The Sureness of Horses–Chapters 26, 27, and 28

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26

As we moved to a new vantage point, Diana yelled over to me, “Listen. The hounds are on something.” After a quick word to the third field master, she led me off at a gallop. Or, as I was learning to say, we cantered. The hounds were making a loud racket past the second ridge. “Let’s see what has them so riled up.”

We cantered toward the noise but still couldn’t see them. Diana’s face glowed with excitement.

When we cantered over the ridge, a large boar appeared, surrounded by six or seven hounds barking furiously at him. He squealed as he rushed in one direction and another. He made a sharp turn and kicked one of the hounds, who dropped on the spot.

The huntsman rode up from the other side of the hill. As he came down from a canter to a trot I saw him pull a gun from a holster under his jacket. I had no idea he was carrying a weapon.

The pig snorted loudly and ran straight for the approaching huntsman, scooting between his horse’s legs. At least ten hounds were chasing the boar now, a few so close they nipped at his back. As the boar scurried away, the huntsman fired off a shot, but his horse bucked and the bullet missed the boar entirely. The boar headed toward me then but veered off. As soon as there was no chance of hitting me or Diana, the huntsman took another shot. The second shot hit the boar in the head. It limped two last steps and fell over on its side. The hounds swarmed the pig. When one used its teeth to open up flesh, I couldn’t watch anymore. “I’ll be over in that glen,” I said, and guided Artemis away.

Diana followed. With my back to the action, I asked her, “What’s happening? Is it as awful as I think?”

“Don’t watch!”

But I took one more glance. The hounds were crawling over the carcass, ripping flesh. The huntsman had dismounted and was in among them. What could he be doing?

As if hearing the question in my mind, Diana said, “The Huntsman wants to make sure this is a kill . . . and that all the hounds get some meat. He thinks, I’m sure, that they’ll make better hunters that way. I doubt it. He shouldn’t be doing this.”

Feeling queasy, I retreated farther then, out of view.

As the first field joined the group gathered around the pack, the huntsman jogged over to us, smiling widely. “Can you believe he tried to attack my horse?” He put his handgun back into his holster.

I was revolted by the man’s glee. When neither of us seemed as excited as he was, he moved his attention back to the pack. I turned to Diana. “Let’s get out of here.”

She looked embarrassed. “It’s unusual to leave the hunt field like this, but okay.” She shouted across to a field master that we were leaving. We headed back in.

As we approached the trailers, Diana said, “I wish you hadn’t seen that. It would mean a lot more to you if you’d hunted with us for a season, experienced hours and hours with no game. We almost never get a kill.”

“It’s best I know. It—is a blood sport . . . what’s embarrassing is how excited I got when we were chasing that poor coyote. I see that all differently now.”

“Why don’t you clean up for the breakfast? I brought a candied ham and a bottle of wine. You enjoyed the time after that drag hunt so much. People want to get to know you.”

“All I want to do is forget I was ever part of this.”

After I wiped Artemis down, I soaked a handkerchief in one of the water buckets and scrubbed my face. “Let’s go,” I said.

Once we’d loaded and closed up the trailer, I started toward the driver’s door, but Diana scooted in front of me. “It’s okay, I’ll drive back.”

“I’ll be glad to,” I said.

“Thanks anyway,” she said, and hopped behind the wheel. Soon we were under way.

We rode in silence until we were near San Jose. Diana said, “I’m seldom of two minds but I am today. One side of me wants to apologize to you and the other wants to ask if you always have to be so . . . ” She hesitated. “Difficult?”

“The word you mean is dumb,” I said. “I’m dumb. The reason you call it a hunt is because—da dah—it’s a hunt.”

“The huntsman thought you were lucky to get to see a kill so early in your time with us. Some riders go out with us for years and never get that experience.”

“Believe me, this is something I’ll never forget. Oscar Wilde was right when he called this sport the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.’”

“All your quips and quotes.” She pursed her lips. After a few miles she said, “You know I love that sensitive part of you. It’s part of the reason I care. But out with the hounds, it’s far from your clever poetry world. I know it’s all staged but, compared with our everyday lives, it’s real. It’s certainly gritty, with horses seizing up and riders coming off after low-hanging branches. Horses can roll over their riders. Sometimes people have to be helicoptered out. Three years ago a rider had a heart attack and died. We take pride in how real it is, how close to the bone.”

“It was real for that boar, I’ll tell you that,” I said. “Quite a day for him. A bunch of people dressed in nineteenth century costumes appear out of nowhere with hounds and hidden firearms. The next thing you know he takes a bullet to the head. How . . . retro.”

“What?” she said, shaking her head. “I’m not even sure that kill is within the rules of foxhunting. This is a big part of my life and you have me seeing it with new eyes. I’m going to have to have some long talks with the master.”

We didn’t talk again for the longest time. I formed sentences in my mind to try to get her to understand how barbaric the spectacle had seemed to me. I started two or three times, but the right words failed me.

“I have the kids tonight,” she said as we neared home. “It’d be best if you didn’t call me.”

I nodded. “Yes, that might be best.”

With her eyes on the road, she said, “We should step back, find some space to understand what we mean to each other. It’s not just my religious thoughts, but sleeping together is so darned intimate. This is something I’ve been thinking about since my dream. I pray about it. I’m hoping we can be friends for a while, see what happens.”

Was she cutting me off? “Wait, Diana—”

“You’re far more attentive that way than Rob ever was. I’ll miss that. So you have to help me.”

“How?” I asked.

“Restraint. I’m asking you not to approach me. The flesh is weak.” She laughed. “Mine, especially, it seems.”

I shook my head, trying to show her how confused I felt. “I’m not sure I’m the right guy for that.”

“We’ll see,” she said. “It’s not just about that dream I had. And it’s certainly not just about what happened today—I don’t feel right about that at all. Still, I’d looked forward to going to opening meet with you.”

I knew I should quickly say, “Of course we’ll go to opening meet; it’s next month, right?” I formed the words, but then I pictured the dying boar being torn apart by hounds. Instead of speaking, I nodded.

We cleaned up the horses and our tack silently. Looking over at Diana as she polished her saddle, I was sure her mind was racing as quickly as mine, trying to find a way to make sense of what was happening. But neither of us came up with another word to say that day. We parted with a long, sad hug.

27

Diana and Marita were drawn together by their daughters. As I pieced it together later, it started one evening a few months back when Marita and Jorge were going to a school meeting. It was about Eva’s new school, and a baby sitter canceled at the last minute. Marita called Diana—she must have had her number from the party—who drove Beth to Eva and the babysitting started. Considering the age difference—Eva was five; Beth thirteen—they formed quite a bond.

I wasn’t particularly keen on Diana and Marita seeing one another, but there was nothing I could do about it. My concern peaked when Diana called me saying Marita had invited us—Diana and myself—over to dinner. “Her house is on the same street as yours—right?” Diana asked.

“Across the street and one house down,” I said. “She still thinks we’re a couple.”

“People will think what they will,” Diana replied, a phrase I’d heard her use before.

“We may be a lot of things, but not a couple . . . any more,” I said. “Right?

Diana didn’t respond. I had no idea how the evening would go—Diana and Marita were oil and water. How they were getting together was beyond me. But I couldn’t quite say no. “Do you want to go?”

“Beth sure wants me to,” Diana said. “I don’t know what it is about Eva, but Beth is crazy about her. She gave her a toy horse that I’d hoped she’d keep forever. It’s a collector’s piece, my big present to her a couple of Christmases ago. When we watched the new Les Misérables movie, she said she loved Collette. Eva, she said, was ‘just like Collette.’”

“Do you really want to have dinner at Marita’s?” I asked.

“No, but Beth doesn’t ask for much.”

“Do you want to see me?”

“Of course,” Diana said. “I’ll set it up.”

I was a little late getting home from work the evening of Marita’s dinner party, so Diana’s SUV was already parked across the street when I drove into my driveway.

Once home, I changed into a denim shirt, splashed water on my face, and rushed across the street. No matter what the evening held in store, I didn’t like to be late. It would be strange to see Diana at Jorge’s new house. I’d declined a couple of informal invitations—one from Marita when Jorge wasn’t home and one last-minute invitation to dinner with both of them.

Marita opened the door and greeted me with a hug, then brought me into the family room. Diana was sitting down, playing Monopoly with Beth, Robbie, and Eva. It seemed like a scene from thirty years earlier. Jorge handed me a glass of wine and we watched the game. Robbie was winning big, with a thick stack of orange five-hundred-dollar bills. Like father, like son, I thought. When Eva’s piece—a silver top hat she moved with meticulous care—landed on one of Robbie’s four railroads, I couldn’t watch any longer.

I pushed through the swinging door and joined Marita in the kitchen. Under her white apron, she was wearing lime green pants and a dark blue V-necked sweater with yellow piping that contrasted with her tan. White bead bracelets danced as she chopped vegetables.

“What smells so good?” I asked. “What is all this?”

“Fish and salsa. Sautéed red snapper with cilantro butter sauce, from a recipe my mother gave me, and salsa from last week’s Chronicle. Black bean, jicama and corn salsa.”

Pots and bowls were strewn around the counters. “It looks like you’re having fun.”

“Tonight in my new kitchen, I get to cook for other people the way my mother did. And Diana is much nicer than I remember her. Things are finally coming together.”

I leaned over the salsa. “Smells kind of sweet and spicy, my favorite combination.”

“Somehow I knew that,” Marita said with a little laugh. As she carried a full saucepan from one counter to another, I said, “I sometimes wonder about your interview with Billy.”

Sauce spilled onto the floor. “What did he tell you?”

I grabbed a paper towel and stooped down. “I’m sorry, let me get that.”

She motioned me off. When she leaned over with a sponge, she moved a hand up to her V-necked sweater.

“I’m concerned about Billy’s . . .” Looking down at her, I searched for a phrase. “Office politics.” I was digging in deep.

She stood, put a hand on her hip, and looked me in the eye. “Billy is a man of his word.”

I raised my eyebrows.

She held a small piece of white fish with red sauce on a wooden cooking spoon close to her mouth. “Want to try the fish?” I had to lean in toward her to take a bite and, after, taste some salsa. It tasted as good as it smelled.

Diana pushed through the door holding two empty wine glasses. She looked from one of us to the other as Marita and I moved apart. “We need some refills.”

Marita ran her hands along her sides. “I’ll get another bottle.” She opened the refrigerator.

As I fumbled in a drawer for the wine opener, Diana offered a kind remark. “Eva’s so well behaved.”

Marita handed me a chilled bottle. “She loves that horse Beth gave her.”

“We’ll have to get Eva up on a real horse,” Diana said. “I know a trainer, the one who taught Wade to jump. He doesn’t normally teach kids, but he might do it as a favor.”

Marita pulled a huge wooden salad bowl out of the refrigerator. “I imagine Beth’s terrific on horseback.”

Diana pressed her lips, and then tried to smile. “Unfortunately, she never took to it.”

I filled two glasses and handed them to Diana, who pushed out through the swinging door. I avoided Marita’s eyes, but I stayed back long enough to ask, “Anything I can do?”

She laughed derisively. “I can’t believe you asked me about Billy. It’s nobody’s business. Nobody’s. Go on, now, get out there with your fancy girlfriend,” she said, shooing me with her hands. “What I do to make things work around here is between me . . . and . . . me.”

In the living room, the Monopoly game had ended. Robbie was reading a comic book while Beth and Eva played with Lincoln Logs. They’d made a barn from the logs, seemingly not bothered that the horse was bigger than the entire barn.

“Can we call him Star for that mark?” Eva asked Beth, pointing to a white spot on the horse’s forehead.

“Star . . . sure . . . he’ll whinny when you go to see him. That’s how horses say hi,” Beth explained. She imitated the sound. “I’m sure he’ll always whinny when he sees you.”

“I hope so.” Eva laughed. For some reason, I was rooting for Eva to like horses.

Marita asked Jorge to help her serve. We took our places around the dining room table.

“Sorry about the small table.” Marita laughed nervously. “We couldn’t afford to buy new furniture right away.”

“I like it,” Diana said. “It’s cozy.”

I smiled at her kindness.

When Diana left with her kids shortly after dinner, the rest of us saw them out to the driveway to say goodbye. As Jorge and I watched the taillights of her SUV, I turned to him. “Guess I’d better be getting home, too.”

Jorge looked disappointed. “Aw, let’s go downtown for a last drink.”

I looked to Marita.

“Why don’t you two go out?” she said. “I’ll tuck Eva into bed.”

I drove Jorge to a collegial bar with pool tables in downtown Palo Alto. I asked for a beer and was surprised when Jorge ordered a double bourbon. When I asked him if he wanted to play some pool, he picked up a stick and racked the balls. “Eight ball,” he said. “Call your shot.”

After I broke, sinking nothing, he said, “Things are worse financially than I let on to Marita.”

He took a shot and sank a striped ball. That meant I’d shoot the solids. After he missed his second shot, I said, “I’ve watched the papers. Enersystems stock has been dropping steadily. House prices aren’t rising the way they were in early spring, either.”

I missed a long shot to the corner and Jorge sank three balls. “I have a business proposition, sort of.” He missed his next shot, looking over at me to take my turn. “I may have to ask your help.”

I closed my eyes to take a deep breath before I lined up my shot. After I finally sank one, Jorge signaled to the bartender with two fingers. Another double. That’s a lot of liquor. He got up and retrieved it from the bar as I sank another one.

When I missed, I asked him, “Why don’t you sell stock?”

Jorge put his cue stick on the table and sat down in an empty booth, abandoning the game. “There’s almost nothing left. They sold stock out from under me three times last week. You know, margin calls. If the stock keeps going down they could sell the last of the stock and I’d still owe the brokerage some dough. If we get to that, Roger says they’ll demand payment. I’d have to sell the house.” Roger was Jorge’s broker.

I grimaced and slowly shook my head. “I’d have to think this through, Jorge. If I weren’t putting Amelia through college, I’d help you in a heartbeat. I sure don’t want you to lose your house, especially for Eva’s sake. The three of you seem so at home there. There’s no sense in my doing anything until we understand the situation better. I hear what you’ve said, buddy. I’ll do some figuring. I’ll try to do something.”

Jorge took a large gulp from his drink and sighed. He nodded as he chugged his drink and got up from the table. “Let’s call it a night.”

I kept seeing Diana, but less often and without the intimacies we’d shared earlier. I remember one Sunday night in particular when it all seemed a little unreal. The kids weren’t there—Rob had flown Beth and Robby to Dallas for their grandmother’s birthday—so why was she standoffish? Diana had rented a movie, The Queen, starring Helen Mirren. It was a well-made film with powerful horse imagery. Both Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth II, antagonists in real life, were portrayed so sympathetically that Diana and I were both moved. She seemed ready to cry at the end.

I put my arm around her on the sofa. While she didn’t withdraw, she didn’t move toward me, either. “If we’re going to ride in the morning, you’d best get going,” she said, and I quietly pulled back. When we headed toward the door, we shared a light embrace and then, poof, the evening was over.

A couple of weeks later, when I stopped by Diana’s to take her riding on a Saturday, she invited me in for coffee. As Diana was working in the kitchen, in her living room my cell phone rang and displayed Jorge’s name. What could I do but pick up?

“Sor to bother ya,” he said. “Roger says if Enersystems doesn’t go up on Monday . . .” This was the first I’d heard from Jorge since we’d had that drink downtown two weeks before. Jorge sounded drunk . . . he wasn’t much of a drinker, so what had happened to him? “I need to talk to ya,” he finished.

With Diana, who had little time for Jorge, in the next room, I didn’t want to prolong this conversation. “Tomorrow morning?” I asked. “Coffee.”

He seemed relieved. But I felt suddenly tense. I wasn’t at all sure I could help him, but I asked him to meet me at the Palo Alto Café at seven thirty, before church. Done.

Our horseback ride that Saturday was short-lived. “Gray Cloud is off a little on his right foreleg,” Diana said shortly after she mounted up. “I doubt it’s serious, but I shouldn’t ride him. I’ll take him back in. How about I go out to the jumping ring and set out a few X’s for you?”

Diana set up four jumps that were about as high as Edward made them but farther apart. I had to concentrate to keep Artemis on course. After I rode through it three times, she asked, “Got one more in you, maybe a little higher?” She raised the jumps to three feet. I took Artie through one last time. Artemis hit a rail with her rear foot on the second jump, but it didn’t come down and she didn’t let it faze her. And though I started to lose my balance, I managed to keep one leg on each side of her broad body and get balanced again.

At the barn, after I gave Artemis one last hug, Diana asked me if I would go to church with her the next morning, something I felt ambivalent about. We had completely stopped dating.

“Diana, I’m not sure what you want from me.”

“I’m still working on that, but I’ve figured one thing out. You’re getting to be a stronger horseman.”

“I miss being close to you.”

“I know,” she said. “I do, too, a lot of the time. How about we have brunch after church and we go from there?”

I thought of that song “Every Which Way but Loose,” about a cowboy getting jacked around by his girlfriend. “Sure,” I said. “Sounds great.” Even if it didn’t.

At home I had a message waiting from Amelia, saying everything was fine but she had “some stuff going on.” She said not to bother calling her, that she’d call again soon. That got my attention for sure.

Hoping that her mother might shed some light on the situation, even though I hadn’t talked to her for over a year, I called Liz. As the divorce wore on, I found her easier to talk to. She didn’t know anything more than I did about what was going on with Amelia. “Her teacher recommended she apply to Yale for next year and said he’d help. I wouldn’t worry about her. She’s doing fine. You’ve been a good father to her.”

I don’t remember Liz ever saying that before. “Thank you. Trying to figure out what should be next for Amelia has been rough.”

“Yes, it has,” Liz said as she hung up.

28

That evening I gave most of the bacon in my deli-bought BLT to Keats. When he realized he’d get no more people food, he brought in an old towel to play tug-of-war. Right-handed, I always won, but it was a battle if I used my left. That time, left-handed, try as I might, I couldn’t pull the towel from Keats’s jaw.

Later I worked on a poem, and then settled in for the ten o’clock news. When I heard a knock at the door, I got up and peered through the peephole. Marita! The evening was warm for late September, so why was she wearing a fitted jacket with snaps down the front over a short skirt and heels?

She looked endearing, but seeing her invoked competing emotions—warmth, lust, and fear—all bundled into one. It reminded me of that time a few months back when she was looking at the house down the street and came in to get a feel for the neighborhood. I remembered how hard she’d been to resist.

“What’s up? Come in. Where’s Jorge?”

“He tied one on and is sleeping it off. I need company. Don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about our financial problems. I know you’ll help Jorge as much as you can. You always have. Tonight all I ask for is your company. I’m all alone, Wade.”

“Yes, I’ve been worrying about him. Can I take your coat?”

“No, I’m fine,” she said. “How about a glass of wine, though?”

I had a bottle of Chardonnay open in the fridge and poured her a glass. I poured one for myself, too, as I tried to figure out why she was wearing the jacket. She must be looking for some kind of effect.

“I talked to Jorge this afternoon,” I said. “He was upset. He told me he needs money. We’re meeting in the morning.”

She shook her head. “He’s not acting like himself. He’s had so much to drink. I mean, he’s blacked out. He thinks we’re going to lose the best thing that’s ever happened to us—the house across the street. Eva’s asthma or whatever it was—the doctors never made up their minds—disappeared when we moved in. And for the first time Jorge seemed to feel equal to you gringos.” She fidgeted with her wine glass as she attempted a laugh.

When I didn’t laugh, her mood shifted. “I guess he’s right. Everything’s probably gone.”

“Jorge still has his job,” I reassured her. “He’ll pull through this.”

Marita shook her head. “The stock’s gone down so much, he’s sure we’ll lose the house. He told me you warned him not to finance on stock options, which makes him feel even worse. When I got home today from Eva’s school, he was drinking, which is strange enough in itself. But he was watching daytime TV, a rerun of the old Jerry Springer Show. He said, ‘Sometimes I feel we’re just like those guys on the show. I mean we don’t hit each other, but . . . the same.’ That isn’t Jorge.”

“No it isn’t, Marita.” I touched her arm.

“Jorge never understood why you couldn’t save his old job at SnyderSound. But that anger seems to have cooled. Once again you’re the brother he never had.” She slumped on the stool. “Ever since my family had to leave Cuba, I’ve been waiting for things to get good again. And they did pick up for a while. I know you don’t like Billy, but he did just what he promised he’d do. Not many young couples get to buy in Palo Alto, and he made it possible for us. These schools are just what Eva needs.” She took a deep breath. “And now, this problem with the stock options. Who would have figured mighty Enersystems would come crashing down?”

“I’m sorry, Marita.”

“Something like that wouldn’t happen to you, Wade. You’re in charge of your life.” She took a deep breath, seeming to relax. “This wine tastes good. Can I have a few drops more?”

I was surprised she thought of me as someone in charge of my life when I felt the opposite.

“Sure. While I’m up, I’ll put Keats in the garage so he doesn’t bother us.”

As I filled her glass, she looked at me from out of the corner of her eye, her other hand on her jacket’s lowest snap. “Have you been wondering what I’m wearing under the coat?”

The coat seemed familiar. She stood across the counter from me. “I’d been afraid to ask,” I said.

“I wore it special for you.” Starting at the bottom, snap by snap, she pulled her jacket open. “It’s what I wore at the first party. I could tell how much you liked it.”

The evening came back in a rush. “Yes, of course. The outfit that so enchanted Billy,” I said as she removed the jacket, revealing once again the same gauzy blouse, almost transparent over her red bra.

“Billy is what everybody else noticed. You were the one I was watching that night. When you didn’t think anyone would notice, you’d look over at . . .” She moved her hand across her breasts, pausing before she finished the sentence. “Me.”

I tried not to stare at the red of her bra and what it concealed above her tanned midriff.

“It’s okay, drink it in. Tonight you can look to your heart’s content,” she said, lowering her voice. “You can get a real eyeful. Isn’t that what you guys say, an eyeful?”

I looked away, but it was no use; I still saw the image of her. I couldn’t do this to Jorge. Still, I looked back at her again.

“Come over here, silly,” she said. “Relax.”

I walked around the counter.

Smiling, she put her fingers inside my shirt pocket and pulled me toward her. “You’re nervous. How am I going to get you to relax?” She moved toward me, inviting a kiss.

I should have resisted, as I’d done in the bedroom weeks earlier. All I can say on my behalf is that I hesitated, at least. I didn’t really kiss her, but I didn’t pull away either. “It’s not you, you’re wonderful. It’s Jorge,” I said. “I couldn’t live with myself.”

“Jorge will be okay. You’ve done so much for him.”

As I said, “I just can’t,” she leaned over. Maybe just one kiss, I thought.

Her lips, and the tip of her tongue, when she pressed it between my lips, tasted a little of the wine and felt good. Soft.

She was insistent. “Let’s go into the other room.” She took my hand and led me. Once inside the bedroom, she closed the door. “I’ve thought about this moment since you came home with Jorge that first night years ago in El Paso. And, be honest with yourself, Wade. This is what you’ve been wanting, isn’t it?”

She unbuttoned her blouse. When I removed it, she lifted her bra and offered herself, I suckled. When I pulled away, she had loosened my belt and unbuttoned my pants. “Lie back on the bed.” My trousers came off in such a rush that, pulling them, she fell back against the wall. I had the presence of mind to use a condom, which I pulled from the nightstand before I reached for her. We took from each other, thieves at a treasure chest. We kept shifting positions as our passion grew. Toward the end she was on top of me, my hands cupped beneath her. I wanted a third arm, and a fourth, so I could fondle her all over.

After, we lay on our sides, my arm underneath her neck. When she fell asleep, I pulled away and drew the sheet over her. How unexpected she was. Previously I’d thought the adjective for a perfect female lover was generous; a woman who could forgive a man’s pressing nature. But Marita went beyond generosity: she demanded her own pleasure, subordinating my body as a means to that end. She didn’t look past my lust—she shared it. She placated a loneliness I hadn’t even known I possessed.

Later, the phone rang. I integrated it into my dream, something about a fire alarm. I woke up as I realized I was reaching across a half-naked body to pick up the phone. Sleeping Marita!

I heard some breathing and a voice, mumbling. “Jorge?” I asked.

Marita slid off the bed and gathered up her clothes. “Is this Jorge?” I asked into the phone. “Are you drunk?”

I watched Marita as I waited for his response. She worked to refasten her bra strap behind her back. Considering she couldn’t see what she was doing, she did this quickly, and threw on her blouse in seconds. She had a hard time with her skirt. The blouse stuck out of her zipper like a long delicate handkerchief.

Jorge managed to string some words together. “Marita’s gone. Do you think she’s with Billy?”

I tried to make my voice as soothing as possible. “You need to rest.” I paused and then said, even more quietly, “Look, buddy, I’ll be seeing you at the café in just a few hours. Get some sleep.”

As I hung up, Marita took charge. “I’ve got to get back across the street before he even thinks about coming here.” She had given up on the skirt zipper and thrown on her jacket, snapped it up, and turned toward the front door.

“Keep the jacket on,” I said. “He’ll remember that outfit. Fix the part of your blouse that’s hanging from your skirt.” When she nodded, I asked, “Could you answer one thing?”

“Sure.”

“We both know Jorge needs money. Did you do this so I would help him?”

“Not at all. I’ve wanted to be with you since our eyes met way back in El Paso. I know it was Jorge who asked you to be Eva’s godfather, but the idea was mine. To keep you close.”

I had wondered. “Will you be okay?”

“Don’t worry, I can handle Jorge.”

At the front door I kissed her.

“I’ll call you in the morning, as soon as I’m alone,” she said, and walked out the front door into the darkness.

I brought Keats in from the garage and crawled into bed but couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was just guilt, which was growing in me by the minute, but I thought perhaps I heard violent noises across the street. Still, there was no way I could go over there or even phone without alerting Jorge. All I could do, I said to myself over and over, was to wait for the sun to come up and see what the new day brought. Later I thought I heard a different sound, like a loud thump. Forget it. Things can look so much better in a new light. I’d meet with Jorge over coffee; then on to church with Diana. But could I look her in the eye?

The money question with Jorge still bounced around in my head. What could I do for him? I had only six hundred dollars in my checking account—that wouldn’t help. What obligation did I have to Eva? I had a never-used thirty-thousand-dollar line of credit that I could write a check on but had promised myself I’d never use. “Good as cash,” the banker had told me. How stupid would that be, to go into debt for this little family? Still, thinking of all three of them, Jorge, Marita and Eva, I couldn’t ignore what was happening to them. I couldn’t do nothing. I’d probably let him talk me into writing a check. I’d have to draw the line somewhere. Maybe five thousand. That should get him through, shouldn’t it? Thinking I could help calmed me down. I took a huge deep breath.

My mind jumped ahead. No matter what arrangement I made with Jorge, I’d meet Diana at her church. Church. I tried to tell myself that God was big enough to forgive even this, but my head shook as I thought about it. No way. After how I’d betrayed the man who thought of me like a brother? No, God would not forgive me. Nor could I forgive myself. No one would. Would I be able to stand next to Diana in church?

I thought of that poem I’d written and put away because I could never show it to Diana. I turned on my light, pulled it from the back of my nightstand drawer, unfolded it, and read it over. “I have acted properly and I feel blue,” I said aloud. Well, my feelings were the opposite of that now; I had acted improperly and felt, along with the guilt, strange tinges of happiness. My mind shuttled back and forth, acknowledging how irresistible Marita had been. Still, the guilt was inescapable, not only about Jorge. I hadn’t been true to myself. Some men dismiss a woman after they’ve slept with her. “Been there, done that,” I guess they think. But that wasn’t the case with me, certainly not concerning Marita. Would I get to see her again? How soon? Wanting to change what I’d done . . . realizing I couldn’t . . . admitting I might even do it again, I nodded off.

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