In San Jacinto

In the daytime Annika watched out of the lockshop window the zombie-eyed grackles, their eerie flashes of blue and green in the relentless sun, their relentless beaks on the glass. In the morning, Lizette opened the window to pour a line of corn on the sill to appease them, and Annika was always afraid one would flap its way in. Who knew what one of those things would do if it got inside? Dive straight for the eyes — Annika’s gray eyes, not so very lowered with guilt, or Luis’s carefully nonchalant and dark ones — to punish them for what they had done.

Who knew what one of those things would do if it got inside? Dive straight for the eyes — Annika’s gray eyes, not so very lowered with guilt, or Luis’s carefully nonchalant and dark ones — to punish them for what they had done.

In the late afternoons, Luis came to pick her up before he got his sons from basketball practice. Luis — who, according to their boss Bobbie (Luis’s wife Penny had shown her a picture) had looked, sitting on a stocky desert horse at the age of twenty, just like Pancho Villa. A mechanic in the Chilean army, then, stationed in different places in the world, it was at this point that he had met his American wife, young and doing internships in Europe and South America. He was tall and stocky, with thinning black hair that he wore down past his collar. He brought beans to work that Penny fixed for Annika, because she lived in a room with only a microwave and a sink.

It was with a strange mix of embarrassment and irony and pride that Annika ate those beans, like a child enjoying the reward given to her for a small success when only she knows it’s nothing compared to her still-unknown failure.

Annika was twenty-four. Locks and Keys was in a pretty gray stone building with mammoth, heavy wooden doors like those in a church. She and Luis and Lizette stood behind a tall, wide counter made of the same glossy dark wood. The walls of their little cubicles behind the counter were flimsy carpeted plastic, but Bobbie had a real office in the back.

Sometimes Annika walked slowly past Luis’s cubicle, twiddling a key or an authorization slip in her hands, when Penny stopped by to talk to him. They were worried about their handsome and rebellious teenage boys (the younger one, Sam, thin but straight-haired like his father, the other, Nathan, like Penny curly-haired and freckled). What will he wear, Will he keep his scholarship, Where are they now, Will he speak to me again.

They had always been good boys. But as they had grown older, Luis reported with anger and regret, they had been harassed without reason by the police, and were developing a general grudge because of it. On the phone Luis told them to be better to their mother. They worried her with the reckless attitudes they showed their teachers and with the tattoo the older one had gotten on a school trip to Trundheim.

(Oil on canvas, 39.37 x 56.52 cm)
BY Thomas Worthington Whittredge
Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art

Between four-thirty and six Annika climbed into Luis’s van and put her impatient hand on his waist. She gripped his belt, then groped her way to his skin. Inside the van it was cool, outside it was very hot. It was September. They had started all of this in July. It hadn’t been as hot in July. Annika had been in Texas for a year, working at the lockshop with Luis for six months. At the beginning of the summer, the air had been not too hot yet at all, but loud with cicadas, and the land was still green up in the hill country. By August the sun had burned it brown, but the Jersey Queen peaches were ripe in Nueces, so she and Luis went out to pick two brown paper bags of them. Who knew how Luis had managed to get away. With the evidence in hand he must have said he was going for peaches, but that was the kind of thing you did with your wife, wasn’t it. When Annika left him for the day, there were dried trails of peach juice run down his thickening neck.

He didn’t come into the room Annika lived in, her miniature cottage house, more like a furnished shed, behind an old woman’s main place. She pretended to hope, out loud to Luis, that this made it seem as if he were just giving her a ride somewhere. But she took a secret wicked pleasure in knowing very well that it just made things look worse. Hers was a dirt yard with tough stumps of buffalo grass. When she saw Luis coming, Annika stepped out onto the dirt swinging her hips and looking down for fire ants. Once she found a big fat freshly dead rat out there, fire ants already devouring the eyes.

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