Not Enough

We shook out our serapes and thanked Dios it hadn't rained in the night. It was cold here, even in summer, colder than the coldest day at home. We remade last night's fire, boiled water for cafe, fried the eggs in one pan, and warmed the tortillas in the other. We ate with big bites and wolfish appetites. We sluiced the hot cafe con leche down our throats and threw everything in the back of the pickup truck, the tarp for the lean-to, the dirty frying pans, all of it, jumped in ourselves and fishtailed out of the gravel parking lot before the cops, los porcos, could roust us out of there.

A mile down the road we let out our collective breath and Pedro drives us more leisurely to the new house we are to start on today.

We are roofers. Six months up here in the frozen Norte and six months at home with our hands in the dirt. Six months as single men, six months as husbands and fathers. Do we love our children? Yes, we do. How can we leave them for six months of the year? It's that or watch their legs grow sticklike and their bellies balloon. Of course we love them. But yesterday we remembered why that might not be enough.

Manuel was nailing the last three rows of asphalt shingle on that strange little bungalow on Lake Hubert, so small but so high. Three floors. He was in that zone where everything but the shingle and the gun disappears. The lines of nailheads line up and straighten out and continue into infinity and time passes in a daze and you're done and another day of your life is gone. Then his foot fell in the rickety metal rain gutter and ripped it from its weakened bracket and he hung there, one toe on a half-nailed shingle, fingernails clawing into the asphalt, the other leg waving back and forth, a warning flag on an overlong load. The nail gun scraped along the roof in a shallow parabola and fell into the bushes below. We could not shout. We could not move. We could not breathe.

Manuel's wife, Pedro's sister, her face when we tell her he fell. Manuel's children, especially Carlos, the little crooked one who dances until we laugh, his face crying and hungry.

Tio crawled down from the crest of the roof and took Manuel's hand. We knew that might not be enough either. We all sucked in air. We couldn't let any back out. Tio pulled. We sucked in more air. Tio's knees rubbed along the slope of the roof toward Manuel and we pictured Tio's wife crying, too. Our lungs were about to burst, but we sucked in yet more air. And Tio pulled again, and Manuel's swinging leg stopped and Tio's knees stopped. Jaime moved the ladder and was up to the top like a squirrel and held Manuel steady and Chic got the other ladder and together they rolled Manuel on his back, up the slope of the roof and Tio climbed to the crest and we all let out heaving gasps of pent up breath and Manuel cried and we all cried. We took our bar of soap down to the lake and washed all our sweat and tears into the Mississippi.

That was yesterday.

Today we start a new roof on the big lake, Gull Lake. We pull into the long driveway. It's a big house, much taller than yesterday's three stories, but only two floors. Why? Why do these rich rich gringos need so much air above their heads? Is it because they are bald? We scratch our thick black shocks of hair in wonderment. We see the dumpster has been delivered, thank Dios, because if it hadn't been, we wouldn't be able to start stripping the old roof off, or get paid. The new shingles are here too. But where is the Port-o-Potti? We, all of us, need to make kaki before we climb up there. Should we ask la gringa if we can one by one drag our dirty boots through her clean house and use one of her four toilets? Better not. Jaime wanders the edge of the property and finds a thick bank of raspberry cane to hide behind and lowers his jeans.

"Oh, that's just great." Aurora ran cold water over her blistered finger, the one she'd used to try to pluck out the bit of egg shell that had fallen into the sizzling butter--obviously too slowly--and cursed the best she knew how. "Damn. Damn it all to Hades." She grabbed a wooden spoon from the crock at the side of the stove. The tallest one was the only one she could reach from the sink. She fished out the shell fragment and stood waiting for the egg to get done. On the lawn outside, Aurora saw a man walk the edge of her borders and round the raspberry patch. Unbelievable. He went behind it and his floating head looked this way and that, then disappeared.

The back door bangs open and we all turn to stare as a giantess with flaming hair pounds across the deck and down the steps. She's waving a stick, no, it's a spoon, shouting and lumbering toward the bushes. We can't understand what she's yelling but we're afraid for Jaime. "No!" we hear. "You can't . . . " we hear, but we don't wait any longer to try to hear more. Chic and Tio slap the ladders against the house and all of us clamber up as fast as we can. From up here we can see everything. We can see Jaime looking for a leaf. We can see la gringa grab his collar and yank him out of the bushes. We can see her hit his hand, the one with the leaf, again and again with the spoon until he drops the leaf. We can see Jaime cry and la gringa wrap her arm around his neck. We suck in breath again just like yesterday. We cross ourselves. She's going to snap his head off, like a chicken's. We see her drop the spoon and pet his head. Her shoulders bounce and shrug. His jeans are still around his boots.

"Thank God. Thank God. Thank God." Aurora had no time to wonder why it was God she was thanking when she was an Ayn Rand atheist. All she knew was that she had just saved this little man from Eric's fate, a full-blown allergic reaction to the volatile oils in poison ivy. That she had told him to burn the yard scraps made her a murderer in her own eyes.

He's only a boy, she thought. She was barely able to restrain herself from rubbing her knuckles over his skull like she used to do to her brother. What were his pants doing puddled around his ankles?

We watch la gringa jump away from Jaime like a grasshopper. We can't help him. We see his mother's face contorting in grief. We suck in our breath. We know that might not be enough.