One nut remained in Gabriel’s sack. He sank under the spare boughs of the desert willow and wished for water. Although clouds accumulated over the mesas, they didn’t draw rain, and they passed over the landscape as ghosts do. This was the land of ghosts, he knew, of dried-up old men such as himself.
“Oh, Ana, Ana,” he choked out from the back of his dry and swollen throat.
He fell asleep grasping his brown nut sack—his last source of sustenance. He fell asleep to the sound of cicadas whining. When he woke, he heard crickets chirring. Evening had fallen on him, and its weight was slight compared to the day.
He had one more nut and no water in sight. He folded over the top of the sack, upended it, and out tumbled the nut. In his pocket, he searched for his Leatherman, and then prised at the edges of the nutshell with the knife blade.
“Ay, nuezita! You are all that I have. Do you hear me, my son? Do you hear my voice, hijo de la santa? Hijo mio, perdido en la boca? Ay, Miguel, Miguelito. You are del diablo, but your mother is a saint.”
The nutshell separated, and the two halves fell into his leathery palm. With the last ray of sun lighting on Gabriel’s open hand, Jesus gazed at him. En realidad, Jesus didn’t actually look at Gabriel, but he looked downward, instead, as though ashamed of his own status, his figure furled in a whorl of walnut.
“Jesus de la nuez!”
Gabriel gaped at the image, and his sore eyes replaced Christ’s face with that of his son, which then transformed into the face of his son’s mother, who had locked herself away in her abuilita’s home when she’d learned her only child had gone the way of las drogas.
“But it wasn’t his fault, Ana! He couldn’t help the darkness in his soul.”
Gabriel wept bitter tears. He enclosed Jesus in his hands and rubbed his palms together, but the nutmeat wouldn’t fall loose. With an air of disowning it all, he dropped the two shell halves into the sack from whence they’d fallen. He folded up his Leatherman and slid it back in his pocket.
The night was a yawning shadow, and Gabriel was nearly swallowed in it, when Ana enshrouded him—a scudding ghost cloud low to the earth—and she pulled him to his feet. She set his feet back on the road, and he stepped, one foot in front of the other, and he followed her disappearing veil, around curves and along the serpentine path.
“Ana, Ana!” he called. “La culpa es mia!”
She disappeared, and then reappeared before a broken picket fence. She swung open the gate. Even though Gabriel hesitated to enter, she gave him no choice. She beckoned him through the gate and up the stone path to the front door, where he knocked with the weight of his heavy head.
From inside, he heard a scuffle, the low growl of a beast. The door opened an inch, and Gabriel swayed an inch with it.
Gabriel swayed farther forward and fell into a set of soft arms. “Ana, is that you?”
“Soy yo. How did you walk so far like this? You must come inside and rest.”
The woman guided him to a couch. “How did you walk so far with your cataracts? How long has it been since you visited the eye doctor?”
“You guided me,” he said. “I can still see through your eyes.”
“Nonsense,” she said.
“But Ana, did you know as you guided me that I came only to bring you terrible news?”
She squeezed his hand with her soft fingers.
“Our son Miguel is dead from las drogas. Bastards. Bastards who killed him. It wasn’t his fault. It was theirs, and it was mine because I was a terrible father.”
“No,” Ana said, her voice husky with sorrow. “Miguel’s not dead. He’s come to live with me. He lives here, in his old room. He sleeps with his childhood dreams.”
“No,” said Gabriel. “I saw him in the morgue. He died on Sunday.”
“That’s when he came to live with me,” Ana said. “All is right, Gabriel, and just as it used to be.”
Gabriel lurched upward from the couch. “But I haven’t forgiven Miguel’s dealers in the city. I’ll never forgive them.”
“Where are you going, my love?”
“I have to go back to fight.”
“But the storm is coming. You can’t go now. And Miguel lives here—he’s come to live with you, too. He wants you to stay.”
“Miguel never wanted me around. I have to go. I have to fight.”
“No, no more!”
But Gabriel’s ears were as thick as his corneas. He tripped toward the door and lunged out into the night air. With a rush, the wind slapped him broad across his face, and the rain poured down with a crack of thunder. He raised his open mouth to the sky and let the rain fall in.
“The rain has finally come, and all in vain,” he said.
And he rooted around in the brown sack for the two split nut halves. He picked the meat free of the shell, and he popped it in his mouth. This was consecration. This was forgiveness. This was nourishment for the fight.
“Goodbye, Ana. Give Miguel my love. There is hope, always hope for the future!”