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Flea in the Dark

Devon Stevens



New Mexico




Copyright © Devon Stevens

All rights reserved. Published by L.L. Press 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9998432-6-0

Cover design by Margaret Johnson.



Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34


1.

“Damn it!” Teresa Manzano said, throwing her cellphone as hard as she could on the asphalt. It struck its corner and bounced, leaving no damage whatsoever.

Que?” her friend, Silvia, asked, fiddling with a cigarette. Teresa’s sudden outburst had startled her, interrupting her search for a lighter in her oversized beige purse.

Madre wants me to babysit Flea this weekend,” Teresa said. The madre was sarcastic. Amy Pulo was not Teresa’s biological mother.

“The whole weekend?” Silvia asked.

“Apparently,” Teresa said, bending down to look under her truck for the cellphone. The phone rested just beyond the tire and Teresa had to stretch uncomfortably on the hot parking lot to get to it. Rio Grande High School’s parking lot didn’t offer much in the area of reclined comfort. The asphalt was cracked and broken and the sun came down on it mercilessly.

“This really screws up tomorrow,” Teresa said, fingers barely reaching the phone. The damn thing’s flat and smooth plastic made it hard to gain any sort of grip. The best she could do was exert pressure and slide it slowly toward her.

“Just bring her along,” Silvia said, lighting the cigarette.

“Fuck that,” Teresa said, finally getting the phone close enough to grab. “Giving booze to a minor’s a felony. The cops shoot people for less. Bah,” she said examining the phone, “not even scratched.” She resumed lounging against her ugly teal truck.

“Oh no,” Silvia said. “Wouldn’t want to give alcohol to minors.”

They both laughed. Silvia, a curvy girl of seventeen, a half-month younger than Teresa, who was skinny, blockish, boyish, two weeks from eighteen; young girls laughing to laugh, dissimilar in all but their black hair and dark eyes. Laughing was a joy to them, cutting through Teresa’s bad mood, binding them together by a kind of mania. People outside their friendship—classmates, teachers, relatives—often wondered what the girls always found so funny, but the two didn’t need an excuse to laugh. A small understanding could send them into hysterics for hours. They were still laughing when Jez, the last girl in their trifecta, arrived.

“What’s so funny?” she asked. Drier than both, Jez rarely laughed; not uncontrollably anyway. She often laughed under her breath, short silent hehs and only in moments of gloating like when Mercy Remez, the bitchy cheerleader, was cut from the squad. Her clothes emphasized her seriousness. She always wore black or gray and her eyes were framed by brown hair that never had any kind of product. She wore no makeup, never did her eyelashes, and didn’t even bother with concealer even when she had zits, which was often.

“Nothing,” Silvia said. “Teresa has bad news.”

“And?” Jez asked, looking at Teresa.

“I have to babysit my younger sister tomorrow and like for the whole weekend.”

“What?” Jez asked. “Isn’t she like thirteen? What’s she need a babysitter for?”

“Shit, my parents left me alone at nine,” Silvia said.

“Something about her mother not wanting her Xboxing all week. Dad and the stepmother are going up to Taos.”

There was a note of hostility anytime she had to talk about the woman.

“It’s a four-day weekend,” Jez said. “They’re up there the whole time?”

“Veterinary conference,” Teresa said.

“Well, fuck me,” Jez said. “Who’s going to drive now?”

“I can still drive,” Teresa said, kicking the already dented truck door.

The truck first belonged to Teresa’s grand tío before the old geezer deep-sixed it: Driving down Central Avenue old as piss, he’d stopped to get gasoline. The cops later said a wino approached Old Tío Manzano and asked for a ride to Moriarty clear on the other side of the mountains. Old Tío responded as he’d done a thousand times on Albuquerque streets: “Fuck off.” The wino replied with a bullet. Tío died against the dent Teresa was currently kicking.

Or that’s how the story went. Teresa wondered: The wino was never caught. The only witness was inside the gas station. How did the cops know what had happened? That the man was never caught had driven a wedge between Tía Manzano and the Albuquerque police. Not that the police knew. It was a one-sided hatred, but it spread from Tía to the entire Manzano clan.

Mija,” she’d tell middle-school Teresa. “When it comes to cops, remember this: A good cop is like a good guard dog. Loyal, friendly, and willing to protect you to its death. But if a dog goes rabid, it becomes a danger to itself and all those around it. The APD is like the rabid dog. You stay away from them, ?”

Middle-school Teresa didn’t care. She didn’t want to listen to Tía Manzano, who, despite being Old Tío's granddaughter, looked as old as the city itself, complete with cracks and potholes and winos begging at the corner of her eyes. But the lesson must have been internalized because the high-school Teresa eyed the police with advanced mistrust and always said, “Fuck’n pigs” under her breath whenever they passed.

The truck door gave a hollow plink noise as Teresa’s shoe hit. Why couldn’t Old Tío have owned a sports car?

“You’ll still drive?” Silvia asked. “With Flea?”

“I’ll leave her at home,” Teresa said.

“And your stepmom will call your cell and ask to talk to Flea,” Jez said. “And then you’ll be in shit.”

“Fuck, right,” Teresa groaned. “Fuck it. I’ll take her along.”

“Won’t she tell?” Jez said, snorting.

“I’ll beat her up if she does. Are you bringing your cousin?”

Jez gave Teresa an odd look as if Jez thought Teresa was saying a nineteen-year-old college student was equivalent to a middle-school girl.

“He’ll be around, why?”

“No reason,” Teresa said, thinking Yes reason! She had met Jez’s cousin once before, but that one time had turned some sort of key in her brain, opening a door to a vault of nudity and imagined pornography starring Teresa in various compromising positions often under Jez’s cousin. These were so far advanced, she’d picked up condoms from a convenience store especially for the weekend. That she didn’t even remember the cousin’s name wasn’t important.

But with Flea around, the condoms were worthless and the best she could hope for would be clumsy flirtation. Teresa kept quiet about her plans. She didn’t know how much Jez suspected or if she’d even care, but still Teresa thought she should be discrete. And it surprised her, because she didn’t get embarrassed about a lot, but even the smallest thought about the boy’s sleek hair, dark stubble, and well-defined collarbone—and shit, who fantasized about collarbones?—she’d turn pink. So no. If things went down, she’d play it off as passion and not premeditation. Fuck the guy and tell her friends later.

Stupid Flea. Stupid, stupid Flea.

Jez narrowed her eyes with too much understanding for Teresa’s liking and said, “Are we all going to fit in your truck?”

“It has a back,” Teresa replied, still thinking of the cute college kid.

“Which is illegal to have people in,” Silvia said. “If you get pulled over and I have booze and a bag of four-twenty with me—”

“Then lie down,” Jez snapped. “Look, who’s all gonna be there?”

“You, your cousin, Flea, Silvia, me,” Teresa said, counting on her fingers. “That chico you keep hooking up with—”

“Flash,” Jez said.

“Flash? Seriously?” Teresa stopped with five fingers still up. “That’s his name?”

“Not his real name,” the other girl responded.

“Who calls themselves Flash?” Silvia asked.

She burst out laughing. Teresa joined and soon they were grasping the side of the truck to stay standing. They let their peals roll over the Rio Grande High parking lot. Teresa took choir lessons on Thursdays and had since she was four, so her laugh carried to every corner, pulling glances from the crowd that slowly meandered off campus.

“Fuck you guys,” Jez said.

“Come on, Jessica!” Silvia finally managed through gasps for breath. “Why Flash? Was Superman already taken?” She burst out into a new snigger. Teresa guffawed.

Jez flipped both of them off and held the gesture up. “I hope you both can see this.”

“Geez, Jez,” Teresa said, trying to maintain composure by latching onto the Z sounds in “geez” and Jez to overpower the laughter that continued to threaten her voice. “Nobody should be calling themselves Flash unless they’re like thirteen.”

“Fuck you both,” Jez replied. “I’ll talk to you both later, but you better not embarrass me tomorrow.”

She left them, walking off toward where an El Camino had just pulled up. A guy in a snapback hat sat in the driver’s side.

“That must be Flash,” Silvia said and both girls broke down again into giggling.

When they’d stopped, most of the post-school traffic had cleared. Teresa opened the truck’s door. The door grumbled open, complaining with metal on metal that too much dust had entered the latches, that WD-40 was desperately needed. Teresa, who never anthropomorphized needlessly, ignored the sound.

“Will six people fit in here?” Silvia asked as they bounced along the road.

The truck did not ride smooth. Teresa’s knowledge of cars came purely from Old Tío’s truck when something broke on it. As far as she knew, nothing was wrong with it except the shocks and CV shafts were fucked. She knew what shocks were, but CV shafts were a mystery. All she knew was what the internet had told her and the disturbing fapping sound whenever she made wide turns were from these CV shafts. Being in the back is going to be pretty bad, she thought. Good thing I’m the driver.

“Three in the front, three in the back,” Teresa replied.

“And the booze?”

“Under the seats,” Teresa said.

“If we get caught, it’s minor in possession,” Silvia said, “and they’ll bust you for contributing to delinquency or something.”

Teresa slowed the truck down a little and did some thinking. That was true. She didn’t feel like explaining to some surly-ass cop why she was carrying around drugs, liquor, and a middle schooler. If she got caught, she’d be completely fucked.

No, driving around with booze and friends would be bad enough, but with Flea too? She’d have to call it off, she realized. Nothing else to do. Nothing else smart to do. Teresa almost told Silvia this as they pulled into the parking lot of Washington Middle School, but a sudden steely resolve took ahold of Teresa’s heart. No, she wouldn’t let Flea or the police or anybody else ruin her plan. She would bang the cute college kid with the nice collarbone. She’d do it with him out in the Bosque if she needed to, or, even riskier, bring him back home and have it out in her own bed. Flea’s knowledge be damned, sex noises be damned! Canceling wasn’t an option.

“There she is,” Silvia said, pointing to a figure standing alone by a curb.

Flea, really Felicia Manzano, Teresa’s half-sister, a curly-haired thin stick, with more of a familial resemblance to Teresa about the face than should be expected from half-siblings, was in a foul mood.

“You’re late,” she said, her voice a younger version of Teresa’s own.

“Traffic,” Teresa lied. “Where’s your backpack?”

“Lost it,” Flea said, clamoring between the two older girls. All bones and elbows, her skinny arms knocked against Teresa’s as she struggled with digging the seat belt out of the worn upholstery.

“Wish Old Tío owned a Mercedes,” Teresa said. “You could get in the back.”

Flea didn’t acknowledge this.

“Fuck,” Silvia said. “When I was Flea’s age, my—”

“Stop,” Teresa said. “You sound like a grandmother when you say things like that. Please tell me more of when you were Flea’s age.”

The teens began to laugh, but sensing anger from Flea (who was usually a pretty good sport) it died out quickly. Flea scowled and wrapped her arms tightly around her waist.

Nudging the young girl, Teresa asked. “What’s the matter, hermanita pequeña?”

“Nothing.”

“Did somebody steal your bag?” Silvia asked.

“No,” Flea said, dark eyes staring moodily at the sun-induced parking lot mirages rippling over the asphalt in the distance.

“So, que pasa?” Teresa asked, throwing the truck into gear and u-turning so they faced south. The Thieves’ Mountain rose like a single pointed tooth alone on the horizon. “Come on, spill it, goomba.”

“The guidance counselor,” Flea said. “We all had to do this What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up thing. And they call in these people to talk about your career choice. And this lady they stuck me with looks at my paper and says, ‘Entomologist, what’s that?’ I tell her and she says, ‘Now honey, being a scientist is very hard. Wouldn’t you like something easier?’ And I say no. And then she tells me something like a cashier would be more appropriate!”

“She fuck’n didn’t,” Teresa said, slamming on the breaks. A car behind her honked.

“Was this bitch white?” Silvia asked.

“Of course she was,” Flea said.

“How long ago was this?” Teresa asked, anger boiling in her head. “Is she still fucking there?”

“No,” Flea said. “You were late. Anyway, I told her I hoped botflies nested in her eyes.”

Teresa gritted her teeth as they pulled onto Quenelle Street. Her little sister didn’t always get it. Smart, probably smarter than Teresa herself, but Flea still often missed the best responses to social situations. Like if you’re invited to a classmate’s sleepover, don’t explain the sordid details of bedbug sex when the subject of boys comes up.

“Flea,” Teresa said as they pulled into their driveway, “if somebody’s being a racist, you call them a gringo-pendejo fucker, you don’t curse them with bugs.”

“Botflies aren’t bugs, they’re insects,” Flea grumbled.

“They have six legs, don’t they?” Teresa said, losing patience. She threw the truck into park and killed the ignition. “And just so you know, Dad and your mom are going out of town, so you’re stuck with me for the weekend.”

“But, but, there’s this thing at the museum—”

“A museum?” Teresa said.

“The Natural History Museum,” Flea said. “I’ll need a ride.”

“We’ll see,” Teresa said. “Maybe if you behave.”

“What?” Flea said, expression dropping. “Serious?”

She struggled out of her seatbelt and climbed over Silvia to get out.

“Mom! Mom, Teresa says—” she yelled, running full tilt into the house, slamming the screen door hard enough it reverberated with a buzz.

“I bet she gets just as far as I did,” Teresa said confidentially to her friend.

Flea cornered her mother in the little office. A slim woman with springy hair and a coffee complexion, Amy Pulo was a horse vet from Mississippi who dressed conservatively and spoke conservatively with a down-South accent. She wore silver half-frame glasses to give herself a professional air. Her office, a narrow room in the back of the house, held her degrees on the wall. How she’d met Teresa’s father was unknown, but Flea’s age suggested she knew him long before the divorce from Teresa’s mother.

Amy’s soft southern accent was too low to hear, but Teresa used her imagination, trying to get the voice right, to fill in the gaps.

“Mother, I’m thirteen. I can stay home alone.”

“No,” Amy said. “I’ve already talked to Teresa.”

“Can’t I stay with friends?” Flea asked.

“No, Felicia, your sister will make sure you do your homework.”

“Help me with my homework? Teresa, mom, she can’t—”

Teresa exchanged a glance with Silvia across the Xbox controllers. Flea had been arguing with Amy long enough for them to have beaten two levels.

“I don’t see what’s bad about your sister helping you…”

“Come on! Mr. Bustos would be more help!” Mr. Bustos was the neighbor’s pitbull. “All her friends are as dumb as bricks. That Michiko girl didn’t know pumpkin pie came from pumpkins and not a can, and Silvia thought the Ukraine was in South America!”

“Just Ukraine, Felicia. And you’re staying with your sister.”

“Mother!”

"Don’t you mother me,” Amy said. “Go and apologize to your sister.”

“Apologize for what?”

“Go!” This was the only thing from Amy’s mouth Teresa caught.

Flea stomped into the game room.

“Mom’s making me apologize,” Flea said. “I don’t know for what.”

“For saying I’m as dumb as bricks?” Silvia asked, casually fiddling with her controller.

Flea blushed.

“We heard you,” Teresa said.

“Sorry,” Flea whispered. “I know you’re not really stupid.”

“Thanks,” Silvia said. She rolled her eyes.

“Scram,” Teresa said to Flea.

The mid-schooler retreated, still blushing. Teresa groaned. Flea was going to be a weapon-grade pain in the ass tomorrow. Amy had made Teresa promise to stay in and keep Flea off of the Xbox and to make sure the brat got her homework done. Teresa had managed to secure permission to go to the movies, provided she took Flea along. This reduced the number of films they could see because of the ratings, but this was okay; Jez’s adamant insistence on the new Pixar flick at least worked for that part of the weekend. Telling Amy about the movie served another purpose: It would prevent her from calling until late, and maybe keep her from calling the entire night.

Teresa would text Jez to arrange details, but if they could get booze to the Spot, then maybe Teresa could sequester Jez’s cousin out in the brush somewhere overlooking the river, some place where the moonlight would set the scene: a romantic setting where the boy would have to kiss the girl because the mood lighting demanded it. Between the moon and the river, he’d have to capitulate. And if he didn’t, she would. She wasn’t even above doing him in the bushes, though the logistics of standing sex didn’t work in her head very well. Doggystyle could work if she had a tree to brace on. Unless the wood was rough. Well, shit, maybe I’ll be too drunk to care, she thought.

“Your sister’s kinda a brat,” Silvia said, breaking Teresa’s inner monologue.

“Half-sister,” Teresa said. “Yeah, she was worse when she was younger. She was always bringing spiders or some shit inside. Once scared the hell out of Widow Golondrinas. Fuck, dad was mad.”

“Teresa!” Amy Pulo yelled through the wall. “No swearing!”

“Shit,” said Teresa under her breath, then, “Sorry!” louder.

“And the widow?” Silvia whispered.

“All right, it’s Thanksgiving or some shit,” Teresa said in a low voice, “and Dad’s invited the widow ‘cause her husband died and Dad didn’t like the idea of her being alone in her house on a holiday. Tía Manzano and Dad are in the kitchen and I’m supposed to entertain Widow Golondrinas. I don’t know how, I’m like fourteen and have nothing in common with this sixty-year-old woman.”

“No kidding,” Silvia said.

“Right? I’m telling her about my class and she’s like, ‘That’s nice,’ because who wants to hear about school? Even I was bored. I’m talking about what we learned about President Clinton, bored out of my mind, boring her out of hers, and Flea comes in with a little Tupperware box and says, ‘Teresa, look what I found!’ The widow says, ‘Whatcha got there?’ I guess ‘cause whatever it is has to be more interesting than what I’ve been saying. Well, Flea shows her and it’s this fucking big tarantula, all furry and shit. The widow starts screaming her head off and Dad and Tía come running in. Shit, I think Flea got spanked.”

Silvia laughed.

“Has she always been obsessed with bugs?” Silvia asked before her mirth could infect Teresa in a chain reaction.

“Always. It’s not natural. She needs some dolls or something.” But Teresa didn’t believe dolls would help, not this late in her half-sister’s development. When they were younger, Flea had saved up all her lunch money to buy a dozen rubber bugs: spiders, mantises, flies. The spiders were terrible. Flea would hide them in Teresa’s drawers or on her pillow while she was sleeping, or sneak them onto her shoulders so a glance would cause Teresa to freak out.

Nope, the girl was bent in the head. Teresa suspected the problem to be deeply pathological, likely in the kernel of the girl’s very being. The term technically was “tomboy,” Teresa thought, though to her the term carried certain associations with sports, baseball in particular due to the iconic tomboy image of a girl in a baseball cap with her ponytail sticking through the back, and Flea had never so much as appeared in the same room as a ball. Flea doing sports or anything remotely athletic was more absurd than talking animals. Teresa would have counted a conversation with birds as more plausible than Flea throwing a ball for fun.

The girl wasn’t unhealthy for all her anti-athleticism. She did play an unseemly amount of Xbox, but when she was outside, she’d pursue a fleeing grasshopper down the entire block, or she’d spend all day on her hands and knees examining ants. Teresa didn’t understand Flea’s fascination with bugs. They were gross, but more than that, Teresa found their bizarre shapes robot-like, unnatural, and that unnerved her more than any secretions or disease they might carry. Trying to temper Flea’s interest, Teresa had given her half-sister the nickname “Flea.” Unfortunately, Felicia Manzano had liked the name, adopted it, and now introduced herself to everyone as Flea. People often asked if Flea was her actual name and she’d say, “As real as any other name.” Flea was hopeless.

“Bored of this,” Teresa said, pausing the game. “You want to get sodas?”

“Sure,” Silvia replied.

They left the game paused. As they headed to the kitchen, Flea scooted by them in the direction of the Xbox.



2.

Amy and Teresa’s father took forty-five minutes to get ready to leave. Spring was as hot as summer already and the heat was nightmarish. The sun struck the sidewalks and made them glow like polished mirrors, blazing in white-chipped mica-flecked fury, burning with no semblance of control. Even the mottled Carolina locusts who enjoyed raging desert temperatures hid under rocks and trees seeking cool shade, freshwater, and tender shoots.

Teresa, no masochist, reclined on the living room couch. The sliding glass back door was open only a sliver to let air flow from the swamp cooler. The cooler was attached to the side of the house. Birds often stopped by to steal water out of it. The little sparrows and larger robins were fat; the Carolina locust population was booming this year, and the insects were so numerous the birds could feed at their leisure.

Dissosteira carolina,” Flea said, explaining the grasshoppers. “Or maybe it’s longipennis. Can’t remember.”

“Long penis, huh?” Teresa said. She wasn’t paying attention. Her cellphone was up and while she could see Flea sitting on the recliner across the room over her phone and hear her clearly too, the text conversation with Jez distracted her from Flea’s rambling cavalcade of facts:

Jez: id rather your place?

Ters: you said my mother’ll call can’t risk it

Jez: u rather risk cops at the spot?

Ters: i’m not cleaning up your shit

Jez: you curupting a minor

Ters: we minors 2. how we getting the booze there? can’t take it in my car

Jez: flash’s friend mike has a car there

coming down i’ll txt them after the movie

“They don’t become gregarious,” Flea was saying. “I don’t know why they’re called locusts when they don’t become locusts.”

“What are you talking about?” Teresa said. “More bug stuff?”

“You asked about—”

Teresa waved it off. Not interested, the gesture said. Flea, frustration trembling in her eyes like dew, huffed, got up, made for the sliding glass door, thought better of going outside, and sat down again. The room bred silence as the two just sat there. Flea grumbled a bit, but Teresa ignored her complaints. She wondered if anybody else had a little sister who literally bugged them. Little brothers were supposed to be obsessed with bugs, not little sisters. Why couldn’t her half-sister be obsessed with Disney princesses or dolls or Easy-Bake Ovens or something?

Their father came in. A middle-aged gentleman with a salt-pepper mustache and dark hair, he buttoned up his shirt’s blue cuffs as he entered.

“Teresa,” he said, his voice airy and light. “Have you seen my camera?”

“No, Dad,” Teresa said.

“Felicia?”

“No,” Flea replied.

“Oh well. Voy a encontrarlo o no,” their father said, casually checking the coffee table. National Geos, newspapers, coffee table books, all there, but no camera. He shrugged and left the room singing, “¿Pequeña cámerita perdida? ¿Dónde descansar?” to himself.

After this interruption the silence filled the space again. It didn’t get to visit long this time because Amy came in to look around.

“Felicia, have you seen your dad’s camera anywhere?”

“No,” Flea said.

“Teresa?” Amy asked, turning to Teresa.

“No, madrastra,” Teresa said, hardly looking at her stepmother.

“Don’t call me that,” Amy said, briskly surveying the room. Finding no camera, she retreated.

“You never call her ‘mother,’” Flea remarked, leaning back in the recliner to examine the ceiling. Teresa could see her ribs through her shirt. Skinny little twig, not that Teresa had much more weight. They’d both inherited their father’s physique.

“She’s not my mother,” Teresa said.

“I think it’d be weird calling her ‘Amy’ all the time.”

“That’s because she’s your mother,” Teresa said, getting up.

She too went for the sliding glass. She considered the thermogenic hell through the window. Unmowed yellow grass, a large cottonwood tree—there was shade.

She pushed the door open. The air pressure change sucked at her until she stepped outside and closed the glass back to a thin crack. Air whistled through the gap, sounding lonely and ghostly.

The heat crept onto her, an unpleasant living blanket. The shade barely brought relief. The concrete patio, dark under the tree’s shadow, had seven or eight grasshoppers who all turned their tan backs to her and readied their legs in case she came closer. A dry breeze ruffled her hair. It smelled of sand, a smell borne out of the desert. An endless feeling followed it, and lodged in her heart, the feeling of now, as if time had stopped or immortality existed in the wind. She stepped forward into the gust, but it was gone as were the grasshoppers. They took flight as one, flying over the cinder block wall into the neighbor’s yard, flashing black and green from their wings as they fled.

She didn’t dare go out into the grass. Her feet were bare and goatheads grew in among the tufts of yellow dying Kentucky bluegrass. She remembered the grass being green and vibrant when she’d been a child. She remembered running through it, how it felt between her toes. Her mother had been the one who’d kept up the yard. She’d planted chrysanthemums around the wall, mowed the yard, kept the irises watered. All the flowers had left with her. Teresa wouldn’t lie to herself. That her father preferred Amy over her own mother hurt. Reconciliation wasn’t possible, Teresa knew that, but sometimes she wished things were as they had been ten years ago, when Flea existed, sure, but neither Teresa or her mother knew about the little girl. A time when things were happier, simpler. But like the breeze, the old times were gone.

Teresa remembered the week leading up to meeting Flea for the first time as well as any memories she possessed, like flash memories; the assassination of Kennedy, the fall of the Towers. Those crystallized, amber-trapped memories could be picked up and turned this way and that to see every possible angle and perspective; tragedy with a bizarre beauty thrown into it.

That week had started with Teresa’s mother setting out a bowl of Frosted Flakes for her breakfast. Before school, Teresa’s mother would always make Frosted Flakes. Teresa, a bright girl, her teacher Ms. Duane said, if a little bit—well, inattentive, noticed her mother’s eyes were rimmed with puffy skin and the eyes themselves were red, the way they get if you cry for a long time.

“Mama,” she said over the bowl of Frosted Flakes, “¿Qué pasó?

“Nothing, niña,” Maria Manzano said to her daughter as she slumped over the table, head in her hands as if massaging away a headache.

Teresa went to school and came back. She’d forgotten about that morning and was whistling a song she’d been learning in choir class as she exited the school bus. She skipped home eager to tell her mother about what she’d learned in math, a subject she liked a bit, but didn’t want her friends to find out about. Knowing stuff was embarrassing. The other kids would say, “Umbers! Yer such a nerd!” She’d say it too, if she had a chance, especially to the weird nerdy kids.

The bus ran a bit early that day and when she got home, the front door was unlocked and she heard yelling.

Young Teresa stopped in the hallway, hands frozen in the process of slinging her Hello Kitty backpack off, and listened as her father and mother yelled at each other in the living room.

“Five years old?” her mother screamed. “You’ve been seeing this woman for five fucking years?”

Teresa knew what fuck meant, that kind of language flew around the playground freely, but she was stunned to hear her mother say it. The word churned up fear in her gut. It fired the brain to still panic. Something wasn’t right if her mother was using that word.

“What was I supposed to do?” her father said back, not in his usual carefree voice, but in a wavery angry tenor. “You won’t go with me on these long trips.”

“We have a child, Miguel!” Maria said. “A child. Or for you it’s children!”

“I was lonely,” her father cut back. “I’m a man. I have needs. And she comes with me on all my trips.”

“On what fucking trip, Miguel,” Maria said, choking out the words, “does one knock up a horse doctor?”

“I don’t know,” Miguel said. “One of them.”

“And you didn’t insist on an abortion?”

¡Dios mío! Maria,” he said. “In the name of the Holy Saints—”

“Fuck the saints, why is the little shit still alive?”

“Maria, don’t say that. It’s a sin to abort a—”

“God fuck the sins, you asshole! You shitbrained, whore fucking monster, piece of shit, slut-mongering, communist godfucker, chingado, pinche retardado, bombeardo, chilito, chinga la tana, buboso, mayate, rulacho, pinche cabron, culero, puto, puñatero, chinga tu madre!” The tirade ended in a sob.

“Maybe I deserve that…” Teresa’s father said.

“Maybe you—? The hell?” Maria said. “I’m gone. I’m fucking gone. And you can take care of your daughters yourself.”

“But Maria, where will you go?”

“To Tío Manzano first, to tell him and Isabella about this fucking mess, then to my folks. Don’t call me.”

The sound of heavy steps echoed down to Teresa and they grew louder as Teresa’s mother came down the hall. She stopped when she saw a wide-eyed and scared Teresa standing motionless just inside the door.

“Oh, mi niña,” Teresa’s mother said, sweeping her up in a big hug. Teresa started to cry.

The stormy custody battle was a twinkle in her mom’s eye at that time, and later, when the war was being planned by lawyers, skeezy Saul Goodman-types hired by Mother and Father, Teresa, home alone, heard her father’s car pull up and raced out to greet him. She’d had a scare alone in the house.

While sitting in the big recliner (the same one Flea had been in) and watching Lola y Virginia, she had a pretty good view of the hall into the dining room, and while Lola and Virginia argued over some skaterboy—something as silly as that—Teresa saw, clearly saw, a dark-skinned woman dart past into the hall.

Not from the hall into the living room, but from the living room into the hall. Teresa was in the living room, and it would have been impossible to hide anywhere. The woman had appeared in the room with her and then left. The TV went off and Teresa spent the rest of the hour searching the house with a large glass paperweight from her dad’s study, ready to brain the ghost if it could be done.

Despite an extensive search, she didn’t find anybody else in the house.

When the car pulled up, she rushed out of the house, relief soaking every fiber of her being.

“Papa!” she cried, but stopped short, all memory of the ghost vanishing.

A strange woman was getting out of the shotgun seat of the car. A black woman. Her long fit legs shone in the sunlight, preceding her with a calm grace. Teresa’s father exited, and then a small hyper girl darted out from behind the woman.

“Hi!” the girl said, bounding up to Teresa. Rocking back and forth on her heels, this little girl, this flyspeck, this weird girl who looked a bit like the strange woman and a lot like Teresa’s father, said, “My name is Felicia. We’re supposed to be sisters. Is that true?”

Teresa slammed the door shut on that unwelcome guest of a memory and headed back inside where Amy Pulo was telling Flea all the rules to follow while she was in Taos.



3.

“All right, mocosa,” Teresa said as soon as the adults were out the door. “Homework. Do all that math and boring stuff.”

“Teresa, I’ve got four days to do it,” Flea said, from the recliner. She was small enough to be completely hidden by its back.

Teresa came around the chair to smirk at her younger sister. The girl looked sullen.

“Your mother put me in charge. Soooo, moy homework, then Xbox. Mucho excitos in homeworkencito!”

“That’s not real Spanish!” Flea said, sulking in her chair.

“How would you know?” Teresa said. “Up, chop, chop! Excitement and geometry await.”

“I know homework isn’t homeworkencito,” Flea said. “It’s gotta be like tarbajar-casa or something. I’ll Google Translate it.”

“Fuck that,” Teresa said. “You’re to do homework.”

“Are you going to do yours?”

“Don’t have any,” Teresa said. This wasn’t strictly true. “I’m going to smoke weed while Xboxing.”

“Weed?” Flea said, disheartened. “That stuff smells.”

“Tough,” Teresa said. “While your mother’s out, I’m the adult and adults get to smoke weed while playing Xbox.”

“Please don’t smoke in the hou—”

“Shut up,” Teresa said. “Later we’re going to a movie. Be thankful your mother is letting us go. Now ¡ándale! your ass into the kitchen and homework away those square roots or whatever.”

“Probability, expectation, and fairprice,” Flea said, forcing herself out of the chair, and then slouching toward the kitchen.

Teresa nodded firmly to herself at a job well-done and then headed to her bedroom. Cluttered, but not messy, Teresa’s room was stamped with her personality. She had posters on the wall with Paco de Lucía and Rocío Jurado, famous Flamenco singers, and several of the Mexican pop-singer Anahí. Sheets of music stacked in the corner hinted at some musical talent. Her little black bookshelf by her closet was light on books, but heavy on CDs. The variety there sometimes even astonished her. She had classical singers, pop singers, rap artists. The only thing she didn’t have was country music because everything single song was “I may be poor, but thank God I have Jesus and my pickup truck,” and Teresa wasn’t down with the J-Man, or religion at all. In truth, she considered herself agnostic, though not in any hard or fast way. She knew the word, thought it was appropriate, and then never bothered to think about it at all except in the rare instances where she ran into a proselytizer, at which point she became very uncomfortable. She likewise became uncomfortable any time a family member started talking about God, or Jesus, or the Virgin.

She wasn’t an intellectual fireball, she didn’t have a rationalization for any belief she held. She simply thought such things were irrelevant. If there was a god, she thought he or she was most evident in music. And she loved music. She had sung in some form of choir for all her life. And she was considered very good. Not a miracle singer, she’d never floor anybody with her voice, but she could sing prettily in the mezzo-soprano range.

She walked to the closet and began to rummage through a pile of clothes on the floor. There was a clothes hamper in the bathroom, but Teresa’s clothes tended to migrate there slowly throughout the week.

Under the clothes, a full can of Folger's sat. She fished a small bag of fibrous green powder out from the grounds and took a glass pipe from one of the shoes sitting in the back of the closet. As she did so, she sang:

“Oh, Mary Jane, I can’t complain

No matter how long I’ve lain

With my fair arms wrapped around you!”

She ended there because she could not sing and inhale at the same time. The leaf was from some sketch-as-fuck guy named Herrumbre, “Rust” in English, probably not his real name. The stuff was fine and it rolled her.

“Damn,” she said, feeling her brain swim. It occurred to her the old cartoon Lola y Virginia would be awesome now. She took another hit, enjoying the burning smell of the bowl, the heady tight rush of the herb into her lungs, and its slow expansion as she held it there. She coughed it out.

She liked to sing while high and, with a much hoarser voice that pleasantly reminded her of Janis Joplin, began to sing an older tune:

A moonlight midnight marvelous,

Too rich for a boy of twelve

To keep his window shut

Against silver light’s dappled diligence

On snow shown individual diamonds

Each with a sparkle for her sister

From bedroom to arroyo ran

Skipping his young eye’s heart

A beat, a beat, a beat.

Teresa threw herself onto her bed and gazed up at the ceiling. The spackle up there reminded her of islands. She continued:

A warm roomside,

Snow-wrought cold without

Stove bought heat within

Winter’s breath breathing in

Boy’s breath breathing out.

While his imagination brought lilies to bloom

And clad the grievèd knights of phantasy,

She stalked up bank and boulder

On the snowy misty moving,

Her hair white and waxing bright

Like lightning flashing in the dark

She as full as the moon with reflected light.

‘Hijo, soft bells her voice.

‘Hijo, mama’s here.

I thought I lost you down river’s run

Sweet water caught and stole your tongue

Alas, in those days I still was young.

Come, we’ll have a little fun

Stealing out before the sun

For in the harbor is my husband’s ship

Left in anchor lest it slip

Between Earth’s ocean and sky’s lip.

Now come hijo and you will see

The mightiest father to cross the sea

If I reunite you, I will be free

If he truly forgives me.

He, a craggèd man on conquista

A conquistador, el cazador de la bruja

Commanding as a conqueror can

To pitch sinless babes off of dry land

To turn love over to civil hands.

Well,

He, my conquistador, condemned me

To hang high from a cottonwood tree

Above the river where my lovelies be.

Hijo, come to my side

The story’s done, I’ve nothing to hide

Down the Great River we shall ride

To where the ship holds he who lied.

And once we climb up inside

We’ll sail away on Heaven’s Tide.’

Only one set of tracks led away,

And the lilies wilted before the morning.

She stopped, throat dry. Teresa couldn’t remember where she’d heard the song first. Maybe from Tía Manzano. The old woman was a nut for all that La Llorona shit. Though, curiously, the song did differ from the La Llorona tale as Teresa had heard it elsewhere. The nature of La Llorona’s death, why she steals children, even the husband. Traditionally, or at least the way Tía told it, the husband had been a vaquero, a wild cowboy, not a conquistador. But myths changed through time.

The story she knew ran like this:

Once upon a time in a poor village, a beautiful woman named Maria lived with her grandmother. Maria was one of those women so beautiful, she sucked the light out of any jewel she wore. She silvered better than silver and glittered better than gold. There were newly minted stars that shone less than she did. Her eyes were turritella agate beads and her hair strings of obsidian. Being so beautiful and considered the prize of the village, she became very vain. All the men of the village were in love with her and she was in love with nobody but herself.

But every year the cattle drivers came through the village. One of these was a man of wild reputation. He would woo girls and leave them, stringing along broken hearts like bloody pearls behind him. Well, one day he spotted Maria and he wanted her, but she didn’t want anything to do with him. And so the man desired her all the more. Eventually, Maria decided this man, as handsome as she was beautiful, would make an excellent husband. The only husband, in fact, for her.

Her grandmother tried to talk her out of it. “A vaquero is not going to make a good husband,” she told Maria. “A man like that goes wherever the wind blows. He won’t be able to help himself.” But Maria laughed at her grandmother’s words. “What do these old women know?” And so she married the vaquero.

They bought a house by the river, and they had two children. But soon the vaquero left on a cattle drive and she didn’t see him again for months. Then one day, he arrived at the front door in a carriage and next to him in the carriage was a beautiful foreign woman. He wanted to see his children, but not Maria.

When he had left, Maria, insane with jealousy, took her two children to the river and cast them into the water. She realized her mistake as soon as she had done this terrible deed, but it was too late. She tried to go in after them, but was drowned herself. And that’s where the story would have ended, but months after the funerals, people in the village began to report seeing a woman in white walking down by the river, wailing for her lost children in a high voice, “My children! My children! Where are my children!” Throughout the years, the ghost wandered the river looking for her children. Now, everybody called the woman La Llorona, the Wailing Woman, because they could hear her far away up and down the river crying for her lost children. It was said she had gone completely insane and could no longer tell the difference between her own children and other people’s.

Since then many children were rumored to have been taken by La Llorona and so in Spanish-speaking countries, the elders tell the children, “Stay away from the rivers and arroyos, and when it gets dark, get inside. La Llorona is out there….”

La Llorona, Teresa thought, is a story to keep children inside at night and away from arroyos. That whole Ditch Witch stuff they taught in school, “Ditches Are Deadly: Stay Away!” it was the same thing. Not a bad idea; the arroyos, subject to flash floods, did kill people including kids.

She prepared another hit.

Her cellphone rang. The tone sounded like fairy dust: the audio equivalent of glitter.

Teresa fumbled the pipe onto her bed, spilling ash as she tried to get her phone out of her pocket.

“Fuck’n female jeans,” she said as she slid the infernal device out. The phone showed Jez’s face.

“Yes, what?” Teresa said at the phone.

Jez giggled. “You sound high as shit.”

“I am high as shit,” Teresa said. “S’up?”

“So these texts you’re sending me: I don’t feel they adequately convey want you want.”

“Damn, Jez. They’re clear.”

“Naw, I just want to hear you explain it to me high.”

“Damn it, Jez,” Teresa repeated, falling back down on the bed. The spackle on the ceiling looked like millions of islands arranged randomly in a white sea. Teresa imagined each as a beachfront resort where tanned serving boys brought out piña coladas to the gorgeous sunbathing woman—Teresa Manzano herself—lounging on a beach chair. Everything was there: gulls crying, surf roaring, kids yelling, the gulls fighting over something—

“Teresa!”

“What?” Teresa said into the phone. Jez’s voice seemed to come from far away, deep down in the speaker.

“Don’t zone out on me,” Jez said, phone static giving her vowels an electronic edge. Strange how my brain would normally edit out the grain or whatever it’s called, Teresa mused.

“So, to get this all straight: Your bratty sister—”

“—half-sister—” Teresa said.

“—half-sister will be coming along, because…?”

“Because her mother might call,” Teresa said, getting irritated. “You were the one to say she’d call. Christ.”

“Well, I hope she doesn’t call now. You couldn’t pass a drug test over this phone.”

“They just left,” Teresa said, trying to return to the island with the coladas but failing. The spackle was becoming less and less tropical. “We go to the movies, you call Mike after the movie, and we all get wrecked down by the river.”

“No, no, I got all that,” Jez said. “But why is your sister coming again?”

“You don’t want Flea coming, I know.”

“I think it’s a bad idea, Teresa, I really do.”

“Bad feeling? Women’s intuition?” Teresa asked sarcastically. “Look, I’m not letting stepmother-dearest or Flea or anybody damn else ruin my break.”

“All right,” Jez replied, sounding resigned. “But tell her not to talk about bugs in front of Flash, ‘kay?”

“Sure,” Teresa said. “Not in front of Flash.”

They said their goodbyes and the line went dead. Teresa picked herself off the bed and considered the pipe and scattered herbal fixings. No, the moment was gone. Instead, she turned to head out to the kitchen to make sure Flea’s homeworking wasn’t a big Xbox session in disguise.

As she left, she said, “Flash. Man, what a stupid name.”



4.

“You still smell like weed,” Flea said as they pulled up to Jez’s driveway. Her parents liked gardening and it showed: A neat path shaded by false maple trees and flanked by chrysanthemums whose points of yellow and orange flowers acted as runway lights guided visitors to the front door. The path was delightful and New Mexicany with a few stones stamped with Zia symbols, the symbol of the State. On the door hung a tin kokopelli. The hunchbacked flute player danced his motionless dance. This representation was more chaste than one Teresa recalled seeing at a museum. She and Silvia had giggled for hours at its engorged phallus. She supposed it symbolized fertility or crops. And in a place so dry as the desert, such a symbol was ubiquitous, though usually as the neutered version. Teresa liked to imagine guests’ reactions if the kokopelli on the door had a foot-long penis to greet them.

In the mental ramblings of weed, she once wondered what it would be like to meet a fertility god, Pan or another old god. Would you become pregnant by proximity, would he pursue you madly? There were probably some old and filthy Greek plays about that.

“I hope her parents are home,” Flea said. “Then they’ll know you’ve been smoking.”

“I took a shower,” Teresa replied. “It’s all in your head.” It probably was. Teresa expected to put the moves on Jez’s cousin so she smelled of perfume if anything. B.B. Espritu Lavender. She’d fixed her hair into lush curls. She had avoided make-up. Teresa hated the way it felt on her skin and she’d known since middle school boys didn’t care or even notice whether a girl had make-up on or not. But with her hair and perfume, she felt sexy, an idea Flea kept trying to bust with her grumbling mantra.

“It’s not in my—”

“Shuttdaup!” Teresa said, knocking on the door.

Jez opened it, smiled wide at both of them (forcing it a bit when looking at Flea), and said, “Hola. Come in. Flash is in the living room.”

“Flash?” Flea asked. “What’s flash?”

“My boyfriend,” Jez proclaimed as if to the world. She skipped into the living room and the half-sisters exchanged looks before following

Jez’s house was open with large southern facing windows and spacious hallways. They walked the short distance to a large room with a view over the river. Jez’s backyard was minimal, but the house made up for it by leading directly down to the water. The only reason they weren’t hanging out at Jez’s tonight was her parents.

Flash, the boyfriend, sat on a leather couch, feet firm on the floor, reading or at least leafing through an Entertainment Weekly. Jez threw herself at him with a giggle that was unlike her.

They’ve banged, Teresa thought with no hesitation.

This guy was as boring as paint. He reminded her of the prototypical popular actor in his hair, eyes, nose, and jaw. The hair was tousled like the actor, the eyes were dark seas like the actor; nose, jaw, brow, also like the actor. But as similar as his features were, they were not the same. And so he resembled a counterfeit actor, like in those local gym commercials where a sham Schwarzenegger played the part of a weightlifter. The effect of a faux-governator was disappointment and the effect of Flash’s appearance was similarly disappointing.

“Yo,” Flash said. “Hola chicas.”

“Hi,” Teresa said.

“Salutations,” Flea said.

Flash gave the mid-schooler a strange look, a what-the-hell look, but he didn’t mention Flea’s greeting. Instead he threw an arm around Jez as she purred in his lap. He stroked her head as if she were a cat and grinned at the others.

“You’re Teresa, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“You like tequila? ‘Cause I’ve got an assload. Like a full-on assload.”

“What’s that in fluid ounces?” Flea asked.

“Ha!” Flash said, not laughing. “Girl’s funny.”

“That’s Teresa’s little sister,” Jez said, stretching out. Now she did look like a cat lying across his lap. “Her name is Flea.”

“Weird name,” Flash said. “That like a nickname or something?”

“Is Flash a nickname?” Flea asked, hostility clear in her tone.

“Sure,” Flash said. “It ain’t short for anything.”

Jez giggled.

“Cool,” Teresa said, deciding to cut off the conversation before Flea could reply. “Jez, the movie starts at eight.”

“‘ chido,” Jez said.

La chava chida está bien,” Flash said, rubbing her under her chin.

The two Manzanos exchanged another look. Often separated by miles of disagreement and dissimilar interests, Teresa and Flea became sympatico in that glance. A universe of communication passed between the girls. Neither liked the over-cute version of Jez; a million eyes rolled in a single connected look and they were sisters, in an instant all else faded, nothing else remained but the bit of DNA binding them together like a live wire. Then it was over. Teresa broke eye contact.

“If you two chido chido love birds are ready, we can go now,” she said.

They piled into the truck, Teresa taking some satisfaction in making Flash sit in the bed unbuckled. The truck’s shocks, fucked as they were, magnified every bump and she made sure to hit every speed bump she saw, hard, getting some satisfaction in seeing Flash rattle and bounce through her rearview mirror. This delight contributed to Teresa’s excellent mood all the way to Silvia’s.

La cucaracha! La cucaracha!” she sang as the truck thundered down the road, “can no longer walk, can no longer run, because he’s been sprayed, because he’s been poisoned with pyrethrin bait!”

She’d gotten the idea for the lyrics from Flea’s endless cavalcade of insectoid factoids. The truck’s jangling emphasized the song’s 5/4 meter, forcing her to stop every so often. During a hard bump, she would stop singing and glance in the mirror to see Flash rise up and then she’d continue the song when he came down. Jez and Flea didn’t appreciate the music, even if Teresa’s mezzo-soprano kept it in key and was (in Teresa’s opinion) beautiful. Flea had always hated the song and Jez might have noticed Teresa’s gleeful killing of the titular roach was distantly related to Flash’s chaotic movement, but even if she hadn’t, Jez would have still kept urging restraint. A broken boyfriend is no use to anyone.

“Christ, Teresa, slow down,” she said, throwing a worried glance out the back window. “You’ll throw Flash out of the back.”

“La cu-ca-ra-cha!” Teresa said.

“Stop singing that!” Flea said.

“You should like this song,” Teresa said. “It’s about bugs.”

“Seriously, Teresa. Slow down a bit.”

“Fine,” Teresa said, applying the brake suddenly to throw Flash into the cab. He didn’t hit, he was already pressed as far front as he could go. Teresa pulled an irritated face. “And what song would you rather hear?” she asked Flea.

“How about the Let’s Not Kill My Boyfriend song?” Jez asked.

“How about Let the Driver Sing and Drive How She Wants?” Teresa asked.

By this time, they were on Silvia’s street; a narrow lane in Martineztown, a step away from San Ignacio Church, a white steepled building standing as imperious as only stern 1800s Catholic architecture could. Silvia’s parents were not rich. The house encompassed a scant few square-feet; a kitchen, bathroom, two bedrooms, and an appendix of a living room wedged onto land fit to house half a home, if even that. The front yard was a strip of dust, the back a square of weeds. Teresa parked on the street because there was no driveway, no garage either.

“Fuck, girl,” Flash said, jumping out of the truck. “You drive like crap.”

Jez ran to him to see if he was undamaged.

“Just kinda sore,” he said to her as he rubbed his ass.

Teresa ignored this, knocking on Silvia’s door as the couple exchanged sitreps, comments on drivers, and lovestruck, the-fault-is-in-our-stars gazes. Flea hurried to Teresa, avoiding the love-splattered couple’s fawning.

Knocking promptly summoned a haggard woman of forty with droopy eyes and too much make-up.

“Teresa, Felicia,” she greeted them in rhyming sing-song. “Silvia’s getting ready.”

They all crammed in, Jez and Flash too, standing in a living room large enough for a couch and a TV but nothing else. Standing room only, you could be forgiven if you took the space for a crowded train car rather than a house.

“What movie are you kids seeing?” Silvia’s mother asked between offering them cokes. Only Flea accepted the soda, draining it as fast as her throat could swallow it. Then she stood awkwardly, looking for a place to toss the can.

Teresa said they were going to see the new Pixar flick.

Silvia’s mother nodded and asked about Teresa’s family life: how was Mother, Father, school, etc. Teresa answered before diverting attention away from herself by introducing Flash, the single person Silvia’s mother did not know. All standard, nothing exceptional except Teresa noticed Silvia’s mother eyed Flash distastefully when he said his name. She’d known Silvia’s family her whole life and knew when Silvia’s mother was humoring somebody or outright disliked them. Teresa smiled inwardly. If Silvia’s mother didn’t like the guy either, then Teresa figured she didn’t have to feel guilty about not liking Jez’s new boy-toy.

“Flash?” Silvia’s mother asked. “Is that your Christian name?”

Flash muttered something evasive, leaving no doubt to the answer.

Silvia came out of her room, hair straightened, looking a bit like her mother by her make-up. Teresa would die before criticizing Silvia, but sometimes her friend took after her mother in bad ways. She complimented Silvia’s hair, foregoing any mention of the heavy make-up, and said it was time to go.

After a brief argument over which two unlucky souls would get into the back, Teresa used her executive authority as driver to sentence Jez and Flash to the truck bed.

Teresa did drive slower and safer now. She liked Jez, even if her boyfriends were lame.

They drove to the theater located near the city center and across from the Alvarado Transportation Center. The Center used to be a hotel: a masterwork of Mission-Revival Architecture boasting gardens, fountains, patios, and balconies. Beautiful, sprawling, and serving the railroad, the hotel stood replete until the 20th century when it was demolished for a parking lot. This embarrassment led to the building of the Transport Center, which closely emulated the old hotel: A sprawling, long structure with arches and Spanish-style shingled roofs, a front reminiscent of a Spanish mission, and an adobe clocktower with a simple face. The Center was impressive, letting no hint of the old hotel shine through. That bit of history was as dead as the dirt lot that had killed it.

The theater was a modern curved building with large windows and its logo in red across the front in large modern serif font. Opposite the Alvarado, it lost pizzazz, but a theater’s worth is on the inside, not on the outside.

The intersection near these two buildings never slowed down. Day or night cars crawled through it, joined by city buses. Pedestrians exiting the buses or trains congregated on the street corner, waiting for the crosswalks to usher them across. Human drama played out here. There were panhandlers looking to score, teens heading home or deeper into the city for a Friday night concert, college students eager to catch the Rail Runner train up to Santa Fe, businessmen and women saving money by taking the buses, a couple deeply in love, a fighting couple out of love and deeply intoxicated, a fat man whose button-up shirt strained to contain him, a tattooed woman, her body a mural, every movement a different kind of art, three Germans visiting New Mexico cheaply, and four teenagers with a preteen: Teresa, Silvia, Flash, Jez, and Flea.