Killing Luvy's parents the same night the Astros are hitting four jacks off T. Hoffman in the ninth for an unbelievable walk-off win. Headphones on, caught up in the game, missing it, the stop. Coming to with the roar of the crowd in my ears and my bike bent and not feeling my legs. Berkman cranking the winner as the firemen pull Luvy out of the Volkswagen wrapped around the light post, her parents pinned inside.
Luvy hanging out at the Hole ever since. Me, watching from the edge sometimes . . .
"Don't move, Tito," Clete says. "Almost there."
My older brother stands next to me, his hand on my shoulder. His real name is Anacleto Gutiérrez Jones and he's the best pinche baseball player in town, period. Everybody knows it. Better than me when I could still play. He's never liked his name, though. "Too Mexicano," he says. So he tells everyone his name is Clete, skips right past Gutiérrez, and rolls out a long 'o' in Jones for emphasis. Why Mom named him after her Mexican father is beyond Clete. But he passes for a white boy anyway with his baby blues and skin so white he turns pink beneath the sun at day games. Got all of that from Pop, sports and lobster skin, Clete did, Mom says, and she owns the pictures to prove it. Me, I got her brown, champurrado skin and black, chicharrón curls.
Clete squeezes my shoulder, hard. The heat rises from the parking lot asphalt in clear, wiggly waves.
"It's fucking hot," I say, my head inside my cap and my shoulders cooking.
"Almost," Clete tells me. "You just watch out."
I do that. I watch.
Abercrombied and Fitched and Hollistered and Gapped and Ed Hardied from head to toe, the Mexicans stroll in and out of the Hidalgo Pulga, our local flea market here in deep South Texas, speaking loud, perfect Spanish, without a care in the world. The Women: heavy, sparkly earrings; lacquered, hieroglyphed nails; Saran Wrap jeans; prancing about in bright high heels. The Men: tight-shirted; suave and Matador-faced; one, two, three cell phones holstered onto their hips like guns. More and more pretty foreigners pass us by in droves. Clete gives them El Ojo—the Evil Eye—until the Pulga swallows them whole.
My brother stands and I wheel my chair in front of the muddiest car around next to an F-150, Texas Ranch Edition, "TREVIÑO" stickered on the rear windshield below a sun-peeled Dallas Cowboys' blue star, rotating spinners on twenties, a pair of pink plastic bull balls sagging below the rear fender.
"Time to see where this one's from," Clete says. He zips down. He cranks his mushroom out. He lets it loose.
"Aaah," he sighs.
His stream rumbles across the rear fender, explodes into hundreds of somersaulting drops, gives in to gravity, cascades down onto the sizzling asphalt below.
"Veracruz," Clete shouts, smiling like a villain.
Down the license plate mud avalanches. XTC-91-78. On the upper-left corner of the license plate a block-faced, thick-lipped Olmec head, just like on the History Channel, grimaces beneath my brother's torrent. Looks up at me with blank eyes.
Clete finishes. He gives his flesh bat a wiggle. He tucks it back in and zips it up.
"Done," he says as if nothing's happened. "I'm starved. Let's get some tacos."
I shake my head. When I turn my wheels my palms get wet.
"Shit," says Clete, laughing. "My bad, carnalito. Here," and he stands in front of me and lets me wipe my hands on his jersey. He pushes me from behind and we make for the Pulga entrance. I look back. The Olmec head drips. Grimaces. Cries.
Giving Luvy the ankle bracelet the same day I hit a bases-clearing triple to win the game. The day after her birthday. The day after she turns sixteen. Because Jehovah's Witnesses can't receive presents, she's saying. Something about John the Baptist, his head, all of it in Luvy's south-of-the-border-across-the-Río-Grande Spanish. The kind Clete hates and calls "fresa" Spanish, real preppy Spanish, and it's turning me on something crazy. She's making me agree the ankle bracelet is not a gift but just something I'm wanting to give her. "Not the same thing," I'm asking, and she's saying no, no. She's wanting me to say it. "Say what?" That it's not a gift—"Que no es un regalo, Tito." Her voice. It gets the popcorn machine in my stomach popping. The Astros, the crack of a homerun, Mom's fresh flour tortillas—her voice is everything I love rolled into one sound. If Luvy's body is fire (which it is—delicious, brown all over, café con leche, man; with a big plump pair and pretty toes and long bleached hair with dark roots showing like the flowers sprouted by weeds), her voice is the heat that matters. Me, saying it's not a present. Two times to sound convincing. The ankle bracelet bouncing. Sparkling. Luvy modeling it. My Luvy. "Happy birthday," I'm saying, smiling like an idiot. She's pursing her lips. She's thumping me with her Ed Hardy purse. She's pulling my ear.
We have our reasons, Clete explains, and he hammers them into me one more time. I toss him pebbles behind out trailer. He whacks them with that sweet stroke of his.
"Number three," Clete starts," they dress like they're better. Fucking Fresa Beans. Like they're rich or something. Shit. Mexicans aren't rich. They're poor."
And Clete rips one, chipping bark off the old encino by the flaky fence.
"Two. The Spanish. They don't mix it con Ingles like you and me and everyone else born on this side of the Río Grande. Why? They're not from here, that's why. We're Americanos. We're better. More improved."
Clete strokes the next one solid and it clears the fence. Don Saturnino's pit bull yelps, loud.
"Hate that fucking dog," Clete says. He eyes my legs. "And I don't need to tell you reason number one."
He turns away and plays it off with a few downtown swings, bending his knees, lifting the bat up high close to his right ear. Waiting.
"Look," he finally lets out. "What's done is done. You gotta stop going back there—you hearing me?"
Heavy, the bag of pebbles.
Clete swinging hard: "You think I don't know? Think I haven't seen you stalking your ex down at the Hole? Yep. I know. She lives with her grandma on Ébano since her parents croaked. But it wasn't your fault, Tito. Like all other Beans, man, they thought they were driving back in Mexico where traffic lights don't mean shit and they fucked up and they got dead. Simple as that." Clete spitting. "Don't know why the fuck they buried them at the Hole. They should've been wrapped up like tacos. Shipped back to Mexico where they belonged."
Clete laughs at his own words, keeps swinging, breathes loud, showcases his perfect, two-out, opposite field, roundhouse swing—his normal swing is more like Griffey's, top to bottom—slashes the air, reminding me of the way we sliced mosquito clouds swarming at us after Hurricane Dolly. We sliced and sliced, I remember, and still they came.
Still they came.
"You can't use your legs no more, carnalito," Clete goes on. "What about your future? Your plans? UT and the Bigs? Gone. Think she feels sorry for you?"
Next to where Clete thrives a thick worm out of the dry dirt wriggles, soy milk its color, its body undulating like it just swallowed a wave. My brother sees it and, ruthless, drives his heel down. Looks at me. "Shiiit," blows through his teeth. His shoe against a half-buried cinder block he scrapes and he laughs at the green ooze.
"Any more in there," he asks with a new hawk and spit.
I toss Clete a new one. His eyes widen and follow. He zones in. He lifts his leg, drives his body forward, brings the bat around, quick swoop, lands it, all sweet spot. The rock breaks in two and the pieces scatter.
"Madres," Clete says.
Train screeching into the morning quiet . . . whistling loud . . . tink-tinking away . . .
The Hole is El Hoyo in Spanish. What Mom calls it. Where everyone ends up in the end. Some sooner than others. Some because of me. Greenest grass. Ballpark grass. Fenway. Minute Maid. Nah. Wrigley Field. Hundreds of named stones bird, butterfly bases. Ducks, tiny, baseball-cap heads, parading in the wide, yawning resaca. Leaning in, trees along the edge, like drowsy umpires. Crowd, Luvy. Past the resaca in the faraway distance. Shoes of charol. Stockings wet-dream white. Knees wrinkled; grubby. And her chest, her chest heaving beneath a black Sunday dress. And her face, half her face, her face shiny because I erased some of it on her parents' death day. A stump for a left hand. And her eyes, her eyes' stare the earthen holes, the shiny coffins with her parents inside, the thick stones in front of her, penetrating. And flowing. Eyes. Everyone's. Luvy's. Mine, even.
Spit. Hawk. Burn on inner cheek. Spit it all out.
Clete cracks up, takes his chaw like a champ. He lets me roll on the sidewalk while he straddles the curb.
"What's up, man," he taunts me. "You forget already? Can't take it anymore, carnalito, or what? When they got your legs, they get your balls too?"
Clete rolls his chaw inside his mouth a few times. "Watch," he says. "Let me remind you how it's done."
He hawks—long, loud—and out comes the blackest, glistening comet I've ever seen. It rises and arcs, the street lamps granting it a momentary sparkle and splendor, fascinating me, reminding me of Luvy's ankle bracelet, until it dies flat a few feet away.
Clete wipes his chin. "Hell yeah," he says.
We make it to the alley behind our trailer park where old Don Saturnino's pit bull is mean as fuck. She barks at anyone and anything passing by, but really goes crazy when we come around. I don't blame her for that. We gave her and her race every reason in the world to hate us the day I stood by and let Clete show how hateful he could be.
It happened about a year ago, couple months before the accident, while Luvy and me walked home from practice. She was telling me about Jehovah in her pretty Spanish—Jehová this, Jehová that—when, all of a sudden, we caught Clete chasing after a mulleted, Mexico soccer jerseyed kid running for his life. I'd never seen him before. Clete caught up to him, no problem with his speed, and clamped onto the kid's red-white-green jersey. When Clete brought him up to where Luvy and me were he told me what the kid had done: the kid's pit bull had gotten away from him and chomped on Clete's leg. The kid shouted and tried to squirm away and that's when Clete shoved him in my direction and told me to follow him. Luvy didn't like the idea and said so, but Clete ignored her like always. I told her not to worry. That everything would be all right. Thinking back, I should've told her to go home instead.
As we walked I tried my best to inspect Clete's legs and, for the life of me, couldn't even find a scratch on them. No bleeding, nothing. I asked Clete where the dog had gotten him, but he just kept trudging along without saying a word.
When we got to the empty baseball field I found Chucho, our right fielder, picking his nose in the dugout and taking in the Astros game on a small handheld radio. I was about to ask him the score when I noticed the dog inside the batting cage. The colossal animal was nearly twice the size of the kid I held onto. No wonder he got away from him, I thought. The looped chain around the black pit's thick neck was on so tight it was nearly invisible beneath his muscled folds of skin.
"Fuck these Beans, man!" Clete finally said in a determined voice. "Think they can get away with anything. Not with me. They need a lesson, that's what," and he reached into his gym bag and pulled out his Louisville Slugger.
Luvy, the kid, me—we all gasped—and Chucho giggled while his radio snapped and popped between Milo Hamilton's voice calling the game.
My brother leered over at the panting dog inside the cage. The kid in front of me screamed in wild Spanish. Some of the things he said I still remember: "¡Puto! ¡Suéltame! El perro no, cabrón ¡El perro no!" But even with all of that, knowing he was right, that the bat scared the crap out of me, too, I couldn't let the kid go. I was frozen. "No!" Luvy joined in the protest, glowering over at me, jabbing at my shoulder, pretty, her feet shuffling and ankle bracelet hula-hoop bouncing, my hands gripped tight around the dirty-faced kid like uncontrollable vices. She started to cry, frantic. She called out to Jehovah—"¡Jehová! ¡Jehová!"—and I felt bad. But by the time I let the boy go and realized what was about to happen, it was too late. Clete locked the cage door behind him. The kid rattled the fence like a mad man and rolled out more curses in Spanish than I had ever heard. My brother just laughed. He hawked a good wide one on the ground. He brought the bat up high, ready to swing away.
The pit, meanwhile, lounged on the hot asphalt with his two front paws on home plate. He slavered and at all of us batted grey, oblivious eyes. As harmless as Tía Nena's Chihuahua he looked. No sign of the wild animal that had supposedly attacked my brother earlier. The dog hung out his tongue like a stuck, pink pendulum and twitched his stub of a tail and cut ears.
Clete stood in front of the pit. "Dog bites, dog dies," he decreed, repeating it in Spanish and deepening the kid's, Luvy's, my frenzy. My brother straightened up and took a deep breath—just as if he'd been summoned off the bench to pinch-hit in some great cosmic game—and we all watched him swing from his heels. The dog yelped and Clete said, "Madres," and the dog thumped down and his left eye flowed, flowed with Chucho's radio still popping and searching furtively for a stable AM sound. Three more mighty whacks and the dog twitched on the asphalt floor and now my brother panted, his practice jersey sprinkled and his bat smeared red. "Oh, shit!" Chucho chortled. The kid finally scampered off, hands in the air, crazy in his loss. I turned to Luvy but she flared her pretty nostrils and pushed me away; and it would be two weeks before she forgave me or even talked to me again.
So, in the present, at first sight of us, old Don Saturnino's pit, Tamara he calls her, wide-shouldered, massive, back lumped like an overgrown tamarind pod, she jumps on her hind legs and gnarls and rattles the chain-link fence and cracks her canines and slavers over her torn, bloody tongue. Echoes, her powerful bark does, off bent, back-alley trash cans waiting for the next day's empty. Pink-black spit oozes down diamond-shaped holes. High on the fence, where Tamara can't get to it, old Don Saturnino has a sign—WACHALE CON LOS DOGS.
"¡Tu madre, hija de la chingada! Fuck you!" Clete yells, hurling his chaw at Tamara, kicking the fence with all his might.
And so they both rage on in the darkening alley behind our trailer park. Tamara: chafing, ripping her nose against the coarse fence; filled with a colorblind, instinctive memory—an innate, almost vengeful memory—with my brother and me (the accomplice) the ultimate black-and-white prize; her bare teeth tinged pink with blood and saliva; guttural sounds; on and on, as though our past cruelty to her kind spurred her very essence, her rage towards us, on. Clete: unafraid; unrepentant; unrelenting as a rope of a line drive; laughing like always; scooping up pebbles, side-arming them through the diamonds at the furious, four-legged, back-alley queen.
But I'm not laughing. I've never laughed. Never fought back, either. I'm hoping old Don Saturnino will hobble out of his shack, see what Clete's up to, tell him off once and for all. But he never has. No reason to think he will. Or maybe Mom, for a second at least, out here without her apron, without her silence; that stupid, pious silence I inherited when it comes to my brother and everything he does and hates. But nothing. No one comes. Alone Clete and me remain. As loud as the moonstruck alley is empty is Tamara's rage.
Reading the label stuck onto one of Mom's scented candles in front of her altar to the Virgen of Guadalupe. Reading promises of forgiveness for anything after burning for nine successive days. Wondering how many people beside Mom have bought into that, gone matchstick crazy for the entire novena, and are now living in peace with nothing weighing on their souls but little, everyday white lies. Wondering if it's that easy; that easy washing all your sins, even the worst of them, away.
Sucking in the humid air through my short-haired nostrils. In the early dawn the trailers in our park like cradled seagulls resting. Far away, over rooftops, Sacred Heart thrusting her crucifix into a resurrecting, cauliflowered sky.
At the Hole tar-feathered ducks dancing in the resaca, nine of them, long-billed, dipping yellow beaks in turquoise water, then heads, coming back up, shaking dry, doing it again, wagging metronome tails, floating, sounding a quack-quack cadence, posing periscope necks against the morning sun stretching out across the water until—
The ducks scrambling up and away.
Sleepy-eyed kids with mullets, rocks in tight fists, pointing, not too far away. Yelling at them. Flipping me off—"Pinche cripple," one of them shouting—and watching them steal off like the wind.
Hearing Tamara, old don Saturnino's pit queen, raging in her alley at trash men doing their job in the distance. Grinding my teeth. Willing to take a chance once and for all. Willing to tell Luvy, my Luvy, that, if I could, I'd sacrifice the rest of this body if it meant I could bring her parents back to life.
She's standing close, on the opposite bank of the resaca, hair sweeping back like a sunflower's wind-brushed petals. The sky is opening. Opening. And from that perfect, day-game sky ducks descending, plunging back in again, Luvy's sandaled feet and her heavenly ankle bracelet splashing.
And me. I'm hoping. Hoping. Hoping she forgives them.