You grow up together, say. You are a trio; the adults make a gate in the hot chain-link between the houses. Maybe no one ever closes it and rust builds on the hinges. Maybe the gate breaks off and on that day all the dogs run back and forth, leaping. They chase chickens and give you their long faces, crusted with blood, for a scolding. There are cats: three cats twelve cats seventeen twenty. No one knows how many cats. They leave dust prints on the cabs of trucks. They lie on ventilation grates with their pink mouths open, sides heaving. They are severe and stare down the dogs, stare you down when you kneel on the cooling ground and try to tell them about your day.
They have each other and you have only yourself, that’s the first difference. He has your patience and your shyness and she has your excitability and your meanness, so you can run with either of them and you do, even though you’re not as strong as they are, even though neither of them has your sadness—but say no one in the world has your sadness. They live with just their tía, the pobres, and you know you’re supposed to feel lucky, with two adults flanking you on Sundays, two tall poles to cling to, but maybe you don’t feel lucky. They’re too tall, for one thing. They close you in.
When the wind is right sometimes you stop and feel it all unfurl before you. The date palm that was watered and watered but never made dates, the mulberry picked clean each spring by mourning doves, the place where your mother once sat staining herself with pomegranates, the limbless saguaro scooped out and abandoned by woodpeckers, the citrus bombs rotting under waxy green shade, dry bitter hybrids with pith an inch deep. Bougainvillea up to the roof and marigolds planted in split crenellated tires painted orange. Halves of houses pasted together and propane tanks blooming under windows, poured cement squares on forgotten lots, washer dryers tucked under the metal canopies of carports, three generations of cars left outside to bleach. The coop beneath
the mesquite dropping creamy pods for pecking and the blue swing set that creaks and tips when you throw yourself from it. Peacocks screaming out of sight and dairies sighing thick air for miles. The cotton and the alfalfa and the streets named for the cotton and the alfalfa, long straight streets in love with their own order like the fields. The bridges over dry washes. The freeway you rode, whipped by wind, in the brown truck bed next to sliding shovels and gallon jugs of sun-hot water, which only a tonta would leave home without. The White Tank Mountains scattered beyond, sawing off hunks of sky. You were only walking out to the buzón, mi vida, you big silly. What took you so long? And not even any good mail this time.
Maybe you love him and maybe you love her and maybe you love no one and nothing, you terrible animal. When you sleep over, their tía lays a mattress on the playroom tile and in the dark they join you on either side. Maybe you love being their border, his long cold feet on your stomach, her elbow in your ear, both of them heaped over you by morning, all ribs and chins and breath and eyelashes. You fit between them in age, him first and her last, and in height for a few more years until she overtakes you. You pose for pictures in this order, leaning on the fence at the magic hour, and as your father winds the film he says to their tía, Bet you didn’t know you were signing up for three. She laughs with her mouth all the way open, and he winds the wheel too long in looking at her. You know she only laughs that way with men because you’ve tried to get some of it yourself, bringing her the funnies. Everyone says she’s a beauty, she keeps them coming. There’s the Frito-lay man and the Schwan’s man and the propane man. There are other men you don’t know but have seen at mass, holding their hats while they dip their fingers in the water. Say two men visit on the same day and she sends them out to drink in the driveway in plastic chairs, where they unwrap tamales on their laps in silence. A man from up north brings her a red telescope, for the children, as if that would do it. No one knows what she wants, but no one thinks it’s a telescope. The three of you take it out between the houses and spin its bulging eye, spying on one another’s faces. Mmm, very good, very good, you say in your doctor voice as you examine his pores. You’re going to want to get that looked at, she says, staring into your nostrils.