He thought of the development he’d grown up in, the fenceless expanse of lawns, the shared space, the deep lush marshy woods where he’d first discovered ferns, frogs, garter snakes, the whole shining envelope of creation. There was nothing like that anymore. Now there were fences. Now there were gates.
He sat up and railed […] he told her his fears, outlined the wickedness of the gabacho world and the perfidy of his fellow braceros at the labor exchange, tried to work the kind of apprehension into her heart that would make her stay here with him, where it was safe, but she wouldn’t listen. Or rather, she listened—“I’m afraid,” she told him, “afraid of this place and the people in it, afraid to walk out on the street”—but it had no effect.
His skin was light, so light he could almost have passed for one of them, but it was his eyes that gave him away, hard burnished unblinking eyes the color of calf’s liver. He’d been damaged somehow, she could see that, damaged in the way of a man who has to scrape and grovel and kiss the hind end of some irrecusable yankee boss, and his eyes showed it, jabbing out at the world like two weapons. He was Mexican, all right.
“You heard Jack Cherrystone speak to the issue, and nobody’s credentials can touch Jack’s as far as being liberal is concerned, but this society isn’t what it was—and it won’t be until we get control of the borders.”
The borders. Delaney took an involuntary step backwards, all those dark disordered faces rising up from the streetcorners and freeway onramps to mob his brain, all of them crying out their human wants through mouths full of rotten teeth. “That’s racist, Jack, and you know it.”
He felt anger and shame at the same time—the man was a bum, that was all, hassling somebody else now, and yet the look of him, the wordless plea in his eyes and the arm in a sling and the side of his face layered with scab like old paint brought Delaney’s guilt back to the surface, a wound that refused to heal. His impulse was to intercede, to put an end to it, and yet in some perverse way he wanted to see this dark alien little man crushed and obliterated, out of his life forever.
The water was black, the trees were black, the walls of the canyon black as some deep place inside a man or woman, beneath the skin and bones and all the rest. He felt strangely excited. The crickets chirred. The trees whispered.
A moment ago she’d been out there on the road, exposed and vulnerable—frightened, always frightened—and now she was safe. But the thought of that frightened her too: what kind of life was it when you felt safe in the bushes, crouching to piss in the dirt like a dog? Was that what she’d left Tepoztlán for?
There, in the quickening night, with his dirty fingers inside her as if they belonged there and the Indian waiting his turn, he stopped to put a stick of gum in his mouth and casually drop the wrapper on the exposed skin of her back, no more concerned than if he were sitting on a stool in a bar.
What he wanted to tell her was how angry he was, how he hadn’t wanted a new car […] how he felt depressed, disheartened, as if his luck had turned back and he was sinking into an imperceptible hole that deepened centimeter by centimeter each hour of the day. There’d been a moment there, handing over the keys to the young Latino, when he felt a deep shameful stab of racist resentment—did they all have to be Mexican?—that went against everything he’d believed in all his life. He wanted to tell her about that, that above all else, but he couldn’t.
Still, this congregation was disturbing. There had to be a limit, a boundary, a cap, or they’d be in Calabasas next and then Thousand Oaks and on and on up the coast till there was no real estate left. That’s what she was thinking, not in any heartless or calculating way—everybody had a right to live—but in terms of simple business sense […].
His accident had been bad, nearly fatal, but si Dios quiere he would be whole again, or nearly whole, and he understood that a man who had crossed eight lanes of freeway was like the Lord who walked on the waters, and that no man could expect that kind of grace to descend on him more than once in a lifetime.
She looked at that coyote so long and so hard that she began to hallucinate, to imagine herself inside those eyes looking out, to know that men were her enemies—men in uniform, men with their hats reversed, men with fat bloated hands and fat bloated necks, men with traps and guns and poisoned bait—and she saw the den full of pups and the hills shrunk to nothing under the hot quick quadrupedal gait. She never moved. Never blinked. But finally, no matter how hard she stared, she realized the animal was no longer there.
Seventeen years old, and she was the one who’d found work when he couldn’t, she was the one who’d had them sniffing after her like dogs, she was the one whose husband made her live in a hut of sticks and then called her a liar, a whore and worse. But as he lay there […] he knew how it was going to be, how it had to be, knew he would follow her into that hut and slap his own pain out of her, and that was so sick and so bad he wanted nothing more in that moment than to die.
Kyra looked down at her plate as if uncertain how to go on. “Remember I told you about all those people gathering there on the streetcorners—day laborers?”
“Mexicans,” Delaney said, and there was no hesitation anymore, no reluctance to identify people by their ethnicity, no overlay of liberal-humanist guilt. Mexicans, there were Mexicans everywhere.
But where were these people supposed to go? Back to Mexico? Delaney doubted it, knowing what he did about migratory animal species and how one population responded to being displaced by another. It made for war, for violence and killing, until one group had decimated the other and reestablished its claim to the prime hunting, breeding or grazing grounds. It was a sad fact, but true.
There was a long silence, and she knew they were both thinking about that inadmissible day and what she couldn’t tell him and how he knew it in his heart and how it shamed him. If they lived together a hundred years she could never bring that up to him, never go further than she just had. Still, how could he argue with the fact of that? This was no safe haven, this was the wild woods.
The baby moved inside her and her stomach dipped and fluttered. All she wanted was to belong in one of those houses, any of them, even for a night. The people who lived in those houses had beds to stretch out on, they had toilets that flushed and hot and cold running water, and most important of all, they were home, in their own private space, safe from the world.
All she could see was the image of those animals at the border, the half-a-gringo and his evil eyes and filthy insinuating fingers, the fat white man with his fat white hands, and she withdrew into herself, dwelled there deep inside where nobody could touch her. “Hey, baby,” they called when they saw her there trying to melt into the darkness, “hey, ruca, hey, sexy, ¿quieres joder conmigo?”
The wall. Of course. He should have guessed. Ninety percent of the community was already walled in, tireless dark men out there applying stucco under conditions that would have killed anybody else, and now the last link was coming to Delaney, to his own dogless yard, hemming him in, obliterating his view—protecting him despite himself. And he’d done nothing to protest it, nothing at all.
Delaney felt a thrill of triumph and hate—he couldn’t suppress it—and then both cops were bending over the suspects to clamp the handcuffs round their wrists, and the tall Mexican, Delaney’s special friend, was protesting his innocence in two languages. The son of a bitch. The jerk. The arsonist. It was all Delaney could do to keep from wading in and kicking him in the ribs.
He felt exultant, infused with a strength and joy that made a mockery of his poverty, his hurts and wants and even the holocaust that had leapt out of his poor cookfire in the depths of the canyon. He had a son, the first of his line, the new generation born on American soil, a son who would have all the gabachos had and more.
It was beyond irony, beyond questions of sin and culpability, beyond superstition: he couldn’t live in his own country and he couldn’t live in this one either. He was a failure, a fool, a hick who put his trust in a coyote or a cholo with a tattoo on his neck, a man who couldn’t even roast a turkey without burning down half the country in the process.
He never gave a thought as to what he was going to do with the Mexican once he caught him—that didn’t matter. None of it mattered. All that mattered was this, was finding him, rooting him out of his burrow and counting his teeth and his toes and the hairs on his head and noting it all down for the record.
América was screaming and the baby was screaming and he could hear his own voice raised in a thin mournful drone, and that was nothing compared to the shrieks of the uprooted trees and the nightmarish roar of the boulders rolling along beneath them.
He was beyond cursing, beyond grieving, numbed right through to the core of him. All that, yes. But when he saw the white face surge up out of the black swirl of the current and the white hand grasping at the tiles, he reached down and took hold of it.