My panic button must have stopped working days ago because, when Anthony calmly explained to me that some kids had found my ex beaten to a bloody pulp down by the Bosque, I didn’t faint or swoon, let alone cry out in anguish. It did occur to me, however, to ask him how he was privy to this information.
His eyes did the darting act again. “I’ve got my contacts.”
“So what did your contacts say? Why did Victor get beat up?”
It was weird how numb I felt, how my limbs felt like they were falling asleep. In fact, my body was so tired of standing that I began to shake uncontrollably with tremors that ran up my legs, up my arms, and ended with my jaw.
“Let’s talk about this tomorrow, or at least later today. You need to sleep.”
“How can I sleep? I need to know why Victor got beat up.”
“I have a friend who’s a cop. He called me to tell me what happened, but he didn’t give me any details. I swear to you that if I knew anything, I would tell you.”
“Why would he call you?”
“He knew I’d be interested.”
“Why would you be interested?”
Anthony’s gaze was level this time, square on my face with no evasion. “Victor worked as an intern at the mayor’s office while your mother was still there.”
I looked into his red-rimmed eyes, and I told myself that Anthony couldn’t be trusted, that he was stinking drunk. At the same time, I also knew that what he said was true. Why it mattered was an entirely different question.
“Yes, I already know. That’s how we met. Kind of. We met at church, and then his family moved away. He came back to go to college and ended up working with my mom.”
Thinking of our early days together broke me. My numbness disappeared as an image of young Victor wormed its way into my mind. Before he’d jumped ship and turned himself into a poet, he had worked toward a professional writing degree. He had written speeches for the mayor—beautiful, poetic speeches filled with classic rhetoric. I turned away from Anthony and pressed my forehead against the wall and cried. I had loved Victor for years. I still did.
Anthony tugged on my shoulder until he’d managed to pull me into an awkward hug. He didn’t say anything, which was fine by me. He was probably too good a person to remind me how Victor had treated me over the years.
Nobody knew the Victor whom I knew, the Victor who awakened my love for language. He had become my true muse, hidden behind the false one which was merely the printed, painted version of a woman who had lived three-hundred years ago. Victor was a living, breathing poet who moved under my touch. He was. He wasn’t any more.
By comparison, Anthony was an obnoxious alcoholic who stuck his nose into other peoples’ business. Plus, he smelled terrible, like alcohol and sweat. I pushed him away.
Later that day, I woke up on my own futon, laid out on one of Anthony’s spare bedroom floors. Anthony and I were not on speaking terms when we hauled the last of my things from the bed of his pickup. I didn’t have anything more to say to him after shouting at him for the first hour, whenever he touched any of my things in a disrespectful manner. Finally, he waved me away and told me to shut up and go to sleep.
The house was quiet, except for the whine and rattle of the swamp cooler. After sorting through my things, I left my new room to discover that I was alone in the house. It didn’t surprise me, but I wished that Anthony would be a little more forthright with me, kind of how he’d been for a split second earlier in the day.
I sat at Anthony’s desk and picked up the phone receiver—still no phone service. From my own things, I rustled up paper, envelopes, and a stamp book. It was time to write to my absent parents. It was difficult to know how to phrase my questions at that point: Dear Mom, why are you hiding in Colorado? What exactly are you hiding from, and what the hell does Victor have to do with it?? Well, that would do. Oh, I added, It’s imperative you tell me and be honest because Victor’s dead, and I’m scared.
That was basically honest, but I also knew it was best to make an emotional appeal. She was a mom, my mom, and emotional appeals worked on moms. Meanwhile, I would pick her locks—technically both my parents’ locks—and search through her things. I felt disrespectful and decided I didn’t care.
I took a quick shower and put on a pair of jogging shorts, running shoes, and a tank top and went out for a little run to the nearest mail drop-box. Just out the front door, a wall of heat confronted me that told me it was late afternoon and, therefore, too hot for exercise. Apparently, it was not too hot for shouting matches because Mrs. Garcia’s family members, Herman and Sabrina, stood in her front yard cursing at each other and generally expelling bad chi all over the place.
Herman caught sight of me and waved and smiled, so I waved back. It didn’t matter that a second before he’d accused the young girl, still clad in a half shirt, of stealing from her own grandma—using language I’d rather not repeat. It was a typical Albuquerque day.
I stepped up the pace a little and was about to round the corner when a shiny black car passed. The windows were dark, but not dark enough that I couldn’t see who was inside. It was Demetria, either la mariposa or la gallina—I wasn’t sure.
But I was sure that she was headed for Anthony’s house, and that he would not want her there alone with unlocked doors. I turned around and headed back. The letter would have to wait.