Lou didn't react to Maggie's new friendships with incredulity as she'd thought he might. "Well good," he said to her, "I hate thinking of you alone, reading all day."
"I don't just read, Lou, jeez." She fell right onto her husband's lap and kissed him for his understanding, for his ability to surprise her.
Alejandro and Benito told Maggie stories about rafts on violent rivers, worn-shoes treks, delays knee-deep in mud, cold nights, and hot days. Alejandro wanted Maggie to understand everything, and she wouldn't tell a single soul. Not one, she said, though he hadn't asked her.
At the border, their coyote, who'd cost six thousand dollars, disappeared in the night, and they had to go back and bring a big group. The next day they waited and waited because there was no coyote and they could see the man on patrol, like wood, like a statue. They needed to be invisible and make no sound, so they sat on the backs of their feet and sat on their butts and sat on big rocks and lied down very low on the dust. During the nights, they walked one way or the other way, but the patrol always was there. Their hearts were empty like their stomachs. But finally, the patrol man was gone, to another part of the border. Or maybe they were the ones gone and he stayed where he was. Alejandro was sick and when he said to his body, vaya, it wouldn't go. But Benito put Alejandro over his small, strong shoulder. Like a coat. And they walked a long time like that. Alejandro's cheek bumped on Benito's back every time they went a step, and the steps sounded like music, but maybe because he was so tired.
Whenever Alejandro mentioned college in the following weeks, Maggie supported him. "You work your ass off," was her refrain. Never, "You're a smart young man." (She'd always told her daughters they were twice as smart as any kids she could think of.) Though, in many ways, Alejandro was smart, brilliant.
Alejandro repeated the foreign phrase, "Work my ass off?" The words were strained through a tight smirk, which launched into hysterical laughter that spread to Maggie until they were both teary-eyed.
But weeks later, the pages of Alejandro's application were still blank. He stopped mentioning college, and taking his lead, Maggie did too. The last he said of the matter was, "The application confused me too much. It asks a lot of questions. And I know that if they do let me come there, I won't see Luz so much." It wasn't a resignation, nor a strong assertion, just a truth that he gave willingly to Maggie.
Maggie had never asked Alejandro and Benito into her house, nor did they invite her into theirs, until "Do you want to see the baby?"
"What baby?" Maggie imagined Luz's belly going from a board to a proud beach ball. "Luz?"
"No, no, one of the girls who lives in my house, Lucía, she had a baby last week," he said.
When Maggie walked in, the house looked like one big, cluttered room. On the living room table there was a pile of coloring books, a couple of CDs with seductive blonde girls on their cases, and a little stone-faced Virgin Mary crying with open hands. On the wall, they'd stuck up a poster from the movie Titanic, "From the Director of Aliens and True Lies," and next to that, the rugged stars of the Barcelona soccer team in blue and red stripes with yellow numbers.
Alejandro introduced Maggie to Lucía, who couldn't have been more than 20. Any other girl, Maggie would have felt sympathy, even pity for her. But Lucía was shining, hovering euphorically above the chair she sat in. She had her long hair in a ponytail that came over the front of her shoulder and her baby in one arm. They all sat for almost a half hour without saying much, just watching the baby. Every time he moved or made a noise, it felt colossal, momentous. Maggie asked Lucía how she felt, how did it feel to be a new mother?
Lucía said when the doctor went to hand her baby to her, she looked at the ceiling in the hospital and she pretended it was the sky, and she asked for un angelito. And that's exactly what he put in her lap.
"Those people are very religious," Lou said when Maggie relayed the conversation, "very Catholic."
Lucía is an evangelist," Maggie said.
"Yeah? Well." And he shrugged.
One of the last days of summer, Lou and Maggie were sitting on the porch, the two of them in satisfied silence. Alejandro and Benito were leaving their house to ride downtown. They waved at Maggie and Lou as they passed, but they didn't stop. They already seemed older to Maggie, almost bigger than their bicycles, but she knew it was just a notion. Once they got to the main road, their bikes looked like wires against the diluted sky. And when Maggie could no longer see them, she settled into the neighborhood's musty spell, considering the possibility that the boys, whizzing so fast away from her, had morphed into two of the pioneer stars that turn dusk to night.
Kate Berson is entering her third year at Tufts University with a double major in English and Latin American Studies. She is a member of the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service Scholars Program and currently interns at Global Policy Forum in New York. She hopes to write a collection of short stories as her senior thesis.
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