Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2023    poetry    all issues


Susan Wilkinson

George Vendura
Water Uphill

Stephen Parrish
Bury Me Standing

Dustin Stamper
Chinese Finger Cuffs

Conor Hogan

D.F. Salvador
The Long Vacation

Elliot Aglioni
Mortimer Causa

Terry Mulhern
Watch out for snakes

O.T. Martin

Nick Gallup
The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

Ian R. Villmore
Love Is an Anchor

Katrina Soucy

Dan Timoskevich
The Point

D.F. Salvador

The Long Vacation

The parking violation pinned behind the windshield wiper of Rosario’s white Kia van looked as innocent as an advertisement, the official seal of the Municipal Court like any other corporate logo. Rosario crumpled the yellow slip and tucked it into her shirt pocket. She hoped Hector, her husband, was still asleep. He had told her not to park there, but what better place was there to park than on the shoulder of a tired road pockmarked by potholes? They weren’t bothering anyone here where the road ended by the entrance to an old mom-and-pop gas station. What kind of cop would be so cruel as to cite them for parking too close to a fire hydrant?

And the thing was, Rosario didn’t see a fire hydrant. Baffled, she walked along the crumbling curb until she finally saw the speckle of red amidst the tall weeds. She kicked the weeds aside and there it was. Hector was right. She shouldn’t have parked there. They had been parking in a well-lit but quiet road that ran behind a Walmart in a good area of the city, but the previous night, a trio of 18-wheelers had used up all the curbside space.

Rosario returned to the van and peered through the rear window, relieved to find Hector still asleep on the backseat, his body curled into the tight space. Feist, their black cat, filled the gap in the crook of his legs.

Rosario quietly opened the driver’s side door and settled in behind the steering wheel. She hadn’t even started the engine when Hector stepped over the center console and plopped himself into the passenger seat. He groaned as he aligned himself.

Rosario slapped his thigh. “What are you doing climbing around like you’re a little kid?”

“I feel like a young buck today,” Hector said, rubbing the gray whiskers on his chin. “Doc said it’s good for my back to stretch a little bit.”

“If you get stuck, I’m not prying you free.”

Mi vida, you wouldn’t need to. Your driving would jolt me loose.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “We should fill gas while we’re here.”

“We have half a tank. We need dog food. They can’t survive on our scraps.”

“But gas prices will be higher tomorrow.”

“You say that every day, Hector.”

He flashed his confident smile. “And every day it’s true. When the summer’s over, we won’t have to run the engine so much to stay cool. We’ll stock up on dog food then.”

Rosario turned the ignition, and the van and her six cats and two dogs huddled in the back all came to life. She pulled into the gas station lot and parked next to a pump. Hector handed her his wallet. They were down to their last twenty dollars until Hector’s disability check arrived the following week. When she opened her door, Viola, their cockapoo, leapt out and looked up at Rosario, waiting for her owner to fish through the trash can for bits of food to share. Viola was Rosario’s hippy dog and Hector’s animal soulmate, never picky about destinations or meals. Except now there wasn’t much to eat.

Rosario left Viola under Hector’s watch and entered the gas station’s little mart. She searched the shelves but found only some cans of cat food. She grabbed four. That would leave a little for gas but couldn’t possibly be enough food for all her pets. She grabbed four more. Gas would have to wait.

An old woman carrying a morning six-pack of Modelo sidled up next to her. “Hungry cats?”

“Yup,” Rosario said. “The old ones gotta eat, too.”

“You can go to Walmart and get ‘em for twenty cents less.”

She smiled politely at the old woman in a way that said have a nice day, but I’m done with this conversation and made her way to the front counter.

The young cashier looked up from his phone when Rosario approached. His green polo was untucked and didn’t quite make it around his belly, leaving a visible gap of hairy skin. He smiled, grabbed a can, and ran it across the scanner. “How’s your morning been?” he asked.

Rosario watched him scan each can individually. “You know they’re all the same.”

He kept right on scanning. “Anything else I can help you with?”

“Are you hiring?”

He handed her the bag. “I don’t hire anyone. I just work here.”

“Well, I’ll take an application anyway.”

“An application for what?”

“Never mind.” Rosario stepped outside. Beads of sweat tagged her forehead. The nauseating smell of rubber and oil hung in the humid morning air. The parking lot had filled with cars, but Hector and Rosario’s van stood out amongst them all in its shabbiness. It had seen better days in its fifteen years. The rear fender was dented, the tail lamp cracked, a streak of rust sliced the hood, the rear door bludgeoned from when those boys pelted the van with baseballs for no reason other than to startle the couple. None of this was worth fixing. Layers of cosmetics couldn’t mask its antiquity or hide its fragility. Dirt permeated every seam. It was the same reason Rosario didn’t bother wearing makeup anymore. Having just celebrated her sixtieth birthday, she didn’t yet consider herself old. A long future lay ahead of her. She had plans for getting back on their feet. A job. An apartment. New clothes.

Rosario had always been a planner. For years, she had prepped her home for a large family, holding onto the dream of having her own children. Even when the doctors told her she couldn’t, she continued to make the preparations for a child with the hope that God had a miracle for her. She had carved out a little space in the spare room where the crib would be, and she started planning for her pets, researching what dogs would be gentlest around an infant. She wanted her kids to have a puppy to grow up with.

Hector, on the other hand, never thought that far ahead. He lived for the moment, each day a unique game. Seeing the sunrise was the prize for winning the previous day. He leaned against the van and had the gas nozzle inserted into the tank. Viola, now joined by Bruno, their chocolate lab, was taking in the new scents. Hector nudged them away from a small puddle of gasoline. Ever since the accident, any kind of bending caused him pain. Rosario hoped no one would misinterpret his little kick as abuse.

“Are they going to activate the pumps?” he asked.

“I didn’t buy gas.”

He gave her a suspicious smirk. “The well run dry?”

“They need food.”

“The oilmen?“

“Our pets.”

“Sheesh, mi vida. I was joking. Don’t give me that serious face. They eat more than me.”

“What about Vino?”

“Vino didn’t starve to death. He had cancer.”

“And Swiss?”

“Ah, she was just old.”

Rosario loved her animals. When they vacated their house, they’d had ten. Now, there were eight. They both knew caring for the animals on their fixed income would be a problem, but what could she do? She couldn’t find anyone to take the pets, and if she dropped them off at the shelter and no one adopted them soon enough, well, she didn’t want to think about that. Her pets were her family. She had rescued all of them, given them hope. If no one would take in the helpless, what would this world come to?

Rosario opened the cans, and the six cats leapt from the van to battle for the food.

“Save some for Viola and Bruno,” Hector said, scolding the cats for swatting away the dogs.

A blue Ford Mustang pulled up on the opposite side of the gas pump and a young woman in pink pajama pants got out. She crossed over to their side of the pump and squatted to pet Viola. “Wow! You’ve got the whole crew here. Are you on vacation or something?”

“Something like that,” Hector said. “A long vacation.”

Rosario knew this was no vacation. Vacations always held the promise of a return home.

Pink Pajamas tried to pet Bruno, but he pulled his head away. She laughed. “It’s good to get away from home, sometimes. I wish I could take a vacation. But the animals. It’s always such a pain finding pet sitters. You know, there’s an app for your phone where you can—”

“My wife likes traveling with the animals,” Hector said. “She can’t bear the thought of being away from them.”

Rosario bristled at her husband. As much as she hated begging, Hector should have taken the opportunity to get a few bucks from a fellow animal lover.

“I totally get it,” Pink Pajamas said. “Where you folks headed?”

Hector flashed that same smile that earned him the title of Homecoming King so many decades ago. “We’re like a tumbleweed. We go where the wind takes us.”

“Sounds wonderful. I wish I could go on a long vacation.”

Rosario wanted to say Just get foreclosed on, sell everything you can, pack up the van, and the dream can be yours, too, but she had learned not to get so bitter when Hector flirted with someone. Every minute of conversation with a beautiful young woman was another point in Hector’s daily game that helped him secure the win. There were other points that mattered, like getting food and having enough for the copay on prescriptions, but he could survive and win the day without those things every now and then. Physical necessities were just a part of the game’s scoring system. Also, Hector was both player and coach. Even though he’d complain about the pets and how much they ate, or shit, or whimpered throughout the night, he felt it was his responsibility to lead them to victory.

Pink Pajamas filled her tank and sped off. Hector and Rosario herded their pets back into the van.

Hector took a deep, satisfying breath. “Where to, oh blessed day?”

All Rosario could think about was the parking ticket. “We need to go to the Municipal Court,” she said.

“Now? Why?”

“I think we overpaid on our property taxes. We might be able to get some money back. Any bit will help, right?”

“Don’t we need to go to the Tax Assessor’s office for that?”

“There’s a new program at the Municipal Court where lawyers will help us navigate the process. You can even get the money there, I think.”

“Where did you hear about this?”

“An old woman inside the store.”

“And you think it’s worth driving across town to see if the lady is right?”

“She works there. And she said there may be some job openings.”

The truth was Rosario had some cash stashed away that Hector didn’t know about, and she didn’t want this ticket hanging over them. A month after receiving the foreclosure notice, a nice young woman had come by their house with an offer of one-thousand dollars cash if they vacated their home immediately instead of going through all the legal proceedings, which would end up with an eviction anyway, sans the thousand bucks. Rosario, of course, didn’t tell Hector about the payout, because she was saving it to go towards the first and last month rent they would need for an apartment. She hadn’t touched it for four months. She’d tried to put it out of her mind. Several times, they’d gone for a couple days with no food other than a little trail mix. Rosario could have dipped into the eviction slush fund, but she knew if she did it even just once, it would be that much easier to do it the next time, and then it would be gone.

They drove past the green stucco building that long ago used to be Wurly Burger, the place where all the football players would go after the Friday night game. The girls would get there early and wait for them to make it seem like the boys were chasing them and not the other way around. Hector would inevitably walk in with his winning smile, even on those nights when his Bulldogs were on the losing side of things. Rosario always reluctantly tagged along with her friends until she lay eyes on Hector. Then she went willingly.

Eventually, the Wurly was where Rosario and Hector would share a banana milkshake and talk about the future, the places they’d go, the kids they would have and what they would name them. By the time they were married, Wurly Burger had gone out of business, much to the dismay of everyone who’d grown up in the area, and it was replaced by a taqueria that nobody wanted but turned out to be better than everyone expected. Rosario and Hector would go there, and over tacos and horchatas, they’d discuss Hector’s landscaping company that turned into a roofing company.

Now, the little building was a pawn shop and was where they’d gone to pawn Rosario’s wedding ring a few months back when they were dead broke and they and their animals were starving. They got three-hundred dollars for it.

He promised he would get the ring back, that this was just a temporary setback. If they lost everything else, it didn’t matter because he was going to get that ring if it killed him. His confident smile was no longer reassuring to Rosario.

They never brought it up again. Damn it, she had the money. But she couldn’t tell him about it. Now, the ring was gone, sold off.

But marriage wasn’t about rings and things. It was about love and trust.

She had the money, but she said nothing.

They arrived at the Municipal Court, and Rosario climbed to the back of the van to get her nicer walking shoes that she told Hector should be reserved only for special occasions like job interviews. Stuffed into the toe of the left shoe were the ten one-hundred-dollar bills. She snuck them into her purse and put the shoes on.

The courthouse was a confusing maze of hallways leading to courtrooms and offices. Besides the security guard who waved the wand over her to make sure she wasn’t a threat, no one else acknowledged her. She knocked on the door of a courtroom and hearing no response, opened the heavy door. The courtroom was empty except for the judge who sat on the bench punching away at her laptop.

“Excuse me, Your Honor,” Rosario said. “I have a ticket I need to take care of.”

“Ma’am, I can’t help you. You need to go talk to a prosecutor.”

“Yes, but I don’t think it was fair. They said I was parked—”

“Room 106. That’s where you go for parking tickets.” The judge’s eyes returned to the computer screen.

Rosario slipped out of the courtroom and navigated the hallways until she found 106. She pulled the crumpled ticket out of her pocket and put it on the counter. “I received this ticket.”

A pale old woman with thick glasses and bags under her eyes glanced at the citation. “How do you want to plea?”

“What are my choices?”

“Guilty or not guilty.”

“Is there someone I can talk to about this?”

“You’re talking to me.”

“Well, you see, the officer said I parked too close to the fire hydrant, but I couldn’t see it because the weeds were too tall.”

“You can request a trial.” The woman thwacked her keyboard with her fingers a few times. “It’s not in the system yet. You’ll have to come back.”

“But I’m here now. Can you check again?”

The lady typed more numbers into the computer. “Nope. It’s not showing. But I do see you have warrants.”

“Warrants? For what?”

“Failure to maintain financial responsibility and failure to appear.”

All Rosario heard was failure. “What does this mean?”

“You had a ticket for no insurance.”

“A long time ago, yes. And a speeding ticket. I paid that, and they said they would dismiss the no-insurance ticket.”

“If you came back to court with proof of insurance. But you didn’t. And now you have a failure-to-appear violation.”

“Can it be dismissed? I can show you proof.”

“Not once it’s gone to collections.”

“How much do I owe?”

“Eight hundred and fifty dollars.”

“And if I can’t pay it?”

The old woman sighed and gave Rosario a brief look of pity. “Like I said, you have warrants.”

Rosario peeled off nine one-hundred-dollar bills and placed them on the counter. The woman gave her fifty dollars in change and a receipt.

“Are the warrants off?”

“They should clear out by tomorrow. Don’t get pulled over or anything between now and then and you’ll be fine.”

“And my parking ticket?”

“Just come back within thirty days. It should be in the system within the week.” The clerk handed the parking ticket back to Rosario.

Rosario stepped away from the desk, gathered her courage and said, “Ok. I have one other question. Is anyone hiring here right now? I’m very good with numbers and very punctual . . . except paying that old ticket which was only because I didn’t remember and . . . I will . . . I will value this job like my life depended on it.”

The old woman smiled. “Not at this time, hon.”

Rosario exited the building and stepped into the midday swelter. Hector had moved the van to the far corner of the parking lot, away from the police cruisers and from anyone else who might pay too much attention to it. She squinted at the van, the sun reflecting its full fury off the white surface. She felt a stickiness in her eyelids when she blinked. As she walked to the van, she felt the stickiness in her toes as if they’d melted into one sloppy clubfoot. She felt it under her arms, between her legs, the moist, flabby skin of her thighs colliding and resisting every stride. The stickiness permeated her skin, her blood moving like sludge through her veins. She felt moldy and rotten. She teetered with each step and thought she’d never reach the van which now blended into a vague horizon like a mirage. But she moved onward, calibrating her steps, and when she finally reached the van, leaned over and clutched the door handle, it felt like victory.

Hector had the window down, his elbow dangling out the opening, sweat dripping from his armpits. Bruno was barking, not in his usual deep grunts but in sharp, plaintive wails as if something fierce were attacking him.

“Why did you move the van?” Rosario asked.

“Bruno. He’s acting crazy. Everyone started looking. One lady came by and said I should turn on the car because our poor pets were probably too hot. So, I moved us across the lot away from her. Fixed that problem.”

“Bruno’s hungry. He’s big and needs space to move. And you should have left the car on with the AC running.”

“I had the windows down. Can’t waste gas. Less than half a tank and no money unless . . .” He forced a wry smile. “Well, mi vida, was the lady a liar or do you have some money?”

Rosario pulled the one-hundred-fifty dollars out of her pocket and showed it to Hector. She forced a smile to make her moist eyes appear like tears of joy. “I did well.”

“Way to go! The lady was not crazy. That was a good place you picked to park.”

“I’m glad you trusted me. I told you it was a good place.”

He got out of the car and gave her a sweaty hug.

She accepted it. “Do you know what today is, Hector?

“No. What is today? It’s not my birthday. I don’t think it’s yours. So, tell me.”

“Today is the anniversary of the day I told my friend Lucie that my future husband just walked in the door of Wurly Burgers.”


“It was the first time I saw you. You walked in and I said, ‘That’s my future husband who just walked in the door.’”

“We hadn’t even spoken yet.”

“I know. I just knew. I always knew you were the one, Hector.”

“And that was today?”

It wasn’t this date. It was actually October sixteenth, the day the Bulldogs beat Carver Heights in overtime. But it didn’t matter. The moment was true. Her words to Lucie were prophetic. “We’re going to have a steak dinner to celebrate,” she said.

“Steak dinner!”

“And then we’re gonna get big bones that we’ll give to the dogs. We’ll all eat like kings today.”

“Don’t tease me, mi vida. My stomach is already growling at just the thought of a steak. A ribeye? Are you sure?”

How much was a smile worth in the daily game? Rosario wondered if some wins stood out over others. How did Hector win every day? She wanted this. She wanted this for him.

After they freshened up and changed out of their sticky clothes, Rosario drove to Caravaggio’s, a steakhouse they couldn’t afford even in the best of times, but today it was necessary. Since it was a Wednesday night, they were able to be seated without a reservation. And when the bread came, they didn’t touch it. Instead, she shoveled it into her purse for them to eat later. They asked for more bread, and more was delivered and hidden away.

Hector ordered the ribeye and the lobster fried rice. They each had a glass of wine, the house red. How long had it been since they’d had a glass of wine? And they toasted. How long had it been since they’d had a reason to toast? And Hector’s smile was authentic and assuring. There he was, the proud linebacker who could stop a runner dead in his tracks at the goal line and then extend a hand to help them off the ground, the good sport he was.

They laughed like they hadn’t laughed in so many years, and when the food was done and the bones and leftover rice bagged up, she was able to pay the bill in cash and leave a decent tip. They were laughing still when they exited the restaurant. The sticky decay was gone, and her head danced a little jig, the effect of the wine.

Then Rosario saw the two police cars parked behind their van, one with its lights flashing.

It was over. They had come for her. Her expression must have revealed as much.

Hector’s smile evaporated. “What did you do, mi vida? Did you steal this money?”

“No, Hector. I didn’t steal the money.”

“Why are they at our van?”

“Because I have warrants.”

“Warrants? What did you do?”

“It’s from a long time ago.”

“Oh, mi vida. How could you not tell me? This must be a mistake. You knew about this?” He grimaced.

“Yes, Hector.”

Rosario walked up to the van and a police officer approached her.

“Ma’am, is this your van?” asked an officer with TORRES emblazoned on his name tag.

She nodded.

“We received a report that a dozen animals are locked inside. One of the dogs has apparently been howling for over an hour.”

“We have eight pets.”

An Animal Control truck pulled into the lot and the handlers stepped out to have a conversation with the other officers on the scene.

“Unlock the van please,” Officer Torres said.

Rosario complied.

Officer Torres pulled out his notepad. “Can I see your ID?”

“Officer, I have warrants, but I paid my tickets earlier today.”

“I’m not worried about your traffic tickets. You can’t keep these guys locked in there in this heat. “

“We’re in here all day with these animals. They’re used to the heat. And we opened the windows. And . . . and this is for them.” She opened the bag to show the officer the bones and leftover rice. “They’re going to eat like kings.”

An animal wrangler opened the van and Viola leapt out. Bruno woofed. The cats wailed. And all the evidence of their homelessness spoke through the dirty laundry scattered on the seats, the jugs of water stashed on the floor, a litter box tucked into the back, trinkets of life that had no value except in the purity of the memories.

“You live in this van?” Officer Torres asked.


The News12 van pulled up and made a sudden stop. A reporter and her cameraman hopped out. Officer Torres tried to shield Rosario from the reporter.

Officer Torres looked at the doggy bag. “Steak dinner?”

“We were celebrating.”

“You’re celebrating?”

“I know, officer. You wouldn’t understand.”

The reporter penetrated Officer Torres’ defense and positioned herself in front of Rosario. She asked Rosario questions while Hector looked on from where he sat on the curb. She told the reporter everything—the eviction, their earnest attempts to find their pets a better home, the fear she had for tomorrow—but she left out the part about the thousand dollars and the traffic tickets.

As the animals were loaded into the animal control truck, Rosario glared at the news reporter who offered a concerned expression as she gave her final summary to the camera, to the thousands of people who would watch the evening news or see the story on social media. “This story just tugs at my heart. This is no way to live, cramped in a van, sweating out the summer. As a community, we can do something about it. Let’s show that we care. Please help these poor animals find a home by calling the number on the screen. Give these pets the second chance they deserve.”

As the truck drove away, Viola howled.

D.F. Salvador is a writer based in Texas. He is a two-time winner of the Texas Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest, and his short fiction has appeared in the Sagebrush Review. He has several novels in development.

Dotted Line