Mal­cri­ada

The Iowa Review - - MARTHA EVANS - Marta evans

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.

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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.

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