Hollywood, California

It was another beautiful late-summer evening in Southern California. It had been a warm day, but once the sun went down, a light breeze blew in from the Pacific and the temperature dropped to a pleasant seventy-four degrees.

The cool air was good for the Friday night tourists who packed the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard, still mostly dressed in shorts and flip-flops from their daytime adventures. But it wasn’t so good for Jacinto and his little paleta pushcart, still half full of rum, coconut, and arroz con leche ice cream bars that he had a hard time selling to the gringos, who seemed to want only chocolate and vanilla.

Jacinto wanted to finish the night by selling out his cart, a point of personal pride. Most of the other guys just worked their paletas until quitting time, but not Jacinto. He didn’t quit until he was sold out. Ever.

Except maybe tonight.

The sidewalk was so crowded that he pushed his cart out into the street. There was no parking on the street this time of day, so it was easier to do. The cops wouldn’t stop him with all of the crowds around, and it would cause too much of a traffic jam if they did stop to bother him. He jingled his little bell every few feet and flashed a gold-toothed smile. “Paletas, paletas,” he’d half sing as he made his way toward the big movie house.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre faced Hollywood Boulevard. Jacinto knew it was probably the most famous movie theater in the world with its Chinese pagoda and all of the hand- and footprints of movie stars out front in the forecourt. Jacinto had been there many times before. He’d even put his hands down on the handprints in the cement to see which hands fit his. He found one once, but he couldn’t read the name.

Jacinto had never seen a movie at this theater because he only watched films made in Spanish, and even then, he could only afford to rent movies, not spend ten or fifteen bucks to buy a movie ticket in places like this one. He also knew he’d never be a movie star, or have his handprints or footprints in the cement out front. But that was fine with Jacinto. He had no desire to be famous.

There was a huge crowd in front of Grauman’s tonight, larger than usual. It was another big movie premiere. He wasn’t sure what the movie was about; he couldn’t read the newspaper, but not because it was in English. He could hardly read Spanish, either. He’d dropped out of school in the second grade to work in the fields with his father and never went back. But that was a long time ago.

The movie was some American movie, though. There were lots of American flags all around, and the movie posters showed American soldiers wearing their war paint and holding guns. Maybe that’s why there were so many people here tonight. Americans liked war movies as much as they liked war, it seemed to Jacinto. Maybe some of these gringos would like some of his ice cream while they waited in line.

Jacinto steered the little pushcart back onto the sidewalk in order to reach the theater. A man dressed like Superman stood in his way, and when Jacinto tried to move around him, a woman dressed like a cat blocked him again. So many of these gringos weren’t just strange, they were rude. It was very crowded and hard to push the cart into the forecourt. But he’d promised he’d try, so he was trying.

“Paletas, paletas,” he half mumbled, knowing that no one was paying attention to him. He was just another little brown ice cream cart pusher in a city full of little brown ice cream cart pushers. Still, it would be good if someone bought at least one more ice cream tonight. Maybe that would be a sign.

He nudged his cart and rang his little bell, and people would sometimes frown at him and sometimes cuss at him. He knew they were cussing because their faces turned so ugly, but it didn’t bother him because he couldn’t understand what they were saying. But sometimes someone would smile nicely at him, and he would smile back, a big toothy grin, flashing his front gold tooth.

Jacinto checked his watch. It was 6:58 p.m. If he could sell just one more coconut bar, that would be the best thing ever, he decided.

“Paletas, paletas. El coco. Muy dulce.” But no one wanted to buy a coconut bar from him.

He thought about Victor Bravo. It made him sad. He knew Victor. They were kids together, even friends. What the Americans did to Victor was wrong. Victor was a good man just trying to help the poor people. What did he ever do to the Americans?

When Jacinto’s wife got sick a long time ago, he took her to one of Victor’s clinics. It was her appendix, and they took it out for free. Very nice people, he remembered. And he remembered how surprised he was when Victor came in to see him and his wife. Mr. Bravo, everyone said. But Jacinto called him Victor, because they were children together, and they were friends. It made Jacinto very happy to see his old friend.

But his friend was killed by the Americans. God damn them, he thought.

A man came to Jacinto yesterday. He said he was Victor’s friend. That made Jacinto happy. Jacinto told him he was Victor’s friend, too.

“Really? That’s an amazing coincidence. It’s almost like Victor wanted us to meet,” the man had said.

Jacinto thought about that. The man was right. It truly was amazing.

The man talked to Jacinto about Victor for a long time, about what a good man he was. Then he asked Jacinto to push his ice cream cart to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre tonight.

“Why?” Jacinto asked. He didn’t push his cart in that direction very often.

“Because Victor would want you to. Aren’t you his friend?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Then will you do this thing for Victor? He would want you to.”

Jacinto thought about it. “Yes. I will do this thing. For Victor.”

So Jacinto did it.

And when the man told Jacinto to push his cart into the crowd as far as he could go, he did. And when he told him to be there at seven o’clock, and not one minute later, he did that, too, didn’t he? Jacinto didn’t know why he was supposed to be there at seven. But he did it because Victor would want him to do these things.

Because Victor was his friend.

Jacinto checked his watch again. It read 7:03.

The sun exploded. At least that’s what it seemed like to Jacinto.

A blinding white light. And noise, like ice picks in his ears.

The explosion shredded Jacinto’s little ice cream cart. People were blown over in a big circle all around him, like cornstalks after the harvest.

Jacinto didn’t know that Victor’s friend had packed his cart with C4 embedded with hundreds of ball bearings that morning. When it exploded, it acted like a daisy cutter, mowing down everyone in its path, including Jacinto, who was cut in half at the waist.

The side of Jacinto’s face hurt where it was smashed against one of the cement squares with handprints. He couldn’t move, but he watched the blood filling up the handprint next to his face. The hand was much bigger than Jacinto’s. He wondered whose hand it was.