The Right Paperwork by Zack Austin

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Uniformed men with shotguns patrolled the entrances to the American Embassy in El Salvador.  They were likely children of the Salvadoran civil war, now grown, who were over-familiar with violence and death. The pre-dawn darkness suited them.

My husband and I approached the crowd of civilians who had gathered across the street from the embassy. We had an interview for his green card at eight o’clock and, by the looks of it, so did hundreds of others. I gripped our paperwork in my hands.

“I guess we wait,” he said, decisively. He stood with his back perfectly straight, as if his pride could protect him. He had lived continuously in the United States for twenty years, since eleven years old, and even his face had been Americanized. He’d taken out his earrings that morning just to be safe.

At seven A.M. the uniformed men approached the crowd and herded us towards the embassy, into a new line. A fleet of suited women in high heels approached us with clipboards, highlighters, and questions.

“Your name?” she asked in Spanish.

“Oscar Guzman Orellana,” he said.

She wanted proof. He handed her a paper which she studied until, satisfied, gave it back. She highlighted his name and continued down the line. She nodded at me. Perhaps, because of my blue eyes, it was obvious that I was his American husband.

Years before, I’d messaged him on Grindr. After a few brief exchanges I, mostly out of boredom, asked if he wanted to meet sometime. I offered Jake’s, a cigar bar with a lazy atmosphere. He agreed.

A couple days later, I got there before he did. I texted him that I was sitting on the patio. I lit my cigarillo, sipped my drink, and watched bright, Midwestern clouds meander across the sky. A blanket of calm settled on top of me. I was having a lovely day.

I vaguely recognized him from his photos when he showed up. I stubbed my cigarillo out for politeness. He was in his mid-twenties, handsome and solidly-built with simple clothing, like an undecorated beauty. His cologne was sharp,  and coquettish, spiking the air with his intentions.

“Oscar?” I asked.

“You’re Zack, then,” he said, sitting down “I think I’ve been to this bar with my uncle.”

“Your uncle?” I asked, “I barely like my brother.”

He had an accent I wasn’t familiar with. I leaned forward and listened carefully.

“It’s a big Latino family, y’know,” he said.

“Do I look like I know what a big Latino family is?” I laughed.

He explained about his five siblings: three were born as Americans, and two were born as Salvadorans.

“I’m one of the Salvadoran ones,” he declared, proudly.

“Okay,” I said, equally confused and curious, “what does that mean?”

The afternoon of our two year wedding anniversary, Oscar and I were ushered into a waiting room in the American embassy. We faced a line of numbered booths where, behind the Plexiglas, bureaucrats worked. A suited woman handed us a number and gestured towards one side of the room. We took our seats among the other applicants. Multiple signs were posted throughout the walls, directing us to organize our papers in a specific order. I pulled papers out of our manila folder and spread them across Oscar’s and my lap then, piece by piece, compiled our story into a single stack. Every so often, an automated voice broke through the room’s murmur to announce an appointment.  Somebody in our patch of seats stood up and carried their paperwork towards a booth.  The rest of us watched.

Two pretty girls my age sat in front of us. They talked amongst themselves in hushed, Southern California accents. I figured they were sisters. Maybe one had been brought to the States as a baby and the other was born American. They both had wide, uncertain eyes, like Oscar’s. What would such an obviously Americanized girl do if, when her number was called, she learned that she couldn’t go back to the States? Would she be stranded alone in El Salvador? Forever?

I scratched Oscar’s back and searched the room for other Americans. I hoped their paperwork was in order.

Our number was called.

We went to booth eleven where, on the other side of the Plexiglas, a young woman sat. She had short, blond hair, like an everyday Anubis.

“Oscar Guzman Orellana?”

“Yeah,” he answered.

“And this is the husband?”

“If you can believe it,” he said. He laughed nervously, as if he could charm her into believing that he belonged in America.  She smiled evenly.

“Have you ever worked illegally?” she asked.


“Do you have proof?”

Oscar handed her our stack of papers. She didn’t want our wedding photos.

“When did you cross the border? Who was with you? Where do you work?  What’s your wedding date?” Then, “Congratulations, you’ve been approved.”

“Really? That’s it?”

“That’s it,” she said, “Here’s the instructions to pick up the passport with an entry visa. You’ll get your green card in the mail, in America.”

We turned around to leave and Oscar greedily gripped my hand. Liberated, we kissed, like a newly married couple, and left the building.

Outside, a different Americanized couple waited in the shade. They crossed through the sunshine and approached us with pained eyes.

“Did you get approved,” the wife asked.

“Yeah,” I beamed.

“They didn’t accept our marriage license,” she said, handing a piece of paper to me. I looked at it.

“It’s supposed to have a certified stamp,” I said.


Zack Austin lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his husband. He believes in pop music. His work is also forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys.

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