It had been Lou Ann's idea to come here. It was a place she and Angel used to go when she first came to Tucson with him. I didn't know if her choice was a good or bad sign, but she didn't seem unhappy to be here without him. She seemed more concerned that the rest of us would like it.
"So is this place okay? You're sure?" she asked us, until we begged her to take our word for it, that it was the most wonderful picnic spot on the face of the earth, and she relaxed.
"Me and Angel actually talked about getting married up here," she said, dipping her toes in and out. There were Jesus bugs here, but not the long-legged, graceful kind we had back home. These were shaped like my car and more or less careened around on top of the water. The whole gang of them together looked like graduation night in Volkswagen land.
"That would have been a heck of a wedding," Mattie said. "A hefty hike for the guests."
"Oh, no. We were going to do the whole thing on horseback. Can't you just see it?"
I could see it in People magazine, maybe. What with my disgust for anything horsy, I always forgot that Angel had won Lou Ann's heart and stolen her away from Kentucky during his days as a rodeo man.
"Anyway," she went on, "we could never have gone through with it on account of Angel's mother. She said something like, 'Okay, children, go ahead. When I get thrown off a horse and bash my brains out on the rocks, just step over me and go on with the ceremony.' "
The English teacher spoke softly in Spanish to his wife, and she smiled. Most of our conversation seemed to be getting lost in the translation, like some international form of the Gossip game. But this story had come from Mrs. Ruiz's Spanish (Lou Ann claimed that the only English words her mother-in-law knew were names of diseases) into English, and went back again without any trouble. A certain kind of mother is the same in any language.
Esperanza and Estevan were their names. It led you to expect twins, not a young married couple, and really there was something twinnish about them. They were both small and dark, with the same high-set, watching eyes and strong-boned faces I'd admired in the bars and gas stations and postcards of the Cherokee Nation. Mattie had told me that more than half the people in Guatemala were Indians. I had no idea.
But where Estevan's smallness made him seem compact and springy, as though he might have steel bars inside where most people had flab and sawdust, Esperanza just seemed to have shrunk. Exactly like a wool sweater washed in hot. It seemed impossible that her hands could be so small, that all the red and blue diamonds and green birds that ran across the bosom of her small blouse had been embroidered with regular-sized needles. I had this notion that at one time in life she'd been larger, but that someone had split her in two like one of those hollow wooden dolls, finding this smaller version inside. She took up almost no space. While the rest of us talked and splashed and laughed she sat still, a colorful outgrowth of rock. She reminded me of Turtle.
There had been something of a scene between her and Turtle earlier that day. We'd driven up in two cars, Lou Ann and me and the kids leading the way on my brand-new retreads and the other three following in Matties pickup. When we got to the trail head we parked in the skimpy shade you find under mesquite trees-like gray lace petticoats-and pulled out the coolers and bedspreads and canteens. The last two things out of the car were Dwayne Ray and Turtle.
Esperanza was just stepping out of the cab, and when she saw the kids she fell back against the seat, just as if she'd been hit with twenty-eight pounds of air. For the next ten minutes she looked blanched, like a boiled vegetable. She couldn't take her eyes off Turtle.
As we hiked up the trail I fell in behind Estevan and made small talk. Lou Ann was in the lead, carrying Dwayne Ray in a pouch on her back and holding his molded-plastic car seat over her head like some space-age sunbonnet. Behind her, ahead of us, went Esperanza. From behind you could have mistaken her for a schoolgirl, with her two long braids swinging across her back and her prim walk, one small sandal in front of the other. The orange plastic canteen on her shoulder looked like some burden thrust upon her from another world.
Eventually I asked Estevan if his wife was okay. He said certainly, she was okay, but he knew what I was talking about. A little later he said that my daughter looked like a child they'd known in Guatemala.
"She could be, for all I know." I laughed. I explained to him that she wasn't really my daughter.
Later, while we sat on the rocks and ate baloney sandwiches, Esperanza kept watching Turtle.
Estevan and I eventually decided to brave the cold water. "Don't look," I announced, and stripped off my jeans.