Story — From the March 2013 issue
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Story — From the March 2013 issue
On Monday Luis took Eduardo to watch the Dodgers lose twice to the Padres, and afterward, when they were both a little drunk and wandering around the massive stadium parking lot trying to find the car, Luis said, “I got to kick you out, hijo.”
Luis put his arm around his nephew’s neck and kissed him on the side of the head.
“Vicky?” Eduardo asked.
“Vicky,” Luis said and then nothing else until they found the car.
They sat together on the warm red hood with their feet on the bumper and their elbows on their knees. Luis preferred to wait for the parking lot to drain out.
“It’s the way it’s got to be, hijo. I’ve been putting it off a week. She’s moving in and she wants the whole thing.”
Eduardo nodded. “Don’t worry about it.”
He wasn’t angry. It had been time for months.
“I have a friend up north,” Luis said, watching the cars inch past. “Her son’s got work for you. There’s a place to stay. Vicky will make you enough food for a week, but it won’t take more than a day or two to get up there, depending.”
“Depending on what?”
Luis shrugged. “Whatever.”
Eduardo nodded. “North where?”
“The mountains north. Idaho.”
Eduardo shook his head. “Fuck.”
Luis laughed and rose up so he could pull his wallet out from under his ass. “Here,” he said, and, keeping his eyes on the sky, he handed Eduardo two bills.
Eduardo took the money.
“Two hundred, hijo. And a bus ticket. And a job. And a place to stay. And enough food for a week.”
“Thanks,” Eduardo said. He slipped the money into his back pocket. “Don’t worry. I’m good, it’s good, we’re fine, okay? Okay, Lulu?”
“Don’t start with that shit.”
Out toward the ocean the sky had turned the color of a new scar. The cars weren’t going anywhere.
“She’d kill me for this, you know.” Luis turned his head and looked at his nephew. “She’d fucking kill me.”
Eduardo squeezed his uncle’s shoulder and pulled him tight. “She’d understand. She’d understand, Lulu my man.”
Drivers began to turn on their headlights. “You’ll need a jacket,” Luis said. “Cold as hell up there.”
Thursday Vicky started with her things, her little black Civic stuffed with shit. No boxes. She used the car as a box, unpacking it at the curb, carrying bundles of clothes up the walk while Eduardo carried anything hard — stacks of plates, framed posters, two bottles of butterscotch schnapps with the caps sugared closed, nests of half-washed pots and pans.
Vicky patted Eduardo’s cheek, barely touching him.
“Eddie, you understand it, right? Me and Lou doing this? Taking a real shot together?”
Today her eyes were blue. Yesterday they’d been a green the color of a costume jewel.
“Since I’m leaving,” Eduardo said, “would you just tell me — which are yours? Which are the real ones?”
She smiled at him, got up on her tiptoes, and leaned forward so close that her nose bumped his. Sometimes they were violet.
“These are them,” she said. “See?” She widened her eyes.
He looked close. There they were.
“Blue,” he said.
“Blue, Eddie.” She dropped down and crossed her arms. “So, you understand? Tell me you understand.”
“I do, Vicky, I do.”
“You’re a sweetheart,” she said, and when she’d finished hugging him said in a quieter voice, “You know Lou doesn’t think so, but I’ll bet your mom would have understood.”
Eduardo smiled at her and then looked at a crack in the door frame. “Vicky, she would have cut both your throats,” he said.
Sunday morning Vicky put a plastic bag full of foil-wrapped lasagna by the front door, patted Eduardo’s cheek, and went to church in hazel eyes, leaving Luis to drive him downtown.
“If you’re going to take the bus, Sunday’s when to do it,” Luis said, checking his mirrors.
Eduardo hung his arm out the window as low as he could get it, pressed his palm to the red metal, and watched the ivy at the side of the on-ramp turn to guardrail, then the texture of the guardrail blur out to a soft gray.
“Ever been to the Greyhound station on a Friday night, hijo?”
“Trying to scare me, Lulu?”
“I’m trying to show you the kind of uncle I am, the kind of considerate man I am, arranging that you go to the bus at the best possible hour of the best possible day.”
“Look at you missing church for me.”
Luis blew the air out of his mouth. “You ever give her this kind of shit?”
“So come on and be gentle with me then. You know this doesn’t make me happy.”
“I’m sorry. I told you it’s okay.”
Luis reached over and squeezed the back of Eduardo’s neck.
It was true that the station was quiet, that anyone who might have caused them trouble the night before was asleep on benches, or under them. Or in the restroom Eduardo used to take a piss despite Luis saying, “You’re crazy to go in there. Better to hold it than be gutted for the two bills in your pocket.”
“You’re soft, Lulu,” Eduardo told him. “You’ve gone soft all over. Norteamericano,” he said, poking his uncle in the belly. “Blanco.”
Soft, he thought as he stood fearless and sad in the reeking bathroom while some living thing writhed quietly in a dark corner.
When he returned, his uncle was leaning against a padlocked cage protecting an unlit Coke machine. He had a foot on the old canvas army duffel.
“Still alive,” Eduardo said.
Luis shook his head. “Look inside,” he said and kicked the duffel.
There Eduardo found a package wrapped in green paper. He tore it open and held up a light-blue parka.
“Down. Eight-fifty fill,” Luis said. “Nothing warmer.”
“Thanks, Lulu,” Eduardo said, pulling his uncle to him.
Luis kept him close.
“I love you, Eduardo. You know that,” he told him as though giving an order. “You know that.”
The bus didn’t leave till three, and when it did it was only a quarter full. They both raised their right hands and spread their fingers wide. The Greyhound kicked into gear. Luis, standing at the end of the concrete slip, floated away from Eduardo. The slow, unraveling city clung to the bus for more than an hour, until finally they shook free of it and were out in the bright desert. Despite the cold air rising up out of the vents against his arm, Eduardo could imagine the mean heat outside. The sun cut through the glass and across his legs. He closed his eyes. He’d never had problems falling asleep. It didn’t matter where he was, or what was beneath him, or what his trouble was.
Coming up, his mother’s third time, his first, she’d bound his wrists to the railing of a fixed ladder. They’d watched a boy younger than Eduardo tumble off the train and disappear into the dark. There was nothing to do about it. Even then he fell right to sleep when his mother said it was time. Rocketing north like bandits — his mother young and tough with a bone-handled knife in her boot. Even that boy blowing away in the night didn’t keep him awake, but somehow now sleep wouldn’t come. Something reminded him of those trains — the drone of the bus, the dead-straight black highway, the sky low as he’d ever seen it.
He imagined that the bus was a boat. He imagined the noise vibrating up through the glass, through his head, was wind. They were breaking through a calm ocean. Everything in front of him was water.
The driver woke him announcing Las Vegas on the PA. The night was very dark, and as he looked out the cold window, it was hard for Eduardo to believe that any city was drawing closer to them, but then a band of light appeared like a rising moon, and quickly it came up and there was nowhere else to look.
He imagined himself at the wheel of a ship sailing into some great city’s harbor.
Waiting to transfer, Eduardo wasted three quarters on a slot machine in the casino next door before he went outside to sit in the warm night air and eat a piece of Vicky’s terrible lasagna.
Unlike Los Angeles, the city drifted from them as fast as it had come, and soon the only thing to see in the window was his own wide-set eyes.
He looked nothing like his mother.
He closed his eyes and returned to the wind across the bow, to the open ocean before him. He had no dreams of adventure. Not to sail around the world. Not even to be a fisherman.
Take it out to sea. Return it to shore. Cut the engine. Let it glide into the slip. Each morning head out to sea. What he saw most clearly was the ocean under him, the ocean everywhere. More than anything, what took him to sleep was that water and the smell of moving salt air.
He woke each time before the bus drove into a new city. Something he’d kept from the trains, he thought.
It was after midnight when they stopped in St. George. Through the window Eduardo watched the driver, a squat black man, pulling hard on a cigarette and kicking at the pavement beneath a streetlight. Eduardo could feel the cold air and smell the smoke through the open door.
He watched the sun come up over the desert outside Salt Lake City and at the station ate another piece of the lasagna on another bench and climbed onto another bus. It was Monday. He didn’t sleep again. They were at the Boise airport in the afternoon, where he called the number Luis had given him.
The last leg of the trip was in a resort shuttle full of kids passing around a bottle of vodka while Eduardo watched another city slip away. They drove up over a low pass and down onto a wide, dry prairie. One of the kids nudged Eduardo on the arm with the neck of the open bottle.
“Hey, bro. Fiesta?”
Eduardo shook his head and kept his eyes on the mountains to the north.
“Fiesta?” the kid said again, driving harder with the bottle, grinning at his friends.
Eduardo turned his eyes on him — pink face beneath a black Raiders cap.
The noise in the van fell.
They turned north, and soon the yellow prairie gave way to a river valley banked by hills glowing green in the afternoon sun. Deeper in, the hills grew to mountains, some of which still held snow in the cradles of their eastern slopes.
Eduardo got off at a gas station in Bellevue and watched the van disappear around a long turn. He made the second call, bought a Coke, and ate another piece of the lasagna on a low wall out by the air hoses.
A short while later, a red and rusted-out Subaru station wagon pulled off the highway.
“Eduardo,” the driver said. It wasn’t a question. He slapped the door twice. “Throw your bag in the back.”
A few years older. Strong. Hands white with drywall dust. Hair tied back in a loose ponytail. Miguel.
“So. Luis’s nephew,” he said as he pulled out onto the highway.
Eduardo nodded. “Cómo lo conoces?”
“I don’t. My mom knew him in L.A., I guess.”
“Es hermoso aquí.”
“And there’s work.”
“What is it? Houses?”
Miguel nodded. “I’ll get you on tomorrow. You do anything aside from pound nails?”
Eduardo shrugged. “Whatever you need.”
“Ever hung drywall?”
“Sprinklers. Insulation. A patio once. You know, pavers.”
“Just don’t tell him you can do shit you can’t.”
“Who’s the guy?”
“Contractor. White guy. Tracy.”
“Tracy a dude?”
“Call him Trace. There are worse.”
In Hailey, they turned off the highway into a subdivision and then onto the gravel driveway of a white house surrounded by a dying lawn.
In the kitchen there were four aluminum folding chairs around a square of plywood stacked on four cinder-block towers. In the living room a few cushions were arranged around a TV on the floor.
Eduardo followed Miguel down a hallway.
“This is yours,” he said, opening the last door to reveal a small blue-carpeted bedroom. A mattress fitted with a clean yellow sheet lay beneath the window. A pillow rested against the wall next to a folded white blanket.
Eduardo stepped inside.
“Get some sleep if you want,” Miguel said. “I’ve got to go pick up my mom. We’ll have dinner together later. There’s a towel in the closet there and a shower down the hall and some beer in the fridge.”
“You can put your bag down now.” Miguel smiled, gave Eduardo a gentle punch to the kidney, and left.
After he heard the car pull away, he went to the kitchen, where he traded the lasagna for a can of Coors Light. Then he took one of the folding chairs onto the porch.
When the dark reached the porch, the cold came with it. The very highest mountain walls were fading from gold to pink to purple. He took a last look and went inside, pulled off his clothes, wrapped the towel around his waist. There was good pressure, better than in Los Angeles, and something in the warm beating water made him cry. It was momentary and sudden. An upsurge in his chest, rising tears instantly washed away.
He woke in a dark room to a slamming door. He did not remember his dreams. Miguel stood in the door frame, lit from behind by the dim hall light.
“Eddie,” he whispered, “come eat. Come meet my mother.”
Miguel’s mother opened her arms in the kitchen and said, “Mister Eduardo of the Angels.” She wore wide, round, clear-framed glasses on her pudgy face — the face of a heavy woman. But she was tall and small-breasted, sturdy and strong, as if somehow she’d been given the wrong body. Or the wrong head.
She took Eduardo into her arms and said again, “Mister Eduardo of the Angels, all the way from Los Angeles.” She smelled of soap and sweat.
She kissed the top of his head and pushed him away. Arms extended, hands firm on his shoulders, she shook her head. “I’m looking for Luis. I’m looking for your mother. But, no,” she said. “No.”
“My father’s son,” Eduardo said.
“I doubt that,” she said. “I doubt that.”
They ate dinner in the kitchen. Black beans, rice, good corn tortillas, reheated carnitas.
“The truth is —” She glanced at Miguel and smiled. “Cover your ears, chico.”
Miguel closed his eyes and finished his can of beer. She took off her glasses and rested them next to her plate. She was very tired, but her eyes were bright when she leaned forward, glanced once more at Miguel, and said, “The truth is, Eddie, we were lovers, me and Luis. Amantes. Dios mío, Eddie. Miguel doesn’t like me speaking Spanish, but Dios mío, Dios mío.”
After she’d kissed them good night, as if they were both her sons, and gone to sleep, and after they’d finished washing the dishes together, Eduardo sat outside with his fists in the new parka while Miguel smoked a cigarette.
“What’s your mom do?”
“Cleans houses. Everything’s houses up here. Build them. Clean them.”
“Por qué no hablamos español aquí?” Eduardo asked.
“Superstition,” Miguel said.
In the early morning, Miguel drove them deeper into the valley. Soon the ski mountain appeared, its slopes like veins, wide rivulets of green between the pines. They passed through Ketchum — clean sidewalks, restaurants, ski shops, and brick banks. They turned off the highway and crossed the rushing Big Wood, water slapping at its banks, threatening to flood. There were large houses behind gates, horses the color of dead grass gazing sternly over the fences of their corrals.
The site was near the end of the new road, on a rise where the fresh asphalt ran out, turned to dirt, and spilled into Forest Service land. The house had already been framed. Damp soil sprayed with grass seed encircled the property. Miguel parked the car next to a black pickup and took Eduardo up to the trailer. Trace was a stocky, red-bearded man with hairless, muscular arms crossed over his chest.
“Eighty a day for eight hours and thirty minutes for lunch. If it works out, we’ll talk in a few weeks and see where we are. Okay by you?”
“The roofers are short a guy so I’ll start you with them. From there, whatever we need until we finish or the money runs out.” They walked together toward the house. “Place is going to be fucking huge,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ll pay you cash end of each day. You come see me at the trailer. Anyone asks, you don’t work here and I’ve never seen you before.”
Eduardo followed him up a tall ladder. All the plywood had been laid. It was a pitched roof and went on and on.
“Fourteen fucking bedrooms,” Trace said when they got to the top.
They climbed up and down the gables, passing cylinders of roofing felt, until, at the eastern end, they found a tall man in a blue baseball cap, a phone pressed to his ear.
The man turned around.
“Eduardo,” Trace said, pointing at Eduardo.
“Now you work for Johnny.” Trace slapped Eduardo on the shoulder and made his way back.
Johnny lent him a utility knife, a hammer, and a pair of hard-cap knee pads. They worked all morning together, snapping chalk lines across the black felt, cutting it, tacking it down. The sun came up from behind the mountains, and by ten they were sweating and shirtless. There were two other roofers working the other end of the house, but Eduardo never saw them, and in the heat, hunkered down with Johnny Danilo, he learned fascia, flashing, hip, ridge, valley, vent pipe, dormer, dry-in, learned it would be a cedar shake roof. Stainless-steel nails. No expense spared.
He ate lunch with Miguel in a stand of aspens.
“Need to get you some gloves,” Miguel said, both of them looking at Eduardo’s hands, sticky and stained black.
At dinner Eduardo was so exhausted he could barely speak. Miguel’s mother refused to let him wash the dishes. She took him by the wrist and led him to his bedroom. Later she returned, knelt down, groaned, and patted his cheek.
“Sueña con los angelitos,” she whispered. “Sueña con los angelitos.”
Mornings they drove up the valley and out to the site. Miguel hung drywall, Eduardo tacked felt, and as the days passed, black crept like a shadow across the roof. The great pallets of shake arrived on a white flatbed Ford. Eduardo and Johnny Danilo started to turn the shadow red.
Each day, as the sun rose higher, the air took on the clean smell of cedar and everything began to move in order. One shake, two pops from the staple gun, back and forth, line by line, staggered two-one, two-one.
Each evening they left the site, picked up their money, picked up Miguel’s mother, drove home, ate dinner together, and went to bed early. Each night Eduardo lay on his mattress beneath the white blanket, skin burning against the cold air leaking through the window, back pulsing with pain. In the few moments before sleep he saw the faultless puzzle, the wood in his hands, the easy recoil of the staple gun, everything in line, everything cut to fit. He felt safe inside it. His dreams were thick with darkness. Inside them nothing moved.
Before bed Eduardo looped the wristband of his watch through the cracked handle of the coffee mug he used for water. When the alarm beeped, he had to roll onto his side and slowly bend himself in half before he was able to stand. But once he was up, huddled in his coat in the car, valley still dark, mountains bright with morning sun, the air thin, his hands around a paper cup of coffee, he felt a tired and immediate joy. There was the systematic making of the roof. There was Miguel and his mother, both of them calm, kind people. (And they were quiet, a characteristic in others to which Eduardo was unaccustomed and that brought him peace and comfort.) And there was the place itself — the clean streets, the aspen leaves like green coins trembling in the late-afternoon wind, the light as lovely and sad as the light in Los Angeles, the narrow river, the pines pushing out into an endless wilderness, the lengthening days.
They worked on through the first week and made overtime on Sunday — the eighty plus an extra twenty-five. He liked Danilo, whose son Leo rode his purple bike to the site in the afternoons and waited with a book in the back of Johnny’s pickup, or walked the Forest Service fence like a tightrope, calling up to the roof, every now and then, “Look, Dad, look!” Danilo raised his head every time, throwing down a smile no one else ever saw.
The next Saturday, Danilo let Eduardo finish it — two guttural gasps from the staple gun, the hiss of the hose returning to ready — and the black entirely vanished, the wind blowing warm and pungent with cedar. Afterward, Danilo took Eduardo and Miguel to Grumpy’s, where they sat at the bar and Eduardo watched the cook deal hamburger buns across the grill, pull cold burgers from squares of paper, and press them down with a silver double-long spatula. He turned four at a time and, peeling slices of cheddar from a tall stack, spun them with a soft snap of the wrist onto the meat gone from dull to glistening.
Eduardo nodded once and imperceptibly to the others in recognition of something — artistry, the bodily expertise of repetition, a thing, whatever it was, familiar. The orders built up, and with each swing of the front door the flock of pale-green checks shivered beneath their clips.
Roofs were imagined and they were built. Here behind the bar, the orders would always come.
Now in front of them were three enormous glasses of beer. The men toasted the finished job.
“So, Danilo,” Miguel said, “where’s your boy?”
“It’s his mother’s weekend.”
All three of them nodded.
“She live around here?”
“South of town.”
All three nodded again. They did not really know one another, and in speaking there was no easiness between them. Eduardo didn’t need the talk anyway — it was enough to watch the beer fall down the curved insides of his glass, the man assembling burgers — but Miguel wanted to talk. Maybe it was because Danilo was white. Maybe it was because he and Eduardo were the only two in the bar who weren’t.
“How long you been working with Trace?” he asked.
“Long fucking time,” Danilo said. “Been doing his roofs for, shit, a long fucking time. You?”
“Oh, few months. Five maybe. Not long.”
“What’d you do before?”
Miguel took another drink.
They both turned and looked at him.
“The fuck’s a backup killer?” Danilo asked.
“You worked a slaughterhouse?”
Miguel nodded. Danilo opened his mouth like he wanted to know more but saw Miguel’s eyes and shut it. Eduardo looked over at Miguel’s hands lying on the bar — cut up, old, and barely alive — and then returned his eyes to the grill.
“So you got another job for me?”
“Got three of them, Eddie, one after the next straight through the summer. Shit, straight through October. So if you want to keep on —”
“I’m on as long as there’s work.”
“Here’s to that, then.” Danilo raised his empty glass. “And Miguel, brother, you staying on with Trace?”
“Long as I can.”
“Bright futures for all, then,” Danilo said, and ordered cheeseburgers.
They were eight days into a roof up Eagle Creek. It was a smaller house set back against a high hill covered with sage, on expensive property north of town. Beneath steep gables, fitted and framed at the narrow northern and southern ends, were entire walls of glass. Danilo and Eduardo were harnessed and working off two ropes on opposite sides of a ridge anchor. They’d laid the plywood and the felt with two other guys, but now it was just the two of them installing cheap shingles, which held neither the color nor the smell of shake, and here in the hot day the odor of sage filled the air.
Leo was standing in Danilo’s truck unloading rocks he’d collected in his T-shirt. When they clattered against the steel bed, Eduardo rose up, stretched his back, and let the rope take his weight. He turned and over his shoulder watched Leo fire rock after rock at a dry post, missing every time.
“Follow through,” Eduardo called down.
The kid looked up, shaded his eyes, and smiled. Danilo was on the other side of the roof, hidden away from his son; the only evidence of his existence were rhythmic reports from the staple gun echoing and dying in the hills.
Leo wound up, kicked his knee high, and sent another rock in the direction of the post, missing by fifteen feet.
“Hey, Fernando, follow through.”
“I’m not Fernando,” Leo said, laughing.
“Anyone can see you’re not Fernando. Fernando wouldn’t miss the plate by fifteen feet. Fernando would have put a hole in that post. Then he would have put the rest of those rocks through the hole — whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.”
“Who the heck’s Fernando?”
Leo wound up again and sent one way out to the left.
Leo shook his head like Eduardo was crazy and sent another rock skidding into the brush.
“Throw through the post, Leo. You’re stopping short.”
Leo tried again.
“Listen to the man.” Danilo’s voice rose up from the other side of the roof.
“Your hand should hit your left thigh on the follow-through. Go on. Try it.”
Leo sent another. This time hard and straight, missing the post by just a foot.
“There you go, Fernando. There you go,” he said, and went back to work. Pop, pop. Pop.
Soon there was the good sound of rock against post, followed by Leo’s high little hoot. Eduardo raised his gun in the air and fired six rounds.
“Fernando!” he yelled out.
“Fernando,” Danilo called, invisible.
The hills had begun to brown. Where the river curved the inner tubes dragged and kids had to walk to deeper straights. Cutthroats were easier to catch. Some nights it fell below freezing. Mornings they wore insulated gloves.
With Miguel, there was no more to come, nothing more to be revealed — not of history, not of desire, not of fear. What Eduardo knew of Miguel after these few months was all Miguel would give. He and his mother were so quiet at dinner, communicating in sighs and nods. They were together, the two of them, in a way that was absolute. In a way that excluded. Both things can’t exist at once. He was their guest. They protected him. Loved him, even, but he was always their guest.
One night after work, after a few beers with Danilo, Eduardo came home and they were gone. Somehow he wasn’t surprised to find their rooms emptied. They’d left his things. His money squared at the back of the third dresser drawer. No note.
Eduardo stood in the kitchen holding onto the handle of the open refrigerator door. There were three bottles of Coors Light. A few eggs. A carton of milk. He stared at the drawer marked crisper, kept his eyes on the rolling white script. He tried to breathe slowly, but he could not bury it, so he stood up straight and slammed the door hard. There was the sound of glass against glass, of the bottles rolling to a stop, and then everything was quiet again.
If they’d left there was a reason, and Eduardo knew not to stay. He stuffed the duffel and walked out the door. He wouldn’t call Lulu, who would feel responsible and insist Eduardo return to L.A. So there was Danilo. Who showed up an hour later with Leo leaning forward, an elbow on the dash, smiling and waving as the truck pulled up.
Eduardo tossed his bag in the back and climbed into the cab. The truck idled. Danilo moved the stick back and forth.
“So it wasn’t their house?”
“Did you know?”
“I didn’t think they owned it.”
“You know what I mean, Eddie.”
There was reproach in Danilo’s voice.
“I didn’t think about it.”
“About what?” Leo asked, punching Eduardo’s shoulder again and again.
“The people Eduardo was living with left,” Danilo said.
“Aren’t they coming back?”
Eduardo looked at the mountains’ sharp silhouette against the sky.
“I don’t think so, Fernando,” he said.
“So where will you live?”
“That’s the fifty-dollar question,” Danilo said, glancing at Eduardo.
“You can live with us if you want,” Leo said, speeding up his punches. “We’ve got room.”
Danilo reached over and cupped the back of his son’s head in his hand.
“Sure, Eddie. Live with us awhile,” he said, putting the truck in gear, looking over his shoulder, returning to the highway, taking them north.
It was a small condo in the last part of town still affordable to bartenders and construction workers. And even there, had Danilo not owned the place for twenty years, he’d have had to move south along with everyone else who wasn’t rich and retired.
Danilo made spaghetti. The three of them ate it with tomato sauce and powdered Parmesan. After dinner, Danilo refused to let Eduardo do the dishes, so he and Leo played catch with a stuffed animal. A fox Leo said was named Carl.
Eduardo knew he couldn’t stay. There wasn’t enough room. He didn’t want to make Danilo say it.
After Leo went to bed they sat out on the little balcony that faced the street.
“You need it, you got work with me through the end of October.”
“After that? I got nothing lined up. And after that? Winter’s after that.”
“Then what do you do?”
“Tend bar. Stay warm.”
The two men were quiet for a while. The air was sharp with cold.
“I’ll ask around,” Danilo said. “We’ll find you something.”
Two yellow dogs trotted beneath the balcony, their tags jangling. Eduardo looked down and watched them flash between the slats under his feet and disappear.
“Never trust a fucking drywaller.”
“I’m sure they had reasons.”
“You’re not mad?”
Eduardo shrugged. “Maybe the owners showed up. Maybe someone called the cops.”
They were waiting for a house in Adams Gulch to be framed. School was starting soon. Eduardo, drinking a cup of coffee on the balcony, could see winter coming. Could see it in the sky, in the new angle of the sun, in the yellowing aspen leaves.
For weeks the rain came and went, always leaving fog hanging between the hills. Then the wind would reveal the ski runs dusted with snow. The rain returned. The fog. The air took on the smell of wet earth.
Leo went to school. Eduardo and Danilo went up each day wearing cheap red rain jackets, hauling sheets of three-quarter-inch plywood and nailing them to the joists. Just the two of them to save money.
They were lucky with the weather. The sun came out and dried the wood, and a few days later they began on the felt. Soon they had the whole thing black. One cold afternoon the shake arrived. The weather was holding on. Standing on the roof, Eduardo could see far into the Sawtooths — ragged mountains covered with snow. He looked down and watched Danilo pull a thick plastic tarp over the pallets.
It was four days before Halloween, but Leo refused to wear anything else. He was jumping up and down on the couch. The white jersey hung a little off his shoulders, but otherwise everything fit all right — cap, blue stirrups, white pants, blue belt, looping cursive across the chest. valenzuela across the back.
Danilo had been on the phone in his bedroom with the door shut.
“Get off the goddamn couch, Leo. Christ.”
He went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
“Qué pasó, Johnny?”
Danilo brought his beer around the counter and sat on the couch. He leaned over and kissed Leo on the head.
“We lost the job,” he said.
Eduardo looked at Danilo, who was watching the fire.
“The one we’re on.”
“We just started it.”
“We’re done for the season.”
“How can they do that?”
“Ran out of money, Eddie. Same thing’s happening all over town. We’re lucky we made it this far.”
“I’ve got money. I can help out with the rent.”
Danilo raised his eyes from the fire to meet Eduardo’s.
“You got to think about a place to live,” he said.
Eduardo nodded. “Sure, Johnny. I’ll find somewhere.”
“I don’t know,” Danilo said.
Eduardo pulled the stirrup from Leo’s sock and let it snap back.
He had saved more than $4,000. He could go where he wanted. Maybe to L.A., to Lulu. Maybe return to Oaxaca. He could live a long time on that kind of money. Or go to the beach. Puerto Escondido, maybe. Learn to work a boat. Carry tourists up and down the coast.
Leo’s voice brought him back.
“Are you in a bad mood?”
“No, Fernando. I’m fine.”
“Eddie, you can stay as long as you want to here.”
“He always gets mad when there’s no money.”
“But you can still stay forever. It doesn’t matter.”
That night, a friend of Danilo’s came over with a pizza. He was a big guy in a Mariners cap and a neat beard.
“Eddie, Dave. Dave, Eddie.”
Dave’s hand was rough and fat. Leo reached for another slice. Dave leaned back and finished his beer.
“So you guys lost Adams Gulch.”
Danilo nodded. “Couldn’t even survive on my own this season. I did two jobs for Trace and didn’t make shit. Couple of small houses and now this next one’s sunk.”
“I hear Frank and those guys folded their whole thing and left town. Two years ago those dudes were buying Jet Skis.”
Danilo glanced up at Dave, held his eyes, and then looked away.
“So, Eddie,” Dave said, leaning forward, “I hear you’re looking for work along with the rest of us.”
“I might have something for you down the line here a bit.”
“Winters I drive a cat.”
“It’s a machine they use to keep the snow smooth for the skiers. Davy drives up and down the mountain all night,” Danilo said.
“So what’s the job?”
“Drive my shift.”
Danilo tapped a finger on the rim of his bottle.
“You come out with me. I train you. When you get it down, I punch in and you do the first half — midnight to three. I work my bar until close and then come finish the shift. I keep the benefits. You take fifty percent.”
“Fifty percent of what?” Eduardo said.
“It’ll be about seven hundred a month to you.”
Eduardo looked at Danilo, then back at Dave. “You find me a place to live?”
“What’s wrong with here?” Dave looked around.
“Find me a place to live and I’ll do it.”
The first big storm came the second Thursday of November, sweeping fast out of the White Clouds, dropping three feet of snow in four days. The temperature stayed down, and when the weather blew out early Monday morning it left a moonless tar-paper sky blasted through with stars.
Dave had found him a place in a nearly finished new development down by the foot of the mountain. star pine — block letters made of brass riveted to river rock. Six town houses, all of them empty. The driveways still unpaved. Eduardo slept on a narrow mattress on the floor of the enormous master bedroom, his clothes on two shelves in the carpeted walk-in closet. There was a case of Negra Modelo — a housewarming gift from Danilo.
It was early and his feet made no noise as he walked through the snow. The plows still hadn’t been through, and it seemed to Eduardo as if everything was at sea, all the solid things around him — cars, buildings, trees — rising and falling. He walked out to the lifts, past the great pine-and-stone lodge, and looked up at the mountain. For a while he sat on a lift and swung his legs. Then he hiked up a ways and stood with his hands pushed into the warm pockets of the parka, hood pulled up over his head. He’d never seen a place change so quickly. He scanned the buildings until he found the wall in front of Star Pine.
Suddenly it was winter. Everything had turned. The dark ground was gone. The air was odorless. Sound vanished.
He didn’t believe in any of it. The job. This new place to live. In the deeper winter, he thought, all these people would also disappear. He could return to Los Angeles. He could see those tall date palms against an orange sky, but somehow it seemed an impossible distance to cross.
He was very tired.
By Thanksgiving Danilo was in Reno looking for work, Leo was living south of town with his mother, and late each night Dave knocked on Eduardo’s door to take him up the mountain, where he was teaching him to run the cat. How to navigate the runs, how to operate the blade, how to work the tiller. Eduardo knew it was a foolish plan, but he loved being in the warm cab, grinding up the empty mountain, the instrument panel glowing, headlights illuminating the snow, and night after night the desire to take control of the thing grew. Soon they switched places and now Eduardo drove — one hand on the wheel, the other on the stick, raising and lowering the blade, adjusting the tiller. He liked all of it — the driving, the neat passes up and down the runs, keeping everything in line, everything smooth and ordered, maintaining patterns, the lovely corduroy swaths behind him, the lights of other cats on the slopes.
Something would break. He’d get caught squatting in that lonely town house. Or someone would find him driving the cat. Dave would lose his job. He’d get arrested. Danilo would hear about it too late. Or there’d be nothing he could do. Nothing he would do while he was trying to get through the winter. He would never see Leo again. He’d end up somewhere else. Dumped on the other side of that line, left to start over. And Lulu would be alone in Los Angeles. Or maybe Vicky would still be around making her bad lasagna and changing the color of her eyes. Eduardo hoped so. He hoped that, whatever happened, one day he’d find them at the table eating dinner together, the doors locked, both of them in their socks, the pink light flaring to the west, her foot resting on his. Even if they weren’t talking much.
He stayed because he felt as if he were being carried along, as if he’d stopped making decisions. Someday he’d be deposited in a place where nothing moved and nothing changed.
The morning he was to go out alone he drank a cup of instant coffee at the kitchen counter in the dark. Then he walked to the base of the mountain and hiked up the few hundred yards and waited. Dave came from the bar, punched in at midnight, pulled the cat out, drove it up to Eduardo, and snapped off the lights.
Dave jumped out of the cab. The engine was loud.
“Okay. She’s all yours.”
Eduardo climbed in and pulled the door closed. He slid the window open and looked down. He could see Dave’s black bow tie beneath his parka.
“Any problems, you call me.”
He reached up and handed Eduardo his cell phone.
“Okay, buddy. Go to it. I’ll see you right here at three.”
He knocked the door of the cat three times with his fist, turned, and took off at a jog.
Eduardo waited. A quarter moon waning in the east. Again he had the impression of floating in the landscape, nothing fixed, nothing still. The runs were blue. The trees purple and black. The darkest gray. He turned on the lights, lowered the blade, swung the machine from behind the trees and out onto the long run that would take him upward.
Through the open window he could feel cold air against his face. As the pitch steepened the engine rose an octave. He kept the machine straight and watched the rough snow disappear beneath him. The blade cut through ridges, hunks of ice, the tiller flattened it, turned it all to lines. He drove higher and higher. The air went colder. The radio noise came and went. Static squelched and cut and stuttered. He turned it off. He could feel gravity driving through him. Pushing him back against the seat. He sailed on, making a long, slow, rising turn. He brought the blade up to adjust for grade, weighted the tiller, and kept climbing.
He came up over a high ridge. He came up higher, passing the tree line, and brought the machine up to the very summit. He made the start of a wide, sweeping turn. And then he stopped it. He was pointed northwest. He flipped off the lights. The engine thrummed beneath him. He heard the rocks clattering against the truck bed. He saw the chalk line snap tight. He saw her sitting against a wall, jaw set, rain coming down, a deck of cards, playing gin for gravel. He thought of his father — a memory absent image, absent sense. He saw himself in that great idling machine so far and so high above the valley. The sky was endless. The mountains were endless. They rose and fell like waves. The troughs so dark, the crests the bluest white, and everywhere he looked was water.
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