That night when A. and I left the office, the dirt streets were rising into the air. Metal roofs creaked against the strain. We passed by the caseta to say goodnight to Edgar. He was pulling the window flaps down, his face tense.
"No, no," he said and looked at his naked wrist. "I'm going to stay open for another 45 minutes or so." No one was around to buy beer and howl to the Ranchero music Edgar turned up loud to cover the lonely chill. He waved letting us know that all was fine. So we made our way home with dust stinging our eyes.
The morning was sunny but the trees still swayed uneasily, so it was hard to know exactly what to make of the day. I walked to the corner tienda to buy chocolate for pancakes. The fat fisherman's fat father called out from his permanent post, street side, squeezed into a plastic chair. He was unintelligible, as usual, but he was gesturing towards the wall of vegetation and vines that hid our house from view. "Only the banana tree fell," I told him.
"You must eat them!" I heard, his jowls vibrating through the haze of dust.
Back at home with the chocolates, I opened the back door and inspected the yard. Giant palm fronds lay criss-cross over the laundry lines. Our flowering birds of paradise lay in the mud across the back step. I convinced myself, after a while of staring at it, that the yard looked hauntingly beautiful. Waves of shadows swept the green, a budding carpet of organic debris, happy accidents, as an art teacher of mine once called such things.
The Rock Children were prowling around the yard picking up sticks and gnawing on green bananas. Everyone I saw that morning was carrying sticks. But the children scattered when they saw their father approaching our house. He stood in our doorway pulling on his fingers and asked me if the big tree had fallen on our house in the night. I looked at the tree in the corner of the lot, towering over our rooftop. "No," I said, it hadn't.
"Well, it was blowing like this," he said, and held his forearm parallel to the ground. Then he told me that the roof blew off their house again. I stared at the leaves and vines as if I could see through them to his house, a lean-to hunched between mounds of quarried rocks. What was he asking of me? Did he want me to help him put it back? Should I buy his family a roof, a house, food, clothes, a different life? Would giving him money solve any problems or just make things worse? Would it bring an endless flood of others in need? Would it give him another excuse to abandon his family? He was, as far as we could tell, a mostly absent drunk, his wife without means to properly care for the five children. He stood looking at me with red veined eyes. I said, “Cuesta, la vida.” He nodded, satisfied with that, and left without closing the gate behind him.
I had work to do and sat down at the computer. I didn’t get far before I heard hammering and yelling from the rock lot. I should go help, I thought. But instead, I remained, pecking at the keyboard, flipping through notebooks filled with illegible details about hotels and restaurants, convincing myself through a long and complex maze of justifications, that this was important work. I typed words like: musty, hollow, branded, stiff, spongy, moon-like. I was writing for a gold-covered tourist guidebook whose editors, I later discovered, did not appreciate my adjectives.
That afternoon the Rock Children appeared in the doorway, asking me to go for a swim. We took along an inner tube and walked the wide dirt street two blocks to the lake shore. I asked them if the roof was back on their house. Julia, the second to oldest, slipped her hand into mine and smiled up at me. Oscar, the baby of the family, held up a rotting fish by its tail. The other kids giggled and ran.
I floated the tube into the water and dove under. I popped up inside its center and the Rock Children laughed at that. For a while I was able to mimic their aimless and senseless play. But I was soon distracted, my mind bent on churning out tourist guide drivel. "Though it is not advisable to swim at noon, especially during periods of increased sun spot activity, taking a dip just off shore the quaint fishing town of El Estor may allow you to momentarily forget the gross ironies and offenses of a tourist based economy. Be sure to bring your visor and watch out for the rusty hooks that hide among the water weeds on the rocky lake floor."
We were all shivering. Oscar stood with his arms crossed over his naked body. He looked at me the same way he did the other evening when A. and I stumbled across him squatting at the edge of the rock lot. He had stared at us as if we were total strangers, though many times we had all swung in the hammock, sung songs together. A. and I had joked that we just might adopt him because there was something about Oscar and the way he smiled that made us very happy. But now, he was grave, as if he understand better than I what was really inside of me.
I walked back home and the children followed, their bare feet immune to sharp pebbles. Oscar ran ahead and then attempted a somersault, tumbled and landed with his face to the sky, his tongue hanging out. We all laughed and Oscar jumped up and smiled, showing off his rotting baby teeth and repeated the performance. A woman passed us, her pleated knee-length skirt swaying as she walked. She was carrying a pile of sticks. But that was not so with everyone we passed. Most of the sticks had been collected by now. It was late in the day and the sun was setting over the far side of the long lake. I began to think about dinner. Maybe, when A. gets home, we will lock up and go to Edgar’s for a beer and fried fish, to see what news he has, what damage he suffered in the night.
I stopped at our gate. The Rock Children skipped and spun, Oscar making them laugh as they ran. Having forgotten all about me, they disappeared behind the rock piles, to sleep in a house open to the whisperings of the sky.