line is silent.

“This guy gave me a ride, started giving me some trouble. He was about to kick me out on the side of the highway. I just couldn’t take it, you know? So, I let him have it.”

The phone cuts out and beeps. The hitchhiker inserts another nickel into the machine before the operator can interject.

“I see. Where are you now?”

“I don’t know, exactly. I’ll be back in L.A. tomorrow.”

“Why don’t you disappear for a little while?”

“Just call and tell my manager I’ll be there tomorrow evening.”

“How do you know they ain’t gonna be looking for you?”

“He was a loner. Nobody will miss him for a long time. I was out on the desert when I ditched him. I don’t think anyone will find out.”

“You better hope not, son. They’ll send you to the big house for this one.”

“How’s Ma?”

“Same as yesterday.”

“I’ll come up with the money soon.”

“Don’t fret none about her. Don’t you go stirring up no mor—”

There is silence on the other end of the phone. The silence begs for another deposit. The hitchhiker sighs and rubs his temples. The payphone beeps loudly, and the operator’s monotone voice pours through the earpiece. “Please deposit one nickel for five more minutes. You have thirty seconds before I must disconnect the call.”

The hitchhiker has run out of time, and his pockets are empty. He can only hope that there’s enough gas to get him off of Highway 50.

Fall 2019 Prize Winners

Congratulations to our
ENMU Student Prize Winners
for Fall 2019

1st place: Natalie Franco Torres for “A Second Chance”
2nd place:
Timothy Gettle for “The Light of a Lavender Sky”

1st place:  “Bicycle” by Cody Wilhelm 
2nd place:
“Another Myth” by Bridget Richardson 
3rd place:
“Laid to Rest” by Falyn Benavidez 

1st place: Michael Gardner‘s “Enchanting”
2nd place:
Katherine Perelas‘s “Serene and Quiet”

Last Day for El Portal Submissions!

Today is the last day for submissions to El Portal‘s fall issue. Write West and send it our way! We will accept submissions until 11:59:59 p.m. If you have something you want to submit, send it to the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu. Please visit our official Guidelines  and Terms of Submission pages for official rules. Questions concerning El Portal submissions should be sent to the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

Call for Submissions (El Portal, Fall 2015)

El Portal is currently seeking submissions for its Fall 2015 issue. If you have any questions about submitting to El Portal, please feel free to drop us a line at el.portal@enmu.edu. For submission guidelines and official rules, please visit our official Guidelines and Terms of Submission pages for more information. Also, be sure to check out this month’s web feature by Jenni Baros.

The Well by Jenni Baros (Web Feature)

“Well’s dry again,” Travis says. He kicks the front door shut against the gnawing cold. His arms are full of damp pinon for the fire. The tang of manure and fresh hay follows him in.

“It’s winter,” I say. My fingers are numb from chasing dishes around in a sink full of suds. I’ve been waiting for him to ask about my day. But both our hands are busy with chores, and he won’t stop till they’re done.

“Checked the cisterns. They’re about half-way.”

“We’ll have to watch it.” I am guilty with the water in the basin. Laundry’s waiting by the washer and we’ll need to shower tomorrow. Seems there’s always more need than have.

As he kneels at the hearth, his knees creak and pop with the weight of years spent scraping at this dirt, fighting it. Wood chuffs against the rough cotton of his mud brown Carhartt. There is meticulousness in his stacking log upon log; he might have been an engineer. Instead, we’re just two washed up rodeo-ers, pretending we aren’t failing at being farmers, too.

The phone rings. He keeps his back to it, crouched away like a beat pup. There’s nothing new to say to the bank. I dry my hands on the back of my jeans before answering.

“Hi, Lisa.” I say her name so he knows it’s not for him. I should have let it go to voicemail. She chatters on about a Tanya’s baby shower and I set the last plates to dry. Travis finishes stacking the wood and heads out to the barn to shut the cows in for the night.


Just before we got married, he took me to Santa Fe. He needed a qualifying ride and I was just happy to be with him. We stayed the night on the square for Zozobra. The effigy of Old Man Winter, paled-faced and leering, was rising ten feet out of a pyre. The people all around us danced to the mariachi, their arms lifted in the air as they burned away the old and welcomed in the new. When he was lighted, the fire was so hot I had to turn away. Travis held onto me and whispered that he loved me. Right then, I had everything I ever wanted.


We go to bed early because there is nothing else to do. I put a thick log on the fire and turn out lights. He eases weary onto the mattress and I think this is the moment for me to tell him the truth. But I look at his sun-lined face and see his eyes hollow. The words lose their shape in my mouth. I reach my hand out, touch the sinew in his arms. I must be ice against his skin because he flinches. I pull away.

“Love you,” I say.

“G’night,” he answers, rolling to face the closet. His breath comes in familiar rhythms and I turn away, too. Cold air slipping under the covers between us.


We’d been married two years when I ended up the in ICU for rolling my trailer outside of Gunnison. My horse didn’t make it. Travis dropped out of the rodeo the rest of the year just to sit and read Jane Austen out loud. The following year, a bull caught Travis in the chest and I finished her collected works waiting out his surgeries. We both hate her to this day.


I stand outside the closest Wal-Mart, a forty-five minute drive from the house. As I walk to the automatic doors, the wind drags my hair through the gloss on my lips then covers them with a gritty layer of dust. Empty convenience store cups roll swirling dances around smaller tumbleweeds against the cinderblock walls. A fast food wrapper skips by, hurried along with intermittent gusts. The smell of cow shit lays a hazy veneer over everything, even my teeth when I open my mouth. I am only here for water.

An hour later, teal nail polish beeps across the scanner and the cashier says, “You take the day off?” I don’t recognize her at first. But under the lavender hair and watery, red eyes, I see the Mallory I knew years ago; back when we all thought we’d get the heck out of this town. Can’t go to Wal-Mart without seeing someone you know.

“Kinda.” I brush bangs from my forehead, aware of the few grey strands I found last week, almost white against my tawny brown.

Beep for a jug of water. “How’s Dixie,” she asks.

“Oh,” I say. My insides have been doused in ice water. Beep for matches. “She’s gone.”

“That’s sad.” Beep for chili beans. “Y’all were a good team. Hard to find a roper like her.” Beep for canned soup.

I wave a flippant hand. The hurt is an August fly, fat and lazy. “She deserved better.”

Mallory nods. “$15.62,” she says. “You keep her tack?”

I swipe my card. “No.” My throat catches. I’ve tried not to think about the hand-tooled saddle, mine and Travis’ initials interwoven with sunflowers in the leather; capped with an authentic Mexican silver saddle horn. The one my Daddy gave me as a wedding present. “We sold it.”

“Too bad.” She doesn’t care. “Enjoy your day.”

“You, too.” I hoist the water into the cart, the plastic bag flimsy in my grip. I hate coming in to town.


My soup is cold.

Travis was already gone when I got home. I didn’t bother with his cell, mostly because I don’t know what to say to him. I dip my spoon into the bowl but can’t bring it to my mouth. Tires on the gravel drive have me bracing for the rush of cold air when he opens the door. “What’re you doing home?”

“Sit down,” I say, pushing the bowl aside.

He tugs his sweat-stained ball cap off, walks to the sink. The facet sputters when he tries to fill a glass. “Damn it.”

“There’s a jug in the fridge.”

He brings the empty glass to the table and sits across from me. He looks at the floor. “Bank’s coming this afternoon. They’re taking the tractor.” Titling the glass, he looks through it. “And the livestock.”

My throat is squeezing in on itself. I can’t swallow. “I got fired yesterday.”

He looks up, green eyes bright against the red of his brows. I doubt he expected a pissing contest. Trouble is, we’re both downwind, facing the wrong way.

“Gibbs said I took too much personal time. Didn’t care that it was for the doctors.”

“Well,” Travis tries to make the best of it, “Gibbs is an asshole.”

“Dr. Cross finally just said it,” I say; I can’t wait any more for him to ask. “I can’t keep a baby. There’s just too much scarring.”

That’s the one. He winches, the same crumple I saw when the bull’s horn got under his chest plate. It’s the kind of hurt that ruins a life. He studies the table between us; deep breath. “It is what it is,” he says. The ball cap is back on his head and he shuffles for the door.

“Where you going?”
“Water the stock.” His glass is on the table as he opens the door. The winter scuttles in, brushing my skin into cold fury.

He’s back around time for dinner. I don’t know what he’s been doing out there, the cows gone to auction and the tractor back to the bank. But he comes up behind me while I’m setting out bowls and folds his arms around me. His hands are cold through my sleeves. “I love you, Ruth,” he says. “That won’t change now.” Then he’s gone to wash up. At dinner, he is quiet and I just sit there, running the cornbread through my chili, trying to swallow without water.

When we’re in bed, I reach for him and he is accommodating. It’s the only thing we know. I lay on his chest tracing the scar where the bull gored him. “Why’d you marry me?”

“You had a roper’s ass.”


“You don’t quit.” He has that half smile, an echo of the one that knocked the breath out of me every time I sat in the stands, watching him in the arena. “Even when you were outside the time: you’d still tie ‘em up, like you didn’t hear the whistle.” He laughs. “Then you’d throw your hands up in the air and wave like you were the damn rodeo queen.” His lips are soft on my forehead.

“You had a bullrider’s ass.”

He laughs again. I remember this, remember me. I could stay here, warm and drowsy, as long as the heat holds. Then he says it quiet, like he doesn’t want to wake from this. “We would ’a made great babies.”

I choke. “I’m sorry, Travis.”

“Me, too.” He sighs. “Shit happens, you know?”
I feel the warmth draining from my body and I start to shake. “I can’t do this.”

“Come on, Ruth.” He pulls his arm from under me. The thunderstorm he’s been hanging onto breaks, but I’m the ground too dry to soak it in. “What more do you want? I’ve got nothing.” His eyes are full and he is fighting to keep his voice from shaking. “You want me to say sorry that we had to sell your saddle to pay the doctor bills? ‘Cause I am. More than you know. And I’m real sorry you’re stuck on this piece of shit dirt with a man who can’t do squat to make a life.” He is standing now, yanking pants off the floor, belt buckle ringing as he pulls them on.

“Travis,” I say. “This isn’t how we wanted it.”

“I’m thirsty.” And he walks out, like it’s as easy as that.


The sun’s coming up; but the chill is worse in this moment than it has been all night. Travis will be up soon, no matter what the day will bring. He’ll find my note propped against the coffee pot. I sincerely hope he reads it, so he knows that this life, and not him, has taken too much of me already. The canvas duffel I used when I was on the rodeo circuit, is packed with only the essentials and half our savings. It’s in the back seat of my dirt-road crusted Focus, the only things I own outright.

I smell like gasoline. The ground in front of me is wet with what I could find in the barn. I crouch close to the packed dirt. It is a small thing to light a match. It is an even smaller thing to let it go.

The tiny pyre of twigs in front of me catches. On top perches a corn husk doll, the one I made when we first started trying. It isn’t long before a prickly spire of flame finds the gas. With a rush of heat, the fire chases the line of fuel toward the barn. I blow a kiss to baby Zozobra. By the time I stand, the whole row of stalks is involved, inviting its neighbors to join their flickering dance. The field is full of ochre and melting gold.

I turn my face toward the well. I can see Travis leaning against my car, bag slung over his shoulder. I feel a grin cracking open on my face.

“You coming,” I ask when I’m in earshot.

“Yeah,” he says. “If you want me to.” I nod and his smile breaks like the sun over prairie.

I drive slow out onto the highway. The wind has picked up, blowing smoke in front of the house so I can’t see it anymore. Travis holds his hand out and I lace my fingers into his. “You’re warm,” he says, leaning his head back, closing his eyes.

“I am.” I put the sun behind us as I lay the pedal on the floor.

March’s El Portal Web Feature

This month’s web feature includes a short story by Jenni Baros.

Jenni Baros is a graduate of the University of Alaska, taking the long way to a Masters from Denver Seminary. She lives with her husband and two children in the Rocky Mountains outside Golden, Colorado. She has summited five 14ers and contributed to A Surrendered Life. She blogs at http://www.jenbaros.com.

If you have questions concerning El Portal web features, feel free to drop us a line at el.portal@enmu.edu.

Write West. Send it our way.

We want stories and poems about West. West is a bullet-riddled ’85 Grand Marquis, a gleaming spaceship hovering over Roswell, a cowboy paying for latte with his Amex-card, an alien wondering where in the world to get the golden iPhone. West is where it hurts, West is the rattlesnake you didn’t hear, the dust storm sanding your car, the champagne underneath the Hollywood sign, the checkout line of a grocery store that doesn’t carry mandarin-orange segments in fruit juice, green-chile and cheese burritos from the 24-hour gas station. West is when there’s no West left. West is where you always wanted to be.


  • Flash Fiction (500-1,500 words)
  • Short Stories (up to 4,000 words)
  • Creative Nonfiction (up to 4,000 words)
  • Poetry (3-5 poems)
  • Art & Photography (Black & White only; 300 dpi JPEG)

Send submissions to El.Portal@enmu.edu

Deadline: March 31, 2015

View El Portal‘s Terms of Submission page for official rules concerning submissions.

*Please submit all written work in .doc, .docx, or .rtf formats. With the exception of poetry and art/photography, please limit entries to one story or essay. Prizes will be awarded to ENMU students only. Prizes awarded only in Short Story, Poetry, and Art/Photography categories. When entering a submission, please include a 20-50 word biography to be printed alongside your piece in the event that it is accepted for publication.

Cowpokes, aliens, writers, send us your submissions….

We want stories and poems about West. West is a bullet-riddled ’85 Grand Marquis, a gleaming spaceship hovering over Roswell, a cowboy paying for latte with his Amex-card, an alien wondering where in the world to get the golden iPhone. West is where it hurts, West is the rattlesnake you didn’t hear, the dust storm sanding your car, the champagne underneath the Hollywood sign, the checkout line of a grocery store that doesn’t carry mandarin-orange segments in fruit juice, green-chile and cheese burritos from the 24-hour gas station. West is when there’s no West left. West is where you always wanted to be.

Write West. Send it our way.



Flash Fiction (500-1,500 words)

Short Stories (up to 4,000 words)

Creative Nonfiction (up to 4,000 words)

Poetry (3-5 poems)

Art & Photography (Black & White only; 300 dpi JPEG)


Send submissions to El.Portal@enmu.edu

Deadline: March 31, 2015

View El Portal‘s Terms of Submission page for official rules concerning submissions.


*Please submit all written work in .doc, .docx, or .rtf formats. With the exception of poetry and art/photography, please limit entries to one story or essay. Prizes will be awarded to ENMU students only. Prizes awarded only in Short Story, Poetry, and Art/Photography categories. When entering a submission, please include a 20-50 word biography to be printed alongside your piece in the event that it is accepted for publication.

Silencing Rivers by Jade Smith

Rio Grande (2)

I reached down to the bottom of the back bar. I poured another tequila shot and slid it down the crumbling lacquer to Marcos. He didn’t look down as he caught it. He had been sitting there the entire night watching me tend. I wiped the tables down and I could feel his body shift and his legs open when I bent down to grab the towel I dropped. It was a Monday night and Marcos and the other loyals were clamped tight to their half-full Bud-lights and if they’d gotten paid, a short whiskey and ginger ale. I tried to quit once. But Raul told me he’d give me a raise. Promises are always made when a girl like me tries to get out. So I smiled, flipped my long black curls, and stuffed singles into the back pocket of my jeans. This was the only way for a girl like me. Smile. Flip. Wipe. Pour. Smile.

My father had fixed Raul’s carburetor. There’s no money in housing regular drunks and giving them free tequila. So, the next day, I was behind the bar. Papa said it would help me pay for school. Hopefully a teaching gig after graduation. A degree. This was the only way. “Smile,” Marcos said. “This is for you.” I stuffed a single in my back-pocket and wiped drooling beer foam off of counter-tops.

The bar was crawling with sticky sweet cockroaches and flies that clung to the walls because of the brawls that sent men and glass shattering against the stucco. It was any other night, the pool tables were full and the beer was dripping out of men’s gaping mouths as I slid out from the back of the bar and made my rounds of delivering tequila. He was standing in the corner. Watching. He had a bow tie and leather shoes. His silk handkerchief was folded in a triangle and placed neatly in his breast pocket. His pants were pressed and he wasn’t drinking tequila. He signaled me over with a nod. “Whiskey sour”, he said. That’s all it took. I was already his. When my father gave me away six months later he said, “Smile, hita. You’ve made it.”

There was no way a bartending job was suitable for a married woman. Not a lot was suitable for a married woman of his. Skirts were longer. Makeup was less frequent. Carlos didn’t want me away from the girls too long, the twins were just newborns and they needed their mother. He stopped paying tuition right after that.

Errands were monitored by the gossipers of the town. Somehow, Carlos always knew if we had gone somewhere else than the store or to the dry cleaners. Soon, those were the only places acceptable for a wife and a mother. Soon, I was quieted every time I spoke against him. A sharp jab to the cheek one night ended any craving I had for ice cream. Or a movie. The market was the only place for a black eye and a grasp mark on my arm. No one asked questions there. They looked down when I wheeled the cart of screaming twins and parmesan cheese to the cashier’s counter.

Soon there was no need for reprimands. Carlos was gone most weekdays, a job out of town, only twenty minutes away in Las Cruces but he knew he no longer needed to be home every night. He spent his time between the site and strip joints full of college girls majoring in finance or business at a state school. He stroked their backs, and placed singles in their strings. “Smile,” he’d say. And they’d flip their hair and pour him sours. He came home with bags under his eyes and glitter in his pockets. I’d empty them and put them in piles for the cleaners. His blue pair had a tear near the zipper; I stitched it, folded them, and placed them in the trash can.

That night the twins were screaming in unison. Their wails could be heard down the street and no matter how much I tried, they were inconsolable. Carlos called and said he wouldn’t be home for dinner and not to wait up. Said he had to stay in Las Cruces. “Besos for my girls.” I hung up the phone and listened to our children wailing. It was dulled by a slight rushing sound that rang in my ear. It grew stronger and muffled the twin’s crying. It was a river. I couldn’t hear the twins anymore. I went down the hall to their room. Their faces were wet with tears but all I could hear was water. Gushing Violent.

I dressed the twins in their white lace baptism dresses. The buttons wouldn’t close in the back. I put bonnets on them so their ears wouldn’t be cold. I tied their pearly shoes. And folded the silk ruffle on their socks. Their cheeks still wet, I loaded them in the sedan and pulled on the interstate.

The Rio was full. Rain from the recent month brought the water close to the tree by the shoreline. I waded in with them. The white lace at their hemline turned a muddy brown. Their sobs muffled still. I didn’t feel the water. I just heard gushing. We were up to my shoulders. Then our necks. I kissed their silent open mouths and tasted salt on my lips. This was the only way for girls like us. “Smile.”