[Follows " Microcosm", "Hebrews 13: 1-2 ", " The son never shines on closed doors" , "July 4th" and "The Getaway"]
The night has already given way to dawn as the sun peeps with a ray above the hill towering over the Lank's farm. Lou swats a fly away and grumbles. Only when the warmth and the shine flood his face, does he squint an eye open. On his lap, the shotgun has already been cooked hot and even its wooden stock burns him a little as he lays it against his chair. He looks at the immensity of his estate, cotton fields as far as the eye can see. And yet, as his eyes gradually get used to the sun, another image is superimposed.
The cotton fields did not use to be spreading that far. He can still see the Williams’ farm before his own grandfather bought it back and steamrolled the rickety silos, the family house missing clapboards looking like a dead husk. Behind the wheel, it had not merely been Frank Lank pushing its way flat through the rubbles but a component of dark forces gutting the Williams’ and the town as well.
For some reasons, anything could grow in Resguardo back then. It was not only cotton that was king but all kind of crops could be sown, carefully tended, miraculous harvests. Scientific experts had been dispatched to study the soil, the air, the climate itself but they had all gone back to D.C with a mind-boggled expression on their faces, scratching their heads in bafflement.
Facing the gas station is an old cemetery with the cow boy sign keeping watch on the departed, waving at them on windy days, offering shadows to each of them as the day go by. The graveyard church has now collapsed but back in the days, a mud adobe with a Spanish style makeshift steeple counted the hours of the Resguardo’s residents, dead and alive. The bells rang in the air and their chimes were born by the winds, ricocheting against the mountains and back to the church. Lou can still hear them, muffled by the distant time. The repetitive and awestriking knell forced the labourers to pause, their caps crumpled in their calloused hands, chin downs, looking thoughtfully at the furrows in the red dirt.
Sons started to go away. By one and twos, they left, at the back of pick-up trucks looking at their cuffed leather shoes, the seat and the lap of their pants ingrained with Resguardo’s dust ,forever, their shirts soaked with sweat at the armpits, their stubble and the visor of their caps concealing their ambitions. The odd letter and, sometimes, the San Isodoro Chronicle brought news. Jack was married. Alfonso owned a truck company. Cameron was never heard of again and his mother was buried with her twisted handkerchief. Of course, their ghosts reappeared when the church’s bells sang their requiem, beautiful women at their arms, boisterous kids running around the cemetery fence as Father Ignacio threw a last handful of dirt crackling on the wooden lid of their grandma’s coffin. Then, they disappeared again to another world and Resguardo resumed its quietness.
When the Williams’ lost their harvest, Frank Lank took his grandson Lou to have a look at the damage. A swarm of locusts had flown over his fields and only tattered corn stalks with devoured ears on the ground remained. “We’ll build everything back Frank, I swear the god”. The next year, the brook running across the estate went dry, only the bottom was showing red as blood. “It ain’t nothing, just got to wait for that snow upstream to thaw”. One day, three men in dark suits, dark fedoras, dark leather shoes paid him a visit. “I’ll find the money somehow, still got the cattle”. Mosquitoes as big as marbles and vicious swarms of flies pestered the herd and a malignant strain of an unknown disease decimated half of them until the terrified remaining animals were scared off a cliff by the greatest hailstorm Frank Lank had ever seen. As he kicked, the icy stones on his way to the Williams, he saw father Ignacio walk out of the house and away to town. John Williams was under the porch hugging his wife and rocking gently. In the distance, he could hear the gut-wrenching howls of pain muffled in John’s collar bone. John Junior, two weeks old, had died. John sold Frank his land and never came back to Resguardo.
Lou knows the story, every corner of his lands has been filled by his grandfather’s tales.
“Gramps, how did we get away with it? ‘mean the beasts, the harvests. How come we didn’t lose it all?”
“So you could live”
Lou has always been baffled by his grandfather’s answer. It still resonates today as the sun shines strongly on Lou’s cotton bushes, the white tufts looking like rabbit tails stirred by a light breeze. The rumour had it that gerrymandering was to be blamed. During the Williams’ ownership, their property was cut off from Resguardo county and Santo Isodoro parish. But it quickly went back to the fold once Frank Lank bought the land and petitioned the governor. Others accused Frank Lank, a Louisianian by birth, to have buried puppets pierced through with pins on the Williams’ land. Few listened to Father Ignacio’s sermon when he blamed the William’s curse on John’s visits to cathouses on the other side of the border. As young men left the county and their parents were buried, Father Ignacio was made redundant and, as so many before him, he disappeared. One day, Lou went knocking at the adobe’s door, catechism as every Wednesday. The church had been deserted, the wooden forms looked the same, the altar and its long doily were still there, only the golden cross above the tabernacle was missing. Lou stepped outside looking on the dirt path to find the priest’s footsteps but it looked as if he had disappeared into thin air. From that day on, Lou has stopped being a believer for on that day he lost his grandfather too. Resguardo has become a sinking hole sucking up his loved ones, one by one, failing to gobble him up in the process, his own hell on Earth.