A line of cars moves slowly towards the golden arches. I am in my car as part of the lunch-hour drive-thru line, it’s wrapping around the block like a hungry snake. I am a twenty-two-year-old pothead in need of a Big Mac. The ordering goes smooth. 

“One Big Mac please with only one pickle. Small fries.” Because of the economy. “And instead of a soda, a small iced coffee, that’d be all. Thank you.” 

I press the brake pedal and light up the last bit of my joint. I feel hollow and really, lighting up during the middle of the day is a new habit. The ash falls on me. Tiny black spots sprinkle a constellation on my yellow shirt. I wipe the flakes off, leaving a handprint on my chest. What a mess. 

A McDonald’s worker comes out of the EXIT door and from here, in this cold, I can see his breath. He’s hauling hamburger bun racks to the trash can. One by one, giant plastic bags full of bread fly into the garbage. 

Two windows open. First mine and then the cashiers, her red striped hat is stained with sweat. She tells me the total. Her arm reaches out, she bends it, resting it on the window ledge holding a card reader. 

I insert my card. I tell her, “That can’t be good for your arm.” 

She lets out a deep breath. Her hat moves up and down as she nods her head yes. “I’m getting used to it,” she says. “It’s a new policy.” 

My card declines. I try again. The bank declines. She takes the reader and hands my card back to me. I’m embarrassed, my thoughts are updating, I’m moving slow, I fetch my wallet for some cash. We all need a moment to strike us into the present. 

She waves me forward. “No need. I just bought it for you,” she says and closes the window. 

I drive forward to the pick up window and collect my warm bag of food. The fries smell salty. It’s bizarre to me that someone who doesn’t know my name would do a kind thing for me. Is she an angel undercover at the downtown McDonalds? I drive away, and under the golden arches is a man sleeping on a backpack. Who in this world is in charge of mercy?

In November, the weather drops just below 30 degrees and I’m wearing cute purple sandals. For dinner, it’s the same situation, only this time my mom insisted she’d come with me. I am a pothead in need of asada tacos from my favorite taco truck. I’m back in my hometown, and I’ve spent most of my time waiting to get stoned or trying to hide that I was stoned. I’m here because after losing my job, I really want to figure out how I could sleep for more than five hours a night. 

We’re trembling our way to the front of the line. My feet look like pink frozen aisle chicken inside my sandals. 

Mamá continues talking, “Do you have a plan? You need a plan. In this world if you’re a girl you need to have a plan.” 

I roll my eyes and shiver away from her. 

“You don’t know a lot about my life, but let me tell you, I had a plan. What is your plan?”

“To get these tacos,” I say, trying not to laugh. 

“Girls who plan own taco trucks,” Mamá says. 

“Fine, that’s my plan. I’ll own a taco truck.” 

She crosses her arms. “That’s a horrible plan.” 

We reach the tiny food truck window. I order for the two of us. “Hola, can we please have two tacos de asada, one with cilantro and the other with extra onions and four tacos de lengua to go please, thank you.” 

“Algo mas?” The cashier points his pen at me. I shake my head no. He hands me a piece of paper with the number 54 written on it. Me and Mamá scooch over and the line takes a step closer to the tiny window. 

I want so badly to be an observer in the gray sky. To have the ability to push through blackness to create a chunk of starry night. When I look down and see the land, what catches my eyes are the soda cans sprinkled across the valley. These are the stars on earth. A deep breath escapes my body. I understand that job doesn’t exist. What remains real, is the smog collecting over the valley reminding us the sky is painted gray. 

It’s the waiting. I sit on a ledge, the cold concrete sends a shot of frío straight up my body. I keep telling myself, soon we will have food, be in the car with the warmth, and on our way home. Soon we will have food, be in the car with the warmth, and on our way home. 

Mamá sits down next to me. She’s wearing a big puffy jacket. “You have no plans to even bring clothes to keep you warm,” she says. She unties her shoes, leans towards me, and pushes her socks onto my feet. They feel wet with sweat like she worked in them all day.

For the second time today warmth is shared with me. A yell calls out our number, I shiver my way to the small pick up window, collect the toasty bag, hold the tacos close against my chest, and we eat them on the curb.

Rebeca Abidaíl Flores is a Salvadoreña and Mexican American artist from Fresno, CA, and is Acción Latina’s Cultural Arts Producer. To read more of Rebeca’s work, visit floresrebeca.com

Illustration: Yano Rivera