[Follows " Microcosm", "Hebrews 13: 1-2 " and " The son never shines on closed doors" ]

Time stands still. Anita looks at Lou limping back to his house as if the stranger thrashed him on the spot. Weaponless but lethal. The old man disappears from view, and the carless, unbustling street goes back to quietness. The shop window shuts her out from the whistling breeze blowing crackling red dirt against it. She stands there behind the counter, with the buzzing of the fridge and a stray fly burning its wings Icarus-like against the blue, unforgiving, pest light. She watches as the insect pops against the filament and is expulsed, whirling slowly down to the ground, joining countless others that she will sweep away before calling it a day.   

The wingless tiny speck, its thorax and abdomen fried and crumpled, entrances her. Its pure blackness appeals to her, sucks her in to the time her father was still alive. It was a long walk through foreign dusty lands, her father leading his pregnant wife and daughter, amid lunar landscapes with otherworldly vegetation. In that heat, in that absence of water or shadows, succulents defied the odds and that gave her father a sense of hope. He could feel it, it kept him going, it made him cut on food and drink because he knew the desert would deliver on its unseen promise. There, in the horizon blurred with haze, past that wobbly line, was substance enough to shelter his family. And so, they walked tirelessly, stopping at night under the cover of a spindly bush, she was afraid of the whistling sounds of snakes slithering in the supple dust or the howling of coyotes, thinking they were surrounded, a ready meal for starving beasts.  

Then, the border, in those times, a low fence, a far cry from the planned wall partly-deployed, with political fanfare and the chilling breaking up of families. Anita was not torn away from her parents, they stayed together, they saw the light, the door was open, they came in. The stretch of country they found themselves into was no different than the one they had left behind. The cacti looked the same, feeding on poor soils, battered by the sun. The snakes roamed freely, as did the coyotes. The dirt was the same, blown away from one side to the other. Stateless birds flew back and forth, pillaging the few worms they could unearth from one side and fly them back to the safety of their nests to cheeping fledgelings. The dung beetle patiently smuggled its balls on either side with impunity.  

“ Tienes dinero?” 

“Si señor” 

She remembers her father trying to keep his balance on one foot as he thrust his hand into his dusty, sweaty shoe and produce a roll of faded greens, dog-eared and probably smelly.  

“Cien amigo” . She can still see her father black eyes going from the bearded, checker-shirted ranchero with his battered Stetson’s leaning a casual elbow out of his spluttering pickup truck and her mother sitting on the side of the road helplessly weak from their long walk through the desert. It seems to her that she heard her father gulping as he reluctantly handed over the roll of bills into the upturned, grimy and pudgy hand of the partly toothless ranchero. “Hop on back” with his thumb pointing backward. “You guys better hide under the tarp’”. And it was after a bumpy ride, with the summer evening setting on, that the ranchero parked his truck by the side of the road, a mile away from Resguardo. 

“ Can’t go further if no tienes mas dinero”.  

That summer, her father went working for Lou. “You ain’t not like these spooks that live in this here country. “Lou always said at the end of the day as the two of them shared a beer on the porch while Aaron chased after Anita amid clucking hens. “ D’ya know about that good for nothing Ernie back in town? Always out for mischief that spook? Caught him in me fields the udder day and beat the bejesus outta his wooly pate”. Lou guffawed wheezingly. “Pretty sure, the git’s up to something. Roamin’ about the veggie plot. That bitch of a mother always leaving the boy for weeks on ends, picking up guys along the road, taking them to motels. Must be a crackhead. The boy’s all by himself, how can he fend for himself? He’d be stealin’ hens from me when he’s out of fried chicken”. Her father never got Lou’s jokes. “We need to do something ‘bout it”. Her father was startled, he looked at Lou for a long time before saying “but he just a niño” . “Come on Juanito, you and I knows what’s what, the two of us good Christians, our two people living side by side on both sides of the border for centuries. Those spooks are no desert people, Western men like you and I, we need to teach the boy a lisson”. 

They walked back silently to the two-room apartment they rented above the liquor store. Her father was looking in the distance, clenching and unclenching his fist, brooding over something she could not understand. The next day, Lou picked him up and they drove out to the big city to get supplies for Lou’s project. Barbwire, picket fences and a small generator that sputtered puffs of smoke as it gently droned. They set up a fence around the vegetable plot before going back to the porch for a beer. That was the official version, what Lou told the cops coming from the big city to lend a hand to Sheriff Spaulders. 

“You can trust Lou, guys. ‘s been living here all his life. Besides, it all checks out.” 

“Could you go over it again Mr Lank?” 

“Sure, ‘t was like I told you. I know ‘m not supposed to pick up illegal workers, but I figered , what’s the harm in an extra pair of hands? With a few bucks in his pocket, the spic won’t have to be out there mugging and stealing. So, I grabbed him from the town, he helped me with the fence. I told him not to touch it, I swear I did but these guys can’t even speak proper American. I turned around and the next thing I see, is that Chicano shakin’ all over, I never meant for this to happen, ‘t was all an accident, honest”.

But Anita has never heard that part of the story. All she knows is that her father died on a summer day and that in Resguardo, it always feels like summer.  

June 21, 2021 10:38

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