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Mañana Means Heaven

Tim Z. Hernandez

Publication Year: 2013

In this love story of impossible odds, award-winning writer Tim Z. Hernandez weaves a rich and visionary portrait of Bea Franco, the real woman behind famed American author Jack Kerouac’s “The Mexican Girl.” Set against an ominous backdrop of California in the 1940s, deep in the agricultural heartland of the Great Central Valley, Mañana Means Heaven reveals the desperate circumstances that lead a married woman to an illicit affair with an aspiring young writer traveling across the United States.

When they meet, Franco is a migrant farmworker with two children and a failing marriage, living with poverty, violence, and the looming threat of deportation, while the “college boy” yearns to one day make a name for himself in the writing world. The significance of their romance poses vastly different possibilities and consequences.   

Mañana Means Heaven deftly combines fact and fiction to pull back the veil on one of literature’s most mysterious and evocative characters. Inspired by Franco’s love letters to Kerouac and Hernandez’s interviews with Franco, now in her nineties and living in relative obscurity, the novel brings this lost gem of a story out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

Published by: University of Arizona Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9

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The Last Interview

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pp. 1-2

It was almost nine o’clock in the evening, and we had now reached the point when it seemed like there was nothing left to talk about. Silence filled the small dining room. Outside a car whisked past, and a dog barked after it. It was the sound of east-central Fresno. She was tired, that much was obvious. But there was still the one question I had not asked. It had been on my mind since our ...

Part I: The Mexican Girl, 1947

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Chapter 1.

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pp. 7-9

When Bea was just an impressionable and melancholic ten-year-old, her first real memory—that is, the kind that lingers all years down the track no matter where or in what condition you find yourself—was brought about by an important delineation in the dirt. It began at a train station in Indio, California, and the year was 1930. The memory itself was of a thousand brown faces crowded onto the ...

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Chapter 2.

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pp. 11-15

It’s common knowledge that if a person cries when cutting an onion it’s because they’re jealous. Bea rarely cries. She’s chopped onion nearly every day of her life and can count on one hand how many times she’s shed tears. Her oldest sister Maggie used to tell her it’s not normal. That she’s not normal. She used to believe this when she was younger, but now she just laughs at the idea. Once the ...

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Chapter 3.

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pp. 17-19

Somewhere, five or six miles east of Selma, there was a tickle in a rooster’s gullet. The bird clicked its tongue to scratch it, but it didn’t let up. There was only one thing to do. The rooster released a pre-dawn yawp, loud and ragged, and then again. It leapt onto the hood of an old truck carcass and flapped its wings and elongated its neck and wailed. Its sharp caw rose up and smashed against the ...

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Chapter 4.

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pp. 21-25

The bus was an aged Greyhound Silverside, made from the last scraps of metal off the assembly line in the years before the war. She scrambled up onto it and looked for an empty window seat, but quickly realized she’d have to settle for an aisle. She began setting her bags down, but a haggardly woman seated by the window shooed her away. ...

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Chapter 5.

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pp. 27-35

The bus bounded south along the highway, and through the fog she could faintly see the colossal heads of oilrigs bowing. They were spread out across the flat land every hundred yards, and they quietly went about their business. Their ceaseless bending motion reminded her of that one summer a few years back, when her father landed them a job pulling onions in nearby Lamont. A time when the sun ...

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Chapter 6.

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pp. 37-40

When they got off at the bus station on Seventh Street, they cut across Alameda and found themselves smack dab in the gut of Lotusland. Walking up Central Avenue with Jack at her side, Bea’s head was shrouded in a smog of paranoia. She remembered the last time she left Beto, and how it only took him half a day to find her. And when he did, he put such a dent in her psyche that it ...

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Chapter 7.

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pp. 41-43

The Duke Hotel was a modest block of brown stone that sat on the corner of San Pedro and Fifth Street. Two palm trees stood crooked over the entranceway, and in the lobby was a pair of knockoff marble cherubs, spilling a cracked jug of water into a fountain. ...

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Chapter 8.

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pp. 45-49

An hour had passed, or maybe it was five. Their brains were fuzzy with drink, and so all forms of measurement were off. Jack took a bath, and when he came out he was sopping wet with only a towel wrapped around his waist. Bea couldn’t help but feel a stitch of modesty about it. He dropped his clammy body down onto the bed and lit a cigarette, while she sat up against the headboard staring at the ...

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Chapter 9.

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pp. 51-56

A grinding noise entered through the open window and woke him a few minutes shy of eight o’clock. A garbage truck yawned in the alleyway; the rattle of trash shook the walls of the hotel room, and Jack couldn’t go back to sleep. He rolled over, expecting to stare into Bea’s face and assure himself that all of yesterday was not a dream. He could still smell on his skin a musky sweetness ...

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Chapter 10.

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pp. 57-63

Standing on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, Bea looked up at the surrounding buildings, and saw that each of them had a glaze of optimism that made them look important in ways that no building in Los Angeles had ever looked before. It was impossible to tell that this was the same cursed city that only a few months earlier had found Elizabeth Short sliced in half at the midsection and now had women and men alike becoming active members of ...

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Chapter 11.

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pp. 65-67

“Beto’s got his uniform on and he’s looking nice, clean cut. His mom’s proud of him, you know, her son going away to serve the country.” Bea let a few grains of sand sift through her fingers, before continuing. “I guess I felt a little proud then too, but I also had an idea things would be different, I mean when he returned home from it all. He put his hat on my head, I remember ...

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Chapter 12.

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pp. 69-70

At the hotel, she couldn’t shake him from her mind. While Jack scribbled in his notebook, she sat on the bed and folded her legs beneath her. She could hear, on the other side of the door, two men walking up the hallway. Their words were stifled by the walls and by the way they spoke, their deep and resonant voices, a part of her worried: Was it possible he had followed her? When they passed she ...

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Chapter 13.

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pp. 71-73

Late that night, when drunk voices were again heard echoing beneath the streetlamps, Jack found himself unable to sleep. He propped himself against the pillow, above Bea’s motionless body, and called her name over and over. She awoke, startled, and her eyes rolled and slit open before resting shut again.They lay still for several seconds. He ran his fingers through her hair, then ...

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Chapter 14.

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pp. 75-80

At seven thirty in the morning they walked to Clifton’s for breakfast and took a booth by the window. A couple of hobos hovered over dim plates of eggs and potatoes; they sipped their coffee and, when they were done, got up and shuffled out without putting down a single dime. A waitress came around and cleaned up after them. She griped about the mess and was embarrassed when she turned ...

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Chapter 15.

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pp. 81-89

They caught their first ride with a square couple who bickered about which way was the best route to Monrovia. The husband argued it was up through Pasadena, but the wife refused to believe it was quicker than El Monte. ...

Part II: The San Joaquin Valley

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Chapter 16.

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pp. 93-100

A wave of clunky trucks and old wagons spilling with families flooded Interstate 5 and washed back down over Tejon Pass, winding their way toward the open cusp of the Grapevine and pouring down onto the flat valley floor. When their bus leveled out, the air was wet with low clouds glommed up at the Tehachapi ridge, where the great tule fog sprouted and laid itself down over the valley like ...

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Chapter 17.

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pp. 101-104

Five minutes after they stepped out onto the frostbitten pavement of the Golden State Highway, a truck rattled to a stop. Jack heaved their bags into the back and they climbed in and cuddled up to one another for warmth. At the gate of the truck a brown speckled piglet rested in a cage. It stunk horribly, but even so, they couldn’t help but smile, knowing that the day had already begun on a good note. ...

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Chapter 18.

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pp. 105-111

Some time later Alex’s truck bounced up the dirt road toward them. Bea asked Jack to wait behind while she spoke with her brother. When Alex pulled alongside the silos he saw her talking with a gabacho. And then he watched the guy duck beneath the shadow of the silo while she approached. ...

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Chapter 19.

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pp. 113-124

That morning, while on the way to their parents’ house, Alex assured his sister that everything would work out. She felt good when he talked like this, because if anyone knew the gravity of a situation, and how her father’s temper weighed in, it was Alex. Throughout the years he managed to remain the neutral one, keeping to himself, even as a boy, constantly dodging the belt more than the others. As ...

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Chapter 20.

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pp. 125-131

They borrowed Alex’s pick-up truck and filed through the towns: Selma, Dinuba, Visalia, and all the islands in between. Each one the same—water tower, packing sheds, same patchworked terrain and backroads as you might find anywhere USA, so long as the land is fertile and water flows. They spent the entire first day, fourteen hours, from six in the morning until eight o’clock at night, zigzagging ...

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Chapter 21.

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pp. 133-139

If there was one thing that the blackouts were good for, it was fueling anxiety. The next morning some of the workers rose earlier than usual and got busy outside, posting themselves around the perimeter of the campo. A few men rallied together to fix some of the odds and ends that had been ignored for too long. A small team started digging holes to bury the excrement that had ...

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Chapter 22.

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pp. 141-145

The workers couldn’t stop talking about it. Especially that whole first day after it happened. According to the paper, a “wetback” was found strung up in a sycamore tree near Raisin City. From his neck dangled a cardboard sign: ...

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Chapter 23.

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pp. 147-153

By the next evening little Al’s cough had worsened, so Bea went to her parents’ house to see if she could leave him there. “It’ll only be a coupla of nights, mijo.” Little Al understood, and though he was reluctant to be left there again, he knew it was for the best. ...

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Chapter 24.

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pp. 155-156

The next day Bea arrived home from the fields and found Jack sitting on a tin bucket outside the tent. He was smoking a cigarette and scribbling in his notebook. When little Albert appeared from behind her, Jack broke into a smile and waved the boy over. ...

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Chapter 25.

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pp. 157-160

They agreed that from now on Jack would stay in Hadinger’s barn, and Bea and little Al would stay with the folks. It was an arrangement that Jesus seemed to have no say in, so he made himself scarce, much to Jessie’s content. Even so, it wasn’t an easy decision, but in the grand scheme it was a small, worthwhile sacrifice. ...

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Chapter 26.

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pp. 161-163

That evening she snuck out to the barn carrying a plate of food. She found Jack resting on a mound of hay, scratching words into his notebook. He was excited to see her, and to see a large hot plate in her hands, a tail of steam lightly rising from the calabacitas, rice, and beans. He shut the book and cleared a place for her to sit. She set the plate down in front of him and explained that the mashed ...

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Chapter 27.

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pp. 165-169

Early the next morning Bea adjusted the strap of her overalls before helping little Albert into his. She wiped his face down with a warm rag and tied his shoes and hurried him out the front door. She clutched his hand as they went through the damp fields out to Hadinger’s barn. The first load of workers were already in the truck and shuttling out toward the winery by five o’clock. She ...

Part III: Mañana Means Heaven

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Chapter 28.

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pp. 173-178

On Thursday morning, when everyone had gone off to the fields, Bea quickly packed a small bag with only one change of clothes each for herself and for little Albert, and tossed in a few sandwiches for the long bus ride to Los Angeles. There was no need to call Angie to let her know she was coming; it would only be a quick trip, to pick up Patsy and make amends with her sister, and possibly, ...

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Chapter 29.

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pp. 179-181

New York was the only thing on her mind. Each day she pressed little Al, reminding him, especially during the longest work days, that the reason they picked so hard now—grapes, walnuts, and whatever else came their way—was to make sure they’d get there by Christmas. He didn’t mind it so much, and when they were up to their elbows in vines he’d ask her to tell him, once more, ...

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Chapter 30.

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pp. 183-184

She awoke with the image of Jack overwhelming her every thought, and could feel her jaw muscles tighten, and a warm saltiness gather in the back of her throat. The days were blending into one another, it seemed, and each morning sounded exactly like the next; a rooster, a dog, an engine. Voices and smoke. A part of her couldn’t help but feel trapped in the campo. “This must be what ...

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Chapter 31.

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pp. 185-191

That evening, while scrubbing little Albert down with a wet rag next to the glow of the woodstove, she fretted that his cough would not let up. She felt his forehead and it was clammy. She bundled him up with several layers of clothes and tucked him warmly against her body that night. After a couple of hours of listening to him cough, his throat sounding like truck gears grinding, she ...

Part IV: I Remain As Ever

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Chapter 32.

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pp. 195-196

When she opened her eyes, there before her stood the majestic, craggy, internal mountains of Salida, Colorado. The sky was a pure blue and swept with white clouds that resembled vast strokes from a heavenly paintbrush. The bus drudged over the Rocky Mountains slowly, so as not to slip down the snow-white shoulders into the ravine a hundred feet below. The sun was busy melting off a ...

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Chapter 33.

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pp. 197-198

Denver was unlike any place she had ever seen. It certainly wasn’t like Los Angeles, and definitely nothing like Selma. In either of those places you couldn’t walk more than two steps without hearing Spanish flavoring the wind, but here, way up in the Rocky Mountains, people spoke and moved with a different attitude altogether. ...

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Chapter 34.

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pp. 199-201

The next day she tried the opposite direction. She traipsed the old pool halls and open dives of Market Street, where she thought she might find him scampering down one of the sidewalks, hands jammed into his pockets, cigarette tucked between his teeth. Or else hunkered near the window of some shoddy establishment, jotting words in his notebook, staring at the pages forlornly, as ...

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Chapter 35.

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pp. 203-205

Now that she had a job, the hours passed like seconds. A few days turned into several. Still, each time she found herself in front of his building, walking up those cold steps, a part of her sensed, knew, that she’d leave yet again with nothing more than scorn from the old man. Regardless, she returned, each time calling out his name, knocking, banging on the door profusely. Until one evening ...

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Chapter 36.

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pp. 207-208

Days later Bea set out looking for him again, this time amid the dirty hovels and odd rumblings of Larimer Street. It wasn’t far from downtown, so when this turned up nothing, she continued walking, and soon found herself standing before the herculean brass doors of the Oxford Hotel. It was the type of place as swanky as her brother imagined—red brick and glass, everything glistening, ...

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Chapter 37.

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pp. 209-210

On Monday night Loretta decided to shut the place down early. She shooed the only two patrons away, and she and Bea closed up, but not before taking a “Think it’ll snow?” asked Bea, taking a drag of her cigarette and staring up “Hell, who knows?” replied Loretta, sniffing at a shot glass of whiskey before “I’ve been here most of February now and still haven’t seen one flake fall.”...

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Chapter 38.

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pp. 211-212

The next evening she found herself, reluctantly, in front of his building. She sat on the curb across the street and glanced up at his window. She decided not to bother Walter or his dog by knocking on the door; instead, she just sat there. She noticed a dim light on. It was barely enough to illuminate the window, and she wondered if it had been there all along or not. When she convinced herself ...

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Chapter 39.

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pp. 213-214

By six the next morning she was standing in line at Union Station, among the big-hatted women and their matching luggage, with her own bags in hand, anticipating the train ride home. The sun had yet to come up that morning, and all of Colorado was beneath an immense sea of gray. As the train chugged away from the cold downtown buildings of Denver, Bea thought about Loretta, ...

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pp. 215-228

Only a month ago I’d returned home from the East Coast, where I’d spent three days at the New York Public Library scrutinizing each one of Bea’s handwritten letters to Jack. It was my second trip, in fact, and both times I’d held the same aged scraps of paper in my hands and placed them on the clean green felts of a sterile archive room and ruminated over them, investigating ...

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pp. 229-238

For trusting me to write this story out of a shadow, I am forever indebted to Bea and her family, especially Albert Franco, for his many hours of dedication to this project. Also, a big thank-you is owed to the spirit and memory of Robert Welsh, who generously lent his time, sharp memory, and photographs, and who, regrettably, did not get to see the book in print (RIP). ...

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Final Note About the Letters

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pp. 230-239

Bea Franco’s letters to Jack Kerouac (which appear on pages 172, 178, 190, and 191) have remained in their original state, with the exception of only minor edits for clarity. This was done with the full permission of her family and estate....

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About the Author

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pp. 240-241

Tim Z. Hernandez is a poet, novelist, and performance artist whose awards include the 2006 American Book Award, the 2010 Premio Aztlán Prize in Fiction, and the James Duval Phelan Award from the San Francisco Foundation. His poems and stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, and his books have been widely acclaimed, including a spot on NPR’s ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599233
E-ISBN-10: 0816599238
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816530359
Print-ISBN-10: 0816530351

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 3 photos
Publication Year: 2013