Joyland

a hub for short fiction

The Mariposa

Luis shared an apartment with his brother Hector and three other men, all of whom happened to be named Juan. Everywhere he turned there was a Juan: a Juan in the shower, a Juan in the kitchen eating pineapple rings out of a can, a Juan asleep on the couch. They were quiet and harmless but undeniably present and numerous, like the silverfish that were also always in the shower and the kitchen and among the couch cushions. Hector was seldom home. If his white Stetson hung by the front door, he was usually getting ready to go out again, singing love songs in the steamy bathroom as he admired himself in a circle of mirror and combed gel through his lustrous hair. By the door was a jumble of boots studded with dingy rosettes of wadded socks. Luis had made a rule that boots were not to be worn in the house, but since this rule was not always remembered by the Juans or observed by Hector, trails of barn dirt crisscrossed the floors. Dust rose from their clothes and drifted through the rooms, filling the place with the dry smell of horses. With five men in it, the apartment was already packed to bursting, and now Luis was expecting his wife and son up from Mexico in three days. Three days give or take, and he still needed to find a new place to live and to end things with his girlfriend, Angela. Luis had told Angela from the start that he was married, but until one of the Juans spilled the beans at dinner, he had neglected to tell her that Maria and Marcelito had left their town and gone to Tijuana, where they were waiting for their coyote to choose the moment to cross. “Hey, Luis,” a Juan said, tilting back his chair. "Once she sees the place, how long before she leaves you?" “They’ll think they’re still in the truck,” said another Juan. Hector peeled gold foil from the brown neck of a beer bottle. “They’re walking across,” he said. “Thursday, right?” said the first Juan. “On Thursday?” Luis miserably patted the air in an attempt to shush them, but Angela appeared from the kitchen holding a spatula globbed with sour cream. She looked at Luis and pointed the spatula at Juan. “Did he say your wife is coming?” Juan nodded vigorously. Angela turned the spatula on Luis and waited. He looked at his plate. “I was going to tell you,” he said. Although the spatula itself missed Luis, a rooster tail of sour cream flew off as it left Angela’s hand, spattering his face and shirt. “You bastard! You lying asshole piece of shit!” Angela was a tiny woman—sitting in his chair, Luis was eye-level with the fat crevice of her cleavage—but her anger towered. “You don’t respect me! You don’t tell me your wife is coming! Am I going to cook for her too, huh?” “And his son,” Hector put in. “Of course,” she said, her thin eyebrows straining for her hairline. “The son you never mention is coming too.” “Yes,” said Luis. “Well,” said Angela, “good for you. I’m glad you have everything you need. You can find someone else to cook your food, and you can find somewhere else to put your dick.” She went out and closed the door behind her with an outraged slam that made the cups on the table hop once like soldiers jumping to attention. “Big brother, I think she might be mad at you,” Hector said. He burst into mean, noisy laughter. One of the Juans reached out with a napkin to wipe at a spot of sour cream on Luis’s nose. “Here,” he said. “That looks like bird shit.” Luis knocked his hand away and turned on Hector. “You were a lot of help.” “Why should I help? Angela’s a nice girl, and you’re treating her bad.” “I was going to tell her. It isn’t your problem.” Hector gave a regal wave of his beer. “It’s my problem that my nephew is coming and there’s no place for him to sleep and his father is doing it with the girl downstairs.” “You think you would have made it four years without a woman? You know anybody with a wife back home who doesn’t have a girlfriend?” Hector smirked. “Bless him, Father, for he has sinned.” “Shut up. What do you know? Screwing whatever takes it. You fucking street dog.” “Sure,” Hector said, jutting his head forward. “Make it about me. Make sure no one sees that you’re not perfect. I’m just saying I think you should treat Angela right.” “Like you with girls? One minute you’re feeding them some line about how you want to express your love, the next you’re in the shower and the next they’re sitting outside on the sidewalk wondering where their shoes went.” “Oh, yeah?” said Hector. “Yeah,” said Luis. The Juans had by then retreated to the kitchen, and the brothers prowled around the table making furious faces and half lunging at each other. Hector said he didn’t think Luis should be so proud since his wife was off somewhere raising his son while he was in bed with another woman, and then Luis said that he hadn’t realized Hector had become a priest or whatever he thought he was, to which Hector responded that Luis acted like he was better than everyone even though he wasn’t that good at all, and then Luis shouted that at least he never had to resort to the whores Hector found, and then Hector ended the whole thing by saying that if Luis thought that, he should know that Hector had fucked Angela too. * When Luis was a boy, everyone agreed that he was a good boy, and when he grew up, they all said he was a good man. He would be the one to go north because he could be trusted to work hard, send back money and not get in trouble like some or vanish without a word like others. The family saved up, and not long after he got married but before Marcelito was born, Luis hitchhiked to a border town where the big business was a slaughterhouse. Stock trucks came down full of dog food horses, hollow-flanked things with the pall of death already on them. They huddled in dirt yards with their heads down and together like they were praying. Luis ate horsemeat every day after money got tight, worse quality than what went to the dogs. After four months of waiting, a coyote took him across the desert, and in California he found a childhood friend who worked as a stable hand and could get him a job in a rich man’s private barn. There his days were long and unhurried, and he made good money to send home. The horses were glossy, pampered giants completely unlike the doomed creatures he had seen on the border. He liked them. He found them beautiful and felt flattered that they recognized him, sauntering over when he came to get them from the turnouts and nickering for him at feeding time. When his boss took horses to shows, Luis went along and slept on a cot in an empty stall, listening to the animals’ night noises. Sunday afternoons, all the grooms staked out a shaded spot overlooking the big ring and lolled around drinking beer and betting on the grand prix. Luis never picked the winner. He bet on the most beautiful horse, the one with the finest head and most expressive eye, but never the scrappy things that ended up winning, popping over the jumps on firecracker legs. He kept a respectful silence while the horses were on course, wheeling around to hush anyone who serenaded a passing girl or laughed at a joke, but in his head he was jumping up and down and shouting for them to go, go, go! and galloping through the timers himself. Once in a long while, INS agents came prowling around looking for illegals, but the show steward would play “Born in the USA” over the loudspeaker so everyone knew to get lost. The INS guys raided an abandoned world of empty barn aisles, half-tacked horses on cross-ties, deserted lunches, radios singing ballads to no one and maybe some unlucky drunk napping behind the kitchen truck. Two years after Luis came up, Hector followed, and they found the place with the Juans. Angela knocked on their door the day they moved in and offered to work out a deal where they all chipped in money for her to cook their dinners. A gold tooth showed at the corner of her mouth when she smiled, which she did with a saleswoman’s brittle determination. Her little daughter Gabby swung one-handed from her leg as though it were a lamppost. Luis said okay, and after that she came upstairs every night with foil-covered pans of rice and beans, tacos, tamales, sometimes lasagna. She brought jugs full of jarritos or bulbous bottles of Coke that she poured over ice. Hector went for her right away, but she preferred Luis. She said he looked like a character on a telenovela she liked, a musician who pined for a woman who was really his long-lost sister. At first Luis was too shy even to flirt with Angela, but he brought home bits of cast-off tack for Gabby, frayed reins and broken halters that the girl wrapped around herself as she trotted and cantered through the apartment, snorting and neighing. The best prize was an old hunt cap he rescued from the trash, its velvet faded from black to a bruised green, that sent her into raptures and stayed on her head for a week. Luis and Angela only had sex in Angela’s apartment and only after Gabby had gone to bed. Often he fell asleep, but she always woke him and sent him back upstairs. She told him she didn’t want Gabby to get the wrong idea. The girl was confused enough, thinking, as she still did, that her long-truant father, a gringo named Jim, was coming back. The name Jim carried a powerful taboo for Angela, and once she revealed it to Luis, she never spoke it again and made him promise never to say it in her presence. * After the fight, Hector got in his truck and roared away to spend the night God knew where. Luis did not expect him to return the next morning, but Hector did, around eight o’clock, when Luis was sitting at the table circling rental ads in the newspaper. He heard the front door open and the sound of Hector grumbling as he pulled off his boots, and then Hector, leaning against the doorframe in a cowboy pose that might have looked tough if his tight black jeans had not ended with white socks stretched out into long, pointy rabbits’ feet. Hector twirled his hat in his hands and then lifted it close to his face, inspecting it for dust. “Well,” he said, “I guess you need my truck.” “I don’t want your help,” Luis said, folding up his newspaper. He carried his plate with its toast crumbs into the kitchen and dropped it in the sink. “Please,” Hector said, following along and trying to catch Luis’s eye. “I thought I should do something.” He grimaced. “You know?” “No.” Luis went to the door and began pulling on his boots. Hector did the same. Luis’s boots were plain and brown, but Hector’s were white with gray snakeskin flames. Luis longed for boots like those but would never have let on. “Come on,” Hector said. “What else are you going to do?” The problem was that without Hector’s truck Luis had no way to get anywhere. Since most of his money winged its way back to Mexico, he could never save up for a car and instead rattled around with the Juans in their crumpled brown hatchback. Hector, who had never been overly concerned with sending money home, drove a Ford pickup that was not new but ran fine; he had spruced it up with girlie mudflaps and window decals of bucking broncos. Hector put on his hat and opened the door, and Luis stepped out, saying, “Go fuck yourself, okay?” Hector jogged after him down the stairs. “I’m a jackass. You know I’m a jackass,” he said. Luis said, “Yeah, a big one,” but he walked to the truck and waited for Hector to unlock the doors. Inside, he sat staring straight through the windshield at the fuchsia tangle of bougainvillea that climbed the side of the building. Hector started the engine. “But I’m your brother,” he said, “and you have to love me anyway.” “It’s true that you’re my brother,” Luis said. Hector steered through the stucco maze of apartments and out past dismal strips of stores selling vacuum cleaners and chemicals for swimming pools and past more apartments and more stores until they were drawn onto the fat gray ribbon of the freeway. They drove inland over low hills where the soil, charred by brushfires a year gone by, still showed black between pale, scrubby bushes and clumps of prickly pear. On the other side they came into a desert. Bleached billboards for immigration lawyers and motorcycle warehouses sprouted on both sides of the road. It was the kind of endless, inhospitable place where the sky is a blank dome over an empty plate. A thin layer of human enterprise spread across the desert like mold. They passed sprawling badlands of asphalt, sickly palm trees, huge, square stores like ziggurats and temples left unfinished by vanished ancients, car lots garlanded with flags and tinsel, fast food restaurants shimmering in the heat and neighborhood after neighborhood of small, brown houses corralled behind cinderblock walls. Faded mountains stood up in the hazy distance. Luis had been raised in a similar place, a flat, dry town outside Mexico City beneath a string of blackened hills that looked like a half-buried jawbone. The sky to the east had been the sooty color of a moth’s wing—a stain his mother said was caused by the city’s bad breath. “One-fifty-six, one-fifty-eight, one-sixty,” Hector said, driving slowly down a stark, shadeless street. Luis pointed. “It’s that one.” The ad in the newspaper described the house as “cozy,” a word that Luis had looked up and liked the sound of. Now he realized the ad’s author had not meant the house was tidy or snug but only that it was very small. It looked no bigger than a child’s playhouse and was painted a streaky mustard. Thick black bars battened down the windows. “Well, it’s ugly,” Hector said as though mentioning a selling point. Luis hated the house on sight: the bare dirt and rocks in its tiny yard, the old tire leaning against the mailbox, the cars with flashy hubcaps that lined the street like waiting bullies. But, bristling, he said, “I can afford the rent.” Hector shrugged. The landlord had a long white beard with a braid in it and an immense potbelly that he used for emphasis, swinging it in the direction of the dishwasher or the closet or the broken television he said he’d throw in for free. Hector was solicitous and made admiring comments like, “Luis, did you see the shower? Not bad, man.” Their host gave Hector a shrewd, appraising look, as though recognizing a connoisseur. “I don’t know if you noticed,” he said, “but the nozzle is adjustable. It can spray hard or soft. Whatever you want.” Luis was silent and frowning during the tour of the tiny rooms. When the landlord came across a dead mouse in a trap on the kitchen floor and kicked it under the oven with a sheepish laugh, Luis turned without a word and went out to the truck. He watched Hector and the landlord shake hands on the doorstep. “You don’t need to be rude,” Hector said, turning the key. “That guy was okay. He was trying, you know? Look down your nose all you want, but you can only afford what you can afford.” “I just didn’t like it,” Luis said. He didn’t like the next place either or the one after that or the one after that, and then he had to go to work. The houses and apartments were all cramped and run down, but that was less the problem than that Luis found some detail about each to be dead-set against. One smelled like cats. One overlooked a car dealership. One had lime green trim around the windows. “Buy an air freshener. Get some curtains. Repaint it,” Hector said as he drove. Luis frowned. “You got to find something,” Hector went on. “They need somewhere to live. Marcelito thinks his daddy’s a rich American. He’s going to walk across the desert and then sleep on the floor next to Juan? Two days, man. I think your own place would be better for everyone.” The truck was too hot, and the radio was letting out a low, relentless babble. It bothered Luis that Hector knew Marcelito better than he did. Hector had held him when he was a baby. He knew how he moved, how he was with Maria. Luis only had pictures and the inaudible whispers of a shy boy handed the telephone and told to say hello to Papa. When he had left for the north, riding off in the back of a pickup while Maria wept in the doorway of his mother’s house, they had not even known she was pregnant. “How about you stop pushing me?” Luis said. “You want me to leave so you can do your thing with Angela.” Hector didn’t say anything, but he rolled his neck and reached up to scratch his jaw. The truth hung between them that Hector could apparently do his thing with Angela either way. “You know what,” Luis said, “just stop. Stop here. Let me out.” “On the road? Don’t be crazy.” “Stop the truck! Let me out!” Luis lunged for the steering wheel, and the truck swerved. Hector shoved him away and clamped Luis’s wrist hard to the seat with one of his big hands. Luis was older, but Hector was stronger. “Take it easy, you lunatic. I can’t stop here. The cops will come. You want to get deported?” He turned off at the next exit and parked by a Burger King. Luis jumped out and walked furiously into the restaurant and straight to the men’s room. He splashed water on his face, despising himself. He wished he hadn’t made Hector stop. Either he was going to have to go get in the truck with his tail between his legs or he was going to have to live at this Burger King forever, which might not be so bad; the bathroom was quiet, and the floor, a checkerboard of brown and pumpkin tiles, was clean. When he emerged from the bathroom, the truck was still outside. Even inside, at the counter, Luis could hear loud mariachi music bouncing out its open windows and jigging across the parking lot. Luis ordered some fries. “You know that guy?” the kid behind the register said to Luis. Luis turned to regard the truck. He could see the swooping silhouette of Hector’s hat. “Why? Because I’m Mexican and he’s playing Mexican music?” he asked. “Yeah,” said the kid. “Do you?” “He’s my brother.” “You should tell him to turn it down. The Vietnamese lady who has the nail place over there likes to call the cops.” Luis paid, went out, and jerked open the truck door and tossed the bag of fries inside. “Turn down the music,” he shouted. “You want to get deported?” “No problem!” Hector shouted back. He punched off the radio. In its place they heard the oceanic rush of the freeway and the jabber of the drive-through box. Luis climbed in. He squeezed ketchup onto a pile of napkins. The sun beat through the windshield, and clouds of heat moved over the dashboard, casting rippling, oily shadows. Hector rested his forearms on the steering wheel and exhaled a long, bumpy sigh, arranging his face into a caricature of remorse. “It only happened once before,” he said. “Me and Angela. When you were gone at a show. She felt really bad about it. She cried. She was like, ‘Oh, Luis, he’s so nice to me, he’s a good guy, we shouldn’t do this.’ But then you didn’t tell her your wife was coming, and last night she texted me to meet her and she said she’d been wrong about you and so maybe she was wrong about me, maybe I was better than she thought. She said she wanted to see if we’d be good together. And I was happy because I’ve always liked her.” He cleared his throat. “But maybe she still doesn’t like me that much.” They sweated in silence. Luis could not tell Hector that, yes, he was angry about Angela, but what he was really afraid of was that Hector might have slept with Maria after Luis came north, in the two years before Hector followed. It could not have happened. But maybe it had. Maybe it had happened once; maybe it had been going on the whole time. Even back when Luis was languishing in that horse-killing border town, he had worried. He would wake up with an aching jaw from grinding his teeth and go through his days half-believing in the truth of his dreams: lewd visions of Hector and Maria. Back then Hector had looked like a movie star. He had to fight off girls with a stick. These days he still got women, but hard living had made his face carnal and puffy; he mostly drew the kind of girls who were a little worse for wear themselves. Luis wanted to tell Hector that he would give him a thousand Angelas if he could only know that Maria had waited for him all this time, but the shame of confessing his fear would be almost as bad as seeing, somewhere in Hector’s face, a sign that he had guessed the truth. Luis had not intended to betray Maria at all. After each of the few times he strayed in his first two years he had wanted to lash himself with a whip. Then the loneliness had become too strong. He needed a woman, and he had chosen Angela partly because he knew she would never infringe on Maria’s share of his heart. In that way, sleeping with Angela was as close to being faithful as he could get. Hector rustled in the Burger King bag and came out with a greasy nosegay of fries. He studied them as though they contained the answers to all his problems. “No,” he said suddenly. “She has to like me. All the girls like Hector.” He laughed and stuffed the fries into his mouth. Luis didn’t laugh. He shook his head. “I don’t know why I hated those houses so much. They weren’t even that bad.” “They were pretty bad.” “I knew I would regret it the minute I chose one.” The problem, Luis thought, was that he was choosing a house for a stranger, a man he did not know, a rich American with a wife and son. He did not know what kind of house this man should live in. There was another silence before Hector clapped Luis on the knee and said, “Yeah, but you got to get a house.” * Luis had met Maria when, as a teenager in need of an escape from his family’s adoration, he had wrapped a thin sheaf of scrounged, saved money in a plastic bag and hitched a ride to the beach. He drank a lot of booze, more than he’d ever had before, always at the same restaurant, an open-front place with plastic swordfish on the walls and tables on the sand. Maria, then a girl with her hair tightly bound in one long braid and a dimple in her right cheek, brought him his food and beer, and after three days he believed he was in love with her. She wore flat black sandals and a bright dress. A knotted loop of thread encircled one of her ankles, biting ever so slightly into her flesh. She lived with her parents, her grandmothers, one aunt, and four brothers. Her brothers caught fish; her parents cooked it; she and her aunt served it. The grandmothers sat on a bench near the kitchen door, cackling to each other and embroidering baby clothes they sold to tourists. On the fourth day, Maria let Luis linger after the restaurant closed, and he told her, catching her wrist across the garish tablecloth, that he loved her. She laughed at him and said he was confused and probably just wanted to take her clothes off, but she let him follow her out onto the dark beach and kiss her. When he clutched the soft sides of her waist and tried to pull her down onto the sand, she laughed and dodged away. “Let’s go swimming,” he said. “See? I told you. You just want to take off my clothes.” Drunk and nervous, Luis said, “Oh, yes. Please.” “There are jellyfish. More jellyfish than you would believe.” His desire to see her naked or even just be in the same ocean as her nakedness was so strong that he didn’t care. “I don’t care,” he said. “You wouldn’t care if you got stung by a jellyfish? Think of all the places they could sting you.” “Not if I was with you.” “What if I get stung?” “I won’t let them sting you—I promise. Just come swimming.” “My mother would kill me, and then she would keel over dead.” “That’s easy. Don’t tell her.” “I wouldn’t have to. She’s like a dog for sin. She smells it. She would know everything.” In the darkness, Maria reached out and fluttered her fingertips against his cheeks. “Everything!” He spoke quickly, reaching for her. “I’ll marry you! I swear! You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.” She laughed again, trying to pull away. “Now? On the beach? With fish as witnesses?” He had his arms tight around her and his face buried in the place where her neck sloped into her shoulder. “It doesn’t matter. I swear I will. Lie down with me for a minute. Only a minute. Please, Maria. I promise.” Luis moved one hand on her stomach as he kissed her neck. Sensing that she was weakening, he kissed her with all the passion and supplication he could muster, and in the end, she lay down with him on the beach. Although she did not let him make love to her, she let him cover her hand with his own and move it on himself until he cried out with a sound that would have embarrassed him if he had not sensed that Maria would be pleased by its resemblance to a sob. He fell asleep with his arms around her, and, when he woke in the dawn light, he found that she had not moved but was still curved into him, awake and gazing at the hand she had touched him with. * The next morning, when Hector appeared again in the apartment while Luis was eating breakfast, Luis did not protest but followed him down to the truck. Angela was sitting in the cab. “What is she doing?” Luis asked Hector. Hector shrugged. Luis pulled open the door. “What are you doing?” he said. She wore short shorts and bright red sneakers with thick rubber heels. She smiled at him. “Hi.” “What are you doing?” Luis repeated. “Surprise!” she said. “I’m coming too.” “Why?” “Because, silly, Hector was telling me all about how you couldn’t decide on a house, and I thought that if I helped too we’d get you in your own place that much sooner. Because that would be better for everyone.” She scooted closer to Hector, right up against him so she was straddling the gearshift, and angled her eyes at Luis. She patted the seat beside her. “All aboard.” “As you like,” Luis said, defeated. Angela, sandwiched between the brothers, twisted her hips like a nesting hen. Hector drove inland. Luis pretended to ignore Angela, who was singing along with the radio and bumping his knee with hers, but he stole glances when he thought she would not notice. Anger looked good on her. Sometimes when she was happy, crowing and laughing, her face seemed like a clever fabrication of prettiness cobbled together from blue-stenciled half-moons of eyeshadow and a waxy red smile with that glint of gold tooth in its corner. But now, in her rage, she looked like a warrior woman, fierce and painted for battle. Hector remarked that it was hot. Luis ignored him. Before they reached the first place circled in the newspaper, Angela made Hector stop at a fruit stand and buy her a green plastic basket of strawberries. She ate them with gusto, feeding some to Hector and squealing when he growled at her and chomped them lustily. She threw the green stems over Luis and out his open window, and she laughed when they hit him on the cheek or fell into his lap. One stem struck Luis’s neck with a tiny, wet kiss and then vanished somewhere in his clothes, refusing, despite his pattings and shakings, to be found. Angela laughed and squeezed Hector’s thigh. They pulled up to a building called the Mariposa. Near the parking lot there was an empty, kidney-shaped footprint of blue concrete surrounded by mangy artificial turf and a chain-link fence. The whole place looked washed-out and deserted. Without looking up from the television set balanced on the corner of his desk, the super handed them a key and waved them away. The apartment was on the ground floor. In the bedroom, the carpet was spotty and a family of pale, dusty cocoons hung from the ceiling vent, but the room was good-sized and smelled like fresh paint. The kitchen had pea-soup cupboards and a floor the color of newsprint, but there was also a big, square window that looked out onto the parking lot and let in plenty of sunlight. Scattered traces remained of the departed tenant: a metal bed frame, a blue glass candy bowl, a bottle of shampoo. “This place isn’t bad, Luis,” Angela said. “Pretty good light. They’d probably let you keep that bed. The fridge works. Jim and I had cupboards this color. You get used to it.” It made him wary to hear her mention Jim so casually. Luis pushed a cupboard door closed. It bounced open again. Angela wrapped her arms around Hector from behind, wedging her fingertips into his front pockets, and pressed her nose against Hector’s back. When she spoke, her voice was muffled by his shirt. “I could live here. Couldn’t you, baby?” “Yeah, I guess,” Hector said, looking uncomfortable. He tried to wriggle out of her embrace, but she clung to him like an octopus. Finally he got her wrists in one hand, kissed her fingers and stepped away. He made a show of inspecting the appliances, opening the oven, running the faucet, turning on all the burners and watching the red begin to creep around the coils. He turned them off again. “I could live here, sure. But Luis probably hates it. You hate it, right, Luis?” “I hate it,” Luis said. “Other people live here,” Angela said in a voice too loud for the small room. “Why are you so special you get to hate this place when other people like it here? You think you’re too good. You’re just like Jim.” Luis felt suddenly exhausted. He didn’t know if he was like Jim or not. He knew he was tired of being told he thought he was too good. He hadn’t been too good to eat cut-rate horse meat for months, had he? To hide facedown in a stinking, fouled ditch, shivering from cold and fatigue while the border patrol drove by with their searchlights? To shovel up horse shit by the truckload, to clean out rat traps, to keep saddles soaped for the asses of the rich? He wasn’t above waiting in line at the Western Union counter with maids and gardeners, janitors and day laborers to fork over his hard-earned money. He wasn’t above taking old clothes from his boss or thrown-out food from behind the grocery store. Would he be too good until he gave in to the ugliness, stopped fighting the misery he saw written in mildew and water-stains on bathtubs and ceilings? How could he be too good when he couldn’t pay for anything nice, when he was afraid he would no longer love his wife? “Hello? Luis? Hello, I’m talking to you,” Angela said. “What do you want from me?” he said. “You knew I was married. You already slept with my brother to get back at me. What else is there?” “Say it,” she said. “Say you think you’re too good for me.” “No.” “Say it.” She was taunting him, moving closer and snaking her head back and forth. “Tell me you’re too good.” “Shut up,” he said. “Say it, say it, say it!” On the counter was a large, black skillet, one of the artifacts the past denizens of the Mariposa had left behind, and Luis, without thinking, grasped it and launched it like a discus at the window. The glass shattered. The skillet dropped out of sight. A tinkling silence followed, and then warm air and noises from the outside—the whistle of a bird, traffic in the distance, the scrape of a trashcan on the sidewalk—came in through the ragged empty square. Luis crunched over bits of glass and leaned out. The window lay in a thousand pieces on the pavement. The skillet reposed in a cluster of low, celery-colored plants. As its handle had separated from his hand, time had slowed enough for him to realize that the object flying away was not the skillet but something more important, something that belonged to him, and he had wanted to call back the slowly revolving black disc, to smooth the window back into one sheet of glass, to set the skillet down on the counter and drive away from the Mariposa. “God closes a door,” Hector’s voice came from behind him, “you break a fucking window.” “Luis, you crazy ass,” Angela said. “What did you do that for?” He turned. All the anger was gone from her face and she looked young, plain and sad. He saw that she loved him, something he had never wanted to consider. He thought of her throwing the spatula. Maybe what had brought them together was that they were both flailers, throwers of things. Their mating song was the sound of soft wings beating against unyielding glass, trying to get to the light. She would not stay long with Hector, he knew, though part of him wished that her love could be so neatly reassigned to the person who wanted it. “Now I have to live here,” he said. Hector looked shocked. “Why?” “I can’t pay for the window and for a deposit.” He sat on the floor with his back against the drab cupboards. He imagined himself leading Maria into this kitchen, dark as a bunker because he would cover the window with plywood. He would tell her it was vandalized or, no, that some kids broke it playing baseball in the parking lot. That would make her feel better, that there were kids for Marcelito to play with. Hector crossed the kitchen, leaned out the window, and looked around. “Luis,” he said. “No one’s coming. Let’s just go.” “What?” Luis said. “No. I can’t leave it. It’s broken. I have to pay.” “Leave it.” Hector squatted down in front of him. “You should. You don’t want to choose this way. I’m begging you, man, for your sake. Let’s go.” “I can’t.” “Do it this once.” Luis looked into his brother’s eyes and decided that he was, after all, not too good to run away this one time. He was not too good to take Hector’s hands and be lifted from the floor and to run with Hector and Angela out to the truck. Hector gave him the key, and he twisted it in the ignition and drove away. He had experienced the exhilaration of escape only once before, when he had run away to the beach and met Maria. Crossing the desert with the coyote, he had felt only fear. A vast trap had been tethered to the dry circle of surrounding horizon, and he had walked through the night knowing that he might, at any moment, trip an invisible snare and be caught in the whooshing of its nets and the meshing of its teeth. But now, as he steered the truck onto the freeway, the world streamed by in a thrilling reel of things left behind. Angela said little. She sat and gazed out the window, her fingers worrying a bit of fringe on her purse. After a while, Luis noticed that she was crying. When she brushed at her cheeks, she drew dark wings in run mascara. * The showgrounds, just before dawn, were cottony with fog. Dampness dyed the dirt roads a dull olive and tipped the grass with white dew. From the barns came the sounds of a horse dormitory—deep, animal sighs, rattling buckets, thumps and scrabblings when horses lay down or stood up. Here and there, bright lights marked where the braiders were still at work, standing on stepstools, pulling and looping horses’ manes into rows of plaited nubs. After Luis put the horses to bed, he carried his soap and towel to the grooms’ showers and stood for a long time under the hot water. He ate a sandwich on his cot by himself and lay down in his sleeping bag, holding his phone against his chest. That afternoon, after Hector had dropped him at the show and driven off with Angela, his mother called and said that a friend in Tijuana had sent word that Maria and Marcelito were leaving that night. His mother, who refused to be given a cell phone, always used the phone at a restaurant near her house, and he had barely been able to hear her over the sounds of pots and pans. There was nothing to do but wait. From around the barns came the brassy oompah of radios, the voices of men, and the hiss of cans cracking open. Images of Maria and Marcelito in the desert, in jail, in cars, in trucks, in a ditch flew at him like cards being shuffled in a deck. Sometime after the radios had quieted and the braiders had settled in to work, he fell asleep. He had too much to dream about, so he didn’t dream at all. He woke without knowing why. The air in the stall was quiet and chill, musty in a damp way that settled on his skin. He thought his phone must have rung, but when he checked, the battery was dead. His disorientation gave way to panic. What if they had called? What if they thought he had abandoned them? What if something had gone wrong? If they died, Luis would never know his son. He wanted the chance to love Maria again. By loving her, he would erase everything that had happened without her. From outside, fast and growing louder, he heard the three-beat tattoo of a galloping horse. He rolled up and out of bed, fumbled for his shoes, and burst out the stall door in time to see a black shape disappear into the fog. “Loose horse!” he called, running after it. “Loose horse!” He ran as fast as he could, wind in his ears, following the dirt road past the fields and the rings. All his fears were absorbed by worry for the lost horse somewhere in front of him, an animal so fast he couldn’t hope to protect it from running out onto the road or falling somehow and breaking its legs. When he could no longer hear hoofbeats, he slowed to a jog and then a walk. Ahead he saw no horse, no movement—only the spectral arms of an expansive oak opening in a whitewash of fog. Beaten, he flopped down under the tree and rolled over, pressing his face to the bristly, earth-smelling grass. For a moment he heard nothing. Then slow footfalls and the grinding, munching sound of a horse at grass. He lifted his head. Above him its back curved in the mist like distant hills. Luis stood up. He approached the horse cautiously and touched his fingertips to its neck. It paid him no notice but continued to graze, its lips brushing his shoes. Nearby he found a piece of twine from a hay bale and looped it around the animal’s head. Once convinced to leave the grass, the horse followed him willingly. Near the barn, he saw a strange shape. As he came closer, the fog lifted away, and he saw a truck with its doors open like wings. Hector was standing beside it. Maria and Marcelito, he would explain to Luis, had come by car and not by foot. When they could not reach Luis, they called Hector, and he had gone to meet them. He wanted to be the one to bring them to Luis, he said. The round and familiar arm of a woman emerged from the truck, but Luis would miss his first glimpse of Maria because next to Hector was a small boy holding a bedraggled stuffed dog, its tail dangling in the dirt. Luis knew Marcelito would take that moment as his first memory of his father: when he came walking out of the fog with a horse beside him, following as though by magic.