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"Sure," she said, looking off at the far side of the park. She was still jiggling Dwayne Ray, possibly hadn't noticed he'd stopped crying.

"Why do you think she puts up with that coot?" I asked.

"What coot, old Vicious Virgie you mean? Oh, she's harmless." Lou Ann settled the baby back into his stroller. "She reminds me of Granny Logan. She's that type. One time Granny introduced me to some cousins by marriage of hers, I was wearing this brand-new midi-skirt I'd just made? And she says, 'This is my granddaughter Lou Ann. She isn't bowlegged, it's just her skirt makes her look that way.' "

"Oh, Lou Ann, you poor thing."

She frowned and brushed at some freckles on her shoulder, as though they might suddenly have decided to come loose. "I read a thing in the paper this morning about the sun giving you skin cancer," she said. "What does it look like in the early stages, do you know?"

"No. But I don't think you get it from sitting out one afternoon."

She pushed the stroller back and forth in an absent-minded way, digging a matched set of ruts into the dust. "Come to think of it, though, I guess that's a little different from the way Mrs. Parsons is. Somehow it's more excusable to be mean to your own relatives."

She rubbed her neck and turned her face to the sun again. Lou Ann's face was small and rounded in a pretty way, like an egg sunny side up. But in my mind's eye I could plainly see her dashing out the door on any given day, stopping to say to the mirror: "Ugly as homemade sin in the heat of summer." No doubt she could see Granny Logan in there too, staring over her shoulder.

After a while I said, "Lou Ann, I have to know something for Turtle's and my sake, so tell me the honest truth. If Angel wanted to come back, I mean move back in and have everything the way it was before, would you say yes?"

She looked at me, surprised. "Well, what else could I do? He's my husband, isn't he?"

There may have been a world of things I didn't understand, but I knew when rudeness passed between one human being and another. The things Mrs. Parsons had said about aliens were wrong and unkind, and I still felt bad even though weeks had passed. Eventually I apologized to Estevan. "She's got a mean streak in her," I told him. "If you're unlucky enough to get ahold of a dog like that, you give it away to somebody with a big farm. I don't know what you do about a neighbor."

Estevan shrugged. "I understand," he said.

"Really, I don't think she knew what she was saying, about how the woman and kid who got shot must have been drug dealers or whatever."

"Oh, I believe she did. This is how Americans think." He was looking at me in a thoughtful way. "You believe that if something terrible happens to someone, they must have deserved it."

I wanted to tell him this wasn't so, but I couldn't. "I guess you're right," I said. "I guess it makes us feel safe."

Estevan left Mattie's every day around four o'clock to go to work. Often he would come down a little early and we'd chat while he waited for his bus. "Attending my autobus" was the way he put it.

"Can I tell you something?" I said. "I think you talk so beautifully. Ever since I met you I've been reading the dictionary at night and trying to work words like constellation and scenario into the conversation."

He laughed. Everything about him, even his teeth, were so perfect they could have come from a book about the human body. "I have always thought you had a wonderful way with words," he said. "You don't need to go fishing for big words in the dictionary. You are poetic, mi'ija."

"What's miha?"

"Mi hija," he pronounced it slowly.

"My something?"

"My daughter. But it doesn't work the same in English. We say it to friends. You would call me mi'ijo."

"Well, thank you for the compliment," I said, "but that's the biggest bunch of hogwash, what you said. When did I ever say anything poetic?"

"Washing hogs is poetic," he said. His eyes actually twinkled.

His bus pulled up and he stepped quickly off the curb, catching the doorway and swinging himself in as it pulled away. That is just how he would catch a bus in Guatemala City, I thought. To go teach his classes. But he carried no books, no graded exams, and the sleeves of his pressed white shirt were neatly rolled up for a night of dishwashing.

I felt depressed that evening. Mattie, who seemed to know no end of interesting things, told me about the history of Roosevelt Park. I had just assumed it was named after one of the Presidents, but it was for Eleanor. Once when she had been traveling across the country in her own train she had stopped here and given a speech right from a platform on top of her box car. I suppose it would have been a special type of box car, decorated, and not full of cattle and bums and such. Mattie said the people sat out in folding chairs in the park and listened to her speak about those less fortunate than ourselves.