OSCAR MANCINAS | FICTION

Arizona Boy

It all comes to an end, and I come back to Arizona.

“Ey man, you know what? I say fuck that bitch,” my cousin Hermes says about my ex-wife Anna. “She ain’t shit.” I can barely hear him over the roar of the wind against his pickup on freeway.

I say “Uh huh,” because I got nothing else. We haven’t seen each other in years, and he is doing me a favor by giving me a ride from the airport. Still, I wish he would leave me alone.

“You already know how white girls be,” he says. “They let all this therapy bullshit get in their heads and then ‘you’re the problem.’ I seen some shit online about how divorce lawyers work with some counselors so they both make bank after people split.”

I give another “uh huh” and think of Anna conspiring with a divorce lawyer to ruin me financially, and almost make myself laugh. She’s a financial consultant at some fancy firm; I was an assistant manager at bookstore in Newton. Any money she gained in our divorce would be more like loose change found under a couch.

Hermes won’t let up, though.

“Pues órale! You’re back in A-Z and free, man. We can hit up Mill or Downtown Phoenix for chicks, if you want? The college kids ain’t back in town yet, so the best drinking spots ain’t crowded. Lotsa fine-ass girls.” He nudges me with the back of his hand and laughs.

“Uh huh,” I say.

I don’t want to go out drinking with anyone. I want to drink, and for everyone to go bother Anna, instead. As the Phoenix desert glides by outside my window, I realize I haven’t seen Hermes or my home state in nearly ten years. His laugh is annoying as hell, but it also reminds me of a past life, I feel weirdly relaxed.

“How’s Yessica?” I ask.

The truck hums softer as the excitement for drink and women makes way for the words of a pensive father. “Oh, man. She’s great. Smart as hell, you know? I don’t know where that came from ‘cause I know I never liked school and her mom ain’t much better,” he says.

Rather than relate my own experience of being smart and brown and part of a family that never had any idea of what to do with me, I smile at my cousin and let him have his perplexed pride. As I go to ask follow-up, though, Hermes drives past the exit for 101, the way to my parents’ place in Tempe.

“Whoa. Where you going?” I say.

“Chill.”

“I want to go home, though.”

“I said chill, fool. There’s a party at Tía Sonia’s house. Everybody’s there, and they told me to bring you straight from the airport.”

“Well, how come nobody asked me? Man, I don’t want to drive all the way out to Queen Creek. That’s like an hour-and-a-half away.” I can hear myself and I know I sound like a teenager—but this type of forced family bonding, I remind myself, is part of why I left.

“Nah, homes,” Hermes says, still calm. “See, the freeways all connect now. AZ’s changed since you’ve been gone. Shit’s like a forty-minute drive.” He smiles, eyes on the road. “But it’s all good with me if you wanna sleep. Your ma said you might be kinda cranky and tired.”

I want to ask what the hell else my ma said, but Hermes reaches into the small space in the bench seat and pulls out an energy drink. It’d be impossible to know the temperature of the can’s contents, but the smell of high-octane sugar fills the cab the minute he pops the tab and lets the liquid burble down his throat.

“Hey man,” I say, my stomach clenching. “Can crack your window or something? That shit you’re drinkin’ is making me sick.”

He shrugs and opens his window. When I turn back to the road, coming at me are exits for El Valle and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Reservation. Then I remember Kino. I look over at Hermes again. Suddenly, neither one of us is thirty. We’re not failed husbands. We’re teenagers driving home one night; leaving the rez. I close my eyes, put my head, hot with memory, against the window.

#

Kino was the first person I knew who lived on the rez. We met in the second grade. Back at Polk Elementary, every Pima, Maricopa, Navajo, and O’odham boy was called “Frybread,” or “Big Frybread” or “Little Frybread” if they had a big brother or a little brother, but Kino didn’t have any siblings and even if he did I’d never call him anything but Kino.

The first day of class, Mrs. Wright was seating us. We stood against the wall and waited for her to call our names and point to our place.

“Ah-la-cron? Sebastian.” My name left her mouth like motor oil spilling onto asphalt, but I walked to my seat, trying not to make any noise or draw any attention to myself.

“Mendoza. Kai-noh.”

The skinny boy with black, black hair and ashy knees, grinning like he just farted and no one noitced, walked over and sat next to me.

“Mrs. Wright doesn’t know how to say my name.” He whispered excitedly, like our teacher not knowing his name meant she didn’t know his identity, like he was some kind of superhero.

“Yeah.” I whispered back. “She doesn’t know how to say my name, too.” I felt less invincible.

In the seventh grade our class had a field trip to the Phoenix Art Museum. I spent most of the day trying not to fall asleep while old white ladies with gray hair and gray sweaters talked about all the membership activities none of our parents would ever be able to afford. Finally, after they were done, we were allowed to walk around the museum.

I looked at the paintings and tried to picture myself in them. I felt like I should’ve been born into a painting. Like maybe I was meant to be remembered as a kid instead of growing up to become some unknown adult. Kino laughed at all the paintings—and there were more than plenty—of Indians. Ones with men standing around wearing animal hides; ones with young warriors on horses looking determined and doomed; ones with women sitting in a circle inside of a room, staring at the earth like it had just delivered more bad news.

“I swear,” he said. “You look at these and think that none of us ever smile without white people around.” He walked away from me and talked to the empty wing of the museum.

“Well, what makes most Indians smile?” I said, after him. “I feel like I never see you not smiling, your yellow-ass teeth, stinky breath and all.” I shoved him from behind.

He stumbled a bit.

“Man, how the hell should I know?” He kept walking. “Probably a cooler full of beer or watching the Suns beat the Lakers, or, like, winning fifteen bucks from a scratcher’s ticket.” His hands were in the air summoning the ideas. “That’s usually the kind of thing that makes my uncles and cousins smile.”

By this time, we’d made it out of “Paintings of the Old West” part and walked into “Arizona in Painting.”

Kino turned to me with his grin. “What about you? What’s the kind of thing that makes Mexicans smile and dance and sing those accordion songs y’all like so much?”

I felt my smile turn into a stern look as I thought seriously about Kino’s dumb question. What did make my family smile? What made me smile? I looked at Kino—his dark brown eyes fixed on me—and shrugged.

“Let’s try to find some paintings with Mexicans in them and maybe we’ll find out,” I said, trying to be funny.

Kino turned and laughed. “There should be a painting of Amanda Smith. That would make you smile real big, real quick.” He took off running. I chased after him, my face hot. That son of bitch was talking too loud and Amanda was somewhere in the museum and could maybe hear him and then what?

He turned a corner, and, when I finally caught him, he was standing still. I grabbed onto his beefy arm and punched him. It was a pretty good hit, but he didn’t move or react, probably didn’t even feel it. He just kept looking straight ahead. I turned from him and saw what had stopped him.

Staring at us, standing in front dust, dirt, and mountains shrunken in the distant background, was a boy. The mountains, the sky, the boy: all were grayish-brown like old wood or the moon. In a tattered hood and torn pants, he looked like he’d been carved out of stone himself, by thousands of years of wind, sand, and sun. His hands were in front of his stomach. One hand held the other, as though he could attack if he let himself go. His face was pissed, calm, and sad all at the same time.

Kino took a step towards the painting. Without thinking, I did, too. Side-by-side, we stood—so close that I could feel heat from the back of Kino’s hand on my own—and stared at the boy; and he stared back.

“Mr. Alarcon! Mr. Mendoza!”

We turned to see Mrs. Dunning. She had her arms crossed and looked at us like we were peeing in public. “What time did we say we’d all be meeting back in the lobby, gentlemen?”

Neither of us said anything.

“It’s almost 1:50. You two are lucky we didn’t just leave you here.”

Kino snapped back into himself. “Sorry, Mrs. D. I was hoping to get a job here as a sculpture model.” He pulled at an imaginary bow and released, firing an imaginary arrow. “Mmm. Good hunt this season. Many buffalo. But still no smile,” he said.

I laughed.

Mrs. Dunning didn’t. “It’s that kind of attitude that makes teachers not want to bring students here. If you can’t appreciate these kinds of privileges, then why even bother coming?”

Kino’s smile faded. His shoulders lifted and sank.

“Whenever you’re ready, Geronimo” she said. “You, too, moo-cha-choe.”

We ducked our heads and started walking towards her. I turned one last time to look at the boy and the plaque next to his frame:

Eugene Berman
Arizona Boy, 1940
Gouache on Paper.

#

Kino lived on the edge of the Salt River Rez, almost an hour from Desertwood High School. He had to walk through twenty-five minutes of straight desert: past shrubs, cacti, rocks, and dirt to get to West El Valle. After those twenty-five minutes, though, the shrubs turned into broken glass, the cacti, traffic lights, the rocks and dirt, cigarette butts, and concrete for another twenty minutes. He stopped only when he no longer attended Desertwood.

I stare out the window of Hermes’s truck, my stomach still gnarled. A loud corrido floods the cab. When the song is over, I take advantage.

“Hey, man, I thought you said I could sleep ‘til we got to tía’s.”

Hermes drains the rest of the can down his throat, smacks his lips, crushes the can, and belches.

“Nel güey.” He shakes his head. “Music helps keep me focused, dogg.”

Out the window, billboards advertise an outdoor mall in that didn’t exist in El Valle when I lived here. I feel a small, annoying ping of nostalgia and am ashamed. I tell myself it’s just the carsickness and Anna—we’d visited my hometown once; she’d hated it. Once we pass the stretch for the outdoor mall, I turn to Hermes who’s tapping off-beat on the steering wheel.

“Hey man,” I say with nowhere else to turn. “You remember Kino?”

Hermes stops his tapping. He looks ahead for what feels like an eternity. Then he turns down the radio and sighs.

“Goddamn, dude. I swear, you straight-up look like Lawrence of Arabia crossing the fuckin’ Nefud.” I said and handed Kino the Gatorade I’d been drinking out of.

We met most days before school at a convenience store down the block from Desertwood; for him it was on his way to school and for me it gave me a place to buy and smoke cigarettes—a habit I would quit and un-quit for years. Even though it was almost October, or maybe because it was still only September, I was ready to get the hell out of Arizona and the 100-degree days that never got any easier.

Kino, covered in sweat, took two big gulps of Gatorade, dropped his backpack, and took off his shirt. His body glistened with rivulets of sweat. He motioned two fingers towards his mouth. I reached into my pack of Marlboro 37s and handed one to him.

“You lucked out,” I said. “It’s my second-to-last one.”

He used his shirt to wipe the sweat from his face, pulled a lighter out of his pockets, and lit up the cigarette in his teeth.

His smile came back.

“Thank you, English,” he said in a so-so Omar Sharif. “But you know I’d just hold your little ass down and take it from you, right?” He flexed a bicep while he took a long drag. He abandoned the impression. “Don’t think you’re all that just ‘cause you found out you’re in the top ten of our class.”

He pointed at me with the cigarette between his fingers and exhaled.

“You should try it,” I said and threw my cigarette on the ground and stepped on it. “I’m saying, I know it’s a pain in the ass to listen to all those bullshit presentations about college applications and financial aid, but it might be worth it. It’d get you outta here, you know?”

Cigarette back in his teeth, he looked into my eyes, and I tried to match his look—some weird game, he played sometimes, like he thought I had more to say, but wouldn’t tell him. Then he shook his head and said, “What time is it?”

“7:20-something.”

“Let’s go.”

“This early? Why?”

“‘Cause, ése,” he said in his growly Edward James Olmos. “There’s AC inside the damn school, vato. Wacha, can’t you see I’m sweating like a fuckin’ Aztec in the jungle, fool?”

We broke out laughing.

I lifted my head from my desk as soon as I felt the pecking. I hadn’t been sleeping but, I was out of it enough for Mr. Stapley to be pissed. The vein on his forehead lunged like Rottweiler on a chain.

“You have nothing you could be working on?” he asked, but gave me no time to answer. “I don’t give you free time so you can nap in class, okay? You’re supposed to be using this time productively. College essays matter, I think most of your classmates would agree. If you’re going to be content with just doing nothing after you graduate, though, please tell me and maybe I’ll let you have naptime. Does that sound like a fair compromise?”

The rest of my AP English class, even Kino, snickered. I wanted to get up, in Stapley’s face and shove my transcript down his throat. Ninth. You read that shit, Stapley? I’m ranked ninth in this stupid senior class. Top. Ten. Motherfucker.

Instead, I said, “My bad, Mr. Stapley,” and flipped open a notebook. I pretended to scribble some bullshit until he walked away. I’d already written the essay I was going to send to colleges, a counselor had helped me put my story down into words: my grandparents were Mexicans who had snuck into the U.S. just after the Second World War, I was born and raised in Arizona, a state where I was still, two generations in, a kid who was smart and got good grades despite being Mexican. My life—like my essay—was pretty much written for me by people who told me I was weird or didn’t belong. I wanted out, if for no other reason than to find somewhere I belong and then to come back and throw it everyone’s face.  Especially people like Mr. Stapley.

“Man, are you still butthurt?” Kino said and took a long drag from the cigarette and handed it back. It was after school: we walked to my place to watch TV or find any other way to waste a day, the way I wanted most days wasted as a teenager; I wanted things to happen already.

“He didn’t need to be an asshole about it,” I said. I took a few small puffs and handed it back to Kino. I exhaled. “I’m not a loser going nowhere, you know? I mean, I can point to my grades and say ‘see, I’m doing something right, so get outta my face.’”

Kino offered the cigarette once more to me, but I waved it off and said, “It’s all you; kill it.”

As he took his last drags, I pressed him to back me up. “Let’s get outta AZ, dude,” I said.

“You need to chill with that, I’m serious. You’re starting to get on my nerves.”

He was still smiling, but it was like his smile covered his face instead of being part of it.

“What’s it gonna hurt if you at least try, though?” I said. “Man, don’t act like you’re not smart or like you wouldn’t be able to handle it. You’re in some AP classes and I know your stubborn-ass likes books.” I put my arm around his shoulder, which wasn’t easy since he was a solid five inches taller than me, but I could feel his body rising and fall with his breaths, and I felt like I could convince him if I lowered my voice. “Let’s get outta here,” I said and, to try to steady myself, put my other hand on his chest—he let me, for a second.

He shrugged me off, though. “Hey, genius, you ever think not all of us hate it here as much as you do?” he said.

His shrug made me stumble a little and I could feel myself getting hot. “You live on the rez, dude,” I said. “You’re always bitching about how much you hate it. The drunks, the junkies, the crazy-ass people who drive around looking for shit to shoot at for fun. Why else would you be at a shitty school like D-Wood except that you know you can’t get anywhere with the schools closer to your house?” I was still thinking about Mr. Stapley, about the people at school, about the people in the state: all of them fighting to keep me in El Valle. I was gonna fight them back. Kino, too, if I had to.

“Man, you don’t know shit about the rez, all right? Just fuckin’ forget it,” he said and shook his head. He turned and walked in the opposite direction of my place.

“Tell me I’m wrong then.” I said, trailing farther and farther behind him. He wouldn’t turn around, so I got louder. “Tell me you want to spend the rest of your life living on the fucking rez, then.” I could feel my voice become fragile, and I knew I couldn’t say another word without it breaking.

We didn’t talk again for weeks. In that time, I finalized some early applications to schools I knew hardly anything about except that they were in cities that were far away. Boston, New York, Philadelphia: all were places I’d never visited and recognized only because they were big and cold and full of people who didn’t know me.

At Desertwood, I’d still see Kino and he would see me, but we wouldn’t talk. I wasn’t mad at him, I don’t think, but I felt like maybe he was mad at me and that made me feel like I needed to stand my ground. I wished, though, we would talk. I hated feeling completely alone and told myself I’d be willing to cut a deal with Kino if it meant we could hang out again. I got my wish when he called my house one night.

“Hey, what’re you up to?” he said, sounding very far away.

“Nothing. Procrastinating from homework.”

“Ha. I figured.” He paused. “Meet me at Hohokam Park, on the bridge over the canal, in like a half hour?”

“All right,” I said, and we hung up.

Even though he laughed a little on the phone, I imagined him in the middle of a dark desert, calling from the only phone for miles and then hanging up and forgetting which way was which. I shuddered without really knowing why.

Kino was calm at the park, but something about him still felt off. He was wearing a hoodie, despite the warm, humid night. I sat down next to him, and he offered me a cig and a beer, too. We sat with our feet dangling over the stale-smelling canal water. Neither one of us said anything for a while.

I finally broke the silence.

“Was that you farting in Spanish class on Tuesday?”

“Hell nah!” he said and laughed. “I smelled something nasty, too, and, you know what? I bet you it was Brittany Shipp. I saw her and her friends get lunch at Burrito Express that day. Whatever she ate wanted out in a bad way.”

We both laughed; we were back.

“Shit, dude, that’s too much.” I wiped the tears from my eyes and took a sip of beer. It wasn’t too cold, but it was cold enough. Just like nights in early November.

Then we both were silent. Our feet swung closer to one another over the canal. I didn’t close my eyes, but the sounds of occasional cars faded into the sounds of crickets and of slowly flowing water in the canal. I turned to Kino and he was looking at me. He’d pulled the hood from this sweatshirt off, and light from the streetlamps rested gently on half of his face, and I wondered if he were trembling or if I were imagining it. I heard myself take in a breath, closed my eyes, and leaned into Kino’s light. Our lips found the other’s quickly. Our hands caressed the other’s face. I breathed in hard, smelling his cheek and neck, but I didn’t want to pull away. He put his hands on my shoulders and brought me into him.

After, we lay in the grass, away from any light. Our chests rising and falling like we were powering the stars with our exhales. Our hands clasped between us. Holy fuck, I remember thinking over and over. Holy fuck holy fuck holy fuck holy fuck.

#

Off the road, on the shoulder, I wretch but nothing comes out. My nausea teases me.

“Put your finger down your throat, cuz” Hermes says from driver’s seat.

I ignore him.

Cars rumble past in either direction, but I find an odd comfort in the thick, hot wind they pull behind them and onto me. I cough and spit and rinse my mouth out with warm water from bottle Hermes had under his seat.

When I get back in the truck, thankfully, Hermes takes me a little more serious and doesn’t turn on any music.

“We’re still like twenty minutes away, if you wanna sleep, dogg,” he says softly—a tone, I imagine, he’s developed and tries to use as much as possible around his daughter.

My stomach relaxes, a little, but I still feel a thudding in my head.  

“Thanks, man.” I muster. I lean my head back and let out a deep breath.

“You know, I still think about him, too, man,” Hermes says. He turns back to the road like the answer is still just out of his sight. “Shit’s crazy how people just go away, no?”

The thudding in my head intensifies. I close my eyes and lean my head against my window and hope for it to stop.

#

“That sounds like a shit-storm waiting to happen.” I remember saying to Kino when he told me about the party on the rez. Sky Washington’s uncle was going to a funeral in Albuquerque, and, since it was on the Sunday before Thanksgiving Break, he was going to be gone for almost a week. Sky’s uncle had asked him to watch his stuff while he was gone. Mostly, I worried because of Sky’s reputation. He was an all right kid, no doubt, but the other rez kids would tell you that he was more than a little crazy. That Halloween, he had dressed up as a giant syringe and told teachers and students “I’m a huge prick” when they asked about his costume. A teacher finally sent him home, but only after a few others had tried and failed to hold back laughter. He wore that costume for the rest of the day, people who saw him after school told us. He even wore it to the mall a few days after Halloween. It was his party we’d all be going to, on the rez—where no one ever called the cops because nobody cared about what went down on there.

“What’re you scared of?” Kino said. “I promise none of the scary Indians will want any trouble with a little Mexican kid, even if he is one of the biggest dorks in the school.”  He put his arm around my shoulder as we walked to class. The weather was no longer as hot. The further we went into our senior year, the less real it felt.

“So he’s just having a house party at his uncle’s place? How the hell is that going to work?” I slowly moved myself from under Kino’s arm. We hadn’t hung out, just the two of us, since that night in Hohokam Park. Things—invented and not—kept coming up, but Kino still smiled. At school, he’d talk about cheap apartments in Tempe we could rent while I went to Arizona State University and he went to El Valle Community College. “Then I’ll transfer to ASU,” he’d say. “So we can be there as juniors and seniors.”  

All the while, I sent out early decision applications to schools out East, and ignored any in-state school applications. I didn’t say of this to Kino, though.

“Calm down, man,” he said, still smiling because maybe he thought my nerves were due to the rez party and nothing else. “It’s going to be all right. You think I’ll let anything happen to you?”

I felt sick.

The party was worse and better than I thought. At least fifty people were there, pouring out the medium-sized house in the middle of the desert. Somehow, the music managed to overpower the collective hum of talking, laughing, and shouting.

“What the hell else are Indians gonna do during Thanksgiving Break?” Kino shouted in my ear when he noticed how surprised I was to see so many people. There were kids from Desertwood, older folks from the rez, and people who looked like they didn’t fit into either group. All El Valle, it felt like, was there. Everyone trying to shout over the heavy metal being blasted to the sky, it seemed; everyone drinking and smoking and dancing. Kino and I joined in, and, before long, I had a heavy buzz.

Standing outside, behind the house, Kino was making me laugh. He had his hood pulled up over his face and was doing an awful impression of Alec Guinness as Obi Wan. When I stopped laughing, I saw his eyes, shaded by his hood, looking at me and I could tell he was smiling. I don’t know why, but I leaned into his ear, pulling his hood to side, and said, one last time, “Come on, man. I’m gonna go to Boston or New York. I got all my shit turned in. Save up and come with me.”

He stepped away from like something had bitten him. He hung his head, so that his hood covered his whole face. When he looked up at me, his mouth was stiff and he rubbed one fist nervously with his other hand, but he didn’t move.

Feeling cold all of a sudden, I took a step toward him and tried to touch his shoulder, but he slapped my hand away. I tried again, and he slapped my hand again, and said, “Don’t’ fuckin’ touch me.”

I felt a spike go through my body.

“Come on,” I said. “Fuck this place, man. Fuck these people. Let’s go someplace where things could be decent for us.”

“Why don’t you just shut the fuck up?” He stepped to me and pointed his finger to my chest. “You think you won’t be a wetback to white people out there? What? You think I wanna be your lil’ Indian sidekick on the East Coast? You think you’re better than all of us here?”

I could feel him trembling, and I wanted to make it stop. I tried, again, to put my hand on his shoulder, but he knocked it away, again.

“Don’t fuckin’ touch me, faggot.” He shouted and shoved me hard.

What happened next is still a blur.   

Suddenly, I felt his powerful hands grab me. I struggled to try to land some shots on his body and to try to protect myself. I failed to do either. Kino dropped me flat on my back and I felt all the air flee my chest. He was on top of me instantly. White-flashes hammered against my face. I lifted my arms to cover after the fact. My head rang like a siren. I tasted blood.

I still don’t know what kept him from killing me. I don’t know if he decided a few clean shots to my face was enough, or if people had taken pity on me and pulled him off before he could do more. Either way, Kino stopped, and I lay there in the dirt, my body registering different pain.

When I did finally get to my feet, I stumbled into the house to wash my face. I watched water drip in pink droplets from my hands, and I thought about how I would say I’m sorry to Kino. Even with my head throbbing, I knew I’d fucked up. I wadded up some toilet paper and put it in my nose. In the mirror, I looked less like I got my ass kicked and more like I spent a day crying, but my stomach was turning and my brain felt like it was pushing against my skull. I wanted to go home but I wanted to see Kino before I left.

I went outside and looked all over—in the backyard, down in the basement, in most rooms—but couldn’t find him. I remember the burning panic in my temples, but I told myself I couldn’t give up. I searched in front of the house and saw that Kino’s mom’s truck was gone, and I froze. I stopped feeling any of the weight dragging at my body. I thought about how Kino was as drunk as I was, and I was terrified.

Back in the house I tried to get anyone’s attention, but everyone was too fucked up to do anything. Outside, I walked around almost aimlessly. Had no one noticed? I wondered, my head still throbbing. Until I saw, standing around a campfire, several yards away from the house, a group of people. I recognized one of them immediately: it was Hermes, he was hanging out with other friends of his who had graduated from Desertwood the year before. I ran over to them yelling, trying to explain what happened: Kino, his mom’s truck, my face, drinking, driving, finding him. Hermes, I remember, just kept saying “all right all right all right all right all right” and soon we were in his dad’s pick-up.

Surrounded by black and cold and wind we raced down the road. I saw no trace of Kino. I touched the tips of my fingers to my swelling face, tried to keep my lips from drying but couldn’t ignore the metallic taste of blood each time. Hermes never said a word, I don’t think. I remember, from that night only the sound of the infinite dark wind against the truck. And how, suddenly, the infinity was broken in the distance by flashing red and blue lights. I agonized in my mind for the truth not to be. As we got closer, though, I saw the squad car and Kino’s mom’s truck, a few yards short of a well-lit intersection, where the rez meets the richer neighborhoods in East El Valle. Dread tightened around my neck. I don’t know how, if not for instinct, but I continued to breathe. I could feel Hermes tense, as well. As we drove by, I fought the urge to stick my head out the window to try to see inside the back of the squad car; I regret, still, not looking.

Days later everyone in Stapley’s English class was talking about how Kino wasn’t coming back, that he wasn’t going to leave the rez for a few months as part of a plea bargain. All of it felt too predictable, and I tried to tune it out. I told myself whatever had happened was, if not inevitable, then, at least, a sign. What was left for me here? For months, in the halls, hushed voices surrounded me like a funeral procession. It felt like, somehow, I’d sacrificed him so that I might get away without punishment or consequences. I decided I had done something awful, and that I’d never admit to what it was.

Only in dreams do I see Kino again. In the hoodie he wore the last time we saw each other, he walks the impossible distance to Desertwood High, across all the years we’ve not spoken, not bothering ever to wipe any sweat collecting on his above his eyes or on his cheeks. With my eyes closed, all I need is to extend my hand and put it on his shoulder. I do.

He turns around. Mad at first, he balls one hand into a fist and has to punch his other hand to keep from punching whoever just startled him. His face softens, though, when he sees who it is. Can he believe it? Finally, he pulls back his hood, drops his hands at his sides, and smiles. I smile, too.

I want to tell him—tell us both—things are all right. It hasn’t been easy, I want to say, but we’re okay and we’re going to be okay. I want to tell him how during pitch black nights, when angry snow whips against the windows of my old apartment, I envy him in his desert. (Our desert?) I want, most of all, to hear him say something back. A laugh, an insult, a question about what else makes me think of him. As his smile fades, though, and he’s about to speak, Hermes shakes me awake and tells me we’ve arrived at the party.

Oscar Mancinas is a poet, prose writer, and PhD student hailing from Mesa, Arizona. His work can be found at The Shallow Ends, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and Latinxsbelike.com. Currently, he’s trying to get a guest spot on the number 1 show in late night Desus & Mero. #DieForTheHive

2018-06-01T15:48:44+00:00