It is clear he won’t return tonight either. It’s already past eight-thirty and the street lights are on, revealing moths and tiny flies and making that buzzing sound that accompanies my thoughts when I can’t sleep. Aguilar’s wheelless caravan lights are on too, just like they have been every night since the factory had to lay off some workers. There is no way Papá will come home tonight. I have been waiting for his return for months, ever since the mold from the bathroom window began creeping down the wall.

Mamá always says to me, “You’re gonna learn to do work around the house and not be spoiled like Xavi and Clara.” So I have reluctantly accepted my job of cleaning the bathroom every evening just before preparing dinner, which I actually enjoy. Mostly I just scrub the sink and toilet, but once every couple of days I mop all the floors and clean the windows. I’ve decided to let the mold grow until Papá returns. I know he will not return tonight, yet while setting the table, I still take out his special square plate and set it on the short end of the kitchen table, where he always sits.

Zach Miano

Zach Miano currently lives in Barcelona, Spain, where he is a sophomore in high school and attends a tennis academy. Born in Rome, Italy, to an American mother and an Italian father, Zach speaks four languages fluently, and he often incorporates them into his writing, as they are a part of his voice and identity. In addition to tennis and writing, Zach plays the guitar and enjoys making short films. His short story “Leftovers” is part of a collection he is currently working on: each story explores a different perspective of the adolescent male experience in Barcelona.

Patrick Ryan on “Leftovers”

Ernesto lives with his mom in L’Hospitalet, the poorer area of Barcelona. The two of them wait with withering hope for the return of Ernesto’s father. Meanwhile, Ernesto’s mother cooks and cleans for a wealthy family named the Beltráns, who usually send her home at the end of the weekend with all the leftover food the family hasn’t eaten. When Ernesto’s mother comes home one Sunday not with food but with expensive hand-me-down clothing, Ernesto begins to feel their plight underscored in ways he hasn’t before. He begins to see that waiting for his father to return is what a child does, while a grownup—which he isn’t yet—stops waiting and gets to work helping his family.

“Leftovers” is a quiet, heart-wrenching piece of writing about resilience in the face of struggle. One of the winning stories from our Teen Writing Contest, it examines the nature of hope and how life hammers at it, and it asks a vital question: In order to survive, what do you hold onto, and what do you let go? We received hundreds of entries for this year’s contest, and selecting three out of the many was no easy feat, but Zach Miano’s writing jumped out at us. We’re convinced he’s an author to keep an eye on, and we’re thrilled to be publishing him in One Teen Story.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did you get the idea for “Leftovers”?
ZM: One of the ways I try to make sense of the world and collocate myself within it is by observing. I’m constantly observing those around me, both similar and different, and in my mind I’m often imagining what each of these people’s lives may look like based off a short glimpse. Whether I’m on public transport, at the grocery store, at a restaurant, or meeting up with friends, I’m continuously gathering characters. So while “Leftovers” was not inspired by just one single person or event, one scene in my mind was fundamental in creating it: the skate park that bridges the gap between two disparate worlds of Barcelona (the wealthy exclusive neighborhood of Pedralbes and the working poor area of L’Hospitalet). Even though I haven’t skateboarded in over three years, those impressions that were imprinted on me when I was eleven, twelve, and thirteen years old stuck with me and found a voice through this story.
PR: How long did the story take you to write?
ZM: I usually write on Sundays. It’s the only day I can dedicate the time and brain space to actually write. During the week I look over my work and make small tweaks and edits. I wrote this story over the course of three Sundays.
PR: Was there anything in the writing of “Leftovers” that surprised you? Another way I ask this question is, how different is the finished story from the one you set out to write?
ZM: I sometimes know how I want a story to end, but sometimes I go on the journey with my characters quite unsuspectingly. In the case of “Leftovers,” it was a combination of both. When I started writing, I thought that by the end of the story, Ernesto’s father would return. However, as I continued to write, I realized his father could not come back. It was as though I grew alongside Ernesto. As a writer I realized that it was both more powerful and more realistic.
PR: Ernesto is a very convincing and intimate narrator. What made you choose to use the present tense to tell his story?
ZM: This is actually another thing that surprised me in the writing of the story. I originally started writing in past tense for about half a page. I had gotten to the description of the cold-tiled floor and the sounds of Ernesto’s mother coming up the stairway when I felt the story needed to be more alive, more inescapable—in short, more present. So then I played with both tenses for a while until I finally settled on the present tense. I felt that it drew the reader closer to Ernesto and allowed for the reader to experience his life in a fuller way.
PR: One of the great strengths of “Leftovers” is its use of detail. Textures, smells, sounds, it’s all there—not in a show-offy way, but in a way that flows naturally and breathes life into your scenes. Did the details come to you as you wrote the first draft, or did you layer them in later, as you revised?
ZM: Sense imagery and those kinds of details are a fundamental way in which I personally experience the world. And so for me, they are built in as I tell a story. Whether I’m verbally recounting an experience or writing a short story, those types of details are there. Of course, in the editing process I refine them and try to ensure that each detail fulfills a purpose, but they are there from the beginning.
PR: Finish this sentence in one word: “Leftovers” is about __________.
ZM: Disillusionment.
PR: What did you do when you found out you were one of our Teen Writing Contest winners?
ZM: I was in my English class when I got the email notification. The first thing I did was tell my English teacher, who has been so supportive of me and my writing. We had a brief celebration in which my classmates partook and then my teacher told me I could go tell my mom, who happens to be the guidance counselor at my high school! I ran to her office, breathless. She was alarmed, since it was highly unusual for me to show up in the middle of a class period. The news tumbled out of my mouth, we too celebrated, and then I went back to class.
PR: What are you working on now?
ZM: “Leftovers” is part of a collection of short stories, of which I’ve written ten. Each story explores a different perspective of the adolescent male experience in Barcelona. Right now, I’m in the process of trying to get other stories published, and I have the hopes of eventually getting them all published as a collection.
PR: What’s the best piece of advice about writing you’ve ever received?  ?
ZM: My mom taught me that to write authentically and well, risk-taking is necessary—to be fearless, explore outside of my comfort zone, and not protect my characters.