From Mexico City to “Aztlán, Oregon,” in bittersweet comic fables and through tales of frightening realism, Daniel Chacón captures the shrewd, furtive, and sometimes torturous ways by which Mexican-Americans manage to survive in intimidating territory–often only to trip themselves up.
Chacón’s Chicano Chicanery presents a baker’s dozen of short stories featuring switched identities (in both Mexico and the United States); an involuntary gang initiation; men’s betrayals of their friends and of themselves; and some slippery exploits at the law office and in the chicken-packing factory.
Are Chacón’s heroes and heroines sometimes ruthless and sometimes foolishly sentimental? Alternatively naïve and a bit too clever for their own good? Perhaps it’s because chicanery, whether it’s tricking others or sheer self-deception, is such an untrustworthy tool. Sometimes–even in the most practiced hands–it can suddenly turn into a fearsome weapon.
|Publisher:||Arte Publico Press|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
DANIEL CHACÓN grew up in Fresno, California, the last of three children. He lived with one foot in the city and one in rural Fresno County, with fig orchards, cow pastures, and low flying crop dusters appearing outside the window of his living room. All he had to do was cross the highway and he was in the city: brick walls, concrete curbs, streetlights, stray dogs, bill boards, neon signs, and bearded homeless men who walked around the parking lots of strip malls looking for money.
Chacón taught for five years at MJC, where he was co-coordinator of the Puente Program, which brings Chicana/o literature to the community college writing class. He taught for a year at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. Now he teaches in the MFA program at the University of Texas at El Paso. When he’s not in class, he’s on a hill, in his home overlooking the twin cities, El Paso and Juárez, and he’s writing.
Read an Excerpt
Andy the Office Boy
All the lawyers agreed, Andy's loyalty should be richly rewarded in the form of a Christmas gift. They chose Rachel Garcia, the youngest and newest of the attorneys, a recent Harvard graduate, to take up the collection. Carrying a cigar box around the floors of the firm, she managed to get fifty dollars from each of the partners, twenty-five each from the attorneys, and ten dollars each from the paralegals and secretaries, so after a week of soliciting, she had collected $780. No one knew how much she had collected, nor did they care what she got him"Something nice," they told herso, embittered for being asked to do such a menial job, after having graduated at the top of her class, she walked to the parking garage in the drizzling snow, pulling her coat over her face like a vampire, tempted to suck a commission from the total. Perhaps, she thought, her black eyes glittering with ideas, she should spend a hundred bucks on a nice dinner, a bottle of red wine, a seafood appetizer. Guilt, however, reminded her of Andy.
He was a skinny blonde boy with a degree in English from SSU in southern Minnesota. He would walk into her office after knocking lightly on the doorframe, carrying a bag heavy with her deli order, which he had run across the street to get for her, and he refused to keep the change. He always brought his own lunch to work, peanut butter and jelly and a Snickers bar. He never ate downtown, because, he always said, Who can afford to eat out on an office boy's salary? She remembered how he had told her, withbright blue eyes, how he had wanted to go to Boston to be a bartender in a sports barjust like Sam Malonebut he only made it as far as Minneapolis because his ex-girlfriend got pregnant and a court ordered that he support the kid.
The cold night air stung Rachel's face. She felt the $780 in her pocket, not as if it were heavy, but as if it were a warm throb inside her jacket, like a living heart.
She walked along the Nicolette Mall, the windows displaying expensive winter coats and boots and sweaters. On her salary, 43K, she couldn't buy nice things, not because it was bad starting pay for a recent graduate, or poor pay for a single girl living in the Twin Cities, but because she lived in a condo with parking in uptown and she drove a new SUV. Plus, she paid three hundred dollars a month in student loans, so that after all her checks were written, she felt like a pauper, as if she were still in law school. The feeling that she should spend some of Andy's gift money, something, anything, made her hungry to spend it.
Who was that boy anyway and why did the lawyers like him so much? He had a kind of sickly smile, like he was dying of cancer, and his eyes darted about as if they were too eager to land on one spot. Quite frankly, he spent much of his workday at the secretary's desk e-mailing friends and family, or trying to flirt with the file clerks who pushed carts in and out of offices handing out manila folders, girls barely eighteen, with thin hips and eyes fat with ambition. They always said, "No, Andy," without even looking at him.
Why did the lawyers like him so much? Maybe simply because he was Andy the office boy, and after two years with the firm, it was clear that he wanted no more out of life than being Andy the office boy, no more dreams of bartending in Boston, no thoughts of graduate school or becoming a professional in any field. He was the one person in the firm, perhaps the one person she now knewhaving been at Harvard the last three yearswho wanted nothing more than to wake up every morning being who he was and doing what he would do that day. He was not a simpleton, but he was simple.
Was it a good idea, she thought, walking into the warm belly of the City Center Mall, to give such a humble boy a $780 gift? The possibility that it could corrupt him, that it could remind him that there was a material world, could take away a quality about him, something she liked to refer to as Euro-American noble savagery. He was, to her, the essence of rural Minnesota. As the junior member of the firm, she performed the unwanted duty of driving south of the Cities into the prairie, to do research with clients in towns like Gibbon and Gaylord and Renville, and one time she stopped in Marshall, Andy's hometown, where she walked into the Wooden Nickel for dinner, a pub packed with people she was sure were Andy's relatives and friends, thick Norwegians and Germans drinking beer and eating popcorn. So many of those blue eyes strained to see through the sunlight, to see her standing in the open door, a Chicana with a briefcase.
She tried on sweaters and skirts and pants and coats and about twenty pairs of shoes, longing to buy something, just one thing with the money meant for him. Her clothes, although professional and smart looking, had fading fringes. She had only gotten a few paychecks so far, and she had no savings and her three credit cards had been maxed out in law school. Her parents were no help because together they made far less than what she made. They still rented an apartment on a dark, narrow street in downtown El Paso. She didn't dare tell them how much she earned because they would think it was a lot and might expect her to send money home.
In Saks Fifth Avenue, she tried on a baby-blue cashmere sweater, so soft on her flesh that it seemed like a feather massage. She saw herself wearing that sweater, walking the offices of the firm with confidence and power and the knowledge that people were noticing her. It cost $550. She handed it to the salesgirl and said, "No, thank you."
The snow let up and she walked downtown for several blocks. She passed cafes, bars, jazz clubs, and nice restaurants, all of them full of happy people. What she saw next stopped her walk. It was a three-story brick building with a bright red neon sign hanging down the side. "Sex World."
She had been so focused on law school and now on work that she let no one near her, and, not being good at casual sex, she had gone without it for almost four years. Seeing the flashing lights of Sex World, desire gnawed at her, not because she felt stimulated by pornographyshe felt it demeaning and exploitative and uglybut because the letters s.e.x. and the concrete action that those letters represented caused her to feel the full weight of her loneliness.
She entered Sex World, relieved to see couples and young women among the shoppers. The first floor had videos fitting most fetishes, and there were peep shows in the back. She was looking at the video boxes when she heard a familiar whine. It was Andy the office boy, saying to the clerk, "More change. More change." She furtively followed him and saw him go into a booth. The young lawyer heard the door lock. Then she heard him say, "Yes. Nice. Nice."
When the day came to give Andy his gift, all the lawyers gathered in the main office and said, "Surprise!" as the office boy walked in. He smiled broadly and waved at everybody. Everyone turned to Rachel Garcia. One lawyer said, "The gift."
The young lawyer cleared her throat. "Andy," she said, "this is from all of us. We collected money from everyone and got you this."
"Show it," they said. "Let him have it."
"But," she said, "it's too big to drag around. So come with me. They all know what it is," she said, and the lawyers agreed, because it would seem insensitive to not know what they had gotten him.
"We'll be right back," she said.
And everybody said, "Of course," as if they had arranged it that way.
She led him into the conference room. "Sit down," she said. He nervously sat. To Andy's astonishment, the pretty lawyer undid the buttons of her baby-blue cashmere sweater.
"Oh," he said, watching her pull it down her smooth, dark shoulders. "Nice. Very nice," he said.
Juan's cousin wrote what he knew of the dead guy. He was from Jalisco. Not married. Some called him maricón because they suspected he was gay, but no one knew for sure.
The age of the man was the same as Juan's, 24, and the picture on the green card strikingly similar, sunken cheeks, small forehead, tiny, deep-set eyes that on Juan looked as if everything scared him, but that on the dead guy looked focused, confident. "You could use this to come work here," his cousin wrote.
It was perfect, Juan thought, if not for the name written on the green card: Miguel Valencia Godoy.
Godoy? Juan wasn't even sure how to pronounce it. His wife Maria held the green card in her small, work-gnarled hand and she looked at the name, then at Juan.
"Goo doy," she said.
He tried: "Guld Yoy."
Patiently, she took a breath. "Goo doy."
He practiced and practiced. It got so the entire family was saying it: Maria, their four-year-old boy Juan Jr., and even the big-eyed baby girl came close with "goo goo." Only Juan couldn't say it. Some nights Maria kept him up late, pushing him awake as he dozed off, until he said it correctly three times in a row.
When the day came for him to leave, he kissed her goodbye, shook his son's hand like a man, and kissed the baby's soft, warm head. The treeless dirt road stretched into the barren hills, reaching toward the nearest town seven miles away where he would catch the bus to Tijuana.
"I'll be back," he said to Maria.
"I know you will," she said.
"I'll send money when I find work."
"I know you will," she said. She placed an open palm on his face. "You're a good man, Juan. I know you'll do what's right."
He looked into her eyes, disappointed that he could not find in them a single tear. She smiled sadly, like a mother sending her child off to school.
"Go, Juan," she said. "Don't make this harder than it needs to be."
"I can't help it." He wept. She hugged him in her strong, bony arms. She smelled of body odor. "Don't do this. Be a man," she said firmly.
He pulled away from her, wiped his tears, and said, "I'm going."
"Again," she said.
"Duld Woy," he sniveled.
"Goo doy. Again."
"Juan, if you don't get it, things will be bad."
At the border, he nervously stepped across a red line painted on the sidewalk. He stepped past warning signs that ordered people to turn back if not able to enter the U. S. Inside the building, big and bright as an indoor sports stadium, he was surprised at the number of Mexicans waiting in line to get to the U. S. side. Still, most of the people were white, holding bags of souvenirs, colorful Mexican blankets, ceramics, bottles of tequila. He looked at the heads of the lines to see which U. S. immigration officer he should approach.
People who knew had told him that the worst immigration officers in the U.S. were the ones of Mexican descent. Pick a white officer, he had heard, because the Mexican-American, the Chicano INS officers had to prove to the white people that they were no longer Mexicans. He had heard in the mountains that they would beat people up or sic vicious clogs on them, laughing as the bloody flesh would fly in all directions.
There were three open lines, three officers, a white woman, and two white men. He chose a young man with a shaved head whose line moved fast because he barely looked at the IDs held out to him, just waved everyone through, bored, like he didn't want to be there.
Juan knew that this would be easier than he had imagined. With a confidence he had never felt before, he said to himself, slightly out loud, in perfect pronunciation, "Godoy."
When he was two people from the front, something terrible happened. A tall Chicano officer tapped the white agent on the shoulder and said something. The white guy smiled, stood up, and left, leaving the tall Chicano to take his place. This Mexican American was mean-looking, well over six feet tall, with massive shoulders and legs thick as tree trunks. His green INS uniform stretched like a football player's. Set below his flat forehead, above his chubby cheeks, were small black eyes that darted suspiciously from face to face. His hair was cut short to his head, sticking straight up, and he didn't smile.
Juan wanted to get out of the line, but he was next.
The Chicano looked down at him. "Why should I let you through?" he demanded in English.
Juan didn't understand a word except for "you," which he believed meant him, but he assumed the officer had asked for his green card, so he held it up.
The Chicano looked suspiciously into Juan's eyes. He grabbed the card from his fingers and looked closely at the picture, then back at Juan.
"What's your name?" he asked in Spanish.
Juan took a deep breath and said, "Miguel Valencia Goo Poo."
"What?" asked the officer, chest inflating with air.
Juan was sure he'd be grabbed by the collar and dragged out.
He tried again: "Miguel Valencia Godoy."
"What's that last name?"
Sweat trickled down his back.
"Godoy?" he offered.
"Where are you from?"
"Jalisco," he remembered.
The officer put the ID card on the counter and said, with a big smile, "Cousin! It's me!"
He had said it in Spanish, but the words still had no meaning to Juan.
"I'm your cousin. Francisco Pancho Montes Godoy."
"Don't you remember me?"
"Oh, Pancho, of course," said Juan, weakly.
"You lying son of a bitch," said Pancho. "You don't even recognize me. Come on," he said, coming around the counter. "I know what to do with guys like you." He picked up the duffel bag as effortlessly as if it were a purse, and led Juan across the vast floor of the building, through crowds of people, into a little room with chairs, a TV, and magazines in English. Pancho dropped the bag, turned around and said "Un abrazo," holding out his long and thick arms. He hugged the breath out of Juan. He smelled of freshly cleaned laundry. Then he held him at arm's length to get a better look.
"You haven't changed. You wait right here. When I get off, I'm taking you home. You can see my wife and kids." He started to walk out, but something struck him. He turned around. "Oh, I just thought of something."
"Really. It just occurred to me."
"I have a special surprise for you, Miguel."
"What surprise?" asked Juan.
"You'll see," said Pancho. "A surprise."
Juan waited about three hours in that room. One time he tried to escape, but when he opened the door, Pancho, from behind the counter, looked right at him and winked.
At last, Pancho opened the door. He was now dressed in street clothes, 501 jeans and a T-shirt with a faded image of Mickey Mouse. He looked like a giant kid.
"Come on, cousin," he said. "I'm taking you home."
Like a lamb led to the slaughter, Juan followed through the parking lot, looking between the rows for an escape route, Pancho's shadow stretching across the hoods of several cars. Pancho grabbed him by the arm with a strong grip and escorted him to the passenger's side of an over-sized Ford pickup. Juan pictured Maria wearing a black dress and veil, standing over his grave, not weeping, just shaking her head, saying, "Dumb Juan. Why can't he do nothing right?"
He climbed up into the cab, using both hands and feet, like a child climbing a tree. He had to get out of there quick, find his real cousin, the one who had sent him the dead man's green card, and work his ass off so he could send Maria money. She needed him. His family needed him.
They drove through town, the truck so high off the ground Juan thought that surely this must be what it was like to be on a horse. He held on to the rim of the seat.
"Hey, cousin. Listen to me," Pancho said. "You'll never guess the surprise I have for you."
"What is it?" Juan asked.
Pancho laughed an evil laugh.
"You'll see," he said.
"Can you give me a hint?"
"You won't be disappointed. So, tell me, where have you been these last years?"
"I'm not married," Juan said, remembering another detail about Godoy.
"Oh?" Pancho asked.
"Never found someone I loved," he said.
"Well, here you'll find plenty of women. Lorena has a pretty sister. Lorena turned out to be the greatest wife in the world."
Juan wanted to say, no, that Maria was the greatest, but he couldn't.
He had seen her at an outdoor dance in the zócalo of a nearby town one sunny Sunday afternoon. She was the prettiest girl there, wearing a white dress that fell just above her knees, her cinnamon-colored legs smooth and shapely. She was seventeen. All afternoon guys stood around her like giants, boys with large shoulders, black cowboy boots, and white straw cowboy hats that shined in the sun, while Juan, a skinny, sickly looking boy barely eighteen, watched her from behind the balloon vendor. Still, Maria noticed him.
As was the custom, the unmarried young people walked in a circle at the center of the plaza, girls in one direction, boys in another, and although several girls were available, most of the boys eyed Maria, and when they passed her, they threw confetti in her long black hair, or they offered their hands to her, but she walked by each of them, looking at Juan the entire time. He, in turn, looked over his shoulder at the tiled dome of the cathedral, convinced she was looking past him. Since she was rejecting so many others, he decided it wouldn't be so bad when she rejected him, so he was determined to throw some confetti in her hair. When she was right beside him, he raised his clenched hand, but when he opened it, he realized he had nothing. What a fool I am! he cried to himself. But Maria brushed out the confetti already in her hair and offered him her hand. So excited, he wasn't sure with which hand to take hers, extending one, withdrawing it, extending the other, so she took control. She grabbed his arm and led him away from the circle.
Pancho pulled the truck into a gravel lot lined by a three-foot-tall chain-link fence that surrounded a large front yard and a small house. Two dogs barked at the truck, a German shepherd and a big black lab. "Here we are, primo," he said. "This is home."
Pancho opened the fence and the dogs jumped on him for affection, but then they stopped and seemed to wait for Juan to enter the yard, their tongues hanging out, tails wagging, whining as if unable to contain their excitement.
"Do they bite?" Juan asked.
"Don't worry, they only bite strangers," said Pancho.
"That's good," Juan said. The dogs surrounded him, sniffing his crotch, his legs, the Michoacán dirt caked to his boots.
The men entered the house, which had purple shag carpet and a velveteen couch and love seat. The painting above the TV was a velvet likeness of the Aztec warrior with the dead woman in his arms. The place smelled of beans cooking.
"Lorena," called Pancho. "He's here." Then he looked at Juan. "I called her and told her you'd be coming."
Lorena, a strikingly handsome woman in a jean skirt, which came above her knees, and a white T-shirt that hugged her voluptuous body, walked in, wiping her hands on a dish towel. Standing next to each other, she and her husband looked like the perfect couple, him tall and broad-shouldered, a little chubby around the middle and on the face, and her, tall, big boned, wide hips. She had a long jaw like an Indian and long black hair tied in a ponytail.
"I don't believe it," she said. She ran up and gave Juan a big hug. Her flesh was soft and pillowy, and she smelled of fresh onions. She held him at arm's length. "This is such a wonderful day. Imagine," she said. "Just imagine."
"Imagine," Pancho said, his hands on his hips, smiling big.
Juan wasn't sure if Godoy had ever met Lorena, so he wasn't sure what to say. He said, "Imagine."
"I have your room ready for you," she said. "Do you want to wash up or rest?"
"Later," said Pancho. "First he has to meet the girls."
He led Juan down the hallway. Framed family pictures lined the walls. At one metal frame with multiple photos, Pancho stopped and pointed to two little kids dressed like cowboys, holding toy guns and trying to look mean. "You remember that?"
It was Pancho and the dead man as kids. Juan looked closely. The similarities between that child and how he remembered looking as a child were so great that it spooked him, as if he had had two lives that went on simultaneously. He almost remembered that day playing cowboys.
"That was in Jalisco," Juan said.
"That's right. On grandfather's ranch. Remember that ranch?"
Juan pictured acres of land, a stable with twenty of the finest horses, and a garden where the family ate dinner, served by Indians, on a long wooden table. "Do I," he said dreamily.
"And all those horses," Pancho said, sadly delighted. "Oh, well, come on. We have plenty of time to reminisce, but first I want you to meet the girls."
Juan expected that he was referring to Lorena's sisters, but when Pancho opened a bedroom door, two little girls, five-year-old black-eyed twins, sat on the floor playing with dolls. They looked up at their father. "Hello, daddy," they said in unison.
"Come here, sweethearts. I want you to meet someone."
Obediently they rose and came to their father, standing on either side of him. "This is your Tío Miguel."
Both girls ran to Juan and hugged him. "Hi, tío. We love you."
They smelled of baby powder.
Lorena insisted he go to bed early because of his long journey, so after dinnerchile verde with fat flour tortillasshe led him into the extra bedroom and clicked on a table lamp, an arc of light appearing like a holy apparition across the white wall. Their shadows were so tall that their heads touched the ceiling. She showed him the shower and where they kept the towels. When she bent over to explain how to use the stereo, her T-shirt hung open, exposing her cleavage. She slowly kissed him on the forehead, soft, wet lips, and she left him alone. As he lay in bed he felt himself aroused. As much as he tried to picture Maria, he couldn't stop seeing Lorena, nor could he help but fantasize about what her sister looked like. He reached in his underwear and felt for himself, but on the high part of the wall, above the shadow of his horizontal body, in the arc of light, he saw an image of Maria as if wearing a veil. He turned off the lamp.
The next day Pancho woke him early and said it was his day off and he'd show Juan around.
"And tomorrow I'm calling in sick. We have so much to do."
As they drove through the city, Juan said, "I need to work, primo. I need a job."
"What are you going to do?" said Pancho.
"I have some connections in Fresno," said Juan. "I thought I'd go there and pick fruit."
Pancho laughed. "That's wetback work."
I am a wetback, Juan thought. But he said, "I'm not experienced enough at anything else."
"Miguel. Miguelito," said Pancho, shaking his head. His chubby cheeks were slightly pockmarked from acne as a teenager. "I got it all figured out, primo. Don't worry."
They drove out of town onto a narrow, two-lane highway lined by tall pine trees, until they reached a clearing, a vast green ranch set in a glen, beyond which the ocean lay over the horizon like a sparkling blue sheet. They entered a white gate with the name of the ranch, Cielito Lindo, and drove on the paved driveway until they reached a three-story Spanish style hacienda.
"What is this place?" Juan asked.
A white man in his fifties walked out of the mansion. He wore tight jeans and a flannel shirt tucked in and was in good shape for his age. His gray hair was balding on the top. He smiled as he approached Juan, extending his hand. "Welcome, Miguel. My name's BD. Pancho told me all about you and the funny thing that happened at the border." Although he spoke with an American accent, he spoke Spanish well.
"Yes, it was very funny," Juan said.
"What are the chances?" BD said.
BD led them around the mansion to the stables, white wooden buildings with so many doors extending on the horizon that it looked like a mirror image of itself. People led horses in and out of the doors. They entered one and saw horses proudly standing in their stalls, white and black Arabians, their nostrils flaring as if aware of their own worth. A Mexican man was brushing one of them, and as he stroked her silky neck, he cooed how beautiful she was.
"Memo," BD said to the man.
Memo looked up.
"This is Miguel Godoy. He's going to join our team."
"It's very nice to meet you," said Juan.
"Guillermo Reyes." the man said, extending his hand to Juan. "Godoy you say? Is that a Mexican name?"
"Of course it is," said Juan.
"Well, the name itself isn't," said Pancho. "But our family is pure Mexican. Although we're the first generation of American," he said, proudly putting his arm around Juan.
Memo's eyes scrutinized Juan. "Are you from Michoacán?"
"No, hell no. He's from Jalisco," said Pancho, offended by the thought.
"You sound like you're from Michoacán," Memo said.
Over iced tea under a white gazebo, BD explained how he became part owner of the ranch when he was Pancho's age, twenty-five, and he had invested money in the land with four other partners. Over the years they built the country club, the stables, and bought twenty more acres on which their customers rode the horses. Some of the horses they took care of for the rich and famous. BD, who worked as an INS officer with Pancho, would retire in a few years a rich man. "I'll spend all my time out here."
"See, cousin, that's the secret of success. You spend your lifetime investing. Right now I'm thinking about buying into an apartment building. We'll invest our money together, cousin, and we'll be rich."
"What money?" Juan asked.
"What money," Pancho repeated, laughing.
Juan's job at the ranch, BD explained, was to take the horses out of the stable for the customers, make sure the customers mounted safely, and then return the horses to Memo or another stable hand when the ride was over.
"But I don't speak English," Juan said.
"What a great way to learn," Pancho said.
"I don't know anything about horses," Juan said.
"He's being modest," Pancho said. "He has a gift."
When BD told Juan how much he'd be earning, Juan had to hear it again to be certain he had heard right.
"And the best part of it is," said Pancho, "Tax free. Cash."
That evening Lorena's sister, Elida, an eighteen-year-old with light brown hair and golden eyes, had dinner with the family. She was so beautiful that Juan couldn't stop sneaking looks at her, and she frequently looked at him and smiled shyly, which made the little black-eyed twins put their tiny hands over their mouths and giggle. When Pancho broke out with the stories about Miguel as a child, how brave he was and how everyone knew he'd be a great man, how girls used to follow him around, about the fights he'd get into with older and bigger boys, Elida looked at him with a stare that bordered on awe. Juan relished the stories, picturing it all and almost believing that he had done those things. After dinner, while the family was drinking coffee and the little girls were eating their dessert, Juan stood up and said he'd like to get some fresh air. He looked at Elida and asked if she would join him.
She said she'd love to.
On the patio they sat on the swing. The full moon shone like a cross in the black sky and reflected in Elida's large eyes. Her face was smooth. The sweet smell of her perfume rose like curls of smoke and swam into his nose, reaching so far into him that they massaged his heart. "Can I touch your face?" he said.
"My face? That's funny. Why for would you want to do that?"
Her Spanish wasn't good, but she had probably never been to Mexico.
"Because it's the most beautiful face I have ever seen."
She lowered her eyes. He kept looking at the smoothness of her skin, down her thin necka birthmark at the protruding bone. Her breasts.
"Okay," she said. "You can touch."
He looked up.
He reached out his hand, opened his palm, and as if he were touching something sacred, he slowly felt the warmth of her face. Passionately, she pressed her cheek into his hand and she closed her eyes and sighed. "That's nice," she said, opening her eyes and looking into his.
Lorena called them inside to watch a movie they had rented. Side by side on the love seat, they glanced as often at each other as they did at the TV. When it was over, Elida said she had to get home. Juan walked her to the car. She opened the door, but before she got in she turned around, bit her bottom lip, and peered at him with eyes that spoke of desire. "I guess I'll see you later," she said.
He watched her pull onto the street, her taillights disappearing into the darkness.
When he went back into the house, Pancho and Lorena were waiting for him, standing side by side, big smiles on their faces.
Although it hadn't been two days, these two seemed so familiar, so much like family. It occurred to him that he could keep this up for a long time, maybe forever. Maybe they would never know. Juan, quite frankly, was having a good time.
What was the rush to work in those hot fields, making less in one month than what he'd make in a week at the stables? He could still send Maria money.
She hadn't even cried when he left. She was probably glad he was gone.
"Well, cousin, tell us," Pancho said, as if he couldn't stand the anticipation. "What did you think of Lorena's sister?"
Juan laughed, heading toward the hallway to his bedroom, and he said, as if the question carried its own answer, "What did I think of Lorena's sister."
Life was great.
He made plenty of money, much of which he spent taking Elida to restaurants. He was beginning to learn English, and Pancho wanted them to invest in real estate together, as a team. When Juan reminded him he didn't have much money, Pancho assured him it would work out. "I don't think that'll be a problem," he said. One day at work, feeling good after a night with Elida, wherein they went further than they ever had, although not all the way, he was friendly and joked with the customers in English. Around midday, he got this urge to have lunch with someone, to click glasses with an old friend. In the stables he searched for Memo but couldn't find him, not in the country club or walking around the grounds. Finally, as he was walking around the back of the stables, he saw him at a picnic table, eating lunch with his family, his wife and two kids, a little boy and a little girl. They weren't talking as they ate, but it was a such a picture of happiness that for the first time in a long time, he thought of his own kids, Juan Jr., the baby, and he felt a great loss for his Maria.
What was she going to do without him? The right thing to do would be to take the money he had already earned, perhaps earn a little more, and send it to Maria. Wherever she was at that moment, whatever she was doing, there was no doubt in her mind that he was going to come back. He had to quit seeing Elida.
Later that night they were walking along the pier in San Diego when he decided to tell her it was over between them. He said, "I think you should know something."
Elida stopped walking and looked at him. Her eyes filled with love and hope. Anticipation.
"I love you," he blurted.
Later that night in her small bedroom plastered with glossy Ricky Martin posters, they made love. Her parents were out of town. Afterwards, as he held her smooth body in his thin arms, the smell of her perfume mixed with the scent of the peach candle flickering on her nightstand, he told her that he never wanted to be without her. And he meant it. He was in love.
When he got home, Pancho was sitting on the couch waiting for him, his big legs crossed, his arm extended across the back of the sofa.
"What's up?" Juan asked.
"Remember that surprise I told you about?"
"What surprise?" asked Juan.
"When I first saw you at the border. I told you I had a surprise for you."
"Oh yeah," said Juan.
"Well, tomorrow I'm going to let you have it," he said, standing up.
When Juan woke up the next morning, Pancho had already left. He found Lorena in the kitchen cutting a melon into bite-sized slices. She told him that Pancho went to get the surprise. As she served him a plate of the melon and a cup of strong, black coffee, she saw the concern in his face. "Don't worry so much," she said as she sat at the table opposite him.
He remained silent, worried.
"You do like it here with me and Pancho, right?"
He was distracted, but he still said yes.
"Look," she said, feeling sorry for him, "I think what Pancho's doing is wrong. I told him so. If you're not prepared for it, things could be difficult."
"What are you talking about?"
"The surprise. I told him not to do it this way, but he wouldn't listen. Sometimes he doesn't think things out fully. This is one of those times."
"What's the surprise?" asked Juan.
"Okay, I'm going to tell you," Lorena said. "But only because I don't think it's right what he's doing."
Pancho went to the Greyhound bus station, she said, to pick up Godoy's mother who had been living in El Paso. He was bringing her here so she could live with Miguel, her only living son.
The world fell on him. It was over. A mother would always know who her son was. "Don't worry," said Lorena. "She'll be so happy to see you. She never stopped being your mother."
After eating a couple of pieces of melon and drinking coffee, Juan said he wasn't feeling well and wanted to lie down. When he got into his bedroom, he quickly pulled the dirty duffel bag from the closet and started packing everything that would fit. He grabbed the cash he had already earned and stuffed it at the very bottom of his socks and then pulled on his boots. He had to be gone before Pancho got back. He would lose out on a few days pay, but better that than lose his life. He was ready to go, when he heard a knock on the bedroom door. He stuffed the bag in the closet and jumped into bed, pulling the covers over his body. "Come in," he said.
Lorena walked in, disturbed. She pulled the chair that was leaning against the wall and scooted it close to the bed. "There's something else. And this is it. I mean this is really it. This is why I'm telling you what Pancho's doing. I think you need to be prepared."
"What?" he said.
"It's been a long time since you've seen her." She paused, as if the words were too difficult. "Miguel, your mother is getting very senile."
"How senile?" he said, perking up.
"She forgets things sometimes. People sometimes. And ..."
"After your father disowned youand she still doesn't believe the story."
"About you and that other boy. She doesn't believe it. None of us do."
"Uh, that's good."
"But after he disowned you, she never gave up on you. She knew she would see you again. She's been saving things for you. After your father died, he left, well, quite a bit of money."
"A lot, Miguel. You don't even have to work if you don't want. She's been saving it for you. I only tell you this because I want you to be prepared. I told Pancho it wasn't a good idea to not tell you first. But he was just so excited about the, you know, the ... Well, he wants you to be happy."
"What if she doesn't recognize me?" he asked.
"She's senile. It just means we'd have to ... What am I saying? She will."
Juan sat up on his bed. "Well, then, I'll look forward to meeting her. I mean, seeing her again."
Lorena left the room. Juan paced back and forth with a burst of energy. When he heard the truck pull up onto the gravel, he said to himself, "Here we go." He looked at himself in the mirror. He saw staring at him Miguel Valencia Godoy. Clean-shaven, handsome, lean-bodied, confident. But then he glimpsed something that bothered him, a dull gleam in his eyes, something that didn't belong to him. Insecurity. It was Juan. He shook it off and went out into the living room to see his mother.
Table of Contents
|Andy the Office Boy||1|
|The Biggest City in the World||21|
|Expression of Our People||41|
|Slow and Good||111|
|How Hot Was Mexicali?||117|
|Epilogue: Story #7 in D Minor||135|