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by Tony Press

Hector paused at the fence, knees bent, ears straining as the leader hissed his final directives.

“Wrap everything in the shirt. Everything. Keep the shirt up and dry. Swim left, always left.”

They crawled beneath the wire. He felt a scrape, then sharp pain in his arm. A literal mark of passage, he mused, if, that is, the passage were successful. Failure? Just a scar.

Eight men plunged as silently as eight pounding hearts permitted.

Graham Greene had written, and Hector knew he was paraphrasing, that life on a border demanded restlessness, being neither here nor there.

Basta, enough! He knew exactly where he was. He was immersed neck deep in the river that separated him from his Fabiola. She had migrated, with papers, on Mexicana Airlines two years earlier. She left, and he was left behind. They had been teachers en un secundario, he with the higher level students, she with the struggling ones, each impressed with the other’s skills and dedication, and each the willing partner in the other’s bed for almost a year, until she left. He was still a teacher and now she was a cook and floor-scrubber in an American jail.

He had remained in their hometown in Jalisco but the bad guys were getting bigger, and closer. More, he craved her. Skype, at first a wonderful invention, had become nothing other than heartbreaking. Thus, here he was in the muddy and chilly water. The school could find another maestro. Call it a sabbatical.

The vagaries that permeated the United States immigration system had granted Fabiola an opening and now, remarkably, she was a legal resident. She had even begun a path toward citizenship, though neither she nor he believed it would get anywhere. He shivered as he swam, always left, meter after meter after meter. If he made it, if tonight he were sleeping beneath California stars, as the old Woody Guthrie song had it, then he really might reach the state of Kansas and the city of Salina where Fabiola, dressed in the blue municipal shirt she wore in the picture in his wallet, cooked and cleaned for American inmates in an American jail.

The shore approached. His destiny involved prison bars, that much he knew, but whether he’d experience them from outside or inside he did not yet know.

Tony Press tries to pay attention and sometimes he does. His short story collection, Crossing the Lines, was published in 2016 by Big Table Publishing. About 100 of his stories and poems can be found in many fine journals and he has received two Pushcart nominations. He lives near San Francisco but has no website.